Supporters of Alix’s Law Optimistic In A ‘Post-Silver’ Assembly

With a new leader in the State Assembly there’s new optimism a few proposed laws that have been blocked will finally make it to the floor for a vote this legislative session.  One piece of legislation would eliminate a loophole in the state’s hit-and-run law.

It’s called Alix’s law, after Western New York teenager Alix Rice who was hit and killed by a drunk driver in 2011.  After four years of waiting, Rice’s father told Time Warner Cable News Reporter Ryan Whalen he has high hopes under new Speaker Carl Heastie

“Our new Speaker has a golden opportunity at this time to put a positive stamp on his leadership of this Assembly,” said Richard Rice.

Under the proposed law, drivers would not be able to argue they were unaware they hit a person or caused damage to property, if they were drunk.  The man who hit and killed Alix Rice was convicted of a misdemeanor, but avoided conviction on the more serious charges he faced.

Rice believes former Speaker Sheldon Silver was only thing standing in the way of the bill that was passed again this year in the State Senate.

“When I talked to him about it he said it was just too controversial to introduce to the Assembly,” Rice said.

The bill has another thing going for it, it’s sponsored in the Assembly by Buffalo’s Crystal Peoples-Stokes.  Stokes is a strong ally of Speaker Heastie and hasn’t been shy about exercising her new found influence.

Much like the new found optimism surrounding the Mixed Martial Arts legislation, in a “post-Silver Assembly,” Rice feels the bill is closer to becoming law than it’s ever been.  Still he’s keeping his fingers crossed.

“It will give me a feeling that she did something great for the world even though it wasn’t really by choice,” Rice added.

Extras

Gov. Andrea Cuomo’s teacher evaluation overhaul that would rely on outside evaluators is just “another way to privatize education,” NYC Chancellor Carmen Fariña said.

A bill to legalize MMA in New York – the last state where the sport is still banned – was approved for the sixth time in the state Senate.

A budget bill – debt service, the least controversial portion of the annual spending plan – is moving.

As the budget clock ticks down, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner this morning hosted a news conference to repeat her call to increase funding for roads, water lines and other infrastructure.

“(I)t’s really not three men in a room anymore – it’s Cuomo, Skelos and 109 Assembly Democrats.”

Buzzfeed explored the option of moving 200 of its employees to New Jersey before New York’s chief economic development agency entered into an agreement giving the company $4 million in tax credits.

If you’re headed to Sunday Mass for Palm Sunday, there will be a message from Cardinal Dolan and the New York bishops on the need for Cuomo and the state Legislature to pass the EITC.

Tomorrow, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer will call for stockbrokers and financial advisers operating in New York state to be required to disclose whether they are obligated to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.

US Sen. Chuck Schumer tweeted brithday greetings to SU.

US Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called the backlash against the University of Virginia woman who said she was raped in the Rolling Stone article “inappropriate” and an example of victim-blaming.

The last time she ran for president, Hillary Clinton did not have to take a position on the Common Core, teacher evaluations or Race to the Top. Now, as she prepares for another likely White House run, she’s being pulled in opposite directions on education policy.

New York ranks third in the United States for number of active hate groups according to an interactive map and report from the non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center advocacy group.

Even as NYU Langone Medical Center moves forward on building an emergency department on the former site of Long Island College Hospital, litigation over its development continues.

Rep. Pete King doubled down on his statement that compared Sen. Ted Cruz – the GOP’s first official 2016 candidate – to a “carnival barker,” saying: “Ted Cruz may be an intelligent person, but he doesn’t carry out an intelligent debate.”

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano opposes the Senate Republicans’ move to eliminate authorization for school-zone speed cameras on Long Island.

Warning that the nation’s security is at risk, Rep. John Katko says he is concerned that President Barack Obama has not yet nominated a new administrator for the TSA.

ESPN personality Keith Olbermann recently included those pushing to have the “Redskins” nickname restored at Lancaster High School on his “World’s Worst” list.

