Push Continues To Fund Early Voting In Budget

Advocates and local government leaders on Thursday continued to press the state to fund early voting in the final state budget agreement.

The good-government group Common Cause, along with local elections commissioners and actress and activist Piper Piper Perabo called for an estimated $22.7 million be set aside.

“New York State will have early voting in name only without a dedicated funding stream,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY. “Governor Cuomo must fund both early voting and electronic poll books if he actually wants to see this much needed reform succeed.”

State lawmakers this month passed a package of bills meant to make it easier to vote and register to vote in New York, including the early voting as well as a consolidation of the state and congressional primaries to one day in June.

“I am so excited that early voting is on its way to New York and that’s thanks to Let NY Vote coalition,” Perabo said. “We need Governor Cuomo to put his money where his mouth is and put funding for early voting and electronic poll books in the budget this year.”

The New York State Association of Counties, meanwhile, approved a resolution this week urging lawmakers and the governor to allocate the money as well, saying “these reforms will likely require counties to purchase and use electronic polling books, and make other investments in their election systems.”

Cuomo’s office has pointed to the savings that will be in place for the consolidated primary as well as the revenue for local governments that will come from enforcing a sales tax on out-of-state purchases made online.

Fair Elections Coalition Grows To 200 Groups

From the Morning Memo:

More than 200 groups, including the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, have joined a coalition pushing for changes to the state’s campaign finance laws, with a public financing component at the center of the effort.

The coalition, Fair Elections for New York, is backing a program with a small dollar matching system for modest donations in order to counter the influence of large-scale contributions.

Lawmakers earlier this month approved a bill closing a loophole in state election law that allows unlimited donations to flow through a web of limited liability companies. The Democratic-controlled Legislature also approved a package of bills designed to make it easier to vote, including a early voting measure and a provision consolidating the state and congressional primaries into one day.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also called for an end to corporate contributions in addition to the public financing program.

Advocates are hopeful this year given the Democratic takeover of the state Senate for more to come later in the legislative session.

“From the Governor’s budget to the House of Justice and more than 200 grassroots groups across New York, momentum for passing a small dollar matching system is stronger than ever before,” said Laura Friedenbach of Fair Elections for New York. “Albany has taken bold steps to make our elections fairer, and more than any other reform, public campaign financing is the next big step to limit the influence of big money and empower New Yorkers to participate in our democracy.”

New York Investigates FaceTime Breach

From the Morning Memo:

State officials on Wednesday launched an investigation into a bug on Apple’s FaceTime app that enabled spying on users.

The company has signaled it was aware of the problem a week before the issue became public and consumers were alerted.

The investigation is one of the first examples of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Letitia James working together on an issue since she took office at the start of the new year.

“New Yorkers deserve to know that their phones are safe and cannot be used against them,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“In the wake of this egregious bug that put the privacy of New Yorkers at risk, I support this investigation by the Attorney General into this serious consumer rights issue and direct the Division of Consumer Protection to help in any way possible. We need a full accounting of the facts to confirm businesses are abiding by New York consumer protection laws and to help make sure this type of privacy breach does not happen again.”

Part of the investigation will include the state’s Consumer Protection division accepting complaints related to the security breach for FaceTime.

“New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between their private communications and their privacy rights,” James said.

“This FaceTime breach is a serious threat to the security and privacy of the millions of New Yorkers who have put their trust in Apple and its products over the years. My office will be conducting a thorough investigation into Apple’s response to the situation, and will evaluate the company’s actions in relation to the laws set forth by the State of New York. We must use every tool at our disposal to ensure that consumers are always protected.”

SED: Graduation Rates Rise Statewide As Achievement Gap Narrows

Graduation rates rose for students who started high school in 2014 by 0.2 percent over the previous year to 80.4 percent, a report from the State Education Department released Wednesday found.

“When we provide students with high-quality learning opportunities, we give them a real chance at success in life,” said Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa.

The annual report showed the high school graduation rate grew by 9.5 percent over the last decade between high school freshman in 2004 and 2014.

But while the achievement gap between minority students and white students remains, the difference is shrinking. At the same time, graduation rates in the five largest school districts have been largely flat.

The graduation rates for black and Hispanic students statewide has increased, narrowing the achievement gap with white students by 0.9 percentage points.

In the city of Rochester, where 53.5 percent of students entering high school four years ago graduated, the rate actually increased by 1.6 percent.

“Increased graduation rates across the state show that when we invest in our schools, we are investing in our students and their future,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Full funding of our schools is an investment not just in the short-term outcomes of our students, but in the long-term future of our entire state. We will continue working closely with state decision makers to ensure teachers have access to the resources that will lead to higher graduation rates again in the coming year.”

Catholic Conference Backs Bill Curtailing Solitary Confinement

A bill that would limit the amount of time an inmate spends in solitary confinement is being backed by the Catholic Conference, according to a memo of support released Wednesday.

The bill would also end the amount of time a vulnerable person is in segregated confinement and restrict the criteria used for the punishment.

The proposal would “create more humane and effective alternatives to such confinement. The New York State Catholic Conference strongly supports this legislation,” the memo in support states.

The Catholic Conference has for the last several years called for reforms to solitary confinement. Albany Bishop Edward Scharfenberger penned a Times Union op/ed pointing to the limits solitary confinement can place on rehabilitation.

“It also works against the purpose of improving public safety, both inside our prisons and jails and in our communities,” he wrote. “For all Americans committed to building a safer, healthier society, we cannot ignore the mental illness, debilitating trauma and recidivism that are the hallmarks of placing inmates in solitary confinement.”

Sales Tax Revenue Grows Upstate

Sales tax collections for local governments rose last year for a third year in a row, a report released this week by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli found.

