State Senate

Senate Republicans Report $282K After Primary

Updated: A previous version of this post reported a prior campaign financing cash on hand total.

The campaign arm of the state Senate Republicans have $282,247 in cash on hand, according to a finance report made available following a state Senate primary in western New York to replace former Sen. Cathy Young.

The conference reported $72,121 in July for its housekeeping account, where contributions are unlimited, but spending is restricted to office-related functions.

The cash on hand total for the Senate GOP comes roughly a year before the party mounts a push to regain control of the state Senate, now firmly controlled by Senate Democrats.

The primary that triggered the release of the fundraising report for the Senate GOP was to replace Young, who is suing the campaign committee over a $100,000 payment.

Senate Democrats, who gained the majority last year for the first time in a decade, report $1.7 million in cash on hand in July. Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy said the current cash on hand total is more than $3 million.

New Bill Would Increase Access To Immunization Data

State lawmakers want to increase the ability of the public to gain access to immunization data, requiring all schools in the state to report specific information on their students’ immunization rate against disease that require vaccinations.

The bill, backed by Democrats Brad Hoylman in the state Senate and Jeffrey Dinowitz in the Assembly, would also require the state Department of Health to create a searchable database on its website that contains information on each school’s rate of compliance with immunization.

Much of the data lawmakers want to make public is already available on a searchable database at the Department of Health.

At the same time, the bill would require state health officials to analyze trends in immunization rates and medical exemptions from immunization over time in order to identify parts of the state that could be vulnerable to diseases.

The legislation was introduced this week after some school districts struggled to ensure students had received their required vaccinations after the state ended the religious exemption for vaccinations. The challenges facing schools led to some state lawmakers worrying about the amount of time education officials had to implement the new law.

That measure, also backed by Hoylman and Dinowitz, is being challenged in court by anti-vaccination advocates.

“Parents have a right to know. As New York continues to recover from the worst measles outbreak in four decades, parents deserve to be informed about whether their child’s fellow students are up to date on all their required vaccines,” Hoylman said in a statement.

“The legislation I carry with Assemblyman Dinowitz will equip parents, policy-makers, and public health officials with accurate data that will help them understand whether a specific school is in compliance with immunization requirements. No parent should have to worry for the safety and health of their child when sending them to school.”

Lawmakers approved the bill ending the vaccine religious exemption following a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn, which state and local officials say has now been largely brought under control, with no new cases reported over two incubation periods.

Long Island Dems Get Business Backing In Williams Pipeline Support

From the Morning Memo:

When the Democratic state senators who represent Long Island backed the Williams pipeline project with conditions, the move had real political and governmental implications.

Consider how potent environmental issues are for progressive Long Island voters. Consider also how key issues are like utility bills for residents, a major component of the debate over the pipeline.

And, needless to say, Long Island Senate districts are often closely watched battleground districts for control of the chamber as the suburbs are often a bellwether for the rest of the state.

The move was considered craven by Senate Republicans, including Minority Leader John Flanagan.

Once again, Long Island’s Democrat Senate delegation wants to have their cake and eat it too,” Flanagan said in a statement. “First, they pass so-called ‘Green New Deal”’legislation that will make it far more expensive for businesses and consumers to access the energy they need to live and work on Long Island — this after raising energy taxes by more than $100 million in this year’s budget.

Flanagan pointed to the push by the business community to gain Democratic support.

“We’ve known that this project is critical to homeowners, small businesses, and major infrastructure projects that are key to Long Island’s future,” he said. “Senate Democrats were silent during the entire application process, threatening billions of dollars of investment, and their policies are only going to make things worse.”

But Long Island’s business community is pleased the Senate Democrats from Long Island acted in support, emergency basis or not.

Kevin Law of the Long Island Association praised the lawmakers’ backing of the pipeline.

“The NESE project is critical for Long Island’s continued economic prosperity. We applaud the Long Island delegation for recognizing its importance to the region and we urge the DEC to approve this project immediately,” Law said in a statement.

