Trial Lawyers Back Green Light Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The New York State Trial Lawyers Association on Friday will formally endorse a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

The trial lawyers group is the latest organization to endorse the measure as the Democratic-led Assembly is preparing a floor vote for the bill on Tuesday.

Their argument largely mirrors what supporters have sought to highlight in recent months — the measure would provide a measure of traffic safety. In a memorandum of support, the trial lawyers association pointed to the bill’s potential for increasing the number of insured drivers on the road.

“Ensuring drivers are capable and informed of traffic laws through proper licensing protects public safety,” the association wrote in a memo in support. “Just as important, proper licensing allows drivers to register their vehicles and procure insurance, which helps drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and the general public.”

The measure has gained the support in recent weeks from the Business Council, the Vegetable Growers Association as well as labor unions like 1199.

“Regardless of status, the streets are safer with increased transparency regarding who is driving a vehicle, and this legislation achieves that goal,” the group wrote. “All participants of the civil justice system would benefit from a system that increases information about New Yorkers relative to their use of a motor vehicle.”

Nevertheless, the bill’s chances of passage are in doubt as the Democratic-led state Senate continues to grapple with the proposal. Several suburban and upstate Democrats have raised concerns with the bill after speaking with local law enforcement officials.

And, on Thursday, state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs confirmed he had spoken with multiple senators about the potential political toll the measure could carry for the party.

State Dem Chair’s Comments Stir Green Light Bill Debate

Comments made Thursday by state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs have stirred an increasingly tension-filled debate at the state Capitol over whether to extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York.

Jacobs told several outlets on Thursday — including Spectrum News, Gothamist and Newsday — that he had spoken to Democratic state senators about his concerns with the bill and the potential political toll the measure would take in next year’s elections.

In an interview with Spectrum News, Jacobs said the package of progressive measures has in part been done too quickly in the Legislature without a public education campaign.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, emphasized efforts to work together in the party.

“This year the Democratic Majority took historic action by delivering on what we promised and the voters demanded,” he said. “We finally passed a permanent property tax cap, provided record school funding, stood up for women’s rights, passed strong gun laws, enacted voting reforms and protected the environment with even more to come. Every Democratic Leader, including the Party Chair, should celebrate these accomplishments rather than sowing divisions within the party.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as another reason to stoke opposition to the bill.

“Reports that Senate Democrats from Long Island are being instructed by Jay Jacobs to vote ‘no’ on legislation providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants should scare every hardworking Long Island resident who opposes this bill. This is nothing more than a cynical political ploy,” Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan said.

“Hiding behind the New York City dominated Democratic Majority and simply voting ‘no’ is not enough. Either you stop the so-called ‘Green Light’ bill from coming to the floor or you signal to every one of your constituents that you support giving driver’s licenses to people who are here illegally. It’s really that simple.”

Jay Jacobs, Democratic Chairman, Urges Caution On Progressive Issues

New York State Democratic Chairman Jay Jacobs in an interview on Thursday confirmed he has spoken with Democratic state senators about his concerns surrounding the political fallout of a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Jacobs’s discussions were first reported by Gotamist.

Jacobs declined to say which senators he spoke to, but did say not all were from Long Island, where Jacobs has served as the chairman of the Nassau County Democratic Committee.

“Any senator that was interested in my views on this matter, I gave them my view,” he said. “I’m just saying those that did reach out to me, I gave them my view.”

He added, “None of these senators won by landslides.”

The Democratic-led Assembly on Tuesday is expected to advance the measure, known as the Green Light bill, in a full floor vote for the first time. The proposal for the last decade has been a politically fraught issue for Democrats after it was first backed and later withdrawn by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

Jacobs told me he was not acting at the behest of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he would sign the bill, but on Thursday in a radio interview doubted whether Democrats in the Senate have the votes to pass it.

“The governor did not ask me to do or say anything on this matter,” he said.

And, more broadly, Jacobs said he was not acting on behalf of any concerns the governor may have privately about the proposal.

“I don’t think that’s fair to the governor, I don’t think that’s fair to me,” he said. “The governor is speaking about what’s good for government. I’m speaking about what’s good politically for those who are elected to govern.”

Jacobs reiterated his concerns in the interview about the measure’s political impact for Democrats elected in battleground districts. Democrats last year won a working majority in the state Senate for the first time in a decade, flipping Republican-held seats on Long Island and the Hudson Valley.

“I can’t say for sure what the outcome would be,” Jacobs said of the political fallout if the Green Light bill is approved. “We are getting such a banging on several of the things that the Democrats did this year that I’m afraid this could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It’s not necessarily fatal if it’s the only thing we chose to do.”

Jacobs said Democrats in moderate-to-conservative areas of the state are “getting a lot of heat” on measures already approved this year like the Dream Act, which extends tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants, eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies as well as a measure strengthening abortion laws.

