Nick Reisman

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Lawmakers Approved Protections For Gender Expression, Transgender New Yorkers

A bill that would create legal protections for transgender New Yorkers and gender expression was approved by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature on Tuesday, the most significant piece of LGBTQ rights legislation to be approved in the last seven years.

Cheers erupted in the state Senate, now under Democratic control, shortly after the 42-19 vote was announced.

“When we’re able to pass marriage equality, none of us thought it would take eight years to get to today,” Stewart-Cousins said. “But we are here.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the measure into law.

Aspects of the bill were first approved in the state’s civil rights regulation by Cuomo in 2015 after Republicans, who controlled the Senate at the time, declined to take up the bill.

“The passage of GENDA – 16 years in the making – will codify our progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated equally and with respect,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman.

“As the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans, today’s victory sends a strong message to LGBTQ people across New York: you are loved, understood, and protected by your state government. We will not let you down.”

Lawmakers had previously in 2002 approved the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, but advocates have argued the legislation fell short of protections for transgender and gender expression when it comes housing, the workplace and other facets of life.

“Today is an historic day,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried.

“The Assembly has passed the bill 11 times, but the Senate’s Republican Majority refused to let the bill have a floor vote. Today, the new Democratic Majority has joined us in protecting the rights of New Yorkers regardless of gender identity or expression. I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing GENDA into law.”

Senate GOP: Use Marijuana Money For Tax Relief

If the state legalizes adult use marijuana, Senate Republicans want the revenue to go toward some form of tax relief.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo later today is expected to propose a marijuana legalization plan that is projected to bring the state an estimated $300 million in tax revenue.

It’s not yer clear where Cuomo will propose using the money, but he has indicated that he wants any program to in large part benefit low-income communities that have been impacted by harsh drug laws.

“We don’t know the specifics,” said Sen. Joe Griffo, the deputy minority leader. “We await to see what the proposal will look like.”

Senate Republicans on Monday released a pre-buttal of sorts to Cuomo’s budget and State of the State presentation. They called for a permanent tax cap and other forms of tax relief.

Republicans at a Capitol news conference were also seemingly resigned to a marijuana provision passing, given the Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature and an end to mandated state spending through a constitutional amendment.

But the marijuana tax revenue could be a highlight of the budget negotiations.

“If you really want to change the profile of New York let’s do something that is dramatic and substantive lets have a significant reduction in taxes we could look at both the property and income tax right now,” Griffo said.

Still, he cautioned that the revenue may not be as initially advertised and some projections may be a bit rosy.

“When they told us that legalizing gaming would be an economic cure for upstate New York, we now know these casinos are looking for bailouts and help,” Griffo said.

4 Things To Watch For On Budget Day

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo his proposed 2019-20 state budget today at 2 p.m. in Albany. It’s the first spending proposal of his third term and his ninth overall during his tenure as governor. The day kicks off a two-and-half month ride of negotiations and haggling over how the state will spend roughly $170 billion. Here are four things to watch for:

1. What surprises will there be?

Cuomo has already begun rolling out a series of budget proposals for banning plastic bags, expanding the bottle deposit law, raising the age of buying tobacco products to 21 and dropped hints about his plans for adult-use marijuana legalization. Many of these proposals themselves are yet to be fleshed out. But Cuomo also likes to hold back one last major piece in his budget presentation to secure headline-capturing issue. This year is a bit different, however, given the Democratic-controlled Legislature march to passing a series of long-bottled up bills, including voting law changes on Monday. Coming up next, lawmakers will be tackling LGBTQ issues, gun control and abortion rights — all provisions that won’t have to be included in the budget. Perhaps this is music to the ears of state budget traditionalists, since this will leave remove a lot of policy from the budget talks.

2. What will Cuomo do for health care?

The governor has already indicated he wants to find a way to thread the needle on the call for single-payer health care by some Democrats in the Legislature. Cuomo has questioned the cost a single payer bill would have on the state. Instead, he’s called for the codification of the U.S. Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, that would set in law the state’s health exchange and bolster the provisions of a law under constant challenge on the national level, but increasingly popular, especially with Democrats.

3. Will education be the marquee fight?

Aside from health care, spending for schools remains the next costliest item in the state budget. Cuomo is once again being prodded to boost education spending by $4 billion in direct aid to schools, as per advocates who say the state isn’t fulfilling the terms of a lawsuit from the previous decade. Cuomo contends the state has settled the matter, but what’s to turn the page from the decision, known as the Campaign For Fiscal Equity. Cuomo in recent weeks has pointed to what he calls an inequity in district-level school funding, which he wants to remedy. But will that be enough, especially for advocates and lawmakers like Sen. Robert Jackson, a plaintiff in the initial lawsuit?