“Long Island businesses and residents are facing an energy crisis and over three hundred billion dollars of economic development is at risk. NESE will ensure continued economic prosperity in the region and emissions reductions.”

And the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, a labor union that has backed both Republicans and Democrats over the years, also praised their support.

“I applaud the Long Island delegation for standing up for what makes sense,” said President Gary LaBarbera.

“The Northeast Supply Enhancement Project will increase our access to a clean and affordable energy source which can spur economic growth in Long Island. NESE will create long-term middle-class job opportunities that will put our state back to work — good family-wage jobs that represent the economic future for many communities across Long Island. These communities will stand to benefit the most as it will create thousands of union construction jobs and much needed revenue put back into our local economies.”

Still, there’s no guarantee the pipeline will be approved, support from suburban Democrats for the project or not.

But the move — and subsequent backing of the business community — is a sign of where power lies in the state Senate at the moment.

Liquor License Database Bill Approved

A bill that would require the State Liquor Authority to build and maintain a publicly available database of on-premise liquor licenses was approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a move cheered by lawmakers who backed the measure.

The bill, sponsored by Manhattan Democrats Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Sen. Brad Hoylman, would enable a resident to look up information on bar, such as whether it has permits for live music or an outside patio — enabling police to respond faster to noise complaints in a neighborhood.

“Community boards, block associations, and residents across my district have for years called upon the State Liquor Authority to make information on these licenses more available and accessible, so that they can better understand their impact on our neighborhoods,” Hoylman said. “This is basic, good government.”

Glick also applauded the bill’s approval, saying it will allow people to check if neighborhood establishments are being good neighbors.

“For too long, it has been nearly impossible for community members to get very basic information about State Liquor Authority licensees that operate in our neighborhood,” she said. “Now that liquor license information will be easily obtainable, people can see for themselves if nearby establishments are being good neighbors and are operating within the constraints of their license.”

Giants Punter Tweets Endorsement Of Senate Candidate

New York Giants punter Riley Dixon in a tweet this week backed the state Senate bid of former Syracuse football captain Sam Rodgers.

Rodgers, a long snapper for Syracuse and Cornell Law School graduate, is running for the seat held by Democratic Sen. Rachel May.

“One of the smartest guys I’ve ever met, trust him with my life! Let’s go Sam, CNY needs you!!” Dixon wrote in the tweet of the Republican candidate.

May was elected last year after defeating Sen. David Valesky, a former member of the defunct Independent Democratic Conference, in a primary.

SD-41: Smythe Announces Second Bid For Senate

From the Morning Memo:

Democrat Karen Smythe over the weekend launched her second bid for a state Senate seat in the Hudson Valley held by Republican Sen. Sue Serino.

The Poughkeepsie-area Senate seat has changed hands over the decade, with Democrat Terry Gipson winning the district in a three-way race in 2012, only to be unseated by Serino in 2014. Serino held the seat in a rematch in 2016.

This time around, Smythe is running to join a Democratic majority that’s controlled the Senate for the last year, pushing through long-sought progressive legislation.

“The people of Dutchess and Putnam Counties deserve a leader who will represent their values,” Smythe said.

“They need a voice in Albany who will support more equitable school funding, women’s rights and efforts to combat climate change. Our communities need state resources, and as a member of the new Senate Majority, I will fight tirelessly to address the diverse needs of our towns and cities. During these challenging times, we need a state government that works for all of us, and I am committed to being a fighter for Dutchess and Putnam Counties.”

Her campaign has backing from Elisa Sumner, the Dutchess County Democratic chairwoman.

“Thankfully last year, the Democrats took the majority in the State Senate,” Sumner said.

“And look at all the progress we have made. Unfortunately, Karen, in a tight race, lost by a hairs-breath. We are so grateful she’s stayed engaged. We look forward to her winning this seat in 2020. She will add her strong voice to the majority and fight for the needs of our district.”

