State Senate

Cuomo Signs Sweeping Sexual Harassment Legislation

A bill that makes sweeping changes to the state’s sexual harassment laws was approved on Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The centerpiece of the legislation is a narrowed definition of sexual harassment in the workplace, replacing the “severe or pervasive” standard that advocates and lawmakers have argued is too broad and does not cover a range of conduct.

The legislation largely came about through the advocacy of a group of former state government staffers who are victims and survivors of sexual assault, abuse and harassment themselves. The Sexual Harassment Working Group this year successfully pushed for a series of public hearings on the issue, which also came amid a societal reckoning surrounding sexual misconduct.

“There has been an ongoing, persistent culture of sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in the workplace, and now it is time to act,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“By ending the absurd legal standard that sexual harassment in the workplace needs to be ‘severe or pervasive’ and making it easier for workplace sexual harassment claims to be brought forward, we are sending a strong message that time is up on sexual harassment in the workplace and setting the standard of equality for women.”

The new law also includes provisions that require non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts include language that allow workers to still file a harassment or discrimination complaint with a government agency and testify in a government investigation.

At the same time, the measure bars the use of mandatory arbitration to resolve discrimination and harassment cases in the workplace and sets in motion a study to build on recent sexual harassment prevention measures.

“No one should have to endure sexual harassment or mistreatment in the workplace,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “For too long, our state was held back from making real progress in the fight against sexual harassment.”

Top New York Dems Back Cuomo’s National Gun Control Push

Top Democrats in New York on Wednesday publicly backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s for a national gun control plan that includes universal background checks and a ban on assault-style weapons.

Supportive statements were released Wednesday morning from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Cuomo-led state Democratic Committee.

“We are at a tipping point in the national debate on gun control, and Governor Cuomo is asking the country to follow New York’s lead on proposals that will get dangerous weapons off our streets in communities everywhere,” Heastie said. “It is beyond time to act.”

Cuomo wants Democratic candidates for the presidency to embrace the plan, which also includes support for a national red flag law keeping guns away from people deemed to be too dangerous and a database of mentally ill people who should not have guns.

“We agree with the Governor that our national candidates should look at New York as an example of passing smart gun laws that make our state safer,” Stewart-Cousins wrote on Twitter. “We hope that all the candidates follow our leadership on these crucial issues.”

Jacobs, the party chairman, said the platform should be supported by all the Democrats running for president if they hope to gain any votes in the state.

“It is incumbent upon elected officials throughout America, and especially the Democratic Presidential candidates to follow New York’s lead under Governor Cuomo, and endorse the Make America Safer Pledge to reduce and eventually eradicate the gun violence that is plaguing our great nation,” he said.

Gianaris Backs Trump Impeachment

From the Morning Memo:

Sen. Michael Gianaris, the number two Democrat in the state Senate, has endorsed impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

Gianaris’s comments came in the podcast “Sorry Not Sorry” with Alyssa Milano.

“Donald Trump should be impeached because we should not allow him to lower our standards of acceptable governance,” said Gianaris, a Queens Democrat. “Any other president that had done the things that he has done would have been impeached long ago. He must be held to account.”

His comments come as a majority of the Democrats in the House of Representatives have supported impeachment proceedings against the president after a report by former special counsel Robert Mueller found Trump sought to hinder and end an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has sought to contain the push to impeach the president, pointing to the congressional investigations that are underway. At the same time, there is the concern impeachment would hurt Democrats who won in swing districts in 2018 where the president also draws support.

But Democrats at multiple levels of government see a case for the first impeachment case in 20 years.

“I don’t know what more we can find in terms of clear obstruction of justice,” Gianaris said of the Mueller report’s findings.

“It is Nixonian in a way that has been discredited in this country long ago.”

Democrats swept into power in the state Senate last November for the first time in a decade amid a Democratic wave year, largely viewed as a backlash to Trump’s election two years earlier.

Gaughran Bill Seeks To Crackdown On Boating While Drunk

A bill introduced by Long Island Democratic Sen. Jim Gaughran announced Monday is aimed at cracking down on drunken boating.

The measure was introduced following a series of high-profile boating accidents this summer fueled by alcohol.

The measure would make boating while intoxicated with children on board a felony — raising the current charge from a misdemeanor.

Gaughran also wants the Legislature to approve a separate bill that would revoke a boater’s driver’s license if they are convicted of boating while intoxicated.

“Drunk boating has long plagued Long Island’s waterways and destroyed families but it is preventable, and we must enact laws to deter this behavior and punish those who thoughtlessly endanger other lives,” Gaughran said.

