State Purchases 6,800 Acres Of ADK Land

New York state on Thursday finalized a $4.2 million purchase of 6,800 acres of the former Finch Pruyn lands in the southern Adirondacks High Peaks region.

The agreement, announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, is aimed at strengthening public access to the region and is aimed at creating additional recreation and tourism possibilities in the area.

“This is another milestone in our commitment to protect and provide public access to 69,000 acres of former Finch Pruyn lands,” Cuomo said in a statement. “The MacIntyre East property will allow New Yorkers and visitors to enjoy additional fishing, paddling, hiking, hunting and other recreation activities in the unparalleled beauty of the Adirondacks. By working closely with local officials in the region on these acquisitions, we have been able to maximize the recreation and economic benefits of these lands, while retaining the natural character and beauty of Adirondack forest lands and waters.”

The purchase, long in the works, is part of the MacIntyre East property from The Nature Conservancy. The money is coming out of Environmental Protection Fund cash.

The land is located in Essex County, primarily in the town of Necomb, with some portions of Keene and North Hudson included in the parcel.

The purchase allows for hunting, hiking as well as sight seeing. New paddling and fishing areas will also be made available on more than five miles of the Hudson River.

Adirondack land purchases can be complicated and controversial within the Blue Line of the park, but this agreement appears to have won the support of local officials.

“The MacIntyre East Tract will be an unforgettable draw for outdoor recreationalists eager to explore the southern High Peaks region,” Sen. Betty Little, a Queensbury Republican, said in a statement. “Working together, our local communities and the Department of Environmental Conservation are doing a very good job of finding a balance of ecological conservation and recreational access important to the environment and supportive of our tourism-dependent Adirondack economy.”

ASC: Delaying Evaluation Implementation A Minimal Step

Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday called the effort to delay the implementation of teacher evaluations on the school district level a “minimum step” to alter the education policies included in the budget.

“Rushing to implement a new teacher evaluation system would be misguided,” Stewart-Cosuins said in a statement. “We’ve been down this road before and we’ve seen where faulty and fast implementation of poorly conceived education changes leads. Demonizing teachers, over-testing students and rushing major reforms will not improve our education system, it will only cause more problems. Delaying the implementation of this new teacher evaluation system is the minimum step that should be taken.”

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch on Wednesday announced she was asking Department of Education officials to extend the deadline for the implementation of the new evaluation criteria to September 2016.

The state budget tied the implementation of the evaluation criteria to a boost in school aid for districts that adopt the new measures by November.

The move to extend the deadline doesn’t go against the law approved in the budget. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top counsel, Alphonso David, said in a statement that such extensions should be for true hardship cases on the district level and be the “exception, not the rule.”

More broadly, state lawmakers have more or less embraced the decision by Tisch to extend the deadline as many had reluctantly voted to approve the education measures in the budget.

Kellner Loses Appeal Against Sanctions

Former Assemblyman Micah Kellner is no longer in office.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who sought sanctions against the Manhattan Democrat for sexual harassment claims made by staffers, is no longer speaker.

But Kellner’s effort to have those sanctions appealed was never totally resolved until today with what appears to be the final word on the case from the appeal’s hearing officer, Judge Howard Levine.

In the ruling, Levine wrote, “the public admonition and reprimand issued by the speaker and the Assembly Ethics Committee is entirely appropriate. As the hearing officer in this appeal, the sanction imposed does not shock my sense of fairness in anyway.”

In the ruling, Levine upholds the decision to sanction Kellner, who was accused of conducting sexually explicit chats with legislative staffers.

Kellner left the Assembly and unsuccessfully sought a seat on the New York City Council.

The sanctions had initially included banning the lawmaker from having interns working for him and stripping him of his committee posts.

Decision in former Assemblyman Micah Kellner's appeal in sexual harassment case. by liz_benjamin6490

NY Pols Fete Lynch’s Confirmation

Elected officials in New York on Thursday celebrated the long-awaited confirmation of Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as the U.S. attorney general.

Lynch has deep ties to New York, including her tenure as the U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York.

“In addition to being uniquely qualified for this position, Ms. Lynch is also a trailblazer whose long overdue confirmation represents another step forward for our country,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “I look forward to seeing the leadership she has shown in New York benefit the American people at the helm of the Justice Department in the days to come.”

