State Senate

Senate Republicans Push Crime Victims Bills

Senate Republicans, upset with the recent paroles of Herman Bell and Judith Clark, unveiled a package of bills on Tuesday they said are meant to boost victims rights in New York.

The legislation comes as Democrats at the state Capitol have secured a string of victories for criminal justice law changes, such as ending cash bail, and are considering bills that would potentially lead to the release of elderly inmates.

But Republicans, who lost control of the state Senate last year, says the policies have gone too far in the direction of protecting those who have broken the law.

“Thanks to Democrats who earlier this year passed a Criminal Bill of Rights, Justice is turning a blind eye to crime victims,” said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. “It is unconscionable that Democrats celebrate, while district attorneys, law enforcement officers and experts, who were not even consulted, warn of dangers.”

Republicans pushed for the passage of bills that would prohibit those convicted of first-degree murder from being paroled. Another bill would impose life in prison those who hare persistent felony offenders upon conviction.

And another measure would require victim impact statements be recorded on video and have members of the Parole Board review the statements prior to a parole hearing.

Bill Providing Insurance Coverage For Eating Disorders Advances

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would require insurers to cover eating disorders is advancing in the state Senate and could gain a vote on the floor in the coming days.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, a Bronx Democrat, would require insurance companies to cover “all aspects of eating disorder treatment.”

“People struggling with an eating disorder need to seek professional help. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. For females between fifteen to twenty-four years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of all other causes of death,” the bill’s memo states.

“However, with proper medical care, eating disorders are highly treatable. The earlier a person with an eating disorder receives treatment, the greater the likelihood of physical and emotional recovery.”

The measure previously cleared the Senate Insurance Committee. A version of the bill was approved last year in the Democratic-controlled state Assembly.

Updated: The Democratic-led Assembly also approved the same-as version of the legislation earlier this year. Once the bill clears the state Senate, it will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his approval.

Post-Budget Session Issues To Watch

From the Morning Memo:

The post-budget portion of the legislative session is officially upon Albany, as lawmakers return today from a two-week break after the passage of the $175.5 billion spending plan.

The first three months of the session was unusual, considering that it was front-loaded with so many issues that passed following the Democratic takeover of the state Senate — gun control, abortion rights, LGBTQ protections among them.

In the budget, lawmakers approved criminal justice law changes such as limiting cash bail and setting in motion a ban on plastic bags.

But there’s a lot more for lamwakers to consider between now and June.

1. Marijuana legalization

It’s unfinished business from the state budget, but the issues remain myriad as well as complicated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo included marijuana legalization in his budget proposal, along with a plan that would create a new regulatory plan for retail sale as well as pledges to have the proceeds benefit communities affected by prior drug laws. Cuomo also wanted to use some of the sales tax revenue to help raise capital for the MTA.

But lawmakers had different ideas. One legislative proposal would allow New Yorkers to grow small amounts of marijuana themselves. Other lawmakers continue to work about traffic safety considerations surrounding legalization. Despite agreement over the same goal, the impasse may be difficult to break in the post-budget session.

2. Rent control extension and expansion

With rent control for New York City and the surrounding area up for renewal, lawmakers want to expand the current laws. First up will likely include vacancy decontrol and, potentially, expanding rent control outside of New York City pending local government approval and opt-in. Democrats get to control the process entirely this time, but that could still yield complications as affordable housing advocates will pressure lawmakers even more so to expand the existing laws.

3. Aid in dying

It’s a contentious social issue that has stalled in Albany over the years: Should terminally ill patients have the right to end their own lives? Supporters of the legislation plan to press their case in the coming weeks for the measure, which has been opposed by the Catholic Church as well as some disability rights groups. But Cuomo this month signaled his support for the bill, pledging to sign it if passed.

4. Charter schools

Cuomo’s office signaled to The New York Post earlier this month he would support raising the cap on charter schools in order to accommodate the long waiting list for students. It’s an issue that’s almost certainly dead-on-arrival for the Democratic-controlled state Assembly. Charter schools and education policy writ large have taken a back seat in recent years after several contentious negotiations over teacher evaluation changes as well as efforts meant to strengthen charter schools as backed by Cuomo.

