Unshackle Upstate Nudges Assembly On Tax Cap

From the Morning Memo:

The business-backed Unshackle Upstate in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last week urged him to take up a permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

The letter comes about a month after the Democratic-led Senate approved the legislation.

“In a rare instance of bipartisanship, Senate Democrats and Republicans recognized the effectiveness and importance of the tax cap and quickly passed the bill to make it permanent,” the group wrote in a letter. “We respectfully ask that the Assembly follow suit.”

A permanent extension of the measure is also backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The cap is a signature economic achievement for the governor from his first term in office.

“This measure is of paramount importance to not just Upstate New York, but the entire state,” the letter states. “Sky-high property taxes discourage people from moving to Upstate New York, and from investing and starting businesses here – stifling economic growth.”

The cap has been credited with controlling some of the highest property tax levies in the country. But local government groups and the state’s teachers union has called for changes to law that would add exceptions.

Lawmakers Seek End To Amazon-Size Deals

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers have introduced a bill meant to create a national effort that would prevent competition for taxpayer-subsidized bidding wars for major companies like Amazon seeking to relocate to new states.

The bill, backed by Assemblyman Ron Kim and Sen. Julia Salazar, is being picked up in other states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Florida, Arizona, among others.

The bill, known as the End Corporate Welfare Act, would create an interstate compact ending large incentive packages, essentially creating a truce in the bidding war for major projects with states piecing together tax break offerings for companies.

“Economic development spending in New York is fundamentally broken, and despite the poor results of these policies, we persist in offering corporations blank checks without any accountability mechanism,” Salazar said. “With this interstate compact, we will stop the race to the bottom that companies have used to pit the working classes of different states against each other.”

The measure comes as Amazon plans to bring up to 40,000 jobs to Long Island City in Queens tied to $3 billion in tax incentives. The plan, which is being split with northern Virginia, came after a nationwide search for Amazon’s new campus.

A Siena poll released Tuesday found a majority of New York voters, 56 to 36 percent, backed the Amazon plan, including by a 23-percentage point margin in New York City.

“When municipalities and states bend over backwards for the chance to give billions to mega-companies, we all lose,” Kim said in a statement. “In the last few decades, corporate welfare has extracted untold amounts of resources from our communities, money that could have been used to boost affordable housing, improve transportation infrastructure, and adequately fund our public school systems.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday once again defended the deal, calling it a major boost for New York and a signal the state was entering the tech economy.

Cuomo added a potential “tipping point” for the company was the nomination of Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the deal, to a board that could have veto power over the project.

Former Assemblywoman Says JCOPE Won’t Investigate Complaint Against Her

From the Morning Memo:

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics will not investigate a complaint that claimed former North County state Assemblywoman Addie Jenne tried to steer state funding to a friend in 2014.

Jenne’s Republican opponent in the 2018 election, Mark Walczyk, asked JCOPE to investigate the matter in October at the height of the campaign. Walczyk, who was a Waterotown council member at the time, won the hotly contested race in the fall, defeating the Democratic incumbent.

JCOPE made the decision on Jan. 29, but typically these decisions remain confidential. Jenne herself announced the decision in a press release, saying she felt it was important since Walczyk had publicized and continually “incorrectly” stated she was being investigated.

According to the press release, JCOPE followed up with an initial inquiry consisting of an interview with a relevant party and statements the Democrat provided. It concluded no further action would be taken.

“Mr. Walczyk used lies to create allegations in order to attack my integrity. Many people following his deceptive attacks could see how he created a smear campaign not based on any facts,” Jenne said.  “JCOPE also could see through his scheme and that there was no basis to investigate me.”

Jenne said Walczyk did not follow the basic legal principles of “guilty until proven innocent” and respect due process.

“I’d like to thank Ms. Jenne for her years of work to better the North County. Holding Albany politicians accountable is very important to me,” Walczyk said in a statement.  “I’m happy that JCOPE determined no wrong doing occurred.  However, when there’s any possible appearance of corruption, the public has a right to know.”

