Nick Reisman

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Cuomo: ‘Public Health Comes First’ With Vaccine Bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview on Friday morning applauded Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s push for a bill that ended the religious exemption for vaccinations in New York after a close vote in the chamber.

The vote was marked profanity-laced protests from anti-vaccine advocates and the bill’s near-failure in the Assembly Health Committee.

“I think they had an effect,” Cuomo said of the dozens of protesters at the Capitol. “I applaud the Assembly speaker for getting it done, but it was a tough vote.”

The vast majority of voters, more than 80 percent in a Siena College poll this week, backed the proposal to end exemption, proposed amid a measles outbreak in Brooklyn and Rockland County.

“Public health comes first,” Cuomo said. “I understand the concern of the anti-vaxxers, but I think public health comes first.”

Public health officials roundly agree that vaccines for health people are needed to create herd immunity to protect unhealthy people from disease.

Cuomo chalked up the close vote in the Assembly to the “high decibel level” of the protesters.

“I think we’re at a time in politics and society where feelings are very strong about everything,” he said. “There are no tepid feelings. Politicians are very sensitive to opposition.”

Marijuana Legalization Inching Forward

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would legalize marijuana in New York has gained steam in recent weeks, with a vote on the measure possible by the end of the legislative session next week.

The bill was discussed in closed-door conference by Assembly Democrats late into Thursday evening. Sources said the bill appeared to have strong support within the Democratic conference.

Senate Democrats on the other side of the Capitol, meanwhile, have also spent the last two days discussing the bill, and the conversations have been deemed largely positive.

Lawmakers are scheduled to depart Albany for the year next Wednesday.

Marijuana legalization would set up a retail system for cannabis sales, regulate the commercial, medical and hemp industries under one new agency, the Office of Cannabis Management.

The bill would also expunge records of those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses and divert revenue to communities affected by the war drugs. Revenue from sales would also be used to study the effect of drug use.

A Siena College poll this week found more than half of voters polled statewide support legalization.

Push Continues For Sexual Harassment Law Changes

From the Morning Memo:

The group of former legislative staffers formed to call for sexual harassment law changes is pushing for an “immediate vote” for end-of-session bills.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group is calling for the passage of a “bedrock” bill that would add sexual harassment protections and broaden the “severe or pervasive” standard, something advocates and lawmakers say is too narrow a definition to cover a range of misbehavior.

“The bill has broad support from over 30 organizations, with 28 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate,” the group said in a statement. “New York does not in fact have the strongest laws in the nation and workers can’t afford to wait for a two-way ‘deal’ that waters down protections.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs the change, holding a news conference with advocates from the #TimesUp movement, including actress Mira Sorvino.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group was formed to call for changes to the state’s harassment and sexual misconduct laws and successfully pushed for two public hearings on the issue, held for the first time by state lawmakers in a generation.

Hochul Endorses Katz For Queens DA

From the Morning Memo:

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul on Friday is set to endorse Queens district attorney candidate Melinda Katz in the heated primary for the post.

“Nobody is better prepared to bring criminal justice reform to Queens than Melinda Katz,” Hochul said in a statement.

“Not only is she a skilled attorney, she’s a dedicated public servant who knows how to build a diverse coalition to push for change better than anyone else. Melinda understands that civil rights and reforms to the justice system go hand-in-hand with public safety. Her agenda to change the DA’s office will make it more responsive to the community and better equipped to protect workers, immigrants, women, and people of color.”

Hochul’s endorsement for Katz will be highlighted alongside other prominent women and women’s organizations supporting her bid, including Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the Brooklyn-Queens and New York City chapters of the National Organization of Women and Planned Parenthood NYC Votes PAC.

Katz is currently the Queens borough president.

“Lieutenant Governor Hochul has been at the forefront of some of the most important progressive fights in our state in recent years,” Katz said.

“She’s helped build support for paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and the essential criminal justice reform measures that were signed into law earlier this year. At every level of government that she’s served in, she’s broken barriers and been a tireless supporter of working people across our state. It’s an honor to have her support.”

Lawmakers Vote To End Religious Exemption For Vaccines

The bill ending the religious exemption for vaccinations comes as public health officials nationally and in New York are grappling with a measles outbreak that has grown to more than a thousand confirmed cases, many of them in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill shortly after it was approved by lawmakers. It takes effect immediately.

“I believe we need to vaccine as many people as possible,” said Sen. David Carlucci. “It seems like when we eradicated the measles in 2000, we eradicated the memory of the measles.”

