State Senate

SD-55: Funke’s Opponent Pushes Him On Gun Control

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic opponent of Republican Sen. Rich Funke this week is pushing him to back gun control legislation in the wake of last month’s high school shooting in Florida that killed 17 people.

Democrat Jen Lunsford in a statement pointed to the measures backed by the Democratic-led Assembly that, among other things, banned bump stock devices from being possessed in the state and a bill that would make it easier for those deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others to lose their firearm through a court order.

“In the days and weeks following the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Florida, members of our community from all backgrounds have come together to support common-sense policies that will keep our families safe from gun violence,” Lunsford said.

“Unfortunately, State Senate Republicans have failed to show the same courage and leadership we’ve seen from young people around the country. Democrats in the State Senate have twice attempted to bring common sense solutions to a vote in recent weeks. Senate Republicans, including Rich Funke, unanimously voted against these efforts, which is inconsistent with the concerns we all share here in Upstate New York.”

A Senate Republican spokesman declined to comment.

Senate Republicans on procedural grounds voted down amendments backed by Democrats in the Senate that included much of the same provisions supported by their counterparts in the Assembly.

The GOP conference in the Senate has supported a variety of bills for bolstering school security and safety, including money for resource officers. Some lawmakers in the Republican conference have announced support for gun control measures back by Democrats, suggesting a compromise is possible on the issue.

Bonacic Bill Would Legalize Sports Betting

A bill announced Thursday by Sen. John Bonacic would legalize sports betting at casinos in New York.

The bill could only be made law pending the outcome of a Supreme Court case that is determining the legality of placing wagers on the outcomes of sporting events, potentially overturning a federal prohibition.

“New York State has historically been behind the curve in dealing with developments in the gaming world, and it has been to our detriment,” said Bonacic, a Republican from the Hudson Valley who is chairman of the Racing and Wagering Committee.

“If allowed, sports betting will be a revenue enhancer for education in New York. We have the chance to ensure our sports betting statute is fully developed and addresses the needs of the state and all stakeholders so we can hit the ground running if and when we can authorize and regulate sports betting.”

The provision is being presented as an update to enabling legislation approved for commercial casino gambling in New York. The casinos allowed under state law, all north of New York City, have struggled to meet revenue projections since opening.

Bonacic had previously signaled he would move forward with sports betting legislation after a hearing on the issue in January. The National Basketball Association, which sent representatives to the hearing, backed the legalization push.

Senate Republicans Say They’ll Act On Sexual Harassment Bill

The state Senate expects to act soon on a bill that would reform the state’s sexual harassment laws, creating a uniform policy for all branches of state and local government and create a specialized unit that handles harassment allegations.

The legislation comes amid a societal re-examination of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault in the United States.

The bill would also ban confidentiality agreements pending the request of the survivor. Government would also be able to “recoup monies” used in sexual harassment settlements.

The Senate provision was written in large part by Sen. Cathy Young, a Republican from western New York. The broad strokes of the bill largely mirror what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed in his $168 billion budget plan.

“Our legislation will help prevent sexual harassment and ensure all employees throughout this state are provided with the safe work environment they deserve,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said. “I urge the Governor and Assembly to join us in approving this bill and delivering a result that New Yorkers can be proud of.”

In New York, Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein has been accused of forcibly kissing a former legislative aide, which he denies. Ethics regulators are investigating the claim, a move Klein supports. Klein has also been supportive of reforming sexual harassment laws.

Bonacic Says He’s Open To Gun Control Bills

Republican Sen. John Bonacic in an interview Tuesday said he would be open to considering specific gun control legislation such as bans on bump stocks and extending the waiting period to purchase a gun so a more extensive background check is conducted.

“These requests in my mind are reasonable,” Bonacic said. “Those are a couple of things that I’m going to be advocating in my conference.”

His comments come the same day Assembly Democrats approved package of gun control measures, including an extreme risk protection order measure, banning bump stock possession and a strengthening background checks.

He’s also the second Republican to be open to specific gun control measures. Earlier in the day, Sen. Elaine Phillips backed gun control measures such as the bump stock ban.

Senate Republicans on Monday backed a package of school safety and security bills that would provide funding for armed resource officers and added technology. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is open to some of the school safety measures, but opposes adding resource officers with firearms in schools.

Bonacic, in the interview, suggested it’s unlikely any of the gun control measures will be taken up in the budget, due by March 29.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think these will be standalone because the debate is expansive.”

Democrats in the chamber sought to add gun control measures — many of which were taken up by the Assembly — to hostile amendments that were voted down.

Bonacic insisted he wanted to see the debate de-politicized.

“It should be a bipartisan solution,” he said. “There’s a worthy discussion to have and we’re going to have a worthy discussion.”

