State Senate

Senate Confirms Rowan Wilson To Court Of Appeals

The state Senate on Monday confirmed the Court of Appeals nomination of Judge Rowan Wilson.

Wilson, 56, is a litigator at Cravath, Swaine & Moore. His confirmation to the state’s highest court marks the first time two African-American judges are sitting on the bench simultaneously.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominated Wilson last month to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Eugene Pigott.

“With Rowan Wilson’s confirmation as the next Associate Judge on the New York State Court of Appeals, New York gains another supremely qualified and accomplished leader to serve on our state’s highest court,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Admired for his unassailable integrity, keen intellect and extensive experience handling some of the most pressing legal matters of our time, Judge Wilson is committed to the principles of justice and equality that are the very foundation of New York’s judicial system. I thank Chairman Bonacic, members of the Judiciary Committee, and the Senate for their due consideration of this nominee. I congratulate Judge Wilson on his confirmation, and look forward to his service on behalf of all New Yorkers.”

With Wilson’s confirmation, the seven member court would have been fully remade during the Cuomo administration with his nominees due to mandatory retirements.

Assembly Pushes Immigration Package

The Democratic-led Assembly is backing legislation designed to protect immigrants in New York that, in essence, would give New York sanctuary statehood status.

At the same time, the Assembly is once again pushing for the passage of the DREAM Act, a bill that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Both measures face unlikely chances in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

But the package of bills is advancing amid a liberal push back to President Donald Trump’s immigration policies placing a three-month ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries and a four-month ban on refugees.

“For decades, New York’s harbor welcomed millions of immigrants that helped shape our nation into the strong, diverse country it is today,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.

“The Assembly Majority believes that the continued success of our state depends on ensuring that immigrants have access to the resources they need to make meaningful contributions to their communities without the fear of inappropriate deportation and other serious consequences.”

Democratic lawmakers are backing bills that would block the use of state and local facilities for enforcing federal immigration policies and limit the detention of individuals based on immigration-related issues.

At the same time, state and local law enforcement agencies would be prohibited from questioning, stopping or investigating a person based on precevied immigration status.

California is also contemplating sanctuary statehood status, but in New York the proposal would likely meet opposition by Senate Republicans, who have successfully opposed the passage of the DREAM Act.

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo raised concerns over the state losing federal money as the Trump administration has threatened for cities that do not coordinate with enforcement policies.

“That’s what the indication is — you would lose federal funding,” Griffo said. “I don’t think New York is in a position to do that right now.”

Stewart-Cousins Doesn’t Rule Out IDC Primaries

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Monday did not rule out further primary challenges to members of the Independent Democratic Conference and derided their coalition with the Senate Republicans as a “false majority.”

“This is a place where you would think that when Democrats win the majority, Democrats can work together,” she said at a news conference on voting rights and access. “Unfortunately this has not been the case. People have found their interests supported by working with a false majority. It has been beneficial to them in terms of perks, beneficial to them in terms of whatever they think is important.”

As for a primary challenge to IDC members, Stewart-Cousins said her conference was focused on governing, but left the door open.

“I think we’re taking our business here seriously, our governing seriously,” she said. “We’re not talking about primaries right now.”

The comments come as a war of words continues to heat up around the mainline Democratic conference and the eight-member IDC, which has grown in recent months with the addition of Sens. Jesse Hamilton and, this month, Jose Peralta.

Democratic primary challenges to IDC members in the past have failed, most notably bids against Sen. Tony Avella (beating John Liu) and IDC Leader Jeff Klein (who defeated Oliver Koppell).

IDC-backed challenges to incumbents have failed, too. The IDC’s most prominent intraparty victory was the success of Sen. marisol Alcantara in an open-seat race.

Senate Republicans have 32 members in their conference, a numerical majority, with the addition of Brooklyn Democrat Simcha Felder, who is not a member of the IDC.

Still, Democrats in the mainline conference are banking on public pressure over the presidency of Donald Trump.

“I think more than ever we are in an awakening moment for New Yorkers,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Each one of us has to be accountable for our constituents and our constituencies.”

Senate To Take Up Ride Hailing

From the Morning Memo:

The Republican-led Senate will advance its own legislation on Monday to expand ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft outside of New York City.

The move comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included his own version of ride hailing in his $152 billion budget proposal, which lawmakers are expected to pass by March 31.

The Senate bill would provide a lower tax on hails than what the governor has proposed: Cuomo would tax rides 5.5 percent, the Senate’s bill places a 2 percent tax on hails while also not subjecting the service to a 4 percent sales tax.

