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.”

Surrogacy Measure Gets Backing

From the Morning Memo:

A measure meant to legalize gestational surrogacy has picked up support as the legislative session draws to a close.

The bill, which has the backing of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was endorsed in recent days by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“Legal surrogacy would mean so much to so many New Yorkers,” Johnson wrote on Twitter. “I urge my colleagues in Albany to pass it.”

The bill has the backing of LGBTQ groups and is part of Cuomo’s end-of-session agenda.

The measure was previously approved in the state Senate, but faces opposition in the Assembly, where some lawmakers have raised concerns with the bill for the potential to exploit women. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem this month wrote a letter in opposition to the measure.

Sponsors have said the bill includes safeguards against surrogates being taken advantage of if the legislation is approved.

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.”

Peoples-Stokes: Assembly Has ‘Capacity’ To Pass Marijuana Bill

A bill that would legalize marijuana in New York has the support to pass on the floor of the state Assembly, the top Democrat sponsoring the bill in the chamber on Friday said.

Assembly Democrats on Thursday evening discussed the bill behind closed doors, a conversation sources said went well.

“I do think progress is being made,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “We had a very good, detailed conversation with all of our colleagues and at the end of the day, I think we have more than enough of the capacity to pass it on the floor.”

She added, “All I can say is there is enough to pass it in the Assembly.”

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie earlier in the day said there was “an eternity” of time between today and the session’s scheduled end on Wednesday to reach an agreement.

Sen. Diane Savino, a proponent of the bill in the state Senate, said the multiple days of conversation in her conference have also gone well.

Lawmakers there still have specific questions about the bill, but agree on the end goal of legalizing retail marijuana and expanding the medicinal cannabis program, Savino said. There will likely be changes to the bill, including more money for law enforcement and education funding, she said.

Asked if the bill could gain a vote next week in the Senate, Savino said, “If we continue in the direction we’re going and we’re able to address the concerns raised by members, again, I’m cautiously optimistic.”

Lawmakers Vote To End Religious Exemption For Vaccines

The bill ending the religious exemption for vaccinations comes as public health officials nationally and in New York are grappling with a measles outbreak that has grown to more than a thousand confirmed cases, many of them in New York.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill shortly after it was approved by lawmakers. It takes effect immediately.

“I believe we need to vaccine as many people as possible,” said Sen. David Carlucci. “It seems like when we eradicated the measles in 2000, we eradicated the memory of the measles.”

A Siena College poll this week found more than 80 percent of voters back ending the exemption. But the bill passed narrowly in the state Assembly, by only two votes, amid a noisy protest from dozens of anti-vaccine advocates who believe vaccines can cause health problems.

“New York state constitutional freedoms are not up for grabs by the Assembly,” said Stephanie Maharris, one of the protesters. “This is a violation of the most basic principles of the United States of America.”

The bill was narrowly approved by the Assembly Health Committee as well, and one lawmaker, Assemblyman Nader Sayegh, changed his voted after it became apparent the measure did not have the support. Sayegh, a Democrat from Yonkers, voted against the bill on the floor.

Multiple Democrats voted against the bill, including Health Committee Chairman Dick Gottfried, who had voted to advance the bill out of his committee.

Assemblyman Tom Abinanti was skeptical the religious exemption repeal would help.

“There’s been no showing of any connection between the religious exemption for vaccines for some 20,000 people in the state of New York and the spike in measles,” Abinanti said.

Nearly all public health experts agree that vaccines are necessary for healthy people in order to receive herd immunity and protect people with cancer and other illnesses who are at risk for disease. Supporters also said the First Amendment does not apply — comparing the issue to shouting fire in a crowded theater when there is no fire.

“Science is what should determine our health policy,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz, one of the bill’s main sponsors. “Medical experts should determine our health policy and the people who are opposed to it have the right to think whatever they want, but they are a tiny, tiny, minority in New York.”

After the Assembly passed the bill, protesters yelled and swore at the lawmakers from the gallery, creating a chaotic scene. Dinowitz shrugged off the protest.

“I believe they have come to decisions that they’ve gotten from social media, the Internet, but not based on science,” he said.

Republicans Begin Ads Against Driver’s License Bill

02F23E8E-E2C2-4FAC-949C-5631C558F4DBFrom the Morning Memo:

Hours after the Democratic-controlled Assembly approved a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses in New York, the campaign arm of the Assembly Republicans began a Facebook ad blasting the measure.

“Even though New Yorkers are overwhelmingly opposed, Assembly Democrats have voted to legalize illegal immigrants getting New York State Driver’s Licenses,” the ad says. “This is an endorsement of the lawlessness on our country’s southern border and a backdoor to legal status.”

The bill’s passage remains in doubt in the state Senate, also controlled by Democrats.