The U.S. Senate had waited months to confirm Lynch, and ultimately her nomination was linked to the passage of an anti-human trafficking bill.

The nomination was approved 56-43.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer on Twitter wrote: “Finally. Congratulations to our long-awaited 83rd Attorney General of the United States Loretta Lynch.”

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, in his statement, also took note of the delay in Lynch’s confirmation.

“I am pleased that the Senate has finally, after a record delay, recognized her strong qualifications for the office,” he said. “And because she will be the first African-American woman to lead the Department of Justice, this is a historic day for the United States, and I am proud to call Ms. Lynch our next Attorney General.”

But the confirmation is also an historic one for Lynch, who will become the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s highest law enforcement official.

“Not only is she making history as the first African American woman to serve in this role, she is one of our country’s most accomplished and distinguished minds serving in law enforcement,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand said. “During her career, Loretta has dealt with an impressive array of cases, on subjects ranging from civil rights to organized crime to terrorism; this experience will serve her exceptionally well in her new position.”

DiNapoli Versus Cuomo Administration, Yet Again

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office this week once again found itself in a dispute with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration over the contents of a critical audit.

This time, it was a report released by the comptroller’s office that drew on more than 70 audits of the state’s handling of the Medicaid program.

The Department of Health moved to swiftly rebut the concerns raised by the report, which pointed to hundreds of millions of dollars in improper payments, along with missed revenue opportunities.

In a lengthy statement, the DOH pointed to the Cuomo-led effort to redesign the state’s costly Medicaid program, which has resulted in a flattening of spending.

At the same time, the DOH noted that many of the issues raised by the report date back several years and have been corrected.

“In the few instances where funds have not been recouped, DOH will recoup or collect them through its strong enforcement effort,” the department said in a statement. “DOH and OMIG are committed to recouping or collecting all overpayments identified in any OSC audit.”

In response, DiNapoli’s communications director said the reaction from the DOH misses the point of the report.

“It is an expensive program, and our auditors have found problems,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Freeman. “Instead of being so defensive, in the interest of taxpayers, the department should consider our recommendations.”

This isn’t the first time DiNapoli’s office has debated the contents of a review of administration policy and spending with the Cuomo administration.

DiNapoli and Cuomo have sparred over the finer points of the state budget as well as the moving of funds within the spending plan after approval.

Two years ago, the comptroller sparred with Cuomo’s budget office over the borrowing in the state budget. That, too, resulted in a back-and-forth with the administration and DiNapoli.

Later, the Department of Financial Services wound up auditing DiNapoli’s office as well, issuing a critical report of the comptroller’s computer system.

Cuomo declined to endorse DiNapoli in 2010; he did endorse his re-election in 2014.

Cuomo Counsel: Evaluation Delay Should Be ‘Exception, Not The Rule’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top legal aide in a statement acknowledged that there is a hardship exemption on school districts adopting the state’s new teacher evaluation criteria.

But at the same time, Cuomo counsel Alphonso David in a statement said that delaying evaluations on the district level should reflect a “hardship that is genuine.”

“The law is clear that the additional state funding is linked to a teacher evaluation system, just like last year,” David said. “The State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch should do their job properly and competently and enact the regulations governing the process by the end of June as prescribed by the law. Under existing law, SED may have a hardship exemption procedure if SED defines the process by regulation and if the hardship is genuine and due to a particular circumstance, but that is the exception not the rule.”

The statement was released in response to Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch announcing on Wednesday afternoon she would ask the Department of Education to carve out a later deadline for districts adopting evaluations from November of this year to Sept. 1, 2016.

Adopting the evaluations is tied to a boost of school aid from the state.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan on Wednesday night announced they backed Tisch’s proposal.

Assembly Plans Criminal Justice Hearing

From the Morning Memo:

The state Assembly next month will hold its second public hearing on potential changes to the state’s criminal justice system.

The hearings will be led by the Assembly Codes and Judiciary committees, as well as the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus.

“We intend to look at all of the areas where the criminal justice system needs reform and where people don’t think they’re getting a fair shot,” said Brooklyn Assemblyman Joe Lentol, the chairman of Codes Committee.

The hearing comes after the Senate Finance Committee voted down a bill that would have created a special investigation office within the Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office to review cases involving police-related deaths of civilians.

