Lhota Eyed For MTA Return

Multiple sources on Wednesday said Joe Lhota will be nominated for the chairmanship of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

A source said Lhota’s nomination will be considered this evening by the state Senate.

Lhota served as the chairman of the MTA for most of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s first term, earning praise for his handling of Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath. He left the post to run for mayor in 2013, running as the Republican nominee against Democrat Bill de Blasio.

In backing Lhota, Cuomo is turning to a trusted hand to fix what has become an increasingly nightmarish situation for riders of the city’s subway system.

At the same time, Cuomo is tapping a chairman nominee who is known enough by Senate Republicans to help with a confirmation who also has little love lost for de Blasio and his administration.

Cuomo this week introduced legislation that would remake the MTA board’s leadership that would allow him to gain full control over the authority.

In a brief confirmation hearing on Wednesday evening with Senate lawmakers, Lhota said he would favor a state takeover of Penn Station. He added he would have an executive director running the authority on a day-to-day basis.

“I am as frustrated as everyone else is,” he said, “and more frustrated because I know the MTA can do so much better.”

Extras

Things aren’t going terribly well down at the state Capitol on this final scheduled day of the 2017 legislative session. While we await word on what happens next – a last minute deal, or a stalemate and departure with plans to return at some later date? – here are some headlines to peruse…

Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said the DNC “did not feel it needed” the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security following last year’s election hack, which U.S. officials have since attributed to Russia.

U.S. Senators and their top aides on Capitol Hill have made it clear to the White House as health care legislation makes its way through their chamber that the less involved Trump is, the better for the bill’s prospects.

Trump met today with energy sector leaders and cybersecurity experts – including former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani – to focus on combating threats to the U.S. power grid.

Adrift and nearly out of money after three months of living out of his van in the Washington area, the gunman who shot a top House Republican and four other people on a Virginia baseball field didn’t have any concrete plans to inflict violence on the Republicans he loathed, FBI officials said.

A former Ground Zero recovery worker could escape deportation after Gov. Andrew Cuomo granted him clemency.

The de Blasio administration fanned out across Queens to inform residents of their rights after a landlord threatened to evict tenants based on their citizenship status.

Nassau County Legislator Carrié Solages has been arrested and faces an assault charge after a dispute at his girlfriend’s apartment in Valley Stream, local police said.

The Empire Center’s EJ McMahon breaks down what we know and what we don’t – which is quite a bit – about the new CSEA contract announced by the governor yesterday.

New York lawmakers voted this week to block low-level sex offenders from driving for companies like Uber and Lyft, closing a loophole in the state’s soon-to-take-effect law regulating ride-hailing.

White powder spilled out of an envelope as it was being opened by an employee on the state office campus this morning, State Police and city fire officials said.

Catherine Webb, a former financial auditor at New York’s lobbying and ethics watchdog agency – JCOPE – alleges that she was fired after reporting sexual discrimination by one of her supervisors to the agency’s leadership.

Utica city police department officials are asking motorists to stop giving money to panhandlers due to a rising number of complaints.

State troopers on Long Island wrote 535 speeding tickets during a recent crackdown on speeding motorists, Cuomo announced.

Bill Hammond notes that the makers of the anti-addiction drug Vivitrol – whose controversial nationwide lobbying campaign was spotlighted by the New York Times last week – appear to be getting results in Albany.

New York is home to the seventh-best state fair in America, according to a new study from financial technology company SmartAsset.

State hearings on LIPA’s plan for future energy sources begin in Smithtown today, giving Long Islanders a chance to be heard on a plan that seeks to vastly increase green-energy resources while shelving plans to overhaul old power plants.

Former MTA board member Allen Cappelli ended his nearly eight-year tenure on the board last week, replaced by Cuomo nominee and HTC President Peter Ward, and on Tuesday was named to the city’s Civil Service Commission.

Samantha Watts, an Ithaca College student, received a $100,000 scholarship on yesterday’s broadcast of the “Today” show, and was presented with the check by funny man and “The House” actor Will Ferrell.

Feinman Confirmed At Court Of Appeals

The state Senate on Wednesday confirmed Judge Paul Feinman to the state Court of Appeals, making him the first openly gay judge on the state’s highest court.

