Assembly Open To Holding Sexual Harassment Hearings

From the Morning Memo:

Lawmakers in the state Assembly are open to holding public hearings to discuss sexual harassment in state government and how to develop policies that would address the issue, Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Wednesday.

“We’ve never closed the door to hearings,” Heastie said. “We have a new session coming in. We’ll speak about those things.”

Survivors and victims of harassment who have worked in state government have called for hearings on the issue in Albany after lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to a series of anti-harassment measures.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group has said the changes approved earlier this year have fallen short on several fronts, making hearings a preferred method of airing concerns.

Heastie added with reporters the Assembly’s staff had met with several victims in recent weeks to discuss the issue.

“Thank you @CarlHeastie for recognizing the need to open the door and shed light on the pervasiveness of sexual harassment- #MeTooPublicHearings is a crucial step we need to take,” the group wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening in response to Heastie’s comments.

Heastie: ‘Technical Flaws’ In Pay Commission Report

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on Wednesday said there are “technical flaws” in the strings attached to the first legislative pay raise in 20 years by a compensation commission.

Assembly Democrats met for more than two hours in Albany to introduce new members, re-elect Heastie their leader for the new session and discuss the discontent surrounding the pay commission’s report.

Legislative pay will grow from $79,500 in base salary to $130,000 in the next several years, but the commission also determined it could end the stipend system for most leadership jobs, limit outside income and tie the phased-in salary hikes to the passage of budgets by the start of the state’s fiscal year.

“The technical problems that we’ve identified, our staff, our lawyers have identified that we believe we’re now going to have to fix,” Heastie told reporters after the meeting.

It’s not clear for now how lawmakers will tackle this, however. Heastie did not commit to the likely difficult job of holding a special session of both the Senate and Assembly before the end of the year to overturn the pay commission’s recommendations.

“The Legislature always has the ability to fix,” he said. “That’s why democracy is great. But those are things we have to decide. We haven’t decided any of that. This was just the first briefing for members to understand there were some deeply technical flaws in this report.”

Lawmakers also remain miffed by the commission backing a pay increase for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose own salary will grow to $250,000 and is not tied to similar restrictions, such as an outside income limit. Cuomo’s cabinet members, commissioners who head state departments, are also set to increase.

Cuomo’s pay raise is not tied to “performance” as well, such as the on-time budget, but kicks in with a joint resolution of the Senate and Assembly.

“They took all the stipulations off the governor and the commissioners,” Heastie said.

Assembly Democrats To Meet

From the Morning Memo:

Assembly Democrats are set to meet later Wednesday ahead of an especially active legislative session in 2019 that could see legislation the chamber has long approved pass in the state Senate.

The focus has been largely on the other side of the Capitol where the state Senate meets given the narrow divide between Republicans and Democrats, the push by liberals to help the party when majority control and the landslide loss of the GOP on Election Day.

Next year, with Democrats leading both chambers with large majorities, long-stalled legislation touching virtually every facet of life in New York, from health care, to how we vote, to education and campaign finance reform stands a real chance of being made law.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is expected to once again lead a conference of more than 100 members in the 150-seat chamber. The Bronx Democrat who became speaker following the indictment of Sheldon Silver in 2015, Heastie remains popular with individual rank-and-file members given that he’s seen as a listener.

But there are challenges, not the least of which is the pay raise compromise presented to the Legislature, which boosts base salaries over three years to $130,000, but comes with strings attached: A cap on outside income, a virtual end to the stipend system for most leadership posts and the requirement that budgets pass by April 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year.

The conditions give Gov. Andrew Cuomo leverage in the budget talks while also potentially triggering retirements of lawmakers who would not be able to divest from their businesses.

The recommendations of the pay commission have the force of the law unless the Legislature rejects them by the end of the year. That speculation was stoked on Tuesday when soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan blasted the pay raise conditions. Flanagan remains majority leader through the end of the month.

For now, there appears to be little appetite in either chamber to force a return to Albany before the end of the year — a move that would be a logistical challenge given the holiday season and the likelihood of lame duck senators not wishing to return to Albany.

But stranger things in Albany have happened.

Either way, it’s clear Heastie is not pleased with the compensation commission’s recommendations. Heastie’s criticism was from an institutionalist’s perspective: The Legislature, a separate branch, should have some independence.

Assemblyman Hawley Criticizes Outside Income Limits

From the Morning Memo:

As of yesterday afternoon, Assemblyman Steve Hawley, a Batavia Republican, was holding out hope the state pay commission’s official report would somehow contain different recommendations than it initially indicated last week.

