State Senate

State Senate Approves Bill For Sex Abuse Education In Schools

A bill that would require sex abuse education in schools was unanimously approved in the Democratic-led state Senate.

The measure, backed by Sens. Shelley Mayer and Alessandra Biaggi, is been backed by advocates who were involved in the Child Victims Act, a bill approved earlier this that makes it easier for abuse survivors to file lawsuits.

“The unanimous vote in the Senate is reminiscent of the vote earlier this year on the Child Victims Act, which also had zero nay votes,” said Gary Greenberg, a businessman and advocate for the bill.

Greenberg and the bill’s namesake, Erin Merryn, urged the Assembly to follow suit, where the measure is in the chamber’s Education Committee.

Real Estate Turns Its Focus To Democrats

From the Morning Memo:

With rent control laws expiring next month, the question isn’t whether the regulations will be renewed, but just how far lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will go in strengthening them.

Advocates this year are newly emboldened by a Democratic majority in both the Assembly and the state Senate, hopeful that issues like vacancy decontrol, good cause eviction and other measures meant to bolster tenant protections will be approved by the end of this month.

On the other side of the equation has been the Real Estate Board of New York, an influential consortium that in the last year alone contributed more than $1.3 million to candidates in both parties in the lead up to the rent control negotiations through its political action committee.

Traditionally, this money has flowed to Republicans in the state Senate. But the GOP lost its last lever of statewide power last year.

And as is typically the case, the money has begun flowing the other way.

Of the 13 contributions by the board’s PAC, four were to Senate Democrats — Sens. Jim Gaughran, Anna Kaplan, Luis Sepulveda and James Skoufis — while a $25,000 contribution was recorded Jan. 11 to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.

Sen. Mike Gianaris, the chairman of the DSCC, had pledged after Democrats won their majority last year to end contributions to his campaign committee from real estate interests.

Senate Democratic spokesman Mike Murphy said the contribution from REBNY was made in 2018.

“We haven’t taken any money from REBNY this election cycle,” he said.

Democratic Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in a radio interview last week the conference would take up the strongest possible rent regulations — and didn’t rule out a two-way agreement with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

“I think the ideal is that the Senate and Assembly work together on these big issues,” she said on WCNY’s The Capitol Pressrom. “That’s certainly the ideal.”

Advocates this month, meanwhile, are watching the negotiations closely.

“It’s no surprise that REBNY is donating to the Senate Democrats, who are in power in Albany,” said Cea Weaver, campaign director of Housing Justice for All.

“If the State Senate, the Assembly and Governor Cuomo want to show they stand with tenants, not REBNY and the landlord lobby, they will pass all nine bills in our universal rent control package. It’s as simple as that. The push to strengthen and expand tenant protections across the state has broad support among New Yorkers.”

Stewart-Cousins Pledges ‘Strongest Rent Laws Ever’

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview on WCNY Friday said the Legislature will approve the “strongest” rent control regulations possible as the negotiations head into the final three weeks.

“We are going to do the strongest rent laws, ever,” she said. “We’re going to protect tenants.”

Affordable housing advocates are pushing lawmakers to approve nine different measures meant to strengthen rent control regulations, due to be renewed at the end of June.

Stewart-Cousins pledged to work with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie on the issue, not ruling out reaching a two-way deal with her counterparts in the other house — leaving the final approval up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“I think the ideal is that the Senate and Assembly work together on these big issues,” she said. “That’s certainly the ideal.”

Lawmakers are pursuing measures that could expand rent control as an option for upstate communities as well as “good cause” eviction requirements.

Housing advocates are closing watching the final weeks of session, especially given the expectations with an all-Democratic Legislature.

Stewart-Cousins said the goal is to “switch the paradigm that obviously for many many years has just favored landlords.”

Senate To Take Up Sexual Harassment Law Changes In Coming Weeks

Democrats in the state Senate intend to advance legislation meant to change the state’s sexual harassment laws, including the definition of what constitutes harassment and abuse.

The measure, sponsored in the state Senate by Bronx Sen. Alessandra Biaggi and in the Assembly by Queens lawmaker Aravella Simotas, would broaden the definition of harassment, changing it from “severe or pervasive” — a standard advocates say does not cover a range of behavior and abuse.

“I know we will be passing that bill and others,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in an interview on The Capitol Pressroom. “That’s the plan.”

Lawmakers this year have held two public hearings on the issue of sexual harassment and misconduct, covering issues facing state government as well as the broader workforce in the state.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week in a radio interview reiterated his support for ending the “severe or pervasive” standard as well as the legislative draws to a scheduled close on June 19. Cuomo had included the provision as a component of his State of the State agenda in January.

Kennedy: Limo Safety Bills On Track To Pass In Coming Weeks

A package of bills meant to bolster limousine safety in New York is advancing through the state Senate and could be approved in the coming weeks, Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Tim Kennedy said Thursday in an interview.

The bills were approved by Kennedy’s committee earlier in the day. Several will be ticketed for the Senate Finance Committee.

“The vast majority of them will be fast tracked to the floor and my expectation is that we will pass them in the next couple of weeks,” Kennedy said.

The measures include requirements for limousines to have seat belts, escape hatches and roll bars. Drivers would have to carry a commercial driver’s license and undergo criminal background checks as well as drug and alcohol testing. Kennedy also wants a task force for further study of the issue and increased penalties for breaking the laws governing limo safety.

The limousine safety measures were proposed in the wake of a stretch limo crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people last year. Lawmakers earlier this month held a hearing on the issue, which also came after some limo insurance issues were taken up in the state budget.

Kennedy said the family members of crash victims in both upstate New York and on Long Island were “instrumental in advancing this limousine safety legislation.”

