State Senate

Bill Would Strip Corrupt Pols Of Their Campaign Accounts

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers this week are expected to advance legislation that would strip politicians of their campaign accounts after a felony conviction.

The bill addresses the number of campaign accounts left open after a politician has been found guilty. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, for instance, still has $35,127 in his campaign account, according to a January filing. Skelos is now incarcerated in a federal prison.

Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who is free amid an appeal, last reported $1.6 million in cash in July 2015 and has subsequently filed no activity statements with the Board of Elections.

The bill would require campaign accounts be wound down within two years of a conviction, with the money either returned to donors or given to charity.

The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who flipped the seat held by Skelos on Long Island. The bill is sponsored by Assemblywoman Judy Griffin.

“It flies in the face of reason why the law allows any elected official to continue maintaining control over his or her campaign account from behind the walls of a prison,” the bill’s memo states. “This legislation will close this loophole once and for all and ensure that those guilty of corruption or other crimes cannot continue to expend campaign funds.”

Senate Approves Bills Addressing Eating Disorders, Life Insurance Coverage

The Democratic-led state Senate on Monday approved bills meant to bolster insurance coverage for those with eating disorders and a measure meant to prevent insurance companies from not offering life insurance to those who have been prescribed drugs the counteract the effect of an opioid overdose.

“These are common-sense reforms that will improve access to the specific healthcare needs of countless individuals,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.

The eating disorder legislation would expand insurance coverage to include all forms of disorders.

“As a person who has lived with an eating disorder for fifteen years, I can say from experience that my disease is not black and white; eating disorders are complex, devastating conditions that can manifest differently depending on the person,” said Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, the bill’s sponsor.

“And while recovery is possible, the cost of treatment often stands in the way. The purpose of this bill is to close the gap in healthcare coverage to include all iterations of eating disorders, so that every New Yorker striving to overcome this disease – no matter what it looks like – can access the care they need.”

The bill was approved earlier this year in the Assembly. and now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

“Eating disorders are real, complex, devastating conditions that affect health, productivity, and families across New York,” said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. “Eating disorders are highly treatable with affordable medical care that doesn’t leave families choosing between bankruptcy and recovery. I am proud to have championed this crucial, life-saving legislation.”

Another bill would prevent insurance companies from not offering life insurance to those who have been prescribed nalxone or narcan. The measure is meant to primarily effect nurses and doctors who carry the drug in order to respond to overdoses.

“Senator Harckham’s legislation will not allow the prescribing of Naloxone as the sole reason for denying life insurance,” said Sen. Neil Breslin. “This will make Naloxone more available which can aid nurses, health care professionals and individuals in saving lives.”

Senate Plans Rent Control Hearings

The Democratic-led state Senate this month will hold a series of hearings in New York City and upstate communities ahead of a push to extend and potentially expand rent control regulations in New York.

The hearings will be held on May 9 in Syracuse, May 16 in Brooklyn, May 22 in Albany and May 23 in Newburgh.

“New Yorkers deserve access to safe and affordable housing options. The Senate Democratic Majority will work tirelessly to support New Yorkers who simply want to stay in the communities they call home,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “I commend Senator Kavanagh for organizing these hearings and for his leadership on this critical issue that impacts millions of New Yorkers’ lives.”

The hearings follow similar events held by Democrats in the state Assembly.

Lawmakers are considering a push that would allow local governments outside of New York City to approve their own rent control regulations in addition to extending the current law that is set to expire in June.

“Decent affordable housing is one of the most fundamental human needs, and yet our laws to protect New York tenants have been far too weak and riddled with loopholes that not only permit bad behavior, but sometimes incentivize it,” said Sen. Brian Kavanagh. “The new Senate Majority is committed to renewing and dramatically strengthening these laws for the first time in generations.”

Akshar Responds To ‘Beyond Shameful’ Allegations

From the Morning Memo:

Republican Sen. Fred Aksahr in three-minute video posted to his Facebook page this weekend called the allegations that he took advantage of a woman who’s son’s murder he helped investigate as “beyond shameful” and part of an effort to score political points during a district attorney’s race in Broome County.

