State Senate

Bonacic Calls For Outside Income Ban

Republican Sen. John Bonacic called for a ban on lawmakers earning income from “active employment” other than their government jobs — a call that comes a day after former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was booted from office after he was found guilty of seven counts of corruption.

Bonacic has stated in the past he supports limiting the money lawmakers can make in the private sector, but it remains to be seen whether a drumbeat will grow at all for a “professional” Legislature that would ban private-sector employment in the wake of the Silver verdict.

Previously, lawmakers have suggested linking a professionalized Legislature to a boost in the base $79,500 salary, which hasn’t been increased since 1998 (Lawmakers earn more in some cases for committee chairmanships and leadership positions).

Silver was able to amass $4 million in legal fees that prosecutors claimed were actually bribes. He was convicted on Monday of fraud, extortion and money laundering charges.

“Every legislator was shocked to hear about the questionable practices of the former Speaker, and his accumulation of ill-gotten millions while in public office,” Bonacic said. “:All of his questionable conduct was also done in a very secretive way, and I am not surprised by the jury’s guilty verdict.”

Lawmakers in leadership positions in recent months have distanced themselves from their outside businesses following the arrests of both Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both men were listed “of counsel” at law firms though it was unclear what, exactly, they did to earn their pay.

Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, ended his relationship with his law firm where he was partner, as did Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

“I believe that if we ban outside income from active employment for elected officials, and pay them a livable wage to raise their families, it will go a long way to cure the temptation of a few to engage in this type of bad behavior,” Bonacic said.

Senate GOP Critics Latch On To Skelos Trial

senate1From the Morning Memo:

Supporters of Senate Democrats are once again knocking Republican lawmakers over the corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

In particular, Democrats are taking Sen. Jack Martins to task after he was recorded in a wiretap about supporting water quality projects.

Skelos is accused of his using his official power to help his son Adam’s business interests, which included various environmental related projects.

Martins hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing.

Still, Democrats are pouncing on the connection for Martins, who represents what has been a battleground Senate district on Long Island.

“It is disturbing that Senator Martins is more concerned with getting credit for taking action rather than actually taking action,” said Lisa Tyson, the director of the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “Long Island needs some new Senators that don’t have this cloud of corruption hanging over them and are willing to stand up for the people of their districts.”

Martins’s 2014 Democratic opponent, meanwhile, also called out lawmakers in an op/ed for failing to address ethics and disclosure in Albany in the wake of Skelos’s arrest (Democratic Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s arrest earlier in the year prompted new disclosure requirements for lawmakers with legal clients).

“Transparency will help voters believe that elected officials are true public servants,” he wrote. “Many of our elected officials seem to have forgotten what transparency is, and, more specifically, what it looks like.”

It remains to be seen, however, whether voters this time will vote on ethics and corruption issues. Skelos himself is due to run for re-election next year and could face Democratic Assemblyman Todd Kamsinsky.

Libous, Leaving Court, Thanks Supporters

Republican former Sen. Tom Libous left court on Tuesday after he was sentenced in his federal corruption case, thanking constituents and pledging to appeal his July guilty verdict.

“I’ve had tremendous support not only from not only my family and friends, but my constituents,” Libous said. “They’ve supported me. “It’s nice to come to this point.”

In addition to six months of home confinement, Libous is required to wear an electronic ankle bracelet and pay a $50,000 fine. He was found guilty in July of having lied to the FBI in a case stemming from his Matthew receiving a job at a politically connected law firm in Westchester County.

Libous’s sentencing by U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti avoids jail time, which both his attorneys and prosecutors in the case sought given his terminal cancer gives him less than a year to live.

The sentencing does allow Libous to make doctors appointments and visit his son in prison, who is was sentenced earlier this year in a tax evasion case.

No Jail Time For Libous

libousTom Libous, the former deputy majority leader of the state Senate, will not face jail time for his felony conviction of lying to the FBI, TWC News reporter Emily Lorsch reported.

Instead, U.S. District Court Judge Vincent Briccetti sentenced Libous, who has terminal cancer, to six months of home confinement and two years probation. He is also being fined $50,000.

Briccetti is making exceptions for Libous to visit his father, who is in a nursing home, as well as his son Matthew, who is serving prison time for tax evasion. He will also be able to leave his home for medical appointments.

