Nick Reisman

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Lawmakers To Take Up Election Reform

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers today will take up a package of election reforms designed to make it easier to register to vote and cast a ballot.

The bills, along with a pair of constitutional amendments, are virtually perennial proposals that have not gained a vote in the state Senate under Republican rule, but are now certain to pass given Democratic control of the chamber.

The legislation includes:

Make it easier for those who move to transfer their registration
Allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Close the loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that allows unlimited donations through a web of limited liability companies
Create a system of early voting
Consolidate the state and federal primaries into one day

Lawmakers will also consider first passage of two constitutional amendments that would allow for no-fault absentee balloting and same-day voter registration.

The measures, designed to boost the state’s comparatively low voter turnout, have won the praise of good-government groups.

“We believe this package thoughtfully improves the voting and registration process,” said Reinvent Albany in a bill memorandum in support. “The various elements are phased in over years, so boards of election should be able to effectively implement the many reforms without being overwhelmed.”

But local governments have raised concerns about some aspects of the legislation, pointing to the need to fund local boards of election in order to carry out the changes.

“Election costs are the mandated responsibility of county governments through local boards of elections,” said Stephen Acquario of the Association of Counties.

“The operational budgets for these local boards have been enacted at the close of 2018. Additional costs associated with staffing and securing early voting locations, printing and counting additional ballots, ensuring elections are safe from cyber security threats, and meeting other legal election requirements have not been fully calculated by the state and counties.”

The group estimated the changes could cost between $500,000 to $1 million for each county.

Siena Poll: Cuomo, Legislature Start Year With High Favorables

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic-controlled Legislature are kicking off the new year with high favorable ratings from voters, a Siena College poll released Monday found.

But voters are not thrilled with a pay commission backing the first legislative salary increase in 20 years, boosting their pay from $79,500 to $130,000 in the coming years, but with strings attached.

Cuomo’s favorability rating among registered voters stands at 51 percent to 43 percent, an improvement from a negative rating of 45 percent to 49 percent in November among likely voters.

The Assembly, long under Democratic control, has a 48 percent to 32 percent favorability rating, it’s best showing ever in the Siena poll. The Assembly’s rating is up from a negative 40 percent to 43 percent in June among likely voters.

The state Senate, which has flipped to Democratic control, now has a 49 percent to 38 percent favorability rating, an improvement from 41 percent to 45 percent in June among likely voters, and when Republicans had majority control.

Still, Cuomo’s job approval rating remains underwater, with 43 percent approving of the job he’s doing and 56 percent disapproving.

Voters are less thrilled with the pay commission increasing lawmakers’ pay, with a whopping 80 percent to 15 percent opposing the salary hike.

But voters are more supportive of limiting extra pay for most leadership posts and capping outside income, 57 percent to 35 percent.

The 2019 legislative session is expected to produce a flurry of action on bills ranging from gun control, abortion rights and campaign finance reforms, which were long stalled under Republican control of the state Senate. Later today, lawmakers are expected to take up a package of bills meant to make it easier to register and vote in New York.

A majority of voters back measures like the Child Victims Act (77 percent), which is aimed at making it easier for the survivors of sexual abuse to file lawsuits, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (68 percent), extending background checks for gun purchases from three days to 10 (75 percent) and making the state’s property tax cap permanent (65 percent).

A plurality of voters, 36 percent, believe Cuomo should make infrastructure a top issue for him in the new year, followed by health care and education at 33 percent and 32 percent.

The poll of 805 registered voters was conducted from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 and has a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

The cross tabs can be found here.

Katz Raises $1M For Queens DA Bid, Lancman $1.1M

Democratic Queens district attorney candidate Melinda Katz has raised just over $1 million in her bid for the office being vacated by incumbent Richard Brown.

The fundraising total for Katz, the current borough president, was raised over the last 12 months from 802 donors , her campaign said Sunday.

She raised $206,311 alone since the announcement that Brown would not seek another term on Wednesday.

“Even with likelihood of a June primary, Borough President Katz has the resources, the support, and the criminal justice reform agenda Queens residents want to see in their next District Attorney,” said Katz campaign spokesman Doug Forand.

Updated: Councilman Rory Lancman, who is also seeking the Democratic nomination, announced raising $1.1 million for the effort.

