Drama Punctuates Final Vote For Driver’s License Bill

It was a day of both drama and a bit of whiplash as the state Senate put the finishing touches on a bill that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for and receive driver’s licenses.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the measure quickly into law, but not before raising the possibility of a veto out of concern, he said, over federal immigration officers using the DMV’s list of those receiving the standard license as a “database” for enforcement actions.

Cuomo wanted a legal opinion from the solicitor general, Barbara Underwood, as to whether the state would have to turn over the information to the federal government.

Instead, Cuomo got a statement from his politically ally and Underwood’s boss, Attorney General Letitia James, who called the law constitutional and contained “ample safeguards” for those who wish to apply for a license.

Cuomo’s top counsel in a tersely worded statement said the governor would sign the bill.

All this fell against the backdrop of a contentious vote in the Senate, with the bill narrowly passing 33-29 and seven Democrats voting agains the bill. The Democratic “no” votes — coming from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, represent districts that were once held by Republicans.

The state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs had warned several Democrats about the political fallout of the bill; he says he was acting independently of Cuomo in issuing his warnings.

Cuomo’s 11th-hour concern seemed to be an attempt to thread a needle over an unpopular proposal that nevertheless had the votes to pass in the Legislature. Instead, it got caught in the new political fabric in Albany.

Was it cover for the potentially vulnerable Democrats who voted against the bill? After all, Sen. Kevin Thomas, a freshman who flipped a Republic-held seat last year also cited the governor’s concern: ICE could use the information to aid deportations.

The bill also highlighted the country and state’s stark divide on immigration policy and the undocumented immigrants themselves. Business groups lined up with immigration advocacy organizations, touting the policy as an economic issue and a traffic safety issue.

The driver’s licenses that would be issued will not let a person enter a federal building or go on a plane by this time next year, they argue.

But on the other side is a majority of voters statewide and Republican lawmakers who point this being an issue of fairness and security. Then-Gov. George Pataki’s decision to require Social Security numbers for driver’s licenses following the Sept. 11 attacks still resonated.

And then there’s the third camp of lawmakers in recent weeks, frustrated New York, or any state for that matter, has to act on immigration policy after decades of federal government inaction.

As Legalization Of Marijuana Falters, Lawmakers Eye Decriminalization Bill

From the Morning Memo:

As a broader agreement on developing a retail and regulatory system for legal marijuana, state lawmakers are reviewing a second option: Decriminalization.

The bill, introduced on Sunday and amended Monday, would decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge records of non-violent charges and arrests related to marijuana.

The measure, backed by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Jamaal Bailey, was introduced as the larger legalization bill hit roadblocks over the weekend, including a debate over how much money should be spent on drug education policy and an affirmative “opt in” for county governments.

“It’s something we’ve introduced to make sure it ages in time before the end of session,” Bailey said. “I’m still in support of full legalization. I’m hopeful we get legalization done before the end of session.”

Opponents of the legalization measure on Monday were seen waiting outside of the Senate majority offices waiting to speak to sympathetic lawmakers, with several trying to identify and find Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview on Monday said he hoped legislators could wind up doing both legalization and decriminalization.

“I think we should do it all together,” he said in the interview on WAMC. “I don’t think we should do one component now and then come back and do another component. Let’s just do it. We’ve talked about it, let’s make the hard decisions and let’s make them now.”

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Liz Krueger said she was “cautiously optimistic” the legalization measure could be agreed to and raised the possibility of another bill being introduced.

“We’re still negotiating,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve been cautiously optimistic for a couple of days.”

Batavia Downs Expanding ‘High-Rollers’ Program Following Gaming Commission Inspection

From the Morning Memo:

Batavia Downs and Western Regional Off-Track Betting is doubling down on a “high-rollers” program despite questions raised by media outlets and local lawmakers about the program’s implementation.

Management announced it intends to expand the “Suitestakes” ticket giveaways at their gaming facility. It plans to enter into a three-year agreement with Pegula Sports and Entertainment for a suite at the Buffalo Bills football stadium. It just finished the first year of a three-year suite contract at the Key Bank Center in Buffalo, as well.

