Andrew Cuomo

Cuomo Won’t Say If He’d Remove Clerks Who Refuse To Issue Licenses

Gov. Andrew Cuomo sidestepped a question when asked Friday if he would remove county clerks who refuse to issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, pointing to a likely legal challenge to the law.

“I think it’s going to be beyond that,” Cuomo said at a news conference. “They’re going to hide behind the lawsuit. They’re going to start a lawsuit and say I want a legal resolution. This is going to be a difficult legal question.”

Cuomo approve a measure this week that would allow undocumented immigrants later this year to begin applying for driver’s licenses.

Local government officials, including county clerks who run motor vehicle departments, have said they will refuse to issue licenses, with some threatening to call federal immigration officials. The governor has constitutional authority to remove some local officials, including county clerks.

Cuomo has expressed concerns the law could be used by the federal government to identify undocumented immigrants, pointing to a court battle in California over the issue.

“If we get a federal subpoena, we cannot destroy the DMV database,” Cuomo said.

And he predicted that until there is clarity on the issue, few people living in the U.S. illegally will seek the licenses.

“Not that many people will be signing up until they know they won’t be subject to a federal government subpoena that would lead to deportation,” he said.

Attorney General Letitia James in a statement earlier this week said there were “ample safeguards” in the law to protect against federal immigration enforcement.

Nevertheless, Cuomo said he expects the issue to be used by Republicans in next year’s elections.

“That is a political issue that is going to play out in the elections next year because that is what the president is running on, it’s immigration with a different name,” he said. “That’s what driver’s licenses for undocumented is all about, it’s immigration.”

Steven Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition responded, calling on Cuomo to sack county clerks who don’t follow the driver’s license law.

“Governor Cuomo said it right in 2011 when clerks refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples – you don’t get to pick and choose what laws to enforce,” he said. “This is the law of the land in the State of New York and this Governor needs to defend driver’s licenses as strongly as same-sex marriage licenses.”

Cuomo: Marijuana Legalization Should Have Been Packaged With Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is nothing if not a creature of the process in Albany.

And that was on display Friday after lawmakers concluded the 2019 legislative session without support for the legalization of marijuana, setting up a regulatory and retail system for cannabis.

Cuomo at a news conference with reporters wrapping up the session said, once again, lawmakers should have backed marijuana legalization in the state budget.

“I’m not going to say I told you so. But I’m going to say everything but,” he said.

“The Legislature did not want to do it in the budget,” Cuomo added. “I said I thought it was a mistake. They wanted to do it afterwords and they didn’t have the political support for the votes.”

The governor holds considerably more leverage over the budget process and can shape the final document in a way he cannot outside of the spending plan.

But lawmakers this week failed to reach a consensus on how to legalize marijuana. Short of the votes, they backed legislation that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and expunge criminal records. A separate bill promotes and regulates the hemp industry.

A bill expanding the state’s medical marijuana program, however, did not gain final passage. And Cuomo said he is reviewing the hemp legislation and did not commit to signing it.

The more sweeping legalization bill failed to gain support, especially among Democrats on Long Island.

“I said the budget was an easier vehicle to get things done,” Cuomo said. “The budget is a vote you have to take. The budget puts many issues in it. It’s an easier political vehicle for a legislator to vote on a budget.”

The fallback bill decriminalizing marijuana was cheered by Cuomo, with lawmakers calling it a first step.

“To me it was an obvious act of justice because everybody will agree it’s the black and brown community that’s been disproportionately effected by enforcement,” he said.

Lacewell Confirmed As DFS Superintendent

Linda Lacewell has been confirmed as the new superintendent of the Department of Financial Services, a key regulatory post in state government.

Lacewell has served with Gov. Andrew Cuomo in several roles, including as his chief of staff, counselor and chief risk officer. She also worked with Cuomo in the attorney general’s office and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be confirmed as Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services,” Lacewell said. “I thank Governor Cuomo and the Members of the New York State Senate for the opportunity to lead this essential agency and I look forward to working with the entire Legislature at a time when it has never been more important to protect consumers, safeguard markets, enforce the law and encourage real financial services innovation.”

Lacewell had been serving in an acting capacity at the department since she was nominated by Cuomo for the post last year.

The Department of Financial Services was formed in 2011 as part of a merger between the banking and insurance department, serving as a regulatory agency for those industries in New York.

Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Heads To Cuomo’s Desk

A bill that decriminalizes the possession of small amounts of marijuana and expunges marijuana-related arrest and conviction records is heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s for his approval.

State lawmakers in the Assembly put the finishing touches on the bill early Friday morning following a marathon final session day. The state Senate approved the measure Thursday evening.

“The drug laws that are currently on the books have devastated our communities by disproportionately targeting people of color, forcing them to live with a criminal record that makes it harder to get a job or find housing,” Speaker Carl Heastie said.

