State Senate

Lawmakers Seeking Education Boost ‘Staying Positive’

The state lawmakers who are pushing for a boost in direct school aid this year that education advocates have long sought don’t want to hold up the state budget over the issue.

For now.

“Everyone wants to have an on-time budget, that’s a given,” said Sen. Robert Jackson, a Democrat elected last year who has been a prominent booster for the education funding hike, a Capitol press conference on Tuesday. “But we’re not going to pass an on-time budget that’s a bad budget for the people of New York state.”

Jackson was part of an initial lawsuit in the last decade for increasing state aid. Education advocates want to increase school spending by $2.1 billion in order to satisfy the terms of a lawsuit settled during Gov. George Pataki’s administration.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also pointed to the annual education increases he’s supported in previous budgets proposed and approved during his time as governor.

But for supporters of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the money hasn’t been enough.

“We hope we can reach agreement with the governor. We’re staying positive,” Jackson said. “But we’re ready to do whatever we have to do to make sure our children receive an opportunity for a sound, basic education.”

Complicating matters for lawmakers who want to see the funding increase is a disagreement over how much revenue the state will have, a decision that is now being handed to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli after the Legislature and Cuomo could not come to an agreement.

Cuomo has urged caution on the budget, pointed to the possibility of the economy slowing down as early as next year. Cuomo has also raised the possibility of a budget going passed the start of the state’s April 1 fiscal year, putting pay raises for elected officials and cabinet commissioners in doubt.

But Democrats in the Legislature feel especially emboldened this year given the party’s new and large majority in the state Senate.

“Ultimately that’s what having a Democratic majority is about,” said Sen. Jessica Ramos, “showing that we’re unified in producing for our kids,”

Bill Would Bar State Contractors From Campaign Donations

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-led state Senate today will take up a bill meant to restrict campaign contributions from companies seeking state contracts.

The bill would restrict donations from prospective state vendors when responding to requests for proposals and to six months after winning a state contract. It would also bar donations from those lobbying to create a “procurement opportunity.”

Penalties of up to $10,000 or 200 percent of the contributions value would be assessed if the measure becomes law.

The bill would be a significant piece of contracting reform for the state and was proposed in the wake of the arrest of upstate developers who had been accused of being part of a bid rigging scheme as part of the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

The developers were donors to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign, though the contributions themselves were not at issue during the trial.

Cuomo proposed a similar ban on contributions from vendors and prospective contractors in his budget plan released in January.

Cuomo earlier this year proposed a ban on corporate contributions, lowered contribution limits and contracting reform that restores the comptroller’s authority to review contracts worth more than $250,000.

At the same time, Cuomo announced during his State of the State address the state would require new legal certifications for contracts.

“Any state agency that is assuring or issuing a grant has to certify that there was no occlusion, there was no political interference,” he said.

The bill being considered today by the state Senate has the backing of good-government groups, including Reinvent Albany.

“The recent trial related to the Buffalo Billion projects resulted in convictions of corporate executives, campaign contributors and senior executive officials who conspired to rig the bids for the state’s largest economic development projects, and revealed the need for reforms to the state’s contracting process,” the group wrote in a memorandum of support.

Lawmakers Approve Bill Requiring Locked Storage For Guns

State lawmakers on Monday approved legislation that would requiring the locked storage of firearms — a long-sought bill for supporters of gun control in New York.

The bill, part of a string of gun control measures approved in recent weeks in the 2019 legislative session, applies to gun owners with children under the age of 16 in their homes.

“It’s so important that we protect kids from handguns,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan. “When children are in homes with handguns, statistics show they are more likely to be injured or killed by those guns.”

Republicans contended, however, the bill puts gun owners at risk of reaching a firearm when its needed most, such as during a home invasion.

“It just assumes that gun owners can’t be trusted to have guns in their own home,” said Assemblyman Dan Stec, a Republican who represents the North Country. “It’s a constant erosion of Second Amendment rights geared at hassling law-abiding gun owners.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his approval.