He had no such luck, as the commission not only moved forward with a significant raise for legislators, but also a cap on outside income at 15 percent of the salary.

That leaves Hawley facing a difficult decision.

He’s been a legislator since 2006, but has owned his insurance business for nearly three decades. That business, he said, generates several hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, which he uses, at least in part to pay dozens of employees.

Hawley said he would give serious consideration to giving up control of the day-to-day operation, but that doesn’t appear to be allowed for in the commission’s ruling. If divestment is his only option, he said that will be a tougher decision.

“I think I’d have to take a look at the specifics of it, see if there’s a way for me to support my clients and my staff who have been so good to me over the years,” Hawley said.

The Republican said the Legislature should vote on the pay commission’s report, even though the original vote forming it did not call for a final approval. He also noted did not vote for creating the commission in the first place.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that he believed Democrats, who will control both the Senate and Assembly as of January, will support the commission’s report if it does go to a vote.

Heastie: Outrageous To Say Dems Won’t Address Upstate Needs

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a radio interview Tuesday pushed back against claims Democrats next year won’t address the needs of upstate New York.

“It is the most outrageous thing I think I’ve heard,” Heastie said in an interview with WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom. “I’ve toured this state, particularly upstate New York, every year that I’ve been the leader.”

Democrats will control both chambers of the Legislature next year for the first time in a decade. Heastie is from the Bronx and incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is from Yonkers in Westchester County.

“Have no fear,” Heastie said, “we respect every single part of this state.”

He pointed to broad needs for New York as addressing concerns faced statewide including “good jobs, education, health care and great transportation.”

“All of those things will be looked at,” Heastie said. “Yes, a lot of things have to be done with the MTA, but we know there are transportation needs throughout the state.”

Heastie Says He’s ‘A Little Frustrated’ By Pay Debate

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in a radio interview on Tuesday said he was frustrated by the terms of the debate over whether state lawmakers should receive their first legislative pay raise in 20 years.

A commission, led by current and former state and city comptrollers, will decide this month whether lawmakers will receive a boost in their base $79,500 salary.

But Heastie has bristled at the push to link any pay hike to reforms, such as a ban or limit on outside income for the Legislature.

“The mission of the commission was to really look at what is the right pay for legislators and not how to reform the operations of the house,” Heastie said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

Still, Heastie has expressed a willingness to consider the reform of an outside income change as the commission itself has expressed sympathy with the 20-year pay raise drought.

The commission is also considering pay raises for members of the governor’s cabinet. Heastie said some editorials written in opposition to the pay hike without reform have contained “venom” directed unfairly at the Legislature.

“Everyone is only asking for reforms on the Legislature,” he said. “If you’re asking for reforms in exchange for compensation, you can do that for anyone who is captured under this law. But I get it, the Legislature is always the dog you kick.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said in multiple interviews in recent weeks that a legislative pay hike should also come with reforms, such as an outside income ban.

The public perception of a legislative pay raise may difficult to combat, given the corruption scandals that have engulfed state government in recent years.

Lawmakers have approved multiple ethics reform packages in recent years.

“I don’t know if any legislative reform is going to fix peoples’ mortality,” Heastie said Tuesday in the interview. “People know when they’re doing the wrong thing. But we’ll continue to give the voters of this state the confidence that their legislators are operating openly and ethically.”

Simotas Urges Approval For Sexual Assault Survivor Bill Of Rights

Assemblywoman Aravvella Simotas in a statement on Monday urged the approval of the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights after Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office last week announced a settlement against hospital that had improperly billed rape victims for forensic examinations.

“I am shocked and horrified by the illegal practice of billing rape survivors for forensic rape examinations, that Attorney General Barbara Underwood exposed last week,” Simotas said.

“One of the most disturbing aspects of this is that a new law might have prevented this travesty but it has been waiting for the governor’s signature for six months, after passing the Assembly and the Senate in June 2018. Until the governor signs it, the law will not take effect.”

The bill is meant to bolster the rights of survivors, including updates on the status of their rape kit and whether a DNA profile was developed and a match identified. It would also provide contact information for the law enforcement agency that has jurisdiction of the crime.

And the bill would give the survivor the right to consultation with a representative from a rape crisis or victim assistance organization before a physical examination or law enforcement interview. The representative could also accompany the survivor through the examination and interview.

“No rape survivor should be re-traumatized by bureaucracy, ill-treatment, thoughtlessness or lack of transparency in the health care or criminal justice systems,” Simotas said.

