State Senate

Pressure Builds For Senate Vote On Child Victims Act

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse and state lawmakers said on Thursday the ball is in the court of the Republican-led state Senate to take up a measure that makes it easier for victims to file lawsuits.

The push for the Child Victims Act in the final days of the legislative session comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced a program bill for the measure that is the same provision as backed by the Democratic-led Assembly.

“The governor sent up a program bill and it mirrors our bill,” said Speaker Carl Heastie. “We’re happy the governor is in the same place we are.”

It’s unclear if the measure will lead to Senate action before lawmakers leave Albany next Wednesday.

“I guess that’s a question you’ll have to ask Senator Flanagan,” Heastie said. “We passed a bill, we strongly supported it and it’s now in the hands of the Senate to deal with this.”

In the Senate, Democrats there pushed for a vote to be held on the governor’s legislation in the final days.

“I think we’re in a good place right now,” Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “We’ve put our bill in front of everyone and the governor has clearly put the same bill. We know where we are, we know where we need to go. Allow for us to have a vote and I think we will see the right result for the people in New York.”

The measure is opposed by some organizations that have lobbied against it, including the Catholic Church.

Updated: In a statement, Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif said, “Time and time again the Republican-led Senate has authored and approved common sense measures to protect children from sexual predators, and we will continue to do so. There are a number of similar proposals on this issue and they remain under review.”

Senate Dems Push Flanagan On Mayoral Control

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic lawmakers urged Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan in a letter to press forward with an agreement on extending mayoral control of New York City schools as the provision is set to expire this month.

“We have had our share of disagreements with some of the education policies of the previous mayoral administration and the current one,” the letter sent this week states. “But we cannot ignore the progress that has been reported — the highest graduation rates in the history of New York City. dropout rates that are the lowest ever, and dramatic improvements in test scores and college readiness.”

The letter was signed by Senate Minority Andrea Stewart-Cousins and the members of her Democratic conference who represent New York City districts.

The legislative session is scheduled to conclude next Wednesday, but an agreement on extending the life of mayoral control for public schools remains elusive. It is among the few deadline-driven concerns lawmakers have this month, but the Assembly and Senate are at loggerheads over how to continue it.

The Senate has approved this week a series of bills that would extend mayoral control a variety of ways, but each measure includes provisions that strengthen charter schools — a non-starter for Assembly Democrats.

The Assembly last month approved a two-year extension for mayoral control packaged with an extension of sales tax and other local tax provisions that impact upstate and suburban counties.

In the letter, Stewart-Cousins urged Flanagan to take up the Assembly bill.

“The 8.5 million residents of New York City deserve a government with the capacity to create schools that work for their students. Providing a multi-year extension of Mayoral Control will help further that goal,” the letter states. “The Senate Democratic Conference looks forward to voting on a bill that will do just that.”

SenDem Letter on Mayoral Control by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Bonacic Says There’s Still Time To Confirm CoA Judge

Republican Sen. John Bonacic is confident there is still a window of time for the Senate to confirm a Court of Appeals nominee to fill a vacancy on the state’s top court.

“It takes time, usually, but if our majority leader says I want you to do it, we probably could,” Bonacic said. “It could be fast tracked in a hurry.”

Lawmakers just need a nominee from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The legislative session is scheduled to conclude on June 21, next Wednesday.

“If we had to get it done before we leave session, we probably could if we got it before the weekend,” Bonacic, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said in an interview.

The vacancy on the court was created in April following the death of Sheila Abdus-Salaam in what authorities believe was a suicide.

Cuomo has a list of seven potential nominees for the post on the court as recommended by a screening commission. The state Bar Association on Tuesday rated all the candidates as “well qualified” — the highest possible rating the group can bestow on judicial candidates.

Bonacic is not concerned with the quality of the potential nominees, noting most of them serve as appellate judges.

“They are excellent nominees,” he said. “I’m going to get an exemplary judge as a nominee, I’m sure of it.”

Bonacic added he has not received an indication from Cuomo as to whether a nomination will be made by the end of the week.

IDC Wants BoE Review Of WFP Poll

The Independent Democratic Conference on Tuesday called for a Board of Elections review of a poll released this week by the Working Families Party that showed majority support for the eight-member bloc to return to the mainline conference.

The concerns raised by the IDC are multi-fold, but in essence stem from allegations the WFP did not disclose who paid for the survey, which was conducted as an automated phone call. At the same time, the IDC pointed to the poll not being released in its entirety, including the crosstabs, which the WFP would not do when asked.

The IDC contends both requirements are laid out in state election law.

“The Working Families Party will lie, deceive and have no qualms about breaking the law. The Board of Elections must review these serious allegations,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove.

“The Working Families Party in conducting a push poll, failed to disclose that they were responsible for the call, and refused to release the full contents of the push poll to State of Politics violating the Fair Campaign Code. These antics are just more of the same from a party that’s been slapped with astronomical fines in the past for its misdeeds.”

WFP State Director Bill Lipton pushed back against the IDC’s call for a Board of Elections review.

