State Senate

Gianaris Links IDC To Trump

Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris continued his war of words with Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Tuesday, linking his eight-member group to Republicans who back President Donald Trump.

“Is this the time to be worrying about perks and assignments and better offices or is it a time to stand up during an unprecedented attack on civil rights?” Gianaris said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “History will judge those who do that versus those who go hang out with the people who support Donald Trump.”

The latest broadside came amid escalating tensions between mainline Democrats and the IDC, which has grown by three members since late last year.

The mainline conference’s leadership on Monday knocked the IDC as “rogue Democrats” aligned with Republicans in the state Senate.

In response, Klein knocked the policy and political leadership of Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, criticizing her for failing to grow the conference even in promising races.

Gianaris in his radio interview Tuesday indicated the feud — seemingly on hold last year as mainline Democrats held out hope for reconciliation — wasn’t going to be abate anytime soon.

“I’m not in favor of accepting the things we can squeeze out of a Republican majority when we can do so much more and much faster if the Democrats were in the majority,” he said.

WNY Legislators Celebrate Second Passage Of Pension Forfeiture

From the Morning Memo:

I can usually tell when state legislators are pleased with something they’ve done based on my inbox. Monday afternoon, I received roughly a dozen emails from both Republicans and Democrats celebrating the second passage of pension forfeiture legislation.

Because it’s a proposed amendment to the state constitution, the bill required approval in two consecutive legislative sessions before being sent to the general public for a referendum vote. If approved by voters this fall, any elected official convicted of a felony crime related to their office will be stripped of their state pension.

“The Senate is committed to restoring faith in government, and pension forfeiture has been a priority for us because those who violate the public trust need to be held responsible,” said Senate Finance Committee Chair Cathy Young. “Corrupt officials should not be able to cash in their taxpayer-funded pensions and continue to enjoy the fruits of their misdeeds.”

Ethics reform was a major topic at the end of last year’s session and during this past election, but as leadership turned their attention to the budget at the beginning of this year, some legislators were worried the momentum had stalled.

Freshman Assemblyman and former Judge Angelo Morinello, a Niagara Falls Republican, was among the concerned.

“Restoring the people’s trust in government and holding corrupt officials responsible for their actions is the reason I ran for office,” he said. “Today, I was proud to help pass legislation which does both of these things.”

“The individuals in my district are incredibly hard-working people, and there is no reason they should be funding the pensions of public officials who choose to use their position in government to break the law. While there is a long way to go in terms of cleaning up Albany, stripping all corrupt public officials of their taxpayer-funded pensions is an important first step.”

Freshman Democratic Assemblywoman Monica Wallace also campaigned on ethics reform. The University at Buffalo law professor, who actually teaches the subject, said she’s pleased with the vote but wants to continue to push other issues like closing the so-called LLC loophole.

“I’m committed to holding myself and all legislators to the highest standards,” Wallace said. “I came here to fight for strong ethics reform, and I am determined to fulfill that promise.”

Other legislators who touted the passage of the pension forfeiture bill included Republican state Sens. Chris Jacobs, Rich Funke, and Demcoratic Assembly Majority leader Joe Morelle, of Rochester.


Klein Slams Senate Dems On Leadership, Political Strategy

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein in an interview late Monday afternoon slammed the political and policy strategy of the mainline Democrats in the chamber, saying the leadership of Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has failed to effectively advocate on key issues.

“I think their political strategy is wrong and I think more importantly, and this is what concerns me, the ability to advocate for meaningful policy and meaningful action, is just not there,” Klein said.

Klein’s comments were a rebuke of the mainline Senate Democrats’ earlier in the day referring to the eight-member IDC as “the rogue Democrats” while also challenging them to vote for “resistance” amendments — measures designed to bolster liberal policies in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election.

At the same time, the comments underscore how unlikely and difficult a reconciliation of the two factions in the chamber would be to forge.

Klein’s conference in recent months has grown to include three new members, most recently with the addition of Sen. Jose Peralta, who switched from the mainline conference last week.

Peralta in an interview with The Daily News said he joined the IDC because of the “failed” leadership with the mainline conference.

Klein agreed with Peralta’s criticism of the mainline Democratic leadership in the Senate, adding the conference is yet to fully address why it has failed to win key legislative races in order to gain a working majority.

“We’re not sitting back and trying to lure Senate Democrats to join the IDC,” he said. “They’re coming willingly. They’re coming with open arms. I think it is failed leadership of Senator Cousins in not being able to come together and get anything done. There’s always an answer. It’s always someone’s fault. It’s the governor’s fault that they’re not in the majority. It’s the IDC that they’re not in the majority. No, they lost elections, they lost campaigns.”