Libous’s attorneys and the prosecution had sought no jail time for the former lawmaker, citing his ill health and the likelihood he had less than a year to live.

Libous was found guilty in July of lying to federal law enforcement in a case stemming from Matthew receiving a job at a politically connected law firm. The conviction on the felony charge automatically expelled Libous from the Binghamton-area seat he had held since 1988.

During his time in office, Libous wielded power in the Senate and helped bring state resources to the otherwise economically struggling area of the state.

A special election to fill the seat earlier this month was won by Republican Fred Akshar.

Updated: Libous told reporters he will appeal his conviction.

Senate Republicans Could Face Key Tests Upstate

ororom the Morning Memo:

On the surface, Senate Republicans should not have an upstate problem.

The conference controlled its fate in the last round of redistricting, enabling them to choose their voters and ensconce their incumbents in a cocoon of enrolled Republicans.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains deeply unpopular in the rural and suburban communities and threat of New York City Democrats running Albany remains a potent concern. More tangibly, the conference kept a Southern Tier district in the GOP column with Fred Akshar defeating Cuomo’s preferred candidate for the job, Democrat Barbara Fiala.

Republicans in 2014 swept out not just Democratic incumbents in key battleground Senate districts in the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys, but the party did well in Congressional races as well.

And yet, there are problems on the horizon for the party among conservative activists who had taken to heart pledges candidates last year made: Complete repeals of the gun control law known as the SAFE Act and the controversial Common Core education standards.

To be sure, the battleground for control of the Senate next year will likely be Long Island. But restive voters upstate in an election season that’s already gearing up with a strong anti-incumbent, anti-establishment vibe, could throw a curve ball at the Republicans.

In a statewide context, the SAFE Act is a non-issue. Approved in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the measure continues to enjoy broad majority support. Cuomo is so bolstered by his push for the law that he’s taking it on a national road show.

Common Core remains a stickier wicket for Albany, with polls showing both upstate and suburban voters deeply concerned about the impact the standards are having on their children. Perhaps sensing the political danger after 20 percent of students opted out of April round of standardized testing, Cuomo announced a task force to consider potential changes.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has indicated he would prefer to have the task force act on the changes and not have lawmakers take up the measures.

“The task force is with an eye toward looking what have we done, where have gone and where are we going in the future,” Flanagan said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom last month. “What can and should happen is you get a lot of work done at the Board of Regents level and SED, state Education Department, and if need be, which I think is unnecessary, legislative intervention.”

Even so, both the SAFE Act and Common Core resonate with activists on the local level. They represent differing, but related forms of government overreach. And Republican incumbents, especially in the narrowly divided state Senate, haven’t done enough. More >

Young Knocks Krueger’s Coal Power Plant Proposal

Republican Sen. Cathy Young blasted an op/ed written by Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger that called for a phase-out of the state’s four remaining coal-fired power plants.

Krueger, a Manhattan lawmaker, made the case for closing the facilities in a Gotham Gazette op/ed, arguing the plants contribute to 13 percent of the state’s carbon pollution, but do not turn a profit.

At the same time, the Dunkirk-based plant alone has received $90 million to continue operating through the end of the year, with an additional $200 million over the next decade. In Cayuga, the plan there is receiving $155 million to continue its operations through 2017.

“If we stop clinging to policies that keep our energy sector stuck in the past, the Empire State has the potential to lead the world in the bold transition to a clean energy economy,” Krueger wrote. “Governor Cuomo could lead us there by speeding up his commitment to phase out coal-fired power and taking a key step toward ensuring carbon pollution becomes a thing of the past.”

Young, an Olean senator, called the proposal “disturbing but not surprising” and tied it to overall push against upstate jobs.

“This latest outburst fits perfectly with the Senate Democrats’ abysmal track record as anti-upstate job killers and tax hikers,” Krueger said. “It is hypocritical and terrible public policy to export New York State jobs and tax revenues while importing power from out-of-state Pennsylvania coal plants which are the filthiest in the nation, the source of 99 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and other toxic air pollution. We need our plants operating to keep the lights on for our consumers in upstate, and grow our manufacturing jobs. Dunkirk NRG is set to be repowered into a clean natural gas facility that will grow jobs, protect the environment, and stabilize the local tax base. That’s what our state needs.”

