State Senate

Senate Dems To Back Permanent Property Tax Cap

The Democratic-led state Senate next week is set to vote on a bill that would make the state’s cap on property tax increases permanent.

The measure, first approved in 2011, is set to expire this year.

The cap limits local and school property taxes to year-over-year increases of 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower.

The Senate’s version of the tax cap legislation is backed Sen. Jim Gaughran, a freshman from Long Island elected to a Republican-held district in November.

“I ran for State Senate on the promise that I would fight tirelessly for overburdened and overtaxed Long Islanders,” Gaughran said in a statement. “Today I took the first step and introduced vital legislation to make the property tax cap permanent. No more temporary extensions. A permanent tax cap for permanent relief.”

The tax cap remains a signature economic measure for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who included a provision for a permanent tax cap in his 2019-20 budget proposal that is due at the end of March.

Cuomo and state lawmakers alike have pointed to the $10,000 federal cap on state and local tax deductions that makes the state’s tax cap all the more key for those who pay among the highest levies in the country.

Gov’s Budget Omits Male Contraception Coverage

From the Morning Memo:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s $175 billion budget plan does not include insurance coverage for male contraception, explicitly omitting language that would include condoms and vasectomies.

It’s one of the key differences from the legislature’s version, the Comprehensive Contraception Care Act, which offers equitable coverage.

“The legislature feels very strongly that contraception is a two way street, men and women, and of course, when you’re talking about condoms that’s a public health issue that protects women and men from sexually transmitted diseases,” said Sen. Liz Krueger Tuesday night in a Capital Tonight interview. She is a co-sponsor of the Legislature’s version of the contraception bill.

Both versions read: “All FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, devices, and other products. This includes all FDA-approved over-the-counter contraceptive drugs, devices, and products as prescribed or as otherwise authorized under state or federal law.”

But the Governor’s version immediately tacks on, “notwithstanding this paragraph, an insurer shall not be required to provide coverage of male condoms.”

The legislature’s bill allows “voluntary sterilization procedures,” where the executive proposal specifies solely “voluntary sterilization procedures for women.”

“We’re legislators. We need to read, we need to review, we need to make the decision whether we agree with something or we need to change it and we have the ability,” Krueger said. “Now, thanks to both houses being Democratic, to pass the kinds of bills we believe are literally in the best interests of New Yorkers.”

Both versions are congruent in covering up to 12 months of contraception, education and counseling services and follow up services.

Next week the state Senate is expected to pass the CCCA along with the Reproductive Health Act.

Senate GOP: Use Marijuana Money For Tax Relief

If the state legalizes adult use marijuana, Senate Republicans want the revenue to go toward some form of tax relief.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo later today is expected to propose a marijuana legalization plan that is projected to bring the state an estimated $300 million in tax revenue.

It’s not yer clear where Cuomo will propose using the money, but he has indicated that he wants any program to in large part benefit low-income communities that have been impacted by harsh drug laws.

“We don’t know the specifics,” said Sen. Joe Griffo, the deputy minority leader. “We await to see what the proposal will look like.”

Senate Republicans on Monday released a pre-buttal of sorts to Cuomo’s budget and State of the State presentation. They called for a permanent tax cap and other forms of tax relief.

Republicans at a Capitol news conference were also seemingly resigned to a marijuana provision passing, given the Democratic control of both chambers of the Legislature and an end to mandated state spending through a constitutional amendment.

But the marijuana tax revenue could be a highlight of the budget negotiations.

“If you really want to change the profile of New York let’s do something that is dramatic and substantive lets have a significant reduction in taxes we could look at both the property and income tax right now,” Griffo said.

Still, he cautioned that the revenue may not be as initially advertised and some projections may be a bit rosy.

“When they told us that legalizing gaming would be an economic cure for upstate New York, we now know these casinos are looking for bailouts and help,” Griffo said.

Cuomo Adding Speed Camera Program to Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will reinstate and expand the New York City speed camera program in his 2019 executive budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow.

His plan includes increasing the amount of speed camera zones from 140 to 290 and placing “additional signage” in the designated areas.

The program lapsed last July following inaction in the state Senate – in part due to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who was caucusing with the Republican majority at the time, and wouldn’t support the legislation without language that would add police officers in NYC schools.

Other past key players on this issue were now-former Brooklyn Republican Sen. Marty Golden, and former Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt, a Rochester Democrat.

