LGBTQ Groups Urge Lawmakers To Pass Surrogacy Bill

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of LGBTQ organizations on Thursday will release a letter to top legislative leaders in the state Senate and Assembly urging them to pass a bill that would legalize surrogacy in New York.

The bill has gained some momentum this week as Gov. Andrew Cuomo told donors on Tuesday that he wanted lawmakers to make the measure a priority before the session ends next month.

“The past thirty years have opened doors to LGBTQ families that had never before existed,” the letter states, sent to Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“Medical advances have made it possible for couples and individuals to build families in new ways; simultaneously, the success of the marriage equality movement resulted in deep legal protections for families headed by same-sex couples who have chosen to marry, including protections related to bringing children into their family. Unfortunately, New York’s outdated laws lag far behind most other states in protecting these modern families.”

Signing on to the letter includes prominent advocates and organizations: former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Evan Wolfson Roberta Kaplan, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Human Rights Campaign and the Stonewall Democratic Club, among others.

New York is one of three states that do not allow commercial surrogacy. Some women’s organizations and religious groups have raised objections to the proposal.

The state Democratic Committee on Wednesday adopted a resolution backing the surrogacy legislation, saying it would further the cause of “complete equality.”

Cuomo on Tuesday at a fundraiser with LGBTQ donors urged lawmakers to take the measure up as the session winds down next month.

“If this Legislature leaves this session without passing surrogacy, it will be a disgrace to the progressive tradition of the state of New York,” he said. “We need them to hear that loud and clear. Don’t come back from Albany and tell me how progressive you are if you didn’t pass the surrogacy laws and you should send them right back up to pass it, because their job isn’t done.”

Lgbtq Letter Cpsa Final by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Lawmakers Approve Bill Opening Up Trump’s Taxes For Congressional Review

State lawmakers on Wednesday put the finishing touches on a bill that is meant to provide their counterparts in Congress access to President Donald Trump’s New York tax returns.

The bill, along with a chapter amendment meant to narrow the scope of the legislation to cover only public officials who file taxes in New York, is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Republicans in the Legislature blasted the bill as politically motivated and a distraction from issues facing the state, like jobs, taxes and the economy. Democrats, however, countered the measure was meant to provide a dose of transparency for elected officials.

The measure dovetailed with the final passage of a separate bill on Tuesday that allows New York prosecutors to bring cases against those the president has pardoned if a state law was broken.

“This is a bill that’s more narrowly tailored and gives comfort to our colleagues that the bill will protect the privacy protections of tax returns and accomplish the goal of the state of New York standing up for Congress as a co-equal branch of government,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors the bill. “The bottom line is no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.”

The bill requires the state Department of Taxation commissioner to provide copies of any public official’s tax filings if request by Congress. Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are pushing for access to Trump’s federal tax filings. As a candidate, Trump broke with decades of tradition and declined to release his taxes voluntarily.

“This bill stands for the principle of transparency with regards to top officials tax returns,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald. “Shedding light on tax returns is an important public purpose.”

While the bill was narrowed in scope, Buchwald said it would still make thousands of public officials taxes open for review by Congress.

Republicans, however, saw things differently.

“I thought it was a shameless exhibition of putting politics ahead of any policy,” said Assemblyman Andy Goodell, the Republican floor leader.

Goodell noted voters were aware of Trump’s stance prior to the election that he would not release his taxes.

“President Trump was clear he’s not releasing his tax returns before the election,” he said. “That was clearly out in the public.”

Counties Falling Short In Early Voting Push, Common Cause Says

Several county governments have so far failed to meet early voting requirements such as submitting poll site locations in November to the state Board of Elections, Common Cause on Wednesday said.

The good-government group found Ulster, Westchester, Cattaraugus and Columbia counties so far have not released any polling locations. They have until next Wednesday to do so.

At the same time, New York City has so far only announced 38 total sites meant to serve more than 5 million voters. Common Cause says the polling locations are sparsely located through the city, making them difficult to reach for people with physical disabilities and people of color.

“The Boards of Elections (BOE) across the state are setting up voters to fail in November by trying to sabotage early voting,” said Common Cause Executive Director Susan Lerner. “New Yorkers need access to voting centers in non-traditional locations, close to transportation, county-wide, and including local and state facilities. We’ve fought too hard to let New York vote, we’re not about the back down now.”

