State Senate

Sources: Green Light Bill Gains Key Senate Support

Multiple sources on Thursday said a bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses has gained three key votes in the state Senate: Sens. Anna Kaplan, Joe Addabbo and Diane Savino.

Support from Kaplan, a freshman Long Island Democrat, is seen as especially vital by supporters given the concerns that have been raised by Long Island Democrats in recent weeks.

The focus will likely be on upstate and suburban Democratic lawmakers for the final passage of the measure, known as the Green Light bill. The proposal was approved on Wednesday in the state Assembly.

Supporters of the bill have argued this year that extending access to licenses to undocumented immigrants has economic merit for drivers to obtain insurance and have transportation to work. But opponents have criticized the measure over security concerns.

Green Light Bill Advocates Urge LI Dems To Back Measure

A coalition of 10 organizations that back a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to gain access to driver’s licenses released a letter Thursday to Long Island Democrats and the state Democratic committee chairman urging them to support the measure.

The bill was approved in the Democratic-led state Assembly on Wednesday, but faces an uncertain path forward in the state Senate, where Democrats gained a majority control this year.

Democrats from the suburbs and upstate New York are considered key to its passage in the chamber. Compounding the issue has been Jay Jacobs, the chairman of the Democratic Committee in New York, who has warned some senators about the political fallout surrounding the bill.

“This year, the Democratic establishment has advanced a narrative that passing long fought-for, common sense, progressive pieces of legislation will somehow threaten the future Democratic Senate majority. This has been particularly true regarding efforts to restore access to drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants and reforming the state’s cruel and outdated criminal legal system that has dehumanized people of color in the state, and destroyed individuals, families, and communities,” the groups wrote in the letter.

“As criminal justice reform organizations, immigrant rights groups, and allies that have actively engaged constituents in the suburbs and across the state for years, and whose members helped usher in the New York Blue Wave of 2018, we reject this backward, and frankly inaccurate, thinking.”

Signing on to the letter include: Bend the Arc Jewish Action: New York, Citizen Action of New York, Empire State Indivisible, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road Action, New York State Immigrant Action Fund, New York Communities for Change, True Blue NY, VOCAL-NY Action Fund and the Working Families Party.

State Senate To Vote To End Religious Exemptions For Vaccines

From the Morning Memo:

The state Senate today will consider a bill that would end the religious exemption for vaccinations in New York amid measles outbreaks in Rockland County and Brooklyn.

The bill, backed by Sen. Brad Hoylman, is one of several vaccination-related measures lawmakers have proposed during the outbreaks, which nationally stand at more than 1,000 confirmed cases.

The religious exemption bill comes as the outbreaks in New York have predominantly affect the Orthodox Jewish community. Some lawmakers in the Assembly had expressed unease with the legislation over concerns the measure would not be effective in combatting measles and boosting vaccination rates.

Nevertheless, the Assembly is expected to follow suit on the measure next week before the legislative session is scheduled to conclude on Wednesday. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said he would sign the bill.

Public health experts agree that vaccinations for healthy people are necessary in order to create herd immunity. Still, those opposed or skeptical of vaccinations have lobbied the Capitol in recent weeks to push back against the bill.

Lawmakers have also called for a statewide public information campaign on the benefits of vaccinations as well as requirements that kids going to summer camp receive vaccinations.

Senate Backs Anti-Opioid Package

The Democratic-led state Senate on Wednesday backed a package of bills meant to combat opioid addiction in New York.

The bills include measures that would expand the entities allowed to posses and distribute an opioid antagonist that is meant to counteract overdoses.

Another bill would require health practitioners to discuss with their patients risk associated with certain pain medications.

And another bill is meant to expand access to medication assistance treatment for Medicaid recipients who need medications to treat substance abuse disorder.

Additional measures are meant to aid infants and expand access to abuse treatment.

“Across New York State, communities have been impacted by the opioid epidemic and families have faced its tragic effects. The fight against opioid abuse is a long one but the Senate Majority remains committed to finding solutions that will end this crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

“The bills advanced by the Senate Democratic Majority will support New Yorkers affected by opioid abuse by establishing recovery programs and expanding treatment options. I applaud Senator Pete Harckham, the bill sponsors, and all of my colleagues for supporting those fighting against opioid abuse.”

Lawmakers Strike Deal For Statewide Rent Regulations

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers announced Tuesday evening an agreement that is meant to permanently extend rent control laws for New York and expand the regulations to upstate communities.

The agreement, while not as ambitious as lawmakers’ public positions, still went further than previous rent control agreements struck in the recent past under Republican control of the state Senate, and the details were praised by housing advocates.

The deal would allow local governments outside of the New York City metropolitan area to opt in for rent regulations for municipalities that have a less than 5 percent vacancy rate in the housing stock to be regulated. Opting in would allow the locality to set up its own rent stabilization board.

