Judge Hears Niagara County Greenlight Lawsuit

The Niagara County Clerk left a state Supreme Court hearing Thursday with more questions than he had at the outset with regards to enforcement of the state’s Green Light Law.

With the law, which allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, set to go into effect Saturday, Clerk Joe Jastrzemski and the judge appeared to believe they had an agreement with the state Attorney General’s office. Jastrzemski’s staff would refer anybody applying for a license who they suspected was in the country illegally, to the state Department of Motor Vehicles until the Niagara County challenge was fully litigated.

However, during the hearing, representatives for the AG said they did not have the authority to give the clerk permission not to follow the law as written. In the interim, the county’s counsel said they’ll have to decide whether or not to ask the judge for a formal injunction and accused the state of reneging.

The judge reserved ruling on the AG’s motion to dismiss as well as an individual voters request to intervene as another plaintiff. Between now and the next hearing on January 16, 2020, the state will file a written response to the intervenor motion.

There are generally two portions to the lawsuit. Jastrzemski makes similar arguments to lawsuits out of Erie and Rensselaer counties that the state law contradicts federal law and asks clerks and their staff to help harbor people in the country illegally.

Where it refers from the other lawsuits is a focus on voter fraud. The plaintiff said because auto bureaus are required to offer voter registration to anybody who applies for a driver’s license, the real goal of Green Light is to fundamentally change NY’s election system.

The defense argued fraudulently registering is illegal and would be an option to non-citizens regardless of whether they applied for driver’s licenses. Niagara County and its board of elections are co-plaintiffs.


Regulators Move To Require Insurers To Cover Vaping Cessation

Insurance companies operating in New York must provide coverage to people who need vaping-related treatment, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday.

The directive, issued to the Department of Financial Services, comes as a ban on flavored vaping products remains in legal limbo amid a challenge from an industry group.

A council within the Department of Health is voting today on keeping the ban on the books for another 90 days; an appeals court has blocked it from taking effect in October.

“E-cigarette use has exploded in recent years and many of the people who want to quit are now having trouble because vaping is more addicting than they previously thought,” Cuomo said. “New Yorkers trying to stop vaping need access to treatment, and this action will require insurance companies to provide the same coverage they would for smoking cessation to anyone seeking to stop using e-cigarettes.”

Vaping related illnesses so far have been attributed to 48 deaths in 25 states, including two in New York.

“Insurers must adapt to address emerging issues in public health and that includes vaping, which is growing in use including among teenagers causing illnesses and even deaths,” said Linda Lacewell, the superintendent of the Department of Financial Services, which oversees the insurance industry. “Insurers must cover vaping cessation in the same way they cover services for smoking cessation, and do so without cost-sharing.”

Child Victims Advocate Eyes Run For SD-46

From the Morning Memo:

Gary Greenberg for years was fed up with the state Senate and the stalled Child Victims Act, a proposal that is meant to make it easier for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits.

Greenberg is a victim of childhood abuse himself. But as an adult, he has money. And with that money came some power to move the needle on the issue in Albany.

The Greene County businessman pushed for the election of candidates to the Legislature who supported the law, which ultimately was approved this year with Democrats flipping the state Senate. His political action committee endorsed candidates and help fund their campaigns.

Greenberg is now getting involved in open race for the 46th Senate district, forming an exploratory committee for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. George Amedore.

Greenberg in a statement Wednesday said the push for the Child Victims Act gave him a broader prospective on the issues facing the state.

“Public service is about fighting for the interests of the people you were elected to represent, getting laws passed, securing financial resources for local organizations,” Greenberg said. “For the last five years of my life I have been fighting to enact the Child Victims Act and I travelled from Long Island to Buffalo working to elect Senators to make the Child Victims Act the law of the land.”

He’s also staking out more moderate ground that some Democrats in Albany. Pointing to the $6 billion budget gap lawmakers face next year, he signaled opposition to tax hikes to close it.

“We cannot simply continue to raise taxes in New York State,” he said. “We need elected officials that have the ability to be independent and wont be a rubber stamp for unending tax increases. New Yorkers need jobs and a future, they need elected officials who can get that job done.”

