NY Immigration Coalition Launches Ad Campaign For Green Light Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The New York Immigration Coalition on Monday will launch a new push for a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, including a TV ad set to air in heavy rotation on New York City and Albany cable stations.

The ad, which will also be featured on social and digital media, will target voters in key state Senate districts on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

The spot highlights the support the measure, known as the Green Light bill, has received from local and county-level law enforcement in recent months.

Assembly Democrats this month signaled there was sufficient support in their conference to move forward with a floor vote in the coming weeks for the measure, but will first conduct a public information campaign highlight what supporters have said are the benefits of the measure.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also said he would sign the legislation if approved by the Legislature, which is controlled by Democrats. Last week, Cuomo pointed to some of the arguments made by supporters of the bill, such as the public safety benefits of drivers have licenses.

“I want to make sure people on the road have a driver’s license and have taken a test and are qualified,” Cuomo said in an interview on WXXI in Rochester. “From a state point of view, we don’t do immigration policy. Yes, I support it, it is very controversial. But people often overlook the public safety standpoint, especially with this immigration debate.”

The bill is opposed by Republicans and some locally elected Democrats, including those like Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, have raised objections over the legislation, including security concerns with providing licenses to people potentially providing fraudulent documentation.

Advocates are likely to focus, however, on Democrats in the state Senate and Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’s handling of the talks over how the legislation is ultimately shaped. It’s a potentially tricky balancing act for lawmakers elected from formerly Republican districts and progressives who are pushing for the measure.

Lawmakers Plan Hearing On New York Health Act

State lawmakers later this month will hold a public hearing on the New York Health Act, a bill that would create a system of single-payer health care.

The hearing, to be led by Sen. Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, will be held on May 28 in Albany.

The hearing comes as lawmakers continues to assess the creation of a single-payer health care program, which supporters say will ultimately lead to a more cost-efficient delivery system for insurance.

The Realities of Single Payer, a coalition of business groups and labor unions opposed to the plan, have raised concerns with the legislation.

“Members of the Realities of Single Payer coalition look forward to the opportunity to provide testimony and participate in thoughtful and educated discussions about how best to ensure access to affordable healthcare for everyone without taking away patient choice, cutting jobs and increasing taxes. Forcing an expensive, one-size-fits-all, government-run system on all New Yorkers is the wrong approach,” the group said in a statement.

“We also encourage the Legislature to hold public hearings throughout the state to fully understand the impact of the legislation in all regions.”

Lawmakers Want To Halt Hospital Corporation’s Dissolution Amid Pension Collapse

State lawmakers on Thursday announced a bill that would prevent the dissolution of a Capital Region hospital corporation amid the collapse of its $53 million pension fund.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco and Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santa Barbara would halt the dissolution until an audit or investigation of the circumstances surrounding the pension fund’s collapse is conducted by the state.

The pension fund’s problems affected more than 1,100 former employees of the hospital, seeing their benefits either reduced or ended, The hospital closed 10 years ago and was absorbed by Ellis Medicine.

“We have over 1,100 Capital Region residents who worked hard, did their job and played by the rules for many years as loyal St. Clare’s Hospital employees and now the retirement they’ve been planning for has evaporated in what seems like a snap of a finger,” Tedisco said in a statement. “We’ve already formally asked the Governor, Attorney General and Comptroller to look into what happened to the St. Clare’s Pension Fund and the taxpayer dollars that were spent on it more than a decade ago, but they have yet to do so.”

At the time of the hospital’s closure, the state paid $50 million to cover transition costs, as well as $28 million for the needs of its pension fund. The hospital’s vestige corporation wants to dissolve itself, petition the state Supreme Court to do so.

The bill would have the New York Department of State delay the dissolution approval until a review is conducted, either by the Department of Health, the attorney general or state comptroller.

“Following the termination of the St. Clare’s retirement fund, employees of the former St. Clare’s Hospital in Schenectady were told that they will receive no retirement benefits—they deserve to know why,” Santabarbara said.

“This attempt to now dissolve the St. Clare’s Corporation while we are calling for an investigation into the matter is untimely and unacceptable,” Santabarbara added. “We have certainly not given up on trying to find a solution to fully restore the pension fund and neither should the Corporation.”