“They were two tragic crashes that should have and could have been prevented,” he said. “The legislation that we’re putting forward directly impacts the reasoning behind those limousine crashes.”

Stewart-Cousins And Heastie Say They Are On The Same Page For Rent

The top Democrats in the state Legislature on Thursday sought to present a united front on renewing and strengthening the state’s rent control laws as the negotiations enter the final weeks.

In a joint statement, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the are in favor of the end goal: “the strongest rent package ever.”

“Now that both legislative houses have concluded our hearings on New York’s rent laws, the Senate and Assembly majorities agree that in 2019 we will enact the strongest rent package ever – one that protects tenants and makes New York more affordable for all its residents,” the said in the statement.

“It is clear landlords have had an unfair advantage for many years and that equity must be restored. Both the Senate and Assembly majorities share a deep commitment to helping New Yorkers stay in their homes. United, we will advance a historic package of tenant protections that encompasses the principles of the nine bills that tenants have long waited for, and deserve, as well as other critical housing protections.”

Both chambers held separate public hearings on the issue in recent weeks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said this week in a radio interview he would be supportive of allowing upstate communities to opt in to a version of rent control, expanding the issue outside of the New York City area.

Stewart-Cousins Says Senate Has Votes For Vaccine Bill

A bill that would end the religious exemption for vaccinations in New York has sufficient support in the state Senate, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Thursday said.

But the bill’s future remains unclear in the Assembly.

“I believe we have the votes in our conference,” Stewart-Cousins said at a news conference. “We’re trying to work out to see what the Assembly will be doing.”

The bill was proposed amid a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn, largely affected Orthodox Jewish communities.

Speaker Carl Heastie said the measure remains under debate among majority Democrats. Heastie indicated he wanted to secure a majority of the conference’s support to bring the bill to the floor.

“We’re still working on it,” he said. “We have to have a requisite number of votes. We are still working on that.”

Business Council Backs Driver’s Licenses For Undocumented Immigrants

The state’s chief business lobby on Wednesday endorsed a bill that would extend access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York.

The endorsement from Business Council President Heather Briccetti underscores an argument lawmakers in support of the legislation have sought to make in recent weeks: The measure would boost economic development by enabling undocumented people the ability to drive cars with insurance and get to work.

“My employers, my members, I hear from everyday,” Briccetti said at a Capitol press conference. “There are workforce shortages in every industry, not just agriculture. One component of that problem is very, very clunky and unworkable immigration laws at the federal level. We hope this will send a message and make our roadways safer as a result.”

The measure’s chances in the state Senate remain up in the air, however, amid concerns from suburban and upstate lawmakers.

“If we took it to a vote, I’m pretty confident we could pass the bill,” said Sen. Luis Sepvulveda, a Bronx Democrat who is the primary sponsor of the bill. “But we’re still trying to address concerns that other members, say on Long Island, who have concerns.”

The issue remains a politically tricky one of New York officials a decade after it was first proposed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer. In a recent op/ed, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, a former opponent of the proposal, explained why she changed her mind on the measure.

“This is nothing more than the Albany establishment at its finest,” said Republican Sen. Robert Ortt. “It is clear that the constituents I represent and the law enforcement of this state do not support this policy.”

But vote counting for the Senate remains murky, where 32 votes are needed.

“We’re trying to make this as much of a slam dunk as possible,” Sepvulveda said. “In order to do that, we have to deal with some of the outlining concerns the outlying districts have.”

In the Democratic-led Assembly, majority lawmakers there say they have the votes for the bill, but are yet to hold vote as they seek to allow a public campaign on the issue unfold.

“It’s not a lot of times the Business Council is on the same page as the Assembly,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. “But when you look at it from the economic development standpoint, the safety standpoint, and the ability for people to get to work, it’s all the elements for people to do driver’s licenses.”

Hoylman, Dinowitz Continue To Press For Vaccine Bill

A bill that would end the religious exemption for vaccinations in New York is still be sought, as the bill’s sponsors on Tuesday continued their push for the measure amid a measles outbreak in Rockland County and Brooklyn.

“With over 840 confirmed cases, New York is facing a state of emergency with its worst measles outbreak in four decades,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat from Manhattan.

“Elected officials in California acted decisively and repealed all non-medical exemptions to vaccination requirements under their state law after suffering an outbreak at Disneyland in 2014 that resulted in at least 131 cases of measles. New York is currently facing more than six times the number of cases that spurred California to action. Our state’s inaction, in the face of such an overwhelming public health emergency, is appalling.”

The measure is yet to gain a vote in either chamber of the Legislature as lawmakers have raised concerns over the effect of the measure. The outbreak has predominantly impacted the Orthodox Jewish community.

“For those who are too young to be vaccinated or who have survived childhood cancer, organ transplants, or any number of other medical issues that compromise an immune system – there can be no doubt that this argument is false,” said Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz. “It is absolutely imperative that everyone who is medically able to get vaccinated does so in order to protect those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled his support for the legislation.

Rivera Says He’s Planning Additional Hearings For NY Health Act

The public hearing on Tuesday assessing a single-payer health care measure is only the first, Sen. Gustavo Rivera on Friday.

The Legislature is planning additional hearings on the issue “in the coming months” Rivera, the Senate Health Committee chairman, said.

“I am excited to announce that additional hearings on the New York Health Act will be held across New York State in the coming months,” he said. “Almost a hundred New Yorkers have requested to testify at next Tuesday’s hearing in Albany and I am looking forward to engaging with them to hear their stories on how we must change our health care system so that it benefits all New Yorkers equally, and not just a few.”

A full schedule is expected to be announced, with hearings held across the state, Rivera said.