State Senate

‘Sanctuary’ Bill Could Stir Debate Again In Senate

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would prohibit cities from declaring “sanctuary” status for themselves could spark a debate in the political powder keg that is the narrowly divided state Senate.

The measure would prohibit communities in New York from passing legislation that limits their involvement in federal immigration enforcement activities and efforts.

Last week, the Democratic-led Assembly narrowly adopted the Liberty Act, a bill that would in essence make New York a sanctuary state — legislation Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan called illegal and vowed to oppose.

But in the Senate, the chess board is multidimensional.

Days after the Liberty Act was approved in the Assembly, the labor-backed Working Families Party in an email called attention to the structure of the Senate, and applied pressure to the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference to get the sanctuary state bill to pass.

“It would keep us all safer by drawing a bright line between state and local law enforcement and out-of-control federal immigration enforcement,” WFP State Director Bill Lipton wrote.

“The GOP-IDC coalition in State Senate won’t allow the bill to come up for a vote. But they’re starting to feel the heat.”

Still, even with support from the IDC, a sanctuary bill would face an uphill campaign in the Senate.

A version of the Senate’s anti-sanctuary city bill has already been approved last year, with votes from moderate mainline Democratic lawmakers, including Sens. Todd Kaminsky, George Latimer, Kevin Parker and Tim Kennedy (Democrats from upstate and suburban districts in the Assembly opposed the sanctuary state bill).

Last year’s version was approved with a mix of mainline and Republican votes. The vote could change this year, of course, given the new bill being considered and the political urgency being emphasized by Democrats due to President Donald Trump’s administration.

In a statement, Senate Democratic conference spokesman Mike Murphy called the highlighting of the anti-sanctuary bill a “fake narrative” being pushed by the IDC, noting pro-sanctuary legislation was carried by mainline conference members.

“It’s funny that supposed Democrats that enable Trump Republicans are now pushing alternative facts to hid their partisan misdeeds,” he said.

Said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove, “All members of the Independent Democratic Conference voted against the anti-sanctuary city bill, and the fact that four mainline Democrats voted for this anti-immigrant legislation at a time when Donald Trump spewed hatred means that we must question what’s behind their spin. Votes matter and they indicate where our senators actually stand on issues as critical as immigration.”

Krueger Urges Constituents To Write To Cuomo On Bag Fee

Democratic Sen. Liz Krueger is urging constituents to write or call Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office to push him to veto a bill that would delay a 5-cent surcharge on carry-out disposable bags in New York City.

“If you feel, like I do, that NYC has a right to make its own decisions and see them through, please call or write Governor Cuomo TODAY and ask him to VETO A.4883/S.4158,” the Manhattan lawmaker wrote in an email sent Thursday.

Cuomo is yet to take a position on the bill to delay the fee, which is set to take effect next week. The bill was approved by the Senate and Assembly this week and is now on Cuomo’s desk.

In Schenectady on Wednesday, Cuomo said he understood the problems the surcharge could produce for low-income consumers, but said he wanted to protect the environment as well.

So Cuomo is facing headwinds from two different directions: Environmental groups who want to reduce waste and those opposed to a tax that is seen as regressive.

“New York State is facing unprecedented environmental challenges — from climate change, to poisoned water, to failing infrastructure, the list goes on and on,” Krueger said. “Yet the legislature has chosen to do the bidding of corporate special interests and overturn New York City’s plastic bag fee. If this bill becomes law, it will set a shameful and dangerous precedent that local solutions to local environmental issues will be vetoed in Albany. It is time for the Governor to step in and protect our environment and NYC’s right to home rule.”

Raise The Age’s Chances Boosted This Year?

From the Morning Memo:

Raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York has stalled for several years in Albany.

This year, supporters of the legislation hope, that may change.

“Clearly in the past when we set our minds to do something, we do it — like paid family, $15 minimum wage,” said Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. “This is one of our priorities this year.”

The debate is over how to treat 16 and 17 year old defendants in the justice system. Currently, they’re considered adults — only New York and North Carolina prosecute minors in criminal court.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo included the policy in his $152 billion spending plan once again this year. He previously through executive action began moving 16 and 17-year-old offenders into juvenile facilities away from the adult population.

A legislative deal could be reached as the Independent Democratic Conference grows in strength, adding three new members in recent months, including Brooklyn Senator Jesse Hamilton, a raise the age supporter. The IDC has worked in a coalition with Senate Republicans.

“We’ll come to a meeting of the minds to figure out what’s best for upstate and downstate,” Hamilton said.

He’s hopeful Senate Republicans can be brought along on the issue after several years of talks on the issue.

“I think they want to give it a fair shake,” Hamilton said. “The concern is the public safety, which is an important issue, making sure the community is secure.”

The Senate this week held a hearing on the issue, with talks centering in part on how to fund family courts to take on the new cases.

“Now the time is for us to digest all of it, see where there is agreement and disagreement and continue having discussions going forward,” said Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan.

Longtime advocates for the policy say the state needs to catch up.