USA Today Network reported last week Akshar had relations with Mirella Masciarelli that included a one-time sexual encounter at Turning Stone Casino. The incident occurred ahead of an appeal the accused murder, Aaron Powell, was readying in 2015 and before Akshar was elected to the Binghamton-area Senate seat.

“There was a brief and completely consensual relationship,” Akshar said in the video. “No laws or codes of ethics were violated at any time.”

Akshar suggested the framing of the relationship with Masciarelli was in order to sway the outcome of a district attorney primary race.

“Enough is enough,” he said. “This has remained nothing more than a concerted politically motivated smear attempt.”

In a statement on Saturday, Broome County Democratic Committee Chairman Tim Grippen called for Akshar to resign.

“The latest accusations that have emerged against Senator Fred Akshar this week in a video on Facebook are disturbing,” Grippen said.

“I believe that the inappropriate behavior that the Senator has himself admitted to demonstrates that he lacks the judgment, maturity, and integrity required for holding public office, and he should resign. At an absolute minimum, State Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan should immediately remove him as the Ranking Minority Member of the Crime Victims Committee.”

Akshar has the backing of his Republican colleagues in the state Senate.

Sen. Robert Ortt in an interview on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressroom said the issue was between Akshar and his constituents in the Southern Tier region.

“Certainly, it is something that is regrettable from a judgment standpoint regardless of the legality of it,” Ortt said. “But I don’t know what actions the Senate GOP takes as a conference. I think this is ultimately going to be between Sen Akshar and the people of his district.”

Bill Addresses Life Insurance Coverage In Opioid Fight

From the Morning Memo:

State lawmakers this week are considering the passage of a bill that would prevent insurers from not providing life insurance coverage to those who have prescribed medication meant to counteract the effects of opioids.

The measure, backed by Sen. Peter Harckham and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, is aimed in part at health care professionals who have medication like Naloxone on their medication lists.

The sponsors called the denial of life insurance coverage “discriminatory practice” that should end.

“The Surgeon General has made a call for the increased availability of Naloxone,” according to the bill’s memo of support.

“To aid in this effort, nurses and healthcare professionals have obtained the lifesaving drugs without a patient specific prescription. By carrying it, these individuals can potentially save a life. Unfortunately, this means that this drug will appear on their active medication lists, and life insurers have been denying these individuals life insurance coverage solely on the basis that they carry Naloxone.”

The bill is the latest measure lawmakers in Albany are considering that is meant to address the heroin and opioid addiction crisis in the state and country.

It would take effect immediately if it is signed by the governor.

Gianaris: Queens Needs More Poll Sites

Sen. Mike Gianaris on Friday called on the New York City Board of Elections to have more poll sites in Queens in order to accommodate the borough’s population and sprawling size.

Seven new sites are being planned by the Board of Elections.

“Seven polling sites for more than two million people is an affront to democracy. The Board of Elections plan deserves a recount,” Gianaris said. “We passed this law to make it easier for millions of New Yorkers to vote. The Board of Elections needs to step up so more New Yorkers will vote.”

Voters in New York will have the opportunity this year to vote early after lawmakers approved and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure creating the new system. But Gianaris says elections officials need to be prepared for voting before the actual general election day.

“The Board of Elections is doing the bare minimum to implement early voting, especially in Queens where there are more voters assigned to each polling site than any other borough. This is not only inexcusable, but likely a violation of state law,” said Susan Lerner, the executive director of the group Common Cause New York.

She called for between 50 and 100 voting centers in the city overall.

“Both the city and state have devoted millions of dollars to make early voting a success, it’s time for the BOE to step up,” she said.

Lawmakers Consider Allowing Campaign Funds Used For Child Care

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would allow candidates for office to use campaign funds for child care will be considered next week by the Senate Elections Committee.

The legislation was inspired in large part by the 2018 congressional campaign of Democrat Liuba Grechen Shirley, who secured a decision from federal elections regulators that child care payments could be considered a legitimate campaign expense.