Overall, sales tax revenue in New York reached $17.5 billion, an $872 million increase.

“Local sales tax collections grew at a faster pace in 2018 than in recent years, boosting local revenues,” DiNapoli said. “Despite the good news, a slowdown in collection growth in the fourth quarter shows that sales tax revenue can be unpredictable. Local officials should keep a watchful eye on consumer spending and this revenue source and be prepared to react accordingly.”

Growth among upstate counties year over year was seen as especially strong, with the Southern Tier region seeing the highest hike of 6.8 percent — the strongest since 2011.

In the North Country, sales tax revenue grew by 5.9 percent, with the Mohawk Valley growing by 5.8 percent.

Central New York also had a big swing, growing 5.1 percent in 2018 after a decline of 0.9 percent in 2016.

Moody’s Finds Federal Tax Policy Has Hurt New York

A report from Moody’s this month found the federal tax law changes of 2017 have negatively affected the tax revenue for New York and other states.

The report released last week found New York’s personal income tax collections were down $2.8 billion, netting $500 million less than initially expected.

This is partially attributed to the timing of payments. But at the same time, revised future estimates show a continued downward trend, likely due to the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions, the report found.

“Tax reform has affected taxpayer behavior, leading many personal income taxpayers in late 2017 to pay state taxes earlier than usual in order to take advantage of the federal state and local tax deduction, which was to be trimmed significantly under the reform,” the report found.

“This is part of the reason for declines in December payments, as the 2017 receipts for the month were unusually high. Tax reform is also likely to have affected the timing of capital gains realizations, which are difficult even in uneventful years to predict. For states where January is the most significant month for estimated payment receipts, the December slide may well be reversed in the coming weeks.”

New York isn’t the only high-tax state impacted: New Jersey, Massachusetts, California and Virginia have reported lower-than-expected receipts in December, a month considered a good indicator for how income taxes will perform by the final count in April.

Here Come The E-Scooters?

From the Morning Memo:

The electronic scooter industry is pushing to gain a foothold in New York as Gov. Andrew Cuomo includes regulations for allowing them statewide in his $175 billion budget proposal.

E-scooter company Bird is scheduled to testify later today at the Joint Budget Committee on Transportation in Albany. The company is largely backing the broad strokes of Cuomo’s regulatory proposals for e-scooters, albeit with some recommended changes.

The company in its testimony will call Cuomo’s proposal to allow e-scooters statewide “a significant step towards allowing the state of New York to catch up to the rest of the country in regulating and managing this exciting new technology.”

“Across the country, e-scooters have reduced carbon emissions, relieved congestion, and made the streets safer for all by eliminating car trips,” the company will testify. “We look forward to being able to do the same for New Yorkers across our great state — from Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Queens, Montauk, and everywhere else in between.”

In particular, Bird plans to highlight the safety of e-scooters as well as the reduction in carbon emissions when car trips are replaced by the use of electronic scooters.

The New York City Council is considering a pilot program for the vehicles. The Council late last year introduced a package of bills that would legalize stand-up scooters that have a top speed limit of 15 mph and electric bikes that have a top limit of 20 mph.

Many electric bikes in New York City are used by delivery workers, many of them immigrant workers.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he’s open to e-scooters, but has fretted the pedestrian safety impact.

Parrino Leaving Homeland Security For Port Authority

Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Roger Parrino is departing for a post at the Port Authority, according to an email obtained by Capital Tonight.

Parrino is set to serve as senior advisor for security and emergency management, according to email sent to staff by Chief Secuirty Officer John Bilich.

“Roger is an expert in counterterrorism, crisis management, emergency preparedness, law enforcement, intelligence, and operations,” Bilich wrote in the email. “He will add enormous value to the organization as we continue to prepare for 21st century security threats and storms of increasing intensity.”

Parrino has served in the commissionerb role since April 2017.

A Marine veteran, Parrino previously served as a senior counselor to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Rozic Organizes Push Against Title IX Changes

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers are pushing back on a proposed change to Title IX regulations that would overhaul rules for handling sexual assault and rape on college campuses.

The proposed change by the U.S. Department of Education would narrow cases that schools would investigate and are meant to give more rights to those accused.

But lawmakers argue in a letter circulated by Queens Assemblywoman Nily Rozic that the rules changes will have a detrimental effect on the filing of justifiable complaints.

“The proposed rule changes are a stark departure from these civil rights protections and would establish new guidance that would shift the focus from protecting complainants to the rights of respondents,” the letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos states. “As such, we believe institutions would be incentivized to neglect cases of sexual assault and rape creating a significant ripple effect — campuses would be more unsafe and survivors would be less likely to come forward.”

The letter points to the colleges being required under the changes to hold live hearings that would allow the accused to be able to cross-examine the complainant, a move that likely benefits upper income students who could afford an attorney.

“Factoring in this proposed change with the new requirement that would call for higher evidentiary standards, it is clear that the emphasis in handling cases of rape and sexual assault is no longer on the survivor and their path of recourse,” the letter states.

“Moreover, the very fact that an accused could be in a position of cross-examining the victim in a live hearing setting greatly increases the likelihood of victim intimidation and will have a chilling effect on victims’ willingness to come forward, further endangering others on campus who might themselves fall prey to such offenders.”

Since first introduced in November, the proposed rules changes have drawn criticism from women’s groups as well as Democratic lawmakers, while DeVos has pointed to a system in need of balancing.

In 2015, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to an overhaul in campus sexual assault policies that included a student bill of rights stating their ability to confidentially report crimes to authorities, including the police. Schools must also exempt a potential victim or survivor from campus drug and alcohol policies when an incident is reported.