5. Immigration

A push to extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York is already underway. Dovetailing with that will be a plan to make New York a formal “sanctuary” state to codify limiting assistance state law enforcement can provide to federal immigration enforcement. Once again, suburban lawmakers will be the legislators to watch in this debate.

6. Wild card

As ever, Albany remains an unpredictable place. A range of issues could still pop up between now and the end of June. Will progressives press forward with stronger campaign finance law changes that are not up to a commission? How will the fight over online rental sites like Airbnb shape up?

The governor and the Legislature are on more equal footing outside of the budget process. Still, Cuomo has been able to find points of leverage to get the Legislature to do what he wants.

Progressive Groups Urge Senate To Take Up ‘Clean’ Public Financing Bill

A coalition of dozens of progressive organizations on Friday released a letter urging the Democratic-led state Senate to take up a bill creating a system of public financed campaigns in New York.

The letter, distributed by the group True Blue NY, comes amid disappointment from some Democratic lawmakers and organizations on the left that the approved state budget that left the creation of the public financing program up to a commission.

The groups write the details of public financing and other election law changes “was shifted from democratically elected legislators to an easily manipulated commission of political appointees.”

“This is why we call on you and the Senate Democrats to introduce and pass a clean public financing bill this session,” the letter states. “We cannot depend on this commission to write a bill that will follow widely accepted guidelines from experts in the field, and include an independent enforcement model.”

Opposition to publicly financed campaigns was strongest in the state Assembly, where some lawmakers, including Speaker Carl Heastie, signaled they were skeptical about the expense, enforcement and the role super PACs would still be able to play in campaign finance.

The commission is due to release its report on campaign finance and election law changes by the end of the year.

State lawmakers return from a two-week to Albany on Monday.

Grassroots Letter to Leader Stewart-Cousins – Post Budget-3 by Nick Reisman on Scribd

Bill Would Launch Vaccine Awareness Campaign

With measles cases in the United States now at a 19-year high, state Sen. David Carlucci on Thursday announced a bill that would create a state-backed awareness campaign for vaccines.

“We have seen the spread, not only of measles, but misinformation about vaccines. The Senate Majority is currently doing a social media outreach campaign about vaccine awareness. Now let’s go further and fund a campaign by the State Health Department so we can counter inaccurate information long-term, especially in communities that are often closed off to outsiders,” Carlucci said in a statement.

“Measles is a vaccine-preventable disease, and we are seeing the highest number of cases in 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The measles cases in New York have occurred mainly in Brooklyn and Rockland County, which Carlucci represents in the Legislature and have largely been contained to the Orthodox Jewish community.

Public health officials this week estimated there are 695 cases of measles, the most since 2000.

Carlucci’s bill would be funded through a check-off box on the state’s personal income tax form. The state Department of Health would work with an outside agency to develop the campaign, which could include a social media presence as well as public service announcements.

The bill also comes as lawmakers have proposed bills that would no longer allow for religious exemptions in vaccine refusal. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said the proposal, however, raises First Amendment concerns.

Senate Plans Limo Safety Hearing

The state Senate next week will hold a public hearing on limousine and bus safety following last year’s deadly crash of a stretch limo that killed 20 people in Schoharie.

The hearing, announced by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, will be held Thursday in Albany and led by Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kennedy.

“It is important that we do all we can to improve limousine safety and help prevent future tragedies. While the enacted budget includes new regulations for limousine operators, we want to hear from New Yorkers as we work to further enhance passenger and road safety,” she said. “I commend Senator Kennedy for organizing this hearing and for his continued leadership on this critical issue.”

The state budget agreement last month included new limo safety laws, as well as increased penalties for safety and registration violations.