Lawmakers previously this year approved a bill that is meant to restrict gun access for the mentally ill as well as a ban bump stocks, devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic automatic fire, as well as a bill that would extend the waiting period to buy a firearm from three days to up to a month.

Biz Groups Push Back On Opioid Tax

A letter sent Monday by a coalition of business groups to top lawmakers in the state Senate and Assembly urged them to oppose the latest version of an opioid tax in the state budget.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month re-introduced a version of the tax as part of his $175 billion spending plan after a similar measure in last year’s budget was struck down by a federal court.

The tax, meant to tackle heroin and opioid addiction, is expected to bring in $100 million.

But the business groups, including NFIB, Unshackle Upstate and the Business Council, argue the tax would only be passed on to consumers and could raise prices as a result.

“Any tax policy that raises costs on the healthcare supply chain of New York State is bad for all aspects of the healthcare system,” they write in the letter.

“But increased healthcare costs would have a significant impact on our state’s economy as a whole, as employers would pay more for their employees’ healthcare coverage and consumers of legitimate opioids would have to spend more out of their own pockets. Not to mention the effect that this tax could have on the bottom line of healthcare facilities, some of the largest job creators in communities throughout the state.”

The full letter can be found here.

Advocates Continue Criminal Justice Reform Push

Supporters of making changes to the state’s criminal justice laws on Friday continued their push with Long Island Democratic Sen. Kevin Thomas and advocate and CNN host Van Jones.

Advocates held a roundtable event on Long Island to discuss the push for reforming the state’s discovery laws, which they contend are tilted in favor of prosecutors when it comes to withholding key evidence.

“This is an important conversation,” Thomas said. “I’m glad people took time out of their busy schedules to attend, as we look to make criminal justice reform a reality. My thanks to Van Jones and New Yorkers United for Justice for bringing these pressing issues to the forefront.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week in a radio interview on WAMC said he wanted criminal justice reform included in a final state budget agreement. Lawmakers are also likely to seek changes to laws for speedy trial guarantees and seek to curtail the use of solitary confinement..

“If there is anything I’ve learned from my experience working on criminal justice issues and policies across the country, it’s that criminal justice and public safety go hand-in-hand,” said Lauren Krisai, Senior Policy Analyst at the Coalition for Public Safety. “This is an issue that spans the ideological divide and movement we’ve seen spread to red and blue states across the country. More importantly, it is through open and frank conversation by willing parties can we achieve true reform.”

Comrie Says He Would Be ‘Glad To Work’ With Amazon

Sen. Leroy Comrie, the newly nominated appointee to the Public Authorities Control Board, said in a statement on Friday he would be willing to work with Amazon if the company decided to reverse its decision to drop a project in Long Island City.

“I support smart job creation and like many, I was disappointed in Amazon’s retreat rather than choosing to work together to address the concerns of the affected communities and ensure the best outcome for New York taxpayers,” said Comrie, a Democrat from Queens. “Throughout my career, I have made it clear I can work with a variety of interests. If Amazon chooses to come back I would be glad to work with them.”

Comrie was nominated to the board in place of Sen. Mike Gianaris, a critic of the Amazon deal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called Amazon executives in recent days as part of an effort to woo the company back to New York. He said in a radio interview Friday morning he would become personally involved in moving the company’s project and the $3 billion in proposed tax incentives tied to job creation.

Like Long Islanders, HV Dems Have Congestion Pricing Concerns

Senate Democrats who represent Hudson Valley districts on Friday issued a trio of stipulations in gaining their support for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s congestion pricing plan.

A statement released by Sens. James Skoufis, Jen Metzger, David Carlucci, Pete Harckham and Shelley Mayer is starkly similar to the one released Thursday by six Long Island Democrats in the state Senate.

The Hudson Valley lawmakers, like their Long Island counterparts, want money set aside for commuter rail, prevent double tolling on bridges like the Mario Cuomo and George Washington, and want a representative from the region’s mass transit organizations.

“We understand the need for action and want to work together to best achieve that,” they said. “The current proposals are a starting point, but substantial changes are required to ensure our region’s interests are included.”