PSC-CUNY Launches Ad Campaign

From the Morning Memo:

The Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York this week launched a multi-week ad campaign amid contract negotiations for the labor group.

“The students featured in the ad are all current CUNY students, young people determined to earn a college degree and seeking the opportunity that CUNY has historically offered. They are speaking out on behalf of their professors because they know that our contract is about their future,” said Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress-CUNY.

“New York puts their education and their future at risk when it fails to pay fair salaries to CUNY faculty. New York can and must do better.”

The ads will run in Albany and New York City media markets as well as on the radio.

The campaign is meant to highlight the value of a CUNY degree for students, but how they also lack the support needed to graduate. At the same time, the group is pointing to full-time salaries at CUNY lagging behind those at comparable institutions.

Deal Reached On School Bus Cameras

State lawmakers on Tuesday reached an agreement that will enable the placement of cameras on school buses in order to cut down on scofflaws who pass stopped buses while kids are getting on.

Versions of the bill have been approved in both the state Senate and Assembly in recent years. But Sen. Tim Kennedy, the Buffalo Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said his chamber is expected to pass this agreement next week.

“I’m the father of three young children who take the school bus every single day,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I recognize on a very personal level the importance of having the trust that when your child gets on the school bus, they’re going to be safe.”

The bill would require local governments and school districts to opt in for the cameras, which could be placed on the arm of the extendable stop sign on a bus or mounted on it. Video of drivers who blow passed stopped buses would be sent to law enforcement.

The program will be paid for by tickets generated by the violations.

Supporters of the legislation estimate there are as many as 50,000 stopped school bus violations a year in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement issued after the deal was set praised the agreement.

“The safety of our children is paramount, and we are committed to ensuring our youngest New Yorkers make it to and from school safely and that motorists who endanger these students are held accountable for their reckless actions. This year I advanced legislation to allow school districts and municipalities to install cameras on school buses,” he said.

“I commend the Legislature for reaching an agreement on this critical issue and I look forward to seeing it passed and to signing it into law, making New York one of the first states to use this technology to protect the safety of our school children.”

DeRosa Says She Nearly Wanted A Less Visible Role, Fearing Gender-Based Attacks

From the Morning Memo:

Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said at speech Monday to the Association for a Better New York she initially hesitated when offered the job, fearing gender-based attacks.

DeRosa on Monday was among those who received the Spirit of ABNY awards in New York City.

According to her prepared remarks, DeRosa said when offered the post of secretary to the governor — the equivalent of chief of staff — she countered with a more behind-the-scenes role in the administration. But Cuomo urged her not to.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted the job — not because I didn’t think I could do it but because I had a fear I think many women face,” she said. “I was afraid I would be judged — not based on my competence or experience or proven ability — but on my gender. That it would become about my father or my husband.”

DeRosa’s husband works for the ride-hailing firm Uber; her father is a prominent lobbyist in Albany. Cuomo’s office has said DeRosa has been recused from handling any issues in which there would be a conflict.

“I suggested taking on more behind the scenes without the secretary title,” she said. “The governor responded in a way only he could, telling me that what I was saying was weak. That small-minded people would always find ways to undermine and objectify but succumbing to them wasn’t an option. And when some political adversaries and members of the press responded exactly as I feared they would, he said to move past it and get to work because we had big things to do.”

DeRosa has a long resume in New York politics.

DeRosa in 2017 was appointed by Cuomo to become the first woman to serve as the top appointed staffer in a governor’s administration. She had previously served as his communication’s director, and before that in the attorney general’s office. DeRosa also led President Barack Obama’s New York campaign.

Bill Would Strip Corrupt Pols Of Their Campaign Accounts

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers this week are expected to advance legislation that would strip politicians of their campaign accounts after a felony conviction.

The bill addresses the number of campaign accounts left open after a politician has been found guilty. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, for instance, still has $35,127 in his campaign account, according to a January filing. Skelos is now incarcerated in a federal prison.

Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is free amid an appeal, last reported $1.6 million in cash in July 2015 and has subsequently filed no activity statements with the Board of Elections.

The bill would require campaign accounts be wound down within two years of a conviction, with the money either returned to donors or given to charity.

The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who flipped the seat held by Skelos on Long Island. The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Judy Griffin.

