Albany

Where The Single-Payer Debate Could Turn Next Year

Last night’s Democratic presidential debate offered perhaps the clearest distillation yet among the candidates seeking the party’s nomination as to where they stand on a push for expanding health care coverage to all Americans.

And that conversation could be held again tonight when the 10 other candidates — including New Yorkers Kirsten Gillibrand and Bill de Blasio — take the stage.

The conversation was illuminating given how it was a condensed version of the overall debate among Democrats over where health care policy should be directed: Incrementally build on the Affordable Care Act? Provide a “public option” that would compete with private insurers? Or, end private health care all together and create a single-payer system?

In New York, the policy outcome has been on part one: Bolstering and protecting the ACA, also known as Obamacare, by codifying the health care exchange and other provisions should the national law be repealed by Congress or challenged successfully in the courts.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not embraced the New York Health Act, a single-payer bill backed by Assemblyman Dick Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera. He been supportive of single payer on the national level, but instead has sought to focus on the Affordable Care Act’s status in New York.

During the 2019 session, which saw bill after bill long sought by progressives become law, the New York Health Act remained in committee and a matter of debate. By last count, the measure has 30 Democrats signed on for sponsorship in the 63-member state Senate.

Moderate Democrats from Long Island like Sens. Todd Kaminsky, John Brooks, Anna Kaplan and Monica Martinez — all of whom represent historically GOP-held seats — have not signed on to the bill.

Nevertheless, lawmakers in support of the legislation continue to push for it. In a Daily News op/ed this week reflecting on the anniversary of the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, Sen. Alessandra Biaggi reflected on New York’s own debate.

“New York will lead the nation when we pass the NYHA, so it is important that we get this right,” she wrote. “With the leadership of state Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, I am confident that we can build a sustainable and realistic plan to pay for and implement the bill and advance it next session.”

Roadblocks and sticking points, of course, remain. As raised in the Democratic debate, labor unions, which remain strong in the state as their membership has fallen elsewhere, would have to reconcile the measure with their collectively bargained health insurance.

Much could very well depend on who the nominee for the Democratic Party is in 2020, especially if they have sewn up the nomination by the middle portion of the legislative session while it is underway in Albany.

A moderate voice for the party — someone in the mold of former Vice President Joe Biden — could shift the conversation elsewhere. But a Medicaid-for-all or single-payer supporter could advance things even further.

Court Clarifies Legislative Pay Raises: Hikes In 2020, 2021 Declared Void

A state Supreme Court judge last week clarified her June ruling that called into question the determination of a pay commission’s decision to grant phased-in pay increases for the state Legislature.

Questions had initially remained, however, over the scope of the judge’s ruling as it was unclear if the court intended to block both the outside income cap as well as the pay raises. The attorney general’s office had sought clarification.

The filing was first spotted by the Times Union’s Capitol Confidential.

The clarified determination: State lawmakers can keep the raise they received at the start of the year, but the future pay increases in 2020 and 2021 were declared null and void. As for the cap on outside, private-sector pay, that too has been declared void, Justice Christina Ryba found.

The pay raises for statewide elected officials — the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller — were unaffected by the ruling.

The judge’s ruling in June also determined a pay commission’s decision to cap private-sector income for the Legislature had exceeded its authority.

Lawmakers had been paid a base salary of $79,500 since 1999, though many earned more through stipends for leadership posts.

A pay commission devised by lawmakers and Cuomo last year backed pay raises for the Legislature to $110,000. But future increases for legislative officials and the governor would be linked to the approval of state budgets by the end of the state’s fiscal year, March 31, giving Cuomo more leverage over the negotiation process.

Either way, the June ruling is likely to be appealed.

CSEA President To Not Seek Re-Election

Danny Donohue, the longtime president of the state’s largest public-sector labor union, will not seek re-election to another term, he told officers and staff on Wednesday.

