State Senate

Monroe County Dems Receive Subpoena

The Monroe County Democratic Committee on Friday confirmed it had received a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office in the investigation surrounding Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to boost Senate Democrats in 2014.

“The Monroe County Democratic Committee has received a subpoena from Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seeking records related to certain campaign contributions,” said the committee’s counsel, Chris Thomas. “MCDC has already provided documents in response and will continue to fully cooperate with that inquiry.”

De Blasio is facing multiple investigations into his political fundraising, including an effort he backed on behalf of Democratic Senate candidates two years ago. Scrutiny is being placed on the method of fundraising used by de Blasio’s political allies in which county committees received large contributions, with money then being transferred to individual candidate campaigns.

Investigators are probing whether the effort was part of a deliberate attempt to circumvent campaign finance contribution limits.

The campaigns de Blasio’s team sought to help included those being run in Monroe County, as well as the Hudson Valley and Capital Region. Rochester-area Democratic incumbent Ted O’Brien in 2014 lost his re-election bid to Republican Rich Funke.

In the statement released Friday, Thomas pointed to the committee conducting an internal investigation into the contributions.

“That internal investigation is aimed at determining what occurred and whether what occurred was consistent with MCDC’s by-laws and best practices,” Thomas said.

“MCDC intends to make that investigation public after the District Attorney’s investigation has concluded, so as not to interfere with that investigation in any way. In the meantime, and as is utterly typical in all investigations, the District Attorney has directed that MCDC not discuss this matter further.”

Online Poker Bill Advances To Finance Committee

A bill that would legalize online poker in New York has been added to the agenda of next week’s Senate Finance Committee meeting.

The measure, backed by Sen. John Bonacic, comes as lawmakers are also considering legislation that would legalize daily fantasy sports betting operations in New York after a legal challenge by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman led to the companies like DraftKings and FanDuel suspending operations in New York.

The online poker bill has been the subject of substantial lobbying over the last several years backed by well-financed companies supportive of online poker as well as existing gambling operators who do not want gamblers to move to online options.

“Presently, numerous New York residents are participating in illegal, unregulated and unsafe gaming operations which offer games of chance over the Internet,” the bill memo states. “This bill will allow the state to license operators that meet the high standards set by the state and offer limited games of poker which require a high level of skill.”

If allowed, online poker would bring $110 million in revenue to the state through the licensing of up to 11 operators to provide the service online.

The Finance Committee meets on Thursday in Albany.

UPDATED: Dem State Senate Candidates Campaign On Child Sex Abuse Vote

After Republicans in the State Senate blocked a measure Monday to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims, Democratic candidates are latching on to the vote ahead of this year’s election.

Democrats had attempted to tie the amendment to a human trafficking bill from Rochester-area Republican Rich Funke. The Chair ruled that the amendment was not germane to the Funke bill. A vote to overrule failed by three votes, with 29 Democrats lending their support and the entire present majority voting against it. Two Democrats and two Republicans were absent for the vote.

Now opponents of at least three Republicans are using the vote to their advantage. Yesterday, Democrat Ryan Cronin released a statement blasting the vote. Kronin is a Democrat running to replace Long Island Senator Kemp Hannon in the sixth State Senate district.

“Kemp Hannon should be ashamed of himself for voting with his fellow Senate Republicans to block the Child Victims Act,” Cronin said in a statement. “This legislation would bring heinous criminals to justice and provide closure to thousands of New Yorkers who have been preyed upon as children. If Senator Hannon won’t break with his party to stand up for victims of childhood sexual abuse, who will he fight for?”

A spokesperson for Republicans in the State Senate responded to the statement by tying Cronin to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Ryan Cronin is a retread who already ran for this seat and was rejected by voters. That’s not really a surprise since they know he would partner with Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Democrats to shift school aid to New York City at Long Island’s expense, and raise taxes on hardworking Nassau County families who need and deserve relief.”

Further north in the 46th district, Democrat Sara Niccoli released a similar statement on Tuesday. Niccoli is running against incumbent George Amedore for the seat. The district is considered to be a toss-up after Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk first won the seat when it was drawn in 2012. Amedore defeated Tkaczyk in 2014.

“It’s appalling that George Amedore joined his fellow Senate Republicans in voting down the Child Victims Act,” Niccoli said in a statement. “This bill would deliver justice for innocent victims of child sex abuse and hold perpetrators of horrible crimes accountable. I don’t know how Senator Amedore can justify towing the party line this time around.”