Cuomo finally addressed the legislative inaction by declaring a state of emergency in August, temporarily re-authorizing the program.

In his statement today, Cuomo wasn’t shy about placing the blame for the program’s failure on Republican shoulders – a not terribly difficult thing to do, given the fact that the Republicans are no longer in charge of anything at the state Capitol.

“After Senate Republicans shamefully refused to extend this life-saving program, I declared a State of Emergency before the start of the school year to temporarily keep the cameras operating,” the governor said.

“With this new proposal we will not only reinstate the program the way it should have been done in the first place – we will also expand the number of cameras to protect more children and prevent needless tragedies and heartbreak.”

The program, designed to record and enforce speeding violations near school zones, is operated and controlled by New York City. It was first signed into law in 2013.

Partnership For NYC Backs GENDA

One of New York City’s primary business groups on Monday announced its support for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill likely to pass the state Senate under Democratic control.

The bill is meant to provide legal protections for transgender people in housing, the workplace and other facets of life.

“Gender variant individuals face discrimination ranging from housing to health care, as well as harassment and violence in many aspects of their lives,” the group said. “They deserve the same protections in New York that many employers and other states, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Nevada and New Jersey, already provide. Safeguarding basic human and civil rights for gender variant individuals is critical to maintaining New York’s competitiveness as a global economic and cultural hub—one that thrives as a result of its diverse citizens and workforce.”

The bill did not gain a vote in the state Senate under Republican control, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the broad strokes of the legislation and included them in the state’s human rights regulations.

Meanwhile, a bill that would seek to ban conversion therapy for LGBT individuals has cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“So-called conversion therapy is child abuse—plain and simple. I applaud Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Higher Education Chairwoman Stavisky, co-prime sponsor Gianaris and my colleagues in the Democratic Conference for recognizing that being gay is not an illness, and that this debunked and harmful practice amounts to nothing less than consumer fraud,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors both bills. “To the LGBTQ youth across the state of New York: we hear you, we see you, and we have your back on the Senate floor tomorrow.”

Republicans Challenge Dems To Have Perfect Attendance

As the state Senate today is likely to pass a bill consolidating the state and federal primaries into one day, Republican lawmakers on Monday challenged Democrats to have perfect attendance during the petitioning process.

Currently, the state holds its primaries in September, with primary contests for federal offices — the House and U.S. Senate — are held in June, creating a costly bifucated process for local governments.

The changes were done because of the state adhering to the MOVE Act, a federal law that requires timely access to absentee ballots for military and overseas voters. Because of gridlock over when the primary should be moved, a federal judge ruled the congressional primary must be held in June.

But Republicans have maintained a June primary speeds up the petitioning process, making it difficult to get ballot access while lawmakers are also in Albany to negotiate the state budget.

“Every Senator must remember that we serve the people, not ourselves,” said Sen. Cathy Young. “This pledge is a reminder that the people elect us to be their voices in the state capitol and they rely on us to be here, not absent and on the campaign trail as we have seen before. Empty chairs are simply empty promises to New Yorkers. Let’s show the public that we hold ourselves to the highest standards and sign this pledge.”

Lawmakers To Take Up Election Reform

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers today will take up a package of election reforms designed to make it easier to register to vote and cast a ballot.

The bills, along with a pair of constitutional amendments, are virtually perennial proposals that have not gained a vote in the state Senate under Republican rule, but are now certain to pass given Democratic control of the chamber.

The legislation includes:

Make it easier for those who move to transfer their registration
Allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.
Close the loophole in the state’s campaign finance law that allows unlimited donations through a web of limited liability companies
Create a system of early voting
Consolidate the state and federal primaries into one day

Lawmakers will also consider first passage of two constitutional amendments that would allow for no-fault absentee balloting and same-day voter registration.

The measures, designed to boost the state’s comparatively low voter turnout, have won the praise of good-government groups.

“We believe this package thoughtfully improves the voting and registration process,” said Reinvent Albany in a bill memorandum in support. “The various elements are phased in over years, so boards of election should be able to effectively implement the many reforms without being overwhelmed.”

But local governments have raised concerns about some aspects of the legislation, pointing to the need to fund local boards of election in order to carry out the changes.

“Election costs are the mandated responsibility of county governments through local boards of elections,” said Stephen Acquario of the Association of Counties.

“The operational budgets for these local boards have been enacted at the close of 2018. Additional costs associated with staffing and securing early voting locations, printing and counting additional ballots, ensuring elections are safe from cyber security threats, and meeting other legal election requirements have not been fully calculated by the state and counties.”

