Albany

All Politics, Increasingly, Is National

Will that bridge get fixed? Will my kid’s school offer advance placement courses? Will this area ever recover the jobs it lost?

Those are questions you’d often hear at a town hall meeting. And often, you still do. But increasingly they’re getting replaced by some variations of this query: Should President Donald Trump be impeached.

Local-level elections from town board to the House of Representatives are increasingly being nationalized. Voters, perhaps those who have split their tickets in the past between Republicans and Democrats, are increasingly less likely to do so, especially in presidential election years.

Passions are, of course, inflamed by Trump.

In downtown Glens Falls, a small city an hour north of Albany that has often drawn comparisons to George Bailey’s fictional upstate community Bedford Falls in “It’s A Wonderful Life” has over the last several weekends become subsumed by a pro-Trump demonstration. The groups supporting the president have factionalized, but one demonstrator has appeared to threaten a local newspaper reporter and harangue passersby with a bullhorn.

In a way, it’s a perfect analogy for what’s happening nationally: One man’s voice amplified above all others.

Town hall-style events have turned into forums for local House members to field questions about the latest Trump-related outrage. It was so at Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik’s Johnstown event on Thursday and for Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi’s forum held the same day in New Hartford.

I’m not absolved of anything here: I, along with the reporters in the room before the event began, asked Stefanik about Trump’s push to have foreign governments investigate Joe Biden and whether that was appropriate behavior. It’s what, I assume, viewers expect me to do.

It’s important to get both Stefanik and Brindisi on the record about a consequential issue like impeachment. But it’s also a busy world, and a lot more happening out there. The first question Stefanik got from an attendee at the town hall wasn’t about impeachment, but about an opioid bill she voted on.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has shot to national stardom, wanted to talk about local issues at her town hall, which became hijacked by a woman from a political cult who ranted about eating babies to make an anti-climate change point through performance art.

For people who are concerned about schools, taxes and jobs, it’s easy to see how they would want to turn off from politics, especially when it’s being treated like professional wrestling.

At the same time, local media has taken a blow. Newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times are global in their footprint and can produce seemingly endless digital subscribers to make up for the cutbacks in print subscribers and advertising.

Your local paper, perhaps owned by a parent company that’s controlled by a nameless hedge fund you’ve never heard of, does not have that luxury of scale. People are still consuming news, but they’re consuming it in an increasingly cathartic fashion. A dispatch from a common council meeting about a plan to fix a sidewalk simply can’t garner the same level of scale.

When news is filtered through a national lens, amplified on national cable news opinion shows, there leaves little nuance for what’s happening on the local level. Your Republican mayor is no longer just your mayor, but an unredeemable mini-Trump. Your Democratic councilman isn’t a Democrat, but someone in league with the socialists, and so on.

With local outlets fading, Facebook fills the void. Treated as direct portal to the internet by many, outrage quickly rises to the top of feeds and headlines — not the content of the story — are what users react to now.

Rep. Nita Lowey, who announced her retirement on Thursday, has been in Congress almost as long as I’ve been alive. She was my district’s representative growing up. She would appear at little league awards ceremonies and at school functions, once sitting next to me in the cafeteria to talk about lunch options (I told her we needed more pizza days).

Lowey’s retirement immediately sparked discussion that Chelsea Clinton would run for the seat. If so, it’d be a national story.

Lawmakers Want To Curb Online E-Cigarette Sales

From the Morning Memo:

A pair of Democratic state lawmakers on Thursday called for a ban on internet sales of vaping products amid illnesses believed to be linked to their use.

The measure is backed by Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and would, in essence, treat e-cigarettes and other vaping devices to the same standard of distribution and sale for tobacco products online.

“The alarming public health incidents involving vaping confirm the worst nightmares of parents who were already alarmed by the increased use of Juul and other vape pens by teenagers,” Paulin said.

