DFS: Insurance Rates To Increase 14.6 Percent

Insurance rates on average will increase by 14.6 percent for individuals and more than 11 percent for group plans for the 3 million people who are enrolled in the state’s health care exchange, the Department of Financial Services on Tuesday announced.

The increase comes as insurance companies had sought a 17.7 percent increase in June, with most of the initial requests revised downard.

State insurance regulators said the increases were needed in order to potentially offset cuts from the federal government if changes to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, are approved.

“DFS has carefully examined the rates requested by health insurers to reduce the burden of excessive health insurance premium increases on New Yorkers while maintaining competitive markets in the face of rising national healthcare and pharmaceutical costs, compounded by ill-conceived Congressional attempts to repeal or replace the Affordable Care Act,” said Financial Services Superintendent Maria Vullo in a statement.

The health exchange has 15 plans that offer individual coverage and 20 plans for those in small group coverage.

Tax credits for those eligible will decrease the rates by up to 5 percent when purchasing low-cost silver plans.

“Many consumers buying plans through the NY State of Health Marketplace will be eligible to receive federal tax credits, reducing the monthly cost of coverage,” said NY State of Health Executive Director, Donna Frescatore. “In many cases, after tax credits, consumers’ costs will be about the same or in some cases lower in 2018. Thousands of NY State of Health Assistors will again be available to help consumers shop the Marketplace for the best value.”

Efforts to repeal parts of the ACA have so far sputtered in Congress.

Silver Receives April 16 Trial Date

A second trial for ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will start April 16 and run through late May, a federal judge on Tuesday ruled.

Judge Valerie Caproni noted in her order the date is subject “to a decision from the Supreme Court” related to the definition of corruption charges.

Silver was convicted in 2016 of fraud and corruption charges stemming from referral fees he received as an attorney at Weitz & Luxenberg. The conviction was tossed earlier this year, however, due to jury instructions that did not comport with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of a “theft of honest services” charge.

Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York soon indicated they would seek a second trial for Silver, requesting one for the spring of next year.

Silver Trial by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Voter Roll Tick Tock

It took just over a month for President Donald Trump’s commission on election integrity to gain access to New York’s voter rolls, according to documents obtained from Board of Elections through the Freedom of Information Law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had declared on June 30 the state would not share voter data with the commission, formed after Trump falsely declared he would have won the popular vote last year had it not been for the millions of illegally cast votes.

The statement came four days after Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity had written to New York Secretary of State Rossanna Rosado to request the voter information. Unlike many states, the secretary of state in New York does not maintain the state’s voter rolls or oversee elections.

The letter, signed by commission vice chair Kris Kobach, included a list of questions including what federal election law changes should be made to “enhance the integrity of federal elections” and if any convictions for “election-related crimes” have occurred in New York since the 2000 election.

On July 10, the federal voter commission sent an email to the state Board of Elections, asking the board to not release any voter information to the commission pending the outcome of a judicial ruling in a case challenging the commission’s work.

The Board of Elections, through spokesman John Conklin, responded with some bewilderment.

“The NY State Board of Elections never received any request for data from your organization as it was sent to the NY Secretary of State. In NY the Secretary of State has very little responsibility for elections,” the email stated. “It would be greatly appreciated if you would submit a letter to the attention of our Commissioners or our Co-executive directors at the below mailing address and this email address.”

Ultimately, the ruling landed in the Trump administration’s favor. The led to a July 26 letter from Kobach making a second, more formal request for information from the Board of Elections.

“I want to assure you that the Commission will not publicly release any personally identifiable information regarding any individual voter or any group of voters from the voter registration records you submit,” he wrote. “Individuals’ voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the Commission’s existence. Once the Commission’s analysis is complete, the Commission will dispose of the data as permitted by federal law.”

Two days a later, on July 28, a formal FOIL request by the election integrity commission was made for the state’s voter registration rolls.

On Aug. 2, the board announced at its meeting it would comply with the request.

“It’s going through the normal process, but my understanding is the process is moving forward with complying with it,” said Board of Elections spokesman Thomas Connolly.

