Albany

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.”

New Marijuana Bill Won’t Change Opposition Group’s Stance

From the Morning Memo:

Smart Approaches To Marijuana, a group that has been vocally opposed to efforts legalizing cannabis in New York, criticized a re-written bill in the Legislature, saying the measure doesn’t change their concerns about the drug.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes on Tuesday told reporters the new bill is largely what Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sought earlier this year. It includes the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee retail marijuana sales as well as medically based marijuana and hemp production.

The bill would use revenue generated from marijuana sales to be put toward communities affected by drug laws, aid law enforcement in public safety efforts and fund drug use research.

But Smart Approaches To Marijuana CEO Kevin Sabet said the new bill doesn’t address his structural problems with legalization.

“Writing new regulations won’t change the fact that the pot industry will target, exploit and victimize low-income and minority communities here as it has done in other states,” Sabet said.

“As it has in every other ‘legalized’ state, Big Marijuana will largely benefit wealthy, white commercial investors backed by Wall Street, Big Tobacco and the alcohol industry. Believing any other scenario, is like believing in the tooth fairy.”

It’s not yet clear if lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate, both which are controlled by Democrats, will have the votes to pass the bill before the end of the legislative session next month.

Sabet, a former drug policy advisor in President Obama’s administration, pointed to the coalition that’s assembled in opposition and has remained since the start of the year.

“Parents, medical professionals, members of law enforcement, clergy and addiction treatment specialists have overwhelmingly told legislators that commercial weed would be a disaster for our communities,” he said. “Tax revenue will not go to communities in need but law enforcement, government oversight, social services and public health costs. As more people’s lives are gripped by dangerous, high-potency THC products pushed by the industry, our mental health crisis will also worsen.”

Senate, Assembly Approve Anti-Domestic Violence Bills

The state Senate and Assembly on Tuesday passed packages of bills meant to curb domestic violence and aid survivors.

In the Assembly, lawmakers there approved bills that would expand the domestic violence crimes to include identity theft, grand larceny and coercion. Another bill would prevent those who fail to obey or enforce an order of protection from limited liability protections and permit a survivor to recover non-economic and economic damages.

“Far too many New Yorkers have faced the horrors of domestic violence and have been forced to live with the terrible and far-reaching effects,” Speaker Carl Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority is committed to getting survivors the tools and resources they need to put their lives back together. Today’s legislative package will help make that a reality.”

In the state Senate, the Right To Call 911 bill was approved. The measure, which previously approved in the Assembly last month, would narrow local nuisance ordinances for calls by survivors and victims of violence and abuse when contacting emergency services.

“Residents across New York State, particularly victims of crime and intimate partner violence, should be able to call the police for help without fear that their local laws will then be used to threaten, harm or penalize them,” said Amy Schwartz-Wallace, a senior attorney at Empire Justice Center.

“We applaud Assemblymember Lavine and Senator Hoylman for their leadership in passing these protections that will finally undo legally problematic and deeply unjust practices that occur throughout our state. As these ‘nuisance ordinances’ directly undermine public safety and confidence in our justice system, we hope that the Governor will quickly sign this important bill into law.”

Biz Council Urges Cuomo To Approve Williams Pipeline

The Business Council on Tuesday in a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged him to back the proposed Williams pipeline project, which has been opposed by environmental groups.

The letter dovetails with letters written by the New York AFL-CIO and its affiliate labor groups urging approval of the project as well, which supporters say is meant to boost energy supply for the metropolitan area.

“There are many steps that need to be taken to address the needs of those with high energy cost burdens, but one simple step will be to allow for the continued transition to affordable natural gas,” wrote Business Council President Heather Briccetti in the letter. “Since energy costs are the highest uncontrollable expense for many households, directly reducing these costs allows residents to spend more on other critical needs such as food, transportation, and childcare.”

At the same time, supporters have pointed to the economic benefits of the project while also addressing the energy needs in New York City.

“However, at the current rate of growth in New York City and Long Island, from new construction and continued oil-to-gas conversions, National Grid does not have enough natural gas supply or an alternative and affordable large-scale clean heat alternative to keep up with demand,” she wrote.

Advocates Seek Progressive Wins In Final Days Of Session

Democrats who control the state Legislature this year passed bill after bill that progressives have long sought: Bills strengthening abortion rights and gun control laws as well as criminal justice reforms.

But advocates like the NYCLU’s Donna Lieberman say it hasn’t been enough.

“The fight is far from finished,” said New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman at a rally on Monday at the Capitol. “We still have an enormous amount of work to do.”

Advocates at the legalization of marijuana, labor protections for farmworkers and the Greenlight Bill — which extends access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

“Regardless of how people feel about undocumented immigrants, they are part of our fabric,” said Assemblyman Victor Pichardo, a Democrat from the Bronx. “They are part of our society. They are part of our state. They are here.”

The bill, long controversial in New York, remains opposed by Republicans like state Sen. Daphne Jordan.

“It makes a farce of our whole system and our system is important for public safety,” said Jordan, a Republican who represents a suburban district around the Capital Region. “It’s how we vet people coming into the United States.”

An effort to legalize marijuana also faltered earlier this year after falling out of the state budget talks. Lawmakers who support it hope that it will be revived in the coming weeks. Advocates want the revenue from marijuana sales to benefit communities effected by the war on drugs.

“When we make marijuana legal in New York state, the revenue must go to communities that have been harmed and communities that have been destroyed,” said Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, an NYCLU chapter director from Syracuse.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supportive of the proposal, but last week said he was skeptical it would be able to pass in the Legislature before the end of session.

“I have not had any direct communication from the leaders that has suggested it’s not going to pass, but someone of the comments from individual senators and assemblymembers are troubling,” Cuomo said.

For now, the governor himself hasn’t outlined what his specific goals are for the rest of the legislative session, aside from strengthening and extending rent control laws for New York City.

Faith Leaders Push For Ending Solitary Confinement

More than 100 faith leaders in a letter released Monday called for an end to solitary confinement in New York prisons.

The letter, released to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, pushes for what has been a key criminal justice law change in the state.

“Our approach to prisons needs to reflect our religious values, not the retributive ethos that prisons mostly embody,” the letter states. “People in prison do not stop being fully human, or lose their most basic human rights, when they lose their freedom.”

Earlier this year, lawmakers backed changes that would end cash bail requirements for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and set in motion a plan to close up to three prisons next year.

“Solitary confinement has long been shown to cause intense suffering and devastating physical, mental, and behavioral harm. The risks of self-harm and suicide are dramatically increased for people in solitary,” the letter states. “As people of faith and conscience, we are morally outraged that New York continues to allow the use of solitary confinement. Action is needed now.”

Faith Leader Letter to NY Supporting HALT – Submitted by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Pro-Business Groups Write To Oppose Farmworker Bill

A bill that would extend labor benefits and protections like collective bargaining rights and overtime to farm workers is opposed by more than a dozen pro-business and taxpayer advocacy groups.

In a letter released by Unshackle Upstate on Monday, the organizations urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and state lawmakers to not back the legislation.

“Farms across New York – especially in Upstate communities – are already struggling to survive. If this proposal is enacted into law, it will have dire consequences for farmers, farm workers and consumers,” said Michael Kracker, executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “We hope this letter will serve as a wake-up call to our leaders in Albany.”

The bill is gaining momentum this session, however, as Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon announced support for the legislation.

A rally will be held on Monday at the Capitol in support of the bill as well as the legalization of marijuana and extending access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

051319 Farmworker Bill Letter (1) by Nick Reisman on Scribd