Rozic, Hoylman Seek Updated Hate Crimes Stats

Two Democratic state lawmakers are calling on the Division of Criminal Justice Services to publish updated hate crimes statistics amid concerns over a rise in violence against vulnerable groups.

The most recent hate crimes statistics posted to the agency’s website are from 2016.

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic and Sen. Brad Holyman in a letter sent this week to the division’s executive deputy commissioner, Michael Green, pointed to the uptick in reports of hate crimes around New York.

The lawmakers want both the 2017 report published as well as a timeline for when the 2018 report will be available for review.

“With recent dramatic increases in hate crimes and hate-based incidents in New York State, the annual report would contain crucial data for legislators and policymakers as we develop proposals to address these troubling trends,” the lawmakers wrote.

The compiling of the data can be a time-consuming task for the agency, which receives the raw data from 500 police departments around the state.

In a statement, DCJS spokeswoman Janine Kava said the report will be published soon.

“The report is in the final stages of review and will available in the very near future,” she said. “We will make sure the legislature gets a copy as soon as possible. Police agencies are required to report hate crime incidents to DCJS, but the timeliness of this reporting can vary by agency. We want to ensure that the report, when published, includes the most comprehensive, accurate data available.”

Lawmakers Seek Higher Minimum Wage For Prison Inmates

Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday announced legislation that would raise the minimum wage prison inmates in New York to $3 an hour.

The bill would put New York on par with four other states that set $3 as the minimum wage for those in prison — Nevada, Alaska, Maine and Kansas.

Currently, inmates earn between 10 cents and $1.14 an hour for tasks such as cleaning, maintenance and manufacturing products.

Most people who are in New York state prisons are required to work six hours a day for five days a week. The last minimum wage increase for inmates was in 1993.

“Incarcerated people are human beings. They deserve to be treated with dignity and to share in the fruits of their labor,” said Sen. Zellnor Myrie, the chairman of the Senate Elections Committee. “The fact that New York’s incarcerated people contribute tens of millions of dollars in revenue to the state and haven’t gotten a pay increase in more than a quarter century is unacceptable, and this legislation will change that. Justice for incarcerated people in New York is overdue.”

Lawmakers also pointed to expenses incurred during incarceration, such as phone calls and stamps and purchasing goods at commissaries.

“New York must lock up and throw away the key on the exploitive practice of condoning prison slave labor and restore the human dignity of men and women serving time in our prison system,” said Assemblyman Nick Perry. “Their labor powers an industry in our state which generates upwards of $50 million, but the indignity, and immorality of our continuous violation of the human rights of these persons in our prisons is debasing to us as a great state and nation that respects and values humanity.”

Constitutional Amendment Would Guarantee Clean Environment Advances

A constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to a clean environment is advancing after it was first approved in the previous legislative session by the Democratic-led Assembly.

The amendment would require that “each person shall have the right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment.”

If it gains first passage in the Democratic-controlled chambers, lawmakers must approve the bill again in the legislative session elected after 2020. It then goes to voters in a referendum.

The amendment was inspired in part by the contamination of drinking water in communities in upstate New York like Hoosick Falls and Newburgh as well as on Long Island.

Several states, including Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Massachusetts and Montana, have existing amendments guaranteeing clean air and water.

“This proposed constitutional amendment would follow those models and ensure that clean air and water are treated as fundamental rights for New Yorkers,” the bill’s memo states.

The amendment is also advancing as lawmakers may consider a package of environmental conservation bills next week.

Heastie: Adult-Use Marijuana Likely To Be Decided Outside Of Budget

A measure that would legalize adult use marijuana in New York will likely wait until after the state budget is finalized at the end of March, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Thursday said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $175 billion spending proposal includes a marijuana legalization plan, which would reorganize how cannabis is regulated in New York as well as a tax plan for retail sales.

But the issue is a complex one, even beyond the taxes. Lawmakers are discussing how to pair marijuana legalization with a criminal justice reform effort that could expunge the records of those charged with marijuana-related offenses.

At the same time, lawmakers want to provide incentives for communities affected by drug laws to profit from the program, steering away from a large corporation that would be interested in a license. Cuomo’s proposal includes similar provisions.