Klein on Monday also announced a push to bolster immigrants’ legal rights and wants to push for funding in the state budget. Klein is hopeful he can have that included by working with Senate Republicans. He disagreed with the characterization that the GOP lawmakers in the Senate were attempting to carrying out a Trump-style agenda in New York.

“Trump Republicans wouldn’t have helped me pass a large increase in our minimum wage,” Klein said. “They wouldn’t have helped me pass paid family leave. They wouldn’t help us take on the banks and do something about zombie properties. I think it’s a governing model that works.”

Stewart-Cousins: Urgency Needed On Abortion Rights

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not praise the constitutional amendment that would codify the Roe v. Wade decision in state law as backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, indicating more urgency was needed on the issue.

An amendment to the state’s constitution would take years to be approved: Two separately elected sessions of the Legislature would have to pass it and then be before voters in a referendum.

“I understand what the governor is doing, but that is a very long game that will take two separate sessions,” she said at a news conference. “We have to continue everyday to say that these are rights women have had.”

Cuomo is introducing the measure as President Donald Trump is poised to name his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing the late conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.

Trump has said an overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision would mean the abortion issue would be sent back to individual state governments.

But Stewart-Cousins said that rather pushing for the amendment, pressure should be exerted on Republicans to back the Reproductive Health Act, which includes a Roe v. Wade codification. At least one Democratic lawmaker, Sen. Ruben Diaz, is opposed to abortion rights.

“We continue to drive home the point that in 1970, before there was a Roe v. Wade, New York legislators in both parties, in both houses, 12 Republicans voted with the majority of their Democratic colleagues,” she said. “Why in 2017 we can’t, once again, with women’s health being so jeopardized by what’s coming out of this administration, we have to stand up.”

Stewart-Cousins Knocks ‘Rogue Democrats’ In The IDC

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins decried the “rogue Democrats” in the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, saying at a news conference on Monday they were “enabling the Republican agenda” in the state Senate.

“I think now is the time to be very, very clear which side of the American dream you are standing on: The dream side or the nightmare side,” the Yonkers Democrat said.

Her comments, made at a news conference in which mainline Democrats unveiled a “resistance” agenda to bolster liberal gains made before the election of Donald Trump as president, come days after yet another lawmaker moved to the IDC: Queens Sen. Jose Peralta.

The IDC in the last several months has gained three members, along with Marisol Alcantara and Jesse Hamilton.

Still, the mainline conference has been frustrated with the numerical majority the party holds in the chamber. Republicans remain in power with the help from Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who sites with the Senate GOP.

“The reality is people vote for Democrats and when people vote for Democrats is because of a myriad reasons,” Stewart-Cousins said. “There’s a philosophical agreement with that party to represent certain values when they come to the chamber.”

The IDC has worked in a majority coalition with the Senate GOP and shared power of the chamber’s presidency for two years.

The IDC, formed in 2011 and led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein, has successfully pushed through a variety of liberal measures, including increases in the minimum wage and a 12-week paid family leave program.

Hannon Bill Would Spend $5B For Clean Water

Senate Health Committee Chairman Kemp Hannon has introduced legislation that would set aside $5 billion for clean water projects and infrastructure in New York.

The money would be raised through borrowing, and is $3 billion more than what Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for in his budget proposal. It’s unclear how specifically Cuomo would pay for his clean water proposal, telling reporters in a budget presentation the money could come from either an on-budget source or through bonding.

Hannon, a Republican from Nassau County, has also introduced a bill that would create a drinking water quality institute that would review and make recommendations for the maximum contaminant levels in drinking water.

The bills come amid a series of drinking water contamination issues arose in upstate communities and on Long Island.

Akshar, Jacobs Named Chairs Of Opioid Taskforce

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan is turning to two recently elected lawmakers to take up the leadership of the chamber’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction.

Flanagan has tapped Sens. Fred Akshar and Chris Jacobs to co-chair the panel, his office on Friday announced.

“Our Heroin and Opioid Task Force has done tremendous work over the past three years, and is bolstered by the additions of Senators Akshar and Jacobs,” Flanagan said in a statement.

Akshar and Jacobs replace Sens. Terrence Murphy and Robert Ortt on the task force. Sen. George Amedore will remain the third co-chair.

“Along with co-Chair Senator George Amedore, Senators Akshar and Jacobs will build on the life-saving work done by this important Task Force since its inception,” Flanagan said.

Also added to the task force: Sens. James Tedisco, Pam Helming and Elaine Phillips, all first-year senators.

The task force has recommended legislative responses to the epidemic of heroin and opioid abuse in the state, including bills aimed at expanding access to treatment and provisions for administering emergency assistance in the event of an overdose.