“My bills will crack down on these criminals who recklessly drink and boat by threat of revoking their driver’s license and by making it a felony to boat while intoxicated with a child on board the vessel. Alcohol is one of the leading causes of fatal boating accidents and we must take steps to swiftly and seriously address this problem, especially as we enter these last weeks of summer.”

The measure would also bolster previous boating safety bills approved this year at the Capitol, such as a requirement for boating safety courses.

Upstate Senator Joins Calls To Make Throwing Water On Officers A Felony

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York Republican Chris Jacobs is the latest lawmaker to propose legislation meant to stop people from throwing water on police officers.

The state senator’s bill would make it a felony to throw or spray water, or any other substance, on an on-duty officer. The proposed punishment is up to 4 years in prison.

The proposal comes after last week’s incident, recorded on video, of people in New York City soaking law enforcement with water. Jacobs said when these types of situations “go viral” they can elicit copy-cat scenarios.

“Right now, it’s water, next it could be something far more serious,” Jacobs said.

“We need to show our law enforcement personnel that they have our support while they are putting their lives on the line every day, and we need to send a message that citizens are expected to show respect to the people protecting them. If tougher laws are required to do that, then so be it.”

Jacobs said his legislation is modeled on the proposal from Long Island Assemblyman Michael LiPetri. Along with another downstate Republican Assemblyman, Michael Reilly, LiPetri introduced his bill Wednesday.

Jacobs is, of course, not from the NYC area but he said he’s seen a growing disrespect from lawmakers for officers.

“If our elected leaders are not showing respect for law enforcement, the people they represent will soon follow, and we’re now seeing the negative consequences of that,” he said.

Jacobs is running for Congress in New York’s 27th Congressional District.

Flanagan Backs Assembly GOP Bill For NYPD Water Dousing

A bill that would make it a felony for tossing water onto a police officer was backed on Thursday by Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan.

The GOP leader in the chamber introduced a companion measure to the bill introduced this week by Long Island Republican Michael LiPetri in the state Assembly.

The measure is meant to address the spate of incidents in which people have doused police officers with water, creating viral videos on the internet in the process.

“Our police officers deserve respect for keeping our streets safe day in and out,” Flanagan said.

“No person should feel empowered to intimidate an officer by disrespectfully dumping water on them and obstructing that officer from protecting communities. After the very first incident, I made clear that the Senate Republican Conference will always stand on the side of law enforcement, public safety, and victims’ rights. This is unacceptable, and it has to stop.”

Flanagan has sought to highlight in recent weeks criminal justice law changes backed by the Democratic majorities in the Senate and Assembly, including an end to cash bail in many circumstances, that he believes have put public safety at risk.

Flanagan earlier this year backed legislation that would have made attacks on a police officer a hate crime.

Hoylman Says He Still Wants Trump Tax Law Similar To California

From the Morning Memo:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday signed into law a measure that would require President Donald Trump to release his tax returns or fail to qualify for the state’s primary ballot next year.

The law is the latest attempt by Democratic state officials to force the disclosure of the president’s taxes, which he so far has refused to do.

New York lawmakers this year took a different track: Empowering the House Judiciary and Ways and Means committees to access the state tax filings of New York elected officials.

The New York measure is being challenged in federal court by the president and the California law is most likely to face a legal challenge as well.

But Sen. Brad Hoylman, who has proposed multiple laws aimed at making the president’s taxes public, says New York shouldn’t give up on the issue.

“If we’ve learned anything from President Trump’s election, it’s that the political norms we take for granted in America can be shattered in an instant if they aren’t enshrined in law,” Hoylman said. “Trump broke forty years of political tradition by refusing to release his tax returns, denying voters essential information on potential conflicts of interest as well as his financial well-being and how much he gave to charity.”

It’s fallen on state lawmakers to take up these issues given the political divide in Congress, Hoylman said. He pressed his colleagues to take up a similar measure like the one approved in California that would disqualify candidates from appearing on the ballot unless they make their tax returns public.

“I encourage my colleagues in the New York State Legislature to act promptly and vote to pass S.32-A as soon as we return to Albany,” he said.

The 2020 legislative session begins in January.

Gallivan Wants Investigation Of Parole Board

The release of two convicted killers in the last two years has spurred Sen. Pat Gallivan to call for an investigation of the state Board of Parole.

Gallivan, a Republican from western New York, called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement Tuesday to investigate and potentially remove members of the board after the release of convicted killer Richard LaBarbera earlier this month and the release of Herman Bell in 2018.

