Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Revenge Porn

New York on Thursday moved closer to becoming the 42nd state in the country to back the outlawing of revenge porn — passing a measure that also makes it easier for victims to file lawsuits.

“Posting these images is a public safety issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “It violates privacy and it can severely damage survivors’ mental health.”

The bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature outlaws the distribution of sexually explicit images with the intent to harm a person — creating a misdemeanor charge. And the measure would hold social media companies responsible as well by requiring them to remove offending images — a needed provision says Assemblyman Joe Lentol.

“In the old days, it didn’t go too far,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol. “Now, when we have revenge porn that can be transmitted all across the world, and someone can be a superstar unnecessarily on YouTube, we have to do something about that.”

This version of the bill had stalled under Republican control in the state Senate. Assemblyman Ed Braunstein pointed to the concerns from social media companies raised about removing images, which would require a court order.

“They made those objections clear last year at the end of session and it’s our belief that it contributed to why it didn’t pass the state Senate,” said Assemblyman Ed Braunstein.

The bill was backed in the state Senate by freshman Long Island lawmaker Monica Martinez, who had passed a similar measure on the county level.

“Under our current laws, it is the victim who suffers,” said Sen. Monica Martinez. “It is the victim who has to change schools. It is the victim who has to lose their job.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. The governor on Thursday praised its passage, saying he was happy the Legislature embraced the proposal that also is included in his budget plan.

“For years I have called for outlawing revenge porn as part of our fight to combat sexual violence in all its forms,” Cuomo said. “This disgusting and insidious behavior, which can follow victims around their entire lives, has no place in New York.”

What Assembly Republicans Want

Republicans in the state Assembly on Wednesday unveiled their agenda that includes making the state’s cap on property taxes permanent and opposing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to close three prisons.

“The first rule of creating a budget should be ‘do no harm;’ however, recently history has shown lawmakers are too willing to disregard basic, sound accounting in order to advance their political agendas. New York has a serious problem wasting money. Taxpayer bank accounts are not a bottomless piggy bank, and for too long they have been treated as such,” Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb said.

“Our budget priorities reflect the reality that New Yorkers are leaving in droves because they simply cannot afford to live here. If you’re not thriving, you’re dying; and New York definitely isn’t thriving.”

The agenda also includes backing a living wage for direct-care workers, support for the phase in of a tax cut aimed at middle-income earners and reducing mandated state spending for local governemtns.

The Republican conference also wants to boost the tuition assistance program and keep the aid to municipalities program intact.

At the same time, the conference’s plan includes support for increasing spending for the Street and Highway Improvement Program by $100 million.

“Our conference is committed to protecting small businesses, middle-class taxpayers and homeowners. Local governments are being crushed by mandates, taxes are through the roof and Gov. Cuomo is brazenly proposing to cut critical funding to municipalities already under severe stress,” said Assemblyman Will Barclay.

“There is something very wrong with this picture. New Yorkers can only take so much more abuse at the hands of spend-happy lawmakers.”

Assembly Approves Equal Rights Amendment

A constitutional amendment enshrining gender equality in New York took another step on Tuesday with its passage in the Democratic-led state Assembly.

“The Assembly Majority is committed to ensuring that everyone in our state is treated with dignity and respect, and are not subject to discrimination based on who they are,” Speaker Carl Heastie said. “It is time for our constitution to reflect those values, and protect the equal rights of the women of New York.”

The amendment would guarantee equal rights for men and women, guarding against any effort to scale back rights for women in health, employment, domestic violence and education.

The state constitution provides for equal protection for race, color, creed and religion, but not on the basis of sex.

“Over ten million women residents of New York State will see the shining light of our signal vote, one year before we celebrate the 100th anniversary of their right to vote,” Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright said. “The time is now for my daughter and the families of all of our constituents to grow up and live in a state where there is equality of opportunity, of pay, and where fairness is our shared value by including women in the constitution.”

The amendment was backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State agenda earlier this year.

Rozic-Gounardes Bill Would End ‘Severe Or Pervasive’ Threshold

State lawmakers on Monday announced legislation that would end the use of the “severe or pervasive” standard in determining sexual harassment cases.

The bill, sponsored by Democrats Nily Rozic in the Assembly and Andrew Gounardes in the state Senate, is the first major piece of legislation to be announced after this month’s hearing on sexual harassment in the state Legislature.

The use of severe or pervasive in sexual harassment cases was criticized by survivors and victims of abuse who testified at the hearing, arguing that it fails to cover a range of misconduct.

“The flawed ‘severe or pervasive’ standard of sexual harassment has arbitrarily denied justice for far too long,” Rozic said in a statement. “As we work to strengthen our sexual harassment laws, the first step is to ensure that standards set are up to date and well defined.”

Gounardes called the use of the threshold “outdated, arbitrary, and entirely subjective.”

“By lowering this impossibly high burden of proof, we are unequivocally defining what constitutes harassment and finally fighting back against a legal framework that has protected perpetrators and denied survivors justice for far too long,” he said.

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.