“It flies in the face of reason why the law allows any elected official to continue maintaining control over his or her campaign account from behind the walls of a prison,” the bill’s memo states. “This legislation will close this loophole once and for all and ensure that those guilty of corruption or other crimes cannot continue to expend campaign funds.”

Lawmakers Continue To Press For End To Religious Exemptions For Vaccines

There are now more than 700 confirmed measles cases nationally, with the bulk of them concentrated in Brooklyn and Rockland County, but state lawmakers are yet to act on a bill that would end the religious exemptions for vaccinations.

Lawmakers who back the bill on Monday held a press conference with medical associations, including the Medical Society of New York, to call for the bill’s passage. Their audience, in part, was some of their colleagues.

“I think there are some legislators that are skeptics on this issue and we’re working to convince them,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, a Democrat from the Bronx. “I think the vast majority of legislators in both houses, I’m sure, support this. They understand the importance. But until this year, very few people focused on it.”

Physicians have long pushed back against the discredited theory that vaccinations can be a factor in autism.

But at this measles outbreak is primarily effecting Orthodox Jewish communities in New York. Some lawmakers have raised issues with the religious freedom aspect of the legislation.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week in a radio interview said he understood the religious concerns, but said the public health issues were an overriding issue.

“As governor of New York, I’m also concerned about the public health,” Cuomo said on WNYC’s The Briand Lehrer Show. “You cannot endanger your child’s health or my child’s health.”

Supporters of the bill doubt, however, the religious exemption is being used appropriately.

“I think the Legislature is not in a place to judge someone’s convictions,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Senate sponsor of the bill and a Democrat from Manhattan. “I think even less able is a school administrator being presented with a religious exemption reform We can’t put our public health officials or school officials to decide if it’s sincere or not. That’s why we need to remove it all together.”

Lawmakers in recent weeks have proposed several measures designed to combat the measles outbreak in New York, including a proposed public information and awareness campaign.

“We’re seeing it first, so it requires us to act first,” said Sen. David Carlucci. “People are saying you can’t do that. Yes, we can, because our children’s health depends on it.”

New York AFL-CIO Backs Farmworkers Bill

New York AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento in a statement on Monday said the umbrella labor group would continue to back a bill extending labor rights and benefits to farmworkers in New York.

Supporters later today will hold a rally in Albany for the legislation, which extends benefits like overtime and collective bargaining rights to workers in the agriculture industry.

“To be clear, organized labor in the state of New York will not rest until farmworkers are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. It is disgraceful that in the year 2019 farmworkers, who perform demanding and dangerous work, still do not enjoy the same basic rights and protections as all other workers,” Cilento said.

“Over the past week and a half, at hearings across the state, we have heard fresh testimony about what we already knew: because farmworkers in New York do not have the same protections as other workers, they are uniquely susceptible to exploitation. This must end.”

Farmers, including small producers, have raised concerns about the legislation and the effect it would have on their labor costs amid decline in the number of farms across the state.

“Agriculture is the backbone of rural communities across New York. The conditions and issues often cited by activists for this legislation do not match the realities of what takes place across the farm community today,” said David Fisher New York Farm Bureau President.

“Our compensation packages and working conditions must be competitive with other states. Good wages, benefits, workers compensation and suitable housing are part of the equation that keeps workers returning to our farms year after year.”

Lawmakers Press For More Limo Safety Changes

State lawmakers want to make further regulatory changes to stretch limousines in New York following a crash in Schoharie last October that killed 20 people.

The state Senate on Thursday took testimony from victims’ family members as well as limousine operators at a public hearing, which comes after lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted new penalties for inspection failures and a ban on stretch limos making u-turns.

Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is backing a bill that would create an database online for stretch limousine operators with information on the company’s record, safety violations and current vehicle inspections as well as licensing information.

“This information is important for consumer protection and right now it’s not so easy to find,” he said. “In the age of smartphones and technology, making this information public and readily available to consumers—in the case of prom season, concerned parents—provides an easy way to check important information before hiring anyone.”

Some family members at the hearing expressed shock and outrage the state had not acted sooner on limo safety following a crash on Long Island in 2015 that killed four people.

“We’re here because we absolutely agree that New York state has to do better,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy.