State Senate

Flood Relief Package Under Discussion

State lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the legislative session today, but they are still discussing a number of issues, including an agreement on an aid package for communities in upstate New York devastated by recent flooding.

“I think all of us are on the same page whether we represent downstate communities or upstate or anything in between that we have to help our upstate neighbors with flood damage,” said Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference.

It’s unclear specifically what lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are discussing. Top leaders in the Senate and Assembly met for just over an hour on Tuesday morning.

The Assembly has approved a $90 million aid package for upstate flood relief after communities on Lake Ontario and elsewhere have been contending with rising lake levels this past spring. The Republican-controlled Senate, too, has passed a relief package.

“What we’re talking about is the Senate and Assembly passed individual bills and the governor now wants a three-way agreement with guidelines attached and money on how to help distressed New Yorkers,” Klein said.

But lawmakers remain at odds over the status of other controversial issues, including mayoral control of New York City schools, due to expire at the end of month. That issue has been linked to the continuation of upstate and suburban county sales tax provisions.

Klein: ‘Hopeful’ For 2-Year Mayoral Control

A two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools is under discussion, Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein said at the end of a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and top legislative leaders.

“We’re hopeful we can do a two-year extender of mayoral,” he said after the meeting. “We’re hopeful. That’s not a deal.”

The two-year plan would be longer than anything that’s been approved for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in recent years. It would also kick the issue out of the 2018 legislative session, when all members of the Senate and Assembly are up for re-election as is the governor.

“I’m hopeful we’re going to have a deal,” Klein said. “Mayoral control is very important to the people of the city of New York.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan was hesitant to endorse or discuss a timeframe for the extension. But he has sought an expansion of charter schools in the mayoral control talks, which is opposed by the Democratic-led Assembly.

Flanagan said there was a “full-blown discussion” on the mayoral control issue.

As for strengthening charter schools, Flanagan said, “I have not deviated from where we are in terms of that being part of the package.”

Flanagan: Child Victims Act Won’t Be Voted On

The Senate will not vote on a bill that would expand the statute of limitations that would make it easier for sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits, Majority Leader John Flanagan said after a closed-door meeting with legislative leaders and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“It’s under discussion, but the Senate is not going to be taking that bill up,” he said while being trailed by reporters.

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein added the bill was not discussed in the meeting.

The bill’s potential demise comes a day before lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the legislative session for the remainder of the year.

The Democratic-led Assembly has passed the bill and Cuomo last week introduced the same version of it as a program bill. But the measure has faced a steep uphill climb in the Senate. The Catholic Church and other groups, including the Boy Scouts, have signaled their opposition to it.

The development is sure to disappoint advocates and lawmakers who had pushed for the legislation and urged Cuomo to take a firmer role in its passage this week.

Child Victims Act, Procurement Remain Up In The Air

The chances of either the Child Victims Act or measures aimed at reforming how procurement is audited appear to be up in the air at this point.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a main sponsor of the procurement bill that would re-authorize Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to have oversight of major economic development spending efforts, seemed less-than-bullish on the bill’s chances.

“You never say never, but we’ve talked about these items many, many times,” DeFrancisco said. “Everything is in a swirl as it always is at the end of session.”

The final day of the legislative session is on Wednesday. While this end-of-session flurry at the moment does not appear to have a classic “big ugly” omnibus, DeFrancisco suggested everything is linked together.

“One thing always depends upon the other,” he said. “I can’t honestly tell you.”

The same goes for the Child Victims Act, which would make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits by expanding the statute of limitations.

“Everything is dependent upon everything else,” DeFrancisco said. “We’ve conferenced all of these issues. The final hours of the session is when things start to come together.”

Young Doesn’t Rule Out Five-Year Extender For Kendra’s Law

Sen. Cathy Young did not rule out on Tuesday passing a five-year extender of a law that requires mandatory mental health care for some patients.

The measure expires at the end of the month and Senate Republicans had backed a permanent extension of the law.

But Assembly Democrats this month approved a bill that allows the law to sunset in 2022. Young subsequently introduced a same-as measure.

Young said it is still her preference to have a permanent extension but added, “We’re not going to let the law expire.”

Heastie, Flanagan Not Bullish On Procurement Bill

A bill that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee state contracting and economic development measures was not exactly embraced on Monday at the Capitol.

The legislation was introduced on Sunday evening by Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference. Largely mirroring Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal, the measure would give purview for the procurement officer to oversee spending at SUNY and CUNY related entities.

But his fellow legislative leaders on Monday gave the bill a relatively cool reception.

“Procurement reform is under discussion both internally and externally,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “I have not seen Senator Klein’s bill so I can’t properly assess what’s in there.”