But there’s also competition for the Democratic nomination in the district. Michelle Hinchey, a Democrat who declared before Amedore announced his retirement, is also running.

The district was formed in 2012, born out of a redistricting plan drawn by Senate Republicans to add a GOP-leaning seat in the chamber. It stretches from the Mohawk Valley, Capital Region and down into the Hudson Valley.

Amedore held the seat since 2014, after initially losing a razor-thin vote in 2012 against Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk.

His planned departure from the state Senate next year is part of a wave of Republican retirements that have been announced in recent weeks.

Burdick Announces For AD-93

From the Morning Memo:

The churn of so many state lawmakers running for Congress is creating some movement on the local level as well for candidates to replace them.

Democratic Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick on Wednesday announced his campaign for the 93rd Assembly district in suburban Westchester County.

The seat is occupied by Assemblyman David Buchwald, who is among the crowded field of Democrats seeking the party’s nomination for the House district being vacated by Rep. Nita Lowey at the end of 2020.

“I am excited to announce my candidacy for Assembly today and proud to have the support of these local leaders,” Burdick said.

“We are at a critical moment in New York, and it is imperative that we have a State Assemblymember who will fight for our values and be able to produce results for us in Albany. Throughout my years of service, I have worked to meet the needs of our community – from education to infrastructure to fair taxes – and I am ready to deliver in the Assembly.”

Burdick’s candidacy is being backed by local officials as well as state Sen. Peter Harckham.

“I am excited to support Chris Burdick as he launches his campaign for Assembly,” he said. “As Bedford Supervisor, he has created affordable housing, fought for fair taxes, secured protections for immigrants, and protected our environment. I know he will bring that same energy and passion to Albany.”

Here And Now

Good morning and happy Thursday!

Happening today:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany with nothing public planned.

At 10:30 a.m., the Public Service Commission will meet. 90 Church St., New York City.

Also at 10:30 a.m., Sen. Jim Tedisco and pensioners from St. Clare’s Hospital will hold a press conference. 636 Plank Road, Suite 205 Clifton Park.

At 11 a.m., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold a media availability. Pesach Tikvah, 18 Middleton St., Brooklyn.

Also at 11 a.m., state lawmakers and transit advocates will voice opposition to the hiring of more transit cops by the MTA. Pershing Square Plaza, Grand Central Terminal, E 42nd St. and Park Ave., New York City.

Also at 11 a.m., the state Assembly will hold a hearing on funding for arts and cultural organizations. Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

At noon, state lawmakers and environmental and transportation activists will deliver a petition in support of reducing road admissions. State Street, across from the Legislative Office Building steps on the north side, Albany.

At 6 p.m., Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will attend the annual uniformed fire officers association holiday reception. Down Town Association, 60 Pine St., New York City.

At 7:15 p.m., Lt. Gov. Hochul will attend the annual New York AFL-CIO holiday reception. Sheraton Times Square, 811 7th Ave., New York City.


New York’s ban on flavored vaping products remains tied up in legal limbo, but some anti-tobacco advocates and lawmakers are looking to 2020 and how they can prevent kids from getting hooked on the e-cigarettes.

The New York State Republican Party filed a lawsuit Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Monroe County asking a judge to compel the governor to call a special election as soon as possible for NY’s vacant 27th Congressional seat.

A new potential compromise candidate in the NY-27: Republican Assemblyman Steve Hawley.

Republicans in the state Senate are beset by the retirements as the year draws to a close.

It was more than seven years ago. The City Council was looking to create a living wage, forcing companies that receive city subsidies to pay their workers more. Then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg said no, but his position has since changed.

Democratic lawmakers are taking aim at a Trump administration rule they say allows for religious and LGBTQ discrimination.

Democratic socialists are looking at another Bronx House district as a potential pickup opportunity in 2020.

Some federal lawmakers opposed a defense budget bill because it did not include enough provisions to tackle PFAS contamination.

A bipartisan immigration deal meant to benefit farmers has passed the House of Representatives.

Rep. Tom Suozzi’s bill working around the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions has passed through committee.

Rep. Tom Reed’s office sent out a tongue-in-cheek email responding to the RNC chair’s complaint that CNN passed over showing Sen. Lindsey Graham to air an interview featuring him.