LaBarbera spent decades in prison for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in Rockland County in 1980. Bell killed two police officers in 1971.

Gallivan in a letter to Cuomo called into question the judgment of the board for releasing LaBarbera, who was arrested last week for violating his parole.

“Despite Mr. LaBarbera’s prior record on parole and his unwillingness to lead a law-abiding life, the Parole Board voted to release him,” Gallivan said.

“While the law provides for the Parole Board’s independence, commissioners must follow strict governing standards in granting parole. This case, and others, raise concerns about the judgement of some members and their ability to fulfill their responsibilities to the residents of New York.”

Republicans in the state Legislature have in recent years increasingly criticized the decisions of the parole board, including the release this year of Judith Clark.

Clark was convicted for her role as the getaway driver in a Brink’s armored car robbery in 1981 that left two police officers and a security guard dead.

“The New York State Board of Parole, as the sole entity that considers and determines parole eligibility, is an independent body, every member of which in this case was confirmed by Senator Gallivan and his fellow Republicans,” said parole spokesman Thomas Mailey. “Those are the facts and we have no comment on the politics of elected legislators.​​”

Cuomo Signs Bill Codifying The Use Of Campaign Funds For Child Care

A bill that would allow state and local candidates for elected office use campaign funds for child care expenses was signed into law on Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislation codifies a determination by the state Board of Elections made earlier this year that allows campaign funds to be put toward child care costs.

Supporters of the legislation contend the provision will make it easier for parents with limited personal funds to run for office and ensure their kids are taken care of during long days of campaigning.

“Women face too many barriers when it comes to running for office and frankly child care expenses shouldn’t be one of them,” Cuomo said in a statement. “By signing this measure into law, we will build on the historic progress we’ve made toward gender equality and empower more parents – and mothers in particular – to seek public office to ensure the decision makers in Albany reflect the people they are elected to represent.”

The use of campaign funds for child care was pioneered by Liuba Grechen Shirely, a Democrat who ran for the House of Representatives last year against Republican Rep. Peter King. Grechen Shirley successfully petitioned the Federal Elections Commission to allow her to tap into her campaign coffers to help pay for child care.

“This law will encourage more women to run, ensuring that legislators begin to look more like the communities they represent,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

“By making child care an allowable campaign expense, we pay more than mere lip service to that reality, and begin dismantling some of the institutional barriers that women and mothers continue to face.”

Criminal Justice Law Changes Remain Flash Point For Senate

From the Morning Memo:

Over the last several days now, videos posted online show people dousing New York City police officers with buckets of water.

The episodes have led to several arrests and calls for respecting police officers.

But Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan sees a broader problem. In a statement on Wednesday, Flanagan tied the incidents to the criminal justice law changes approved this year under Democratic control in Albany.

Lawmakers this year approved changes that included ending cash bail for many criminal charges as well as alterations to speedy trial and evidentiary discovery procedures.

In June, lawmakers agreed to decriminalize marijuana possession up to certain amounts after a more expansive legalization measure failed.

Republicans, now in the minority for the first time this year in a decade, have argued the measures have gone too far.

“In Albany, Senate Democrats passed bills to enhance criminal rights on the very day of the annual Police Memorial, when we pause to honor the fallen,” Flanagan said. “Senate Democrats advocated and succeeded in handcuffing our officers by passing a ‘Criminal Bill of Rights’ this year, a massive and troubling shift in public policy that tilts the playing field even further in the direction of criminals.”

Flanagan called the water attacks on police officer’s unacceptable.

“New York City police officers and all law enforcement across our state deserve deep respect from the people they protect every day,” he said. “It is a difficult job to leave your home and put your life on the line, only to be demonized by Democrats, which has led to horrific acts of disrespect on the streets of New York City.”

Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy rebuffed Flanagan’s criticism, calling it “politics at its worst.”

“Where was the Senate Republicans’ outrage when their Washington colleagues were refusing to support our heroic 9-11 first responders?” he said.

“The Senate Republicans should focus on standing up for New York residents and values, not passionately embracing Trump and their national leaders. The Senate Democratic Majority will continue to stand with New York’s law enforcement community and first responders.”

Criminal justice policy will likely continue to be a flashpoint in the Legislature even as nationally Republicans and Democrats have signaled a willingness to work together on the issue.

But in New York, arguments that criminal justice changes can save money have fallen back on what have been traditional concerns about crime and quality of life — issues that have resonated over the decades.

Advocates are expected to continue to push for further changes, such as reducing or ending the use of solitary confinement in prisons.