An announcement to rank-and-file members of the Civil Service Employees Association will be made on Thursday.

The election for the next CSEA president will be held in February. News of Donohue’s decision to not seek re-election was first reported by The Times Union.

Donohue has led the labor union since 1994 and, over the years, has been a pugnacious, but also pragmatic labor leader.

Donohue clashed publicly with Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a push for a new, less generous pension tier that was ultimately successful. Cuomo also sought to cost savings in contracts with both CSEA and the Public Employees Federation.

Donohue was able to clear the contract’s approval, but the vote roiled PEF’s leadership and led to its eventual ouster.

Donohue later reconciled publicly with Cuomo, joining him on efforts to bolster labor union membership following the Janus v. AFSCME Supreme Court decision.

The 2018 ruling prevents public unions from collecting fees from non-unionized workers, driving concerns some union members could simply leave or not join labor organization, but still reap the benefits of collective bargaining.

New York Businesses Back Revamped Trade Deal

From the Morning Memo:

The state Business Council in a letter sent Tuesday to the state’s congressional delegation urged them to back the proposed trade agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

The USMCA trade deal, which overhaul and places the North American Free Trade Agreement, remains under review by federal lawmakers.

The letter, signed by dozens of business groups and businesses in New York, backed the revamped trade agreement as a way to help boost job growth and economic activity, especially for businesses located near the border with Canada.

“An open trade policy with our neighbors to the North and South is critical for employers to provide
and maintain jobs for New Yorkers,” the letter states.

At the same time, the trade deal contains benefits for the state’s struggling farm industry, including dairy and poultry producers.

“Equally as important, this agreement will eliminate some of the stringent and unnecessary barriers our dairy and poultry farmers face when trying to export products to Mexico and Canada,” they wrote in the letter. “Opening this pipeline even further, by removing unfriendly mandates, will help struggling farmers across New York State.”

All together, 52 business entities signed onto the letter.

Exports in 2017 to Canada and Mexico accounted for $18.5 billion, with the vast majority, $15.4 billion, between the U.S. and Canada.

Equifax To Pay $19.2M To New York For Data Breach

Credit reporting company Equifax Inc. has been fined $19.2 million by state regulators stemming from a 2017 data breach, New York Attorney General Letitia James on Monday announced.

“Equifax put profits over privacy and greed over people, and must be held accountable to the millions of people they put at risk,” James said in a statement.

“This company’s ineptitude, negligence, and lax security standards endangered the identities of half the U.S. population. Now it’s time for the company to do what’s right and not only pay restitution to the millions of victims of their data breach, but also provide every American who had their highly sensitive information accessed with the tools they need to battle identity theft in the future.”

The fine is part of a settlement following investigations from both James’s office and the Department of Financial Services after the financial and personal information of consumers, including 8.5 million New Yorkers, was exposed.

“Credit rating agencies have a responsibility to safeguard consumers’ financial and personal information, and this egregious data breach and the agency’s response was completely unacceptable,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

“In New York we are sending a clear message to these agencies that they will be held accountable if they leave consumers’ private data vulnerable to exposure, and we will continue our rigorous oversight of these agencies to ensure New Yorkers are protected in the future.”

As part of the settlement, $10 million will be paid to the Department of Financial Services and $9.2 million will be paid to the attorney general’s office.

In addition, the crediting rating company will be required to provide credit monitoring services and free annual credit reports. The company will also be required to make restitution to consumers financially affected by the breach.

Those affected can also enroll in at least four years of credit monitoring by the major services — Equifax, Experian and Transunion — and receive two credit reports from Equifax every year for five years.

Rockefeller Institute: Don’t Celebrate Opioid Death Declines Just Yet

Deaths from opioids in the United States dropped by 5 percent between 2017 and 2018, but an analysis released Friday by the Rockefeller Institute says a celebration may be premature.

The analysis found there are reasons to be optimistic about the decrease, but the results from the Centers for Disease Control may be provisional.