Jacobs said the RHA, which he and Democrats formally backed, has been attacked “for the way it was written.”

“I think there’s a great deal to be said about doing some good informational education around these ideas and selling them before you do that,” he said. “There’s not been enough selling — press conferences, town hall forums. We’ve had none of that, where’s the rush?”

He added, “When you win with a tight margin and have representatives that come from regions that are not as progressive as others you have to be careful. The question I have to do you want to play the short game or the long game?”

NY-19: Delgado Endorsed By League Of Conservation Voters

Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado’s re-election is another year away, but a prominent environmental organization on Wednesday endorsed his re-election.

Delgado, elected last year to a battleground seat in the Hudson Valley, was endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund in his bid for a second term.

In a statement, Delgado pointed to his clean water efforts since taking office.

“I am committed to fighting for legislation to protect our environment and am honored to have the support of the LCV Action Fund,” he said.

“We share a commitment to ensuring everyone has access to clean air and water while addressing the root causes and impacts of climate change and investing in renewable energy sources. In my first five months in Congress, I am proud to have led on legislation to address PFAS and PFOA contamination, which has devastated local communities like Hoosick Falls and Petersburgh, and cosponsored the Climate Action Now Act to address climate change and pollution at a global level. I look forward to continuing this work while serving the people of my district.”

Delgado’s district is likely once again to be the focus of an intense campaign. He unseated Republican Rep. John Faso last year.

“LCV Action Fund is proud to endorse Representative Antonio Delgado for reelection because he is committed to protecting our air and water and fighting the climate crisis,” said Tiernan Sittenfeld, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the LCV Action Fund. “In just his first few months in Congress, he has called attention to water contamination issues in both the House Agriculture and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committees and cosponsored the historic Climate Action Now Act. We need his voice in Congress to keep fighting for the health and future of New Yorkers and people across the country.”

DiNapoli Endorses Katz In Queens DA Race

From the Morning Memo:

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Wednesday will officially endorse Democratic Queens district attorney candidate Melinda Katz as she faces a crowded primary this month.

“The District Attorney’s office has an extraordinary amount of power to shape our criminal justice system and Melinda Katz has shown time and again that she’s up to the task of not only managing the Queens DA’s office, but reforming it from top to bottom,” DiNapoli said.

“She’s a skilled lawyer, a passionate advocate on behalf of the people of Queens, and an expert administrator who knows how to bring communities together to make change. The reforms she’s proposing – from an end to cash bail to new bureaus in the office that will better protect workers and immigrants – will make Queens a safer and more equitable community. She has my full support.”

The endorsement from DiNapoli is the latest prominent Democrat to back her campaign as the primary as drawn the attention of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a supporter of Tiffany Cabán.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to appear a fundraiser for Katz next week and she has received endorsements from large labor unions like the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU and the New York Hotel Trades Council.

“Comptroller DiNapoli has spent over 30 years in public service fighting to make sure our government works better for everyone,” said Katz, the Queens borough president, in a statement.

“As Comptroller he’s transformed the office, aggressively rooting out corruption and steering our state’s investments in a better direction. He’s been a criminal justice reformer in his own right as well. Last year he made headlines for completely divesting the state’s pension fund from private prison companies. He’s set an example with his bold leadership and I’m honored to have his endorsement.”

Gillibrand Blasts Latest Law Restricting Abortion

From the Morning Memo:

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in a statement released through her presidential campaign on Thursday blasted the approval of a Louisiana bill that is the latest in the country to place new restrictions on abortion.

The measure bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected and does not have any exceptions for rape or incest.

The bill was approved by a Democratic governor — a development Gillibrand said showed the issue was beyond party politics.

“Governor John Bel Edwards is turning his back on women in Louisiana by signing this shameful bill, which is a blatant violation of their basic human and reproductive rights,” she said.

“Regardless of your personal beliefs, no politician in America, Republican or Democrat, has the right to control women’s bodies or involve themselves in women’s health care decisions. As president, I will ensure that every woman in every state in this country has access to the full slate of reproductive health care options, including abortion.”

Multiple “heartbeat” bills have been approved in recent weeks as well as a measure that is considered the country’s most restrictive, banning the procedure at six weeks of a pregnancy and can punish doctors who perform abortions with life in prison.

The measures also come months after New York approved the Reproductive Health Act, a measure that is meant to strengthen abortion laws in the state.

Mega Deal — Or No Deal?

From the Morning Memo:

The elements are there for a mega deal in three weeks.

With rent control due to be renewed at the end of June, lawmakers could — and likely will — cram the re-approval measure into a broader omnibus bill.

