State Senate

Lawsuit Reform Group Cheers Advance Of Bill Regulating Litigation Financing

A bill that would regulate the litigation financing industry in New York cleared the Senate Commerce Committee this week — a development cheered on by the Lawsuit Reform Alliance.

The bill, backed by Sen. Anna Kaplan, seeks to regulate the decades-old industry that allows for lending to finance lawsuits. The bill would require new disclosures for consumers for transaction fees and caps charges similar to what is allowed under federal law. The bill also includes a 10-day right of rescission as a consumer protection and requires companies in the industry to register applications with the New York Department of State.

“Today’s action to advance a bill to combat predatory lawsuit lending is an important first step to ensure that vulnerable New Yorkers are no longer exploited by this unregulated sector of the finance industry. To further reduce harm to individuals and protect the integrity of the civil justice system, the bill also ensures that lawyers do not have overlapping financial interest in lending outfits, or arrangements to collect lucrative referral fees,” said Lawsuit Reform Alliance Executive Director Tom Stebbins.

“I commend bill sponsors Senators Kaplan and Ortt, Committee Chair Senator Thomas, and the members of the committee for standing up for consumers and working to ensure that injured parties are not re-victimized by litigation loan-sharks. We hope to see the state Assembly take up similar legislation before the end of the legislative session.”

Senate Plans Bills Boosting Veterans

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate on Tuesday will consider a package of measures designed to aid veterans in New York as the chamber holds its annual Fort Drum Day at the Capitol.

“As the daughter and sister of veterans, I appreciate the many sacrifices made by service members and their loved ones,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “We have a duty to support our veterans and create help opportunities for employment, education, and community integration as they rejoin civilian life.”

The chamber is expected to pass seven bills that are designed to boost veterans in civilian life as well as those still in the military.

One bill would provide active duty personnel a property tax exemption. Another measure would provide a toll-free telephone number for veterans to seek help and use as a crisis assist.

Another bill would increase the real property tax exemption for dual veteran households. And another bill would allow full-time undergraduate students who are enrolled in state colleges and universities to receive academic credit for their military service or training.

“We owe veterans a debt of gratitude that can never truly be repaid. Helping these heroes rejoin civilian life is a top priority for me, my committee, and the entire Senate Majority,” said Sen. John Brooks, the chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security, and Military Affairs Committee.

“I am proud that the bills advanced through my committee and passed by the Senate today will help our service members and their families. We will keep working to provide essential services, benefits, and support to the men and women who defended our nation as members of the armed forces.”

Senate Panel Advances Sports Gambling Bill

A bill that would expand sports gambling options in New York cleared a Senate committee on Monday, but the bill’s sponsor expects changes to the legislation before it’s signed into law.

The bill would permit casinos licensed in upstate markets to create online platforms for sports betting. It was approved by the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee this morning and now goes to the Senate Finance Committee.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has raised objections to the legislation on constitutional grounds. But at the same time, NYRA-operated thoroughbred racing tracks, as well as racinos, have raised concerns about the bill’s effects on their operations.

Sen. Joe Addabbo, the committee chairman and the main sponsor of the bill, said the issue was a balancing act.

“This is a cement that’s nearly not yet hardened and hopefully we can mold it, and hopefully we can mold it to be more inclusionary,” Addabbo told reporters after the meeting.

New Jersey already has a sports gambling provision in place, and Addabbo is worried the state is losing out on the revenue. He held a public hearing last week on the issue.

NYRA already allows wagers to be placed on a mobile app. Addabbo on Monday suggested the industry showed be streamlined.

“It’s the future of our state that maybe we include horse racing in with the gaming,” he said. “We need to streamline our gaming industry. This may not be phase one, it may not be tomorrow, but in the future I envision we streamline and reform the industry by including horse racing.”

Addabbo said he didn’t want to punt the issue to the next year. The session is scheduled to end in June.

With Mobile Betting, Sports Leagues See Chance To Crack Down On Illegal Markets

As state lawmakers consider allowing wagering on sporting events on mobile apps, major sports leagues say the move would allow for a reduction in illegal placed bets by New Yorkers.

The state Senate on Wednesday held a public hearing on the issue as casinos in the state move forward with sportsbooks, which would allow gamblers to place bets in the state’s gaming halls, which have struggled to show revenue gains since opening.

Mobile betting, on a phone or tablet, would not require a sports gambler to go to a casino, and is already permitted in neighboring New Jersey.

“Mobile betting is something that allows you to convert people who are betting off-shore in illegal markets or betting with illegal operators here in the U.S. to have an appealing product that is going to replace those illegal markets,” said Dan Spillane, the senior vice president of league governance and policy at the NBA. “From a consumer protection and integrity point, having a competitive market place has value.”

Sports betting is potentially big business for the state as well, and would capture some of the revenue generated by bets. Professional sports leagues have increasingly dipped their toes into legalized gambling following a Supreme Court ruling that allowed states to pass laws regulating the activity.