Senate Republicans earlier in the year held their own hearings that focused on police safety, spurred in part by the assassinations of New York City officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu.

More broadly, talk of criminal justice reform was spurred late last year following the death of Eric Garner, unarmed black man who died after being put in a chokehold by police.

A Staten Island grand jury voted to no indict the officer in Garner’s death, Daniel Pantaleo.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January proposed a seven-point plan in his State of the State and budget presentation. Cuomo’s proposals include a reconciliation commission on police/community relations and an independent monitor in certain police brutality cases in which a grand jury issues no indictment.

The Assembly plans to consider the governor’s reform package as well their own push for reforming post-arrest procedures, including video taping interrogations, false confessions and line up procedures.

Lentol added that while the measures weren’t taken up in the budget, the remaining weeks of the legislative session are the correct time to consider criminal justice issues.

“This is where they’re supposed to be taken up,” he said. “You can’t really do justice to criminal justice issues that are contentions issues in the budget negotiation. They should be aired in the legislative process, in the light of day, so people can express their opinions, have experts weigh in, so we don’t do in a vacuum. We do it carefully and we do it intelligently, so we come up with good reform.”

Lawmakers Spurred By Test Opt-Out Figures

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers this week said the effort to alter and trim some of the education policy measures approved in the 2015-16 budget plan are being spurred in large part by the large number of students opting out of the current round of standardized tests.

“It’s not my colleagues, it’s being generated by the people of the state of New York,” said Buffalo Assemblyman Sean Ryan. “Last week’s opt out numbers are really shocking.”

Reports have pegged the number of students opting out of the tests at more than 100,000.

The opt-out movement is not new, but this month it was embraced by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, after the budget contained a new criteria for teacher evaluations linked to tenure, made tenure harder to achiever and made it easier for districts to fire teachers deemed to be poor-performing, regardless of tenure.

In many ways, the tests occurring in April, just days after the budget was approved, allowed the union to seize on tangible evidence of widespread unhappiness with testing in schools.

“We’re only here through the consent of the governed,” said Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan, a Queens Democrat. “If people are unhappy, then we have to respond. And the Assembly is responding.”

But even without the tests this month, state lawmakers would likely be urged on to make alterations to the education policies.

The education measures as pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo were bitter pills for some lawmakers — especially on the Democratic side of the aisle — to swallow.

Lawmakers reluctantly approved the education bill in part because of its linking of school aid to the reform measures.

Now lawmakers are considering measures designed to scale back the effects of evaluations, including a bill that would codify student opt-out rights and prevent districts from being financially penalized due to high-opt out rates.

“I did have my own child take that test,” Nolan said. “He’s a successful high school student, but I don’t think it did that much. It was a lot of anxiety for us as a family, a lot of pressure. All the things that were promised in terms of information of where your child is — it hasn’t really delivered.”

Heastie, Nolan Back Delay In Evaluations For Districts

From the Morning Memo:

Both Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Education Committee Chairwoman Cathy Nolan are backing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s proposal to push back the deadline for struggling school districts to adopt new teacher evaluation criteria.

Tisch on Wedndesday afternoon announced she was backing a new deadline for districts to adopt the evaluations: September 2016.

Under the plan, the Board of Regents would still be setting the weighted scores for a state-based test and in-classroom observation by the end of June.

The current deadline of this November, Tisch said in a statement, was “unrealistic” and could hurt cash-strapped school districts as the criteria is tied to a boost in school aid.

State lawmakers in the Assembly, eager to have some alterations to the education proposals included in the state budget, backed the idea.

“Chancellor Tisch’s decision to extend the deadline for the State Education Department (SED) approval of new teacher evaluation plans for districts facing hardships is the right one. It is appropriate for SED to prevent this situation which has the potential to harm our children by denying schools necessary funds,” Heastie and Nolan said in a statement. “We believe such action is within their lawful discretion to act administratively and we applaud Chancellor Tisch and the Board of Regents for putting the interests of children first.”

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in New York City with no public schedule. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is also in the city with no public schedule.

Form 9:30 a.m. to noon, at seven SUNY campuses across New York, severe weather researchers, faculty, and students will participate in the university system’s first virtual public event, being held in partnership with the Rockefeller Institute.