“Yes, it’s about funding, but it’s about the humanity,” said Bronx Assemblyman Michael Blake. “We’re talking about 16 and 17 year olds in these jails and waiting, they might not have done anything wrong and they’re being treated as adults.”

Assembly Approves Bag Tax Delay

The Democratic-led Assembly approved a one-year delay in enacting a 5-cent bag tax in New York City and the measure now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is yet to take a public position on the issue.

The measure was previously approved this week by the Republican-controlled Senate.

The bill is the latest delay in enacting the fee in New York City as some lawmakers in the chamber expressed discomfort with its impact on consumers.

In a statement, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he agreed with the goal of reducing waste, but questioned how poorer New Yorkers would be affected.

“It makes sense to press the pause button on this fee in order to do a more thorough investigation on the best ways to reduce paper and plastic waste in our environment,” Heastie said. “Over the coming months we will work with environmental advocates, community groups, the public, and our partners in government to develop a solution that works for everyone.”

Bag tax sponsor Councilman Brad Lander said he hoped Cuomo would find a way to compromise on the issue and prevent a delay.

“We are disappointed that the Assembly decision to ignore the unified voice of New York’s environmental, climate justice and neighborhood groups — at the very moment the federal government is rolling back environmental protections,” Lander said. “We appeal to Governor Cuomo to help us reach a compromise that would allow New York City to try out this effective, common-sense strategy for dealing with the 10 billion plastic bags that pollute our trees, oceans and landfills every year.”

Cuomo: Senate Opposition To Tax Extension Is ‘Catering To Donors’ (Updated)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo once again knocked Senate Republicans for their opposition to extending tax rates on those who earn more than $1 million, saying on Tuesday in Vestal they were doing the bidding of their donors.

“I think the Senate’s problem is these are the big donors and they don’t want to offend their donors,” Cuomo said after holding an event to tout his SUNY tuition plan. “What I’m saying is why don’t you care more about constituents than representing your political donors?”

Cuomo wants to extend the existing rates on the wealthy that are due to sunset at the end of the calendar year, insisting it is key to paying for middle-class tax cuts approved in the previous budget year.

Assembly Democrats want to increase rates on even higher income earners, those who make more than $5 million a year.

Cuomo indicated that he was in opposition to higher taxes, but disagreed with Republicans claims an extension is tantamount to a tax increase.

“I believe that if you raise taxes too high, people will leave. Remember, you are talking about a small number,” he said. “But this tax has been on the books for about eight years. They’ve been paying this rate. It’s not like you’re raising taxes. You’re just continuing the same tax rate.”

Cuomo over the years has shifted his tone on the tax rates and in 2011 indicated keeping the rates as they were was an increase.

“I support a federal millionaires tax if you will, because then it wouldn’t put any state, including this state, at a disadvantage,” Cuomo said at the time. “A federal millionaires tax would not put this state at a competitive disadvantage.”

Updated: Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif responds.

“We shouldn’t have to remind the Governor it was Senate Republicans who introduced, fought for and won approval of a major new tax cut for middle-class families last year,” Reif said. “Despite the rhetoric, that is who we represent. We believe in cutting taxes AND keeping our promises to the people of New York.”

Flanagan Questions Con-Con Cost

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan expressed concern on Tuesday with the potential price tag of a constitutional convention, saying the cost could be put to better use.

“The indications I’ve gotten if the last one in 1967 cost $47 million. The expectations are that if one is done now it would cost about $350 million,” Flanagan said. “That’s a lot of money. I think that if you went to the average person and said do you want to put that into roads, highways and bridges or education or health, I think people would do that.”

New York voters this November will determine whether the state should hold a convention to revise or entirely rewrite its constitution, a once-every-seven-years consideration.

The convention may not even necessarily produce a new constitution or major changes to the current system of state governance.

There are a variety of crosscurrents opposing a constitutional convention, including public-sector labor groups who worry it could undermine collective bargaining.

Flanagan indicated a better way to change the constitution, if desired, is to pass amendments (doing so requires passage by two separately elected Legislatures and voter approval).

“We can put up constitutional amendments at any time,” he said, “and we do.”

Latimer Says He Is Pondering County Executive Run

Democratic state Sen. George Latimer in a Facebook post on Tuesday said he is considering running for Westchester County executive later this year.

“I’ve been asked by a number of people to consider running for County Exec.,” he wrote. “So I am thinking about it. But I’ve made no plans specifically to run and I’ve not made any type of commitment to run.”

Latimer was first elected in the Senate in 2012, having served previously in the state Assembly.

He acknowledged the field for the Democratic nomination in Westchester County is a crowded one: Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Assemblyman Tom Abinanti and County Legislator Ken Jenkins have been mentioned as possible contenders.

The race is likely of interest to at least one Westchester County resident: Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Incumbent Republican Rob Astorino is running for re-election, three years after losing to Cuomo in the gubernatorial race. Astorino has has not ruled out another campaign for governor in 2018.

Flanagan: Sanctuary State Bill Illegal

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan derided the bill narrowly approved this week by the Democratic-led Assembly that designates New York as a sanctuary state as illegal and unconstitutional.

