State Senate

Senate To Consider Mayoral Control Bills

The Republican-controlled Senate today will consider a trio of bills designed to extend the life of mayoral control of New York City schools and strengthen charter schools in the process.

The bills have been all-but-declared dead on arrival in the Democratic-led Assembly, where Speaker Carl Heastie called them a “non-starter.”

All three bills extend mayoral control for either one year, two years or five years. They would lift the statewide cap on the number of charter schools that can be created.

A third bill — extending mayoral control for up to five years — would create the education tax credit, a provision aimed at spurring donations that aid private and parochial schools.

The Assembly has previously approved a two-year extension of the program along with a slew of local tax measures.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was initially scheduled to come to Albany today, but that changed Sunday evening.

Mayoral control, in place since 2009, expires at the end of June.

Dems Find Meaning In Special Election Wins

This month in Albany two new Democrats took seats in the Legislature after winning special elections in the Senate and Assembly. Their victories mean different things for their chambers, but the message the new lawmakers bring to Albany is the same.

“Progressive agendas are winning in the United States,” said Christine Pellegrino, a Democrat elected to the Assembly in Suffolk County. “Clearly, this win was a victory for issues and a victory for labor.”

Pellegrino won an upset victory last month in a heavily Republican district that voted for President Donald Trump. She received an infusion of support from the state’s teachers union, but credits her victory with raising issues that voters in both parties care about.

“It’s clearly an example of when you talk to voters about issues they care about, you cross party lines on issues like education and funding,” Pellegrino said.

In the Senate, Democrat Brian Benjamin won a heavily Democratic seat in Harlem. But his election is key because he is now the thirty-second enrolled Democrat in the chamber, giving the party a numerical majority again.

“The people of this state have spoken,” Benjamin said. “The people of this state have said we are electing 32 Democrats and we expect you, because we elected you as Democrats, to fight for the issues that Democrats are known to be fighting for.”

Only it’s not so simple with the Senate, under the control of Republicans thanks to their alliance with Democratic Senator Simcha Felder. Since Benjamin’s election, liberal groups have sought to pressure the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference to rejoin the mainline fold. And Democrats hope to convince Gov. Andrew Cuomo to push the IDC toward reconciliation as well.

“Everybody is understanding that we are stronger together and I’m sure the governor knows that too,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Cuomo last year did endorse and provide contributions for several Democrats running in key races. However, he also told Senate Republicans earlier this year he could have worked harder on behalf of his own party, but didn’t.

Miner Backs DeFran’s Procurement Bill

Democratic Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner in a statement Friday called for the passage of a bill backed by Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco that would reform the procurement process.

The bill would re-empower the state comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, to review state economic development-related contracts when spending is passed through a SUNY-related entity.

“New York State has been plagued by serious allegations of impropriety that stem from the contracting process,” Miner said. “Now is the time for serious reform and I support Senator John DeFrancisco’s effort to restore contracting
oversight to the independently-elected State Comptroller.”

Lawmakers are considering the bill after the arrests of upstate developers, including those with ties to a Syracuse-based company, the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic and a former close aide to the governor.

The bill is opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who wants to appoint an inspector general empowered to review procurement. Miner is a former state Democratic Committee co-chair who left the post amid a public disagreement with Cuomo.

It’s not yet clear if DeFrancisco’s bill in the Senate and its same-as version in the Assembly will be voted on before the end of the legislative session, scheduled to conclude on June 21.

DeFrancisco said in an interview Thursday he would be supportive of an effort to override a potential gubernatorial veto, should it come to that.

“Senator DeFrancisco is always working hard for the people of Syracuse and knows we need the right oversight of our economic development programs,” Miner added. “If we are to grow our economy and create jobs – a goal many New York leaders purport to have – we must restore the faith of voters and taxpayers in the state contracting process.”

TWU And WFP In Battle Over House Dem Effort

From the Morning Memo:

The Transit Workers Union and the Working Families Party is at odds over the push directed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to help flip Republican-held House seats in New York.

The WFP, a labor-backed organization, had voiced concern with the roll out of the announce this week, urging Cuomo to also focus attention on helping Democrats gain a working majority in the state Senate, where the party now has 32 members, but power is held by Republicans.

The TWU, however, slammed the WFP’s posture on the issue.

“TWU 100 joined the Working Families Party (WFP) believing that we would collectively advance policies to help working people and the trade union movement,” said TWU President John Samuelsen.

“Unfortunately, the WFP now seems largely focused on being the self-anointed purity police to determine who is a proper progressive in their brand of social order. Gone from the WFP is the foundational principle that the pathway to economic security for working families is a good union job.”

And the union lashed out at State Director Bill Lipton.

“Newsflash Bill Lipton – When Democrats and trade unionists are uniting to defend America’s working families against the Trump administration’s attacks, you should be standing with us, not attacking us,” Samuelsen said.

“TWU Local 100 and nearly every other trade union in New York State has withdrawn from the WFP precisely because of misguided actions such as these. It is counterproductive and flagrantly hypocritical.”

In response, Lipton said in a statement the WFP holds labor groups like the TWU “in the highest regard” but didn’t back down from its stance.

“We stand by our statement that it is positive and important that the Governor is finally engaging seriously in efforts to help Congressional Democrats,” Lipton said.

“We also stand by our statement that he must finally apply the same standard with the State Senate. Millions of working families are living in fear of losing their healthcare, their rights, or being deported. President Trump and his allies are proposing a phony infrastructure plan to enrich the 1% while our transit systems here in NY are deteriorating at a alarming rate.”

Lipton pointed to national Democrats joining the fight over Senate control, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison.