League officials have said there are sufficient safeguards in place to prevent cheating or the fixing of games. At the same time, they point to the creation of a regulatory structure that would crowd out illegality.

At the same time, New York is a major marketplace for mobile sports betting.

“For us, New York has played home to some of our greatest championships,” said Andy Levinson, the senior vice president of tournament administration for the PGA. “We’ve got one coming next week to Beth Page. There are tremendous sports fans here in New York who are unfortunately betting here illegal in off-shore marketplaces.”

Senate Advances Bills Curbing Trump’s Power, Opening Tax Filings

The Democratic-led state Senate on Wednesday approved a pair of bills that take an aggressive posture with President Donald Trump by limiting his ability to pardon people and providing Congress with access to his state tax filings.

The bills are written broadly: The so-called double jeopardy loophole measure would limit any president’s pardon powers by allowing local prosecutors in New York to bring cases against former administration staffers or people related to a president who have been pardoned. The tax legislation would allow Congress to request any state tax filing.

But the bills are done with the intent of aiding investigations by either Democratic Attorney General Letitia James and congressional inquiries. Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives are pursuing efforts to gain access to the president’s federal tax filings, which he has so far not released voluntarily.

“We do want to send a message that no one is above the law. Not the president, or anyone else, is above the law,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris. “If we have the power in New York to take steps, because we’re in a unique position for people to comply with legitimate requests from the federal government, that should happen.”

Republicans blasted the bills as a distraction and a politically motivated effort.

“This is a blatantly political act,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan. “We should be spending our time worrying about what we’re doing for New Yorkers.”

Sen. Jim Tedisco indicated he would introduce a bill that would curb the governor’s ability to issue pardons. Tedisco, a Republican who represents suburban Albany, said the bills were meant in part to act as a distraction from economic successes.

“What it’s trying to do is distract the executive at the federal level,” Tedisco said. “I don’t think they want to talk about the record that’s taking place around the economy.”

Democrats in the Assembly are expected to discuss the tax legislation in a closed-door meeting on Monday, said Assemblyman David Buchwald, the bill’s sponsor in that chamber.

“We need to do something under the recognition that there’s a need for transparency that’s been shown by the president’s actions,” Buchwald said.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that a decade of the president’s taxes between 1985 and 1994 showed a $1 billion loss during that time.

It’s not clear if the president or his allies will seek to block the measures in New York if they become law.

“I don’t think the president is known to be litigious,” deadpanned Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who sponsored the tax bill, “So, no.”

Senate Approves Bill Allowing Convicted Felons To Serve On Juries

A bill that would allow those with felony convictions to serve on juries in New York was approved on Tuesday in the state Senate.

The measure was approved in a largely party line vote, 36-25. But four Democratic lawmakers — Long Island Sens. Jim Gaughran, Monica Martinez, John Brooks and Anna Kaplan — broke ranks to vote against the measure, which was assailed by Republicans.

The bill would end the state’s lifetime ban on felons serving on juries, part of a series of criminal justice law changes that Democrats have successfully sought this year.

Democrats argued the proposal would enable felons to return to society in a productive manner by participating in the legal system.

“We should be encouraging everything that helps them become productive members of society and reintegrate into our society,” said Sen. Luis Sepulveda, a Democrat from the Bronx.

And Sen. Kevin Parker, a Democrat from Brooklyn, argued it was a matter of rehabilitation.

“America is a place of second chances,” he said. “Certainly we shouldn’t be throwing people away.”

Republicans at a press conference before the vote, however, blasted the measure for allowing those with convictions for violent crimes eligible to serve on juries.

“We’re all voting no,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flangan. “We want to send a strong message to the districts that we represent as well as the districts of our Democratic colleagues that this is just bad public policy.”

Republicans pointed to a ceremony earlier in the day across the street from the Capitol honoring police officers who have died in the line of duty and noted the recent parole granted to Herman Bell and Judith Clarke, both convicted in the killing of police officers.

“We’re continuing a pattern,” said Sen. Patrick Gallivan, “where we’re going to see additional rights for Herman Bell and Judith Clarke and people like them.”

Trump’s Taxes, Pardon Powers Targeted By Senate

Democrats in the state Senate on Wednesday are expected to take up measures that would limit President Donald Trump’s ability to issue pardons and a measure that would force the release of his New York state tax returns.

The pardon measure would allow local and state prosecutors in New York to bring charges against those who have been pardoned by the president.

The bill, known as the “double jeopardy loophole” was backed by Attorney General Letitia James amid her investigations of the president’s administration.

The bill would cover pardons when there is a “clear conflict of interest” when the defendants is a former or current staff member, appointee or family member.

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report provided disturbing, new evidence of the President’s plan to improperly use the pardon power to help his associates and undermine the rule of law,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

“I am pleased the Senate will take up my legislation to close the Double Jeopardy loophole and crack down on corruption. No one — not even the President and his inner circle — is above the law, and I urge the Assembly to pass this vital piece of legislation in an expeditious fashion — justice demands no less.”