The measure, among other things, would prohibit coordination with state and local police agencies when it comes to federal immigration enforcement.

“I’m pretty sure that’s not only illegal, it’s unconstitutional,” Flanagan said on Tuesday.

At the same time, Flanagan pointed to the measure passing by only two votes in the chamber. The bill was approved early Tuesday evening, but with votes against it cast by moderate, suburban and rural Democratic members of the Assembly majority.

“Small? 77-58. That’s virtually no margin,” he said. “But that’s OK. I think that’s an indication there’s a significant number of problems with the bill.”

The immigration package approved by the Assembly was backed in response to the immigration policies being pushed by President Donald Trump and his new administration in Washington.

The Assembly also re-approved their support for the DREAM Act, a measure that provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

The bill has stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have campaigned against its passage.

“Our members are very strongly opposed to the DREAM Act,” Flanagan said on Tuesday. “My priority and I think really the position of our members is let’s make sure we’re taking care of the hard-working members of the struggling middle class.”

Klein Calls Raise The Age A Priority

From the Morning Memo:

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in an interview Monday said raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York is a priority for his eight-member conference in the 2017 legislative session.

“I’m hopeful that we can come up with a compromise — not even a compromise — let’s make sure we can do something that’s smart and effective,” Klein said.

The push, which advanced on Monday in Albany with a Senate hearing on the issue, comes as the IDC is facing pressure from the left for their coalition government with Senate Republicans in the new era of uncertainty for liberals under the Donald Trump administration.

But Klein noted his conference has been under similar pressures before to achieve victories backed by Democratic constituencies, most recently the increase in the minimum wage to be phased in to $15 in parts of New York City and the surrounding area, as well as 12 weeks of paid family leave.

“Clearly in the past when we set our minds to do something, we do it,” Klein said. “This is one of our priorities this year.”

Raise the age has stalled at the Capitol for several years as lawmakers remain at odds over adjudicating case involving 16- and 17-year-old defendants.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 through executive authority began the process of moving certain 16- and 17-year-old offenders to separate facilities away from an adult population.

But the issue of trying those under 18 remains unresolved.

The IDC in recent weeks has grown to eight members, adding three lawmakers from Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, as well as liberal agitation over their coalition with the Republican conference (There are 31 Republicans in the Senate, Democratic Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder gives the conference 32 members).

One of the IDC’s newest members is Brooklyn Sen. Jesse Hamilton, who has backed raise the age efforts in the past.

“Raise the age is a perfect example,” Klein said of finding bipartisan agreement in the Senate, “of bringing the Republicans together with the Democrats in the Senate and Assembly and making the government work.”

One solution raised by Klein: Using adolescent courts as a model that could be replicated across the state.

“I think it can be solved through these adoloescent court models,” he said. “We could bvery easily expand these models through other jurisdiction. I think we can do it. The model is already there, so it’s not going to be a big burden on the state.”

As for the running feud with mainline Democrats — which continues to escalate with a website critical of the IDC that surfaced on Monday — Klein brushed it off.

“The election is behind us,” he said. “We’re now in the governing phase. It’s always about the issues.”

Senate Approves Ride-Hailing Bill

The state Senate on Monday approved a bill that would allow ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber outside of New York City.

The measure was approved 53 to 5.

The bill must be reconciled with a yet-to-be-approved version in the Democratic-led Assembly, which is expected to be considered in the “near future,” according to Speaker Carl Heastie.

The Senate bill sets a tax on ride hails at 2 percent; Gov. Andrew Cuomo would tax hails by 5.5 percent — a surcharge the Senate’s lead sponsor called “excessive” on Monday.

The tax would be used to fund infrastructure projects. It would also provide for workers compensation insurance through the Black Car Fund.

Uber on Monday praised the development.

“We are encouraged to see that the Senate and the Governor are listening to the voices of New Yorkers over those of special interests and making ridesharing a priority,” the company said. “It is now time for the Assembly to do the same and ensure that Upstate has what New York City and 47 other states have.”

Business groups eager to have ride hailing in upstate cities cheered the move even as negotiations continue over the policy, which has stalled for the last year in Albany.

“Allowing ride-hailing services to operate in Upstate communities is long overdue and we thank the members of the Senate who voted in support of this proposal,” said Greg Biryla, the executive director of Unshackle Upstate, a business-backed advocacy group.

“Services like Uber and Lyft will provide Upstate residents and visitors with a safe, reliable transportation option that is already available in New York City and 47 states. Providing Upstate drivers with an opportunity to earn income on a schedule that works for them is a win-win that everyone should support.”

A coalition of taxi companies, however, called the vote “a waste of time” considering it is a one-house bill and faulted the measure for it not including background checks.

“Assembly leadership has already set a key precedent on ridesharing by opposing efforts to repeal the SAFE Act upstate,” said John Tomassi of the Upstate Transportation Association. “The reality is that gun safety laws are only effective when they provide the same vital protections across the state – not only in New York City.”