State Senate

Biaggi Says She Was Stunned By Unanimous Vote For Sexual Harassment Changes

The unanimous vote for a bill that changes sexual harassment laws in New York was “stunning” to Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, she said in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom.

The bill, among other things, narrowed the definition from “severe or pervasive” for sexual harassment cases to a broader definition that covers a wider range of misbehavior and conduct.

The legislation was approved in both chambers, and passed in the state Senate 63-0.

“Surprisingly, maybe not to others, but to myself, there were quite a few number of my male colleagues who on at least on the Senate side sponsored this piece of bedrock legislation and it had a unanimous vote across the aisle,” she said in the interview with members of the Sexual Harassment Working Group.

“That was just completely stunning. I think that put me back on my heels a bit, but also maybe feel very much in awe.”

The measure’s passage came after the first two public hearings — one in Albany and another in New York City — on the issue. Lawmakers, as well as the Sexual Harassment Working Group, pushed for the hearings and legislation amid a societal reckoning surrounding sexual abuse and misconduct.

4 Takeaways From The Legislative Session

From the Morning Memo:

The session is over, and it was perhaps one of the most consequential six months for New York in a very long time. 

Bills were moved that touch on nearly every facet of life in New York — from the means in which we get our food, to how it’s bagged in supermarkets and how, one day, the car we use to get to the store will be powered. 

Here are four takeaways from the legislative session. 

1. Progressive flex

Elections do indeed have consequences. Voters swept Democrats into power last year in the state Legislature, giving the party a comfortable majority in the state Senate and sustaining the seemingly endless advantage in the state Assembly.

This time around, Democrats signaled little desire to squander one party rule in Albany, pushing through bill after bill the base of the party had long sought to strengthen abortion rights and labor rights for farm workers, gun control, fight climate change, enhance LGBTQ rights and expand and bolster rent control laws.

New York is now firmly in the column of a vanguard of progressive states controlled by Democrats like California that are enacting liberal policies in the era of President Donald Trump. Indeed, it’s easy to see much of what happened in Albany over the last six months as a direct reaction to Trump’s election nearly three years ago.

2. Activists hold sway

In a related development, activism in state government has never been more intense — or effective. Lawmakers listen to the activists who show up — be it on issues like criminal justice reform, affordable housing or marijuana legalization — there is a palpable sense at the Capitol that elected officials don’t want to anger the people who are showing up to demonstrate and command what is likely outsize influence over the legislative process. They are the ones engaged in the process, being able to spread their message on social media like never before.

At the same time, the activism is also driving primary threats next year for Democratic incumbents, especially in the state Assembly.

As one lawmaker put, lawmakers once reacted to the editorial boards; now they’re reacting to the activism.

3. Heastie’s leadership

The Democratic majority in the state Senate is new. Heastie’s speakership is not. And this year Heastie demonstrated a degree of command over the budget process and legislative negotiations like never before. The job of Assembly speaker — riding herd over more than 100 members from vastly different regions of the state — is perhaps the hardest job in Albany. But this year, Heastie demonstrated an ability to both count votes on nail-biting outcomes like a measure to end the religious exemption for vaccinations, while also allowing Democratic no votes on measures like extending driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

Heastie also set his sights early on a major rent control deal, striking one with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, seemingly to the surprise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, successfully negotiating one of the most consequential housing policy developments in recent history.

On top of that, he remains one of the more accessible legislative leaders in Albany.

4. Cuomo’s influence

Much has already been said about whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s influence is waning in Albany after a legislative session that saw lawmakers seemingly acted independently of the governor on major issues. And this session could very well mark a major shift in the relationship between a newly emboldened Legislature and a governor in his third term.

Still, Cuomo’s legislative prowess should not be napped on: He muscled through an appointment of his budget director to the board of the MTA, he held sway over the Capitol Projects budget bill until the very end, and, as he was happy to point, lawmakers could not get a deal done on full marijuana legalization outside of the state budget.

The job of governor remains a powerful one in state government. The Legislature is only now really waking up to the power it holds against him, but Cuomo’s experience in the process remains an advantage.

Lawmakers Back Bill Regulating Hemp Extracts

Increasingly popular hemp extracts like CBD will be regulated under a bill approved at the end of the legislative session.

The measure, which lawmakers approved in the waning hours of the session, is meant to both regulate production and promote hemp extracts like cannabidiol, or CBD.

The extracts are sold in a variety of forms, including tinctures, capsules, salves, dietary supplements, beverages, and other products.

“While many hemp farmers have chosen to grow hemp for fiber and grain, many others are growing the type of hemp that produces extracts like CBD,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, the chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. “Because of increasing consumer demand and interest from farmers, processors and manufacturers, specific guidelines are needed to guarantee the safety of the complete supply chain.”

The bill was approved after lawmakers declined to take up a broader bill to legalize marijuana in New York, which would have set up a taxation and retail system for cannabis products.

Instead, lawmakers approved the hemp legislation as well as a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana which included provisions that expunge the records of marijuana related offenses.

The hemp bill in particular is seen as a potential boost for farmers in the state.

“Hemp cultivation offers a tremendous opportunity for our local and small farms in New York to diversify into this high-value crop,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Jen Metzger.

“This legislation provides a regulatory framework that will give our farmers and our nascent hemp industry the confidence they need to invest and take advantage of this enormous market opportunity, while also creating standards for CBD products that consumers can trust.”

Krueger: ‘Great Strides Made’ For Marijuana Legalization

State lawmakers acknowledged on Wednesday a measure that would legalize marijuana in New York through the development a regulatory and retail cannabis business will not gain a vote in the Legislature this session.

“Throughout months of negotiation and conversation with the Governor’s office and my legislative colleagues, we made great strides to improve our bill and bring more people on board. We came very close to crossing the finish line, but we ran out of time,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, one of the main sponsors of the bill.

“I will continue to push for a tax-and-regulate adult-use program with all the right safeguards in place, one that centers on restorative justice and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by decades of failed prohibition policies.”

Lawmakers may now turn their focus to a decriminalization bill that would expunge criminal marijuana records, but not set up a system in which people can purchase cannabis products as proposed under the broader legalization bill.

“We will build on the success of other states who have chosen to legalize, including many of our neighbors,” Krueger said. “I have no doubt that prohibition is an outdated and irrational policy, and its days are numbered.”

Smart Approaches To Marijuana, a group opposed to legalization, celebrated the bill’s demise.

“We will continue to work every day to put public health and safety over the profits of this addiction-for-profit industry,” said Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy czar in the Obama administration. “We will fight to ensure science prevails over industry propaganda to create public policies that protect human health.”

Senate Approves Climate Change Package

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate on Tuesday approved a package of measures meant to fight climate change and reduce carbon emissions in the coming decades.

The bill approved is meant to shift the state to renewable energy by the middle part of the century, with sharp reductions in emissions by 2030.

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will also track carbon emissions and includes prevailing wage provisions.

“While Washington is asleep at the wheel, New York is leading the way,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee.

“The CLPA will virtually eliminate New York’s greenhouse gasses, foster renewable energy production, create green jobs, invest in lower-income communities, and protect our planet. New Yorkers and the world cannot wait any longer. This is the moment for bold, global change–and I’m proud to say New York is leading the nation.”

The measure was agreed to in the final days of the legislative session, a quick turnaround after Gov. Andrew Cuomo initially doubted whether there was time for the Legislature to take up a climate change package.

Cuomo on Tuesday hailed the agreement as one fo the most aggressive climate change fighting efforts in the country.

The measure was also embraced by environmental groups.

“Today’s action by the State Senate is a critical step forward in addressing global climate change,” said Peter Iwanowicz, the executive director of Environmental Advocates of New York. “The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act will not only move one of the world’s largest economies off of fossil fuels, it begins the conversation on how to make this transition equitably and with justice.”

But some Republicans blasted the measure. Sen. Robert Ortt said the energy targets in the bill are impossible to meet and will lead to further population loss.

“New York has already played this game for nine years with the Cuomo administration and the fact remains that we now import 75 percent of our energy,” he said. “Doubling down will please downstate progressives, but it will severely harm the rest of upstate.”

Flanagan Says He Will No Long Support Cuomo’s Parole Board Nominees

Republican Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan on Tuesday said he would no longer support the confirmation of any of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nominees to the state Parole Board.

The announcement in a statement comes as the state Senate, led by Democrats, will consider the confirmation of six appointees to the board.

Flanagan pointed to the recent parole of Judith Clark, the getaway driver in a 1981 armored car robbery that led to the death of two police officers.

“The State Parole Board has taken a very sharp and very dangerous turn to the left, and they are routinely setting aside common sense and the public interest in favor of hardened criminals who should remain behind bars,” Flanagan said.

“While some of the Parole Board nominees in front of the state Senate today may, on paper, possess the qualifications for this job, we can no longer trust that they won’t just follow the directive of the elected Democrats in this state. Therefore, I can no longer in good conscience support any of Governor Cuomo’s nominees to the Parole Board, and will oppose all six of the candidates who come before us today.”

Revenue For Drug Treatment, Education Part Of Marijuana Discussions

State lawmakers are discussing how to spend revenue from the legalization of marijuana as “opt in” language for local governments as been removed, Sen. Diane Savino told reporters on Tuesday.

Savino, one of the primary lawmakers working on the bill, said amendments have been added to the bill and further changes are being discussed that could add revenue for drug recognition and drug treatment areas.

“It’s more technical than philosophical issues,” she said.

