The End of Session Holdup

This morning, Governor Cuomo met with the three legislative leaders – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and IDC Leader Jeff Klein. The Governor had an idea on how to break the impasse over mayoral control of City schools. The deal was this: One year extension. A clean bill that has no mention of charter schools. However, there would be an accompanying side letter making a commitment to deal with the 17 “Zombie Charters,” all of which are located in New York City.

“Zombie Charters” are charter schools that either closed or shut down, but are now in limbo. Because of the cap on the number of schools, “Zombie Charters” remain an impediment to opening new charter schools. If they are now defunct, pro-charter advocates believe an equal number of new charters should be allowed to spring up in their place. The side letter would not be legislation, only a commitment to address the issue at the appropriate time. Heastie, who left the closed door morning leaders meeting visibly agitated, rejected this compromise.

Heastie has been clear that he will not do any deal on mayoral control that includes a link to charter schools. And while some believe this compromise was a face-saving way out, the Speaker won’t budge. Interestingly enough, sources say Mayor de Blasio is also willing to make this deal which would put the Mayor and the Governor ( not normally on the same page ) on the same side of the issue for once.

So, what’s eating Heastie? Some believe there is at least one of two things going on here. The first is that the teacher’s unions are some of the the Assembly Democrats’ biggest contributors. The Dem conference is now 108 members. Heastie can’t protect that many members from primaries next year without the union money. And the UFT specifically opposes charter expansion. Union leaders are feeling particularly emboldened by their recent win for Democrat Christine Pellegrino on Long Island in what had historically been a Republican seat. The Teacher’s union played a key role in that victory.

The other thing potentially going on here is that Heastie may be getting his sea legs. He has said before that when he gets into the room with Cuomo, Klein and Flanagan he feels a little ganged up on, and like he is the only Democrat in the room.

Oh, well. Looks like we are never getting out of here.

**UPDATE**

Sources close to Speaker Heastie say this has nothing to do with the Mayor, or any of the Teacher’s unions. This is about the Democratic members of the Assembly, and what they want. The members have been very clear: they are not doing anything related to charters in exchange for Mayoral control. No letters, no nothing. That’s where they stand, and they are also prepared to leave town without a deal should the other leaders stick to their guns on charters.

Assembly Passes Bill Banning Employers From Seeking Pay History

The Democratic-led Assembly on Wednesday approved legislation that would ban employers from asking job applicants their salary history before receiving an interview.

The legislation is aimed at closing what is considered to be a top factor in the pay gap between women and men in the workplace.

“The Assembly majority is committed to closing the wage gap by ensuring all employers are supporting a fair and equitable work environment. It starts by removing unnecessary barriers like salary history requirements,” Heastie said. “Pay inequity disproportionately affects women and people of color; we have to be deliberate and proactive if we truly hope to close the gap.”

The New York City Council earlier this year passed a similar bill that was signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Prospective employees would not be prohibited from voluntarily disclosing wage history and an employer may only confirm past salaries after a salary negotiation has started.

Ortiz Bill Would Create Non-Binary Gender Designation On DMV Applications

Assemblyman Felix Ortiz announced Wednesday a bill that would create a third option for designating gender — an “X” — on a state driver’s license or learner’s permit.

“My bill makes an effort to respect and acknowledge individuals who do not identify in the stereotypical gender binary of male or female,” said Ortiz, a Brooklyn Democrat. “Our governmental agencies should reflect the society we live in. While this change may see small, it is a step forward to change the rigid mindset often faced by many today.”

The bill is being introduced after Oregon this month passed similar legislation for gender designation on a driver’s license.

LGBT advocates have pressed state elected officials to take up measures that would bolster rights for transgender New Yorkers, including the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. The bill has stalled in the Republican-led Senate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has introduced regulations that cover much of what GENDA would accomplish, but advocates and lawmakers who sponsor the bill say the rights also need the force of law.

Lawmakers Seek A ‘Grand Plan’ For Mayoral Control

Legislative leaders emerged from a closed-door meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo this morning with not much new to report on the progress of the talks over extending mayoral control of New York City schools.

“He’s still trying to push things forward,” Majority Leader John Flanagan said of the governor, “but we don’t have an agreement yet.”

Flanagan and Senate Republicans want to expand the number of charter schools in the state as a condition of extending mayoral control; Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie continues to oppose any effort to link charter schools to a deal.

“As I said before I’m not having a discussion on charter schools,” Heastie said after the meeting. “That’s the Senate’s desire.”

Senate IDC Leader Jeff Klein said a push for a two-year extension remains under discussion. A two-year extender for mayoral control would synchronize the sunset date with another high-profile New York City concern, rent control regulations, which will expire in 2019.

“We’re still talking about a grand plan to get it done,” Klein said. “I think it’s extremely important. At the end of the day it’s important we have mayoral control.”

Of course, this year’s final days of the legislative session do not appear to be the same as previous efforts that culminated with a “big ugly” agreement and an omnibus bill. Much of what Cuomo wanted this year was accomplished in the state budget.