There are other issues as well: Onondaga County has six sites, which is the minimum number, and hard to reach for rual voters. Erie County has only voting location in Buffalo and two in Cheektowaga, the minimum number of poll sites.

Criminal Justice Advocates Urge DAs To implement Changes

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of criminal justice reform advocates in a letter to district attorneys New York this week urged them to being the implementation of changes to laws governing cash bail and strengthening speedy trial protections.

The letter comes six weeks after state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to changes that would end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies in addition to increasing protections so that a person arrested is not waiting in a local jail for a trial.

Many of the changes are set to go into effect on Jan. 1 of next year. But the advocates are pushing district attorneys in the state to begin the phase in for them now.

“Actors in the criminal legal system have a responsibility to end draconian practices that gave rise to mass incarceration. Phasing in these reforms now is not only ethical; it’s responsible,” the letter stated. “Every prosecutor in the state should have experience doing their jobs in away that aligns with the new pretrial laws before they go into effect.”

The letter was signed by Alliance for Quality Education Legislative Director Jasmine Gripper, Working Families Party State Director Bill Lipton, New York Communities for Change Long Island Director Lucas Sanchez and Nick Encalada-Malinowski, the civil rights campaign director for VOCAL-NY.

Specifically, the letter is seeking prosecutors to share case evidence no later than 15 days after an arraignment, end seeking cash bail for charges in the “mandatory release” category of the new law and seek non-monetary forms of bail. They also want more people released before trial without conditions that are considered difficult to meet.

“In less than a year, your offices will be required to implement these common sense reforms to bail, discovery and speedy trial laws,” the letter states. “The New Yorkers who have elected you to office should not have to wait until January for the justice that you could offer now.”

Letter to New York State District Attorneys by Nick Reisman on Scribd

After Amazon Deal Falls Through, Opponents Call For Changes To Economic Development

The Amazon deal for Queens may have been scuttled, but state lawmakers are now taking aim at the process itself for how economic development deals come together in New York.

State lawmakers and advocates at a rally at the Capitol Monday pushed for changes to how the state attracts major economic development projects and the effect those projects can have on communities.

“Any projects or most projects that seem to go through the Empire State Development Corporation reek of corporation or overall disengagement from the communities they impact,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, a prominent critic of the Amazon proposal, wants to pass a measure that would require a community impact study be conducted before a major project is undertaken.

He’s argued the Amazon deal lacked transparency — and this would change that for future proposals.

“No matter if you were for or against the specific project in Long Island City,” Gianaris said at the rally, “we can all agree the process stunk and the process was not considerate of the people who live in these communities or the effect these economic development policies have on the people of the state of New York as opposed to the benefits for these wealthy corporations.”

The rally at the Capitol was attended by progressive advocates as well as members of Make The Road New York, a group that has had financial ties to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which opposed the Amazon project amid a push to unionize workers at Whole Foods, which the company owns.

But many of these projects promise jobs for areas like upstate New York, which has lagged behind the rest of the country in recovering from the recession. Assemblyman Phil Steck says the proposal wouldn’t scuttle future Amazon-size projects.

“That’s the boogie man that’s always trotted out there that if you don’t concede what a company like Amazon wants its a deterrent for jobs,” Steck said. “It’s exactly the opposite.”

It’s not yet clear if any of the proposals meant to reign in economic development spending or add transparency will pass. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says he’s yet to review the measure.

“I think the more that you could have supporting a project of that magnitude, the better,” Assembly Carl Heastie told reporters outside of his office. “But I haven’t had a chance to read through that proposal.”

A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office declined to comment.

Two Prisons, One Upstate, One In New York City, Will Close

State corrections officials on Friday announced two prisons will close in Manhattan and Livingston County within the next 90 days following an official review and authorization in the newly adopted state budget.

Livingston Correctional Facility in Livingston County and Lincoln Correctional Facility in New York City will both close, which currently house a combined 939 inmates. Lincoln, the smaller facility, has a staff of 113 people. Livingston Correctional Facility employs 327 people.

The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in a statement said those workers would be transitioned to different jobs, facilities or other state agencies.

Lawmakers and Cuomo agreed to the prison closures amid a decline in the overall inmate population.

“These closures are a result of the Governor’s successful progressive criminal justice reforms that have led to a historic decrease in crime, including both violent and property offenses, as well as individuals incarcerated in New York State prisons,” said DOCCS spokesman Thomas Mailey.