“Support and momentum are growing all across Queens, as people see that our campaign represents real reform of the criminal justice system — ending the New Jim Crow, where thousands of people of color a year are given criminal records for the rest of their lives for low-level offenses that shouldn’t be in the criminal justice system at all; prosecuting crimes against working people, women, immigrants, homeowners, and tenants; and holding law enforcement, including the police and our own office, to the highest standards of accountability,” he said in a statement.

Cuomo Backs Plastic Bag Ban, Bottle Bill Expansion

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 budget proposal will call for a ban on plastic bags in New York as well as an expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law.

“While the federal government is taking our environmental progress backwards and selling out our communities to polluters and oil companies, in New York we are moving forward with the nation’s strongest environmental policies and doing everything in our power to protect our natural resources for future generations,” Cuomo said.

“These bold actions to ban plastic bags and promote recycling will reduce litter in our communities, protect our water and create a cleaner and greener New York for all.”

Two years ago, state lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to overturn a 5-cent surcharge in New York City on plastic bag usage. Instead, Cuomo convened a task force to review plastic bag usage statewide.

The ban will have the Department of Environmental Conservation roll out the push so it does not impact low-income communities and include distribution of reusable bags. Exemptions will also be made “were appropriate” Cuomo’s office said in the announcement.

The expanded bottle deposit will include most non-alcoholic beverage eligible for the 5-cent redemption. That will include sports, energy, fruit and vegetable drinks as well as ready-to-drink teas and coffees.

Some exemptions such as bottles containing dairy and milk substitutes, including infant formula, syrups and dietary supplements will be made. Plastic Bag Ban

Cuomo Wants To Raise Tobacco Age To 21, Regulate E-Cigarettes

The minimum age to purchase tobacco and e-cigarette products will be set at 21 and new regulations for the sale of e-cigarettes would be introduced if a provision in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal is approved.

Cuomo on Saturday announced he would raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21 as part of his spending plan that is scheduled to be unveiled on Tuesday.

“We have made great strides to stamp out teen smoking, but new products threaten to undo this progress to the detriment of millions of Americans. In New York, we refuse to stand idly by while unscrupulous businesses target our young people and put their very futures at risk,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“With this comprehensive proposal, we are taking aggressive action to combat this very real public health crisis and curb the use of nicotine products before they result in deadly consequences for an entire generation of New Yorkers.”

The proposal will also end the sale of tobacco and electronic cigarette products in pharmacies. Major chains like CVS have already halted the sale of tobacco products in their stores.

New display restrictions will also be proposed for tobacco packaging and products. At the same time, the move will clarify regulations for flavored e-cigarette liquids and require that e-cigarette products are sold through licensed retailers.

The proposals were praised by supporters of further regulations on e-cigarettes.

“As nicotine addiction among young adults continues to climb across the nation, action at the state level is needed to protect our children from the harm posed by electronic cigarettes,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

“While Suffolk County has enacted sweeping new penalties to deter the illegal sales of vaporizers, I applaud Governor Cuomo for proposing sensible regulations that would also restrict the sale of flavored vaping products. We cannot allow the vaping industry to drown out the voices of health professionals, school administrators, parents and students who agree that action is needed to stop this health crisis.”

Cuomo Counsel: Can’t Break Up Pay Raise Law

The law that led to a pay commission granting the first legislative pay raise in 20 years can’t be legally split apart, the top legal counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Friday said in a phone interview.

State lawmakers have argued the compensation commission acted outside of the law’s purview by also capping outside pay for the Legislature as well as largely ending most stipends or “lulus” for leadership posts.

The law is now being challenged the Government Justice Center, which is seeking an injunction to block the raises.

The commission last month backed a recommendation that boosted pay of lawmakers from $79,500 to $110,000 on Jan. 1. Legislative pay will eventually reach $130,000 in the coming years.

Cuomo has backed the recommendations of the commission.

“From a legal prospective I have concerns about the legislative statements that have been made about the commission,” said Cuomo administration counsel Alphonso David.

He pointed to the measure lacking a “severability” clause in its language — essentially that if one portion of the law is struck down, the entire statute could be tossed out.

“The comments that they’re making suggesting outside of their scope can be used as evidence in the case,” he said. “It could result in the entire law being stricken.”

At the same time, a court loss would reset the clock on pay raises for lawmakers, David said, meaning any new salary hike wouldn’t take effect until the Legislature elected in 2020 is seated in 2021.