“I have heard from student activists in my district who tell me that it is far easier to obtain electronic cigarettes and other vaping products from Internet retailers than to go to a physical store, since websites make only a rudimentary attempt to verify age. It simply makes no sense that you’re prohibited from buying addictive tobacco cigarettes online, but you can buy addictive electronic cigarettes online.”

The proposal comes as Gov. Andrew Cuomo has banned the sale of flavored tobacco products through executive action, which is being challenged in court by the vaping industry. The challenge won a delay in the implementation of the ban as the court case is being heard.

Cuomo and lawmakers, meanwhile, are promising legislative action next year on the issue. The state’s first death attributed to vaping use was reported this week: A 17-year-old resident in the Bronx.

“E-cigarettes and vaping products are causing New Yorkers to develop serious health issues, and our youth are particularly vulnerable. We have a responsibility to safeguard New Yorkers’ health by regulating these products as what they are – public health hazards that are just as damaging as traditional tobacco products,” Rivera said.

“The Senate’s upcoming hearing to investigate the safety and potential harm of such products will consider important policies such as this.”

Public Financing Coalition Wants To See Commission’s Draft Work

A coalition of advocacy groups this week released a letter urging the commission determining the specifics of New York’s system of publicly financed campaigns to make public a draft report of its potential recommendations.

The final set of recommendations, which could become law unless the Legislature intervenes, is not due until Dec. 1.

But the Fair Elections for New York Campaign, a coalition that includes groups like 32BJ SEIU and the Brennan Center for Justice, argue a draft report is needed.

“As we have recommended before, releasing an interim report would ensure that experts and the public have adequate opportunity to give input before the recommendations become final,” the groups said in a letter.

“This is a critical step to avoiding a rushed process close to December that could end up looking like the “big ugly” votes we are familiar with in the Legislature, and which could result in an unworkable policy. Instead, we urge you to set an early deadline for the release of a draft policy that would allow for public comment and expert review. This will give the public greater faith in the process and facilitate the creation of stronger policy in the end.”

Last week, the state’s leading good-government organizations called for a draft report to be released as well.

Enviros, Transportation Advocates Urge E-Bikes And Scooters Bill

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of 20 organizations that range from advocates for the environment, transportation, local government and business urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a measure that would pave the way for municipalities to allow electric bikes and scooters on their streets.

The effort, led by the New York League of Conservation Voters, comes as the devices have become ubiquitous on some city streets.

The groups pointed to increased traffic, especially in New York City, which would be partially alleviated by allowing alternative forms of transportation. At the same time, the legislation would benefit delivery people who rely on the speed and efficiency of e-bikes and scooters.

“E-scooter share programs have been successful around the country, where they have been very successful in addressing last-mile transportation problems, where people may be too far from the nearest public transportation to travel on foot so they instead rely on for-hire vehicles, personal cars, or forgo public transportation altogether,” the letter states.

“E-scooters have demonstrated success in closing the last mile and displacing car trips in cities where they are legal.”

Addressing the concerns of some elected officials, the bill before the governor does not allow shared e-scooter programs to operate in Manhattan and allows local governments to enact tougher regulations if deemed appropriate.

But overall, the groups highlight the low carbon footprint of e-scooters and bikes.

“While electrification and other emissions-free technology is important for cars and trucks, we cannot meet the ambitious goals that we have set for ourselves without also reducing the total number of vehicle miles traveled,” the letter states.

“These new transportation options are already displacing private vehicle trips around the world, and can do the same in New York, complementing your strong record on transportation policy.”

E-Bike Letter NYLCV TA Final by Nick Reisman on Scribd

New Student Loan Advisory Board Created As Regulations Take Effect For Loan Industry

New York’s top financial and banking regulator announced Wednesday the formation of an advisory board to tackle student debt issues.

The Department of Financial Services is creating a Student Debt Advisory Board, which will consider issues like consumer protection, student financial products and services as well as the issues facing communities affected by the burden of student debt.