July 26%2c 2017 Letter From Vice Chair Kris Kobach to New York by Nick Reisman on Scribd

July 26%2c 2017 Letter From Vice Chair Kris Kobach to New York by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Cuomo Pushes Bill Expanding Hate Crimes Laws

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced Tuesday he will introduce legislation that would add rioting and inciting to riot that target specific protected classes to offenses under the state’s hate crime laws.

The measure comes in response to the violent clashes on Saturday in Virginia that left a counter demonstrator and two state police officers dead.

“The ugly events that took place in Charlottesville must never be repeated, and in New York we’re going to stand united against hate in all of its forms,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“Our diversity is our strength and this legislation will help protect New Yorkers and send a clear signal that violence and discrimination have no place in our society. New York is one community and one family, and we will never stop fighting to ensure the safety and equal treatment of all New Yorkers.”

State law currently provides for charging a person with a hate crime if they commit an offense that is targeting specific victims based on their race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation.

Cuomo’s bill would amend the existing law to add inciting a riot and rioting when directed a specific class.

Penalties would be increased from a class E felony to a D felony for rioting. Inciting a riot would have penalties increased to a class E felony.

Cuomo is also calling on lawmakers to amend the state’s human rights law to add protections for public school students against discrimination. On Monday, he signed legislation that bolster penalties for those who make bomb threats against community centers.

GOP Advocacy Group Unveils New Digital Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

A Republican-aligned advocacy group is ramping up a new $500,000 digital campaign this week with ads targeting 31 congressional districts — including three in New York — to boost GOP efforts on tax reform.

The American Action Network is airing the ads in the 19th, 22nd and 24th congressional districts in upstate New York — all considered key swing districts ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

“It’s time to cut taxes for working families. Congress must act on tax reform that will deliver more jobs, bigger paychecks, and allow the U.S. to compete with countries like China,” said Corry Bliss, AAN Executive Director.

“Polls show Americans are ready for tax reform, and AAN’s Middle-Class Growth Initiative will continue working to build momentum for a pro-growth tax code with lower rates. With this latest effort, across 31 congressional districts, we’re urging Americans to make their voices heard and urge their member of Congress to keep up the fight and make meaningful tax reform a reality.”

The ads will run for the next month, aimed at mobile users, and urge constituents to push House lawmakers to back tax reform legislation, which is expected to be part of a contentious debate in Washington once the summer recess ends.

For New York, the ads will be seen in the districts of Reps. John Faso, Claudia Tenney and John Katko — three Republicans believed to be potentially vulnerable in 2018 by the host of Democratic candidates lining up to challenge them.

The group previously announced a $3.5 million radio and TV campaign for tax reform.

Stewart-Cousins Won’t Call for Loeb Cash Returns

From the Morning Memo:

State Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declined to call for recipients of campaign cash from Dan Loeb – including Gov. Andrew Cuomo – to return the money, even after the hedge fund manager has been roundly criticized for making a racist statement about her on Facebook. 

In her first TV interview since the incident last week, in which Loeb made a KKK reference in connection with the African American senator, Stewart-Cousins said all elected officials need to be circumspect about the origins of the political contributions they receive. 

“I think that people have to be extremely concerned, we all as public officials have to be extremely concerned, about who is giving us money and what their expectations are,” the senator said.

“And certainly once one reveals who they are, then I think it’s incumbent on anyone to take a look at whether or not this money should be kept. And again, these are individual decisions.”

Stewart-Cousins did specifically note that Loeb has given money to the IDC, (basically echoing my comments on the matter), and then got in a dig about the Senate Republicans’ blocking campaign finance reform, saying: 

“Tthe reality is that we are all here for public service; we are here because there’s a bigger agenda. We should be here because we care about what happens to New York and what happens to New Yorkers, and we should be prepared to work together as public servants to do that, despite the outsized influence of money, which, because our Republicans continue to stop any notion of campaign finance reform, we continue to deal with.”

Loeb’s financial support of the Senate Republicans has been widely reported, as has his contribution to the IDC and his donations to a pro-charter school independent expenditure that spent heavily on behalf of members of both conferences in the last election cycle and helped keep them in power. 

