Peoples-Stokes: New Marijuana Bill ‘Mirrors’ Gov’s Proposal

The latest version of a bill that would legalize marijuana in New York largely “mirrors” the details of a proposal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the state budget earlier this year, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said.

“What it essentially does is mirrors the governor’s proposed cannabis legislation that was in his budget,” she said. “It was made up not just the legalization of adult use, but it also enhanced the regulations for hemp. It was just marrying the legislation, we’re adding those.”

The proposal backed by Cuomo would create an Office of Cannabis Management to oversee commercial marijuana, medically based cannabis and hemp production.

Peoples-Stokes told reporters on Tuesday that Cuomo’s plan to have an umbrella entity oversee the product “made sense.”

“It’s essentially the same plant, it has the same properties,” she said. “To me it made sense to do that.”

The legalization push fell out of the budget talks earlier this year amid concerns from Democratic lawmakers over the public safety effect of the measure. Lawmakers are re-working the bill in a bid to gain more votes and potentially the governor’s version of the proposal.

Revenue from marijuana sales would be split in different ways under the new legislative bill: Communities effect by the war on drugs, law enforcement to enhance public safety as a result of legalization as well as funding for drug research and prevention.

It’s not clear yet if the bill can gain sufficient support among Democrats who control both houses of the Legislature in order for a vote to be held by the end of the legislative session in June.

“I believe we’re very close to the votes,” Peoples-Stokes said.

Assembly To Move Forward On Trump Tax Bill, Curbing Pardon Powers

The Democratic-led Assembly next week will hold a vote on a bill that would curb the reach of the president’s pardon powers in New York.

The measure known as the double jeopardy legislation, was previously approved by the state Senate.

“It appears there’s enough support to pass double jeopardy,” Heastie said. “So it appears we’ll be able to pass double-jeopardy next week.”

The bill would allow New York prosecutors to bring cases against those who have worked for a president’s administration and have received pardons. The measure also applies to the president’s family members.

Attorney General Letitia James backed the bill amid her investigations of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Lawmakers in the state Senate, controlled by Democrats, also approved a bill that would provide Democrats in the House of Representatives access to the president’s New York tax returns.

Assembly Democrats discussed the bill in a closed-door meeting on Monday and are expected to hold a vote on it as well.

“I think they are ready to move on this,” said Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes. “I can’t be more specific on that, but I think they are ready.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week said he was supportive of the tax access bill.

Assembly Hearing Considers Upstate Rent Control Expansion

A debate over extending rent control laws for New York City is now turning to expanding the measures to upstate communities as well.

New York City’s rent control laws are due to expire at the end of June. And as the laws are being renewed, state legislators want to strengthen protections for tenants and bring the regulations to upstate cities.

“This is the first time that tenants in all parts of New York state are pressuring and lobbying for rent control and tenant protections,” said Tenants PAC Treasurer Mike McKee. “It’s a very exciting development.”

Assembly lawmakers on Thursday held a public hearing on the issue — one of a series being held in upstate cities to discuss how rent control regulations would effect upstate renters and landlords.

“The reason it’s happening in is because people are hurting,” McKee said. “There are tenants in Texas, there are tenants in Chicago. Oregon just passed a statewide rent control law. It’s very important.”

If statewide rent control is adopted, a local government would have to opt in. Rent increases would be subject to the approval of a local rent board, which could also approve measures that make it harder for landlords to evict people.

“I’m still trying to get my arms around the issue,” said Assemblywoman Pat Fahy. “It’s a complicated one and there’s still a lot to learn.”

Fahy sees merit to concerns raised by tenant advocates as well as those who want to see more development in upstate cities like Albany.

“While I understand some tenants are under siege around the state and there’s a growing imbalance with speculative landlords,” she said. “Here, we are actually trying to get more development into Albany. So I have some concerns.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers may consider strengthening laws that require landlords to provide upkeep for their buildings and urged state officials to provide greater oversight of rent-controlled buildings.