Lawmakers have reached agreement on issues such as expanding the purchasing of American-made goods like steel and iron, while a bill that would make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits has been shelved.

Legislative leaders, too, are hedging as to whether this will be the final day of the session for the year.

“There’s been talk of that, but we will probably work late into the night if we have a deal,” Klein said.

Rally Against AHCA Planned For Albany

A rally will be held Thursday in Albany to protest the Republican-backed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, organizers of the event said.

The demonstration will be held in West Capitol Park in Albany at 11 a.m.

The rally will be held as Gov. Andrew Cuomo is marshaling an effort with the state Democratic Committee to unseat Republican House members from New York who voted for the GOP-led health care legislation known as the American Health Care Act, including Reps. John Faso and Chris Collins.

“Constituents and concerned community members pleaded with Republican members of Congress to vote against Trump Care, but they ignored our voices and voted against our health,” said Karen Scharff, the executive director of Citizen Action of New York. “As the Senate secretly prepares their version of the health care bill, we’re organizing an all out mobilization of community members, leaders, and organizations united to protect the lives of millions who would lose coverage if this were ever to be signed into law.”

The event comes as Republicans in the U.S. Senate are crafting their own version of the health care bill largely behind closed doors. The Senate version is expected to differ from the House-approved bill and Senate leaders want a vote on it before the July 4 holiday.

It also comes days after Democrats lost a high-profile and costly special election in a Georgia House district.

Organizers of Thursday’s rally include a range of groups such as the politically influential union 1199, Citizen Action, Autism Speaks, the New York State Nurses Association and others.

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.

One Day More?

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn the legislative session for the year today, but no agreement remains in place for the extension of mayoral control of New York City schools.

All day Tuesday, top lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly gave no indication they plan to stay at the Capitol passed Wednesday — raising the possibility mayoral control could lapse for the first time since 2009.

Lawmakers have been working toward ancillary, less high-profile agreements such as an extension of Kendra’s Law, which requires mandatory treatment for some mentally ill patients.

The Legislature has also struck an agreement with Gov. Andrew Cuomo for legislation that would expand the state’s preferences for purchasing American-made steel and iron.

The Child Victims Act falling out of the negotiations as Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said on Tuesday is also a sign lawmakers are moving behind areas in which they can’t find agreement.

But the mayoral control agreement remains elusive.

This comes as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — already presiding over a city annoyed and inconvenienced by transit delays being blamed on an agency controlled by the governor — is running for re-election.

Running for re-election this year, de Blasio could base the campaign, in part, on the city’s frustration with Albany.

In the meantime, there would be fallout from the lack of mayoral control for upstate and suburban counties that need sales tax and other local tax measures re-authorized. Those bills were packaged with the Assembly’s version of the extension.

That means local governments this summer (and potentially into the fall) will have a new level of uncertainty when setting their budgets for next year.

Legislators could always return to the Capitol later in the year — a prospect Cuomo raised last week when he was skeptical anything of significance could be accomplished this week.

Adding to the atmosphere of what could either be a short (or long) day at the Capitol, a coalition of progressive groups today will stage a New Orleans-style jazz funeral demonstration starting at a State Street church.

The event is meant to highlight legislation that “died” during this year’s legislative session.

Medaille President Sounds Off On ‘Free College’ Program

From the Memo:

Medaille College, a small private school in the city of Buffalo, said its enrollment numbers are actually up by roughly 10 percent this year, despite the state’s new “free tuition” program that some other higher education institutions worry will negatively affect their bottom lines.

“We think it has brought our enrollment up because students are looking at their choices and realizing that there’s more than just costs that goes into making the right college decision,” President Kenneth Macur said.

He added his college is educating students about the actual cost of going to a state school versus a private school, noting, for example, roughly 55 percent of students at private schools graduate in four years – considerably higher than at public schools, which contributes to a higher bill.

“You need to go to school six years at the state system to match that graduation rate, so the cost over six years of going to a private school is actually less than a SUNY school,” Macur said.

Macur also pointed out that there’s about $5.1 billion dollars in financial aid available to students who go to private colleges in New York.

“There’s a big misconception about tuition at privates because we publish the sticker price, which is pretty high compared to the sticker price of a state school,” he said. “But when you factor in discounts of 50-55-60 percent, the costs become closer and again the four-year cost of getting a degree becomes less,”

For those reasons, Macur said, students hoping to take advantage of the so-called “free tuition” program are taking an expensive gamble. With the state only having set aside $87 million dollars for the Excelsior Scholarships, he likened the program a lottery without very good odds.

“The Excelsior Scholarship itself is free tuition with a huge asterisks; it’s conditional,” Macur sid. “It’s unguaranteed and it’s really a bait-and-switch to the students of the state of New York.”

Medaille is one of a number of Western New York schools to reject the state’s Enhanced Tuition Awards program, which offers assistance to students at private universities and colleges only if the schools agree to match the state’s contribution.

Macur said that program is not particularly viable either, because it requires private donors to make additional contributions on top of that $5.1 billion.