All that likely adds up to a longer debate that could last through the remainder of the legislative session, scheduled to end in June.

“We’ll talk about it. I’ll be honest: I don’t know if six weeks is enough time to get it done,” Heastie said. “If it can happen, great. But if not, we’ll deal with it. But more than getting things done quickly, it’s better to get things correctly.”

Lawmakers over the last month have approved a series of high-profile measures enabled by the Democratic majority in the state Senate, including bills meant to make it easier to vote, the Dream Act, the Child Victims Act, abortion rights and protections for transgender people.

Heastie acknowledged the issues will become more complex for legislators, such as changes to the criminal justice system. Lawmakers and Cuomo are seeking ways of ending cash bail, among other proposals.

“I think we’ll continue to go down our list of priorities,” he said. “It’s not that some things are easier or harder, but things were just done.”

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.

Lawmakers Approve Child Victims Act

State lawmakers approved a bill Monday that would make it easier for the victims and survivors of childhood sexual abuse to seek legal recourse and file lawsuits — a key bill that has languished in Albany for more than a decade.

And despite the long path the bill took to approval, the measure was approved in lopsided numbers in both chambers of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

In the Senate, lawmakers approved the bill unanimously, 63-0. In the Assembly, the bill won passage 130-3. It now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The bill includes a statute of limitations for felony cases at the age of 28 and 55 for civil cases. It also includes a one-year look back window for filing legal claims. And the bill will include public institutions as well as private entities — satisfying concerns raised by the Catholic Church and other religious institutions.

The measure has been part of a steady stream of long-sought bills that stalled under Republican control in the Senate, which flipped to a Democratic majority in November.

“No longer could critics say we were trying to target the church or yeshivas or private schools,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman. “This bill applies to everyone in every venue.”

The lawmakers who crafted the legislation credited the survivors and abuse victims who had long advocated for the bill.

“I think the survivors and the advocates who have been relentless were so brave to tell their stories of abuse,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

But the bill was also the product of a delicate balancing act for supporters and lawmakers who also had to navigate the concerns of the insurance industry.

“There were many institutions who were concerned about what this could mean and it’s just really about telling peoples’ stories, educating the public and really understanding how, unfortunately, pervasive this has been,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Cuomo, who included a version of the bill in his $175 billion budget, has signaled he will sign the bill.

“Yes, there’s going to be court cases and a look back, but to me that’s all a means to an end,” Cuomo said Monday morning at a press conference with abuse survivors and advocates. “The end was do justice. Acknowledge this.””

Assembly GOP Releases Infrastructure Report

Assembly Republicans on Monday released a package of bills aimed at fixing the state’s crumbling infrastructure, including legislation that would fund upstate roads and bridges, funding for highways in New York, and expand the Clean Water Investment Act.

The bills are the end result of regional forums lawmakers conducted to assess the state of New York’s infrastructure and transportation needs.

“This report is the culmination of numerous hours of traveling, testimony, gathering research and analysis. It was a tremendous lift, but our picture of the state’s infrastructure woes is comprehensive and substantial. I am proud to have been a part of this important effort,” said Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, a Republican from Corning who co-chaired the effort.

“What we learned strongly reinforces the undeniable reality that New York’s statewide and local transportation infrastructure faces critical deficiencies that demand our attention and action. It will require continued cooperation on targeted legislation, strategic planning and, especially, investment.”

Additional measures would require parity for the Department of Transportation and MTA five-year capital programs, have the DOT release a 20 to 30-year long-term transportation plan and have the DOT submit a capital plan for approval.

“Professionals from every region of the state spoke with us about their experiences and challenges, and our commitment to uncovering the most complete picture of our state’s infrastructure issues remains unmatched. This report represents a team effort toward the singular goal of making life better for all New Yorkers – better roads and a stronger, safer transportation system leads to greater opportunities for everyone,” said Repubblican Assemblyman Kevin Byrne. “If there was ever an issue to unite legislators from both political parties, this is it. We must, and will, fight tooth-and-nail to enact wholescale reform to the way our state approaches transportation funding before it’s too late.”