State Senate

Senate Dems Fundraise For Ryan

From the Morning Memo:

Top Democrats in the state Senate next week will hold a fundraiser for Buffalo Assemblyman Sean Ryan amid talk of a possible campaign for the Senate.

Ryan will hold a breakfast reception June 18 at the University Club in Albany, with tickets ranging from $250 to $2,500 for the event.

Set to appear at the event: Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris and Sen. Tim Kennedy.

Ryan has emerged as a top Democratic candidate to run for the seat held by Republican Chris Jacobs in the chamber. Jacobs is considering a run for the House district represented by Republican Chris Collins, who is facing insider trading charges.

The event also comes at the tail end of the legislative session and amid criticism lobbed by Democratic lawmakers at Gov. Andrew Cuomo for holding fundraising events during the budget talks. Cuomo has countered by pointing to lawmakers themselves holding fundraising events — often in Albany and not far from the Capitol as major decision are being discussed.

Bill Targets County Clerks In Green Light Debate

A bill introduced last month would empower the governor to remove county clerks from office if they do not issue driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, a measure that is pending before both chambers of the Legislature.

The bill’s introduction comes as county clerks who run local motor vehicle departments have vocally opposed the effort to allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. The provision, known as the Green Light Bill, will be going to the floor of the Assembly on Tuesday in what is expected to be a closely watched vote.

The Green Light measure faces an uncertain path in the state Senate, however, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly doubted whether Democrats have the votes for the bill.

County clerks, including those in Erie, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, have pushed back against the driver’s license bill, and have pledged to not provide licenses to undocumented immigrants should it become law.

Democratic Sen. Luis Sepuvlveda, the main sponsor of the Green Light bill, is also backing the bill that would enable the governor to remove county clerks from office who would refuse to issue the licenses.

“Indeed, county clerks have sworn to uphold New York State law,” the bill’s memo states.

“The willful failure to do so should be grounds for removal from office. This bill provides that any county clerk who refuses to issue drivers licenses to undocumented individuals will be deemed to be neglecting his or her duties and may be removed from office by the governor. Just like other public officials, country clerks must obey the law and cannot refuse to perform their duties or take law into their own hands.”

Sen. Jim Tedisco, a Republican, re-introduced a bill earlier this year that would do the opposite and bar the governor from removing county clerks from office. The governor has the power to remove some locally elected officials, including county clerks.

State Dem Chair’s Comments Stir Green Light Bill Debate

Comments made Thursday by state Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs have stirred an increasingly tension-filled debate at the state Capitol over whether to extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York.

Jacobs told several outlets on Thursday — including Spectrum News, Gothamist and Newsday — that he had spoken to Democratic state senators about his concerns with the bill and the potential political toll the measure would take in next year’s elections.

In an interview with Spectrum News, Jacobs said the package of progressive measures has in part been done too quickly in the Legislature without a public education campaign.

Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats, emphasized efforts to work together in the party.

“This year the Democratic Majority took historic action by delivering on what we promised and the voters demanded,” he said. “We finally passed a permanent property tax cap, provided record school funding, stood up for women’s rights, passed strong gun laws, enacted voting reforms and protected the environment with even more to come. Every Democratic Leader, including the Party Chair, should celebrate these accomplishments rather than sowing divisions within the party.”

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, pointed to the episode as another reason to stoke opposition to the bill.

“Reports that Senate Democrats from Long Island are being instructed by Jay Jacobs to vote ‘no’ on legislation providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants should scare every hardworking Long Island resident who opposes this bill. This is nothing more than a cynical political ploy,” Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan said.

“Hiding behind the New York City dominated Democratic Majority and simply voting ‘no’ is not enough. Either you stop the so-called ‘Green Light’ bill from coming to the floor or you signal to every one of your constituents that you support giving driver’s licenses to people who are here illegally. It’s really that simple.”

Senate Passes Limo Safety Bills, Status Uncertain In Assembly

The state Senate on Thursday approved a nine-bill package of measures meant to bolster stretch limousine safety in New York following a crash last October that killed 20 people in Schoharie.

But it is not clear if all the bills will be taken up in the Assembly by the end of the legislative session on June 19.

The bills approved Thursday include new seatbelt requirements, a requirement that limousine drivers have commercial drivers licenses, taking limos off the road if they are found defective, increased penalties for U-turns, and new requirements for insurance coverage.