“Decriminalizing marijuana, paired with expunging records for these low-level offenses, will help undo some of these decades long injustices, and allow for people to be productive and successful. This is not the final step, but it will lay the groundwork for full decriminalization and legalization in the future.”

The bill changes the current marijuana possession law, which punishes possession by a fine for the first offense and as a misdemeanor once it is open to public viewed or being burned.

The bill would change first-degree unlawful possession to an ounce of marijuana or more. The maximum fine would be $200. Second-degree unlawful possession would lead to a maximum $50 fine.

Lawmakers introduced the measure earlier this week as a fallback option amid disagreement over a broader legalization package that would have set up a retail and regulatory system for cannabis in the state.

But lawmakers could not reach an agreement on the legalization plan, and advocates for the bill were disappointed with the more narrow decriminalization alternative.

Still, lawmakers said the bill that is expected to be signed by Cuomo is step forward toward broader legalization.

“By passing this bill, we will bring hope and relief to thousands of New Yorkers through the expungement of low-level marijuana records and by preventing unnecessary arrests for small amounts of marijuana,” Assembly Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes said.

“This is an important first step to take towards marijuana justice, but there is more to be done. I will continue fighting for communities and people most harmed by the war on drugs, and remain committed to establishing wide ranging marijuana-related policies that will improve lives and provide for community investment.”

Cuomo Says He Expects A Legal Challenge To ‘Green Light’ Bill

The state government will likely be sued over a measure that allow undocumented immigrants living in New York to apply for driver’s licenses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday in a radio interview.

“Yes, there is going to be a lawsuit. The question became what happens when there is a lawsuit? I get the politics,” Cuomo said in a WAMC interview. “Do we win or do we lose? That question was posed to the Solicitor General, which is the appeals and opinions office of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General’s job is to offer opinions.”

Lawmakers approved the measure, known as the Green Light bill, earlier this week and Cuomo signed it into law.

He had initially asked Solicitor General Barbara Underwood to determine whether the law would lead to the federal government seeking records of those who applied for standard licenses and using the information as a database to find undocumented immigrants.

Ultimately, Attorney General Letitia James in a statement re-affirmed the measure was constitutional and had safeguards to prevent a federal immigration enforcement effort.

Still, local government officials have already signaled they intend to file legal challenges to the law. Some county clerks who administer local Motor Vehicle offices have also pledged to not enforce the law.

“The Attorney General responded that she believes the law has sufficient safeguards and it can be defended,” Cuomo said. “I said based on the representation of the Attorney General and the Solicitor General, that we can win this case. Fine, I’ll sign the bill and I hope they’re right.”

Cuomo Says Decriminalization A ‘Major Accomplishment’

A bill that would decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and expunge the arrest and convictions of marijuana-related offenses would be a “major accomplishment” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a radio interview on Thursday morning as lawmakers extend the legislative session.

The decriminalization bill is seen as a fall back option for state lawmakers, introduced on Sunday, after a broader legalization bill that would have set up a taxation and regulatory system for retail cannabis failed to gain traction this week.

Cuomo has endorsed the decriminalization bill, and reiterated in the interview on WAMC public radio this morning that the legalization bill faced a difficult path in the Legislature after it fell out of the state budget talks.

Considering the bill as a standalone measure made it more difficult to get through, as opposed to wrapping into a larger budget plan, Cuomo said.

But it remains to be seen if the decriminalization bill can be approved in the Legislature, either. Advocates for marijuana legalization regard the more narrowly tailored bill as less than half a loaf.

Was Marijuana Legalization Doomed?

From the Morning Memo:

The warnings from Gov. Andrew Cuomo began in March.

As the budget negotiations were beginning in earnest, Cuomo on March 4 began to publicly doubt the chances of marijuana legalization.

“I think they make a big mistake if they don’t do marijuana in the budget because I think they’re going to be in trouble if they don’t get marijuana done by the budget, I think it’s a mistake to leave it for afterwards, I’ve said it,” Cuomo said at the time.

Ultimately, it wasn’t included in the budget, where Cuomo had wanted to use revenue to bolster capital spending for mass transit in New York City.

And it won’t be included at the end of the legislative session, either.

Cuomo warned publicly a half dozen or so different times about the level of support for the bill, primarily in the state Senate.

“I said if we don’t do it in the budget it’s going to be much harder after the budget,” Cuomo said on June 12 at a news conference. “We had that conversation. They said we don’t want to do it in the budget. We don’t want to do policy in the budget. we want to do it after the budget. I said I think that’s a mistake.”

Marijuana legalization turned into something of an undead bill for much of the session, with the measure being declared too difficult to get done, only to be resurrected as talks resumed.

So, what happened?

Sen. Liz Krueger diagnosed it: It was a complicated bill that was short of both time and votes.

