Nick Reisman

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Senate Dems: Ethics Matters (Updated X2)

Senate Democrats are trying to push the Republican majority into supporting a host of ethics reform measures and are attempting to force the issue by using a Senate rule to get a hearing on the matter.

Senate Democrats used the same trick — albeit unsuccessfully — to get Republicans to have a hearing on creating an independent commission to redraw legislative districts.

But with an economy still struggling to recover, rent control laws due to expire in New York City and a tax cap wanted by a large portion of the public, Senate Democrats may be trying to swim against the tide on the issue.

Senate Democrats disagree, pointing to a Siena College poll earlier this week that showed broad support for an ethics bill.

“Siena released a poll earlier this week showing 60 percent of New Yorkers want ethics reform, specifically transparency,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan. “The public has caught on. There is reason why there is such distrust in the state government in New York.”

Update: Here’s the Republican response, from Senate GOP spokesman Mark Hansen: “The Senate Democrats didn’t pass any of these bills when they were in the majority, but they did violate a few of them. Discussions with the governor and Assembly on ethics reform are ongoing and we are confident we will reach an agreement.”

Updated X2: Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran says, “We passed ethics reform last year that contained many similar components to this year’s ethics package. Like independent redistricting, Republicans supported it and then backed off their promise. This is a clear pattern of broken promises by the Senate GOP.”

Then-Gov. David Paterson vetoed the ethics bill approved by the Legislature when the Democrats held a Senate majority on the grounds it was not strong enough.

‘Lauren’s Law’ Passes Senate

The Senate approved a measure today that would prohibit a driver’s license application from being processed until the licensee becomes an organ donor (or selects “not at this time”).

It’s also tangible proof that being in the breakaway conference of independent Democrats has its advantages.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Carlucci, D-Rockland County, is named after 11-year-old Lauren Shields, a heart transplant survivor.

“Today is an extra special day for me. Without my donor angel, I would not be here today to celebrate my 11th birthday or the passing of Lauren’s Law,” Lauren Shields said in the statement. “I want to thank Senator Carlucci for working so hard to save other people’s lives who are waiting for a life saving organ just like I was. I also want to thank Senator Skelos and all of the other Senators who voted today to save lives. Last week I had a special meeting with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and I hope very soon to be celebrating with him and Assemblyman Ortiz when it passes the Assembly.”

Passage of the bill was also a victory for Carlucci, a freshman member of the Independent Democratic Conference, the breakaway faction of Democrats who do not conference with Democrats, but are aligned with Senate Republicans. The bill’s passage is a tangible sign of the benefits of being in the conference. Carlucci, along with Sens. Diane Savino of Staten Island, Jeff Klein of the Bronx and David Valesky of Oneida.

It is generally rare for a member of the minority party in the Legislature to have a bill approved, much less voted on, but that has changed slightly in recent years.

The conference voted with the GOP to pass a constitutional amendment that would create an independent redistricting commission. Most Senate Democrats opposed the measure because the commission would not be in place until 2022. With a GOP lawmaker absent, the conference’s vote gave Republicans the needed votes to pass the bill. More >

Perkins: Rent Regs Expiration A ‘Tsunami’

While unveiling a clock counting down to the day rent control for New York City expires, Sen. Bill Perkins said the looming deadline was like a “tsunami.”

“The word you are looking for is ‘tsunami,'” Perkins, a Manhattan Democrat, said after saying the expiration of rent control would be similar to disasters around the world that displace people from their homes. “This will have that kind of effect on people if this clock runs out.”

The Democratic-led Assembly approved an expansion of rent regulations on Monday, but the Republican-led Senate is likely hesitant to approve a broadening of the regulations.

Perkins said he wished the rent regulations had been dealt with in the budget, which was approved several days early.

Rent control is due to expire for New York City and some suburban communities on June 15.

Sen. Adriano Espaillat charged that Senate GOP lawmakers, like “a coach in a game” are choosing to run down the clock.