“Our Suitestakes program has and continues to help us achieve record results,” Marketing Director Ryan Haseneur said. “We will be expanding the number of times and methods with which we distribute the tickets to ensure future success.  Revenues from the facility are distributed to the shareholders of Western OTB including the 15 Western and Central New York counties and 2 cities of Buffalo and Rochester.  Our success means more money is given to those municipalities.”

The program is intended to be a perk for customers who regularly spend money at the racino facility, however former state Senator George Maziarz suggested earlier this year the tickets were actually being given to friends and family of board members and management. Several news outlets, as well as Niagara County lawmakers, have requested access to the “high-rollers” list but OTB has denied, arguing its customers have a right to privacy.

OTB leaders have vehemently defended the program though, noting it has been in place since 2014 and recently received a prestigious casino marketing award. It said, despite withholding the names from the general public, invite the NYS Gaming Commission to review the allegations, and two inspectors accepted the invitation.

“Following this review, the inspectors advised WROTB that they were pleased with our cooperation and fully satisfied that the records they reviewed and the interviews they conducted did not raise any issues of concern for the Gaming Commission,” President Henry Wojtaszek said.

The board plans to consider the resolution to enter into the agreement at the Bills’ stadium at its meeting this month.

Here and Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with no interviews or public events yet scheduled.

The state Legislature is in session.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will meet with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a closed-press get together.

At 9:30 a.m., the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission votes on the proposed designation of six buildings associated with LGBT history as individual landmarks, Landmarks Preservation Commission, 1 Centre St., 9th Fl., Manhattan.

At 10 a.m., the NYC Council Committee on Health meets to discussed a proposed ban on foie gras, Council chamber, City Hall, Manhattan.

Also at 10 a.m., Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. speaks at the Melrose Commons Park ribbon-cutting, Melrose Avenue between East 159th Street and East 160th St., the Bronx.

Also at 10 a.m., Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano and others gather to announce Yonkers Public Schools’ replacement of polystyrene food trays with 100% recyclable food trays, Enrico Fermi School, Cafeteria, 27 Poplar St., Yonkers.

At 11 a.m., NYC Antonio Reynoso will join family members of the late Angelo Falcón, 32BJ, and National Institute for Latino Policy, NiLP board members and representatives, and Williamsburg residents for a street co-naming in honor of the unveiling of Angelo M Falcón Way, corner of South 1st and Havemeyer Streets, Manhattan.

Also at 11 a.m., state Sen. Jessica Ramos, legislators and advocates rally to push for the passage of a critical bill that will provide record relief for victims of human trafficking, Million Dollar Staircase, state Capitol, Albany.

At 12:30 p.m., LG Kathy Hochul keynotes the state Labor Department’s Registered Apprenticeship Summit and highlights state investment in workforce development, Meeting Room 6, Empire State Plaza, Albany.

Also at 12:30 p.m., climate activists will hold a rally outside the office of Rep. Paul Tonko urging him to be a bold climate leader by backing legislation to block the federal government from using a clean energy program to provide financial support for fossil fuels projects, 17 Dove St., Albany.

At 1 p.m., NYC Councilman Andrew Cohen and others break ground on Van Cortlandt Park’s Parks Without Borders project, Van Cortlandt Park, West 242nd Street and Broadway, Bronx.

At 2 p.m., incoming state GOP Chair Nick Langworthy and NYC Councilman Joe Borelli will call on de Blasio to resign from office for running for president and leaving the residents of the city without a full-time mayor, City Halls steps, Manhattan.

At 3 p.m., the state Senate is in session, Senate chamber, state Capitol, Albany.

At 3:30 p.m., NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson holds a pre-stated meeting press conference, Red Room, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 4 p.m., the NYC Council meets, Council chambers, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 6 p.m., the NYC Commission on Gender Equity is hosting a Queens Gender Equity Summit, Queens Borough Hall, 120-55 Queens Blvd., Queens.

