Albany

Deal Struck For Farm Workers Labor Bill

A long-sought bill by farm worker advocates expanding overtime, collective bargaining and other labor rights to agriculture workers is expected to be approved this week.

The measure, first proposed more than a decade ago, will represent a major shift in farming and how farm workers are paid in the state.

“This legislation is truly historic,” said Sen. Jen Metzger, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Farm workers have been denied basic rights that the rest of labor has enjoyed for a long time. We got this bill to a place that reflects farming and the economic realities of farming.”

Farmers, meanwhile, expressed reservation with the final agreement, including the overtime provision, with one industry coalition, Grow NY Farms, said did not take into account realities like weather patterns.

“This provision would inevitably force a 60-hour work week to be applied over six days and will not meet the legislative intent of providing reasonable and predictable wages, especially when weather patterns often dictate work schedules,” the group said in a statement. “Farmers will be forced to impose a mandatory day of rest thus decreasing the number of hours farm workers would like to work. Farm workers will choose to seek a second agricultural job or pursue opportunities in other states.”

A deal was struck in the final days of the legislation and weeks after a state court ruled in favor of extending collective bargaining rights to farm workers.

“Our farm workers bill builds on the court case that gave way to allow for collective bargaining,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, the Labor Committee chairwoman. “Our bill goes a step further and allows card check neutrally.”

Meanwhile, some lawmakers want to go further for farmers. One bill introduced would create an agriculture investment task force to examine issues facing the industry.

“In light of the recent compromise reached on farm labor, it’s important that we now turn our attention to the sustainability of New York’s agricultural economy,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, the Agriculture Committee chairwoman.

“By studying the current economic conditions farms are operating under, we can enter next year’s budget discussions with tangible solutions that will help protect and grow this critical sector of our economy.”

Media Companies Oppose Bill Tightening Digital Likeness Laws

From the Morning Memo:

Media companies in New York are pushing back against bill in the final days of the legislative session that would make it harder for anyone to use a digital likeness or persona of an individual without written consent.

The measure is backed by the Screen Actors Guild, but opposed by the New York Broadcasters Association and the New York News Publishers Association, which includes many daily newspapers in the state, ranging from The New York Times, the Times Union and Gannett-owned papers.

The media groups point out the measure was proposed despite existing copyright laws in the United States designed to provide protection against video and audio use of celebrities. They fear the measure could bankrupt radio and TV stations as well as newspapers in the state if approved, covering both deceased and living artists.

The concern is how broadly written the bill is: For example, an ad airing the likeness of Marilyn Monroe on a local station could face legal exposure from her estate.

For newspapers, publishers would need research tools to avoid publishing the likeness of a celebrity in an ad without permission.

“We urge the Legislature to more carefully consider the long-term effects of this issue before moving forward,” the New York News Publishers Association wrote in a memo of opposition. “All media must be treated in a neutral manner, with both clarity and wide permissiveness that will not stifle innovation or create punitive and crushing legal liability for innocent errors.”

The bill was recently amended and is in the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

AG James Urges Marijuana Deal To Include Expungement

New York Attorney General Letitia James in a letter to legislative leaders urged them to back a provision in a marijuana legalization agreement that would expunge records for those who have been arrested, detained or convicted of marijuana-related possession.

The letter, sent Friday to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, comes as lawmakers are considering a bill that would legalize marijuana for retail and commercial sale in New York.

“Before we create a booming business for legal marijuana, we must provide relief to those individuals that have paid much more to society than what was due,” James wrote in the letter. “We must stop the cascade of social and human harms imposed by the Rockefeller drug laws and give individuals who have been held back a chance to succeed.”

James defines records expungement as “the extraction and isolation or destruction of all records on file.”

“We must guarantee that the door is shut forever and that pas policy mistakes do not further haunt the victims of over-policing,” she wrote.

During her time as New York City public advocate, James was supportive of legalizing marijuana.

Stewart-Cousins earlier this year said she supported expungement of records; Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to legalize marijuana supported sealing records.

Lawmakers, due to end the legislative session on Wednesday, were close to striking a deal on the issue as of Friday afternoon and continued to negotiate changes to the proposal this weekend.

2019.06.14 AG Letitia James Marijuana Expungement Letter by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Sweeping Rent Control Changes Approved

State lawmakers on Friday put the finishing touches on a sweeping package of changes to rent control in New York, which allow communities outside of the New York City area to opt in to regulations designed to protect tenants.