“Not only is the rent too damn high, but the clock is ticking,” he said.

Espaillat was hesitant to say the negotiations over the rent regulation legislation should be tied to the ongoing debate for a tax cap. Senate Republicans approved a 2 percent cap in January and do not want to submit to negotiations that would weaken the measure.

Room For A 2 Percent Cap? Silver Says Yes

Is a 2 percent cap possible in the Assembly?

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said it is. Maybe. Possibly.

Silver, speaking to reporters after huddling in a short Democratic conference this afternoon, said a 2 percent cap could pass his chamber. But some exemptions may apply.

“Obviously it would have a cap on property taxes, probably the 2 percent the governor has in it, and probably beyond that we’ll have a discussion.”

But Silver said exemptions could be built in to the measure, which he dismissed as minimal.

A news conference held by Senate Republicans tried to re-frame the argument that Silver was being recalcitrant on the property tax cap.

Silver Fetes Fuleihan, Says He’s Losing ‘Right Arm’

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver bid farewell today to his “right arm,” a top aide with so many duties he will have to split the job into two (Liz broke that story earlier today).

Silver issued a lengthy goodbye press release to Dean Fuleihan, a 33-year veteran of the Assembly.

“He has been one of the most brilliant, one of the most loyal, one of the most giving of his time in his job and it is really like I’m losing my right arm at this point,” Silver told reporters.

Fuleihan gave no indication during the reporter gaggle about what he would do, and Silver only said it “would not be in this building” referring to the Capitol.

Taking Fuleihan’s responsibilities are Lou Ann Ciccone, who is being promoted to Secretary to the Speaker for Program and Policy; and Matthew Howard, who is being promoted to Secretary to the Ways and Means Committee.

“For all the negatives we hear, there are incredible positives,” Fuleihan said of the Legislature. “It’s an experience of a lifetime. I don’t leave this easy.”

He does plan to stay in New York and added that he wants to “make a contribution.”

Silver also said this was not a sign he would end his tenure as speaker, which began in 1994, making him one of the longest serving Assembly speaker in the state’s history.

The full release on Fuelihan’s departure is after the jump: More >

Breslin: My Brother’s Retiring, Not Me

Albany County Executive Michael Breslin may be stepping down, but his brother Sen. Neil Breslin says he isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve never been more excited to run again. I look forward to getting back in the majority and look forward to running again and campaigning again,” Breslin told me this afternoon.

And he’s got no interest in seeking his brother’s job.

“I did see a mention of that, I have no interest in running for county executive,” Breslin said.

The lawmaker faced a difficult re-election campaign last year in an anti-incumbent season.

After facing a spirited challenge from Luke Martland, he was pulled over by State Police, but not charged after passing a sobriety test. He went on to win the general election in November by a wide margin. Update: A reader, I think correctly, points out that Breslin won re-election by a 54-40 percent margin, which is not exactly a wide margin for a Democratic incumbent.

‘Good-Faith Negotiations’ Needed To Pass Tax Cap, Cuomo Says

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a tacit, albeit somewhat non-committal endorsement of negotiations for tax cap.

“We must pass a real, meaningful property tax cap for the people of the State of New York. I understand that it takes a good faith negotiations to get that done in a democratic process.”

Recall that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is worried any negotiations on the proposal between the governor and the Assembly would result in a “watered down” version of the governor’s own proposed 2 percent cap. He reiterated that concern today at a news conference calling on the Assembly to approve the governor’s cap.

Cuomo has said previously that negotiations are needed to get the cap in place.

Senate GOP: Did You Hear They Passed The Tax Cap? (VIDEO ADDED)

Senate and Assembly Republicans held a news conference this afternoon to reiterate — multiple times to the point of ad nauseum — they did, indeed pass Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2 percent cap on property taxes.

In fact, the repetition of that fact — the Senate approved Cuomo’s bill on Jan. 31 — occurred even on answers to questions about whether mandate relief should be included in the final passage of the cap.