Members will be appointed by Superintendent Linda Lacewell for a three-year term.

“DFS is proud to be part of New York’s commitment to protecting New York students and their families, and this newly created board will ensure borrowers are incorporated into every step DFS takes, from community outreach to policy and enforcement,” Lacewell said.

“This diverse group of experts will be a significant source of market intelligence and expertise as DFS continues to respond to the concerns of student loan borrowers and ensure consumers’ interests are placed first above industry’s statewide.”

Meanwhile, new legislation is taking effect today that will require companies that service loans held by New Yorkers to adhere to standards similar regulations that govern mortgages and other lending products.

Gripper Takes Leadership Post At AQE

Jasmine Gripper has been tapped to become the new executive director of the public education advocacy group Alliance for Quality Education, the organization on Wednesday announced.

Billy Easton, a longtime fixture in education policy debates in New York, will be stepping down from his current executive director role he’s held since 2005.

Gripper is the group’s legislative director.

“The future has so much in store for AQE with Jasmine Gripper at the helm, and with all the parents, educators and students that make this work possible,” said Natasha Capers, co-vice board chair of AQE & Director for the NYC Coalition for Educational Justice.

“Together we will continue to empower Black, Brown and low income families to build the schools New York’s children need and deserve. Many thanks to Billy Easton for his years of service to AQE and his commitment to the fight for educational justice.”

The group has been at the forefront of the some of the most hotly debated education issues over the last decade ranging from funding and charter school debates, often being at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“With Billy Easton’s leadership, the Alliance for Quality Education has established itself as a leader in the state, bringing the voices of parents and students to the forefront to demand that every child has an excellent education no matter their race or zip code,” said Rosemary Rivera, board chair and Co-Executive Director Citizen Action of New York.

“I know that Jasmine Gripper is a visionary leader who has the ability to maintain the culture of the organization to achieve success. She is strategic and her leadership style demands high expectations not only from those who work with her, but also those with the power to create the necessary changes to meet the goals of the organization,”

National Urban League Backs Sands For Downstate Casino

From the Morning Memo:

The National Urban League is joining the push to have the Las Vegas Sands gain a potentially lucrative license to operate a casino in the New York City area.

The casino company has sought to frame its effort to enter the New York City market as part of a jobs creating project, recruiting former Gov. David Paterson as a public face for the push, as well as prominent figures like NAACP New York Conference President Hazel Dukes.

“I look forward to working with Sands to make an impact on the communities that have far too often been left out of the progress and opportunities in this state,” said Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League. “The expansion of downstate gaming will not only bring much needed revenue to the state to fund critical services, but it will provide thousands of new jobs and training programs to New York.”

Casino firms this year sought unsuccessfully to speed up the sunset date for upstate exclusivity in casino licenses. The state licenses four commercial casinos with table-top gaming in the Finger Lakes, Schenectady, Hudson Valley and Southern Tier.

Casino operators can have access to the New York City market by 2023 based on an enabling law that dovetailed with a constitutional amendment allowing table-top gaming in the state.

The push from casino operators including Sands and Genting have led to public efforts to position themselves as potential recipients.

“The National Urban League has a strong reputation of success in establishing business relationships around the country, and we look forward to partnering together in New York,” said Paterson, a senior advisor to Las Vegas Sands.

“Our main focus is to provide equal and unparalleled opportunity for all New Yorkers, and through this partnership and the expert knowledge of the National Urban League, I am fully confident that we are putting forth our best team to get the job done.”

But the struggles of some of the upstate casinos, along with what experts have said is a glut in the northeast market of gambling options, have led to complications for operators. Several casinos, both commercial and those run by Native American tribes, have introduced sports books in recent months to take advantage of new laws and regulations allowing bets on sporting events.

Meanwhile, Michael Levoff, formerly a top lobbyist for Genting and a corporate development executive for the company in the United States is joining Las Vegas Sands, the company said.

He was most recently the chairman of the New York Gaming Association.

