Court Strikes Down Outside Income Cap For Lawmakers

A state Supreme Court ruling issued Friday found a commission examining legislative and executive branch pay exceeded its authority when it recommended a cap on outside income and also may put in doubt the legality of future pay increases for the Legislature.

The decision by Supreme Court Justice Christina Ryba keeps the pay raise intact for lawmakers that went into effect in January as well as the panel’s determination that leadership stipends or “lulus” be scaled back to only a handful of posts.

The ruling, issued in case backed by a conservative-leaning legal group, comes as several state lawmakers have challenged the findings of the pay commission.

The panel in December backed a phased-in pay increase for state lawmakers as well as members of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s cabinet and statewide elected officials in New York. But the recommendations, made into law when lawmakers chose not to act legislatively, capped outside income at 15 percent of their public-sector pay.

Lawmakers’ salaries were due to grow to $130,000 in the coming years and currently stands at $110,000. Lawmakers received their first pay increase in 20 years in January, a boost from $79,500. The ruling may put in doubt the legality of the future phased-in hikes in pay for the Legislature.

Cuomo, along with Attorney General Letitia James, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will also have their pay increased in the coming years as a result of the pay commission.

The cap on outside income was set to take effect at the end of the year and some lawmakers — those who are employed at law firms or own small businesses — are facing the choice of either leaving office or divesting. The private-sector pay cap is estimated to effect as many as a quarter of the Legislature.

Cameron Macdonald, the executive director of the Government Justice Center, the group backing the lawsuit, said there may be an appeal in elements of the decision as the lawsuit challenged whether the commission had the authority at all to act on legislative and executive branch pay.

The pay commission’s decision was backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but criticized by state lawmakers, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

Comp Committee Decision (1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd

E-Scooter Push Intensifies

A bill that would legalize electronic scooters and e-bikes is gaining some steam in the final days of the legislative session.

So far, the measure in the state Assembly, backed by Queens Democrat Nily Rozic, has 51 sponsors. In the state Senate, the measure is sponsored by Sen. Jessica Ramos.

“Not only do we have an opportunity to provide accessible and affordable transportation alternatives, but we have an opportunity to deliver economic justice for immigrant workers who have been disproportionately impacted by the criminalization of unregulated e-bikes,” Rozic said. “We are falling behind the rest of the country in adopting this next generation of sustainable mobility but we can change that by passing this legislation.”

The New York Conference of Mayors last month in a letter pushed for e-scooter and e-bike legislation as well as Ithaca and Rochester approved a pilot a program in anticipation of the measures being approved.

“Assembly Member Rozic and Sen. Ramos are leading the charge to improve transportation options for all New Yorkers and we’re thrilled their colleagues are getting on board. Embracing micromobility means easing commutes, reducing congestion and providing more clean transportation options to New Yorkers regardless of zip code, bank account or background,” said Phil Jones, Senior Director of East Coast Government Relations & Strategic Partnership at Lime.

“With the growing support for these bills, we’re hopeful we can soon secure a more affordable, reliable, and sustainable transportation future across the state. Lime is ready to get rolling.”

Bill Would Shield Small Businesses From Fines For First-Time Violations

From the Morning Memo:

A measure that is meant to shield small businesses from fines for first-time regulatory violations is gaining traction in the final days of the session.

The bill, backed by the NFIB, would waive fines for small businesses that are facing infractions for violating regulations for the first time. It would also provide a grace period for the business to come into compliance.

The measure does not apply to regulatory violations that are considered to be done on purpose, threaten safety and health or the environment. Fraud and civil rights violations are also not protected.

“Small businesses employ more than 4 million New Yorkers across every community in our state and continue to be the engine for New York’s economic growth,” said Greg Biryla, state director of NFIB in New York.

“Unfortunately, far too often and for too long, Albany has viewed small businesses not as job creators and community assets, but as ATMs. New York’s high tax burden is well known, but just as stifling to the small business economy is the aggressive, regressive, and punitive enforcement of newly enacted and often poorly communicated mandates and regulations.”

The bill is sponsored by Assemblyman John McDonald and Sen. Anna Kaplan.

“Assemblyman McDonald and Senator Kaplan have put forth common-sense, reform-minded legislation with bipartisan support that will make life easier for New York’s 2.1 million small businesses, while also ensuring new and changing state regulations are better communicated, understood, and compliance is less complex,” Biryla said.

“Any legislator who claims to be a supporter of the small businesses in their district should be working double time to pass this critical legislation before this session’s clock runs out on June 19.”

On Planet Albany

One of the final Tuesdays before the legislative sessions began with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on public radio, subtly tweaking Democrats in the Legislature, particularly the state Senate.

