State Senate

Voter Advocates Seek ‘Back-End’ System For Registration

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition that’s backing an effort to automatically register voters in New York wants final legislation to include a “back-end” system that adds eligible voters to the rolls without the prospective voter having to take any action.

The proposal was spelled out in a memo to the top legislative leaders in the Senate and Assembly as well as the chairmen of the legislative elections committees.

“A back-end system determines eligibility by using data individuals already provide in their interaction with the government agency,” the memo states. “Relying on automation and existing documentation reduces the risk of human error present in a front-end system, where individuals are registered based on their attestations at an agency, which is often a stress-filled, rushed environment.”

The back-end provision is opposed to a “front-end” policy that would have eligible voters make decision about registration, including an opt-out when interacting with a government agency.

Lawmakers this year are expected to consider a package of election and voting law changes that are meant to make it easier to vote in the state and potentially boost turnout. In addition to automatic registration, lawmakers are considering early voting, consolidating the state and local primaries and no-excuse absentee balloting.

Read the full memo here.

The Year For Ethics?

A push for ethics reform has been a perennial topic for the scandal-riven state Capitol.

But lawmakers this year want to make it one that could stretch over several legislative session with a push for a constitutional amendment meant to beef up ethics and anti-corruption oversight in state government.

The amendment would create a Commission on State Government Integrity, replacing the often-maligned Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission.

A majority of the new commission’s members would be appointed by the judiciary; the current ethics body is led by appointees of the executive and legislative branches.

The amendment has been introduced before and was re-introduced this session as Democrats take a large majority in the state Senate.

“New York State should be a beacon of good government, but instead we’ve repeatedly been near the top of the rankings for corruption. Recent convictions of close aides to the Governor are only the latest example, as legislators from both parties, including the most powerful legislative leaders, have faced corruption charges for years,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, one of the prime backers of the legislation.

Lawmakers have approved ethics reforms in virtually every year Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been in office. Also during this time, the top legislative leaders in the Assembly and Senate were removed from office following corruption convictions.

“The various ‘ethics reforms’ the Legislature and Governor have implemented in the past have failed,” Krueger said. “This amendment will create a truly independent ethics enforcement structure and ensure that the fox is no longer guarding the henhouse.”

Bill Would Have Convicted Pols Surrender Campaign Funds

State lawmakers are backing a bill that would force politicians convicted of a felony to surrender their remaining campaign funds within two years of being found guilty.

The bill, backed by Sen. Todd Kaminsky and Assemblywoman Judy Griffin, comes as former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos today is heading to federal prison after he was convicted of using his power to help secure a job for his son, Adam.

“If a candidate betrays the public’s trust, he should not be allowed to dole out campaign cash to his cronies from a jail cell,” said Kaminsky, a Democrat who won Skelos’s seat after he was ejected from the chamber following his initially guilty verdict in his fraud case.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I saw firsthand how corrupt government officials not only steal taxpayers’ hard-earned money–but their right to honest representation as well. It’s time we end these zombie accounts.”

The bill would hinder those with campaign accounts from using the money while they are behind bars, such as on attorneys’ fees.

The measure would require the money be donated to charity, the state or city university systems or to the state’s general fund. The money can also be returned to contributors.

“It is time we hold elected officials accountable for their actions. Politicians must face the consequences of their criminal convictions,” Griffin said.

Expanding Public Campaign Finance Laws

From the Morning Memo:

Election reform is a top contender on Democrats’ legislative priorities this session, particularly in the area of expanding public campaign finance laws.

At the state capitol Monday advocates and elected officials voiced how tough it can be for first time candidates to raise enough money to run.

Albany Common Council President Corey Ellis said that without bird in the hand corporate connections or independent wealth, it’s difficult to convince donors, and voters, you’re a winner.

“The worst thing you want to heard someone say is, ‘well you can’t win because you don’t have the money,'” Ellis said.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy said when she first ran for her seat seven years ago, thoughts about financing the operation was nearly both the beginning and the end of her foray into public office.