The group estimated the changes could cost between $500,000 to $1 million for each county.

GENDA Re-Introducted With Largest Co-Sponsor List

Sen. Brad Hoylman’s office on Thursday announced he had re-introduced the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination with its largest co-sponsor list in the bill’s history.

The measure, meant to codify protections for transgender individuals in New York in housing and the workplace as well as other facets of life, is expected to gain a vote in the state Senate as Democrats gain control of the chamber.

The bill has 39 lawmakers co-sponsor it, comprising the entire Democratic conference.

“It’s 2019 and New York is the only state in the northeast without statutory protections for its transgender citizens, including hate crimes,” Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said in a statement. “After a protracted 16-year battle, the Democratic majority will finally be able to shield transgender and gender-nonconforming New Yorkers from discrimination and hate.”

The bill is expected to easily pass in the Democratic-led Assembly where it has for the last 10 years.

Stewart-Cousins Makes History

Andrea Stewart-Cousins was formally installed as the first woman majority leader of the state Senate on Wednesday, a history-making moment for New York’s state government.

“When you think about it, not that long ago, women weren’t even allowed to walk on the floor of this chamber,” Stewart-Cousins said, before asking the nearly two-dozen women in the chamber on both sides of the aisle to stand for applause.

Stewart-Cousins, a Yonkers Democrat who has been the leader of the conference since 2012, is now one of the most powerful people in state government. She will haggle over the details and specifics of the state budget with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, making her the first woman to be included in the “three men in a room” negotiations.

“It is time for the proverbial three men in a room to say to goodbye to how they think our government should be run,” Sen. Mike Gianaris, the deputy majority leader, said. “The winds of change are sweeping a fabulous scarf into the room and things will never be the same.”

Stewart-Cousins will preside over a large majority, 39 members, after Democrats have been a decade out of power in the state Senate and occasionally at odds with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Democrats in both the Senate and Assembly have telegraphed plans to take a more aggressive approach with Cuomo and the budget. Cuomo himself has been accused by some advocates of helping Republicans retain power in the Senate for the most the decade.

Cuomo last year endorsed and campaigned for Democratic candidates, including crucial swing seats in Senate. Several prominent women in the Cuomo administration, including Cuomo’s top aide Melissa DeRosa, was on hand in the chamber to watch Stewart-Cousins being sworn in.

Cuomo has also sought to emphasize the issues in which he agrees with Democratic lawmakers as a flurry of legislative activity is expected in the coming weeks on issues like gun control, voting reform and bolstering abortion rights.

Also aligning with Cuomo, Stewart-Cousins backed a permanent extension of the state’s cap on property tax increases.

“We’re going to lower our tax burden for middle-class New Yorkers and make the tax cap permanent,” she said.

And there was a sense on Wednesday, the first day of session in 2019, that the Capitol was undergoing a change in a city long resistant to the concept.

“As I reflect on what this day means, I think of opportunities and barriers,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I think of all the giants we know.”

Senate Republicans Adjust To Life In The Minority

Life out of power in Albany is not easy.

Lawmakers in the minority do not get a say over which bills come to the floor for a vote, less staff to help with constituent representation and less-than-prime office space.

Republicans in the state Senate, out of power for the first time in a decade, took to one of the few avenues a minority conference has on the first day of the legislative session: Holding a press conference.

The Senate GOP was knocking a rules change for the Senate Ethics Committee. But the complaints were really broader than that: Being in the minority isn’t fun.

“When you have one party control, one region domination, that is a concern,” said Sen. Joe Griffo, the conference’s deputy leader. “There are millions whose lives are affected and impacted here by the decisions made by the state.”

Griffo also acknowledged the power of the microphone for the newly installed minority conference.

“We will be vocal in what we initiate, what we propose and whatever is laid before us,” he said.

Democrats hold 39 seats in the 63-member Senate chamber, making a climb back to the majority a potentially long slog. Money flows to those in power in Albany and Democratic campaign coffers will likely become more flush now that they are in power.

In the Assembly, Republicans have been out of power since the fallout of the Watergate scandal. Up until now, there’s been little coordination between the Assembly GOP and Senate Republicans. That dynamic may change.

“I can’t speak for the Senate. We’re always willing to work with anybody when it comes to public policy,” said Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb. “We’ve always been vocal when it comes to debates on the floor. In my view, we’re not going to change.”