Revenue from ride hailing would be used toward infrastructure projects.

“I look forward to advancing this comprehensive bill that will allow Uber, Lyft and similar companies to begin operating outside of New York City,” said Sen. James Seward.

“Business executives, college students, and everyone in between utilize ride-sharing apps when visiting cities around the nation and upstate New York riders should be not be left at the curb. This bill delivers economic, environmental, and public safety benefits and is long overdue.”

Agreement on allowing ride hailing outside of New York City there in principle within the Legislature. However, lawmakers have over the last year disagreed on how to regulate ride hailing and, in particular, the amount of insurance drivers should carry. The Senate bill would offer workers’ compensation insurance through the existing Black Car Fund.

The Senate bill would require criminal and driver history checks and backs zero-tolerarnace drug and alcohol policies.

Felder Highlights Person-On-The-Street Opposition To Bag Tax

From the Morning Memo:

Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder’s office is highlighting person-on-the-street criticism of a 5-cent fee that would be placed on bags in New York City, a measure likely to be delayed this week by the Legislature.

Felder, a Democrat who is a member of the Republican conference in the Senate, has been a prominent opponent of the measure being enacted.

In the video released this weekend by his office, constituents are asked their opinions of the bag tax and, not surprisingly, they feel like they are taxed enough in New York.

The Legislature this week is expected to pass legislation that would once again delay the implementation of the surcharge as Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie indicates there may be alternatives assessed in lieu of the fee.

Lawmakers Hope Anti-Heroin Addiction Money Will Be Spent

State lawmakers this week indicated they’ll push this year to include not just more funding for combating heroin and opioid addiction in the budget, but also make sure the money is spent — as lawmakers on Tuesday focused on criminal justice issues in the $152 billion budget proposal.

“This has just grown so dramatically so we need to make sure there is adequate funding and that it’s utilized. We don’t want to see it put in a pot and not utilized,” said Sen. Chris Jacobs. “There’s obviously a problem with it getting out.”

Republican lawmakers who sit on the Senate’s anti-heroin and opioid task force plan to ensure the money is spent on addiction treatment and enforcement for dealers.

“I think this year is special because we need to provide oversight for the reforms that we enacted last year as well as the funding that was allocated,” said Sen. Fred Akshar, a Republican from the Southern Tier region. “It’s important that we not only allocate funds in the budget process but that we ensure that they get out the door.”

In the Democratic-led Assembly, meanwhile, criminal justice concerns include a focus on reform efforts, such as moving criminal cases involving 16 and 17 year olds to juvenile court, a measure that has stalled at the Capitol.

“It’s saying that these young people are young people and that’s why we think it should be adjudicated in family court,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “That’s very import to us and we’d like to see it get done this year — and especially to me personally.”

And a brief protest on Tuesday was held outside of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on the push for the funding of indigent legal services at the county level.

“He bills himself as a progressive as a person who really is for the low income people, for the working class people as a Democrat, a progressive,” said Jawanza Williams of the advocacy group Vocal NY. “But on his criminal justice record he continues to fail.”

Cuomo vetoed an indigent legal services bill last year, but did include funding in his budget proposal this year.

IDC, Senate Dems Continue Standoff

From the Morning Memo:

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference and the mainline Democrats in the state Senate continued an increasingly heated standoff on Tuesday, trading barbs over how to effectively govern in the age of Donald Trump’s presidency.

The feud appears to become increasingly personal in recent days, highlighting the personal rift between Deputy Minority Leader Mike Gianaris of Queens and IDC Leader Jeff Klein of the Bronx.

Gianaris doubled down on his criticism of the IDC in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom on Tuesday, in essence accusing the IDC of aiding Trump-backing Republicans in the Senate.

The IDC, in turn, released a statement through a spokeswoman castigating the mainline conference’s leadership as ineffective.

The running feud is to the delight of Senate Republicans, who are in a numerical minority in the chamber, but retain a working majority with the help of Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who sits with the GOP conference.

Still, the IDC and mainline conference on Tuesday did manage to find some common ground on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to serve on the United States Supreme Court reinforces the need for our state to take immediate action to protect women’s rights,” said Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “We must ensure that no matter what happens on the federal level, women’s rights will remain protected in New York State. We are facing an unprecedented attack on women’s rights and this will only continue under a Trump Presidency.”

Sen. Marisol Alcantara, one of the newest members of the conference elected in November to replace Rep. Adriano Espaillat, also blasted the Gorsuch nomination.