The Redskins still have the right to use the name, but according to a Department of Justice argument filed in a federal court, so does everyone else.

Maryland might follow in New York’s fracking ban footsteps.

Brooklyn Councilman Vincent Gentile jabbed at his Congressional rival, Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan, for taking off early from a candidate forum last night to attend a fund-raiser nearby instead of sticking around for a full-length debate.

No words exist to adequately describe this.

Cuomo Defends The Budget’s Casualties (Updated)

It’s doubtful the DREAM Act and the education tax credit will return to the budget negotiations, Gov. Andrew Cuomo acknowledged on Tuesday afternoon.

Cuomo also defended those long-sought measures dropping from the talks as Cardinal Timothy Dolan urge state lawmakers and the governor to come to an agreement on both issues.

“They could go back in, but it’s highly unlikely,” Cuomo said after meeting with Senate Republicans.

Cuomo said he’s made his priorities in the state budget “clear” by linking so many items to appropriations.

Cuomo sought to tie the DREAM Act, the education tax credit and the Tuition Assistance Program together in a single package.

In the end, the governor couldn’t get the differing sides in the Legislature to agree.

“We have no agreement,” Cuomo said. “We are no where close to an agreement. The Assembly does not want to do the ETC. The Senate does not want to do the DREAM Act. They’re both dug in, so it was pointless in the budget. I support both. I support both deeply.”

The DREAM Act provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants. The tax credit met to aid both public and non-profit scholarship programs that benefit private schools.

“I’m going to work very hard to make sure they’re passed,” Cuomo said. “But remember, this is only the budget, the session ends in June.”

The governor appeared to be directing his comments at the vocal proponents of both issues, including Dolan, who said in a statement he had spoken with Cuomo over the phone about the issues.

In his statement, Dolan urged Cuomo to be “unwavering” on the education tax credit, a measure he has lobbied for in the last several legislative sessions.

Cuomo today confirmed the proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles will have to be taken care out of the budget, given its complicated nature.

Updated: Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa says the juvenile justice reform proposals remain part of the budget talks.

Capitol Tidbits…

Since resigning the speakership earlier this year, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has kept a low profile. He quietly joined the Education Committee in the Assembly, and then last week he introduced a bill – his first as a rank-and-file member.

I caught up with the former speaker as he chewed on cashew nuts outside the Assembly chamber earlier today. Silver said his bill would provide a maximum $500 credit to parents who pay tuition for parochial or private schools. Sources say Silver has been trying to rally support for the bill from other members in the chamber. Silver views it as a solid alternative to the discussion taking place about the Education Investment Tax credit; which was dropped from the budget earlier this week.

“The idea is to help parents who pay tuition,” Silver said. “It gives THEM the credit directly instead of some well-heeled donor. It’s an alternative to the EITC.”

It was a very Shelly moment.

Assemblyman Keith Wright then walked over to us, and explained to Silver that he and I attended the same high school. (Just a quick hint – the assemblyman and I are not the same age).

Silver paused a moment, reached into his cup for another cashew, popped it into his mouth and murmured through a wry smile: “I’m not impressed.” Then he turned his back and slowly sauntered away.

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On Saturday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio attended the SOMOS conference here in Albany. I had the distinct pleasure of driving up here to cover it. Last month, when de Blasio attended caucus weekend, which I also covered, he made very little news. But on Saturday night. he not only took the stage at precisely his allocated time to speak, which was 8 p.m., he actually took a shot at Gov. Andrew Cuomo on education.

Cuomo has repeatedly been pointing out that certain schools are “failing,” and therefore need to be taken over by the state in some form of receivership. The mayor strongly disagrees with this move, and has been voicing his criticism – in increasingly shapening tones – for some time now.

“Don’t call our children failing or our schools failing if you haven’t even tried to invest in them,” de Blasio said at Somos.