A non-profit legal group is suing Comptroller Tom DiNapoli over pay raises approved for Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

With New York facing a budget deficit in excess of $6 billion, policymakers are eying the state’s Medicaid program for possible cuts.

The state inspector general is investigating a State Police probe over concerns of overtime padding, among other issues.

The USA Today Network canvassed counties to find out how many inmates will be freed once a new cash bail law takes effect.

A lawyer for Jeffrey Epstein’s estate said Wednesday he is disappointed that women who say the financier sexually attacked them aren’t suspending lawsuits to join a special compensation fund, but an attorney for one woman says lawsuits are the better route, at least for now.

A new law allowing undocumented immigrants to access driver’s licenses is set to go into effect on Saturday.

Immigration groups are concerned some county clerks will refuse to enforce the law.

Those who provide services to people with developmental disabilities are pushing for fair funding in the state budget.

New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson lashed out at the landlords who closed a housing complex for seniors.

Thousands of people on Wednesday attended funerals for the victims of the shooting in Jersey City.

The shooting has “shattered” the cultural melting pot that is Jersey City.

Mayor De Blasio, top police officials and Jewish leaders gathered at City Hall on Wednesday. He called the Jersey City attack an act of terror.

New York City is boosting security in the wake of the shooting.

Rockland County’s Jewish community is terrified by the attack not far from them in Jersey City.

A new report is calling on NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea to abolish the department’s gang database.

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano is calling on New York City to stop sending homeless people to the city.

Prosecutors allege former Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota covered for police officer friend in a brutality case.

The MTA’s new contactless fare payment system is now live at Penn Station.

A CBD company is preparing a lawsuit against New York City and the NYPD for seizing 106 pounds of legal hemp.

High-ranking police officials in Suffolk County are receiving raises.

The Herkimer County village of Ilion is protective of gunmaker Remington Arms amid the national debate over gun control.

One of the Rochester school board members believes teachers of color should be spared city budget layoffs.

Republican New York state Assemblyman Dan Stec announced Wednesday he would run for the state Senate for the North Country seat being vacated by Sen. Betty Little.

In every county in the U.S. that has both a county jail and county psychiatric facility, more seriously mentally ill people are incarcerated than hospitalized, according to The Treatment Advocacy Center.

Democrat Dave Clegg has been declared the winner in the race for Ulster County DA by just 77 votes, pending appeal or a hand count. The race was too close to call since the day after election day when Republican candidate Mike Kavanagh was in the lead by just three votes.

In national news:

President Trump wants to mount an aggressive defense, but Senate Republicans want a relatively short impeachment trial.

A memorandum from the White House budget office defended withholding aid to Ukraine.

Rep. Louie Gohmert publicly identified the person who is purported to be the whistleblower who first raised concerns with the withheld aid.

The Justice Department’s inspector general at a Senate Judiciary hearing sharply criticized the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation.

The findings of the IG report provided an up-close look at national security surveillance that was not pretty.

The House of Representatives has approved legislation creating paid parental leave for federal employees.

The Federal Reserve has signaled it will keep interest rates steady.

From the editorial pages:

The Buffalo News says there’s reason to be skeptical over whether Erie County needs a full-time SWAT unit.

The Times Union says the proposal to expunge some criminal records is well-intentioned, but offers a revision of history.

The Daily News says some evidence that exists as encrypted files might as well have been thrown down a blackhole by law enforcement.

From the sports pages:

The Knicks had to win sometime and they did, finally, last night to break a long losing streak.

The Brooklyn Nets lost to the Hornets, blowing a big lead in the process.

New Law Bars Political Parties From Changing Their Names

A bill approved on Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cumo would bar new ballot lines from changing their names once created.

“New Yorkers have the right to know who and what exactly they’re voting for when they go to the ballot box,” Governor Cuomo said. “By making this simple change to our election laws, we can ensure political organizations don’t pull the wool over voters’ eyes by claiming to be something they are not in order to gain multi-year legal party status.”

One of the more recent examples of the practice was the creation of the Stop Common Party by the 2014 gubernatorial campaign of Rob Astorino to highlight opposition to the education standards. The party was later changed to the broader-sounding Reform Party.