Grechen Shirley unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rep. Peter King. But the idea that candidates with children should be given more flexibility with child care costs, potentially enabling more people to run for office, remained a potent issue for officials at both the state and federal level and was endorsed by Hillary Clinton.

The state version would allow state and local candidates to use campaign donations to be put toward child care expenses.

“The need for childcare often serves as a prohibitive barrier to people running for office,” the bill memo states. “Women, in particular, are affected by these demands, and it is critical that we work with candidates to ensure that childcare costs not bar them from considering a run for office.”

The measure is sponsored by Sen. Shelley Mayer and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

The Senate Elections Committee will also consider a bill that would block the use of campaign funds to be used to settle civil or criminal sexual harassment cases. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Democrat who defeated Sen. Jeff Klein in a primary last year. Klein was accused of forcibly kissing a former staffer, an allegation that he has denied.

Lawmakers Press For More Limo Safety Changes

State lawmakers want to make further regulatory changes to stretch limousines in New York following a crash in Schoharie last October that killed 20 people.

The state Senate on Thursday took testimony from victims’ family members as well as limousine operators at a public hearing, which comes after lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo enacted new penalties for inspection failures and a ban on stretch limos making u-turns.

Democratic Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara is backing a bill that would create an database online for stretch limousine operators with information on the company’s record, safety violations and current vehicle inspections as well as licensing information.

“This information is important for consumer protection and right now it’s not so easy to find,” he said. “In the age of smartphones and technology, making this information public and readily available to consumers—in the case of prom season, concerned parents—provides an easy way to check important information before hiring anyone.”

Some family members at the hearing expressed shock and outrage the state had not acted sooner on limo safety following a crash on Long Island in 2015 that killed four people.

“We’re here because we absolutely agree that New York state has to do better,” said Sen. Tim Kennedy.

Senate Approves School Bus Safety Bills

The state Senate on Wednesday approved a package of bills meant to boost safety on school buses.

“Reckless drivers who ignore and break school bus safety laws endanger the lives of our children,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “Increasing penalties and education around school bus safety measures is an important step to ensure that our communities are safer and young people’s lives are not put at risk. I applaud the Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Senator Kennedy, along with Senator Kaplan and Senator Parker, for leading the fight on this important safety issue.”

The measures include one bill that would hike fines for those who illegal attempt to overtake and pass a stopped school bus.

Another bill would add a school bus safety component to a driver’s education course as part of pre-licensing.

And a third measure would transfer the revenue generated by fines for illegally pass a school bus to a safety training program for study and promotion of bus safety.

“As lawmakers, we have a solemn duty to ensure that we take every step necessary to ensure the safety of the children in our communities,” said Sen. Anna Kaplan, the sponsor of one of the bills.

“So when we have a situation where an estimated 40,000 drivers in New York are illegally passing school buses each day, we have a crisis on our hands that demands attention. That’s why I’m proud to sponsor legislation that will ensure that driver education and licensing exams ensure that drivers in this state understand the laws on school bus safety.”

Tedisco’s ‘Lemon-Aid Law’ Advances

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would exempt children from having to apply for and receive a license in order to operate a lemonade stand advanced on Tuesday through the Senate Health Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jim Tedisco, was inspired by a Ballston Spa 7-year-old lemonade stand operator after he was told last year by a Department of Health official he needed a license for his stand near the Saratoga County fairgrounds.

The episode was seen as an example of regulatory overreach for a law that’s rarely enforced for pop-up lemonade stands. The permit costs $30, a fee Gov. Andrew Cuomo paid last year for the child, Brendan Mulvaney.

“There’s nothing that says America more than apple pie and kids running lemonade stands,” Tedisco said.

“‘Brendan’s Lemon-Aid Law for Children’ will keep child-run lemonade stands open for business in New York State without this regulation hanging over them. It’s a sad commentary on the current state of New York State’s government that this legislation is needed to protect the entrepreneurial dreams of children selling lemonade. Kids like Brendan Mulvaney are trying to give people sweet lemonade and learn some important business skills but the overzealous state bureaucrats just keep giving taxpayers lemons.”

The bill has the backing of Democratic lawmakers who control both the state Senate and Assembly.