At 10 a.m., the Senate Committee on Banks holds a public hearing on predatory lending practices within the sub-prime auto loan and auto title loan industry, Legislative Office Building, Hearing Room A, Second Floor, Albany. (Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky is scheduled to testify).

At 11 a.m., NYC Council President Melissa Mark-Viverito, executives from technology firm Google Inc. and The New York Public Library officials mark the start of the expansion of a program that provides wireless Internet hot spots to low-income residents; Mott Haven Library branch, 321 E. 140th St., the Bronx.

Also at 11 a.m., LG Kathy Hochul holds a Syracuse roundtable with students and administrators on combatting sexual assault on college campuses, Syracuse University, Maxwell School, Dr. Paul & Natalie Strasser Legacy Room, Eggers Hall, Room 220, Syracuse.

Also at 11 a.m., the Senate is in session, Senate chambers, 3rd Floor state Capitol, Albany.

Also at 11 a.m., FASNY officials hold a joint press conference with State Fire Administrator Bryant Stevens to discuss RecruitNY, FASNY’s annual recruitment campaign, 315 Middletown Rd., Waterford.

At 1 p.m., Hochul convenes the Central New York Regional Economic Development Council meeting, Rosamond Gifford Zoo, 1 Conservation Place, Syracuse.

At 5:15 p.m., Hochul speaks with business leaders at the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce “Business After Five” reception, 25 Dill St., Auburn.

At 5:30 p.m., Hillary Clinton speaks at the 6th annual Women in the World Summit, David Koch Theater, Lincoln Center, Manhattan.

At 7 p.m., Assemblyman Michael Blake is co-hosting a reception for California Attorney General/US Senate candidate Kamala Harris, No. 8, 357 W 16th St., Manhattan.

AT 7:30 p.m., the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church holds a NY-11 candidates forum with Democratic contender/NYC Councilman Vincent Gentile and the Green Party’s James Lane. The GOP candidate, Staten Island DA Dan Donovan was invited, but hasn’t confirmed, 7420 Fourth Ave., Brooklyn.

Headlines…

State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch wants to give school districts another year to implement the state-mandated teacher evaluation system. She said Cuomo’s deadline of Nov. 15 for districts to approve the new system — which could tie 50 percent of instructor evaluations to student performance on standardized tests — is unrealistic.

The Cuomo administration acknowledged that state education officials have the power to delay implementation of the evaluation system in some school districts, but warned they should use it sparingly. “The State Education Department and Chancellor Tisch should do their job properly and competently and enact the regulations governing the process by the end of June as prescribed by the law,” said the governor’s counsel, Alphonso David.

Senate Republican Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who is facing a federal investigation, spoke briefly to reporters yesterday. He said he has hired an attorney – though he did not disclose that individual’s identity – and has no plans to step down as leader.

AG Eric Schneiderman is expected to file a lawsuit today against embattled taxi mogul Evgeny Freidman for failing to pay taxi drivers and for violating the terms of a preexisting and much-touted 2013 settlement with the state and city over similar issues.

It was a bold new day in Albany as the Assembly went live with a new system giving every member access to information about bills on tablet computers mounted atop their desks in the chamber. Taking, perhaps, no chances, the system is strictly business: it contains just document-based details about bills and state laws.

The tablets’ home screen has a single button leading to an internal website for the Assembly. Once there, the options are varied. Legislators can look up legislative calendar, bill information and text, and even the laws of New York.

The new system cost $212,000, but supporters say it will save much more than that in paper costs – not to mention lawmakers’ time.

The Buffalo News says Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s “ethical lapse” in benefitting from funds embezzled by his late mother “raises questions about his fitness to lead reform efforts” in the chamber. The paper calls on him to “voluntarily make whole the nonprofit that his mother victimized.” He says he did nothing wrong.

Indicted state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous says he’s dying of cancer and is begging a federal judge to show his criminal son leniency so they can spend his “last days” together.

Legislation to legalize mixed-martial arts has the confirmed support of a majority of members of the state Assembly, including more than half the Democrats who control which bills come to the floor, a survey conducted by Capital has found.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled his ambitious 332-page “One New York” plan — timed to coincide with Earth Day — linking environmental improvements and efforts to reduce the city’s growing income inequality. The proposal has no price tag attached, and requires commitments from agencies outside mayoral control.

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