“During his incendiary campaign, Donald Trump promised to build a wall on our border, to ban immigrants from our nation and to appoint an extremely conservative justice to the Supreme Court,” she said.

“Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to our country’s highest court must be rejected by the Senate. He is a person who will uphold the values of Trumpism. Gorsuch’s record includes depriving women of access to contraception in the name of religious freedom and adhering to the same legal philosophies as the deeply conservative Antonin Scalia. With an issue as urgent as immigration possibly coming before these esteemed jurists, how can we trust a legal mind admired by Trump?”

Griffo: Legislature Shouldn’t Help Sanctuary Cities

Republican Sen. Joe Griffo in a lengthy statement on Tuesday said the state Legislature should not be in the position of aiding sanctuary cities that lose federal funding.

“Cities are the most basic level of government within the state and nation, and they are not islands unto themselves that can pick and choose which laws they want to follow,” Griffo said. “We are a society of laws, and no city has the authority, ability or right to designate itself as something it’s not by circumventing federal law, no matter the cause.”

Several cities in New York have designated themselves as “sanctuary” communities, pledging to not coordinated with federal law enforcement when it comes to acting on immigration actions. Those communities include New York City, Albany and Syracuse and could face a cut in federal funding should they not comply with enforcement efforts.

“Any city that chooses to violate federal law by identifying itself as a ‘sanctuary city’ risks the consequence of losing millions of dollars in federal funding, and I do not believe the State Legislature has the duty to help those municipalities cover their losses if they do not honor the laws of our land,” Griffo said. “The acceptance of any disregard for our laws, no matter the intentions, sets a troubling precedent that can only invite further erosion of any legal authority.”

Griffo, who represents an area that includes refugee communities like Utica, said he understands the need to protect migrants who come to the U.S. for safety.

“I represent a district that has a significant population of immigrants and refugees, so I have seen firsthand the positive cultural, social and economic impact that such a diverse population has had on our society. We are proud to be a beacon of hope for those people who are either fleeing oppression and violence in their homelands, or simply seizing an opportunity to pursue the American Dream in our neighborhoods,” he said. “Despite the challenges that may arise from the President’s order, I am confident that our generous community will continue to proudly welcome new people from all across the globe, with warmth and compassion.”

IDC: Mainline Conference Leadership Can’t Fight ‘Trumpism’

The fighting between Senate Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference continued on Tuesday afternoon.

In the morning, it was Queens Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy minority leader, who in a radio interview blasted the growing eight-member IDC for their alignment with the Senate Republican conference, linking them to President Donald Trump in the process.

IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove responded, saying the mainline conference’s leadership isn’t equipped to combat Trump’s policies.

“What the Senate Democratic Conference needs to fight Trumpism is a leader with vision and a campaign director who can win races,” she said. “It’s hard to discern who leads this failing conference: Senator Gianaris or Stewart-Cousins? It’s sad and unfortunate that during these troubling times some Democrats are more concerned with political grandstanding, while others in the growing, revolutionary Independent Democratic Conference are focused on getting things done.”

The statement is the latest in an escalating feud between the mainline Democrats and the IDC, which has added three members in the last several weeks, including most recently Sen. Jose Peralta.

Mainline Democrats insist the IDC is empowering the Republican conference in the Senate through their alliance, with IDC Leader Jeff Klein pointing to liberal policy victories under the arrangement.

Flanagan Calls de Blasio’s Mansion Tax ‘A Non-Starter’

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday called Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed tax on home sales of more than $2 million “a non-starter.”

The tax would apply a 2.5 percent property transfer surcharge on home sales of more than $2 million, generating $336 million and fund affordable housing for the elderly. The tax would be subject to state approval.

Flanagan met with de Blasio during the New York City mayor’s trip to Albany on Monday to discuss the impact of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed $152 billion spending plan, and the proposal was not mentioned.

“I met with the mayor yesterday and that certainly did not come up in the conversation,” said Flanagan, whose conference has been at odds with the liberal mayor. “You’ve hard me say this before, we don’t like raising taxes, we like cutting taxes. In my opinion, a mansion tax is a non-starter.”

The Democratic-led Assembly’s proposal to increase tax rates on those who earn more than $5 million and extend rates on those earning more than $1 million is similarly opposed, Flanagan said.

“I completely disagree,” he said of the Assembly plan.

Flanagan met for about 20 minutes on Tuesday with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in his office off the Assembly chamber floor. He declined to discuss the meeting, saying the two legislative leaders talk frequently.