Albany

Mega Deal — Or No Deal?

From the Morning Memo:

The elements are there for a mega deal in three weeks.

With rent control due to be renewed at the end of June, lawmakers could — and likely will — cram the re-approval measure into a broader omnibus bill.

This, in Albany parlance, has come to be called the big ugly, a package of disparate issues put together often at the last minute as deals are struck with a clicking tock in the background. Albany is a deadline driven place and deadlines often help cast final deals into stone.

This year, lawmakers are also debating measures to legalize gestational surrogacy and commercial marijuana, as well as mobile sports betting and whether to allow access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

So far this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to prod the Legislature along — signaling out the Democrats in the state Senate in particular — to take action.

Cuomo argues the accomplishments gotten done so far — gun control, protections for transgender New Yorkers, strengthening the state’s abortion laws — are essentially low-hanging fruit for a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday brushed off Cuomo’s criticism, suggesting he gets “stressed” as the session draws to a close.

And she’s hopeful large-scale deals can be reached — whether or not they are ultimately included in one giant bill.

“I never say no, but our hope is that we’ll be able to come to a consensus on a lot of things so that the big ugly as they say will neither be big nor ugly,” she said. “Our eye is focused on getting things done.”

NYC Bar Association Backs Sexual Harassment Law Change

The New York City Bar Association on Wednesday endorsed legislation that is aimed at strengthening anti-sexual harassment laws and discrimination protections for workers in New York.

“The City Bar’s support of this significant package of legislation continues our momentum as we continue to urge the State Legislature to pass this bill this session to protect the rights of all employees in New York State. New York is long seen as the policy laboratory for the nation and with this bill, the Empire State be a national leader in enacting legislation to protect employees,” said Miriam Clark, NELA/NY board president and a New York employment discrimination attorney with Ritz Clark & Ben Asher LLP.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, is part of a package of measures lawmakers are considering in the final weeks of the legislative session meant to update and bolster the state’s sexual harassment laws.

The support from the group comes as lawmakers are also considering a change the definition of sexual harassment beyond “severe or pervasive” — terminology that advocates say does not capture enough abusive, discriminatory or unwanted behavior.

Where 5 Big Issues Stand In Albany

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers return this week for the remainder of the legislative session, which runs through June 19. The post-budget session typically tackles expiring issues, policy matters outside of state spending. Here are five issues to watch over the next few weeks.

1. Marijuana legalization: An amended marijuana legalization bill, incorporating aspects of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought earlier this year, was introduced on Friday by sponsoring lawmakers.

But will it be enough? The bill includes Cuomo’s proposed Office of Cannabis Management, which regulate commercial and medical marijuana as well as hemp products. At the same time, the bill includes language that would expunge the records of those who have committed marijuana-based offenses in the past. But reservations remain among some lawmakers, who worry about traffic safety and have pointed to county governments that have chosen to preemptively opt-out of the marijuana business.

2. Rent control: How far will rent control be expanded and strengthened? With Democrats in control of both chambers of the Legislature, that’s the overriding question as lawmakers consider ending vacancy decontrol, placing new requirements on building upgrades and potentially expanding the policy to upstate communities, which would have to opt in for the regulations.

So far, the Senate and Assembly have been holding separate hearings on the issue, even as there appears to be a general agreement on the direction they want to head in. Affordable housing advocates, after years of Republican control in the state Senate, are hopeful to make major gains this session.

3. Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants: Assembly Democrats say they have the votes for the measure, known as the Green Light Bill. The provision revives a long-standing debate over whether to provide access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York, an issue that engulfed Eliot Spitzer’s short tenure as governor.

The state Senate, meanwhile, is still counting the votes, making it unclear if the bill can move forward in the chamber by the end of the session. Republicans have in the past used the issue to effect in elections for suburban and upstate Senate districts. Supporters this year want to make a financial argument: More driver’s licenses means more insured drivers on the road, which also means more people being able to drive to work and their kids to school. But immigration remains a red-hot emotional topic on the federal level, stoked in part by President Trump.

4. Gestational surrogacy: Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged lawmakers to make this an end-of-session priority. The measure would legalize commercial gestational surrogacy, making New York one of the last states to do so.

The proposal has been opposed by the Catholic Church and some women’s advocacy groups, but has been backed by LGBT organizations and couples who have had trouble conceiving.

5. Sports betting: A bill working its way through the Legislature would allow betters to place wagers on their phones and mobile devices for the outcome of sporting events, a measure enabled by a Supreme Court ruling allowing sports betting to go forward.

The bill is being put together as a compromise measure with casinos and would likely lead to servers being placed in the gambling halls in order to satisfy constitutional concerns, which have been raised by the Cuomo administration.

State Court Backs Farm Workers’ Labor Organizing

The state Appellate Court on Thursday backed the ability of workers in New York’s agricultural sector to collectively bargaining and join labor unions.

The development was cheered by supporters of a bill meant to expand labor rights and benefits to farm workers, but blasted by the New York Farm Bureau, which promised to appeal.

The ruling comes as Democratic state lawmakers in the coming weeks are pushing for a vote a farm workers labor bill that would provide similar collective bargaining protections and allow workers on farms to be eligible for overtime.

“It is of utmost importance that the New York State Legislature step up and pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act to codify the labor rights that farmworkers have been waiting on for decades, including a day of rest, overtime pay, unemployment benefits, and the right to collectively bargain,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, the Queens Democrat who sponsors the legislation.

“I have been touring New York State, visiting farms and hearing the stories of both farmers and farmworkers, and it is clear that we must pass the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act this session.”

But the New York Farm Bureau blasted the decision. The organization has opposed the legislation, versions of which were first proposed more than a decade ago.

“Our rural economy and local job opportunities will suffer,” said Farm Bureau President David Fisher. “And New Yorkers will find it harder to access New York grown food, instead, relying on food brought in from out of state, or worse yet, out of the country to feed their families. New York Farm Bureau fully intends to appeal the court’s ill-conceived ruling.”

The number of farms in New York has steadily declined amid a difficult dairy market. At the same time, some farms have struggled to find and retain workers as the federal government cracks down on immigration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has backed the labor bill for farm workers and praised the court decision.

“This is a victory for some of the most vulnerable members of New York’s workforce. From the beginning, we chose not to defend against this lawsuit because farmworkers never should have been denied the same basic rights as other workers and we believed this to not only be morally wrong, but also unconstitutional,” Cuomo said.

“My administration has proudly fought for working men and women across the board, from raising the minimum wage to strengthening worker protections in nail salons and the home health care industry – and we will never tolerate the abuse or exploitation of workers anywhere, period. I commend the court’s decision to correct this undeniable injustice and reaffirm New York’s principles of fairness and equality for all.”

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.