4. An MTA plan?

Cuomo in a radio interview Monday once again insisted he doesn’t control the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, pointing to the veto power held by the members he doesn’t appoint to the 14-member board. He compared the push for more control over the MTA to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s effort to consolidate power over New York City schools in the 2000s. The conversation indicates Cuomo will be seeking a firmer hand over the MTA, more than he has now, in order to tackle the transit crisis many advocates blame him for ignoring over the years.

Cuomo Wants To Expand Primary Voting Hours Upstate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget will include expanded voter hours on primary day in upstate counties.

Currently voting in most upstate counties on primary day is limited to between noon and 9 p.m., while the voting in the rest of the state begins at 6 a.m.

Cuomo’s inclusion of the provision comes as lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are set to pass a package of voter reform measures including early voting, same-day voter registration, pre-registration for those under 18 and no-fault absentee balloting, a consolidation of the state and federal primary dates as well as an end to the LLC loophole in election law.

Cuomo in addition to the changes passing today wants to make Election Day a holiday, create a system of online voter registration and ban corporate contributions.

“At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are taking action to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and crack down on corporate influences in our election,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“It is absurd that voters in much of upstate New York are not allowed to vote until noon, whereas polls open everywhere else in the state at 6am – that ends now. These proposals will not only modernize our voting laws, they will remove barriers that have prevented and discouraged voters from exercising their sacred right to vote. I thank the legislature for their quick action today in voting on many of the critical voting reforms that are part of our 100-day agenda and I look forward to working with them to finish the job and enact these additional measures into law in the budget. The time is now.”

Cuomo is set to unveil his 2019-20 budget proposal on Tuesday.

Partnership For NYC Backs GENDA

One of New York City’s primary business groups on Monday announced its support for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill likely to pass the state Senate under Democratic control.

The bill is meant to provide legal protections for transgender people in housing, the workplace and other facets of life.

“Gender variant individuals face discrimination ranging from housing to health care, as well as harassment and violence in many aspects of their lives,” the group said. “They deserve the same protections in New York that many employers and other states, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Nevada and New Jersey, already provide. Safeguarding basic human and civil rights for gender variant individuals is critical to maintaining New York’s competitiveness as a global economic and cultural hub—one that thrives as a result of its diverse citizens and workforce.”

The bill did not gain a vote in the state Senate under Republican control, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the broad strokes of the legislation and included them in the state’s human rights regulations.

Meanwhile, a bill that would seek to ban conversion therapy for LGBT individuals has cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“So-called conversion therapy is child abuse—plain and simple. I applaud Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Higher Education Chairwoman Stavisky, co-prime sponsor Gianaris and my colleagues in the Democratic Conference for recognizing that being gay is not an illness, and that this debunked and harmful practice amounts to nothing less than consumer fraud,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors both bills. “To the LGBTQ youth across the state of New York: we hear you, we see you, and we have your back on the Senate floor tomorrow.”

Cuomo: Marijuana Age Limit 21, Local Govs Can Opt Out

Local governments can opt out of adult use marijuana, while the minimum wage for purchasing cannabis would be set at 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in a radio interview.

As the Department of Health has in a report issued last year, Cuomo pegged the potential revenue for adult use marijuana at about $300 million.

“It’s not for the money,” Cuomo told WAMC’s Alan Chartock. “The benefits outweigh the risks. It has to be regulated.”

Cuomo is expected to include the adult use marijuana proposal in his budget, scheduled to be unveiled on Tuesday in Albany.

It’s not entirely clear what the opt out provision for local governments will mean, including whether county or city governments can deny permits for marijuana retailers.

But the governor also once again indicated the program would provide support for communities that have been impacted by strict drug laws.

Cuomo said he was reviewing how “poor communities that paid the price rather than having rich corporations and having another pay day” could benefit from the program.

Heastie Says He Supports Bag Ban

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Monday he would be supportive of a ban on plastic bags in the state, but said he would discuss the issue with his full Democratic conference.

“I’ve said before that me, personally, I’d be OK with a plastic bag ban,” he said. “As many of the things he puts in his budget, as members, we will conference them.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday announced he would include a full ban on plastic bags in his state budget as well as an expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law.