Christoper Eachus, who is running against long-time Senator Bill Larkin in the Hudson Valley, also released a statement Tuesday. More >

Time Running Short For Any Ethics Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The clock on the legislative session is winding down, and yet there’s been little to no public progress made on ethics or campaign finance reform in Albany. Lawmakers say it’s getting late in the year to reach a deal.

“I would say right now my optimism is low because we’ve had the entire session here to do something specific,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

Time is running short in Albany, with 9 legislative session days to go before lawmakers leave the Capitol for the rest of the year and focus, in most cases, on running for re-election.

But signs of any agreement on ethics reform, at least for now, appear elusive.

In the state Senate, lawmakers are at odds over proposals to ban unlimited donations from limited liability companies. A bill that would have done so was bottled up in a committee earlier in May.

“I never say never, otherwise why would I get up in the morning and come back here so, there’s always room for hope and a chance,” said state Sen. Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan. “I’ve continuously said all year why are we wasting the crisis of corruption? Why aren’t we fixing ourselves?”

In the Assembly, meanwhile, a constitutional amendment to strip corrupt officials of their pensions was approved last year, but that version differs from what was passed by the Senate. Lawmakers there are growing frustrated the amendment will ever pass.

“There’s several version of pension forfeiture bills out there,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican from Queensbury. “I’m at the point now where any of them is better than doing none of them. It may be one that is yet to be even drafted.”

For his part, Gov. Andrew Cuomo plans a roll out of ethics reform bills over the next several days. He released eight different versions of a bill to close the LLC loophole on Tuesday.

“We’ll talk about income limits. We’ll talk independence,” Cuomo said. “Then we’ll talk about term limits, but we have a full agenda.”

Klein And Moya Write To Feds On Herbalife

Two state lawmakers on Wednesday released a letter to federal regulators urging they include sweeping reforms to multi-level marketing companies like Herbalife in order to prevent them from taking financial advantage of consumers.

The letter from Sen. Jeff Klein and Assemblyman Francisco Moya to the Federal Trade Commission comes as regulators are nearing a resolution to an ongoing investigation into the company’s business practices.

Klein has introduced a bill that would push multi-level marketing companies like Herbalife to document and disclosue retail sales to those participating, but are not in a distributor network. The companies would also be required to to release average annual income and commissions earned by independent distributors.

“Herbalife should also be required to disclose to the public where nutrition clubs are located and provide regulators proof that these businesses comply with state and federal labor laws. Additionally, rewards designed to incentivize recruitment (e.g. Production Bonus) and the product purchasing requirements that encourage so-called inventory loading should be removed immediately,” Klein and Moya wrote in the letter.

Lawmakers have expressed concerns over the company’s business practices, considering they have operated nutrition clubs in minority neighborhoods as a way of taking advantage of low-income people.

FTC Herbalife Letter by Nick Reisman

Senate Approves Repeal Of Tampon Sales Tax

The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill that would repeal the sales tax on tampons.

The bill, which previously pass the Democratic-controlled Assembly, heads to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his signature.

The measure itself means about $12 million revenue for the state, but the repeal of the sales tax was considered as part of the state budget approved in April.

“It’s about time. Repealing this out-of-touch tax has been decades in the making,” said Sen. Sue Serino, the Republican from the Hudson Valley who backed the measure in the Senate.

“Last week, I announced that an agreement had been reached to repeal this egregious law and today, I am incredibly proud to announce that the infamous ‘tampon tax’ will finally be a thing of the past.”

Cuomo’s office has signaled support for repealing the sales tax as well.

“There are many issues that simply transcend politics and a unanimous vote in both houses tells you that this is certainly one of them,” Serino said. “Moving this legislation forward is a win for consumers and it’s a win for women who have largely shouldered the burden of the tax for generations.”

PACB Spending Likely To Be Approved

From the Morning Memo:

With more than $485 million in spending for a key economic development project on the line in western New York, the Public Authorities Control Board is likely to approve today the funding, despite concerns over investigations into the Buffalo Billion and SUNY Polytechnic.

Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb on Tuesday became the latest elected official to raise issues with the spending proposal, which was due to be voted on last week by the board, but the meeting was rescheduled to today after “scheduling” issues arose, according to the Division of Budget.

In letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, Kolb urged the board’s members — composed of the Assembly, Senate and budget office representatives — take their time and assess the status of the project.