A Siena College poll this week found more than 80 percent of voters back ending the exemption. But the bill passed narrowly in the state Assembly, by only two votes, amid a noisy protest from dozens of anti-vaccine advocates who believe vaccines can cause health problems.

“New York state constitutional freedoms are not up for grabs by the Assembly,” said Stephanie Maharris, one of the protesters. “This is a violation of the most basic principles of the United States of America.”

The bill was narrowly approved by the Assembly Health Committee as well, and one lawmaker, Assemblyman Nader Sayegh, changed his voted after it became apparent the measure did not have the support. Sayegh, a Democrat from Yonkers, voted against the bill on the floor.

Multiple Democrats voted against the bill, including Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried, who had voted to advance the bill out of his committee.

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti was skeptical the religious exemption repeal would help.

“There’s been no showing of any connection between the religious exemption for vaccines for some 20,000 people in the state of New York and the spike in measles,” Abinanti said.

Nearly all public health experts agree that vaccines are necessary for healthy people in order to receive herd immunity and protect people with cancer and other illnesses who are at risk for disease. Supporters also said the First Amendment does not apply — comparing the issue to shouting fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

“Science is what should determine our health policy,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, one of the bill’s main sponsors. “Medical experts should determine our health policy and the people who are opposed to it have the right to think whatever they want, but they are a tiny, tiny, minority in New York.”

After the Assembly passed the bill, protesters yelled and swore at the lawmakers from the gallery, creating a chaotic scene. Dinowitz shrugged off the protest.

“I believe they have come to decisions that they’ve gotten from social media, the Internet, but not based on science,” he said.

Sources: Green Light Bill Gains Key Senate Support

Multiple sources on Thursday said a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses has gained three key votes in the state Senate: Sens. Anna Kaplan, Joe Addabbo and Diane Savino.

Support from Kaplan, a freshman Long Island Democrat, is seen as especially vital by supporters given the concerns that have been raised by Long Island Democrats in recent weeks.

The focus will likely be on upstate and suburban Democratic lawmakers for the final passage of the measure, known as the Green Light bill. The proposal was approved on Wednesday in the state Assembly.

Supporters of the bill have argued this year that extending access to licenses to undocumented immigrants has economic merit for drivers to obtain insurance and have transportation to work. But opponents have criticized the measure over security concerns.

Cuomo’s Prisoner’s Dilemma On Rent Control

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, broadly speaking, faced two options on the rent control negotiations.

Option A: Negotiate with state lawmakers on a rent deal that affordable housing advocates could have found fault with once it was announced.

Option B: Stand back and see what the Legislature develops.

The second choice ultimately won out and it was a doozey for the real estate industry, amounting to a rollback of housing policy in New York for the last 25 years. The consequential rent control bill, expanding regulations statewide and with a local government opt-in, an end to vacancy decontrol and elements of what was called “good cause” eviction, was the product of a two-way negotiation.

Cuomo had said the broad aspects of the final deal are ones that he wanted and could support. And he will sign it.

The governor, however, seemed peevish when asked about the agreement on Wednesday by reporters. Gone were the usual adjectives like “historic” to describe sweeping deals. This, Cuomo said, was the best possible deal available — hardly effusive praise.

The tipping point in the debate was likely last week for Cuomo, when Senate Democrats had announced the “support” for the bill backed by the Assembly, but not the votes. Lost in the shuffle was Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins insisting they wanted to work with the governor for a three-way deal.

But that changed as Cuomo publicly doubted whether the votes were available and overarching all of this was his desire to not be blamed for a watered-down deal

Cuomo’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, put it this way:

“Our point was, ‘No you don’t, or pass them and end the kabuki theatre.’ So over the course of the last week, what you saw was us saying, ‘Come to us with what you can really pass and the most you can pass, we will sign.’ But we don’t want to engage in the kabuki of the ‘we swear we have the votes, we’re going to say what the advocates want to hear, but we can’t really deliver.’ By pressuring them to say, ‘Tell us what you can really sign and we will sign it,’ that’s what ultimately happened and that’s what resulted in the bills that came out last night.”

What does this mean for future issues? Well, it’s unclear. Heastie and Stewart-Cousins were able to forge an agreement on what is a key issue for Democrats, especially those from New York City, had hoped to accomplish this year — an overriding issue that was closely watched by advocates.