Loeb has also contributed a heft chunk of change over the years to Gov. Andrew Cuomo – more than $170,000 when money given by the hedge fund manager’s wife is also tallied. Though he has rebuked Loeb for his racist statements, the governor has so far not said anything about returning these contributions. 

(FWIW, Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco said yesterday he doesn’t see any reason why the governor needs to give back Loeb’s money, though he deemed the racist remarks made against Stewart-Cousins “outrageous”). 

Stewart-Cousins joined us just hours after attending a Harlem rally at which fellow Democrats expressed their support for her and for her ascension to majority leader of the Senate. The event was not attended by the governor, though he did send his top counsel, Alphonso David. 

Also attending the rally was Deputy Senate Minority Leader Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, whom an anonymous top Cuomo aide bashed to Ken Lovett of the NY Daily News, essentially blaming Gianaris for the failure of the so-called regular Democrats and the IDC to come to a peace agreement due to his ongoing rocky relationship with IDC Leader Jeff Klein, of the Bronx. 

Stewart-Cousins rejected the notion that Gianaris is to blame, and reiterated (multiple times) the importance of having Democrats come together to claim what she sees as their rightful place in the majority, though a current vacancy – via the seat given up last week by former Brooklyn Democratic Sen. Daniel Squadron – temporarily complicates matters. 

For the record, Stewart-Cousins says she doesn’t have a favorite in the battle to replace Squadron, and feels comfortable with the process of having the party leaders of Manhattan and Brooklyn select a candidate to run in a yet-to-be-called special election. 

Flanagan: Democratic Infighting Will Help Senate GOP

From the Morning Memo:

The idea of Democrats gain a governing majority in the state Senate is a “moot point” considering Republicans have a working majority in the chamber already, Republican leader John Flanagan wrote in an op/ed to State of Politics.

At the same time, Flanagan wrote the internecine fighting among Democrats will help Republicans retain and grow their power in the Senate.

“Democrat infighting, and the machinations being made by Senator Stewart-Cousins and Senator Gianaris about who would be in charge of a hypothetical Democrat Senate, are academic,” he said. “Republicans have the majority now and will have an even more robust one come 2019.”

The op/ed is Flanagan’s most extensive remarks since the eight-member Independent Democratic Conference this summer has been pressured by activists groups and the mainline conference to align themselves with the rest of their party in the Senate.

“No matter how many times the mainline Democrats or their radical allies on the left say Republicans don’t have a numerical majority, it’s just not true,” Flanagan wrote. “We have 32 members in our conference who caucus together and work together to improve the lives of the citizens of this state.”

Flanagan is referring to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who conferences with the Senate GOP in the chamber. Felder has indicated he would side with Democrats, but only unless the IDC bolted from their alignment with the Senate Republicans.

The IDC, led by Bronx Democrat Jeff Klein, had worked in a coalition-stlye arrangement in the Senate for a two-year term. But the IDC has remained a key bloc of votes in the Senate, growing by several members in the last year and angering liberals anew after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency.

A new pressure point appeared last week, when billionaire political donor and charter school benefactor Dan Loeb criticized Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for harming people of color more than Ku Klux Klan. Loeb apologized and elected officials from both parities criticized the remarks.

Flanagan, meanwhile, expects to be able to grow his conference — and its narrow margin in the chamber — in next year’s elections.

It’s unclear, for now, where Republicans plan to play offense next year. But both parties will likely stake their battleground races in suburban districts once again, with the Hudson Valley and Long Island seats playing vital roles in determining who controls the Senate after next year.

Flanagan: “A Majority Now, An Even More Robust Majority in 2019”

The following is an op/ed submitted by Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan.

Political insiders can continue to speculate, but any talk about Democrat reunification in the State Senate is a moot point.

Republicans have 32 members in our conference now and history shows we will grow our majority in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

First, some facts.

No matter how many times the mainline Democrats or their radical allies on the left say Republicans don’t have a numerical majority, it’s just not true.

We have 32 members in our conference who caucus together and work together to improve the lives of the citizens of this state.

That includes 31 Republicans and Senator Felder, a conservative Democrat who ran on the Republican and Conservative lines in his last election and has conferenced with us since he was first elected to the Senate.