Also at 6 p.m., the NYC Council Charter Revision Commission meets, Council chamber, City Hall, Manhattan.

At 7 p.m., McCray will deliver remarks at the ten year anniversary celebration of NYC Service, Gracie Mansion, East 88th Street & East End Avenue, Manhattan.

Headlines…

After a brief head fake, Gov. Andrew Cuomo last night signed legislation granting driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants shortly after the controversial measure passed the state Senate in a 33-29 vote – just one more than necessary for approval.

All 22 Republicans voted against the bill. Some of them blamed Democratic senators from Long Island and upstate for allowing the measure to even get to the floor for a vote — a clear sign the GOP will use it in the 2020 elections.

Just hours before the proposal passed, Cuomo suggested in an interview with WAMC radio that he may veto the bill because federal immigration officials could access DMV records.

Ultimately, he agreed to sign the bill after state Attorney General Letitia James said it provides “ample protections” for applicants.

Cuomo’s office requested an opinion from Solicitor General Barbara Underwood about potential federal misuse of undocumented immigrant information kept by the DMV. As the Senate was voting, James issued a statement saying her office would “not opine on any actions the federal government may or may not take.”

The passage of this deeply polarizing bill signaled the strength of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, which pressed moderate legislators to support it despite concerns about alienating swing voters – especially first-term Democrats who flipped seats on Long Island and helped win a majority last year.

In recent weeks, a number of county clerks have said they will not process applications from such immigrants. Legislators who support the bill have said that the governor can fire county clerks if they don’t issue the licenses.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump tweeted last night that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will begin removing “millions” of undocumented immigrants from the United States next week – an apparent nod to a long-planned operation to arrest migrant families in a “blitz operation” across the nation.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran flared as Tehran said it would soon breach a key element of the 2015 international pact limiting its nuclear program, while Trump ordered another 1,000 troops to the Middle East and vowed again that Iran would not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapon.

Four years ago, he was a long-shot joke, but as Trump kicks off his campaign for a second term today with an eardrum-pounding, packed-to-the-rafters rally in Florida, no one doubts that he is the dominant force in the arena, the one defining the national conversation as no president has done in generations.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair who is serving a federal prison sentence, had been expected to be transferred to Rikers Island to await trial on a separate state case. But the US AG’s office intervened, saying he will await trial at a federal lockup in Manhattan or at the Pennsylvania federal prison where he is currently behind bars.

One of the legislative session’s most contentious issues — legalization of marijuana — remains unresolved. Three-way talks among negotiators for the governor, Assembly and Senate ran into a wall overnight, sources said.

Lawmakers have introduced a revised bill that would grant Cuomo more say in the distribution of funds generated from marijuana sales. They are also discussing a provision that would allow localities to opt in to legalization, instead of opting out.

In the rush to hammer out deals on licenses for undocumented immigrants and legalization of recreational marijuana, the state may also revamp how it punishes drivers for failing to pay traffic tickets.

State lawmakers and Cuomo are on the verge of approving legislation to address climate change that could completely overhaul life in New York by 2050.

New York lawmakers also announced agreements on extending labor protections for farmworkers and changing the standard to bring sexual-harassment claims.

Time is running out for legislation in New York that would expand access to medication-assisted treatment for inmates in state prisons and jails.

Consumer Reports is joining a growing list of consumer advocacy groups pushing for new restrictions on robocalls in New York state.

Vaccinations have been made mandatory this summer for campers and staff in several counties north of New York City that annually fill up with kids from the Orthodox Jewish communities that have been hit hardest by measles.

Trump accused Fox News anchor Bret Baier of pushing “fake news” after the anchor cited figures from his network’s own polling that shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading the president in several battleground states.

More >

Cuomo Signs Green Light Bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses in New York, his office said Monday night.

The state Senate approved the bill moments after a statement indicating Cuomo would sign it was issued, 33-29. The Assembly approved the bill earlier this month.

Cuomo only hours earlier raised the possibility of a veto of the measure over concerns the bill would create a “database” of undocumented people living in New York who would be subject to a federal immigration enforcement action.