Skelos, as he has said before, said he does not want to negotiate the cap, fearing it would be watered down.

“If it waters down the bill, no,” he responded to a question about negotiating a bill with Cuomo and the Assembly.

“We passed it, and we believe and hope the Assembly will pass it,” Skelos added.

Asked if mandate relief should be paired with the tax cap, of it it should at least come first, Skelos responded: “Let me just reiterate on Jan. 31 the Senate passed the property tax cap, the governor’s program bill. We are sticking with the governor.”

Republicans also unveiled an online petition urging the Assembly to take up the measure. Assembly Minority Leader attempted to push through the tax cap by adding it to the rent regulation expansion that passed the chamber on Monday, but the amendment failed.

The news conference included a collection of business lobbyists who said the ball was firmly in the court of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan.

“It needs to be put out on the floor, it needs to get it there for an up or down vote,” said Brian Sampson, the executive director of the pro-business Unshackle Upstate.

Skelos and his 32-member majority have come under increasing pressure to negotiate the cap in light of a story in Newsday quoting Suffolk County Republican Sen. John Flanagan, who said a cap may not clear this year because of a lack of mandate relief.

It is unlikely that a cap as proposed by Cuomo would be able to pass this year in the Assembly. Cuomo himself has said he would be willing to negotiate a cap.

Lawmakers Plan Nuke Safety Meeting (Updated)

Sens. David Carlucci, a Hudson Valley Democrat, along with Republicans Greg Ball and George Maziarz (a WNYer who chairs the Energy Committee), plan to hold a hearing Thursday in Stony Point to discuss contingency plans in the event of a nuclear crisis.

“The Indian Point nuclear power plant, which sits within two miles of two intersecting fault lines has the highest risk of an earthquake causing its reactors core damage in the United States,” Carlucci said in a statement.

“To ensure the safety of the 20 million people who live within the 50-mile peak injury zone, Senator Maziarz, Senator Ball and I will be holding a hearing focused on detailing plans and precautions in the event of a natural disaster.”

UPDATE: We’ve just learned that the hearing has been postponed to May 12 due to “scheduling conflicts” on some speakers. Carlucci said the date was delayed so the trio could “provide ample time for the agencies around the state who are responsible for our safety to be able to attend.”

The disaster in Japan has revived talk in New York about the safety of Indian Point, located in Westchester County along the Hudson River. New York has several other facilities in the Rochester region.

But it is Indian Point and its proximity to New York City that has heightened the concern. Gov. Andrew Cuomo sent Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Washington to discuss safety at the plant with federal officials and secure a plan to have top regulators visit the plant later this year.

Evacuating the area around Indian Point has been deemed a near impossibility in the event of a major catastrophe and meltdown. However, the plants owners, Entergy, have insisted the plant remains well-guarded in the event of a disaster.

DiNapoli: More Than 100 Schools Seek Reserve Fund Use

On the heels of deep budget cuts for local education aid, 101 school districts around the state are asking Comptroller Tom DiNapoli permission to dip into their Employee Benefits Accrued Liability Reserve funds in order to offset.

“School districts are unable to use EBALR funds until my office certified the surplus amount,” DiNapoli said in a statement. “We moved quickly to help those districts that plan to use these funds to save jobs and maintain educational programs.”

The districts have a total of $147.8 million in their EBALR funds.

The fund is money set aside for accrued vacation and sick time that goes unused.

The districts are taking the advice of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was able to cut $1.2 billion in education aid for school districts in order to close a $10 billion. The governor wanted school districts to cut overhead, pay for administrators and dip into reserve accounts.

DiNapoli said that despite using the reserves, districts are still in a difficult situation.

“Even with the use of these funds, school districts still have painful choices. And using up reserves now could put school districts in a precarious position next year. School districts without enough excess EBALR funds must now rely on their undesignated fund balances, tax increases or budget cuts to fill the hole left by state aid cuts. I have directed my auditors to continue to help school districts get their finances in order and to look for cost savings to help district officials deal with these difficult times.”