State Senate

Gianaris Wants To Avoid Other Amazon-Sized Deals

Incoming Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris in a statement on Wednesday praised the New York City Council for holding a public hearing on the decision by Amazon to build a campus in Long Island City as the state provides billions of dollars in tax incentives in exchange for jobs.

“That is why I authored legislation to prohibit the use of secrecy agreements like the one imposed on the state and city by Amazon,” Gianaris said in a statement. “That is why I am taking on insider dealing in the real estate industry. The more we learn about this deal, the worse it gets, and I expect to come forward with even more proposals to prevent something like this from ever happening again.”

The agreement will provide for $3 billion in tax incentives for Amazon tied to the creation of up to 25,000 jobs at a site in Queens.

“Three billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies for a wealthy corporation like Amazon is offensive,” Gianaris.

“I am working with my colleagues in government and allies in the community to oppose this deal, especially at a time when there are real needs across New York. Affordable housing is sorely lacking, the subway is in crisis, our schools are overcrowded and we haven’t summoned the political will to fund these critical priorities, yet our governments bend over backward to provide billions in benefits for the one corporation that needs it the least. New Yorkers expect more and we demand better.”

A majority of voters in New York City approve of Amazon locating an office in Long Island City in Queens, but are split over the $3 billion in tax incentives, a Quinnipiac poll released last week found.

Flanagan: Pay Commission Has Overstepped

The commission on compensation of state elected officials “significantly overstepped” when it approved pay raises for state lawmakers and a cap on their outside income, Republican Senate leader John Flanagan said in a statement.

“The committee was never tasked with making any determination on that matter, and should not have made one. By doing so, they alone are deciding who is eligible to run for public office in New York and who is not,” Flanagan said in a statement on Tuesday. “Additionally, previous efforts to cap outside income were advanced via a constitutional amendment, and therefore, if challenged, this effort would likely be ruled unconstitutional.”

The commission’s report would raise the pay of state lawmakers to $130,000 in the coming years contingent on the passage of state budgets by April 1, which Flanagan also criticized.

“On top of that, I have concerns over tying future adjustments in pay to passage of on-time budgets,” he said. “Timely and responsive budgets are always the goal, but this so-called “reform” is an inherent conflict of interest that runs contrary to the separation of powers that should exist between the Executive and Legislature.”

The commission also backed an outside pay cap for lawmakers of 15 percent of their legislative salary as well as end to the stipend system.

Flanagan will remain majority leader until the end of the month after which Democrats will hold a majority in the chamber. Lawmakers can let stand the report or convene to overturn in it a special session before Jan. 1.

For now, several legislative sources have said it’s unlikely that lawmakers would overturn the recommendations of the commission, which would scuttle their first pay raise in 20 years.

Senate Freshman Take Committee Chairs

Incoming Democratic freshman in the state Senate will lead key committees next year, according to a list of assignments released Tuesday by Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

New lawmakers like Rachel May will lead the Senate Aging Committee, Ethics will be chaired by Alessandra Biaggi, Cities by Robert Jackson and the Alcoholism Committee chaired by Peter Harckham.

Meanwhile, subcommittees like the Women’s Health panel will be chaired by Julia Salazar and John Liu will chair the New York City Education subcommittee, a post held by Sen. Simcha Felder, providing potentially a tea leaf as to where he will land in the 2019 session.

Other key posts will be filled by Sen. Liz Krueger at Finance, Sen. Gustavo Rivera at the Health Committee, Sen. Brian Kavanagh will chair Housing, Sen. Shelley Mayer will lead Education and Sen. Brad Hoylman, who will chair the Judiciary Committee.

Democrats will have at least 39 seats in the 63-member state Senate when the new session convenes next month.

Gianaris Bill Would Curb Appeal Of Insider Real Estate Deals

From the Morning Memo:

Democratic Sen. Mike Gianaris this week is backing legislation meant to prohibit benefitting from insider government information that could lead to a lucrative real estate deal.