Speaker Carl Heastie in the Assembly told reporters he was hopeful for a three-way agreement on the issue, but declined to say if this the bill that would do it given support for vesting this power in Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

“I’d say the mindset is it’s always to me better to have oversight and the comptroller is duly elected,” he said. “I’ve all along the desire is to get a three-way agreement and I hope we can achieve that.”

Livingston County Conservatives Urge No-Vote On Alesi

The Livingston County Conservative Party is calling on members of the state Senate to reject their former colleague James Alesi’s nomination to the Public Service Commission. New York Daily News reporter Ken Lovett wrote Monday that the governor had pegged the Republican for the position, which pays 6-figures.

Alesi retired from the state Senate in 2013. County chairman Jason McGuire said he lacks the character and the qualifications needed for the job.

“Alesi does not have an education or professional background in any field at all related to what the PSC oversees,” Mcguire said. “What he does have is the governor’s most important qualification: loyalty to him.

Alesi was one of four Senate Republicans who voted for New York’s Marriage Equality Act in 2011. McGuire, a staunch opponent of gay marriage, said they betrayed their base.

In his release, McGuire did not mention the vote directly. He instead referenced a lawsuit the state Senator brought against a contractor after allegedly trespassing on a construction site and breaking his leg.

Alesi eventually dropped the suit.

“Alesi’s political career ended unceremoniously shortly after he sued the owners of a home in which he was illegally trespassing. His lack of character was a major reason that Republicans and Conservatives did not support him for re-election the following year,” McGuire said.

The Conservative leader said the governor knows he can control Alesi and Republicans would be doing themselves no favors by confirming the nomination.

Demonstration Gets A Handmaid’s Tale-Motif

handmaidstaleA demonstration on Monday at the Capitol received a Handmaid’s Tale-style twist with supporters lined up outside of the state Senate backing the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act.

The demonstrators choose The Handmaid’s Tale, now a series on Hulu and based on a Margaret Atwood novel, in which women are relegated to second-class citizenship without reproductive rights in a male-dominated dystopia.

The site of the demonstration was the Senate, where both the RHA and the contraception bill have struggled to pass in recent years. One senator who had watched the TV series admitted to feeling “creeped out” walking through the hallway.

Reinvent Albany Opposes Klein’s Procurement Bill

The good-government group Reinvent Albany on Monday issued a memorandum in opposition to a bill backed by Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee economic development spending.

The procurement officer would be nominated by the governor and approved by the state Senate as per the bill introduced by Klein on Sunday evening.

But the group argued in a memo the bill is duplicative of what already exists, namely a penchant for “self-policing” in Albany.

Albany has been plagued in recent years by the creation of poorly designed oversight entities that lack the requisite independence from the very institutions and individuals they oversee; this proposal represents a continuation of the Capitol’s preference for self-policing. The results are minimal and selective enforcement and a failure to reduce corruption risk,” the memo states.

At the same time, the group reiterated its support for re-empowering Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office to oversee procurement — a move that is opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The establishment of a chief procurement officer duplicates and impedes the independently elected state comptroller’s duties and responsibilities to review contracts, as laid out in the state constitution and subsequent legislation dating back a century,” the group stated. “The comptroller already reviews most large contracts of state agencies and authorities before they are executed.”

Klein Introduces Procurement Reform Bill

From the Morning Memo:

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Sunday evening introduced a bill that would create a chief procurement officer to oversee state contracting and procurement at SUNY and CUNY entities.

The proposal largely mirrors what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had initially proposed and continues to back in the closing days of the legislative session, as state lawmakers have pushed legislation that would re-empower the state comptroller’s office to review spending related to major economic development projects.

As backed by Klein and Cuomo, the bill would create the procurement officer post, with the person being nominated by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate.

“The importance of creating a new independent officer tasked with reviewing all state procurement and disbursements, instead of taking advantage of current safeguards, is that this officer will be in the best position to spot patterns of corruption, or have an inkling of what types of contracts or procurements are likely to be abused, since that is the officer’s one and only duty,” the bill’s memorandum in support states.

However, Klein’s bill does have differences from what Cuomo initially proposed, including additional language that would allow oversight of procurements for state affiliated non-profits so there would be oversight of money spent by SUNY and CUNY research foundations.

And the Senate would have the power to confirm the nominee for the post, something the governor’s plan did not initially include.

Additional language would be aimed preventing favoritism in contracting by having the chief procurement officer review and examine policies of state agencies and non-profit entities in order to recommend changes.

The bill comes as lawmakers seek to address transparency and oversight in state economic development spending months after the arrests of prominent development executives, a former close aide to Cuomo and the ex-president of SUNY Polytechnic, accused of bid rigging and fraud.

In the Legislature, Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco is pushing for a vote on a bill that would re-instate Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s power to oversee procurement, which had been removed early in Cuomo’s first term.

DiNapoli, good-government advocates and lawmakers supportive of procurement reform have called for oversight independent of the governor’s office.

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