In his opinion, the state had better options to make higher education more accessible and affordable, but ultimately went with what amounts to a “gimmick.”

“There could have been more consultation but really the consultation we did have was pretty crystal clear,” he said. “If the state wants to support access to higher education, they really should give it out in normal TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) benefits, expand the existing TAP program.”

Ultimately, Macur said, if New York wants to saddle students with less debt, it should be focusing on graduating them sooner and getting them into the workforce as quickly as possible.

Cuomo’s MTA Plan Pushed As Session Closes

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday injected one final issue into the end of the legislative session with a bill that would remake the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority with two new seats controlled by the state.

Supporters of Cuomo saw this as the governor taking a need leadership role in the wake of continued subway delays and other transit problems in the New York City area.

Critics saw it has little more than window dressing for an agency Cuomo already has defacto control of and will do little to stem the brewing transit crisis.

“The problem is not MTA board structure; the problem is the absence of leadership and the lack of a credible plan from Governor Cuomo for how he will fix the subway,” according to a statement from John Raskin of the Riders Alliance.

“Riders don’t have the luxury of quibbling over MTA board governance when we know it’s not the real issue. We need a plan from the Governor and a reliable source of funding that can fix our disastrous commutes.”

That drew a rebuke from John Samuelsen, the president of the Transit Workers of America — which backed Cuomo’s bill.

“The Riders Alliance doesn’t get to have it both ways – they have repeatedly and publicly pointed out that control of the subway system belongs to Governor Cuomo,” he said in a statement. “Now when the Governor steps up and embraces that responsibility legislatively by assuming the appointment of a flat out majority of voting board members, John Raskin objects. Come on, really?”

It’s unclear if the bill will get a vote before lawmakers adjourn the session for the year.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, said he backed the plan that would provide “more accountability” for the MTA’s board, but added there’s a broader issue that needs to be addressed.

No solution will be complete, however, unless we also address the historic underfunding that led us to the current emergency,” he said.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no public schedule. The Legislature is in Albany for the last scheduled day of the 2017 session.

In D.C. this morning, Vice President Mike Pence will deliver remarks at the U.S. Department of Justice National Summit on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, and then will participate in a call with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci.

A fuller calendar of the day’s events appears at the end of this post.

Headlines…

State lawmakers yesterday approved measures to renew Kendra’s Law and allow medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder — but Mayor Bill de Blasio’s future control of the NYC schools remained an unsettled issue.

De Blasio has suggested that if the Legislature leaves Albany without renewing mayoral control of schools, which is set to lapse on July 1, the city’s education system will immediately descend into chaos. In fact, the one time that mayoral control lapsed, in 2009, the effect was minimal.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reportedly promised the mayor back in April – after the budget deal was done – that he would draw a line in the sand on a two year extension for mayoral control, seeking to end its use as a bargaining chip for unrelated issues.

Top de Blasio administration officials, though not the mayor himself, worked the state Capitol hallways on mayoral control yesterday.

Former Obama Education Secretary Arne Duncan threw de Blasio a curveball when he joined the mayor on a teleconference to back renewal of mayoral control of schools — but said he also supports adding charter schools.

With the NYC subways and commuter trains in crisis, Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a bill to give himself majority control of the MTA board to tackle the problems.

The governor’s MTA bill came just 24 hours before the scheduled end of the legislative session, leaving some to question how serious a proposal it is.

The Daily News deems Cuomo’s effort to take more control of the MTA a “political gambit” since it comes so late in the session, but then says: “Even political gambits can be meaningful.”

A bill that surfaced late in the state legislative session became the subject of a fight that legislators said pitted safety measures on the Long Island Rail Road against the need for a third track to improve efficiency and cut congestion.

It appears that state Senate Republicans once again turned their backs on child sex abuse victims. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan responded “yes” when asked if the Child Victims Act is done for the year.

Cuomo and legislative leaders announced an agreement to implement the purchase of American-made steel and iron products by state entities.

Assembly Democrats are blocking a Cuomo-backed bill that would allow booze to be sold in movie theaters.

The state Senate and Assembly unanimously approved $90 million in flood relief for residents and municipalities ravaged by Lake Ontario floods in a measure now awaiting Cuomo’s approval, and appears likely to get it – in some form.

The International Joint Commission Board, which controls the water level on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, voted to continue record-high water releases at the Moses-Saunders dam in Massena until further notice.

The state Thruway Authority would be required to give 10 percent of the tolls it collects on the Grand Island bridges to three communities affected by pollution caused by the toll booths traffic under a bill introduced by Sen. Chris Jacobs. But no vote is expected before the session ends.

Cuomo signed legislation putting an end to child marriage in New York. The legislation raises the age of consent from 14 to 18, and amends the process to require parental and judicial consent for marriage between 17- and 18-year-olds.

A bill granting cancer coverage to New York’s more than 110,000 volunteer firefighters has passed both chambers of the state Legislature, and is headed to Cuomo’s desk.

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