“I can tell you that there’s neighbors of mine who live in conditions that do not even exist in third world countries,” said Assemblywoman Carmen De La Rosa, a Democrat from Manhattan. “We need to be cognizant of that and we need to fix those loopholes that exist.”

The Assembly will hold its next hearing on rent control in Rochester later this month.

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 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.

Immigration Coalition Hails Advance Of Driver’s License Bill

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants living in New York has the “consensus” to move forward in the Democratic-led Assembly — a development being cheered by the New York Immigration Coalition.

“We thank Assembly Speaker Heastie and his conference for their strong commitment to pass legislation granting all immigrants the opportunity to obtain state driver’s licenses by the end of the legislative session. And we call on the state Senate to quickly follow suit. Twelve states already allow undocumented immigrants access to driver’s licenses,” said Steven Choi, the group’s executive director.

“It’s time New York restore a right all immigrants once had, one that would help families, improve the state’s economy, and promote better road safety. We expect both houses will finally act this year and Gov. Cuomo will sign this important legislation into law.”

Assembly lawmakers have indicated they will move forward with a public education push on the bill designed to highlight what supporters have said are its benefits, including insuring more drivers on the road and the economic needs of people being able to drive to work.

The issue last turned into a political firestorm after then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed it, only to pull it back amid opposition from both Republicans as well as Democrats.

Bill Extending License Access To Undocumented Immigrants Gains Steam In Assembly

The Democratic-led state Assembly will move forward with a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants in New York, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie confirmed on Wednesday.

Democrats discussed the issue in a closed-door conference on Tuesday evening and concluded there was sufficient support for the bill to pass in the chamber.

But before the vote, lawmakers there plan to undertake a public education campaign highlighting what supporters have said are the benefits of the bill, including economic and public safety arguments as well as the revenue the state would capture as a result.

“The consensus that came out was we’re supportive of moving driver’s licenses for all, but we do want to spend a little time messaging and communicating to communities around the state why this is beneficial,” Heastie. “It would allow people who working in rural communities make easier to get to the job site.”

There are 12 states that currently provide some form of a driver’s license to undocumented immigrants.

Extending driver’s licenses for undocumented residents has been a politically difficult issue for the state. A measure proposed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer created a firestorm of opposition. But Democrats have shifted on the issue over the years and hope with a Democratic takeover of both chambers, a version of the bill can pass this year.

A Siena College poll released in March found 61 percent of New York voters are opposed to the idea.

Heastie: Assembly Eyes Protections For Undocumented Immigrants

The Democratic-led Assembly is considering the passage of bills meant to strengthen protections for undocumented immigrants living in New York, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday said.

Lawmakers are likely to push in the coming weeks two bills that address undocumented residents, including a bill that would extend access to driver’s licences as well as a sanctuary statehood bill that limits the coordination law enforcement can commit to federal immigration enforcement.

“I think the Assembly has always been very strong on immigrant issues and immigrant protections,” Heastie said. “I think we’re going to take some very strong looks at both of those — sanctuary status and driver’s licenses.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously signed an executive order limiting coordination with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, while the Office of Court Administration this month issued a directive that requires ICE to have a warrant before making arrests in courthouses in the state.

Still, advocates for undocumented immigrants are expected to make a concerted push for both bills between now and the end of the legislative session on June 19.

The measures could prove difficult for Democratic lawmakers in swing districts, including the driver’s license legislation, a version of which was proposed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer more than a decade ago and evolved into a political firestorm.

Cuomo has said he would sign the legislation if lawmakers approve it.

Post-Budget Session Issues To Watch

From the Morning Memo:

The post-budget portion of the legislative session is officially upon Albany, as lawmakers return today from a two-week break after the passage of the $175.5 billion spending plan.

The first three months of the session was unusual, considering that it was front-loaded with so many issues that passed following the Democratic takeover of the state Senate — gun control, abortion rights, LGBTQ protections among them.