The bill affects political ballot lines that have status for the next election cycle. It was sponsored by Sen. David Carlucci and Assemblywoman Sandy Galef.

“Voters deserve honesty and transparency in the election process,” Galef said. “New Yorkers must not tolerate the ‘bait and switch’ that took place when the Common Core Party all of a sudden became the Reform Party. This new law would prevent this deception from happening again.”

Watchdog Group Sues Over Cuomo, Hochul Pay Raises

A fiscally conservative legal watchdog group on Wednesday announced it had filed a lawsuit challenging pay raises for Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.

The Government Justice Center in its legal challenge against Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said the joint legislative resolution backing the pay raises for Cuomo and Hochul was unconstitutional.

At issue is the timing of when the pay raises took effect, said Cameron Macdonald, the group’s executive director.

“Section 7 of Article XIII of the New York Constitution in plain language prohibits increasing or diminishing the compensation of the governor or lieutenant governor during the term for which they are elected,” he said. “By approving retroactive raises three months into the new terms for those offices, the Legislature blatantly ignored this prohibition, and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s payment of the higher salaries also violates the Constitution.”

The pay resolution boosted the governor’s pay from $179,000 to $200,000, and will eventually increase to $250,000 by 2021. The lieutenant governor’s salary was approved for a raise from $151,500 to $220,000 by 2021.

The Government Justice Center last year filed a similar legal challenge to the pay raises for state lawmakers that were approved by a commission created to recommend changes to how the Legislature and statewide elected officials are compensated.

The pay panel ultimately approved phased in pay hikes, but also capped the amount of money lawmakers can earn outside of the Legislature. A state judge earlier this year upheld the raises and rejected the outside income cap.

State GOP Suing Cuomo To Force NY-27 Special Election ASAP

The New York State Republican Party filed a lawsuit Wednesday in State Supreme Court in Monroe County asking a judge to compel the governor to call a special election as soon as possible for NY’s vacant 27th Congressional seat.

“We feel no choice here but to sue Governor Cuomo to do his job, just like other political leaders have had to do in the past, to call a special election within this district,” state GOP Chairman Nick Langworthy said.

Republican Chris Collins resigned in late September, a day ahead of his guilty plea on federal insider trading charges. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, is mandated by law to call a special election to fill the opening but has typically had discretion as to when he calls it.

Cuomo has indicated on several occasions – including during a stop in Western New York last week – he is leaning toward holding the election on April 28, 2020 – the same day as the presidential primary.  The governor said it makes fiscal sense to hold the elections on the same day when there will already be staff, polling places, and voting machines available.

He pointed out a special election can easily cost taxpayers more than $1 million. However, Republicans believe holding the congressional special and presidential primary at the same time would give Democrats an unfair advantage since there will be no GOP primary race.

NY-27 is widely-considered the reddest district in the state, but an already-indicted Collins barely defeated Democrat Nate McMurray in 2018. Some, including McMurray – who is expected to be the party’s designee again – believe an April 28 election could help push him over the edge.

“(Cuomo’s) had six weeks to get the job done,” Langworthy said. “He hasn’t done it. He’s clinging to a date that he expects to try to rig the outcome of this election and we’re not going to stand for it.”

The lawsuit however, doesn’t explicitly mention the April 28 date. Rather it makes the argument the 750,000 residents in the district aren’t getting the representation they are entitled to under the Constitution.

Langworthy said that is the crux of the problem.

“They’re without representation at the federal level for a long time,” he said. “Even if we had a special election in April, at the end of April, think about how much time has elapsed that they’ve had no voice in Congress.

Last year, seven voters in the state’s 25th Congressional district sued Cuomo to force an earlier special election, as well. However, a judge threw that suit out after the plaintiffs failed to show cause regarding why the case should not be dismissed.

In a separate 2015 case, a judge did set a deadline for the governor to call the election to replace convicted NY-11 Rep. Michael Grimm or the court would do it for him. Langworthy said this challenge is very similar.

“The governor lost that lawsuit,” he said. “He had to call the special election in Staten Island. I believe the same will happen here.”

However, if the February 20 deadline set in the Grimm case was held as the standard, it would still allow Cuomo to still call the NY-27 election on April 28. Langworthy said this is a different timeline and believes the deadline would be sooner.