“New Yorkers should take these desperate and absurd attacks from the IDC as seriously as they take the IDC’s claims that allying with Republicans somehow makes them progressive champions,” he said.

“No matter how hard they try to change the subject, the IDC can’t escape the fact that their alliance with the GOP is increasingly toxic to voters who want to see New York lead the nation in resisting Trump.”

The fight over the poll comes as the IDC is being pressured by liberal groups to return to the mainline conference in the state Senate.

As released by the WFP, 59 percent of Democratic voters in Sen. Tony Avella’s district support the move, 61 percent in Sen. Jose Peralta’s seat, 53 percent of Sen. Jesse Hamilton’s Democratic constituents, 58 percent in Sen. Diane Savino’s district, 59 percent in Sen. Marisol Alcantara’s district. In IDC Leader Jeff Klein’s district, support for backing mainline Democrats from Democratic voters in his district is 62 percent; in Sen. David Carlucci’s district it is 59 percent, in Sen. David Valesky’s district is 61 percent.

The poll came under scrutiny when The New York Post reported today an automated voice on the call used a swear word, according to a constituent of Sen. Jose Peralta. Audio obtained by State of Politics contradicts this as the voice is clearly saying, “thank you.”

Senate GOP Turns To Heroin And Opioid Enforcement

The public policy solution to the fight against heroin and opioid addiction has been different in recent years when compared to other high-profile drug epidemics.

Whether than focusing solely on criminal actions by users, the focus has been on treatment — a bipartisan consensus.

Now, Republicans in the state Senate are turning to enforcement measures to combat heroin and opioid use, focusing on the major suppliers of the drugs.

“The Senate continues to be at the forefront of efforts to battle the state’s heroin crisis and was instrumental in securing $214 million in this year’s budget for measures to prevent and treat heroin and opioid abuse,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “The measures taken up today will improve resources for both law enforcement and treatment professionals to help New Yorkers in every corner of our state.”

The measures, unveiled at a news conference on Tuesday, include the enactment of “Laree’s Law” which would create the crime of homicide by sale of opiate controlled substance.

Another bill would create drug-free zones around drug or alcohol treatment centers. Lawmakers want new penalties for heroin sales and make it easier to prosecute heroin dealers, including for the sale to minors and place limits on a child’s exposure to opioids.

Synthetic drugs like fentanyl would see new regulations as would carfentanil.

The bills face an uncertain fate in the Assembly, where Democratic lawmakers have traditionally been skeptical of criminal justice measures that deal with sentencing.

Flanagan, Pushing Charter Schools, Says He’s Hopeful For Agreement

Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday said he had “every confidence” an agreement could be reached by June 21 on extending mayoral control of New York City schools.

But he also wants to strengthen and expand charter schools in the process — a proposal that has been considered dead on arrival for Assembly Democrats.

“I have said all along and our conference agrees with this: We believe in mayoral control, because someone has to be held responsible,” Flanagan said at a news conference this morning. “I have every confidence that we can negotiate, that we can get it done and we can get it done in a timely fashion.”

Flanagan confirmed he spoke with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio about the issue recently, calling the discussion “productive.”

“I have every expectation that we will have ongoing discussions,” he said.

Mayoral control expires at the end of the month, and Senate Republicans — crosswise with de Blasio since he has taken office — have only granted him a 12 month extension each year the issue has come up.

The Senate is pushing a batch of mayoral control extension measures that would expand the statewide cap on charter schools, which Speaker Carl Heastie insists he won’t take up.

“If a child in the Bronx is suffering, that has an effect on the community I represent,” Flanagan said. “We’re talking about education. We’re talking about public education. While it gets lost in the mix, public schools are charter schools.”

Senate Democrats in a news conference at the same time pushed back against the effort to expand charter schools, which included a fiery response from United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew.

“Parents and taxpayers deserve to know how charters spend public dollars and to know that students are the real beneficiaries, not an afterthought,” Mulgrew said. “Charters have to be more accountable on everything from admissions and enrollment to discipline and finances. They need to show that they are about educating all children, not just about raking in more tax dollars.”

Senate Republicans were further put off in the debate as Assembly Democrats last month extended the program, but also included in an omnibus bill the re-approval of sales and local tax provisions that impact upstate and suburban lawmakers. Heastie on Monday insisted those measures are related, saying the Democratic conference views both as local issues.

Flanagan, however, disagreed.

“They have decided to take a different tact and hold hostage a number of our colleagues right here for revenue in their local communities,” Flanagan said. “If they had said no linkage, it would be a different story.”

In Court, Ortt And Maziarz Question Enforcement Counsel’s Authority

Attorneys for ex-Sen. George Maziarz and his successor in the Senate Robert Ortt on Tuesday argued the enforcement counsel at the Board of Elections did not have the authority to bring the fraud case they now face.

“Obviously the judge will wrestle with it,” said Maziarz attorney Joe LaTona after the proceeding in state Supreme Court in Albany. “You heard our position and you heard their position. We’ll see what he’ll do.”

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office, represented by deputy AG Christopher Baynes on Tuesday, argued Sugarman had the jurisdiction to pursue the case pointing to the law that created her position.