Feinman, an appellate judge, replaces Sheila Abdus-Salaam, who died in April in what authorities believe was a suicide.

“Paul Feinman’s confirmation as Associate Judge on the Court of Appeals is a major step forward for the state’s judicial system,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. “With decades of experience, Judge Feinman is a leader in his field and a trailblazer who joins the Court as its first openly gay judge. He has spent nearly his entire career serving New York courts and championing the principles of justice and fairness.”

His nomination, made Friday, was a relatively speedy process considering the winding down of the legislative session, with lawmakers scheduled to adjourn for the year today.

“Paul Feinman is an accomplished jurist who has spent his career serving others and the cause of justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Not only is Justice Feinman an eminently qualified individual, but he also represents an amazing milestone for our state as the first open LGBT judge to ascend to the State’s highest court. Ensuring the Court of Appeals better represents New York’s diverse communities will help further its ability to protect and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers.”

Senate Expects To Return Later This Year

Work is winding down in the state Senate on Wednesday as lawmakers take up a slew of confirmations and pass a flurry of bills.

Not done, however, is an agreement on extending mayoral control of New York City schools and extending sales tax provisions for county governments. At the same time, extending personal income taxes for New York City, which Senate Republicans linked to the creation of a tax cap, must also be taken care of before the end of the year.

One Senate lawmaker was optimistic they would be leaving the Capitol while the sun is still up. It is, however, the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.

Still, lawmakers in the Senate did not expect the mayoral control issue would be resolved and that they would back later on in the year to resolve the issue.

“I have no doubt that if too many more weeks go by that we’ll be back here to complete work on an additional package of bills that would include sales taxes for counties,” said Sen. James Seward. “I would predict that at some point in a few weeks we will return for a one-day session and resolve these issues once and for all.”

It’s not clear yet what the Assembly’s plan will be for the balance of the week. Initially officials had optimistically hoped for leaving by mid-afternoon. Some lawmakers privately bet by Friday.

Lavern’s Law Backstory

This afternoon, the state Senate passed Lavern’s Law, which changes the timeline for when victim’s of medical malpractice can sue. Under current law, patients who are either misdiagnosed or somehow injured during a medical procedure must file suit within 15 months of the incident – in other words, 15 months from the date the malpractice actually occurred.

Lavern’s Law was to change that to a 2 1/2-year window to sue, but from the point the patient discovers they were harmed, since sometimes people are initially unaware they have a debilitating or potentially life threatening condition until it is too late. Naturally, This bill has the strong support of Albany’s favorite behind-the-scenes string pullers: The trial lawyers, who lawmakers often have trouble saying “no” to.

The bill has languished for years, but under a compromise negotiated by Deputy Senate Majority Leader John DeFrancisco, the new allowance on lawsuits would be limited to misdiagnoses of cancer only. And the bill finally passed the Senate this afternoon.

But sources say members of the Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, tried to get it taken off the active list Tuesday night. And that led to a dust-up between DeFran and the IDC. IDC members deny there was any row , but shortly after it passed several IDC members were quick to tweet out their support for the bill – including Sens. Jose Peralta, Marisol Alcantara and David Carlucci. Carlucci and Diane Savino voted against the bill in the Senate Rules Committee, then voted for it on the floor a half hour later. Savino claims she was further educated on the DeFran compromise in between the two votes, which is what changed her mind.

But there is more evidence the IDC was opposed to the bill. According to the May 31 edition of the Medical Mutual Insurance Company “Albany Report” Newsletter, IDC members have been quietly trying to kill the legislation. MLMIC claims the bill will lead to higher medical malpractice insurance premiums for doctors and hospitals by about 15%. The newsletter goes on to say, “As the IDC has been an important voice opposing Lavern’s Law and several other trial lawyer initiatives.”

According to members of the IDC, some of them have opposed this bill from the very beginning. IDC Leader Jeff Klein voted against it, as did Sen. David Valesky. Their main concern however, was that the IDC never had an opportunity to conference the new bill which included the compromise. As a result, members of the IDC were urged to “vote their conscience.”

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.