Today, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, chair of the Assembly’s Education Committee, took issue with that. Surprisingly, the Queens Democrat defended the governor, with whom she – not to mention many of her assembly majority conference colleagues – have not been seeing eye-to-eye on a lot of topics this budget season.

“The mayor doesn’t help the city of New York when he does it in outside speeches on Saturday when they know discussions are happening,” Nolan said. “The mayor would be better off leaving it to his professional people, like (NYC Schools Chancellor) Carmen Farina. I think the governor has made a good faith effort to respond to the city’s concerns about struggling schools. And if I were the mayor, I’d probably just say ‘thank you.'”

Perhaps there is still some lingering anger there over the mayor’s support for Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie over Nolan to succeed Silver as speaker earlier this year. But that would be crazy, right? Because politicians never hold grudges.

***UPDATE*** Mayor de Blasio’s people point out that the mayor was specifically referring to the state’s continued failure to properly fund schools under the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. That decision by the state’s highest court has been ignored for years, and advocates for public education argue that is precisely why certain schools continue to fail.

It’s a fair point.

 

Senate Republicans Close With Cuomo On Education Reform

Senate Republicans and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are close to an agreement on education reform issues in the state budget, but the Democratic-led Assembly remains another matter.

Majority Leader Dean Skelos on Tuesday said his conference is “just about there with him” on education issues following a lengthy closed-door conference on the issue.

At this point, state lawmakers and Cuomo are considering the creation of a commission that would develop teacher evaluation criteria.

It’s unclear what the final composition of the panel would be and what their purview would be.

“Now it’s really about the commission, the composition of the commission and really want their charge would be in terms of finalizing education reform,” Skelos said.

It also remains undetermined if the panel’s recommendations would be immediately acted up on or have to be approved by the Legislature, he said.

“They would come up with recommendations to the Legislature and the question is whether we would vote for it or whether they would implement what they recommend,” Skelos said.

Cuomo is continuing to press on with most of his initial education reform agenda, though a lifting of the statewide cap on charter schools is being left for later in the legislative session.

Assembly Democrats remain at odds with Cuomo on a variety of education issues, including a school receivership proposal as well as an effort to reform teacher tenure and the evaluation procedures for teachers.

“On the Senate side we have had very good conversations on education,” Cuomo said this afternoon. “The Assembly side is still discussing the issue.”

Cuomo Meets With Senate For A ‘Good Conversation’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Senate Republicans met privately for about an hour on Tuesday afternoon to discuss ethics reform legislation in the state budget.

Cuomo took the unusual step of traveling to the third floor of the Capitol to meet with Republican lawmakers in their offices as the GOP conference remains skeptical over a proposal to disclose private legal clients of state lawmakers.

“I understand their issues,” Cuomo told reporters after the meeting. “We’ve been talking about it now for a number of weeks. We have an ethics agreement with the Assembly, which demonstrates it can be done.”

Cuomo added he had a “good conversation” with Republican lawmakers even as disclosure remains a “sensitive area” for lawyer-legislators.

“You should also remember this issue has plagued Albany for about 50 years,” Cuomo said.

The meeting takes place a week after Cuomo and Assembly Democrats agreed on a package of ethics reform measures in the state budget ranging from disclosure to pension forfeiture and travel per diem disbursement.

But the disclosure concerns and their scope have taken center stage for Republicans in the state Senate.

Cuomo is pushing the ethics legislation following the arrest of now-former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges that stem from legal referrals masked as bribes, according to prosecutors.

“Members brought up some of their concerns and it’s mainly client confidentiality,” Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos told reporters, adding, “The main issue is how far do we go and also protect client confidentiality because that is very important.”

Cuomo has insisted that lawmakers must include ethics legislation in the budget or he won’t agree to a broader spending plan.

But Skelos this afternoon signaled both sides were willing to make an agreement on the ethics issues.

“We all realize there’s give and take if you’re going to get a result,” Cuomo said. “That’s where the discussions are right now and we’re going to continue.”