Senate Republican Backs Gun Control Measures

Republican Sen. Elaine Phillips on Tuesday in a statement endorsed taking action on specific gun control measures, including a ban on possessing bump stocks in New York and classifying mass shootings as an act of terrorism.

Phillips, a Long Island lawmaker, also backed a measure that would tighter restrictions on gun ownership for those who are convicted of domestic abuse, which gun control supporters consider to be a loophole in federal law.

“As a mother of three daughters, I believe it is essential that we act to protect our schools and end the threat of mass shootings in our communities,” Phillips said. “This is a seminal moment in our nation’s history and we must come together to act.”

Her support comes as the state Senate in the last several days has debated gun control measures pushed by Democratic conference and IDC lawmakers. The provisions presented as amendments have been voted down by GOP lawmakers.

But at the same time, Senate Republicans have not ruled out taking further action on gun control as they also push school safety and security legislation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Assembly are expected to introduce and consider their own gun control measures later today.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who has championed gun control legislation, has pushed Democrats to act on the national level.

Albany Considers Its Options With Added Revenue

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget plan includes $1 billion in new taxes and fees. But that could change, with lawmakers and the governor agreeing there’s as much as $750 million in additional money coming in from existing revenue streams.

“Whether we have more revenue or not, my Senate colleagues and I are not going to support additional taxes in the state of New York,” said Sen. James Tedisco, a Republican from the Albany area.

The added revenue is based on the timing of tax payments to the state. Republicans hope some of the money could go toward paying down a $4.4 billion deficit and negate the need for tax hikes.

“We weren’t planning on increases whether we have the revenue or not, and we should use this revenue to eliminate any taxes that the governor has presented to us,” Tedisco said.

Democrats are eyeing extra spending for education, transit and resources for the developmentally disabled.

“It is a balancing act and there are some extraordinary needs,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “Some days I feel like I have a parade outside my door with some very heartfelt and impassioned needs.”

But budget analysts warn against increasing spending in the budget with the added revenue, saying it could make budget shortfalls in future years even bigger.

“If they use it to increase spending overall, it will increase deficits in the out years,” said David Friedfel with the Citizens Budget Commission.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is equally cautious with the added revenue, saying he must still negotiate a budget with Cuomo and Senate Republicans.

“It’s good news, but it still has to be worked on within the framework of a budget discussion,” Heastie said.

Senate Republicans and the Democratic governor want to cap spending increases. That makes it harder for Assembly Democrats to push for more spending.

“You have to negotiate with the people you have to negotiate with. It’s not just a pot of $750 million you can divide up,” Heastie said.

Lawmakers expect to pass the budget by March 29, several days before the start of the new fiscal year.

Senate Spars Again Over Gun Control

Republicans in the state Senate on Monday unveiled a package of measures meant to bolster school security and safety, leading Democrats to once again push for gun control measures through a series of hostile amendments.

The debate over gun control has moved forward in the Senate after a shooting at a Florida high school killed 17 people.

Republicans have not ruled out passing new gun control measures that would make it harder for people convicted of domestic abuse or who have mental illnesses from owning firearms.

But Senate GOP lawmakers have also pushed school safety provisions that add funding for resource officers and put police officers in New York City schools while also freeing up funding from a bond act to pay for security upgrades. Additional measures would also create a special license plate to fund resource officers in schools. More money is also being proposed to strengthen mental health programs.

“Schools must be safe havens, where students can learn and teachers can teach,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “In New York, we must act swiftly and decisively to implement additional measures in schools throughout our state to give students, parents, and teachers the resources and peace of mind that they deserve.”

Democrats, however, want the Senate to go further than the safety and security bills in the narrowly divided chamber. Lawmakers have in recent days pushed for measures that would tighten background checks, establish court-ordered risk protection provisions and ban bump stocks.

“Today’s bills are just further proof that the Republican party is so terrified of dealing with this country’s gun problem that they are willing to bury their heads in the sand,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“We cannot allow our schools to be blamed for shootings so that the NRA and its allies can get away with ignoring the real cause of this crisis, far too many guns on our streets. This country has a mass shooting epidemic that has included schools, movie theaters, nightclubs, and workplaces. That is why we need to pass legislation keeping military style weapons and accessories off the streets and guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. Senate Democrats once again addressed this issue head-on with proposals to protect our communities from gun violence, and again the Senate Republicans voted these measures down.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, meanwhile, has reiterated a push for gun control on the national level, pointing to the SAFE Act, approved in 2013, as one of the strongest measures for gun control in the country.

DeFran: Maybe I Should Have Bought A Dog

Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco insisted on Monday he wants to avoid a primary for the GOP nomination for governor as Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro is expected to officially enter the race.