The ban has been sought by environmental groups, but several also have called for a fee on plastic bag usage as well.

Cuomo and lawmakers in 2017 backed a measure overturning New York City’s 5-cent fee on plastic bags as the governor also created a statewide task force on the issue.

“To Governor Cuomo’s credit, this budget should be a vehicle to advance innovative and bold ideas to protect our environment,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said in a statement.

“The scourge of plastic pollution needs to be addressed and I look forward to getting into the details of these proposals to ensure they have maximum impact. I am proud to carry plastic bag legislation in the senate that also addresses paper bags, something I will continue to advocate for during this process.”

Legislative Leaders: Cuomo Not Being Cut Out

Long-sought bills for election reform are being passed today and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign them.

But the process is something of a change from previous years in which big picture, headline-making measures were included in the budget, modified in negotiation and approved or taken out of the final day.

This time, lawmakers are approving longtime bills re-introduced each year. No leaders meetings with Cuomo appear to be being held. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie worked out many of the details for the votes themselves.

But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters at the Capitol Monday this wasn’t about cutting Cuomo out of the law-making picture.

“The governor has the right to put whatever he wants in the budget,” Heastie said. “I would say in previous times it was probably more of a necessity because of the Republican Senate because that was the best way to get things done. The Senate didn’t really agree with a Democratic governor and a Democratic Assembly.”

At the same time, the legislative process still was a process when Republicans controlled the Senate, like when the Legislature approved the creation of a prosecutorial conduct panel last year.

“Even when there was a Republican Senate, there were a lot of bills the Assembly passed,” Heastie said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to engage the governor. We’re passing bills we know that we people in the state have wanted for numerous years.”

Cuomo already has signaled an aggressive budget with policies like banning plastic bags, expanding the bottle deposits, increasing the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 and new regulations for e-cigarettes.

And the budget’s biggest items — health care and education spending — will still have the governor’s stamp on the final deal.

But at the same time, lawmakers are taking up a package of measures virtually every session day, including gun control, LGBTQ rights and more.

“Our objective is not to do things quickly,” Stewart-Cousins said, “but to do them right.”

Republicans Challenge Dems To Have Perfect Attendance

As the state Senate today is likely to pass a bill consolidating the state and federal primaries into one day, Republican lawmakers on Monday challenged Democrats to have perfect attendance during the petitioning process.

Currently, the state holds its primaries in September, with primary contests for federal offices — the House and U.S. Senate — are held in June, creating a costly bifucated process for local governments.

The changes were done because of the state adhering to the MOVE Act, a federal law that requires timely access to absentee ballots for military and overseas voters. Because of gridlock over when the primary should be moved, a federal judge ruled the congressional primary must be held in June.

But Republicans have maintained a June primary speeds up the petitioning process, making it difficult to get ballot access while lawmakers are also in Albany to negotiate the state budget.

“Every Senator must remember that we serve the people, not ourselves,” said Sen. Cathy Young. “This pledge is a reminder that the people elect us to be their voices in the state capitol and they rely on us to be here, not absent and on the campaign trail as we have seen before. Empty chairs are simply empty promises to New Yorkers. Let’s show the public that we hold ourselves to the highest standards and sign this pledge.”

Jacobs Tapped For State Party Chair

Jay Jacobs is heading toward an encore as state Democratic Committee chairman.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced Jacobs would succeed Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown as the state party chairman, reprising the role he held under Gov. David Paterson.

“Jay Jacobs is an outstanding champion for Long Island with an unparalleled record of bringing Democrats together to win historic victories, and I am excited to work with him to further strengthen our party and elect even more Democrats up and down the ballot,” Cuomo said.

“I thank Byron Brown for his great leadership in securing key districts for our party last year, and look forward to continuing to work together to deliver for New Yorkers across the state. In the face of unprecedented and frightening assaults on our values from Washington, we will continue to ensure New York is a beacon of progressive policy in action and that the Democratic Party is the party of making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Jacobs’s return as state party chairman underscores the importance of the suburbs for Democrats, who picked up a majority of the state Senate seats on Long Island in November and now control both county executive posts.

“In this consequential time for our Party, our State and our country I am honored to have been asked by Governor Cuomo to once again serve as New York State Democratic Chair,” Jacobs said.

“The governor has been a friend for more than twenty years and as I was honored to be the chair when he was first elected, after so many progressive achievements I am appreciative and excited for the opportunity to work with him and our state party once again as we continue to fight for a progressive agenda and marshal our resources for the upcoming challenges ahead.”