At the same time, Ortt and Maziarz are seeking the disclosure of a grand jury transcript they believe will shed additional light on the case.

The charges stem from Ortt’s time as the mayor of North Tonawanda. Prosecutors allege Ortt’s wife was given a no-show job, being paid $21,500 between 2010 and 2014, in order to make up for a $5,000 reduction in his annual pay as mayor.

Maziarz is accused of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara Conuty Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

“I think the oral arguments today clearly outline the baseline and political nature of the charges against me,” Ortt told reporters after the hearing.

“I think it will highlight the lack of evidence against me and that they’ve concocted baseline arguments against me,” he said of the grand jury minutes.

Another court appearance for Maziarz and Orrt is yet to be determined, but is expected to be included in the decision from Judge Peter Lynch.

The ‘F-You’ That Wasn’t

When is an “f-you” not an “f-you?”

Well, the Working Families Party in a telephone poll is being accused by an upset constituent of Sen. Jose Peralta of having a swear word uttered in the automated phone call. Only a recording provided to the State of Politics blog shows the opposite, that the recording for the poll says “thank you.”

The WFP had released the robocall’s results, showing Democratic voters by a majority in each district of the eight IDC lawmakers want their senators to return to the mainline Democratic fold.

The IDC had taken initial exception to how the poll was constructed. No crosstabs are being released and the questions themselves, they are argue, are of the “push poll” variety in which they appear loaded (i.e., the IDC is not in an official coalition with the Senate Republicans like they were in 2012-13).

Today, The New York Post reported one person had heard the call as saying “f– you” at the end of the automated, touch-dial response.

“Now that rogue Bill Lipton and his breakaway political party has claimed ownership of this shameful and vulgar push poll we look forward to a review by the State Board of Elections,” said Candice Giove, an IDC spokeswoman.

A recording of the call given to the State of Politics, however, clearly has the recorded voice saying “thank you.” The same goes for the recording in Spanish — in that case, “gracias.”

“The brutal and obvious fact that likely Democratic voters overwhelmingly want the Democratic Senators they voted for to stop supporting Trump Republicans should surprise no one,” said WFP State Director Bill Lipton. “Whether the IDC is being dismissive of the DNC Deputy Chair, or trying to discredit the results of a scientific survey, they can’t evade the truth their political position is totally untenable.”

The WFP on Monday also provided me an assessment from an independent pollster who had worked on Bernie Sanders’s campaign. In a phone interview, pollster Ben Krompak called a “perfectly straightforward question” and the results “accurately reflect the political environment.”

The WFP, along with a range of liberal pressure organizations and Democrats have been trying to push the IDC back to the mainline Democratic fold over the last several weeks, following the election of a 32nd enrolled Democrat to the Senate, giving the party a numerical majority, but not a working one.

Emily’s List President Wants ASC

From the Morning Memo:

Add the president of EMILY’s List to those weighing in on the push for Democrats in the Senate to form a working majority in the chamber.

A statement released this week by EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock called for Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to become the next majority leader of the state Senate, which would make her the first woman to lead a either house in Albany.

“The New York Senate needs and the people of New York deserve the kind of strong leadership and vision Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins brings,” she said.

“She is a proven leader that has fought for women and families in her time in the State Senate. EMILY’s List has been proud to support her throughout her time in public office and is proud to stand with her now. Andrea is one of only seven Democratic women in the New York State Senate, the first woman to lead a caucus in the state and one of a small number of women of color leading a caucus nationwide. Her record on reproductive freedom, minimum wage, and economic equality is consistent with our progressive values as an organization committed to ensuring the rights of women and families are protected.”

Advocacy groups and Democratic elected officials are calling for the Independent Democratic Conference to reunite with the mainline conference. The move toward a governing majority in the Senate was reignited in May when Democrats gained a numerical majority in the chamber with the special election victory of Brian Benjamin to an upper Manhattan district.

DeFran Questions Why Procurement Bill Hasn’t Been Voted On

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco on Monday questioned why a bill that would re-authorize procurement oversight power for the state comptroller’s office hasn’t been voted on in the chamber.

DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican, said it was “pretty obvious” why Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who backs the creation of an inspector general — opposed the legislation.

“I don’t think you have to be a lawyer, you just have to be somewhat sane to realize that’s that not a check and balance over anybody,” he said. “He doesn’t want to lose that control and have that oversight. It’s not some drastic thing that’s being proposed, it’s just to go back to the way it was.”

He added: “What’s not obvious is why we don’t at least pass the bills and have a vote on it.”

DeFrancisco quickly added that’s not a criticism of Majority Leader John Flanagan for the measure not coming up for a vote with seven days to go in the scheduled legislative session.

“I didn’t say he didn’t want to,” he said. “I’m saying it hasn’t gotten to the floor yet.”

The legislation was proposed after bid rigging charges were filed against prominent upstate developers, a former close aide to the governor and the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic.

Lawmakers are also considering a bill that would create a “database of deals” to track state contracts.

The procurement measure remains under discussion, Speaker Carl Heastie said earlier in the day.