State Senate

Legislature Enjoys Its Grace Period

State lawmakers on Saturday took full advantage of their “grace period” bestowed to them by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, leaving the Capitol by early evening without an agreement in hand.

Throughout the day, a bipartisan working group of Democratic Assembly lawmakers and Senate Republicans huddled with Cuomo on the contentious raise the age issue.

Though lawmakers were pleased with what they said was progress being made on the issue — which has split the Legislature over which charges should be tried in either diversion court or a family court — there was no indication either majority conference embraced the latest language.

The Senate Republican conference is due to return for a closed-door meeting at midday on Sunday. Assembly Democrats are back at 4 p.m. for a private conference.

Lawmakers Believe They Are Close On Raise The Age

Lawmakers are trying to put the finishing touches on a state budget Saturday, discussing the key issue of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18.

A bipartisan delegation from the Senate and Assembly huddled for hours with Governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the issue, insisting progress was being made.

“I think we’re all on the same page,” said Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein after the meeting. “We want to make sure our young people have a bright future, not be part of a criminal justice system where they are incarcerated and not rehabilitated.”

Assemblyman Joe Lentol, a Democrat from Brooklyn, said there was a “framework of an agreement” on the issue, but the details will have to be sold to the individual majority conferences in the Legislature before lawmakers can move on.

Lawmakers did not divulge what had changed between this afternoon and last night, when talks over the issue fell apart. Republicans remain uneasy with trying minors accused of felonies in family courts, while Assembly Democrats want to expand the number of charges that would be handled by family courts.

“We have to send it forward to our conferences for approval,” Lentol said, “and we’ll see later.”

Still, event with a raise the agreement in place — believed to be one of the last and most contentious of the policy matters in the budget — there are remaining matters that must be dealt with, including a push to bolster charter schools and funding for education.

Lawmakers are frustrated, though, with the lack of progress being made as the budget has passed its fiscal year deadline. Senator Jim Tedisco is wearing his pass the budget tie.

“You know that whack a mole game, you hit one and another pops up,” said Tedisco, a Republican who represents a suburban Albany district. “We’ve closed the same issues over and over and over again and they keep coming back up.”

‘I Know Nothing’

Leaving the Senate Republican conference on Saturday shortly after 2 p.m., Sen. Ken LaValle did his best Sgt. Schultz impersonation.

“I know nothing,” he said in a mock accent.

Does he have any updates on the budget?

“I know nothing,” he repeated as he walked away.

Republicans were uniformly tight lipped leaving the conference Saturday when asked about their plans for the day and if a budget bill would be voted on at some point.

“Nothing. There’s nothing new,” said Sen. John DeFrancisco while chewing on a piece of candy.

Progress appeared unlikely on the budget after that session as things moved slow on the potential for a vote.

Sen. George Amedore said lawmakers would return at 4, but it was unclear if that was for another meeting or a full session.

“It’s April Fools’ day, but it feels more like Groundhogs Day — the movie,” said Sen. Joe Griffo.

Senate Leaves, Likely To Return Sunday

The Senate ended its work on Friday in Albany without a budget bill to consider.

Some lawmakers signaled they were leaving town, with plans to reconvene on Sunday, presumably when Sen. Simcha Feler, a Brooklyn Democrat who conferences with Republican members, will return to the Capitol.

The development most certainly means there will be no budget in place by the start of the state’s fiscal year as the Legislature remains divided on the key issue of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York 18.

“It’s the same old issues,” said John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse Republican and the deputy majority leader in the Senate. “The mole’s head pops up and then you hit it down. It’s the same issues we’ve been talking about the last three weeks and nothing’s closed.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and others who have been negotiating the budget are said to be remaining in Albany through the weekend.

The Senate’s departure could be a negotiating tactic as sources signal they are done with discussing the juvenile justice reform measure with the Democratic-led Assembly.

Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly are meeting in closed-door conference this afternoon.