The two outstanding top-tier measures, marijuana legalization and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants are starkly different issues than, say, affordable housing policy.

The governor intrinsically has more power in the budget process than he does with standalone legislation and Cuomo has been shown to use his leverage effectively in either setting. His leverage hasn’t been wholly apparent this spring — yet. After all, there’s still capital projects spending to determine.

Green Light Bill Advocates Urge LI Dems To Back Measure

A coalition of 10 organizations that back a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to gain access to driver’s licenses released a letter Thursday to Long Island Democrats and the state Democratic committee chairman urging them to support the measure.

The bill was approved in the Democratic-led state Assembly on Wednesday, but faces an uncertain path forward in the state Senate, where Democrats gained a majority control this year.

Democrats from the suburbs and upstate New York are considered key to its passage in the chamber. Compounding the issue has been Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Democratic Committee in New York, who has warned some senators about the political fallout surrounding the bill.

“This year, the Democratic establishment has advanced a narrative that passing long fought-for, common sense, progressive pieces of legislation will somehow threaten the future Democratic Senate majority. This has been particularly true regarding efforts to restore access to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and reforming the state’s cruel and outdated criminal legal system that has dehumanized people of color in the state, and destroyed individuals, families, and communities,” the groups wrote in the letter.

“As criminal justice reform organizations, immigrant rights groups, and allies that have actively engaged constituents in the suburbs and across the state for years, and whose members helped usher in the New York Blue Wave of 2018, we reject this backward, and frankly inaccurate, thinking.”

Signing on to the letter include: Bend the Arc Jewish Action: New York, Citizen Action of New York, Empire State Indivisible, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road Action, New York State Immigrant Action Fund, New York Communities for Change, True Blue NY, VOCAL-NY Action Fund and the Working Families Party.

NY Delegation Members Back Cuomo’s LGBT Plan

Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation on Thursday endorsed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s end-of-session agenda meant to benefit LGBTQ rights in New York.

The bills include ending the so-called “gay panic” defense in crimes and legalizing gestational surrogacy.

“New York State is the progressive capital of the nation and in these divisive times we must continue to lead with bold action that promotes acceptance and equality,” Cuomo said. “The status quo on surrogacy and the ‘gay and trans panic’ defense is repugnant to our values and with this growing campaign we are sending a clear message to lawmakers: inaction is unacceptable – pass the bills now.”

The surrogacy legislation faces an uncertain path in the Democratic-led Assembly, where several lawmakers have raised concerns with the legislation and its effect on women — concerns the bill’s sponsors say are addressed with protections against exploitation.

All told, a dozen House Democrats from New York signed on to the proposals.

“Raising three amazing kids with my husband has been the great blessing of my life,” said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney. “It’s shameful that the legislature has chosen inaction instead of doing what is right. New York has been the leading state in the LGBTQ movement since the Stonewall Uprisings, and we cannot forget the sacrifices made or how far we’ve come. I applaud the Governor for his continued support for the LGBTQ community and am happy to have him as an ally in this fight.”

Republicans Begin Ads Against Driver’s License Bill

02F23E8E-E2C2-4FAC-949C-5631C558F4DBFrom the Morning Memo:

Hours after the Democratic-controlled Assembly approved a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses in New York, the campaign arm of the Assembly Republicans began a Facebook ad blasting the measure.

“Even though New Yorkers are overwhelmingly opposed, Assembly Democrats have voted to legalize illegal immigrants getting New York State Driver’s Licenses,” the ad says. “This is an endorsement of the lawlessness on our country’s southern border and a backdoor to legal status.”

The bill’s passage remains in doubt in the state Senate, also controlled by Democrats.

But the social media ad is another reminder of the fraught politics surrounding the proposal, first made and later withdrawn in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer — and perhaps a sign of things to come in next year’s legislative elections.

And even now, some Democrats running in off-year local elections in the suburbs have quietly grumbled about the bill’s effect on their campaigns.

The bill’s proponents this year argued the measure made sense on economic terms: Undocumented people living in New York need licenses to get to work and would have access to car insurance if they had a license to drive a car, boosting traffic safety in the process.

The measure gained the endorsement of the Business Council on these grounds.

Still, a Siena College poll this week found a majority of voters opposed to the bill in New York statewide, and Long Island and upstate Democrats have expressed reservations with the bill in the Senate.

Several upstate Democrats in the Assembly voted against the legislation on Wednesday, with at least 10 skipping the vote entirely.