The legislation comes after reports of Amazon employees purchasing properties in Long Island City prior to the company’s announcement it would build its second headquarters there, along with a location in north Virginia.

The bill being introduced by Gianaris would make it a felony for insider dealing when it comes to using non-public government information to buy or sell real estate.

The measure is the latest provision to be called for following the announcement last month Amazon’s headquarters would be built in Queens as part of a landmark economic development agreement with the state.

Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and the incoming deputy majority leader, is a prominent critic of Amazon receiving billions of dollars in tax breaks in exchange for bringing up to 25,000 jobs in the next several decades.

The jobs are expected to pay on average $150,000 — leading some to fear the move will only further stoke an affordability crisis in the New York City real estate market.

“Trading on insider information is illegal with securities and should be illegal with real estate,” Gianaris said. “No one should be cashing in on confidential inside information.”

To National Group, Stewart-Cousins Pitches New Democratic Majority

From the Morning Memo:

As Democrats prepare to take majority control of the state Senate next month, Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins this week attended the State Innovation Exchange and Planned Parenthood Networking Reception, a national group that has focused on backing progressive bills and policy proposals on the state level.

Stewart-Cousins, who is set to become the first woman to lead a legislative majority in New York’s state government, told the group the focus will be on blue states like New York to counteract the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration.

At the same time, Stewart-Cousins pointed to the 14 women in her conference, seven of whom are freshman, as part of a broader push to provide broader representation to the state in Albany next year.

And she pointed to long-sought measures back by liberals that have stalled in the state Senate, such as women’s rights and changes meant to make it easier to vote. The conference on Election Day secured the majority in landslide, ending what had been a narrow Republican majority stitched together with the aid of a Democrat, Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder.

Democrats for the last decade have sought the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, a measure that is meant to bolster the state’s abortion laws. The bill became part of a larger 10-point women’s agenda, an omnibus backed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo aimed at strengthening rights for women in housing, the workplace and cracking down on human trafficking.

But the bill did not become law as the other nine planks in the 10-point package. With the Democratic conference holding at least 39 seats in the 63-seat Senate, the RHA next year is among a series of bills the Legislature is expected to approve.

The bill would shift language for abortions from the state’s penal code to the public health law, change abortion’s status as an exception to homicide and allow abortions in the third trimester of a pregnancy under certain circumstances.

The measure has taken on added urgency for those who support abortion rights after the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy earlier this year, potentially tipping the balance on the issue at the Supreme Court.

SD-41: Smythe Concedes After Close Race

Democratic state Senate candidate Karen Smythe on Monday conceded her race to Republican incumbent Sue Serino in a contest in the candidates were separated by 695 votes.

“This was a race that started with long odds and I am proud of the effort that we made to listen and speak to voters about the issues most important to them,” Smythe said. “Today, the last votes have been counted and we came up short. I commend Senator Serino on a hard-fought race and wish her well in her next term.”

“I’m grateful to my husband, Nevill, and my two children for their constant support. None of this would have been possible without the hard work and belief of my campaign staff and the hundreds of volunteers who dedicated hours knocking doors to talk with voters about our shared values and vision for a better New York.

Having spent the past year meeting people in the 41st District, I am more committed than ever to remain engaged in the community and advocate for real, positive change.”

The district has been something of a battleground in recent election cycles.

The Poughkeepsie-area Senate district was one represented by Republican Sen. Stephen Saland, who was unseated in 2012 by Democrat Terry Gipson in a three-way race that included Conservative Party candidate Neil DiCarlo.

Gipson was subsequently defeated in 2014 by Serino.

Rivera: New Version of Single Payer Bill Coming in January

ICYMI: We spoke last night on CapTon to Sen. Gustavo Rivera, the Bronx Democrat who is currently the ranking minority member of the Health Committee and also the co-sponsor, along with Assembly Health Committee Chair Dick Gottfried, of the New York Health Act, which would establish a universal, single-payer health care system in New York – something no other state (or the nation, for that matter) has managed to do.