“We just have different points of view of what should be done,” DeFrancisco told reporters on Friday. “I think it’s going to take people being willing to compromise.”

Lawmaker Seeks To Shore Up Safety-Net Hospitals

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Democrats in a letter sent this week to Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan urged that a final budget agreement shore up supplemental aid to safety net hospitals in New York.

In the letter, looming federal cuts that could impact New York are cited as a pending concern for the hospitals.

“As you continue to finalize negotiations on this year’s budget proposal, we urge you to aggressively advocate for more funding for safety-net hospitals to be included in this year’s budget,” Democratic Sen. Gustavo Rivera wrote in the letter to Flanagan. “In light of the latest news from Washington, additional funding to support supplemental reimbursements for safety-net hospitals is more critical than ever.”

Safety-net hospitals provide a “disproportionate” level of care to underinsured and uninsured New Yorkers in both rural and urban areas.

In the letter, Rivera wrote the existing methodology used to divvy up funding for safety-net hospitals is “overly broad” and fails to align with the number of Medicaid and uninsured patients a hospital serves.

“Because of the unique role they play, many safety net hospitals are in dire financial condition,” he wrote. “The State must ensure that these important healthcare providers, the backbone of our healthcare system, will survive and continue to provide necessary services for the most vulnerable New Yorkers.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week has railed against the potential for federal government cuts and their impact on New York’s finances, suggesting it has complicated the budget picture.

Safety Net Hospital Letter to Flanagan %283!29!17%29 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Stewart-Cousins: Not There Yet On Budget

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his office for about two hours on Thursday afternoon, telling reporters after a deal on the budget did not appear imminent.

“I think some bills might be coming forth, but I think there are things that are not resolved,” she said.

Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat from Yonkers, confirmed that issues such as voter reform measures and changes to the state’s ethics laws had fallen out of the budget talks.

But she added the meeting was held in part to brief her on the efforts for juvenile justice reform through raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

Stewart-Cousins demurred on whether Cuomo was seeking the votes of her mainline conference or if she would not back a budget that included a deal deemed to be too watered down, saying she had not received proposed bill language.

“We’re looking for a real raise the age, something that does that,” she said. “We are looking forward to getting the language, so he was really just trying to brief me.”

“We’re looking for something real that treats children as children in our system,” she added.

Leaders: ‘Close, But Nothing Final’

Lawmakers indicated on Thursday after meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo they are inching toward a final agreement on the state budget, but key issues on funding education and raising revenue for taxes remain unresolved.

“Everyone is trying to figure out how do we properly fund education and, by extension, how do we pay for everything,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican from Suffolk County.

Assembly Democrats want to hike taxes on the rich, those who make more than $5 million, while Senate Republicans are opposed to Cuomo’s proposal to extend a tax rate on millionaires due to expire at the end of the year.

The budget is expected to pass before April 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

Cuomo proposed a $960 million increase in education aid, but lawmakers back more than $1 billion in school spending.

“Everyone understands we want to increase foundation aid but we also run into a 2 percent spending cap as well as a 4 percent spending cap on education,” said Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.

Meanwhile, lawmakers and Cuomo are nearing an agreement on funding water infrastructure projects in the state, trying to add more than the $2 billion backed by Cuomo through a bond act.

“What I would say is we’re all having discussions about water quality, sewage treatment,” Flanagan said. “I view that has unbelievably positive.”

DeFrancisco Expects Agreement On Raise The Age

Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco in a radio interview on Thursday said he expects a key juvenile justice reform measure will be included in the final state budget agreement.

But, at the same time, DeFrancisco told Fred Dicker on his Talk-1300 radio show that he was taking a circumspect approach to the issue.

“Let’s see what the consequences are,” he said of the measure, which would raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18.

Under the tentative agreement lawmakers have discussed, two courts would be utilized for those under 18, depending on the severity of their charge.

Republicans have been hesitant to approve the measure, even as the state remains one of the last along with North Carolina to try those under 18 as adults.