The state Senate approved the package, announced earlier this week by the legislative leaders, 36-26. The Democratic-controlled Assembly followed suit soon after, 95-41.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bills shortly after they achieved final passage.

The governor, who faintly praised the agreement earlier this week at a news conference, released a more celebratory statement on Friday.

“At the beginning of this legislative session, I called for the most sweeping, aggressive tenant protections in state history. I’m confident the measure passed today is the strongest possible set of reforms that the Legislature was able to pass and are a major step forward for tenants across New York,” Cuomo said.

“As the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, I know full well the importance of affordable housing and with the existing rent laws set to expire tomorrow, I have immediately signed this bill into law – avoiding the chaos and uncertainty that a lapse in these protections would have caused for millions of New Yorkers.”

For Democrats who gained control of the state Senate, the passage and forging of the deal was a victory. The measures permanently extend rent control laws and allow local governments to opt in and adopt their own local-level regulations.

The measures make it harder for landlords to evict tenants when rent is increased and raise rents when capital improvements are made to a dwelling.

“We made a commitment that the new Senate Democratic Majority would help pass the strongest tenant protections in history,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The legislation we passed today achieves that commitment and will help millions of New Yorkers throughout our state. I thank my partner in legislative leadership, Speaker Carl Heastie and the Chair of the Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, Senator Brian Kavanagh for his leadership on this issue.”

Both Heastie and Stewart-Cousins announced the two-way deal on Wednesday, well ahead of the Saturday deadline for the current laws to expire.

The measures are expected to face a court challenge from real estate interests in court.

“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords. But today we were able to level the playing field and bring stability to tenants across New York State, whether they live in an apartment in the Bronx, a single family home in Nassau County or a manufactured home upstate,” Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority will continue working to ensure every New Yorker can find quality, affordable housing.”

NYPIRG: 22 End-Of-Session Fundraisers Being Held

An updated report from the New York Public Interest Research Group on Friday found state lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are holding a combined 22 fundraisers as the legislative session draws to a close.

These events are predominantly being held near the state Capitol in Albany, with events ranging in ticket price of $150 to $5,000.

Cuomo this month held a fundraiser on Long Island and will hold another event at Lincoln Center in July.

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is also holding an event this month.

Fundraisers during the legislative session have come under scrutiny this year once again as lawmakers as well as the governor held fundraising events in March, the height of the state budget season. But lawmakers, in particular, held events in Albany just hours after considering legislation at the Capitol.

Controversy surrounding fundraisers was stoked in March by recently elected lawmakers, who criticized the governor for holding a fundraiser in March, with the governor’s office pointing to the myriad events lawmakers hold at that time of the year.

Marijuana Legalization Inching Forward

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would legalize marijuana in New York has gained steam in recent weeks, with a vote on the measure possible by the end of the legislative session next week.

The bill was discussed in closed-door conference by Assembly Democrats late into Thursday evening. Sources said the bill appeared to have strong support within the Democratic conference.

Senate Democrats on the other side of the Capitol, meanwhile, have also spent the last two days discussing the bill, and the conversations have been deemed largely positive.

Lawmakers are scheduled to depart Albany for the year next Wednesday.

Marijuana legalization would set up a retail system for cannabis sales, regulate the commercial, medical and hemp industries under one new agency, the Office of Cannabis Management.

The bill would also expunge records of those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses and divert revenue to communities affected by the war drugs. Revenue from sales would also be used to study the effect of drug use.

A Siena College poll this week found more than half of voters polled statewide support legalization.

Push Continues For Sexual Harassment Law Changes

From the Morning Memo:

The group of former legislative staffers formed to call for sexual harassment law changes is pushing for an “immediate vote” for end-of-session bills.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group is calling for the passage of a “bedrock” bill that would add sexual harassment protections and broaden the “severe or pervasive” standard, something advocates and lawmakers say is too narrow a definition to cover a range of misbehavior.

“The bill has broad support from over 30 organizations, with 28 co-sponsors in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate,” the group said in a statement. “New York does not in fact have the strongest laws in the nation and workers can’t afford to wait for a two-way ‘deal’ that waters down protections.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs the change, holding a news conference with advocates from the #TimesUp movement, including actress Mira Sorvino.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group was formed to call for changes to the state’s harassment and sexual misconduct laws and successfully pushed for two public hearings on the issue, held for the first time by state lawmakers in a generation.

Lawmakers Strike Deal For Statewide Rent Regulations

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers announced Tuesday evening an agreement that is meant to permanently extend rent control laws for New York and expand the regulations to upstate communities.