“The legislation passed by the Senate Majority will help prevent future tragedies and builds on the new regulations for limousine operators that were passed in this year’s budget,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. “I want to recognize the families who have suffered due to limousine accidents and who found the strength to advocate for stronger protections to save other families from sharing their grief going forward. The Senate Majority is committed to making communities safer and I commend Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Senator Tim Kennedy, and the bill sponsors for advancing these important reforms.”

Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Magnarelli in an interview said he expects some of the bills will be considered by the Assembly this month; he was unsure which ones, however.

“I think there will be a number of the bills taken up,” he said. “We’re looking at all of them at the present time and I’m hopeful a few will be passed in our house as well as the Senate.”

Bill Requiring Car Wash Workers Earn Minimum Wage Clears Senate

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would boost the pay of car wash workers in the New York City metropolitan area was approved Wednesday in the state Senate.

The move would require car wash workers in New York City and the suburban counties of Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester be paid the minimum wage, without allowances for tips.

The bill is meant to address the pay for workers, many of them immigrants, who earn sub minimum wage and subsist largely on gratuities.

“Car wash workers across Queens have been underpaid for years, and rely on tips to make their living. Wage theft is rampant, and many of these immigrant workers are exploited at the hands of a system that does not protect them,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jessica Ramos.

“My bill will require that car wash workers are paid the minimum wage, which means they no longer have to rely on tips. As many as 200 to 300 workers in Senate District 13 alone will see a pay raise as a result of the passage of this bill.”

The current minimum wage for Long Island and Westchester is $12. For businesses with 11 employees or more in New York City, it is $15. For smaller businesses under that threshold in New York City, the minimum wage is $13.50.

Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union urged the Assembly to follow suit.

“No worker should earn below the minimum wage – ever,” said Stuart Appelbaum, the union’s president. “For far too long car wash workers in New York have earned poverty wages under the tip credit law.”

Senate And Assembly Leaders Meet Amid Heated Rent Debate

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie emerged from a closed-door meeting Wednesday to pledge to work together with Gov. Andrew Cuomo on a rent control package in the coming days.

“I spoke to the governor today,” Heastie said. “I am not concerned about the three of us coming together on a rent agreement.”

Asked if the Legislature would reach a two-way deal on bills meant to bolster and expand rent control in the state and allow local governments to opt in outside of New York City, Heastie said there was little desire to jam the governor.

“As I’ve always said, it’s always best when there’s a three-way agreement and we’re looking forward to working with the governor to come up with the strongest rent package ever,” he said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a statement issued just as lawmakers entered the meeting pushed Democrats in the state Senate to hold a vote on nine rent control bills that Stewart-Cousins said had the support of her conference.

“The Senate said yesterday that they have the votes to pass the nine rent reform bills,” Cuomo said. “I call on the Senate to pass the bills today. I am ready to sign the bills if they pass. If they do not pass the bills today it means they cannot and New Yorkers should know the respective positions so we can pass a new law before the expiration of the existing rent law on June 15.”

Stewart-Cousins, meanwhile, was similarly in a mood to work with the governor.

“Nobody does anything unilaterally,” she said. “That’s our reality. We’re working together. We’ve got to engage the governor, so we know we can do what we need to do on rent.”

Asked specifically if her conference had the votes for the legislation, she said, “We have support in my conference just as the speaker as the support. We’ve got the support.”

Senate Republicans Push Back Against Driver’s License Bill

Republicans in the state Senate on Wednesday reiterated their opposition to a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants living in New York.

“We are a nation of laws and we respect those laws,” said Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan at a news conference. “Some people get uncomfortable when you use the word illegal. I’m not going to use any other word. They’re here illegally.”

Republicans in the past have used the driver’s license issue to effect in political campaigns, running TV ads and mailers in battleground districts that raised the prospect of bills designed to aid undocumented immigrants, such as providing access to tuition assistance to undocumented immigrants in addition to the driver’s license provision.

But Democrats gained control of the state Senate last year in a landslide and now hold a comfortable majority in the chamber. The tuition legislation, known as the DREAM Act, was approved earlier this year.

“None of my constituents think they should be able to break the law and be rewarded for it,” said Sen. Jim Tedisco of the driver’s license measure, known as the Green Light Bill. “This is not a right, it’s a privilege in New York state.”