This, in Albany parlance, has come to be called the big ugly, a package of disparate issues put together often at the last minute as deals are struck with a clicking tock in the background. Albany is a deadline driven place and deadlines often help cast final deals into stone.

This year, lawmakers are also debating measures to legalize gestational surrogacy and commercial marijuana, as well as mobile sports betting and whether to allow access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

So far this week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to prod the Legislature along — signaling out the Democrats in the state Senate in particular — to take action.

Cuomo argues the accomplishments gotten done so far — gun control, protections for transgender New Yorkers, strengthening the state’s abortion laws — are essentially low-hanging fruit for a Democratic-controlled Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Wednesday brushed off Cuomo’s criticism, suggesting he gets “stressed” as the session draws to a close.

And she’s hopeful large-scale deals can be reached — whether or not they are ultimately included in one giant bill.

“I never say no, but our hope is that we’ll be able to come to a consensus on a lot of things so that the big ugly as they say will neither be big nor ugly,” she said. “Our eye is focused on getting things done.”

Adams Endorses Katz For Queens DA

From the Morning Memo:

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams on Tuesday is set to endorse Melinda Katz for Queens district attorney as she seeks the Democratic nomination in a crowded primary field next month.

In a statement, Adams praised Katz’s platform on criminal justice law changes as well as her record in office.

“Melinda Katz has used the Borough President’s office to make Queens safer and advance important criminal justice reforms throughout the Borough,” Adams said in a statement.

“She’s spearheaded warrant forgiveness and conviction sealing programs to give people a second chance. She put together an impressive Immigration Task Force to make sure immigrants throughout Queens could get legal representation and resources to stay safe. Most importantly, Melinda has forged deep relationships throughout Queens with community organizations and nonprofits that she’ll bring to the DA’s office to help accomplish her plans for reform. I’m proud to join the growing group of leaders supporting her.”

Adams is considered a potential Democratic candidate for mayor in 2021. His endorsement is the latest in a string of public elected officials, officeholders and labor groups that have backed Katz.

“Borough President Adams has spent his career speaking truth to power and using his position – first as a police officer, then as a State Senator, and now as the Borough President – to create meaningful change in our criminal justice system,” Katz said.

“He’s worked hard to improve police-community relations and knows how important it is for law enforcement officials to have built up credibility and trust in the communities they represent. I’m honored to have his endorsement and look forward to working with him on city-wide criminal justice reform measures.”

Marijuana Legalization Bill Amended

A bill that would legalize marijuana in New York was amended on Friday to include aspects of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal earlier this year as lawmakers make an end-of-session push for the measure.

The amended bill includes the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management, a proposal first made by the governor in his budget plan. The new agency would be tasked with regulating retail and medical cannabis as well as hemp in New York.

But lawmakers also added language that would expunge the records of those convicted of low-level marijuana offenses. The policy has been backed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, but Cuomo has instead proposed sealing records.

The Drug Policy Alliance in a statement Friday evening said the revised measure is “geared toward improving public health, reducing criminalization stemming from use and possession, and limiting youth access.”

It’s not clear, however, if the changes are enough to move the issue forward between now and the end of legislative session, due to conclude on June 19.

Suburban and upstate Democrats have raised concerns over the public safety aspects of legalization, echoing the opposition of some law enforcement officials.

Meanwhile, multiple counties, including both on Long Island, have preemptively stated they would opt out of allowing the marijuana industry within their borders.

There is also the commercialization issue: Some lawmakers do not want the industry dominated by large companies.

Cuomo had initially sought to use some of the sales tax generated by marijuana sales in New York City to bolster revenue for mass transit infrastructure upgrades in the metropolitan area. The proposal was shelved, however, during the state budget negotiations and an agreement was never reached.

Lawmakers have proposed using revenue from marijuana sales to aid communities affected by prior drug laws and fund marijuana-use research.

Cuomo in recent weeks has also been skeptical lawmakers have the votes to move the legalization measure forward.

Delgado Introduces Bill Aimed At Hiring Military Spouses

A bill that is meant to spur the hiring of military spouses was backed on Thursday by Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado.

The bill was introduced with Democratic and Republican lawmakers. The goal of the measure is to provide incentives to businesses and employers to hire those who are married to members of the armed forces.

“Military families make immense sacrifices for our country, yet military spouses experience an unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent,” Delgado said. “Supporting military families is a top priority, and I’m proud to introduce legislation to address the military spouse unemployment crisis and empower thousands of families in Upstate New York and across the country,” said Rep. Delgado. “I thank my co-leads on both sides of the aisle for joining me to introduce the Military Spouse Hiring Act today.”

Lawmakers want to address the unemployment rates for military spouses, which exceed the national average. The proposal would expand the Working Opportunity Tax Credit to include hiring qualified military spouses. It would allow employers to claim a tax credit equal to the portion of the wages paid.