State Senate

Senate’s Overall Conservative Rating Falls

The state Conservative Party this week released ratings of the 213 members of the Assembly and Senate, finding the overall rating for the Republican-controlled Senate have fallen over the last year.

The Senate is narrowly controlled by Republican lawmakers with aid from Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Simcha Felder, who conferences with the GOP. The Independent Democratic Conference, a seven-member group, remains a key bloc in the chamber.

Overall, the Senate’s conservative rating fell from 69 percent in 2016 to 55 percent this year.

The party in calculating its ratings consider legislation on spending, crime, education, and abortion and pro-life related measures.

“We believe that it is necessary to keep the public informed of key votes and let the taxpayers be aware of how elected officials spend our money. Every Bill is considered, and then we narrow the number to give voters a fair assessment of what transpires in Albany,” said Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long.

The most conservative members of the Senate included a four-way tie among Republican lawmakers: Sens. Fred Akshar, Kathy Marchione, Sue Serino and Jim Tedisco. Each earned an 80 percent rating.

In the Assembly, five Republican lawmakers tied with a 92 percent score: Kevin Byrne, Joe Errigo, Michael Fitzpatrick, Christopher Friend and Steve Hawley.

The full ratings can be found here.

Republican Lawmakers Want Local Control Over Speed Limits

A group of Republican state and county lawmakers on Tuesday called for the passage of a bill that would allow local governments to set speed limits.

The move would allow county governments to establish speed zones on state roads near schools.

“We’ve reached a sort of critical mass on this issue and the mentality of ‘but we’ve always done it this way’ is simply not acceptable anymore,” said Sen. Robert Ortt. “When we have local residents and officials all pointing to the same safety issues along a particular stretch in front of a school, there’s no reason local government shouldn’t be able to act.”

The lawmakers, including Assemblyman Ray Walter and Assemblyman Angelo Morinello, have measures that would lower speed limits in their districts, but said the length and difficulty of the process is frustrating.

“Returning local control of speed limits back to municipalities will allow for a better ‘reaction time’ to any issues that may arise in a specific community,” Morinello said.

“These municipalities are run by residents who have first-hand knowledge of the problems or safety concerns surrounding their local roadways, and allowing them to determine the speed limits instead of the state will increase responsiveness to residents.”

Local control over traffic is becoming an increasingly perennial issue for Albany.

In 2014, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio sought to lower the speed limit in New York City from 30 mph to 25 mph. The bill passed and was approved, but only after an extended back and forth between the Democratic mayor and Republicans in the state Senate.

Senate Dems Raise Concerns With Workers Comp Guidelines

From the Morning Memo:

The 21 members of the mainline Democratic conference in the Senate have signed onto a letter raising concerns with the effort to reform the state’s workers compensation regulations.

The changes, passed in the budget this April, were sought by the business community and are designed to save money when a worker is injured on the job. The agreement in the budget, which had been a negotiating point for state Senate Republicans, was the first workers compensation law change in 10 years.

But labor groups — and Democratic lawmakers — have raised some concerns with how the details of the draft regulations.

“As legislators, we understand the concern of businesses that old regulations may be medically outdated and impose unreasonable costs,” the lawmakers wrote to Workers Compensation Board Chairwoman Clarissa Rodriguez. “Those concerns were balanced against the needs of injured workers in this specific proposal, and taken into consideration with the enactment of other workers’ compensation reforms this year.”

But the Senate Democrats fear the regulations “goes beyond the legislative intent.”

“In many cases, the regulations would wholesale eliminate compensation for seriously injured workers, and improved medical procedures do not justify eliminating the need for compensation for serious injuries,” the letter states. “By placing a substantial number of injuries into categories that presume little to no compensation, the Board has made a policy judgment that exceeds questions of medical improvements and worker healing.”

SDC Workers Compensation Reform Administrative Comment by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Senate To Hold Public Forums On Opioid Addiction

The Senate panel studying the issue of heroin and opioid addiction on Monday announced another round of public forums on the topic.

The meetings will be held on Oct. 25 in Cortland and Nov. 14 in Newburgh as state lawmakers and other policy makers grapple with how to combat addiction, which has afflicted rural, suburban and urban parts of the state.

“Some of the best solutions and insights on critical issues come from the ground level,” said Sen. Fred Akshar, one of the Senate task force co-chairman. “I’m proud that the Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction continues to take a bottom-up approach in dealing with the scourge of addiction. By listening to stakeholders in communities across our state, we’re better suited to assess our needs, our successes and our next steps in this battle to save lives.”

The lawmakers have previously held meetings in Johnstown, Buffalo and on Long Island to discuss legislative recommendations with law enforcement, educators and family members.