Statewide, the agreement also bans the use of “tenant blacklists” and limits security deposits to one month’s rent, while also requiring procedures that lead to the prompt return of the deposit.

New protections would be added to tenants during an eviction process swell, while also barring landlords from forcing a tenant eviction.

Landlords would also be required to give tenant notices if they plan to increase rent more than 5 percent or do not intend to renew their lease.

“These reforms give New Yorkers the strongest tenant protections in history,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a joint statement issued alongside the top-line details of the deal.

“For too long, power has been tilted in favor of landlords and these measures finally restore equity and extend protections to tenants across the state. These reforms will pass both legislative houses and we are hopeful that the Governor will sign them into law. It is the right thing to do.”

The deal was struck as Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sought to apply outside pressure on lawmakers to act, pledging to pass anything the Legislature put in front of him. Cuomo doubted whether the state Senate, under control of Democrats for the first time in a decade, could muster the needed votes to pass a robust rent package.

“I think they can only pass a modified version of what the Assembly has proposed,” Cuomo said of the state Senate in a radio interview.

But advocates on Tuesday evening were praising the agreement — something the Legislature was quick to point out when announcing the agreement.

“This bill is affirmation of the Statewide movement that we are building together, and we look forward to working with the Senate and the Assembly, in the years to come, until every renter, from Brooklyn to Buffalo, can live free from the fear of displacement,” said Cea Weaver, the campaign director of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance.

Affordable housing advocates had closely watched the negotiations surrounding rent control this year following the transfer of power in the Senate, hopeful a stronger package of bills would approved compared with the measures four years ago.

“This past election ignited the fires of change as evidenced by today’s tenant protection package,” said Rosemary Rivera of Citizen Action. “The Senate and Assembly have listened to the needs of tenants across the state and put forth bold legislation to end the housing crisis, showing how ordinary people, when organized, can beat back the billionaire real estate giants.”

The bill could be voted on as early as Friday, ahead of Saturday’s deadline for the rent laws to expire.

Stewart-Cousins Says A Two-Way Deal Reached On Rent Bill

The state Senate and Assembly have reached a two-way agreement to extend and expand rent control regulations in New York, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

The package of bills was reviewed by lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon. One source said the bill includes a statewide rent control provision that would allow local governments to opt in for rent regulations, which then be developed by a local rent board.

Rent control regulations, broadly speaking, are only in place for New York City and some suburban communities on Long Island and Westchester County.

“The Senate and Assembly have conferenced a rent protections package and we have reached an agreement,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We are finalizing this legislation and we will be issuing a joint statement with additional details when it is complete.”

The announcement on the agreements comes with enough time for lawmakers to print the bill and allow it to “age” on the desk for three days without a special waiver from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The current rent laws expire on Saturday.

Andy Cohen, With Cuomo And Senate Dems, Calls For Surrogacy Legalization

The Democratic-led state Senate today is expected to pass a bill that would legalize gestational surrogacy in New York.

But with the bill’s chances in the Assembly in doubt, TV personality and Bravo host Andy Cohen appeared in Albany to boost the bill’s chances.

Cohen, whose 4-month-old son Benjamin was born via surrogacy in California, appeared at two separate news conferences with Gov. Andrew Cuomo and later with Senate Democrats.

Cohen will also appear in a Capital Tonight interview at 7 p.m. on Spectrum News.

“Pass the law that protects women and then convince the other 47 states to do it; it’s not that women aren’t going to be surrogates, they are, it’s just is it New Jersey, or is it here, or is it California?” Cuomo said.

“So it makes no sense. It also makes no sense since we spent months in this room arguing for a women’s right under Roe v. Wade, which said a women’s body a women’s choice. And we argued with many people who said, “well certain women aren’t prepared to consent and certain women should have to consult with their parents first, and they have to notify their parents first.” And we said no, a women’s right governs.”

Cuomo at the news conference specifically pointed to the opposition in the state Assembly to the measure, which would allow LGBTQ or infertile couples to pay a surrogate.

“I respect my colleagues in the Assembly who have differences of opinion,” he said. “We have differences of opinion all the time, but I do not understand the assembly members who oppose this. I have respect for Assembly Members Glick, and Weinstein and Didi Barrett, but I just don’t see the possible rational.”

But there is opposition to the measure, from women’s groups as well as the Catholic Church.

In a widely circulated letter at the Capitol on Tuesday, feminist icon Gloria Steinem announced her opposition to the proposal, concerned the move would exploit women.

“Under this bill, women in economic need become commercialized vessels for rent, and the fetuses they carry become the property of others,” she wrote in the letter.

She added the bill carries a “big risk of human trafficking” of women.

The bill’s sponsors insisted Steinem was wrong, pointing to the protections included in the language, including a “surrogates bill of rights.”

“I’m the proud parent of two daughters born through gestational surrogacy,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman. “Unfortunately, under the current law, my husband and I had to travel 3,000 miles to California to build our family because New York makes surrogate agreements illegal. It’s time we fix that for LGBTQ families and any intended parent grappling with infertility.”