It was a day that included an unusual number of arrests of protesters, assault charges, former Knicks lobbying for marijuana legalization and intrigue over driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and rent control protections.

It was both an unusual day, a deeply weird day for Albany, but also typical of the strange ecosystem that is the New York State Capitol in throes of the end of the legislative session.

At 10:30 a.m., Cuomo began the day calling it a “canard” that he’s criticized for accepting real estate money when Democrats in the Legislature — including the state Senate — have accepted donations from the Real Estate Board of New York, that was followed by a protest from advocates who want to strengthen rent control laws in the state that blocked off the entrances to the state Senate, Assembly and governor’s office, which became physical, and a tussle ensued between Sgt.-at-arms Wayne Jackson and some of the demonstrators, Jackson appeared to have been shoved and 61 people were arrested.

In The Well of the Legislative Office Building, it was Animal Advocacy Day — featuring birds of prey, a tiny horse and the pets of state lawmakers. One lawmaker confided to me she is terrified of birds and dreaded walking passed one of the owls. Lawmakers approved a ban on cat declawing, the bill goes to Cuomo’s desk.

And then former Knicks stars Al Harrington and JR Smith were spotted in the legislative chambers to advocate for marijuana legalization. Smith, who famously forget the score during an NBA Finals game while on Cavs, appeared a bit overwhelmed. Harrington, the CEO of Viola Extracts, touted an effort to have more diversity in the marijuana industry. Lawmakers lined up for photos.

By 3 p.m., the protesters were filing out of the Capitol and across the concourse, presumably to travel home.

Senate Democrats say they have the support to bring nine rent control bills within their conference. Speaker Carl Heastie told NY1’s Zack Fink nothing changed. Cuomo’s office called the Democrats bluff.

By 6 p.m., the building was once again quiet as a church on Monday morning.

Former Knicks Push For Marijuana Legalization

Two former New York Knicks were in Albany on Tuesday to lobby for the legalization of marijuana as the outcome for the measure remains in doubt for the remaining days of the legislative session.

The appearance by the athletes — shooting guard JR Smith and retired power forward Al Harrington — continued a long tradition of bold-faced names traveling to the Capitol to highlight issues.

In previous years, MLB officials — including former Yankees managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi — appeared at the Capitol to discuss the legalization of sports betting. In the debate over the West Side stadium one year, former Jets quarterback Joe Namath put in an appearance.

And Tuesday’s event was little different, with lawmakers lining up for photos with Smith and Harrington.

Harrington, the CEO of a cannabis business called Viola Extracts, said he was focused on ensuring the marijuana measure in New York would ensure diverse communities affected by the war on drugs would benefit from legalization.

“We’re a firm believer in ownership. We want to figure out a way to include ownership at the highest levels,” he said. “When you talk about vertical integration, there are so many ways to compete in the industry, we want to sure that diversity is represented at each facet of that level.”

But despite the appearances by the former Knicks, marijuana legalization remains very much in doubt.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week pointed to the lack of support for the bill in the state Senate.

And lawmakers on Tuesday reported little progress on the bill.

“There’s just not a lot of conversation happening about it,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

Lawmakers Approve Cat Declawing Ban

State lawmakers on Tuesday approved a bill that would ban the declawing of cats in New York.

The measure now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his consideration.

“Cat declawing is a brutal procedure similar to severing a human finger at the first knuckle and has lifelong ramifications for cats,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris. “I am proud of the Senate’s emphasis on animal welfare and I am pleased we passed this important proposal.”

The measure has long been proposed in Albany and was approved as part of animal advocacy day at the Capitol. New Jersey lawmakers approved a similar bill earlier this year.

“Cat declawing is a horrific, yet often-practiced surgery that leads to a lifetime of pain and discomfort for thousands of cats. Today though, every cat and kitten in New York State lands on its feet as we prepare to make New York the best state for cats to live in the United States,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. “I want to thank the advocates and my colleagues who together with me have fought to see this bill become law since 2015. I look forward to it being signed into law.”

Lawmakers To Consider Ban On Cat Declawing

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers today are expected to approve a bill that outlaws cat declawing in New York as part of a broader animal advocacy day at the Capitol.

The procedure is considered dangerous for cats and supporters have long pushed for a ban on it. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Michael Gianaris and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, includes a $1,000 fine for violating the ban.

“Cats’ claws play an important role in various aspects of their lives,” the bill’s memo states.

“Cats use their claws to assist in climbing and maintaining balance, to help them fully stretch, to relieve stress through kneading and to escape danger. When a person has its animal declawed, usually in an attempt to protect furniture, they do fundamental damage to that animal both physically and in behavioral ways. There are harmless ways to manage undesirable behavior through simple training and other established methods.”