Lawmakers were doing what, so far, no state has fully achieved: The approval and implementation of a regulatory and taxation system for retail cannabis. The measure’s moving parts included questions over where the money should be spent — communities effected by the war on drugs, law enforcement, drug use education, drug use study — and drew in complex discussions surrounding criminal justice.

Any single one of those bills could give lawmakers pause, let alone in a large omnibus bill introducing and regulating a new product in New York that, on the federal level, isn’t legal.

Then there was the question of the suburban Democrats, who already this week had a tough vote in front of them with a measure allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Those lawmakers, primarily from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, were were being put in an increasingly uncomfortable political position.

Pro-legalization advocates regard a fall back bill, a measure designed to decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge some arrest and conviction records, as not even half a loaf, and the bill is yet to gain full passage.

New York is often hailed as a progressive state. But there’s a history for the state over the last several decades baked into its political DNA when it comes to drug enforcement and drug laws.

That’s changed slowly in New York and at the state level as policy makers reconsider the expense. But for a state with a complicated and fraught history with drug enforcement this turned out not to be the year for marijuana legalization.

Climate Change Bill Heads To Cuomo’s Desk

From the Morning Memo:

A bill meant to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New York over the next 30 years has cleared the state Assembly and is heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk.

He’s expected to sign it.

The bill, known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, creates a climate action council and includes requirements the state’s carbon emissions is reduced by 85 percent of 1990 levels by 2050.

Investments for renewable energy technologies, with 35 percent directed for disadvantaged communities, is also included in the final agreement.

The Democratic-led Assembly approved the legislation early Thursday morning.

“Climate change is already having adverse effects on communities here in New York, and if it continues unchecked, it will wreak havoc on our environment, our economy and on the everyday lives of New Yorkers,” Speaker Carl Heastie said.

“As the administration in Washington rolls back environmental protections, the Assembly Majority will continue to lead the way in developing green energy alternatives and sustainable policies and practices.”

The bill has been cheered by environmental groups and came as something of a last-minute surprise after the governor doubted whether there was time for a climate change push in the final month of the legislative session.

Cuomo, in a statement, cheered the measure’s passage and said more would come on the issue.

“In December, I called for some of the most ambitious clean energy and pollution reduction targets in the nation under the Green New Deal for New York. We are now taking another historic step forward to stop the imminent threat of climate change by establishing the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction mandate in the nation and, we believe, in the entire world,” he said.

“And we will not stop there. After passing this bill, we continue to develop and implement policies and initiatives to spur unparalleled innovation and investments. As we transition to a net zero emissions future, we will continue to bolster green job initiatives to ensure that all New Yorkers share in the benefits of a clean energy economy. This comprehensive package will lead the way to a cleaner and greener future for generations to come.”

Cuomo Endorses Marijuana Decriminalization Bill

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana in New York after lawmakers concluded a more sweeping legalization bill could not pass this week.

“Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by laws governing marijuana for far too long and it has to end,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“I understand the desire to end session today as planned, and will give the legislature a message of necessity to expedite passage if required. This legislative proposal is not new. I first proposed this decriminalization measure in 2013, and again in this year’s budget. The time to act is now.”

In addition to ending enforcement of lower-level marijuana laws, the measure would expunge some marijuana-related arrest and conviction records.

A message of necessity — waiving the bill’s three-day aging process after its introduction — would not be necessary for the bill as it stands now. The measure was introduced on Sunday.

But lawmakers in the state Senate have not committed to passing the bill yet and are expected to discuss it in a closed-door meeting. And the bill could still be changed with an amendment, necessitating Cuomo to move the process along.

“It’s quite possible, we’re still having conversation, there’s a lot to look at,” said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, the sponsor of the decriminalization bill.

A source said the Assembly plans to pass the decriminalization bill at some point.

Lawmakers may also consider additional measures that would strengthen the state’s medical marijuana program and bolster the hemp industry.

Last-Minute Push On For Surrogacy Bill

Advocates for LGBTQ rights and celebrities are making a last-minute push for a bill that would legalize gestational surrogacy in New York.

Stonewall Democrats have released a statement, nudging Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, on the measure.

“With 24 hours left in the legislative session, it looks like the Assembly is not going to vote to legalize gestational surrogacy,” the group said in a statement.

“The LGBTQ community is watching closely and will not forget the lack of support, especially in the lead up to the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. In 2018, on the club’s lengthy endorsement questionnaire, every single member of the Assembly that we endorsed said they supported legalizing gestation surrogacy. That included Deborah Glick, a member of the LGBTQ community, and champion of progressive causes; she has now reversed her stated position. Nothing on the issue has changed since that time. Not one thing. Don’t flip flop on families. The time for action on surrogacy is now.”

At the same time, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes tweeted his support, as did pop singer Ricky Martin.

The measure, a key priority for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been opposed by some women’s groups, including advocate Gloria Steinem. Supporters say the bill contains enough safeguards to block exploitation of surrogates.