State Senate

Heastie, Flanagan Not Bullish On Procurement Bill

A bill that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee state contracting and economic development measures was not exactly embraced on Monday at the Capitol.

The legislation was introduced on Sunday evening by Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. Largely mirroring Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal, the measure would give purview for the procurement officer to oversee spending at SUNY and CUNY related entities.

But his fellow legislative leaders on Monday gave the bill a relatively cool reception.

“Procurement reform is under discussion both internally and externally,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I have not seen Senator Klein’s bill so I can’t properly assess what’s in there.”

Speaker Carl Heastie in the Assembly told reporters he was hopeful for a three-way agreement on the issue, but declined to say if this the bill that would do it given support for vesting this power in Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

“I’d say the mindset is it’s always to me better to have oversight and the comptroller is duly elected,” he said. “I’ve all along the desire is to get a three-way agreement and I hope we can achieve that.”

Livingston County Conservatives Urge No-Vote On Alesi

The Livingston County Conservative Party is calling on members of the state Senate to reject their former colleague James Alesi’s nomination to the Public Service Commission. New York Daily News reporter Ken Lovett wrote Monday that the governor had pegged the Republican for the position, which pays 6-figures.

Alesi retired from the state Senate in 2013. County chairman Jason McGuire said he lacks the character and the qualifications needed for the job.

“Alesi does not have an education or professional background in any field at all related to what the PSC oversees,” Mcguire said. “What he does have is the governor’s most important qualification: loyalty to him.

Alesi was one of four Senate Republicans who voted for New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011. McGuire, a staunch opponent of gay marriage, said they betrayed their base.

In his release, McGuire did not mention the vote directly. He instead referenced a lawsuit the state Senator brought against a contractor after allegedly trespassing on a construction site and breaking his leg.

Alesi eventually dropped the suit.

“Alesi’s political career ended unceremoniously shortly after he sued the owners of a home in which he was illegally trespassing. His lack of character was a major reason that Republicans and Conservatives did not support him for re-election the following year,” McGuire said.

The Conservative leader said the governor knows he can control Alesi and Republicans would be doing themselves no favors by confirming the nomination.

Demonstration Gets A Handmaid’s Tale-Motif

handmaidstaleA demonstration on Monday at the Capitol received a Handmaid’s Tale-style twist with supporters lined up outside of the state Senate backing the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act.

The demonstrators choose The Handmaid’s Tale, now a series on Hulu and based on a Margaret Atwood novel, in which women are relegated to second-class citizenship without reproductive rights in a male-dominated dystopia.

The site of the demonstration was the Senate, where both the RHA and the contraception bill have struggled to pass in recent years. One senator who had watched the TV series admitted to feeling “creeped out” walking through the hallway.

Reinvent Albany Opposes Klein’s Procurement Bill

The good-government group Reinvent Albany on Monday issued a memorandum in opposition to a bill backed by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee economic development spending.

The procurement officer would be nominated by the governor and approved by the state Senate as per the bill introduced by Klein on Sunday evening.

But the group argued in a memo the bill is duplicative of what already exists, namely a penchant for “self-policing” in Albany.

Albany has been plagued in recent years by the creation of poorly designed oversight entities that lack the requisite independence from the very institutions and individuals they oversee; this proposal represents a continuation of the Capitol’s preference for self-policing. The results are minimal and selective enforcement and a failure to reduce corruption risk,” the memo states.

At the same time, the group reiterated its support for re-empowering Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office to oversee procurement — a move that is opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The establishment of a chief procurement officer duplicates and impedes the independently elected state comptroller’s duties and responsibilities to review contracts, as laid out in the state constitution and subsequent legislation dating back a century,” the group stated. “The comptroller already reviews most large contracts of state agencies and authorities before they are executed.”

Klein Introduces Procurement Reform Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Sunday evening introduced a bill that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee state contracting and procurement at SUNY and CUNY entities.

The proposal largely mirrors what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had initially proposed and continues to back in the closing days of the legislative session, as state lawmakers have pushed legislation that would re-empower the state comptroller’s office to review spending related to major economic development projects.

As backed by Klein and Cuomo, the bill would create the procurement officer post, with the person being nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

“The importance of creating a new independent officer tasked with reviewing all state procurement and disbursements, instead of taking advantage of current safeguards, is that this officer will be in the best position to spot patterns of corruption, or have an inkling of what types of contracts or procurements are likely to be abused, since that is the officer’s one and only duty,” the bill’s memorandum in support states.

However, Klein’s bill does have differences from what Cuomo initially proposed, including additional language that would allow oversight of procurements for state affiliated non-profits so there would be oversight of money spent by SUNY and CUNY research foundations.

And the Senate would have the power to confirm the nominee for the post, something the governor’s plan did not initially include.

Additional language would be aimed preventing favoritism in contracting by having the chief procurement officer review and examine policies of state agencies and non-profit entities in order to recommend changes.

The bill comes as lawmakers seek to address transparency and oversight in state economic development spending months after the arrests of prominent development executives, a former close aide to Cuomo and the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic, accused of bid rigging and fraud.

In the Legislature, Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco is pushing for a vote on a bill that would re-instate Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s power to oversee procurement, which had been removed early in Cuomo’s first term.

DiNapoli, good-government advocates and lawmakers supportive of procurement reform have called for oversight independent of the governor’s office.

CPO LBD-2 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

State Lawmakers Eye Greener Pastures

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers don’t have to run for re-election this year, but many elected officials in the Assembly and Senate are eyeing the exits, running for locally elected positions back in their home districts.

Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin is running for Rensselaer County executive. State Sen. George Latimer is running for Westchester County executive. State Sen. Phil Boyle seeks to become sheriff of Suffolk County, and several New York City lawmakers have launched campaigns for City Council, which is an increasingly popular destination for former state lawmakers.

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns is running for Erie County Clerk. A supporter of term limits for the Legislature, Kearns says it’s about finding a new challenge in a different public office.

“I think there should be a beginning and an end when it comes to Albany and I’m looking forward to new opportunities,” Kearns said.

There’s the travel factor. The trip from Western New York can be an especially long one and lawmakers spend up to six months traveling back and forth during the legislative session. Kearns says he’s made the trip for about 13 years.

Then there’s the desire to actually get something done — an attractive proposition for any legislator like McLaughlin who has toiled in the minority.

“It’s because with executive authority, you can get a lot of things done and you can help people on a direct day-to-day basis,” McLaughlin said.

“Being in the Legislature’s great, but you’re one of a body. You can’t come here in and say, ‘this is what we’re doing.’ You have to convince, in our case, 150 people.”

Then there is the fact lawmakers haven’t received a pay increase since 1999. Lawmakers earn a base salary of $79,500 and many of the local level positions pay more.

Flanagan Says He Wants An Agreement On Mayoral Control

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a statement issued late Friday afternoon insisted he was still seeking an agreement for the extension of mayoral control of New York City schools.

The statement was issued hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a conference call with reporters suggested the program could lapse this month and was pessimistic a deal could be reached before lawmakers leave Albany on Wednesday, the final scheduled day of the legislative session.

“With just one week left in the legislative session, I am committed to working with all parties to extend mayoral control and achieve common sense reforms that ensure every child receives the first-class education they deserve,” Flanagan said in the statement.

He added there is “no reason we can’t negotiate in good faith and come to a resolution on this issue before the Legislature adjourns next week.”

The Senate this month approved several mayoral control extender measures, all of which seek to expand charter schools in the state — a provision that Speaker Carl Heastie has said is a non-starter for his Democratic conference.

The Assembly in May approved a two-year extension of mayoral control that was packaged with extensions of local tax provisions.

Cuomo in his conference call on Friday suggested lawmakers could still return at some point this year in a special session to take up mayoral control as well as the sales tax and other tax measures that would need to re-approved by the end of the year.

Flanagan in his statement said he’s still willing to negotiate an agreement.

“We have given the Assembly and Mayor de Blasio three different options that would each extend mayoral control and ensure the continuity they crave, and we have even signaled our willingness to have further discussions about other options,” Flanagan said. “It’s time for everyone to get to the table and work in the best interest of the 1.1 million New York City schoolchildren and their families.”

Clock Ticking On Economic Development Reforms

From the Morning Memo:

While good-government groups and lawmakers push for more oversight and transparency of economic development spending in New York, legislative leaders in Albany still hope to strike a deal with Governor Andrew Cuomo on the issue.

“I’m still hoping to get a three-way agreement before we leave,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “We’ll see what happens. We still have three more long days in Albany to try to get these things done even after today.”

But lawmakers who support increasing oversight for the governor’s pet projects like the START-UP NY program and the regional economic development councils in recent days have been more assertive, saying they can act on their own on the oversight issues, even with a potential veto by Cuomo.

“We’d like to get a three-way agreement,” said Assemblyman Robin Schimminger. “And if we don’t, keep in mind we can still make laws notwithstanding the second floor.”

For now, the bills are stuck in committee. They would return oversight power to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to audit contracts and subject some economic development spending to the freedom of information law. The measures come after the arrests of prominent upstate developers and a former close aide to the governor.

“I think there is a real sense in our house among some members, many members, that now may be the time to show some real profiles in courage,” Schimminger said.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto is rare and it hasn’t happened since George Pataki’s administration. And it requires time — something lawmakers have little of at the Capitol.

“It seems to me that we should be passing bills earlier,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco, “and making certain there should be time to re-evaluate a bill the governor is vetoing that’s passing both houses overwhelmingly.”

At Senate Ethics Committee, ‘Inquiries’ Raised Over Stipends

Senate Ethics Committee Chairwoman Elaine Phillips on Thursday said the issues surrounding paid stipends for lawmakers is an issue under “litigation.”

She later clarified the matter was part of “inquiries.”

The meeting of the ethics panel in the state Senate is a rare one for Albany: It was the first one held in eight years, with the previous convening of the panel being held in 2009, just days before a destabilizing leadership coup in the chamber.

The discussion surrounding stipends arose when Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris sought to raise the issue of vice chairs of committees receiving payments normally reserved for committee chairs.

State and federal prosecutors are reportedly reviewing the arrangement of vice chairs receiving payments — a practice that has expanded this year.

Gianaris sought to make a motion to have the practice of vice chairs receiving stipends end — prompting Phillips to say the issue hadn’t been raised before the meeting. It was tabled, but only after a confusing vote over whether the issue was germaine to the discussion.

“My concern with that is that this committee has been meeting on a pace of once every eight years,” Gianaris said.

Senate Introduces Assembly Version Of Kendra’s Law

The extension of a key mental health law that passed the Assembly on Wednesday was introduced today in the Senate as the legislative session enters its final days.

The Assembly-approved bill would extend Kendra’s Law, which requires mandatory mental health care for some patients, not including those who are on medication, for another five years.

The Senate had backed a different measure that would have made the law permanent.

Sen. Cathy Young, the sponsor of the permanent measure, is also the sponsor of the Assembly-backed version of the bill.

Kendra’s Law expires at the end of this month.