Lawmakers are working through the final week of the legislative session, scheduled to end on Wednesday, but remained optimistic an agreement could be reached on the legalization measure.

“We’re going to give those members the opportunity to review those changes,” Savino said. “We believe we’re going to get there.”

Savino said the goal remains to get to “magic number 32” — the majority of senators needed to approve anything in the chamber.

Lawmakers on Sunday introduced a more narrowly tailored decriminalization bill that would expunge marijuana-related criminal records. The measure does not include a statewide regulatory system for retail cannabis.

“In Albany you just don’t know how things are going to end up,” Speaker Carl Heastie said, “And I think the introduction of the decriminalization bill was if we can’t come to an agreement on adult use, the very least we could is make sure people who suffered under these laws, there records are expunged and they could get the stain off their lives.”

Senate Approves Mobile Sports Betting

A bill that would legalize sports betting on mobile devices easily cleared passage in the state Senate, but it faces an uncertain chance in the state Assembly.

The bill was approved 57-5 in the Senate as lawmakers begin the final scheduled week of the legislative session this year.

The measure has gone through several iterations as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office has raised constitutional concerns with the legislation, which the bill’s sponsors say have been satisfied by placing severs for mobile sports betting in casinos.

State gaming regulators earlier this month gave the final go-ahead for regulations that would allow sports betting to take place in the physical casinos themselves.

Cuomo has also publicly doubted whether there was time to move forward with the mobile component and questioned the expansion of gambling, which he has embraced in the past when backing a casino approval amendment.

Lawmakers who have supported the bill point to neighboring New Jersey, which has mobile sports betting in place, arguing New York is losing out on revenue.

Source: Senate To Hold Vote On Green Light Bill This Week

The state Senate will hold a vote on a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York, a source familiar with the matter said on Sunday.

News of the vote was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

The measure, known as the Green Light bill, previously passed this month in the Assembly. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats.

The Legislature is scheduled to conclude the legislative session on Wednesday and negotiations continued through this weekend on major issues left unresolved.

The bill has been long sought by immigration advocates, who argue the measure has merits that boost traffic safety and insurance while also enable undocumented immigrants to drive to work.

But the issue has long stoked political controversy. In 2007, then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed and later withdrew a similar plan.

County clerks who operate local Department of Motor Vehicles offices have pledged to not issue licenses to anyone living in the United States illegally.

State Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs has cautioned Senate lawmakers against the bill, worrying about the political fallout in suburban and upstate districts if it’s approved. But the bill has gained momentum in recent days after it won the backing of Long Island Sen. Anna Kaplan.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is supportive of the measure and has said he would sign it if it passes. On Friday, Cuomo raised concerns with the legislation in a radio interview, pointing to the potential of federal immigration officials to use lists generated by the DMV for enforcement actions.

Sweeping Rent Control Changes Approved

State lawmakers on Friday put the finishing touches on a sweeping package of changes to rent control in New York, which allow communities outside of the New York City area to opt in to regulations designed to protect tenants.

The state Senate approved the package, announced earlier this week by the legislative leaders, 36-26. The Democratic-controlled Assembly followed suit soon after, 95-41.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bills shortly after they achieved final passage.

The governor, who faintly praised the agreement earlier this week at a news conference, released a more celebratory statement on Friday.

“At the beginning of this legislative session, I called for the most sweeping, aggressive tenant protections in state history. I’m confident the measure passed today is the strongest possible set of reforms that the Legislature was able to pass and are a major step forward for tenants across New York,” Cuomo said.

“As the former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Clinton, I know full well the importance of affordable housing and with the existing rent laws set to expire tomorrow, I have immediately signed this bill into law – avoiding the chaos and uncertainty that a lapse in these protections would have caused for millions of New Yorkers.”

For Democrats who gained control of the state Senate, the passage and forging of the deal was a victory. The measures permanently extend rent control laws and allow local governments to opt in and adopt their own local-level regulations.

The measures make it harder for landlords to evict tenants when rent is increased and raise rents when capital improvements are made to a dwelling.

“We made a commitment that the new Senate Democratic Majority would help pass the strongest tenant protections in history,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “The legislation we passed today achieves that commitment and will help millions of New Yorkers throughout our state. I thank my partner in legislative leadership, Speaker Carl Heastie and the Chair of the Senate’s Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee, Senator Brian Kavanagh for his leadership on this issue.”

Both Heastie and Stewart-Cousins announced the two-way deal on Wednesday, well ahead of the Saturday deadline for the current laws to expire.

The measures are expected to face a court challenge from real estate interests in court.

“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords. But today we were able to level the playing field and bring stability to tenants across New York State, whether they live in an apartment in the Bronx, a single family home in Nassau County or a manufactured home upstate,” Heastie said. “The Assembly Majority will continue working to ensure every New Yorker can find quality, affordable housing.”