Senate Republicans did not mention any of their own reform proposals aimed at the executive branch when meeting with the governor, Cuomo and Skelos said.

Klein: Ethics ‘Most Important Issue’

Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein on Tuesday called ethics reform legislation “the most important” issue in Albany.

He added that if an agreement is reached on ethics reform legislation, broader deals could be reached on the budget, due next week.

“I think ethics reform is probably the most important issue we’re going to be dealing with,” Klein said in an interview. “I understand if we get it done, everything kind of flows from there.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced Assembly Democrats backed his disclosure and per diem reform proposals along with a constitutional amendment to expand pension forfeiture.

Senate Republicans, however, have reservations over the disclosure of private business clients and have proposed alternative financial disclosure rules aimed at the executive branch.

Klein himself has proposed the creation of a full-time Legislature by banning outside income of state lawmakers.

At the same time, Klein stepped away from his Bronx law firm where he had been a partner.

“I put my money where my mouth is,” he said.

Ethics reform legislation was re-injected into the Albany budget debate this year following the arrest of former Speaker Sheldon Silver on corruption charges.

While Cuomo’s office has indicated a number of measures have fallen off the budget negotiating table, the governor reiterated that he won’t support a budget agreement without ethics reform (Cuomo has referred to this as “approving” a budget, which the governor does not actually do).

Still, Cuomo’s ethics push with the Senate Republicans comes as he still must convince Assembly Democrats to go along with his education reform proposals.

“I’m hopeful we all can come together and can come up with a plan to deal with all the problems we have in Albany,” Klein said. “I don’t think we can forward unless we come up with a plan to address ethics in Albany.”

Shifting Tactics, Pro-Education Tax Credit Forces Re-Air Dolan Ad

A day after supporters released a television ad pushing for the approval of the education investment tax credit, the spot is being swapped out for last year’s commercial featuring Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The swap comes after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office in a statement indicated that both the tax credit and the DREAM Act are falling off the table in the budget negotiations.

The size of the purchase — which organizers say is substantial — remains the same and the ad will air on Time Warner Cable News, NY1, Capital Region broadcast and New York City cable.

The Dolan ad first aired last year and is more pointed in its tone and script on the issue.

“Governor Cuomo has assured us that he would fight for an innovative plan to help these students,” Dolan says. “But when the state budget was done, we were left out.”

Injecting Dolan back into the debate over the tax credit comes as both forces for the measure as well as those in favor of the DREAM Act are making a last-minute push to have them included in the budget talks.

The tax credit is meant to encourage donations to public schools and non-profit scholarships that benefit private schools.

The DREAM Act would provide tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants.

Both measures were linked together by Cuomo in his state budget proposal. Senate Republicans oppose the passage of the DREAM Act, while some Democrats in the Assembly have been skeptical of the tax credit, which is opposed by the state’s teachers unions.

Heastie’s Price

From the Morning Memo:

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his two-way ethics reform deal last week with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, there was some head scratching in the CapTon office.

It was clear enough what was in it for Cuomo.

His agreement with Heastie was a clear attempt to box in Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, whose GOP conference has been unwilling to bend on certain aspects of the governor’s reform proposals – most notably, the disclosure of outside income and client lists.

But what was Heastie’s motivation for cutting a side deal with his fellow Democrat, angering Skelos and looking, let’s admit it, a little bit weak in the process – especially after the photo of the now-infamous hug appeared on the governor’s Flickr page.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the new speaker was getting out of his agreement with Cuomo, other than some gubernatorial goodwill, which doesn’t generally go that far (or last that long) at the Capitol.

Yesterday, however, it became clear what Heastie’s price might have been, as word started circulating around the Capitol that certain elements of Cuomo’s heretofore “my way or the highway” education reform plan had been dropped during ongoing budget talks.