Cuomo administration counsel Alphonso David subsequently sent a letter to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood seeking a legal opinion on whether the state would have to turn over the information to the federal government.

Instead, a statement came from Underwood’s boss, Attorney General Letitia James, seen broadly as a Cuomo ally. James rebuffed any concerns, saying the bill has safeguards against exposure.

“The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses,” she said. “If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”

Soon after, a statement in response came from David, saying that Underwood “has remained unresponsive on this critical issue. With that said, based on the Attorney General’s representation, the Governor will sign the bill.”

The bill’s passage is the culmination of more than a decade of political battles, first launched in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to rescind Gov. George Pataki’s order that driver’s licenses require Social Security numbers, made after the Sept. 11 attacks. The proposal create a political firestorm and Spitzer withdrew it.

“All this has come together — a culmination of months, years, advocating for this and educating people who have had difficulty with this law,” said Sen. Luis Sepulveda, the bill’s main sponsor.

James, Backing Green Light Bill, Says It Contains ‘Ample Protections’

Attorney General Letitia James in a statement on Monday said the bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses “contains ample protections” for those seeking the document.

The statement comes as the Senate is poised to approve the bill and hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo raised concerns with the legislation’s potential for exposing undocumented immigrants in a “database” to federal immigration enforcement.

His top counsel, Alphonso David, wrote a letter to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood to seek a legal opinion on whether the federal government could gain access to the information.

James is Underwood’s superior in the Department of Law.

“I support the Green Light bill, and the Office of Attorney General has concluded that it is constitutional,” James said. “We will not opine on any actions the federal government may or may not take.
“The legislation is well crafted and contains ample protections for those who apply for driver’s licenses. If this bill is enacted and challenged in court, we will vigorously defend it.”

The statement is a stark one for James, who was enthusiastically backed by Cuomo in the attorney general’s race last year.

Extras

President Donald Trump insisted he is polling ahead of what he called the “Motley Crew” of 2020 Democratic White House hopefuls, despite leaked internal polling by his own reelection campaign showing him lagging former Vice President Joe Biden in several battleground states.

The U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed that a state and the federal government can press separate prosecutions over the same conduct, ruling in a case that might have extended the impact of Trump’s pardon power.

The court also ordered reconsideration of a $135,000 award against an Oregon bakery that refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding in a case that revived a fractious debate over religious rights and equal treatment.

In a 5-4 ruling in which Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas sided with their liberal colleagues, the court ruled against the Virginia House of Delegates in a racial gerrymandering case that represents a victory for Democrats in the state.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t know why Jon Stewart is so “bent out of shape” over securing health care for 9/11 responders, saying the Senate will “take care” of the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund.

The Office of Special Counsel’s recommendation last week that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway be removed from service for violating the Hatch Act led two Democratic congressman to demand an investigation into whether the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner similarly broke federal law.

RIP Gloria Vanderbilt, the society heiress who stitched her illustrious family name into designer jeans and built a $100 million fashion empire, crowning her tabloid story of a child-custody fight, of broken marriages and of jet-set romances, who died at her home in Manhattan at the age of 95.

“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” her son, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, said in a statement. “She was a painter, a writer and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend.

Bill and Melinda Gates have launched the Gates Policy Initiative to lobby for issues the billionaire couple has been working on through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

BuzzFeed News employees, citing mismanagement, pay disparities and job cuts, held a walkout in the hopes of getting the online-media company to voluntarily recognize their union.

An attorney representing four Lockport police officers said that the officers have been placed on administrative leave after the death of a man who collapsed following a fight with the officers on Park Avenue in Lockport late Sunday.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he’ll direct 500 additional law enforcement agents to the subway system to combat assaults against transit workers and what the MTA believes to be an increase in fare evasion, and will also explore additional video monitoring.

Cuomo kiboshed a long-shot effort by a pair of New York City Democrats to legalize prostitution during the closing days of the legislative session.