Nevertheless, the passage of the measure is in doubt as lawmakers from suburban districts remain on the fence.

“There are certainly some safety concerns that have been raised by law enforcement agencies about how a ID can be used and that’s something we’re looking at very closely,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky. “It’s our job to do our due diligence and check every fact and something that impacts safety has to be looked at very closely.”

Former Knicks Push For Marijuana Legalization

Two former New York Knicks were in Albany on Tuesday to lobby for the legalization of marijuana as the outcome for the measure remains in doubt for the remaining days of the legislative session.

The appearance by the athletes — shooting guard JR Smith and retired power forward Al Harrington — continued a long tradition of bold-faced names traveling to the Capitol to highlight issues.

In previous years, MLB officials — including former Yankees managers Joe Torre and Joe Girardi — appeared at the Capitol to discuss the legalization of sports betting. In the debate over the West Side stadium one year, former Jets quarterback Joe Namath put in an appearance.

And Tuesday’s event was little different, with lawmakers lining up for photos with Smith and Harrington.

Harrington, the CEO of a cannabis business called Viola Extracts, said he was focused on ensuring the marijuana measure in New York would ensure diverse communities affected by the war on drugs would benefit from legalization.

“We’re a firm believer in ownership. We want to figure out a way to include ownership at the highest levels,” he said. “When you talk about vertical integration, there are so many ways to compete in the industry, we want to sure that diversity is represented at each facet of that level.”

But despite the appearances by the former Knicks, marijuana legalization remains very much in doubt.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week pointed to the lack of support for the bill in the state Senate.

And lawmakers on Tuesday reported little progress on the bill.

“There’s just not a lot of conversation happening about it,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky.

Senate Dems Say They Have Support For 9 Housing Bills

Senate Democrats on Tuesday announced they had the support within their conference to approve nine bills designed to strengthen and expand rent control laws in New York.

“Following a long discussion within the Senate Majority Conference, it is clear that we have support for all nine priority housing bills,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “We have 11 days remaining before current rent regulations expire. We must use that time to work with our partners to pass the strongest housing protections in state history.”

The statement comes after a day of protests in the Capitol that included 61 arrests, including two people charged with third-degree assault.

Lawmakers are considering legislation that would end vacancy decontrol, expand rent control measures to upstate communities through a local opt-in and a bill that would require “good cause” eviction as a way to prevent “unconscionable” increases in rent.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, meanwhile, called the Democrats’ bluff in the Senate.

“You know a legislative body has the votes for a piece of legislation when they pass the bill,” said senior advisor Rich Azzopardi. “If the Senate has the votes, they should pass the bills today.”

New York Communities For Change Pushes For Green Light Bill

From the Morning Memo:

The progressive advocacy group New York Communities For Change in a statement released this morning called for the passage of a bill extending access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, calling it the fulfillment of the promise of a Democratic-controlled state Senate for the first time in a decade.

“As leaders in the progressive movement in New York, New York Communities for Change worked hard to help elect a Democratic Majority that would finally be able to advance long-stalled progressive policies,” the group said.

“While some good progress has been made, with just a few weeks left of session, there is more that needs to be done, namely restoring the right to obtain a driver’s license for the hundreds of thousands of immigrant New Yorkers who had this right stripped away nearly 20 years ago.”

The measure is expected to be considered by the Assembly Transportation Committee on Wednesday and could gain a floor vote by next week. But the provision, known by supporters at the Green Light Bill, faces an uncertain pathway forward in the state Senate, which Democrats flipped from Republican control last year.

The issue has long been a third rail in New York politics after a proposal by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer ended in a firestorm of protest.

But this year, supporters hope the debate will turn out differently, seeking to make an economic argument behind the benefits of the legislation. And they point to other states that already allow undocumented residents to have access to driver’s licenses, touting the benefits of insurance and traffic safety.

“New York cannot claim to be the nation’s progressive capital when we’ve fallen behind the 13 other states, including California and even more politically conservative states such as Utah, that already allow all immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses,” the group said. “We need our leaders to lead, to stand up for those without a voice and take action instead of just paying lip-service. With a Democratic Majority in place, we no longer have the excuse of Republican control if this doesn’t get done.”