While we have a Republican majority now, history tells us that our majority will only grow in the midterms.

Want evidence of that? Look no further than the last two midterm elections, 2010 and 2014.

In 2010, Republicans won four Democrat-held seats, in route to winning back control of the chamber after two disastrous and dysfunctional years of all-Democrat reign.

In 2014, we flipped three seats held by Democrats to retain and expand our majority.

In the last two midterm elections alone, we have defeated seven Democrat incumbents.

Meanwhile, our campaign operation is far superior to that of the mainline Democrats, and we will use it to grow our majority in 2018. Several districts now represented by Democrats are ripe for pick ups.

Democrat infighting, and the machinations being made by Senator Stewart-Cousins and Senator Gianaris about who would be in charge of a hypothetical Democrat Senate, are academic.

Republicans have the majority now and will have an even more robust one come 2019.

Grant Says She’s Not Playing Spoiler In Buffalo Mayoral Primary

From the Morning Memo:

Go ahead and call Buffalo mayoral candidate Betty Jean Grant an underdog. The long-time Erie County legislator said she’s not surprised she’s running third in the Democratic primary, according to this week’s Spectrum News/Siena Poll.

Grant pointed out she was the last of three candidates to enter the the fray, and is at a significant fundraising disadvantage compared to incumbent Mayor Byron Brown and current Buffalo Comptroller Mark Schroeder.

“It is an uphill battle,” Grant said. “Every election I have won or ran has been an uphill battle.”

On the other hand, she said she doesn’t think much of a common narrative she’s running a spoiler campaign against Brown, insisting: “It doesn’t offend me, but it really shows how backwards we’re thinking.”

Grant said historically the concept of a spoiler campaign has meant two candidates of the same ethnicity, often African American, split the demographic during an election, allowing another candidate to win. But she doesn’t believe Buffalo voters think that way anymore.

“People have come beyond that,” she said. “People have known that people vote for, they vote because of their pocketbook. They don’t vote because of race.”

Grant also said people shouldn’t automatically assume Schroeder, who has an Irish background, will perform poorly with black voters. In fact, all three candidates polled favorably, but nearly half of the African Americans who participated said they either didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion about the current comptroller.

“If you follow Mark Schroeder as he goes to churches and you follow him as he goes to the east side of Buffalo to campaign, he has his own base,” Grant said. “He doesn’t need Betty Jean Grant to help him in any kind of way.”

Grant suggested Schroeder and Brown could even split other demographics throughout the city, opening the door for her to win. While she acknowledged she has ground to gain, she said she has both enough momentum and time to close the gap before the primary next month.


Sen. Jacobs Discusses Race For His Former Office

From the Morning Memo:

Current state Sen. Chris Jacobs, a Buffalo Republican, wouldn’t say who he’s supporting this fall in an election for Erie County Clerk, the office he formerly held. The seat has been vacant since Jacobs joined the Legislature at the beginning of the year.

“I haven’t really been involved in that,” Jacobs said.

The two candidates are current Democratic Assemblyman Mickey Kearns and former radio personality and community advocate Steve Cichon. Jacobs and Kearns have often worked together, both in their districts and Albany, despite different party affiliations.

The senator said neither candidates typically gets caught up in partisan politics.

“Along those lines, Mickey and I are very similar, and I’m certainly willing to talk to anybody about my thoughts on the office, any of the candidates, because I just am passionate about the work they do and the good people that are in the organization,” he said.

The Erie County Democratic Committee has been highly critical of Kearns since he accepted the Republican nomination, choosing to endorse the newcomer, Cichon, instead.

ECDC Chairman Jeremy Zellner has called the assemblyman an opportunist who often votes against the values of the party.

Jacobs said that regardless of which candidate wins, he wants to make sure the next clerk is service oriented. He said the office does things that are very important to the day-to-day lives of many Buffalonians.

“I just want to make sure that the work that I think we’ve done, the good work at the clerk’s office, the DMV, our real estate records, continues with professionalism, that politics don’t again dominate that office that I think years ago did, patronage hires, ineffective people,” he said. “That’s really what I tried to eradicate when I was there. I think I put good people in place in our leadership positions.”