The suit asked for the judge to require the governor to issue the proclamation for the election within 5 days of a court order. Under the law, the election must be held between 70 and 80 days of the declaration.

Langworthy and two individual voters are listed as the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Cuomo is the lone defendant.

We’ve reached out to the governor’s office for comment.

NY-27: GOP Lawsuit by Ryan Whalen on Scribd

Can The State Senate Republicans Mount A Comeback?

For just over 10 minutes on Wednesday morning, Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan answered virtually the same, albeit differently worded question over and over again from reporters: How can you retake the majority amid a wave of departures?

Flanagan insists he isn’t waving the white flag.

In the gaggle, Flanagan pointed to his time as a Republican member of the Assembly, where Democrats hold a virtually un-killable majority.

“I’ve been here 33 years. I’ve spent 19 of 33 years in the minority,” Flanagan said. “I know what it means to be in the minority. I know what it means to fight, to claw back, to get things done.”

It’s going to be a steep hill to climb. The Republican conference of 2021 is guaranteed to look vastly different from the lawmakers who took office for the 2019-20 term. Already, eight lawmakers have either announced their plans to retire, have resigned, are planning to resign or running for Congress.

Flanagan believes Democratic overreach on issues like criminal justice law changes and taxes will help propel Republicans back to power.

“If you look at the left-wing of the Senate Democrats, they are under fire from people who are saying they’re not liberal enough,” Flanagan said. “It’s great folly and fanfare to go after the super rich, to say kill the rich.”

Republicans during the 2010s held power in the Senate with the aid of a breakaway faction of Democrats, the Independent Democratic Conference, which dissolved under increasing pressure from progressive groups.

Democrats regained the state Senate in 2018 amid a wave year for the party in New York and nationally.

In many respects, Republican hopes hinge on several factors that plagued the ill-fated Democratic majority of 2009-10: A deeply unpopular tax on the New York City suburbs, discord and dysfunction leading to a Republican wave year.

Those ingredients are not likely to be there in 2020. The $6.1 billion budget gap facing Albany is a clear problem, and Democrats are discussing whether to pursue broad-based tax hikes aimed at upper income earners.

President Donald Trump is expected to be at the top of the ticket again and is deeply unpopular statewide, but is supported in pockets of the state.

Still, Democrats hold a much larger majority in the current term than they did a decade ago. So far, the shenanigans that plagued Democrats in the previous majority have not returned and conference itself has largely turned over.

Nevertheless, Democrats have been confident in their chances of not just holding the majority, but expanding it. And they’ve been practically giddy with the retirement news.

“Every day we see another Republican Senator abandon the sinking ship and announce their retirement,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats. “Having no money, no candidates, and no ideas is a bad combination.”

On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters she expects her conference will grow from 40 members to at minimum 43 seats in the 63-member district. Democrats expect that same energy that created the wave in 2018 will be supercharged in 2020 for the presidential election.

“I think that speaks volumes,” Stewart-Cousins said on the Republican retirements. “I think we’re going to continue to have a Democratic majority in the state Senate and I also think it speaks to the environment for them nationally.”

New York Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy, like Flanagan, expects Republicans will be able to capitalize on the talk of taxes.

“They have a spending addiction,” he said this week during a news conference. “They’re going to come here with all sorts of ideas that’s going to bankrupt this state.”

But Langworthy noted, in part, the desire to not languish in the minority in Albany was understandable.

“You have members who are used to being the majority,” Langworthy said, “and driving the discussion.”

Stec Runs For Senate, Jones To Stay In Assembly

Republican Assemblyman Dan Stec announced Wednesday he would run for the state Senate for the North Country seat being vacated by Sen. Betty Little.

“In the wake of Senator Betty Little’s retirement, I am formally announcing my candidacy for state Senate,” Stec announced on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Democratic Assemblyman Billy Jones announced he would not run for the Senate district.

“I love what I do, and I want to continue to represent the great people of the 115th Assembly District,” he said. “I feel we have accomplished much over the past couple years, and I will continue to fight for the residents of the North Country and the needs of my district.”

Little is part of a wave of Republican retirements in the state Senate that have been announced in recent weeks.