The new regulations include doubled penalties for violating safety rules and regulations for limousine operation. At the same time, the Department of Motor Vehicles would be permitted to confiscate license plates of stretch limousines that have failed to pass inspection.

“Steps need to be taken to ensure another tragedy like the Schoharie limousine crash does not happen again,” said Sen. Neil Breslin, a Democrat who represents the Albany area.

“I am proud of our efforts to increase the minimum insurance coverage for these providers to $1.5 million, and we will continue to take steps to ensure limousine companies take their responsibilities seriously. I commend Senator Kennedy for holding this safety hearing and look forward to working together to protect New Yorkers.”

Ortt Bill Would Seek To Boost ICE Enforcement

As Democratic lawmakers back legislation to give New York sanctuary status, Republican Sen. Robert Ortt on Tuesday introduced a bill that would prevent the governor from blocking the State Police from working with federal immigration enforcement.

The bill seeking to in effect boost the ability of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s ability to operate in the state is unlikely to gain much consideration in the Democratic-led Legislature.

But the measure is also reflective of the coming debate over immigration enforcement at the Capitol.

“Gov. Cuomo has chosen to start a public feud with U.S. Immigration and Customs for no reason other than to rile his base in New York City and to oppose President Trump,” Ortt said. “However, his words and actions have real-life consequences and he is putting in danger those who protect our communities and enforce our federal laws. I want to ensure that the governor isn’t able to weaponize the state police against federal law enforcement for his own political gain.”

The Office of Court Administration last week determined ICE cannot make arrests in courtrooms without a judicial warrant.

Democrats in the post-budget session are also likely to push for a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, a measure that Cuomo has said he would sign if approved.

Skoufis Unveils Tip Email For Senate Investigations Panel

Drop a dime to Sen. James Skoufis.

The Hudson Valley Democrat on Monday unveiled an email that whistle blowers can call to report problems to the Senate Investigations Committee.

“Our tip line establishes a direct line of communication between the investigations committee and the public,” Skoufis said. “The point of having this tip line is to ensure we are hearing right from the people of New York in a private way that can provide us insight into improprieties and inefficiencies.”

Skoufis said the email, investigations@nysenate.gov, is meant to broadly review tips for wrongdoing and impropriety, Skoufis’s office said.

The committee so far has announced three investigations, reviewing the practices of drug company middlemen, code enforcement and public authority compliance with state law.

Parker Wants Good Friday To Be A Holiday

Sen. Kevin Parker is pushing a bill that would make Good Friday a public holiday in New York, following suit with a dozen states in the country.

Good Friday is observed by Christians as the day Jesus Christ died on the cross and is the lead up to the Easter holiday on Sunday.

“The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that New York State recognizes and celebrates the religious diversity of all its citizenry,” Parker said Thursday in a statement. “Currently, Good Friday is a state holiday in 12 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas. It is time for New York State to stop lagging behind and recognize Good Friday as a public holiday on behalf of the many observers across our great State.”

Designating Good Friday a holiday would require the closure of non-essential government offices and amend the state’s education law to include Good Friday on the list of holidays for public schools to close in New York.

Bingo Bill Advances

From the Morning Memo:

A bill in the state Senate that would expand the frequency of bingo games senior citizen groups can hold is progressing, the bill’s sponsors on Tuesday said.

The bill would allow senior citizen groups to hold up to two bingo games a week, an expansion from the current law, which restricts playing Bingo games to 15 days during any calendar year.

The measure is limited to so-called “free” Bingo games, with prizes capped at $10 per game and $150 in total distributed throughout the day.

“Bingo is a recreational activity long enjoyed by seniors,” the bill’s sponsors wrote in a memo of support. “It helps to break down the walls of isolation through social interaction. The scheduled activity gives them a reason to get up, get dressed and leave their apartment or room. It increases both their physical and mental activity. It brings a bit of excitement to their day.”

The bill was approved earlier this month in the state Senate, where it is backed by Sen. Toby Stavisky. It is yet to pass in the Assembly, where it’s sponsor by Assemblyman David Rosenthal.