“Earlier this year, the Task Force held productive meetings throughout the State that provided valuable insight into what steps we should be taking next when it comes to our efforts to combat the heroin and opioid epidemic,” said Sen. George Amedore. “I am looking forward to continuing the discussion, and want to thank Senators Seward and Larkin for hosting the Task Force in their communities.”

Senate GOP Won’t Hold Events At Hotel Amid Labor Dispute

The top Republican in the state Senate on Friday said his conference won’t hold events at the Hilton Albany amid an ongoing labor dispute.

“As Senate Majority Leader, I believe it is incumbent upon me to stand up and be counted on this important quality-of-life issue,” Flanagan said. “Therefore, I am announcing today that unless and until this contract dispute is resolved in a responsible manner, neither I nor my Senate Republican colleagues will be holding any events at this downtown Albany hotel.”

The hotel, a block from the state Capitol, has been undergoing a labor dispute with its workers over less generous benefits. The demonstrations have drawn elected officials ranging from the mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan, to U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and state Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“I am deeply troubled by the ongoing labor dispute that hardworking housekeepers, banquet, restaurant workers, bell persons, engineers and other employees are having with the management of the Hilton Albany hotel,” Flanagan said. “I strongly support allowing working men and women to seek a fair and decent wage that gives them the ability to provide for themselves and for their families. These workers are the backbone of the operations of this hotel, and they too should be afforded this opportunity.”

The hotel is a popular destination in Albany for fundraisers and trade shows.

The dispute has been backed by the Hotel Trades Council, a politically influential labor group.

Flanagan, in his statement, said he hoped the move would lead to a resolution the helps all involved, “especially the working men and women of this hotel who toil every day so that management can put its best foot forward and continue to serve the public while they visit our beautiful and wondrous state Capitol.”

Lanza: Where’s The Outrage For Opioid Deaths?

Republican state Sen. Andrew Lanza on Thursday compared the public outrage to mass shooting deaths and asked why there isn’t more for deaths caused by opioid overdoses.

Lanza was appearing with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Staten Island to announce new efforts to combat fentanyl, which include block insurers from placing limits on the number of naloxone doses that are covered under a policy.

“Recently we watched in horror the Las Vegas shooting in which 59 of our fellow citizens lost their lives. That is described as America’s worst mass murder. But if you look at the math, it’s not true. There is a murderer who is more lethal, more prolific,” Lanza said. “That murderer is this opioid scourge who has swept across the country.”

Lanza, flanked by Cuomo and Democratic Assemblyman Michael Cusick, said there are 160 people who die each day due to an opioid overdose.

“If you look at the math, 59 people lost their lives in Vegas, 160 human beings lose their lives on average every single day in America. One-hundred-sixty people people died yesterday, 160 people died the day before and the day before that and the day before that,” he said.

“We saw after Vegas people screaming and yelling to do everything to call for martial law to throwing the bill of rights in the shredder. Where is the outrage here? Where is it? One hundred and sixty people die everyday. Perhaps because this problem doesn’t fit neatly within the political narrative of the left, it doesn’t fit neatly within the political narrative of the right.”

Efforts to combat heroin and opioid abuse over the last several years have totaled millions of dollars in new efforts as well as regulations placed on insurance companies to deal with the issue, marking one of the few bipartisan issues facing lawmakers at either the state or federal level. Unlike previous drug epidemics, this one has been dominated by policy discussions focused on prevention and treatment, not just enforcement.

Lanza is the Senate sponsor of a bill released the week of the Las Vegas shooting that would ban so-called “bump” stocks and other devices that when attached to a semiautomatic weapon mimic automatic fire. The device is believed to have been potentially used by the shooter, Stephen Poddock.

Senate Dems Tout Environmental Scores

From the Morning Memo:

Democrats in the state Senate’s mainline conference received high marks from the Environmental Advocates of New York on rating green issues facing the state.

Democratic lawmakers in touting the scores tied their environmental platform to a broader effort in opposing President Donald Trump’s policies seeping into the state level.

“I’m proud that my score and that of our conference highlights our commitment to protecting our environment and natural resources across New York State,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “While Donald Trump and his Republican allies continue to roll back environmental protections, it is crucial that New York State steps up to protect our environment and serve as an example to the rest of the nation.”

Stewart-Cousins received a score of 100 from the group. Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the ranking member of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, also received a perfect score. The average conference score was 93.

“I have made sustaining and protecting our environment a priority,” Kaminsky said. “We have a responsibility to ensure clean air and drinking water and to promote renewable energy for Long Island’s future generations. I am proud to have supported and advocated for each of these initiatives.”

Enviros Release Legislative Scorecards

The Democratic leaders in the Assembly and Senate received high marks from the Environmental Advocates of New York in their scorecard of the 2017 legislative session.