“Before spending nearly half-a-billion dollars of the public’s money, legislators should be provided a comprehensive status report on the current progress, future expectations, and possible concerns relating to the project,” Kolb wrote in the letter.

“At the request of the Assembly, Empire State Development Corporation held an informational briefing on Monday. However, agency representatives could not answer several questions posed by staff, and the meeting ended abruptly with promises that follow-up information would be provided.”

The money is to be disbursed to an arm of SUNY Polytechnic, which is being investigated by the state attorney general’s office over bid rigging. The money itself is budgeted for the RiverBend site, home to the SolarCity project, a key component of the Buffalo Billion economic development program, which is being investigated by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Lawmakers in recent days have called the funding vital for the continuation of the project in western New York. Both legislative leaders on Tuesday indicated support for the spending.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Senate Republicans, also, had requested more information and seemed to come away satisfied.

“It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York,” Flanagan said, “It’s critical to western New York.”

Legislative Leaders Indicate Support For PACB Spending

The top legislative leaders in the Democratic-led Assembly and GOP-controlled Senate on Tuesday indicated they support approving $485.5 million in spending for a subsidiary of the under-investigation SUNY Polytechnic, saying the money is vital for the continuation of the economic development program in western New York.

“There’s a general belief that it’s a worthwhile project,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “There are a series of questions that we put forward and we’re just waiting to get those answers back and then I think everything will be fine.”

Added Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan: “It’s critical to economic development in the state of New York, it’s critical to western New York.”

The vote for the Public Authorities Control Board is scheduled for Wednesday after it was delayed a week due to scheduling issues, according to the state Division of Budget.

The money is set to go toward an entity formed by SUNY Poly, which is being investigated for bid rigging by the state attorney general’s office. The money is part of a broader spending effort to the RiverBend project, the site of a SolarCity factory in western New York.

The project is a component of the Buffalo Billion program, an economic development effort that is being investigated by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office.

Both the Assembly and Senate have votes to approve the spending, as does the Division of Budget, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration.

Still, lawmakers have questioned the spending, while Cuomo himself has said the funding is to be reviewed by the independent investigator his office hired, Bart Schwartz.

“There are a lot of vehicles for oversight which should take place,” Flanagan said. “But I don’t think that should be an excuse for not moving ahead and making sure we approve jobs for the economy.”

DeFran: PACB Money Should Be Approved

The $485.5 million in funding to be disbursed as part of the SolarCity project at River Bend in western New York should be approved, Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco said on Tuesday in a radio interview.

The Syracuse Republican, who relinquished his chairmanship on the Senate Finance Committee last year when ascending to the number two post in the chamber, is the latest lawmaker to back the spending amid an investigation by federal prosecutors into the Buffalo Billion, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature economic development program.

The money is slated to go toward a subsidiary of SUNY Polytechnic, which is under investigation by the state attorney general’s office for bid rigging.

But DeFrancisco, echoing lawmakers like Sen. Patrick Gallivan, told The Capitol Pressroom in a radio interview the should be approved by the Public Authorities Control Board in a vote scheduled for Wednesday.

He also warned against passing judgment on individuals before they have their day in court.

“In the case of the legislators, you don’t remove them from a position until it’s proven you’ve done something wrong,” he said.

Senate Dems To Hold Climate Change Forum

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers on the Senate Democratic Policy Group today will hold a forum on climate change in order to assess how the state can respond to the issue.

The panel is expected to include environmental advocates and academics, including Environmental Advocates of New York Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz, Urban Program Legislative Director Richard Schraeder and SUNY Albany Professor David Carpenter, who leads the Institute for Health and the Environment.

The event itself is being led by a group of Democratic conference members who have released a series of policy-based reports — Sens. Daniel Squadron, George Latimer, Velmanette Montgomery, Jose Serrano and Brad Hoylman.

The panel is expected to discuss topics ranging from the impact of climate change on New Yorkers’ health, the increase in extreme weather such as heightened flood risk, and recent efforts by the state to respond.

“Climate change is a serious problem already impacting New Yorkers across the state, but far too often has been put on the back-burner or even denied by the Senate Majority,” said Squadron, who chairs the panel. “There’s more New York must do to fight climate change — this forum is an opportunity to highlight significant issues and work with experts on additional solutions.”

The forum will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., in Room 123 at the Capitol.