Levoff led Genting’s push to work with Nassau OTB as well as the ongoing expansion of Aqueduct racino to include a 400-room hotel as well as secure slot machines for the company in Orange County at Woodbury.

Rensselaer County’s Green Light Lawsuit Paused

Rensselaer County’s legal challenge to New York’s law that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses has been put on a temporary hold by a federal judge this week.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola had filed the legal challenge over the measure, which passed in June and is set to take effect in December.

U.S. District Court Judge Gary Sharpe approved the stay while a similar lawsuit filed by Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns is resolved. Kearns filed his lawsuit two weeks prior to the Rensselaer County challenge.

Attorneys representing the state had previously argued the cases should be consolidated, a request Sharpe denied.

Attorney General Letitia James has said the measure, known as the Green Light law, will be able to withstand legal scrutiny.

Cuomo signed the measure, but publicly expressed concerns the law would allow the federal government to gain access to a trove of information on undocumented immigrants. Advocates of the measure say that concern is unfounded.

New Bill Would Increase Access To Immunization Data

State lawmakers want to increase the ability of the public to gain access to immunization data, requiring all schools in the state to report specific information on their students’ immunization rate against disease that require vaccinations.

The bill, backed by Democrats Brad Hoylman in the state Senate and Jeffrey Dinowitz in the Assembly, would also require the state Department of Health to create a searchable database on its website that contains information on each school’s rate of compliance with immunization.

Much of the data lawmakers want to make public is already available on a searchable database at the Department of Health.

At the same time, the bill would require state health officials to analyze trends in immunization rates and medical exemptions from immunization over time in order to identify parts of the state that could be vulnerable to diseases.

The legislation was introduced this week after some school districts struggled to ensure students had received their required vaccinations after the state ended the religious exemption for vaccinations. The challenges facing schools led to some state lawmakers worrying about the amount of time education officials had to implement the new law.

That measure, also backed by Hoylman and Dinowitz, is being challenged in court by anti-vaccination advocates.

“Parents have a right to know. As New York continues to recover from the worst measles outbreak in four decades, parents deserve to be informed about whether their child’s fellow students are up to date on all their required vaccines,” Hoylman said in a statement.

“The legislation I carry with Assemblyman Dinowitz will equip parents, policy-makers, and public health officials with accurate data that will help them understand whether a specific school is in compliance with immunization requirements. No parent should have to worry for the safety and health of their child when sending them to school.”

Lawmakers approved the bill ending the vaccine religious exemption following a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn, which state and local officials say has now been largely brought under control, with no new cases reported over two incubation periods.

Releasing Scorecard, Environmental Group Praises ASC And Heastie

The top Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly were honored by Environmental Advocates’s annual scorecard, giving both Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie the Legislator of the Year award.

Environmental groups this year have had a lot to cheer about following the first session in a decade in which Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature. The Legislator of the Year award had not been handed out by the group for several years.

The group pointed to the passage of long-sought environmental legislation, which included a congestion pricing toll plan, $500 million for water infrastructure and a ban on single-use plastic bags.

At the same time, the group’s scorecard assessed measures that barred garbage incineration in the Finger Lakes, ending access to state marine and coastal lands to off-shore drilling, a measure meant to prevent over fishing and a measure limiting the idling of school vehicles on school grounds.

“What we saw during this past legislative session was nothing short of amazing,” said Environmental Advocates Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz.

“The ‘New’ New York Senate, led by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has proven itself skillful, capable, and up to the task of leading New York to a greener future. The transformation from a place where good green bills went to die to an efficient, vibrant, and forward-thinking house was tremendous. Having them partner with an Assembly—that had long been carrying the environmental torch—made several pieces of game-changing legislation possible. New Yorkers will live longer lives because of bills that were passed this year and signed into law by Governor Cuomo.”

Sen. George Amedore, a Republican, was given the group’s lowest marks and its “Oil Slick” award.