Ten cities in California have bans on cat declawing, while Switzerland, Israel and the United Kingdom have also halted the procedure.

Green Light Bill For Undocumented Immigrants Advances As Republican Chair Pushes Back

The Assembly Transportation Committee this week will advance a bill that provides undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses as the debate becomes a more pointed one at the state Capitol.

Supporters have sought to ease the emotions surrounding the measure, touting support from organized labor as well as the business community. Last week, the state’s main business lobby, The Business Council, endorsed the measure. On Monday, 1199SEIU, a prominent and politically potent labor union, announced its support for the bill.

The issue has been framed as an economic one for the undocumented immigrants living in New York.

“As frontline caregivers, we understand the importance of ensuring safe, reliable transportation on our roadways,” said Gabrielle Seay, the union’s political director.

“Unfortunately, we also see the consequences of delayed medical care after an accident, due to a lack of documentation. The Green Light NY bill would allow undocumented residents to come out of the shadows and become full participants in the state’s economy by obtaining the drivers licenses needed to travel to and from work. To date, thirteen other states, as diverse as California and Utah, have seen the light, and have granted licenses to undocumented residents. Now is the time for New York to become a progressive national leader on this life-saving issue. We cannot afford to wait.”

Incoming Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, however, noted the opposition to the issue is beyond party politics.

“This is a topic people are talking about and they’re outraged by it,” Langworthy said at a news conference at the Capitol on Monday. “Sixty percent of New Yorkers reject it. That cuts across party lines. It’s a Republican or Democratic issue. It’s a matter of fundamental fairness.”

He blamed Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in part, for pushing the bill.

“You have a governor who has made this a priority to further his own political ambitions,” he said.

Added Cuomo spokesman Jason Conwall, “The only way to confront fearmongering is with facts and the facts are that this proposal – which would put New York in line with 12 other states, including the liberal bastion of Utah – will make our roads safer and help ensure that those behind the wheel are properly licensed and pay their fair share for licenses and insurance. Right now those costs are being shouldered by other New Yorkers, which include many of these elected officials’ very own constituents.”

Rent Advocates: Unity Is Great, But Details Matter

From the Morning Memo:

Advocates for strengthening and expanding rent control laws in New York were encouraged on Thursday by the unity statement released by the top Democrats in the state Legislature.

But they are still watching for the specifics on the bills as they seek nine measures designed to boost tenants and place more requirements on landlords for housing upkeep and affordability.

And advocates are watching specifically for the approval of a “good cause” eviction provision they say is key for rent protections in the state.

“The Senate and Assembly have to pass a package of bills that protect all tenants from unjust evictions in every part of the state, no matter the size of the rental property,” said Rosemary Rivera of Citizen Action. “The ‘Good Cause’ eviction protection bill will stop arbitrary rent hikes by capping rent increases to 150 percent of the Consumer Price Index and protect tenants from threats and harassment that too often force people out of their homes.”

The Legislature is considering a measure that would also expand rent control outside of the New York City area, allowing local governments to affirmatively opt in and develop a rent regulation board on the local level. Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview this week said he was open to the idea.

And housing advocates want Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on the same page for the issue, given it’s the first time in a decade Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature as the issue comes up for renewal.

“It’s now or never for renters’ rights,” said the Upstate-Downstate Housing Alliance in a statement. “We need to undo years of landlord-friendly loopholes, stabilize renter communities, and end the growing homelessness crisis in New York.”

As Legalized Marijuana Advances In Illinois, Advocates Prod New York

A bill that would legalize marijuana usage in Illinois cleared the state’s Senate on Thursday — spurring advocates in New York to nudge lawmakers on the issue.

“Illinois is another state ahead of New York that is one step closer to legalizing marijuana and expunging related past convictions for possession,” said the Drug Policy Alliance in a statement, a pro-legalization organization.

“Illinois Legislators recognize that ‘prohibition simply does not work,’ and that equity, and social and economic justice must be at the heart of marijuana legalization. Our New York State elected officials should be ashamed, as they stall on passing this important legislation, thousands of mostly black and brown New Yorkers are languishing in jails, limited access to medical marijuana, and losing out on economic opportunities across this state.”

The marijuana legalization measure in New York remains in limbo as lawmakers have amended the legislation to include aspects of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for earlier this year, including the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management.

“Albany still has time, and lawmakers can prove to Illinois and the rest of the nation that New York is ready to uphold its progressive promise by enacting the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act into law this session,” the group said in its statement. “If New York wants to continue to claim that our state is a leader in this country, we must pass the MRTA now!”