That is 11 members from suburban districts now leveraging their numbers to have some input on the congestion pricing proposal.

Legislature Approves Bill Outlawing Revenge Porn

New York on Thursday moved closer to becoming the 42nd state in the country to back the outlawing of revenge porn — passing a measure that also makes it easier for victims to file lawsuits.

“Posting these images is a public safety issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “It violates privacy and it can severely damage survivors’ mental health.”

The bill approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature outlaws the distribution of sexually explicit images with the intent to harm a person — creating a misdemeanor charge. And the measure would hold social media companies responsible as well by requiring them to remove offending images — a needed provision says Assemblyman Joe Lentol.

“In the old days, it didn’t go too far,” said Assemblyman Joe Lentol. “Now, when we have revenge porn that can be transmitted all across the world, and someone can be a superstar unnecessarily on YouTube, we have to do something about that.”

This version of the bill had stalled under Republican control in the state Senate. Assemblyman Ed Braunstein pointed to the concerns from social media companies raised about removing images, which would require a court order.

“They made those objections clear last year at the end of session and it’s our belief that it contributed to why it didn’t pass the state Senate,” said Assemblyman Ed Braunstein.

The bill was backed in the state Senate by freshman Long Island lawmaker Monica Martinez, who had passed a similar measure on the county level.

“Under our current laws, it is the victim who suffers,” said Sen. Monica Martinez. “It is the victim who has to change schools. It is the victim who has to lose their job.”

The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk. The governor on Thursday praised its passage, saying he was happy the Legislature embraced the proposal that also is included in his budget plan.

“For years I have called for outlawing revenge porn as part of our fight to combat sexual violence in all its forms,” Cuomo said. “This disgusting and insidious behavior, which can follow victims around their entire lives, has no place in New York.”

Flanagan Says He Was Surprised By Young Resignation

Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan did not expect Sen. Cathy Young to resign and had not known about her plans to take a job at Cornell University until today.

“I didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “It’s definitely a loss for the Senate. It’s good news for Cornell University and obviously I wish her well, but I didn’t know anything about this before today.”

Flanagan late last year defeated Young in a Senate Republican leadership vote after the GOP conference fell into the minority following a Democratic landslide on Election Day.

After securing his leadership post, Flanagan stripped Young of her leadership post at the Senate Republican Campaign Committee and as the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee.

Young did not make any public appearances in Albany this week, either in the GOP conference today or at a news conference held by Republicans on Wednesday.

For now, Flanagan does not have a preference for when Young’s seat should be filled. A special election would have to be triggered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The seat is considered a safe Republican district.

“This is obviously brand new news,” he said. “I think we need to focus on when the senator is resigning and will happen thereafter.”

State Senator Cathy Young Stepping Down

State Senator Cathy Young, R-Olean, is stepping down from the Legislature next month.

In a press release, Cornell University announced she has been named director of the New York State Center for Food and Agriculture. Her start date is March 11.

“It was a very challenging decision to leave my service in the New York State Senate because I care so deeply about the people and issues facing my district,” Young said. “However, this new role will provide me with more direct opportunities to make progress in one of the industries that is closest to my heart.”

The Republican said she grew up on a dairy farm and knows firsthand the challenges the food and agriculture industry faces.

“I am thrilled to continue making a difference in this new and enhanced statewide capacity,” Young said.

She has been a member of the state Senate since 2005. The 57th district covers Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua and portions of Livingston County.

Young was the first woman to serve as the chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee. She also served in the Assembly for six years and the Cattaraugus County Legislature prior to that.

“Agriculture and food manufacturing are two of upstate New York’s largest job creators, and Catharine Young has significant experience integrating farm business with food processors and championing initiatives that support the food and farming sector to push our region’s economy forward,” Jan Nyrop, associate dean and Goichman Family Director of Cornell AgriTech, said. “We are very fortunate to have someone of Sen. Young’s caliber to step into this role with a strong vision, statewide network and proven track record of growing businesses.”

Young also previously served as chair of the state Senate Agricultural Committee. However, she was conspicuously absent from GOP leadership this session.