Meanwhile, several Capitol insiders have raised the concerns that if the law is struck down, the money paid out could potentially be clawed back.

Pay Raises Remain Under Challenge

A legal challenge to the legislative, statewide elected officials and commissioner pay raises continued on Friday as the executive director of fiscally conservative group challenging a compensation commission’s decision to hike their pay sought an injunction against the move.

“It’s only a couple hundred people on the payroll,” said Cameron Macdonald of the Government Justice Center in an interview after the court appearance. “It should be pretty easy to stop and start.”

The group is challenging the decision by the commission, which granted the first legislative salary increase in 20 years, boosting pay of lawmakers from $79,500 to $110,000 on Jan. 1. Legislative pay will eventually reach $130,000 in the coming years.

Macdonald’s group unsuccessfully sought the pay raises from taking effect at all before the start of the new year.

A preliminary injunction is not necessarily indicative of how the court will ultimately rule.

“It would be good to get things back to the status quo,” he said. “It would be good to get a positive indication on the arguments, but it’s not dispositive in any way.”

Macdonald has argued the compensation commission did not have the constitutional authority to approve the pay raises.

“The Legislature must do it,” he said. “The Legislature can’t delegate this task to a committee.”

The legal challenge also has lawmakers threading a needle on the issue as well: Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has been supportive of the pay increase, but has argued the committee did not have the authority to add stipulations to the pay hike, such as restricting stipends for leadership posts and capping outside income.

Moody’s: Court Blocking Opioid Surcharge Hurts Addiction Programs

A federal court striking down the state’s $100 million surcharge on opioids will hurt the effort to fight addiction, Moody’s Investor Services found in a report released Friday.

The surcharge, which would have raised $100 million a year through June 2024, would have gone toward a special fund on the first of the year for treatment and support programs for addiction.

New York is one of 23 states that saw increases in drug deaths in 2017, though deaths per 100,000 stood at 19.4, short of the 21.7 deaths nationwide.

The court decision could require the state to decide whether to use existing sources of money to support addiction programs, the report found.

“The state may yet be able to raise revenue from opioid-related businesses in a way that will pass muster with the courts,” Moody’s found. “The federal court ruling found that the flaws in the state’s approach stemmed from its efforts to prevent the affected companies from passing through the impacts of the surcharge to customers and suppliers. The state would have imposed steep penalties on those found to do so, reflecting legislators’ wishes to avoid imposing higher costs on those with legitimate medical need for opioids.”

Cuomo To Include Child Victims Act In Budget

The Child Victims Act, a measure that makes it easier for the survivors and victims of childhood abuse to file lawsuits, will be included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 budge proposal, his office on Friday announced.

“There has been a degradation of justice for childhood sexual assault survivors who have suffered for decades by the authority figures they trusted most. That ends this year with the enactment of the Child Victims Act to provide survivors with a long-overdue path to justice,” Cuomo said.

“For years Senate Republicans unconscionably blocked passage of this critical bill, but in partnership with a new progressive legislative majority we have an opportunity to ensure perpetrators of these heinous acts are held accountable and that survivors of childhood sexual abuse get their day in court.”

The bill has stalled in the state Senate under the Republican majority and is likely to be approved with Democratic control of the chamber.

Cuomo’s office said the bill would be “consistent with” the legislation backed by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

Advocates for the legislation have called for a one-year look back for expired civil claims that can be revived by survivors.

Cuomo is scheduled to release his full budget proposal on Tuesday at 2 p.m. in Albany.

Why Gillibrand 2020 In Troy Makes Sense

If she runs for president, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s unofficial campaign motto may be to Enjoy Troy.

Her campaign-in-waiting is reportedly considering placing its headquarters in Troy, a small upstate city just north of Albany on the Hudson River.

The city has blue-collar and working class roots, but in recent years it has sought to rebrand itself as an upstate hipster haven of sorts, with its interesting architecture and restaurants — a Williamsburg for Rensselaer County.

More broadly, the Capital Region is home to several colleges, including Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy.

And, perhaps most attractive to Gillibrand, Troy is near her home in Brunswick, giving her some proximity to her family during an otherwise grueling national campaign.

Gillibrand, of course, is a native of the Capital Region and early on was exposed to the rough-and-tumble of local Albany city politics. As dramatized in an off-Broadway play last year, Gillibrand’s grandmother, Polly Noonan, was a top aide to longtime Albany Mayor Erastus Corning.