The International Joint Commission announced that it is seeking responses from interested parties about possible increases in outflows from Lake Ontario above the record-tying level of nearly 2.75 million gallons per second, in effect since Thursday.

For the first time in five decades, New Yorkers will trek to the polls without that hint of fall in the air as a new election calendar shifts primary elections into early summer – this year on June 25. Party officials are worried voters haven’t gotten the message, and turnout will suffer.

While New York mulls becoming the 12th state in the U.S. to legalize the adult, recreational use of marijuana, Canada legalized the use, sale and growing of marijuana nationwide in October.

Cuomo said that the New York State Thruway Authority Board of Directors has approved the selection of the design-build team that will complete installation of cashless tolling along the entire Thruway system by the end of 2020.

Harvey Weinstein can’t seem to keep a lawyer. His latest legal eagle, Jose Baez, is asking a Manhattan justice to let him off the case, just six months after the disgraced Hollywood mogul boasted about hiring the lawyer.

Accused NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere was “a crime boss” who operated out of an upstate neighborhood that was so unassuming, it was creepy, a Brooklyn prosecutor said in closing statements.

Kyle Kashuv, a Parkland shooting survivor and pro-Second Amendment activist, said Harvard University rescinded his acceptance as a result of racist remarks he made before the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“Hillary and Clinton,” a Broadway play that explores the relationship of a political power couple, will close on Sunday, four weeks earlier than scheduled.

Cuomo Admin Formally Requests Underwood’s Opinion On Green Light

The top counsel in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Monday released a letter to Solicitor General Barbara Underwood seeking her legal opinion on whether the measure could expose undocumented immigrants to federal immigration enforcement if they apply for a driver’s license.

The letter was released just as the state Senate began debate on the legislation that would allow undocumented residents to apply for driver’s licenses in New York.

“Accordingly, we pose the following question to you – will the proposed law definitively prohibit the Federal Government, or any related or affiliated subdivision, from accessing – directly, indirectly or through judicial process – any database or other compilation of information or material in the possession, custody or control of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles?” Cuomo Counsel Alphonso David wrote.

“Obviously in responding to this question, we ask that you assume a Federal legal challenge to such a New York law should it be enacted, and take into consideration similar laws or circumstances in other states, as well as our current data sharing process with the Federal Government.”

Cuomo has raised concerns with the bill in the last several days, and did not rule out a veto on Monday if the measure leads to the federal government accessing the records of undocumented immigrants in the state.

Advocates for the legislation have blasted Cuomo’s concern, calling it a last-minute red herring and reversal from his stated support for the bill.

Cuomo Holding Big-Dollar Post-Session Fundraiser

cuomofundraiserGov. Andrew Cuomo next Monday will hold a fundraiser with tickets going as high as $25,000.

The reception will be held at the home of real estate developer Scott Rechler, who the governor had appointed to the Port Authority in 2011. Rechler left the Port Authority in 2016 and is the CEO and chairman of RXR Realty.

An invitation to the event, released by his campaign today, shows tickets ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 to $25,000 for donors.

The event comes the same month that state lawmakers approved sweeping changes to the stat’s rent control laws, including a provision that would allow local governments to opt in to local regulations.

Senate Approves Mobile Sports Betting

A bill that would legalize sports betting on mobile devices easily cleared passage in the state Senate, but it faces an uncertain chance in the state Assembly.

The bill was approved 57-5 in the Senate as lawmakers begin the final scheduled week of the legislative session this year.

The measure has gone through several iterations as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has raised constitutional concerns with the legislation, which the bill’s sponsors say have been satisfied by placing severs for mobile sports betting in casinos.

State gaming regulators earlier this month gave the final go-ahead for regulations that would allow sports betting to take place in the physical casinos themselves.

Cuomo has also publicly doubted whether there was time to move forward with the mobile component and questioned the expansion of gambling, which he has embraced in the past when backing a casino approval amendment.

Lawmakers who have supported the bill point to neighboring New Jersey, which has mobile sports betting in place, arguing New York is losing out on revenue.