A separate bill would require the disclosure of the president’s state tax returns, which he has so far refused to release, breaking with decades of tradition.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged lawmakers to write the bill as broadly as possible and include the Legislature in requiring the release of personal income tax information. Cuomo has released his taxes every year he has been governor voluntarily.

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday at a press conference called the proposal a “blatantly political act.”

Deal Reached On School Bus Cameras

State lawmakers on Tuesday reached an agreement that will enable the placement of cameras on school buses in order to cut down on scofflaws who pass stopped buses while kids are getting on.

Versions of the bill have been approved in both the state Senate and Assembly in recent years. But Sen. Tim Kennedy, the Buffalo Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said his chamber is expected to pass this agreement next week.

“I’m the father of three young children who take the school bus every single day,” Kennedy said in an interview. “I recognize on a very personal level the importance of having the trust that when your child gets on the school bus, they’re going to be safe.”

The bill would require local governments and school districts to opt in for the cameras, which could be placed on the arm of the extendable stop sign on a bus or mounted on it. Video of drivers who blow passed stopped buses would be sent to law enforcement.

The program will be paid for by tickets generated by the violations.

Supporters of the legislation estimate there are as many as 50,000 stopped school bus violations a year in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement issued after the deal was set praised the agreement.

“The safety of our children is paramount, and we are committed to ensuring our youngest New Yorkers make it to and from school safely and that motorists who endanger these students are held accountable for their reckless actions. This year I advanced legislation to allow school districts and municipalities to install cameras on school buses,” he said.

“I commend the Legislature for reaching an agreement on this critical issue and I look forward to seeing it passed and to signing it into law, making New York one of the first states to use this technology to protect the safety of our school children.”

Bill Allowing Campaign Funds For Child Care Advances

A bill that would codify the use of campaign funds for child care on Tuesday cleared the Senate Election Committee.

The bill codifies two recent advisory opinions from federal and state elections officials that allow campaign funds be used to pay for child care, enabling parents to run for office without dipping into personal expenses.

The idea was first pioneered by Democratic congressional candidate Liuba Grechen Shirley in her 2018 bid for a Long Island congressional district.

“I strongly believe that younger candidates need to join in the political process and run for local, state, and federal office,” said Sen. Shelley Mayer, the Democratic sponsor of the bill.”

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

“The cost of childcare is already too burdensome on household expenses for many families, and this can deter a qualified parent’s ability to seek public office. The state legislature and local governing bodies would benefit from the added voices of young mothers and fathers who are grappling with issues we need to address. In NYS, women make up 51% of the population but hold only a third of the Assembly & Senate seats. This bill will remove one of the hurdles young mothers and fathers face when running for office.”

Advocates Nudge Kavanagh On Rent Control Bills

From the Morning Memo:

A coalition of advocacy groups in a letter sent Monday to the top Democrat on the Senate Housing Committee urged him to take a more aggressive stance on rent control legislation.

The letter, sent by a half-dozen groups to Sen. Brian Kavanagh, comes as Democrats in the chamber plan a series of statewide hearings on the issue.

But advocates wanted to hear more from Kavanagh on key bills that have gained backing in the Assembly, also led by Democrats.

“We applaud your sponsorship of the bill to prohibit evictions without good cause. We need you to be a vocal supporter of this crucial bill, which would protect millions of people across the State who now have no rights of any kind. We also appreciate your lead sponsorship of the bill to eliminate the fraud-driven Individual Apartment Improvement loophole,” the letter states.

“But you have not publicly supported several of the key bills in the universal rent control package. Indeed, you have been noticeably silent on, or have stated your opposition to, bills that would close the Major Capital Improvement (MCI) loophole; remove the arbitrary geographic restrictions in the Emergency Tenant Protection Act so that any municipality anywhere in the state can opt into rent stabilization if it chooses; make it easier for tenants to hold landlords accountable for illegal rent increases; and bring punitive rent control increases in line with the standard rent guidelines board increases.”

Signing on to the letter included the groups Tenants PAC, No IDC, New York City Democratic Socialists (NYC-DSA), New York Communities for Change, Rise and Resist, Greater NYC for Change.

Rent control is due in expire in June and lawmakers are debating ways of expanding tenant rights and protections in New York City as well as expanding the measures statewide.

“The Senate Democratic Conference is committed to enacting the best possible package of legislation to dramatically strengthen the laws that regulate rent and protect tenants, and close loopholes that have been exploited by unscrupulous landlords,” Kavanagh said in a statement.

“We appreciate the commitment, and the sense of urgency, of the many progressive organizations that have joined tenant and housing organizations in the fight this year. As hearings in both houses of the legislature are getting underway and less than six weeks remain before the laws are due to be renewed, we look forward to advancing a comprehensive package.”