Republicans in the Senate and Assembly earned more middling results from the group in the report released on Wednesday.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Democrats both, received scores of 100 from the group, which assessed votes on key environmental issues, including the Clean Water Bond Act, renewable energy, septic storage and bolstering solar panel technology.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, who chairs the Energy Committee, also received a score of 100.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan scored 71, as did Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb scored a 62.

The group’s annual “Oil Slick Award” was given to Sen. Tom Croci of Long Island, who scored 59.

2017 Environmental Scorecard by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Klein Petitions To Keep Columbus Statue

From the Morning Memo:

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Sunday rallied with fellow Bronx Democrats in the Assembly to keep a statue of Christopher Columbus in Columbus Circle.

The push to keep the statute comes amid an evaluation of historic and cultural statues in New York City amid efforts to remove statues of Confederate figures in predominantly southern cities.

“It is offensive to tear down an important part of Italian-American history in New York City and we will not stand for it,” Klein said.

“The statue of Christopher Columbus represents the Italian immigrants’ voyage to New York City at a time when the group faced rampant discrimination. New York City presented immense opportunities and this statue was a gift, and remains symbolic to the entire Italian-American community. We will fight to make sure this symbol of Italian-American success and pride is not taken down.”

Klein, along with IDC Sen. Diane Savino and Assembly lawmakers Mark Gjonaj and Michael Benedetto, backed the petition effort.

“Italian-Americans have a history of giving back to this city, and that’s what that statue represents: a contribution to the city of New York from Italian immigrants,” Savino said. “They scraped together pennies from their pockets so they could contribute to the effort to give a gift to a city that had opened up the doors of opportunity for them.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September said he supported keeping the statue in place.

“The Christopher Columbus statue is really about honoring Italian Americans,” Cuomo said, who is scheduled to march in today’s Columbus Day Parade.

“I for one for obvious reasons happen to believe in the Italian-American heritage. I believe in the contribution Italian-Americans have made, just as I believe in celebrating the Caribbean and the Israel day parade.”

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office has said there are no plans to remove the statue.

Banning Bump Stocks In NY? Some Say Congress Should Act

There’s a push by some Democratic state lawmakers to explicitly ban so-called “bump” stocks and other devices that allow a semi-automatic gun to mimic automatic fire.

But other elected officials in New York believe Congress should act first.

Using a bump stock or any other device to mimic automatic fire is illegal in New York, according to both the State Police and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office. The possession or sale of a bump stock or similar device, however, is legal, and Sens. Brad Hoylman and John Brooks have a bill that would ban them outright in the state.

The push to ban the devices comes after Stephen Paddock was believed to have used a bump stock when killing 58 people and then himself at a Las Vegas concert.

A spokesman for the Democratic-led Assembly on Thursday indicated there’s support in that chamber for a bill that would specifically ban bump stocks.

“There is no legitimate reason for these types of devices and we will be discussing different options,” said the spokesman, Michael Whyland.

On Thursday afternoon, Democratic lawmakers in the Assembly introduced a bill banning bump stocks, calling it a “loophole.” The bill is sponsored by Sen. Andrew Lanza, a Republican from Staten Island.

“These types of conversion devices have no practical or innocent purpose,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “They are intended to be used to kill large numbers of innocent people and we must do everything in our power to prevent these abhorrent acts of violence.”

A State Police spokesman this week pointed a state law that prohibits a “machine-gun or any other firearm or weapon simulating a machine-gun and which is adaptable for such use.” This ban pre-dates the SAFE Act, the State Police said.

Schneiderman’s office pointed to the “simulating” language has having captured firearms that don’t fall into the precise definition of a machine gun, but fit the same purpose.

A spokeswoman for the Independent Democratic Conference in the Senate said the onus now is on Congress to act, pointing to the 2013 SAFE Act. At the same time, the IDC interpret the law as having banned bump stocks, not just their use in modifying a firearm.

“Senator Jeff Klein sponsored the SAFE Act, considered the toughest gun laws in the nation, and through that New York State outlawed bump fire devices,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove. “After the tragic mass shooting in Vegas, the New York State Police and our Attorney General reviewed the language of our law and concluded that bump stocks were banned. The IDC is proud to have banned these deadly devices. Now, it’s time for Congress to step up to the plate.”

A spokesman for Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan did not return messages seeking comment.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, too, has called on the Republican-led Congress and Trump administration to act on the issue.

“I think it is ludicrous for the White House to say now is not the time to talk about it,” Cuomo said at a news conference in New York City on Tuesday. “Now is precisely the time to talk about it.”

He added, “The lack of leadership and the lack of action is frankly disgusting. Warm wishes are nice. Press releases are nice. You know what’s better? Action.”

On the national level, Republican members of Congress indicated this week they would be open to a bump stock ban. The National Rifle Association in a statement indicated it was open to new regulations.