State Senate

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.

Senate To Consider Bill Cracking Down On Lewd Mass Transit Behavior

The Senate on Tuesday is scheduled to vote on a bill that’s aimed at cracking down on lewd behavior on public transportation.

The measure addresses the act of subway “grinding” — increasing penalties for such acts on public transportation from three months to a year in prison.

A vote on the bill, backed by Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island, comes as her office also released a report showing an increase in lewd acts on public transportation, a 51.7 percent increase.

“Subway grinding and lewdness are serious sex crimes meant to threaten and humiliate victims. While we pass my legislation over and over again, it’s horrifying these disgusting crimes are not met with appropriate punishment because the Assembly fails to protect straphangers,” Savio said. “Without tougher penalties in place, serial offenders will continue to victimize passengers on the train and this issue must be taken seriously.”

The report relies on data released by the MTA that shows 620 reported sex-related crimes in 2014, 738 reports in 2015 and last year, 941.

Subway Grinders Report 6 6 17 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Senate Bill Links NYC Taxing Authority To Tax Cap Creation

A bill in the Republican-controlled Senate would link the creation of a tax cap for New York City to the re-approval of its overall taxing authority of the city government itself.

The bill, amended on Monday, was approved by the Senate Rules Committee this evening.

The measure as one Capitol insider put it leaves the Democratic-led Assembly in a “precarious position” given the expiring taxing authority for the city.

Read a little differently, the bill is part of the increasingly level of gamesmanship — or an outright game of chicken — between the two chambers in the final three weeks of the legislative session. The bill itself is a mirror image, in some ways, of a measure adopted last month by the Assembly for an extension of mayoral control of New York City schools.

Assembly Democrats in May approved a two-year extension of mayoral control that also re-authorized sales tax provisions for upstate and suburban counties — predominantly impacting districts represented by Senate Republicans.

The bill backed by the Assembly does not include any legislation strengthening charter schools, which Senate Republicans are seeking in the trio of measures introduced on Sunday for mayoral control.

For now, there’s an eternity between today and June 21, the final day of the legislative session.

The worry for both sides, however, is one chamber pulling the strategy employed famously by Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno of simply passing their preferred version of a bill and going home.

Senate, Assembly Seat New Members

Today was the first day back for the Legislature and the first full day for newly minted lawmakers Brian Benjamin and Christine Pellegrino.

The victories of both Democrats to the Senate and Assembly in last month’s special election came as wins for liberals in different ways.

Benjamin, elected to fill a vacant Harlem Senate seat, gave Democrats a 32nd enrolled member in the chamber, kicking of a sustained campaign by liberal groups to push the Independent Democratic Conference toward reconciliation with the mainline conference.

“With his election there are once again 32 Democrats,” said Senaate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “I call on all Democrats to join together and make history and begin working toward a truly progressive government. New York has the opportunity to be just the 7th state with an all Democratic-controlled government and to act as a true bulwark against President Trump and his hateful and dangerous polices.”

In the Assembly, Pellegrino’s victory came in a district that had supported Donald Trump and was held by a Republican. Her campaign was heavily supported by the statewide teachers union.

“The Assembly Majority is proud to welcome another woman to the chamber who embodies progressive ideals and is passionate about representing her community,” said Assembly Speaker Heastie. “Our conference continues to grow and diversify, and we are proud to see that legacy continue today.”

IDC Launches Digital Campaign

The Independent Democratic Conference on Monday is launching a digital media effort framing their last six years in Albany as a series of policy victories.

The video, which features IDC Leader Jeff Klein speaking directly into the camera about the eight conference members, comes as the conference is under pressure from liberal advocacy groups to return to the fold of mainline Democrats in the Senate and deliver a working majority for the party.

In the video, Klein discusses the roots of the IDC growing out of the tumultuous two-year stint the party held the majority.

“We accomplished a Democratic Majority, but the finger pointing among Democrats, and between Democrats and Republicans, had paralyzed our state,” Klein said.

“New York became the most dysfunctional legislature in the country. It was then that I made a decision that there had to be a new model for how to serve the people of this state. A new way of governing.”

The IDC had previously called for votes on key liberal issues in the Senate through a “call the roll” campaign — indicating that even with a Democratic majority, the votes on concerns like abortion rights and campaign finance reform may not be there.

Klein also touts the IDC’s efforts on policy in Albany, including hikes in the minimum wage, funding for universal pre-Kindergarten and the paid-family leave program.

“And this year, we would not give up, working with the Democratic Assembly, until the Senate agreed to raise the age of criminal responsibility, which has been generally accepted would not have happened had it not been for the untiring work of the IDC members,” Klein said in the vide.

Klein caused a stir in the Capitol on Monday in an interview in The Buffalo News in which he called on Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to resign rebuffing calls to form a new coalition.

That proposal led to a rebuke from the mainline conference spokesman, Mike Murphy.

“Senator Klein is obviously lashing out due to the tremendous amount of pressure from so many Democratic leaders including the DNC leadership, the entire New York Democratic Congressional Delegation, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, numerous Democratic County Leaders, and Democratic activists across the state,” Murphy said.

“The last person we would take advice from on this issue is someone who has explicitly stated his goal is to keep the Republicans in charge of the Senate. If Senator Klein wants have a say on who should lead the Democratic Conference we call on him to rejoin the Democratic Conference and ‘call the roll.’”