“In 2017, reported crime reached an all-time low since statewide reporting began in 1975. Preliminary data for 2018 shows that crime continued to decline for the sixth consecutive year and will mark yet another historic low. This has cemented New York’s position as the safest large state in the nation.‎”

The population at state prisons in the last 20 years has decreased by more than 26,000 inmates, a 35.8 percent drop.

The union that represents corrections officers earlier this year blasted the plan to close prisons, saying the state should instead focus on staffing levels, especially in facilities that house violent inmates.

Columbia County Moves To Opt Out Of Marijuana Business

Columbia County this week became the latest county to announce plans to not allow the retail marijuana industry in New York if a legalization bill is approved by state lawmakers.

The county joins larger counties to its south — including Suffolk, Nassau, Rockland and Putnam — in opting out.

“Columbia County’s leaders get it. Commercial pot isn’t a boon for tax revenue or those seeking social justice,” said Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy advisor in President Barack Obama’s administration and the president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana New York, a group that opposes marijuana legalization.

“It just creates another predatory industry that will victimize communities to enrich Big Tobacco, Pharma and the alcohol industries. We applaud the county’s leaders for listening to the serious public health and safety concerns being raised by parents, doctors, addiction professionals and local community leaders. Commercial pot in New York will also have dramatic fiscal impacts on county and town governments who will bear the brunt of cost increases for law enforcement, social services and public health programs that will be passed along to local taxpayers.”

Lawmakers this week announced a revised bill that in part backs what Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed earlier this year with the creation of a unified cannabis management office to regulate retail and medical marijuana as well as hemp production.

Solar Energy Report Finds Economic Benefits To Renewable Shift

From the Morning Memo:

A plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration reach 6 gigawatts of solar energy in New York in the next six years could lead to the creation of more than 11,000 jobs, a solar industry group found in a report released Friday.

The report from Vote Solar highlighted the economic benefits and effect solar jobs would have for the state’s economy as well as local governments.

The report is being released as the state Assembly later on Friday will hold a public hearing in New York City on the broader Community and Climate Protection Act.

“New York’s policies have helped build a strong local solar workforce and make the Empire State a leader in our nation’s clean energy transition, but our climate crisis demands more,” said Sean Garren, the organization’s senior northeast director and a co-author of the report.

“This report shows that New York can make meaningful climate progress at the same time that it’s creating good jobs and spurring investment in more resilient communities with an ambitious solar plan.”

At the moment, New York has installed 1.425 gigawatts of solar energy. To meet the 6 gigawatt goal by 2025, there will need to be a steep increase in the number of jobs in the solar energy industry, including 11,253 full-time positions during construction and additional operation and maintenance jobs over the lifetime of the projects.

The report estimated the jobs will generate $5.7 billion in earnings and $10.9 billion in economic benefits on the local level.

“Achieving 6 GW by 2025 would not only underscore New York’s place as a clean energy leader but also help over a million households directly benefit from solar,” the report found.

Vote Solar Jobs Report by Nick Reisman on Scribd

In Albany, de Blasio Was A Stranger In A Strange Land

There was a time, way back in 2013, that Mayor Bill de Blasio took a pragmatic approach to the state Senate.

At the time, the Senate was ruled by an unusual coalition of Republicans and a faction of breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference.

The rookie mayor traveled to the Capitol, dutifully appearing at functions with the IDC, including its leader, Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein.

It made sense. After all, the Republicans in the state Senate looked askance at de Blasio, especially compared to his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who bolster the GOP’s power with a $1 million donation to the conference’s soft-money coffers.

Albany is a strange, internecine place for anyone who to navigate — stymieing mayors, journalists, lawmakers, advocates and even governors. De Blasio is not the first New York City mayor to be confounded by the state Capitol and he won’t be last.

De Blasio, of course, did not have Bloomberg’s money, nor did he share the politics of Senate Republicans.

And the mayor, betting on the state’s ongoing demographic shift, sought to change how Albany functioned by flipping the Senate. He picked the wrong year: Democrats did not gain a working majority in 2014 that was enough to overcome the IDC-GOP alliance and the effort led to an investigation into campaign finance practices surrounding the funneling of money to upstate Democratic committees.

In turn, Senate Republicans sought to use de Blasio as an all-purpose boogeyman in suburban and upstate races — a plan that drew less and less potency for a mayor who is little known or covered outside of the New York City media market.