“The very first night I made a couple of calls and they said 50 to 75 thousand dollars…I would’ve gone to bed that night saying, ‘that’s it I’m done,’ if they had said more,” she said.

In the end, her decision to run was made separate from the financial imposition burden, but, that burden is immense.

“Ultimately we did raise that money,” said Fahy, “and we raised it nickel by nickel.”

But critics, like state Sen. Cathy Young, say public financing of campaigns awards further credence to a corruption system.

“In New York City, the public financing of campaigns has become a cauldron of corruption,” said Young in a statement, naming lawmakers who have taken advantage of the program in the past, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, and citing the Campaign Finance Board as chief perpetrator.

Not to mention, she argues, the price tag is too hefty for taxpayers.

“Currently, New York State is projected to have a $500 million budget deficit in the forthcoming fiscal year. Modeled after New York City’s public financing system, legislation passed by the State Assembly and sponsored by Democrats in the State Senate would cost taxpayers more than $200 million.”

Young is the ranking Republican on both the Senate Election’s and Ethics Committees and said she will utilize the committee review process, “to raise awareness and marshall public opposition to the Democrats’ plan.”

Flanagan To Miss Start Of Legislative Session For Alcohol Rehab

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan in a statement Friday said he will undergo a second rehabilitation for alcohol use, forcing him to miss the beginning of the legislative session beginning next week.

“Recently, I recognized the need to seek some additional help to overcome my battle with alcohol dependency,” Flanagan said. “This was a difficult choice, but it is the right one for myself and for my family. I must now make my health and well-being my number one priority.”

Sen. Joe Griffo, the incoming deputy minority leader, will oversee the conference during Flanagan’s absence.

“No man or woman is perfect, but it does not mean we all shouldn’t strive for continuous and daily improvement,” Flanagan said. “I will attempt to do that with every fiber in my body. I thank my friends and colleagues for their patience, for their love and for their understanding, and am very much looking forward to the upcoming legislative session. This brief period of time away is necessary for my overall well-being, but will in no way impact my ability to serve my conference or my constituents.”

Flanagan late last year was re-elected the conference leader after Republicans lost their narrow majority in the chamber on Election Day in November. Democrats will hold 39 of the 63 seats in the Senate in the new term.

Flanagan in August 2017 announced he had sought treatment after recognizing he had a dependency on alcohol.

Glick, Krueger Reintroduce RHA

Lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly this week reintroduced the Reproductive Health Act, an abortion-rights strengthening measure that is on the cusp of passage as Democrats will hold both chambers of the Legislature this session.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and Sen. Liz Krueger, is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks, with the potential for the vote to be held by Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

The bill would change abortion’s current status as an exception to homicide, and regulate it under the public health law instead of the penal code. It would also allow abortions in the third trimester of a pregnancy under certain circumstances.

“The vast majority of New Yorkers agree that the complex and deeply personal decision of whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman and her health care provider – not the government,” Krueger said in a statement.

“For too long, women in our state have had their health and safety compromised by our outdated abortion laws. With reproductive rights and access under attack from Washington in a way we haven’t seen in decades, now is the time to pass the Reproductive Health Act and reclaim New York’s place as a leader on women’s reproductive freedom. I look forward to casting my vote and sending this vital and historic legislation to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.”

It has failed to gain a vote under Republican control, but will likely head to the floor in the coming weeks as Democrats now control the chamber, with the first woman majority leader.

“New York women deserve to have their own healthcare decisions respected,” Glick said. “Abortion is a medical procedure, not a crime. The days of demonizing women’s reproductive healthcare must come to an end. When abortion is illegal women die, and pregnancy is not a risk free condition. Women, in consultation with healthcare professionals, and not legislators, should make decisions that affect their own health free of interference. After years of fighting for the passage of this essential protection for women, our moment has finally arrived.”

Opponents of the bill, like the Catholic Conference’s Kathleen Gallagher, expect it to pass. But they are still launching an effort to rally opposition.