Flanagan: Introduces Mayoral Control Bills

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan on Sunday introduced a trio of bills that would extend mayoral control of New York City schools and bolster charter schools at the same time as the legislative session begins to wind down.

The bills in many respects represent a choose-your-own-adventure format.

One bill would provide for a five-year extension of the program, with the trade off being the creation of an education tax credit meant to spur donations that benefit private and parochial schools — a provision staunchly opposed by teachers unions.

Another would have it expire after two years and a separate bill also address charters in the same way, but extends the mayoral control program for only 12 months. Neither of the shorter extensions contain the education tax credit.

The bills’ introduction comes with 11 scheduled session days to go until the program is set to expire at the end of the month.

The bills would allow for up to 40 percent of the remaining charter schools under the statewide cap to be opened in New York City. Charter schools that have teacher training programs would be allowed to employ teachers for up to three years before they are certified.

The bills would make permanent the ability for a charter school to switch the authorizing entity for the school — a key concern for charters in New York City.

The bill comes after the Democratic-led Assembly approved an omnibus bill extending mayoral control for two years packaged with an extension of key tax measures for local governments in suburban and upstate communities.

Flanagan has pushed New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to release more information on how education money is spent, declaring the mayor has been less than transparent with state funding.

De Blasio has fired back, saying Senate Republicans in Albany have been playing politics with the issue.

WFP Wants Cuomo To Focus On State Senate Before House

The Daily News reported this morning Gov. Andrew Cuomo will become more involved in flipping Republican-held seats in the House of Representatives.

For the Working Families Party, a labor-backed organization that has been crosswise with Cuomo from time to time, that’s not enough.

In a statement, the WFP urged Cuomo to first work on flipping the state Senate as the great liberal pile on continues to pressure the Independent Democratic Conference to rejoin the mainline faction of Democrats in the chamber.

“It’s great that Governor Cuomo is finally stepping up to take on Trump Republicans in Washington,” said WFP State Director Bill Lipton.

“But before we can take back the House, he should clean up his own house in Albany. For far too long, the Governor has been conspicuously silent as breakaway Democrats in the state Senate have artificially handed power to the GOP, making it impossible for New York to effectively fight the Trump agenda. If the Governor believes in Democratic unity and progressive policy, the work must start in his own backyard.”

Cuomo has come under pressure from liberals over the years to reunite the IDC and Senate Democrats and push for overall Democratic control of the chamber. Cuomo has endorsed Democrats in the state Senate, including races in a handful of districts last year and contributed money to the candidates.

Pressure has increased on the IDC in the wake of a special election last month that filled a vacant upper Manhattan district with Democrat Brian Benjamin, giving the party 32 enrolled members, but not enough to form a working majority.

Albany Law Prof Doubts Stipend System Broke Law

Albany Law School Professor Michael Hutter in a radio interview on Friday was skeptical as to whether any laws were broken in the arrangement in which senators receive stipend payments reserved for jobs they don’t actually hold.

“It doesn’t look good, but there’s nothing that prohibits really what they were doing,” said the professor, Michael Hutter, on Fred Dicker’s Talk-1300 radio show. “It’s a practice of the Legislature, of the Senate, to do this.”

The Republican conference and the Independent Democratic Conference were under scrutiny last month when it was revealed lawmakers who hold positions of vice chair on a committee were receiving stipends normally designed for committee chairs.

Payroll records sent to the state comptroller’s office list lawmakers next to the erroneous committee chair titles, but officials insist the document was merely to show which lawmaker was due which stipend.

At least one subpoena has been issued in the case and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office is reviewing the arrangement, as is the Eastern District of New York’s office on the federal level.

But Hutter said it was doubtful the situation went to the criminal level noting, in part, the question is over an internal working of the Senate.

“Really I think it’s at worst a civil dispute,” Hutter said. “Can the Senate do this? To criminalize it I think is beyond the pale.”

Hutter pointed to the Albany County district attorney, David Soares, declining to get involved.

“I think it speaks well of the DA here in Albany County, that he gave the Democrats an audience, and decided he’s not going to pursue it,” he said.

Sanders’s Our Revolution Dives Into Senate Fight

The group formed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the aftermath of the presidential election is joining the pressure campaign aimed at pushing the Independent Democratic Conference back into the mainline Democratic fold in the state Senate.

“If we are going to truly build a country that works for all people, progressive states like New York should be leading the way,” said Our Revolution Executive Director Shannon Jackson.

“That won’t happen as long as progressives are divided. Our Revolution calls on progressive legislators in the New York state senate to unite in a majority so that New York can pass Medicare for All and protect immigrant communities from Trump’s xenophobic agenda. New York legislators must show the entire country what a progressive vision for our looks like.”

Support from the Sanders-backed group comes as a variety of entities and figures are pushing for united Democrats in the Senate as the party holds a numeric majority of 32, but the chamber is controlled by the Republican conference.

Republicans retain the majority with the help of Sen. Simcha Felder, an enrolled Democrat who conferences with the GOP, but he has urged IDC Leader Jeff Klein to rejoin the Democratic fold.

Klein has countered by calling for votes on a variety of key, hot-button issues that are supported by the Democratic base, but not have the needed support in the sharply divided chamber, such as strengthening abortion rights and access to tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants.

Still, the Working Families Party is conducting a revamped digital campaign on Facebook pushing the IDC, while support as also come for unity from the 18 Democrats members of the House delegation in New York.