Single payer was a very big issue in the 2018 election cycle. Everyone from the governor on down was asked for their position on this issue, and a number of incoming members of the Democratic Senate majority made universal care a central issue in their respective campaigns.

The trouble is, as erstwhile Democratic gubernatorial primary candidate Cynthia Nixon found out, this is a very expensive proposition, and no one has figured out how to pay for it yet – except to say that eventually, the money currently being spent on things like premiums and out-of-pocket costs would be shifted to pay for a single payer system.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who, along with all her fellow Democrats, co-sponsored the New York Health Act, has insisted that she doesn’t support the idea of higher taxes in the state and is sensitive to the needs of upstate and suburban areas where that’s of particular concern. She has not yet committed, as leader, to a timeline for when a single payer bill gets to the floor for a vote.

Whenever that does happen, we know one thing for certain: The legislation will not be identical to the one passed for several years running by the Democrat-controlled Assembly.

Rivera told us last night that he and Gottfried will soon be introducing a new version of the New York Health Act, that will include “changes” based on conversations that the two lawmakers are having with “stakeholders,” who were previously reluctant to engage on this issue because they knew the Repiublican-controlled Senate would never take it up.

Rivera would not provide any details of what the new legislation would look like, saying only:

“This is the bottom line…We know this is a fundamental change in the way that we would deliver care in the state of New York, and we want to make sure that if we do it we do it right…We know that this is an incredibly complicated piece of legislation because we are changing a fundamental way of how we deliver care, and it would be a model not only for the state but for the entire country. We have a lot of work left to do to make sure we get it right.”

When asked whether the new legislation would address the key issue of how to pay for a complete state takeover of healthcare, Rivera pointed out that a number of studies have determined that doing so is indeed feasible and may actually save money in the long term. Of course, these are completely hypothetical, since no other state has managed to accomplish this feat before.

He also pointed out that even if the bill were to pass in its current form today, it would still take several years for regulations to be promulgated in order for it to be implemented, which gives lawmakers time to wrestle with the how-to-pay-for-it problem.

I noted that perhaps the biggest hurdle to all this is Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has repeatedly expressed skepticism that a single payer system would ever be established in New York, though he supports the idea, conceptually speaking.

Rivera acknowledged that many people are skeptical, but that hasn’t changed his fundamental belief that the current system is broken and needs to be changed. And, so far, he noted, no one else has come up with any potential solutions other than the one he and Gottfried are advocating.

“We start with the moral question, which is whether we believe that if somebody is sick, regardless of whether they’re wealthy or not, they should be healthy,” Rivera said.

“We believe that this is the case. So, we have to design a system that actually achieves this. And we’re going to do it, which again, is going to change based on the conversations that we have had with stakeholders, who have already pointed out, as you’re going to see in the version of the bill that comes in January, some things in the bill that need to be thought about a little bit more.”

“But the bottom line is we believe the system is broken,” he continued.

“We want to move forward with a system that actually provides care for everyone, and is fiscally responsible. Even though I might be some downstate lefty, I want you to understand that we want to make sure that we do not bankrupt the state. We do not want to do that. What we want to do is to provide care for everyone while providing a fiscally conservative system, which is what this would do.”

For the record, Rivera is not yet the Health Committee chair, since Stewart-Cousins hasn’t made any committee assignments yet. There was a brief dust-up earlier this month over a Facebook post in which Rivera used an expletive to brag about how he’s going to be a chairman.

He admitted he had used inappropriate language one his private Facebook page, which one of his Republican colleagues – he said – then ran with. But Rivera was also unapologetic about the incident, explaining that he was merely excited about the prospect of being in the majority.

Senate Democrats Take Aim at Parole Board

From the Morning Memo:

Senate Democrats held a forum on state Parole Board reforms in Manhattan, addressing a system that they argue, promulgates a culture of bias.