SD-46: A Race To Watch?

From the Morning Memo:

Democrat Michelle Hinchey this morning will launch her bid for the 46th Senate district in a challenge to incumbent Republican George Amedore.

The district is spread over the Mohawk Valley, turns into the suburban Capital Region and snakes down to the Hudson Valley.

It was drawn as an added Senate seat by Republicans in 2012, designed at the time to bolster the party’s thin majority in the chamber.

But voters had other plans: Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk narrowly won the seat that year against Amedore, then a member of the Assembly. Two years later, Amedore won the district by a more comfortable margin.

With Democrats holding a large majority in the chamber, focus in the early going will likely to be on battlegrounds on Long Island and western New York, where Democrats hope to further play offense. But the 46th Senate district, which overlaps with the perennially competitive 20th Congressional district, could once again be a closely watched seat.

Democratic voters, emboldened by a push to oust President Trump, could play a factor in down-ballot races if they come out to vote next November. But Republicans, especially in upstate counties the president won three years ago, could still be the difference if some races are close.

Benjamin Files For City Comptroller Run

Manhattan Democratic Sen. Brian Benjamin announced he had filed for an exploratory bid for New York City comptroller.

The filing, first reported by The Daily News, comes as incumbent Scott Stringer is term limited from running again and is widely considered to be a candidate for mayor in 2021.

“As a native New Yorker, with parents who depend on pensions for their retirement, I know how important the Comptroller’s job is,” Benjamin said.

“I am exploring this run because I want to protect the savings of average New Yorkers in a city that’s growing ever more expensive. From my work in building affordable housing to my record in the Senate, I have dedicated my career to helping grow and sustain New York’s middle class.”

Benjamin was first elected to his Manhattan Senate seat in 2017.

Senate Plans Public Hearings On Discovery Law Changes

The implementation of changes to the process of evidence discovery in criminal cases will be the subject of two public hearings by the state Senate in New York City and Albany in the coming weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced the hearings on Thursday as the changes, a key aspect of a package of criminal justice law overhaul measures, are set to take effect the end of the hearing.

“For too long, many New Yorkers were denied their rights because of our outdated criminal justice system,” she said. “The reforms passed this year are a major step forward in modernizing and creating a justice system that is fair and impartial, as it should be. I thank Senator Jamaal Bailey for taking the lead and holding hearings to ensure the speedy and effective implementation of these justice system reforms.”

The changes, part of the 2019 state budget agreement, require prosecutors and defendants to share all information in their possession ahead of trial. At the same time, lawmakers approved an end to cash bail requirements in many cases as well as speedy trial guarantees.

Locally elected officials have raised concerns with the measures over the ability to pay to implement them.

The first hearing will be held Monday in New York City. A second hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 28 in Albany.

Bill Would Allow Students To Take Mental Health Days

Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman on Thursday announced legislation that would allow students in New York to take mental health days from school.

The legislation is meant to address growing concerns around the mental health of kids, particularly among teens.

“We need to recognize suicide and self-harm among young New Yorkers as the major public health crisis that it is, demolish the stigma around mental health care, and do everything within our power to help kids who are struggling seek treatment,” Hoylman said. “An absence from school should never be a barrier to mental health treatment for a child in New York State. I look forward to working with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and my colleagues in the State Legislature to advance this critical legislation in 2020.”

Similar measures have already been enacted in Oregon, Utah and Minnesota. Illinois has also introduced similar legislation.

“It is important to bring mental health issues on par with physical health as valid reasons for students’ absences,” said Dr. John Garruto, the president of the New York Association of School Psychologists.
“However, just as schools have nurses to address the physical health needs of students, they need to have the appropriate school-employed mental health professionals, such as school psychologists, to meet the social and emotional needs of students to prevent excessive absences due to these issues.”

The current law requires schools to develop their own policies for attendance and determine how excused or unexcused absences are designed.

The bill would allow mental or behavioral health issues as permitted reasons for an absence from school.