At the same time, research is only one data point and it’s unclear if the decline will continue. Overdose deaths leveled off in 2012, for example, only to increase the following year.

And opioid-related deaths may be underreported due to flawed data collection, such as incomplete death certificates.

“These new data from the CDC offer hope,” said Rockefeller Institute Interim Executive Director Patricia Strach. “While acknowledging these successes is important, it is also important to remember that the fight isn’t over. Federal and state officials must continue their efforts to maintain these results in the future.”

State Police Investigators Union Ratify Contract

The New York State Police Investigators have ratified a five-year contract with the state, the union announced Friday morning.

The 2018-2023 collective bargaining agreement was approved 816 to 144 on Thursday, said President Christopher Quick.

“NYSPIA looks forward to continuing to represent the unique needs of the state’s investigators by ensuring their safety on and off duty, and supporting every member as they protect the well-being of families across the Empire State,” Quick said.

NYSAC Launches Criminal Justice Reform Task Force

The New York State Association of Counties announced Thursday it has formed a task force to assess changes state officials have made to criminal justice laws.

The task force, to be led by Warren County Probation Director Bob Iusi, will examine the changes made that limit cash bail, discovery and speedy trial processes as well as civil asset forfeiture laws.

Many of these changes will be implemented at the county level. Local governments have grappled with similar changes in the past, most recently with the law that raised the age of criminal responsibility in New York, necessitating changes to the courts as well as housing.

“Counties support the important reforms outlined in the 2019-20 NYS Budget,” said Stephen Acquario, the association’s executive director. “There are many questions that have surfaced and will need to be answered before counties can execute the new laws. Having experts who are working in the field recommend policy considerations to the state will help both those in need of services and local taxpayers.”

Public Financing Advocates Seek To Shape Commission’s Work

From the Morning Memo:

Supporters of publicly financed campaigns are urging top state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to embrace a package of recommendations outlined in a letter sent this week that would guide how an election law panel would function.

The panel, named earlier this month by Cuomo and the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Assembly and Senate, is being tased with developing the framework of a system of publicly financed campaigns as well as additional election law changes, including a potential end to fusion voting.

The coalition that comprises Fair Elections for New York in the letter called for the commission to act with independence and to listen to outside experts on the issues at stake. At the same time, the coalition urged the commission to act in daylight and with transparency, while also giving the public opportunities to weigh in.

As for public financing itself, the coalition has a specific set of goals in mind: A 6-to-1 public matching system, attainable thresholds for candidates to qualify for public financing, the creation of an oversight unit outside the state Board of Elections and a cap on public funds.

And the group wants all state races covered, including state legislative, and district attorney races for primaries and general elections.

“The Public Financing Commission has lots of work to do, and less than five months to do it,” said Rosemary Rivera, the co-executive director of Citizen Action in a statement.

“We want a real public process without political interference, so that the People, statewide, can weigh in meaningfully on the creation of a system that will finally transform the way Albany works.”

Judge Denies Restraining Order Against Vaccine Exemption Law

A state Supreme Court justice in Albany on Friday denied an effort to temporarily block a law that ends the religious exemption for vaccinations, attorney Michael Sussman wrote in a post on Facebook.

Sussman, along with longtime anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, announced a lawsuit this week that challenged the law, approved last month amid a measles outbreak of more than 1,000 cases.

Many of the measles cases have been reported in Brooklyn and Rockland County and within the Orthodox Jewish community.

“This is not the decision I had hoped for, but I recognize that getting a TRO (temporary restraining order) against state legislation is very difficult,” Sussman said. “I hope that further development of all the issues will cause this or another Judge to preliminarily restrain the operation of this statute and I will be working on making that happen.”

Opponents of the measure argue the law violates constitutional rights. Public health officials roundly agree that vaccinations are essential for healthy people in order to create herd immunity and prevent the spread of diseases.