“Since it’s inception, the WFP has worked closely with organized labor and other progressive allies on hundreds of campaigns to elect progressive Democrats to Congress and to the state legislature,” Lipton said. “This year and 2018 will be no different. In fact, we’re proud that votes on the WFP ballot line are often the margin of victory for progressive Democrats running in New York Congressional races.”

Peoples-Stokes Elected Chair Of Women’s Caucus

Buffalo Democratic Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes was elected the chairwoman of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, the group on Thursday announced.

Peoples-Stokes replaces outgoing chair Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, a Democratic lawmaker from the Binghamton area.

Additional officers elected by the caucus include Assemblywoman Didi Barrett as first vice chair, Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright as second vice-chair, Sen. Betty Little as secretary and Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky as treasurer.

DeFran Says He’d Support Veto Override Of Procurement Bill

It’s still not clear if a bill that would re-empower the state comptroller to oversee major economic development contracts will see a vote in the Legislature before the end of the month.

But the Senate’s main sponsor of the bill, Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, said he would be supportive of an effort to override a gubernatorial veto of the measure should it come to that.

“I’ve got to get it passed and that’s what I’m working on now,” DeFrancisco said. “If it’s the will of both houses, they should stand up and say the governor is wrong on this and override veto.”

The measure is opposed by Cuomo, who supports the appointment of an inspector general who would oversee contracting. The bill is being pushed after the arrests of developers and a close former aide to the governor accused of bid rigging and fraud.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie this week said he was supportive a three-way agreement could be reached on the bill.

“We haven’t gotten an answer whether or not the leader is going to put it on the floor,” DeFrancisco said. “Hope springs eternal.”

Klein Introduces Mayoral Control Bill

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein announced Wednesday he had introduced a bill that would extend mayoral control of New York City public schools for two years and strengthen Community Education Councils.

“Mayoral control works for our city schools and has developed a successful system of accountability and organization which should continue,” Klein said. “Many parents would love to take on a more active role in their child’s education and I want to give those parents the ability to get involved and be heard through Community Education Councils. This is a sensible approach to extending a system that works for our city.”

Klein’s bill would extend mayoral control until June 2019 and it is aimed at encouraging parental involvement through Communication Education Councils. The bill aims to expand eligibility requirements to include a broader range of parents.

The bill comes as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has proposed a trio of mayoral control legislation, including a measure that create an education tax credit along with a five-year expiration date.

The Democratic-led Assembly backed a two-year extension of mayoral control along with an extension of county tax provisions.

Bonacic: ‘No Rush’ In Court Of Appeals Confirmation

From the Morning Memo:

As the legislative session winds down this month in Albany, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonacic said he is in no rush to confirm whoever Gov. Andrew Cuomo nominates to the state Court of Appeals.

“I’m in no rush to fast forward anything,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The nomination, from a slate of 10 candidates released last week by a screening panel, would fill the vacancy left by the death in April of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.

The open seat leaves a tight time frame for Cuomo to nominate a judge and have the Senate confirm the new member before lawmakers leave town for the year on June 21.

“I think the governor will give us a nominee because he’s expressed a desire to have the seventh court of appeals judge in place before we leave for the end of session,” Bonacic said.

But he doesn’t want to speed through what should be a deliberative process, Bonacic said.

“I was impressed with the nominees. Many of them were appellate judges with impeccable records,” he said. “I’m not so sure it will get done. We’re not going to rush it for the sake of having an expedited process. I don’t believe in that. We’ll have a thorough vetting.”

Amendment Banning Policy From Budget Gains Ground In Senate

From the Morning Memo:

A constitutional amendment that would restrict a governor from packaging policy unrelated to state spending into a budget proposal is moving through the Senate after it cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The measure introduced last month, backed by Republican Sen. Chris Jacobs, would address the landmark Silver v. Pataki court ruling that enhanced the budgetary powers of the governor to link policy to the budget — a process in which the executive branch already holds a great deal of power.

Lawmakers from both parties in the Assembly and Senate have chafed in recent years over Gov. Andrew Cuomo exercising this power over policy in the spending plan, be it pushing through new criteria for teacher evaluations or an increase in the minimum wage the Legislature contends has little to do with the state’s overall finances.

Jacobs point to the Common Core education standards being addressed in state spending plans — an issue where Democrats and Republicans have found common ground.

“The purpose of the New York State Budget is to provide funding for the core and fundamental operations of New York State government,” Jacobs said. “Unfortunately, for several years now, Governors have been manipulating the budget process and holding passage of a budget hostage to secure approval of their own political agendas.”

The amendment now is in the Senate Rules Committee, the last stop before a full vote in the chamber.

Senate Passes Bill To Save WNY Children’s Psych Center

From the Morning Memo:

The push continues to save the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center in West Seneca.  Lawmakers are working to to keep it open, while advocates are considering legal measures of their own.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state’s Office of Mental Health hope to save $3 million per year by closing the facility and combining it with the adult facility in Buffalo, though they insist the patients will be kept separated.

But WNY legislators remain unconvinced the merger is actually necessary and won’t negatively impact patients.

“There’s no clinical reason to do so,” Sen. Pat Gallivan said. “There’s no research that suggests or indicates that they’ll be better served.”

Gallivan sponsored a bill requiring the state to operate the CPC as a separate entity. That bill passed the Senate on Monday with unanimous approval.

“I think it shows that people put politics aside when we look at the vulnerable population that’s helped,” Gallivan said. “All of the members of the Senate recognize their responsibility to stand up and in some cases say, yes, this is going to cost us money but it’s the right thing to do.”

Democrat Mickey Kearns is the Assembly sponsor of Gallivan’s measure. If it passes, Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to decide what action to take.

The group Save Our Western New York CPC is threatening a lawsuit against Cuomo if he rejects the bill in an effort to force the state to continue operating the facility.

Gallivan said the earliest the West Seneca site would close is next spring.