“I’d love to avoid a primary and as long as the process is fair I’ll avoid a primary,” DeFrancisco told reporters at the Capitol.

“If he gets more votes than I do because there are chairmen who feels he’s the best, it would be very, very unlikely, almost impossible, for me to go forward. We’ve got to join together and go forward and beat Gov. Cuomo. If we’re a party that’s split up, we’d never have a chance.”

Molinaro bested DeFrancisco last week in an informal straw poll of Republican officials. Molinaro signaled to the GOP’s leadership that he plans to run after initially saying earlier this year he would forgo a statewide campaign.

DeFrancisco last month appeared to have a clear shot at the nomination with Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb dropping his campaign. But some Republicans have raised concerns with DeFrancisco’s record in Albany and his votes for budgets introduced by Cuomo.

DeFrancisco and Molinaro likely have few substantial policy differences between them, but their personalities are divergent. Molinaro is younger, energetic and has sought to portray himself as a local government problem solver. DeFrancisc is more pugnacious and has reveled at times in annoying the incumbent governor.

DeFrancisco smiled when asked if it’s a matter of style.

“Maybe I have been too hard on the governor,” he said. “Maybe I should have been sweeter. Maybe be nice to him. Maybe go out to dinner and buy a dog so our dogs can play together. I’m not that warm and fuzzy. I’m a fighter. I am what I am.”

He added: “If I get the nomination, it would be the most entertaining campaign you’ve ever seen. But more than entertaining, it would change the direction of the state.”

SD-37: In Ad, Killian Blasts Taxpayer-Backed Harassment Settlements

From the Morning Memo:

Republican state Senate hopeful Julie Killian on Monday is set to release her first TV ad that takes aim at taxpayer-funded sexual harassment settlements.

In ad, Killian calls the settlements using public dollars “not just corrupt, it’s unconscionable.”

“They expect us to work hard, send them our tax dollars so they can use it to pay for their unlawful behavior,” she says in the ad. “That’s not going to happen when I’m in the Senate.”

Killian is facing Democratic Assemblywoman Shelly Mayer in a campaign for a Westchester County district that is considered pivotal for control of the chamber and a unity agreement between mainline Democrats and the Independent Democratic Conference.

The special election to fill the seat vacated by Westchester County Executive George Latimer will be held April 24.

There are multiple proposals from Democratic and Republican lawmakers that would end taxpayer-funded settlements for sexual harassment cases. Over the years, the state has doled out millions of dollars in settlement money to settle harassment cases.

One of the largest in the last decade was a $545,000 settlement paid to the survivors of harassment and abuse by Assemblyman Vito Lopez (the Brooklyn lawmaker, who died in 2015, also paid out $32,000 from his own pocket).

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, has proposed package of sexual harassment reforms for state government, including an end to confidential settlements, as long as the identity of the victim is kept secure, as well as an end to taxpayer-funded settlements.

Legislature Approves Paying Remainder Of Nojay’s Salary To His Widow

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate quietly approved legislation last week to a pay out the remainder of deceased Assemblyman Bill Nojay’s annual salary to his widow, Debra Gordon. Nojay took his own life on Sept. 9, 2016 – the same day he was due to appear in federal court to face fraud charges.

The bill authorizes the payment of $27,230.88 to Gordon, which is the amount of money Nojay would have earned between the time of his death and the end of the calendar year. According to the bill’s text, such a payment is in keeping with a long-standing tradition.

The state Senate also approved similar payments to the spouses of two other deceased legislators, former downstate Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz and Assemblywoman Barbara Clark. In both cases, their ex-colleagues voted unanimously in favor of the appropriations.

But just a few weeks after the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle published an extensive report on how the federal public corruption investigation into Nojay’s dealings continues, and at least half a dozen legal actions are pending against his estate, four senators did vote “no” on the Nojay compensation bill.

State Sen. Pat Gallivan, a Republican whose district overlaps with the one the assemblyman used to represent, sponsored the legislation.

“It has been a long-standing, bipartisan practice of the Legislature to pay widows or widowers the unpaid salaries of spouses who die while they are members of the Legislature,” Gallivan said. “I support the extension of this to Ms. Gordon.”

The state Assembly meanwhile, unanimously approved the payments to Gordon, as well as the other two spouses, at the end of January. East Aurora Republican David DiPietro, Nojay’s former colleague in the GOP conference, sponsored the legislation.

“Bill was my friend in the Assembly,” DiPietro said. “He worked very hard for his constituents. This is standard Assembly and Senate procedure for deceased members from both sides of the aisle. My prayers go out to him and his family.”

All three bills have been delivered to the governor, who has yet to take action on them.