State Sen. Luis Sepulveda and Sen. Gustavo Rivera were joined by advocates for the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons, calling for the passage of ‘critical reform bills’ and ‘internal changes’ to the current board. They argue too much emphasis is placed on punishment rather than rehabilitation efforts.

“We now need to pass measures that include dramatic reforms to the state parole board, solitary confinement, bail, speedy trial, and other criminal justice initiatives,” said Senator Sepulveda. “Too many lives, including family members of those incarcerated, have been harmed unnecessarily, and too much money has been wasted that could otherwise go to beneficial programs needed by our communities.”

Earlier this fall Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Sen. Sepulveda’s legislation requiring the state Parole Board to record and publish specific information about inmates including race and ethnicity, in decisions involving release or denial.

What’s more, Democrats argue understaffing is afoot, as the current board is made up of 12 Commissioners, but has the capacity for 19 members.

“We at the Release Aging People in Prison (RAPP) Campaign are pleased that the new incoming Senate Majority is prioritizing the critical issues associated with parole in New York State. While the Parole Board has recently taken steps in the right direction, more changes are urgently needed,” said David George, spokesman for RAPP, in an email. “The legislature and Governor must ensure that parole release is based on who a person is today, they must pass elder parole, and they must fully staff the Parole Board with Commissioners who believe in rehabilitation.”

Senate Republicans held two hearings over the summer on parole reforms, but also took aim at the restoration of parolees’ voting rights by Governor Cuomo last April.

Stewart-Cousins To Headline Bellone Fundraiser

Senate Majority Leader-designate Andrea Stewart-Cousins next month will headline a fundraiser for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

The fundraiser, Bellone’s 8th Annual Cocktail Reception, will also serve as a formal kickoff event for his 2019 re-election bid. The event will take place at Coindre Hall in Huntington.

“Smart, shrewd, and suburban — Senate Majority Leader-elect Stewart-Cousins is the voice Long Islanders need in Albany to protect their schools and pocketbooks,” Bellone said. “I am honored that she has agreed to headline this event as we gear up for the year ahead.”

Stewart-Cousins on Monday was re-elected the leader of the Democratic conference in the state Senate and is poised to become the first woman to serve as the top official in a majority conference in New York state government.

Democrats in the state Senate this month secured a landslide majority and could have as many as 40 seats in the 63-member Senate chamber in 2019.

Social Media and NYS Gun Laws

From the Morning Memo:

Don’t apply for a handgun permit if you’re not on board with the State Police poking around your social media accounts and Internet search history, says state Sen. Kevin Parker.

The Brooklyn Democrat is sponsoring legislation that would alter the Empire State’s current gun laws, impacting requirements for those applying for, or seeking to renew handgun, rifle and shotgun licenses.

It’s a potential solution to the nation’s latest horrific mass shootings and postal deliveries of explosive materials to elected officials.

“We are in a new age with new technology, and we need new rules so we need to begin a conversation about the way that we monitor social media, and use that in the context of giving out dangerous weapons that can hurt or kill people,” Parker said.

The State Police would be authorized to review up to three years worth of an applicant’s search engine history including Google, Yahoo and Bing, and grant access to social media account passwords on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.

Parker says clear signs of disturbance and violent tendencies were shown on the social accounts of the perpetrators involved with the cases of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and mail bombs and foreknowledge on part of law enforcement could have mobilized preventative action.

For those concerned over privacy violations, as some may argue personal password information in the hands of state officials may go too far, Parker disagrees, arguing families who have been impacted by shootings may argue no measure goes too far.

“In the state of New York we stand up for the first amendment, the Second Amendment, but we also stand for safety, I don’t think anything proposed in this bill is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

The state Legislature passed the SAFE Act in 2013, a measure Governor Andrew Cuomo and Democratic officials alike have championed as one of, if not the toughest gun control laws in the nation. Parker’s legislation would firm up a portion of the background check aspect.

How the bill would be implemented is up to the State Police.

“You can’t ask for a weapon and then expect that you can use it whatever way you want to,” Parker said.