The situation remains far from perfect for Heastie’s members, especially those – like Queens Assemblyman Francisco Moya – who have been pushing very hard for the DREAM Act to be included in the final budget deal, and are not at all happy that both DREAM and the Cuomo-linked Education Investment Tax Credit have been pushed off the budget table to be addressed at a later date.

Cuomo is still pushing for some of his education agenda – including an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system, a plan to deal with so-called “failing” schools (though there’s a compromise in the works on that), tenure reform, teacher performance bonuses and teacher scholarships.

“If those reforms are passed, the governor will support a significant funding increase,” Cuomo spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa said in a statement released yesterday afternoon.

DeRosa also made it clear (ahem, Senate Republicans) that Cuomo is sticking to his guns when it comes to ethics, saying: “The governor has stated repeatedly and clearly that ethics reform was a top priority and that he wouldn’t sign a budget without ethics reform. Nothing has changed.”

But it’s clear now that Cuomo is not willing to let hangups over education policy be the cause of a late budget.

As Zack Fink noted on State of Politics yesterday, the governor got out-worked this budget season by the teachers unions – a longtime political ally of the Assembly Democrats – which had a dramatic impact on public opinion. Several polls have now shown New Yorkers siding with the unions over the governor when it comes to forging education policy.

The same polls showed voters prefer significant education – and ethics – policy issues handled outside the budget process. And they found Cuomo’s job approval rating has taken a hit, though that’s fairly standard for governors embroiled in highly charged budget talks.

What’s more, as Siena poll spokesman Steve Greenberg noted on CapTon last night, unlike in previous years, in which the state Democratic Party or the now-defunct Committee to Save NY spread Cuomo’s message, there was no pushback this time to the unions – with their well-orchestrated social media campaign, statewide rallies, billboards and TV ads – by either the governor or his allies.

The reality is that education reform was Cuomo’s top priority this year – even dating back before his successful 2014 campaign for re-election to a second term – until it wasn’t, thanks to Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s corruption scandal, and US Attorney Preet Bharara’s ominous “stay tuned”.

Cuomo felt the need to respond to these developments – hence his newfound focus on ethics reform as this year’s top budget priority.

What we’re looking at now is an extremely active post-budget session, with everything on the table – from the charter cap and DREAM/EITC to the NYC rent laws and mayoral control over the NYC school system, both of which sunset early in the summer.

Stewart-Cousins Questions Budget Linkage

From the Morning Memo:

As key policy matters in the state budget appeared to drop away on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins questioned how effective it was to link measures together in the proposal.

On Monday, it became clear that the DREAM Act, which provides tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, and the education tax credit, meant to spur donations to public schools and non-profit scholarship programs, was falling off the negotiating table.

Both measures were yoked together under the theory that Republicans in the Senate had to pass the DREAM Act to get the tax credit they desired and vice versa in the Democratic-led Assembly.

“This package situation which the governor had had success with previously doesn’t work anymore,” Stewart-Cousins said in an interview. “We saw it with the Women’s Equality Act and now this coupling of two very, very different issues. I don’t believe they should have been coupled. I’m happy they are no longer coupled. Obviously they are important to each of the populations.”

Knitting various issues into a budget or policy debate is a time-tested method for Albany lawmakers and governors.

But at times, linkage can actually be poison pills for the passage.

And this year, it became apparent that state lawmakers had tired of Cuomo’s strategy.

Cuomo’s 30-day budget amendments doubled down on this strategy, linking funding to the tuition assistance program to the DREAM Act and the tax credit’s passage as well.

Advocates for both measures are now urging Cuomo to uncouple both items and have them pass separately.

Meanwhile, Stewart-Cousis in the interview pointed to Monday’s Siena College poll that showed 85 percent of voters surveyed believe she and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb should be included in the closed-door budget talks.

“I would bring a perspective that women often bring to these rooms,” the Yonkers Democrat said. “I would talk about raising the minimum wage. I would talk about in a way that is meaningful and lifting people out of poverty.”