Not surprisingly, DeFrancisco insisted Senate Republicans remain opposed to the DREAM Act, a measure that would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, saying he would be “shocked” if the provision was included in a final deal.

And, in a sign that things are coming together, albeit slowly, DeFrancisco expects a budget agreement soon.

“There’s always blow ups,” he said of an agreement before April 1, the start of the fiscal year in New York. “It depends on what you ‘call on time’… it’s going to get down in the next 48 hours.”

Dozens Of Elected Officials Write In Support Of Judith Clark’s Release

From the Morning Memo:

Current and former elected officials have signed on to a letter supporting the release of Judith Clark, the woman who served as the getaway driver in a deadly 1981 armored car robbery in Rockland County.

“At age 67 and after 35 years in prison, Judy Clark is among the oldest and longest serving women in New York State prison,” the letter states. “We ask that you consider who she is today in 2017, not who she was in 1981, and implore you to grant her release.”

Signing onto the letter included a host of Democratic officials, including members of Congress like Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Adriano Espaillat, as well as state lawmakers, including Sens. Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger.

Former New York City Mayor David Dinkins is backing Clark’s release, as is city Comptroller Scott Stringer.

In New York City, borough presidents and city Council members also signed on to the letter.

The letter, sent to the Parole Board on Wednesday, comes the same week as Republican Sen. Pat Gallivan delivered 10,000 petition signatures opposing Clark’s release.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo made Clark eligible for parole earlier this year when he granted her clemency after meeting with her, saying she had undergone a transformation while in prison.

The officials in support of her release backed Cuomo’s decision, pointing to her work with victims of the AIDs epidemic in prison, as well as the remorse she has shown for her role in the crime.

At the same time, though Clark served as the driver, she did not fire a weapon that killed two officers who responded to the robbery.

“No doubt parole in some cases will cause great pain to victims and their families,” the letter states.

“But where appropriate — meaning where there has been ample punishment, overwhelming proof of rehabilitation, acceptance of responsibility and genuine remorse — the door of mercy must remain open. The correctional system does not exist solely for retribution but also for rehabilitation. Judith Clark is the model example of rehabilitation. If she is denied parole what does that say to all the other women and men in prison who strive to become better and transformed human beings?”

Elected Officials March 29 2017 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

‘Two-Court Structure’ For Raise The Age

The top legislative leaders in the state Senate and Assembly confirmed Wednesday a two-tiered court system would be in place for a potential agreement on raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York to 18.

For some cases involving most felonies, cases would be tried in youth diversion court. Family courts would handle lower-level misdemeanors.

“I think there’s a misconception that the youth court would handle in totality the 16 and 17-year-olds,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie following a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “The youth court, I’d say, would be a mechanism and sometimes a temporary mechanism before the children go to family court. The idea that there’s going to be a separate court to handle all cases involving 16 and 17-year-olds is not correct.”

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, added after the meeting the final agreement would be about “balance” in terms of what judges and prosecutors would seek.

“We are talking about a two-court structure, but we’re still trying to figure out a way to balance the role of judges in these cases as well as the district attorneys’ role,” he said, adding, “There would be family court for the less serious cases and a youth court for the more serious cases. But we’re still talking about logistics.”

Klein also praised lawmakers from both parties in working toward the emerging deal, contrasting it with gridlock on the federal level.

“You see what doesn’t happen in Washington where we’re not talking about the big ticket issues in a bipartisan way,” he said. “Really everyone has been engaged. I think everyone is taking this issue very, very seriously.”

Mainline Senate Democrats, however, were not convinced the agreement went far enough as other left-leaning concerns appear to fall off the table.

“As more potential budget deals are learned, it is becoming increasingly clear that certain progressive issues are being left behind,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“This is what happens when a Trump Republican minority is empowered to run the State Senate. Priorities like Raise The Age and education aid are being watered-down, while issues like ethics reforms and the DREAM Act are being forgotten completely. It is not too late to address these progressive issues and include real action in the State Budget.”