Ryan Gratified By Senate Leadership Support, No Decision Imminent

From the Morning Memo:

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat, said he’s gratified top state Senate brass is hosting a fundraiser for him next week as he considers a run for the 60th state Senate district – a key upstate swing seat that will be open as incumbent Republican Sen. Chris Jacobs turns his sights to Congress.

The assemblyman says support from lawmakers like Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris are key, but he’s also interested in seeing what kind of money he can bring in on his own.

“People have reached out right away saying we want to help,” Ryan said. “We want to make some donations and that’s part of the exploratory committee. I’m keeping my fingers crossed I’ll have a successful event next week and once I get to that point we’ll make the next step.”

The next step probably will not be any kind of official announcement. While he has made clear he is “very interested” in the seat, the Democrat has also vowed to take a methodical approach in his decision.

With the 2020 general election still roughly a year and a half away, he can take his time. Ryan said he plans to spend the summer talking to political, governmental and business leaders around the district.

“I think I’ll be a strong candidate but we have to see if the rest of the district agrees with me,” he said.

Buffalo State Sen. Tim Kennedy is also co-hosting next Tuesday’s fundraiser, which is taking place in Albany just as the session is reaching its end.

Senate Poised To Take Up Surrogacy Bill

A bill that would legalize gestational surrogacy in New York is expected to be considered on the floor of the state Senate on Tuesday, part of a package of a LGBTQ bills Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing at the end of the session.

The bill would make New York one of the last states to legalize the practice, which is meant to help couples that cannot conceive as well as LGBTQ couples.

Cuomo on Monday co-wrote an op/ed posted on BuzzFeed with Bravo personality Andy Cohen to push for the legislation.

“New York sent a strong message about the important of families – and how they come in many colors, shapes and sizes – when we passed marriage equality during Governor Cuomo’s first year in office,” they wrote. “But by banning gestational surrogacy, we are saying to the LGBTQ community and those who struggle with infertility: you can’t have a child in your own state.

“In 2019, no one should have to forfeit the joy of raising a child – not in an era when modern medicine is performing new miracles every day, and when we have reached a wide consensus that the only prerequisite to forming a family is love.”

But the bill has been opposed by the Catholic Church as well as some women’s advocates who are worried about the consequences of paying someone to carry a baby to term.

The Coalition Against Trafficking In Women wrote in a memorandum of opposition that the measure would be “tantamount to the renting of women’s wombs and the buying and selling of babies for profit.”

Democratic Senators Call For Cashless Bail Changes

Two Democratic state senators on Monday introduced a bill that seeks to alter the cashless bail changes lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed to in the state budget.

The bill from Sens. Jim Gaughran and Monica Martinez would add to the list of offenses that qualify for judicial discretion in determining whether a criminal defendant poses a safety risk. The measure would alter a key criminal justice law change that had been long sought by advocates for several years.

Those offenses include manslaughter, sex crimes including against children, terrorism related charges, felony drug crimes related to drug trafficking, and bribery offenses involving public officials.

“When an individual poses a clear danger to public safety, an unbiased judicial expert must have the discretion to choose whether or not to release them without bail,” Gaughran said in a statement. “My bill advances on the historic criminal justice reforms made this year by maintaining the elimination of cash bail for low-level offenses, and returns a critical protection to judges by allowing them discretion to determine whether an individual poses a credible and identifiable threat to the public.”

The bill comes after Democratic State Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs in interviews acknowledged he discussed with lawmakers his concerns with a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Jacobs, in an interview, said the list of progressive accomplishments like curtailing cash bail, could end up hurting Democrats in moderate districts next year.

Both Gaughran and Martinez represent Long Island Senate districts that were held by Republicans until last year.

“As policymakers, it is our fiduciary responsibility to safeguard the well being of our constituencies,” Martinez said.

“This legislation will allow judges to have discretion when determining whether an individual should be eligible for bail based on their offense and potential danger to society. We cannot turn a blind eye to repeat violent offenders and those who pose a threat to our children, families and friends.”

Senate Republicans scoffed at the proposal.

“Every Senate Republican, including those on Long Island, voted against these changes because we recognized early on that it was part of a dangerous ‘Criminal Bill of Rights’ that put the interests of convicted criminals ahead of the needs of victims, their families and the law-abiding public,” said Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif.

“These Senators could have chosen to stand up, show some leadership and reject these changes before they became law, but instead they went along with their New York City colleagues and failed their constituents. This legislation isn’t serious, it’s a cynical attempt to cover their butts. And, no one on Long Island is buying it.”

The bill also received the backing of Sen. John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat now in his second term, as well as Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island. It was also endorsed by Suffolk County District Tim Sini.

“I want to thank Senators Gaughran and Martinez for their diligent work towards improving this legislation and ensuring that public safety is effectively protected,” Sini said. “I also want to thank them for their willingness to engage law enforcement on this important issue.”