“In 2016 the governor signed legislation that I sponsored to mandate the speedy processing of rape kits and end the backlog. I urge the governor to now sign the Sexual Assault Survivor Bill of Rights so that our state continues to protect and advance the rights of sexual assault survivors.

Heastie: Legislators Face Middle-Class Squeeze

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie sought to make the case on Friday for a legislative pay raise, pointing to the middle-class financial pressures state lawmakers face — including caring for children and older loved ones as well as student loans and mortgages.

“Legislators are not insulated from the financial pressures that face their constituents,” he said, noting the majority of the state’s 213 lawmakers live in and around the New York City. “These are areas with a high cost of living, some of which have the highest cost of living in the nation.”

At the same time, Heastie told the four-man panel determining whether lawmakers could receive their first salary increase in 20 years that he is open to proposals for a ban or limits to outside income for individual lawmakers, such as earning a salary at a law firm.

But Heastie said he would not want to commit to supporting a measure linked to a raise in pay.

“We understand what people are saying,” Heastie said. “We’ve shown that we have an appetite for listening, but it’s difficult — I’m going to be very consistent — to agree to a specific piece of legislation in exchange for compensation is not something I’m willing to do.”

State lawmakers earn a base pay of $79,500 and many earn more with legislative stipends. The last legislative pay raise in 1999 was paired with a boost in charter schools in New York.

Now, a pay raise composed of former and current state and New York City comptrollers will determine whether lawmakers will receive the boost in pay.

“I believe the relevant task of the commission is what is the fair amount of compensation and that’s for the four of you to decide,” Heastie told the panel. “I think the Legislature would take your recommendations seriously, but I can’t at this point say what I’d be willing to do, because that would totally inappropriate for me to do that.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an interview earlier on Friday indirectly suggested the pay commission’s final report, due next month, would potentially tie the raise to a reform in how lawmakers can earn money outside of public office.

In the interview, WAMC’s expressed admiration for Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, who sits on the panel.

Cuomo responded, “You just said you love Tom DiNapoli. He’s going to say, ‘you have to agree to ban outside income or you don’t get a raise.'”

Cuomo added, “He has to say it if you love him. He can’t say I’ll give you a raise and you won’t have to do anything.”

DiNapoli in Albany on Wednesday said it was not clear if the commission in its report could link the raise to an outside income ban.

“It’s my point of view that that’s an appropriate reform,” DiNapoli said. “The extent this committee has the ability to impose something like that is open to question, but it’s certainly a reform that should have been done a long time ago.”

Kolb Re-Elected Republican Leader

Brian Kolb was re-elected the leader of the Assembly Republicans on Tuesday and is set to continue his post as the minority leader in the chamber when the Legislature convenes in January for the 2019 legislative session.

Kolb has led the Assembly GOP conference since 2009.

“Our voice is always going to be what’s in the best interest of the taxpayer,” Kolb said in an interview about the unanimous vote.

He pointed to challenges ranging from mass transit, infrastructure and special education.

But Republicans are also firmly in the wilderness in state government, with Republicans in the state Senate losing their majority and joining Assembly Republicans out of power.

Assembly Republicans for the last several decades have staked out a loyal opposition role in the chamber in which they are vastly outnumbered.

“We’re going to be the voice of reason for the taxpayer,” Kolb said. “You can’t over tax, you can’t overspend.”

Peoples-Stokes Plans To Meet With Heastie Prior To Assembly Reorganization Meeting

From the Morning Memo:

There’s a job opening in the state Assembly and veteran Democrat Crystal Peoples-Stokes appears to be an obvious candidate.

The assembly woman potentially could take over the majority leader seat vacated by now-Congressman Joe Morelle. However, Peoples-Stokes is taking a diplomatic approach rather than overtly campaigning for the role.

“It’s important to me to support the leadership of the speaker,” she said. “I think he’s done a fabulous job and whoever he decides to be the majority leader, I will support that decision.”

Asked who she thinks her competition is, Peoples-Stokes said it could be any member of the Assembly. She did admit her resume fits the mold.

“I do know from a historical perspective that it generally tends to be somebody Upstate and it generally tends to be someone who has significant seniority, both of which I fit,” she said.

Ultimately the decision does come down to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie who Peoples-Stokes has worked closely with over the years. She said she has not had any extended conversations with him yet.

“I did receive a text from him that we would talk in a meeting prior to our reorganization meeting in our December,” she said.

Peoples-Stokes district includes a large portion of the city of Buffalo and she has been in the Assembly since 2003.