But the social media ad is another reminder of the fraught politics surrounding the proposal, first made and later withdrawn in 2007 by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer — and perhaps a sign of things to come in next year’s legislative elections.

And even now, some Democrats running in off-year local elections in the suburbs have quietly grumbled about the bill’s effect on their campaigns.

The bill’s proponents this year argued the measure made sense on economic terms: Undocumented people living in New York need licenses to get to work and would have access to car insurance if they had a license to drive a car, boosting traffic safety in the process.

The measure gained the endorsement of the Business Council on these grounds.

Still, a Siena College poll this week found a majority of voters opposed to the bill in New York statewide, and Long Island and upstate Democrats have expressed reservations with the bill in the Senate.

Several upstate Democrats in the Assembly voted against the legislation on Wednesday, with at least 10 skipping the vote entirely.

Assembly Advances Bill Allowing Undocumented Immigrants To Apply For Driver’s Licenses

For the first time, a bill extending access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants has passed the Assembly, but the bill faces an uncertain future in the state Senate.

The debate over a bill allowing undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses lasted for hours — taking place against the backdrop of a heated national conversation surrounding immigration and just days after a Siena College poll found a majority of voters opposed it.

“People are being villainized because of immigrant status — I think that does hurt the poll numbers,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “But when you are looking at from the human side and the pure economics and safety, it’s a no-brainer.”

The bill’s passage is a victory for advocates who have argued for the last six months the bill has economic merit that would bolster traffic safety and insure drivers.

“We applaud Speaker Heastie and the Assembly for doing the right thing and passing the Green Light NY bill that will bring hundreds of thousands of immigrants out from the shadows and make New York’s roads safer,” said Steven Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.

The bill was approved 86-47 — with several Democrats voting against the legislation, including Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara.

“There’s a lot of rights and privileges that come with citizenship,” he said. “The correct thing to do is become a citizen, get on a path to citizenship, just like my parents went through.”

And it’s not clear if the bill, long a third rail in New York politics since then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed and withdrew the proposal in 2007, can pass in the state Senate.

“I think it makes the streets safer, saves the state money and makes sure people who are in car crashes are insured,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader. “These are all positives. There’s really no meritorious agrument against it and I’m hopeful we can get it done.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly doubted whether the votes are available in the Senate for it to pass, but reiterated on Wednesday he would sign the measure if approved lawmakers.

“I supported it when Eliot Spitzer first proposed it when I was attorney general,” Cuomo said. “So, I support it.”

Republican lawmakers in the Assembly, meanwhile, questioned whether the state should be weighing in on an issue normally reserved for the federal government.

“I definitely don’t think the state should be involved with a federal or state immigration policy,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. “That’s up to Washington.”

For now, a Senate vote on the bill is yet to be scheduled. The legislative session is due to end in a week.

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.

Seeking Clarity In Legislative Pay Raise Ruling

From the Morning Memo:

A top counsel to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a memorandum to lawmakers said Attorney General Letitia James’s office is expected to seek clarification on a state Supreme Court ruling that struck down an outside income limit for lawmakers and may have also ended phased-in pay raises for the Legislature.

The ruling on Friday determined a pay commission’s decision to cap private-sector income for the Legislature had exceeded its authority. The panel, meanwhile, also backed a three-step pay raise for the Legislature, eventually reaching $130,000.

Lawmakers’ pay was increased from $79,500 to $110,000 at the start of the year, their first pay raise since 1999 as part of the pay commission’s recommendations.

But the ruling appears to have also called into question the next two increases over the coming years. The wording of the ruling left many scratching their heads on Friday afternoon as it was unclear if the court intended to block both the outside income cap as well as the pay raises.

“There is some ambiguity in the language and I understand the Attorney General intends to ask the Court for clarification,” the memorandum stated.

The ruling is likely to be appealed, regardless of the clarification. There are several lawsuits challenging the pay raise commission’s determination that have been filed by state lawmakers.

The court challenge in this case is part of a challenge from the Government Justice Center, a conservative-leaning legal organization.

Assembly Approves Car Wash Workers Bill, Heads To Cuomo’s Desk

A bill that would require workers at car washes in the New York City area to earn the minimum wage is heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

The bill cleared the state Senate on Wednesday and was approved this afternoon by the Assembly. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

“No worker should earn below the minimum wage – ever, and this law will change the lives of thousands of car wash workers in New York,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

“For far too long car wash workers in New York have earned poverty wages under the tip credit law. Today, the New York State Assembly made clear that our legislature recognizes that this abhorrent loophole has left immigrant workers susceptible to wage theft.”

In a statement, Rich Azzopardi, a senior adviser to the governor, indicated the governor is leaning toward signing the bill.

“The Governor raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour because he believes in a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and we will certainly consider any legislation that builds upon this and helps lift working people out of poverty,” he said.