Policy-wise, de Blasio still had to find allies in Albany. He wanted a surcharge to pay for universal pre-K, putting him at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Often, the mayor was handed half a loaf. Universal pre-K was achieved, but with the guts of Cuomo’s plan. Mayoral control of New York City schools was extended, but often with strings attached or on the basis of a year or two, ensuring he would have to return to the Capitol and lobby lawmakers once again.

Even a city-state like New York City must still bend the knee in Albany, a product of the state’s home-rule laws and a frustration for borough residents who wonder why things like speed limits on city streets can be decided and used as leverage by lawmakers who represent Binghamton.

The two men in the early going sought to emphasize, often at unconvincing pains, to show what great friends they were dating back to their time at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

But cracks were forming even as this played out: de Blasio appeared at a rally one day in Albany for public school teachers; Cuomo was down the block for a rally with charter school advocates.

Eventually it all culminated with de Blasio’s appearance on NY1 to blast Cuomo in unusually hot rhetoric, accusing him of propping up Republicans in the state Senate. And then de Blasio… went on vacation.

Cuomo, who has a determiantion that can make the killer robots from the Terminator movies seem like dilettantes, seemed almost laser focused on suffocating anything the mayor wanted done. Yielding those early days of The Feud to Cuomo, who has a long memory, was seen as a head-scratching decision.

The Feud became the background music for every interaction between the two men, the pretext for Cynthia Nixon’s primary challenge last year and veered into a Veep-like farce when the two scuffled publicly over the fate of deer that led to the poor animal’s demise.

Now The Feud has dissipated, sort of. De Blasio backed Cuomo on the ill-fated Amazon project. He backed the governor on congestion pricing. He got his extension of mayoral control in the state budget, taking one more thing off his plate as he runs for president.

But the Capitol, now with a Democratic state Senate, is negotiating an extension of rent control laws and could potentially strengthen and expand them for a city in which the cost of housing has skyrocketed.

Publicly the task has been left to Council Speaker Corey Johnson, who has made treks to Albany to discuss the issue as the session winds down over the next five weeks.

De Blasio finally got the Democratic state Senate he wanted. This weekend he’ll be Iowa.

DEC Rejects Williams Pipeline, But The Plan Is Not Dead Yet

From the Morning Memo:

The Department of Environmental Conservation on Wednesday evening rejected a proposed pipeline to be constructed by Williams — a move that comes amid a broader fight over where New York will draw and generate its energy in the coming decades.

The pipeline, which would have carried natural gas to primarily the metropolitan region, was rejected “without prejudice” by environmental regulators, giving the company an opportunity to resubmit an altered proposal.

“As currently conceived in the application, construction of the NESE pipeline project is projected to result in water quality violations and fails to meet New York State’s rigorous water quality standards,” the DEC said in a statement Wednesday night.

“Specifically, construction of the proposed project would result in significant water quality impacts from the re-suspension of sediments and other contaminants, including mercury and copper. In addition, the proposed project would cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.”

Williams called the problems raised by the DEC “a minor technical issue” and plans to resubmit the application for a permit.

“Our team will be evaluating the issue and resubmitting the application quickly,” the company said. “We are confident that we can be responsive to this technical concern, meet our customer’s in-service date and avoid a moratorium that would have a devastating impact on the regional economy and environment.”

The rejection was a victory for environmental groups who have long opposed natural gas expansion efforts in New York and successfully pushed the state to ban high-volume hydrofracking in 2014. At the same time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration is backing efforts to shift the state to renewable energy sources in the coming decades.

“A sustained and inspired grassroots campaign pressured the Cuomo administration to stop this dangerous, unnecessary pipeline that would pose a serious risk to water quality in New York Harbor,” said Food & Water Watch organizer Laura Shindell.

“This decision is not the final word, and if Williams continues to push this dangerous project, the fight to stop this pipeline will continue. The DEC should reject the company’s attempt to re-submit this application.”

The Williams pipeline had been backed by the New York Business Council and labor unions like the New York AFL-CIO, which pointed to the economic benefit of the construction, including the creation of new jobs.

In a statement, the business lobby group urged the project to move forward.

“The Business Council urges the DEC to expeditiously move forward with the permitting process for the Williams pipeline,” said Business Council spokesman Patrick Bailey. “The importance of this project deserves a swift and judicious decision.”