The agreement, while not as ambitious as lawmakers’ public positions, still went further than previous rent control agreements struck in the recent past under Republican control of the state Senate, and the details were praised by housing advocates.

The deal would allow local governments outside of the New York City metropolitan area to opt in for rent regulations for municipalities that have a less than 5 percent vacancy rate in the housing stock to be regulated. Opting in would allow the locality to set up its own rent stabilization board.

Statewide, the agreement also bans the use of “tenant blacklists” and limits security deposits to one month’s rent, while also requiring procedures that lead to the prompt return of the deposit.

New protections would be added to tenants during an eviction process swell, while also barring landlords from forcing a tenant eviction.

Landlords would also be required to give tenant notices if they plan to increase rent more than 5 percent or do not intend to renew their lease.

“These reforms give New Yorkers the strongest tenant protections in history,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a joint statement issued alongside the top-line details of the deal.

“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state. These reforms will pass both legislative houses and we are hopeful that the Governor will sign them into law. It is the right thing to do.”

The deal was struck as Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sought to apply outside pressure on lawmakers to act, pledging to pass anything the Legislature put in front of him. Cuomo doubted whether the state Senate, under control of Democrats for the first time in a decade, could muster the needed votes to pass a robust rent package.

“I think they can only pass a modified version of what the Assembly has proposed,” Cuomo said of the state Senate in a radio interview.

But advocates on Tuesday evening were praising the agreement — something the Legislature was quick to point out when announcing the agreement.

“This bill is affirmation of the Statewide movement that we are building together, and we look forward to working with the Senate and the Assembly, in the years to come, until every renter, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, can live free from the fear of displacement,” said Cea Weaver, the campaign director of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance.

Affordable housing advocates had closely watched the negotiations surrounding rent control this year following the transfer of power in the Senate, hopeful a stronger package of bills would approved compared with the measures four years ago.

“This past election ignited the fires of change as evidenced by today’s tenant protection package,” said Rosemary Rivera of Citizen Action. “The Senate and Assembly have listened to the needs of tenants across the state and put forth bold legislation to end the housing crisis, showing how ordinary people, when organized, can beat back the billionaire real estate giants.”

The bill could be voted on as early as Friday, ahead of Saturday’s deadline for the rent laws to expire.

Doctors Group Pushes For Legalizing Marijuana

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of doctors backing the legalization of marijuana in New York on Wednesday will release an open letter urging the passage of the bill in the final days of the legislative session.

In the letter, the group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation address concerns raised by the bill regarding public safety as well as opioid drug use.

“In states that have legalized cannabis for adult-use, opioid fatalities have notably declined,” the letter states. “This is promising foundational data, given that research has shown that legalization is associated with more informed doctor-patient conversations on the topic of medical cannabis treatment.”

And the letter touts the regulations surrounding product safety, with the tax revenue meant to in part benefit studies surrounding marijuana use.

“Regulatory oversight of the production, packaging, and sale of cannabis protects consumers while shielding them from risks present in the illicit marketplace,” the letter states. “Generated tax revenue from adult-use cannabis regulations can be allocated for medical research, substance abuse treatment, and community reinvestment efforts.”

The letter comes as a Siena College poll this week found a majority of voters, 55 percent to 40 percent. That a slight increase in support from a 52 percent to 42 percent, according to a similar poll in April.

DFCR NY Sign-On Letter FINAL by Nick Reisman on Scribd

New York Farm Bureau Endorses Marijuana Legalization

The New York Farm Bureau on Monday became the latest organization to endorse the legalization of marijuana in the state as the bill remains one of the most closely watched proposals at the close of the legislative session.

“Given the current status of the farm economy in New York State, farmers recognize the potential opportunity the cultivation of cannabis could be for New York State’s agriculture industry,” the Farm Bureau wrote in a memorandum of support.

“For a successful implementation of a cannabis program in New York State, if legalized, farmers must to have an active role in the growth and production, as well as development and implementation of the recreational cannabis program in the state. Farmers encourage the establishment of an advisory board which the bill creates, however, New York Farm Bureau recommends a set number of seats to be reserved for farmers to provide local grower input into the program.”

The endorsement comes as a Siena College poll released this morning found voters in New York back marijuana legalization 55 percent to 40 percent, up slightly from a 52 percent to 42 percent in an April.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign legislation legalizing marijuana if it comes to his desk, but has doubted whether it has the support in the Democratic-led state Senate to pass.