Raising For Kaminsky

From the Morning Memo:

As the federal corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his adult son, Adam, continues in Manhattan today, two top Democrats will be hosting a fund-raiser for a freshman assemblyman mentioned as a potential contender for Skelos’ Long Island seat.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Nassau County Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs are headlining the event for Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor, at the Smith & Wollensky steakhouse tonight, according to an invitation provided to CapTon.

Thanks to his record of prosecuting public corruption cases, Kaminsky, who was elected in 2014 to fill the seat of retired former Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg, is viewed by Democratic leaders as an attractive candidate for the Senate next fall regardless of whether Skelos is found guilty and forced to resign, or weathers the legaI storm and seeks re-election.

Kaminsky, who also happens to be the great-nephew of comedian Mel Brooks, hasn’t said one way or another whether he’s interested in running for the Senate, though he did tell liberal Democratic activist and radio host Bill Samuels this weekend that he would be “a fool not to want to at least think about it.”

“I don’t think it’s ripe for discussion yet,” Kaminsky said yesterday on AM 970’s “Effective Radio with Bill Samuels”, adding: “As long as Senator Skelos is the senator…it’s a long time until next November. If he’s not the senator, then obviously that will certainly prompt some discussion.”

“…But I just have a lot to do on Long Island to fight for people in my district, to fight for the middle class,” the assemblyman continued. More >

Hoylman Lauds Cuomo For Domestic Violence Measure Approval

From the Morning Memo:

Manhattan Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman lauded Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval of a measure that’s designed to address domestic violence reports written in languages other than English.

The bill was one of several Cuomo approved over the weekend.

The measure was introduced following the murder of Deisy Garcia and her two daughters by Garcia’s estranged husband. The murders came despite multiple domestic incident reports having been filed with the NYPD, but were never translated.

“All domestic violence victims, no matter what language they speak, must have equal access to justice under the law,” Hoylman said. “Deisy Garcia and her two young daughters lacked this fundamental right and paid for it with their lives, simply because their urgent pleas were not translated.”

Now, when a non-English speaker fills out and files a domestic violence report, the document is translated so police can initiate an investigate. At the same time, victims of domestic violence are required to be informed of their rights in their own language.

“I’m extremely grateful to Governor Cuomo for making domestic violence translation the law of the land and sending a message that in the world’s melting pot, language will never be an impediment to justice,” Hoylman said.

Senate GOP Plans Health Republic Hearing

From the Morning Memo:

Concerned over the fallout from the demise of the nation’s largest health insurance co-op, Health Republic, the Senate Republicans will hold a “forum, roundtable or hearing” early next year to determine if legislative action is necessary to help clean up the mess.

“I think it’s certainly something that we need to look at,” said Senate Insurance Committee Chairman Jim Seward during a CapTon interview last night.

Seward stopped short of saying the exact purpose of this hearing would be to determine who’s at fault for Health Republic’s failure, even as some of his GOP colleagues – particularly Rep. Chris Gibson – have suggested the Financial Services Department bears the brunt of the responsibility, and should be the subject of an outside investigation.

The senator did say, however, that he has “issues” with DFS, adding: “It’s their responsibility to make sure that these health plans are financially solvent, and then all of a sudden we find out that Health Republic, there’s no money there.”

“So, I think that’s certainly something we need to look at, in terms of what is the process at the Department of Financial Services to make sure that these health plans are solvent and these claims can be paid,” Seward said. More >

DeFrancisco: Feds Should Coordinate With State On Immigrant Screening

defranDeputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco in a radio interview on Thursday called for greater cooperation between the state and federal governments when it comes to screening Syrian refugees.

“You’ve got to have cooperation from the federal government as well,” he said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “There’s got to be very, very careful screening that New York state is allowed to learn about and is allowed to participate in before you just say that we’re going to take Syrian refugees in in the numbers that the president is taking about.”

Republican lawmakers in the Senate, including Majority Leader John Flanagan, have called on the federal government to suspend its Syrian refugee immigration program for the time being in order to assess potential security threats following the Paris attacks last week.

As governors around the country have signaled they oppose the settlement of Syrian immigrants in their states, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he has no power to block the refugees. At the same time, Cuomo told reporters in Rochester on Wednesday he has “no reason to believe” the federal government isn’t up to the task of rigorously screening immigrants from Syria. More >