Peralta, On Social Media, Defends IDC Switch

From the Morning Memo:

Queens Sen. Jose Peralta is defending his switch to the Independent Democratic Conference on Facebook to constituents angry at the switch from the mainline conference.

“Let me be clear,” Peralta wrote in a post on Thursday afternoon. “I have not joined the Republicans, I joined my fellow Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). I decided to join the IDC to deliver a progressive agenda for the City, because without the IDC, the State Senate would not have passed legislation that increased the minimum wage, established paid family leave and provided free UPK.”

Peralta announced he was joining the conference on Wednesday, bringing the IDC’s numbers to eight strong in the Senate and bolstering the influence of IDC Leader Jeff Klein in the process.

Peralta’s decision to switch, however, resulted in some social media comments questioning the move and the IDC’s alignment with the Senate Republican conference.

Mainline Senate Democrats have also blasted Peralta’s move, saying that it’s important for the party to be unified with Republican control of the presidency and Congress in Washington.

But Peralta in his Facebook post insisted he’s joining the IDC because of the power shift in the federal government and the possibility of accomplishing his agenda in the Senate.

“Unfortunately, because the mainline Democrats are in the minority they don’t have a say on what’s on the agenda. Under the Trump Administration, we either sit on our hands and shift the blame to why it couldn’t be done or we step up and try to make effective change, and turn my voice into action and results,” he wrote. “Although this was safe to do under Obama, now it is not the time to sit on the sidelines.”

IDC Makes It Official With Peralta

The Independent Democratic Conference on Wednesday formally announced the addition of Queens Sen. Jose Peralta in a statement.

Peralta, who joins the now eight-member-strong IDC, said he’s joining the conference because of the current “political climate demands that progressive legislators take bold action to deliver for their constituents.”

“That’s why I’ve decided to join the Independent Democratic Conference, where I can best affect progressive change on issues like affordable housing, higher education, school funding equity, homelessness reforms, economic development, infrastructure upgrades, affordable healthcare, senior citizen protections and so much more,” Peralta said in the statement.

“The IDC’s track record on delivering for the most vulnerable New Yorkers is irrefutable. They delivered an increased minimum wage, free UPK and Paid Family Leave. Joining the IDC will allow me to not only speak about, but deliver on a progressive agenda for all New Yorkers.”

The framing comes after the mainline Democratic conference knocked the move to the IDC, saying in a statement that it’s “baffling” a Democrat would join with a conference aligned with Senate Republicans in the era of Donald Trump’s presidential administration.

But the IDC has frequently pointed to the legislative accomplishments since its inception in 2011, including multiple increases in the minimum wage and the creation of a paid family leave program.

“I welcome Senator Jose Peralta to the Independent Democratic Conference as our eighth member. Senator Peralta embodies the spirit of this conference’s drive to get real results for the people of New York,” said IDC Leader Jeff Klein.

“As a Democrat, Senator Peralta knows that at this moment in time it’s critical to join the IDC, not just sit on the sidelines, in order to bring about progressive change. As the IDC grows again, this is another validation of our track record of getting things done. Together, we passed Paid Family Leave, a $15 minimum wage and delivered free universal pre-k to every child in the city. I look forward to accomplishing so much more with Senator Peralta.”

Peralta To The IDC, Conference Grows To 8

The Independent Democratic Conference will increase its membership to eight lawmakers with the addition of Queens Sen. Jose Peralta.

Zack Fink of NY1 broke the news this morning after speaking with Peralta on-camera about the decision.

Peralta in the interview said he was “at a crossroads” when making his decision to leave the mainline conference for the IDC, led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein.

The mainline Democratic conference in a statement blasted the move, though did not mention Peralta by name.

“It’s mind boggling that while on the national level Democrats are gearing up to resist the Trump Administration and its attempts to move the country backwards we have Democrats here in New York propping up an artificial Republican Majority,” said spokesman Mike Murphy. “We need elected leaders that will put people ahead of personal gain.”

The addition of Peralta came several months after another New York City Democrat, Sen. Jesse Hamilton, announced he would join the IDC late last year. The conference also added Sen. Marisol Alcantara, whom Klein supported in the Democratic primary to replace Adriano Espaillat.

Peralta gives the conference added diversity and a second member from Queens alongside Sen. Tony Avella, who is running in a Democratic primary for mayor.

The IDC is retaining a coalition with Republicans in the state Senate, whose conference retains a majority with the inclusion of Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who sits with the GOP in the chamber.

Peralta was first elected to the Senate in 2010, replacing ousted Sen. Hiram Monserrate who was expelled from the chamber following a misdemeanor assault conviction involving his girlfriend.