“We know that it’s highly likely this bill would pass. So we’re educating people and we’re urging people to protest by sending messages to their lawmakers and calling their lawmakers. We’re putting out bulletin inserts in all of our parishes throughout the state,” said Kathleen Gallagher, director of Pro-Life Activities at the Catholic Conference.

Felder Shut Out Of Committee Assignments, Leadership

Senate Democrats said no thanks to Sen. Simcha Felder and now Senate Republicans are shutting him out of committee and leadership posts.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan on Thursday announced the Republican conference’s leadership and ranking committee roster with Felder absent from the list.

The Brooklyn Democrat, who kept the Senate Republicans in power by sitting on their side of the aisle, even lost his post on the Senate’s subcommittee on New York City education issues. The panel was created by the Senate Republicans for Felder to chair, but Staten Island Sen. Andrew Lanza will serve as its ranking member.

Senate Democrats earlier this week rejected Felder’s bid to join their conference after the party. Democrats hold 39 seats in the 63-member chamber.

Felder last year rejected calls for him to join the Democratic fold after the Independent Democratic Conference disbanded and rejoined the mainline conference.

Skoufis Hires Republican Legislator As Senior Advisor

Sen. James Skoufis on Wednesday announced he has hired Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis, a Republican, to serve as a senior advisor.

Skoufis, a Democrat who will lead the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee, was elected in November to succeed the retiring Republican Bill Larkin.

The district has long been viewed as a swing seat for both parties.

“I am deeply honored to join James Skoufis’ team,” said Anagnostakis in a statement. “James is an honest and hardworking elected official who shares the same bipartisan values that I hold dear. Together, we will always fight for what’s best for the people we serve – not political insiders or special interests.”

Anagnostakis represents parts of Newburgh and Montgomery and the village of Walden.

Skoufis’s office said Anagnostakis will work with the investigations committee on financial matters.

Skoufis also named Michael Mazzariello as the panel’s investigations chief. He is a former assistance district attorney in Brooklyn and chief prosecutor at the New York City Board of Education.

Mercury Public Affairs Hires Klein

Mercury Public Affairs has hired former Sen. Jeff Klein to co-chair its New York operation, a partner for the firm said Wednesday.

“We are excited to have him on the team,” said Mercury spokesman Michael McKeon.

His hiring was reported by The New York Times.

Klein, a Bronx Democrat, was the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway bloc of Democrats that formed in 2011 and had aligned with Republicans. The conference disbanded under political pressure from liberal advocates and Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year, with its members rejoining the Democratic mainline conference.

But the anger over the IDC’s work with Senate Republicans remained, and Klein lost his primary to Democrat Alessandra Biaggi in September. Only two former IDC members remain in office — Sens. Diane Savino and David Carlucci.

Klein, first elected to the Senate in 2004, is being investigated over an allegation of sexual harassment by a former staffer. Klein has denied the allegation.

Mercury was founded by Republican former staffers to Gov. George Pataki, but has hired former Democratic officeholders and officials as well, including former Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and Charlie King, a former executive director of the state Democratic Committee.

Cuomo Welcomes Vote On Pay Raises, Outside Income

If state legislators want to return to Albany to reject the recommendations of the state pay commission, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, said he welcomes it.

The governor has not changed his stance on the commission’s decision to raise salaries by $50,000, while limiting outside income to 15 percent of salaries and eliminating committee stipends known as lulus.

“I don’t believe legislators should make outside income,” he said. “I think that is an inherent conflict of interest. People get into trouble all the time for that.”

Cuomo said he understands that many legislators don’t share his support for the recommendation. He challenged those lawmakers to be forthcoming with their constituents though, whether it be in the media or by taking a vote.

At least GOP senators this week, have discussed coming back to the Capitol before the end of the year.

“They don’t need me to call a special session,” Cuomo said. “They can come back this afternoon. They can come back tomorrow. They don’t need me. They can come back and vote.”

The governor did not say whether he would sign legislation nullifying the commission’s recommendations, which become law on January 1st. Sources said, while many senators have indicated they’re open to a vote, it’s not clear if there would even be enough for a quorum. Assembly leadership has not indicated it has any interest in coming back.