In the budget, lawmakers approved criminal justice law changes such as limiting cash bail and setting in motion a ban on plastic bags.

But there’s a lot more for lamwakers to consider between now and June.

1. Marijuana legalization

It’s unfinished business from the state budget, but the issues remain myriad as well as complicated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo included marijuana legalization in his budget proposal, along with a plan that would create a new regulatory plan for retail sale as well as pledges to have the proceeds benefit communities affected by prior drug laws. Cuomo also wanted to use some of the sales tax revenue to help raise capital for the MTA.

But lawmakers had different ideas. One legislative proposal would allow New Yorkers to grow small amounts of marijuana themselves. Other lawmakers continue to work about traffic safety considerations surrounding legalization. Despite agreement over the same goal, the impasse may be difficult to break in the post-budget session.

2. Rent control extension and expansion

With rent control for New York City and the surrounding area up for renewal, lawmakers want to expand the current laws. First up will likely include vacancy decontrol and, potentially, expanding rent control outside of New York City pending local government approval and opt-in. Democrats get to control the process entirely this time, but that could still yield complications as affordable housing advocates will pressure lawmakers even more so to expand the existing laws.

3. Aid in dying

It’s a contentious social issue that has stalled in Albany over the years: Should terminally ill patients have the right to end their own lives? Supporters of the legislation plan to press their case in the coming weeks for the measure, which has been opposed by the Catholic Church as well as some disability rights groups. But Cuomo this month signaled his support for the bill, pledging to sign it if passed.

4. Charter schools

Cuomo’s office signaled to The New York Post earlier this month he would support raising the cap on charter schools in order to accommodate the long waiting list for students. It’s an issue that’s almost certainly dead-on-arrival for the Democratic-controlled state Assembly. Charter schools and education policy writ large have taken a back seat in recent years after several contentious negotiations over teacher evaluation changes as well as efforts meant to strengthen charter schools as backed by Cuomo.

5. Immigration

A push to extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York is already underway. Dovetailing with that will be a plan to make New York a formal “sanctuary” state to codify limiting assistance state law enforcement can provide to federal immigration enforcement. Once again, suburban lawmakers will be the legislators to watch in this debate.

6. Wild card

As ever, Albany remains an unpredictable place. A range of issues could still pop up between now and the end of June. Will progressives press forward with stronger campaign finance law changes that are not up to a commission? How will the fight over online rental sites like Airbnb shape up?

The governor and the Legislature are on more equal footing outside of the budget process. Still, Cuomo has been able to find points of leverage to get the Legislature to do what he wants.

Heastie Endorses Katz For Queens DA

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Monday will formally endorse Melinda Katz for the Democratic nomination in the race for Queens district attorney.

“Over her 25 year career in public service, Melinda Katz has always been a committed advocate on behalf of the families in Queens she represents,” Heastie, a Bronx Democrat, said in a statement obtained by Capital Tonight.

Heastie pointed to recent criminal justice law changes approved in Albany, such as ending cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.

“I am proud to endorse her because she is the only candidate with the right kind of experience to implement the criminal justice reform measures the Governor recently signed into law,” he said.

“She has put forward a comprehensive agenda to change the District Attorney’s office and ensure justice for both victims and defendants. I’m confident that Melinda will usher in a new era of criminal justice reform as DA.”

Katz, the borough president, is facing a June primary against Councilman Rory Lancman, Judge Greg Lasak and Tiffany Cabán.

“Under Speaker Heastie’s leadership, New York has implemented critical reforms to our criminal justice system,” Katz said.

“Most recently, he helped pass landmark legislation ending most forms of cash bail, implementing discovery reform, and ensuring the right to a speedy trial. He has also been instrumental in passing new gun control measures and raising the age of criminal responsibility. But there’s even more work to be done here in Queens. I look forward to working with Speaker Heastie to bring about a new era of criminal justice in our Borough and I’m honored to have his endorsement.”