Cuomo Wants To Expand Primary Voting Hours Upstate

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget will include expanded voter hours on primary day in upstate counties.

Currently voting in most upstate counties on primary day is limited to between noon and 9 p.m., while the voting in the rest of the state begins at 6 a.m.

Cuomo’s inclusion of the provision comes as lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are set to pass a package of voter reform measures including early voting, same-day voter registration, pre-registration for those under 18 and no-fault absentee balloting, a consolidation of the state and federal primary dates as well as an end to the LLC loophole in election law.

Cuomo in addition to the changes passing today wants to make Election Day a holiday, create a system of online voter registration and ban corporate contributions.

“At a time when the federal government is doing everything it can to disenfranchise voters, we are taking action to make it easier for New Yorkers to participate in the democratic process and crack down on corporate influences in our election,” Cuomo said in a statement.

“It is absurd that voters in much of upstate New York are not allowed to vote until noon, whereas polls open everywhere else in the state at 6am – that ends now. These proposals will not only modernize our voting laws, they will remove barriers that have prevented and discouraged voters from exercising their sacred right to vote. I thank the legislature for their quick action today in voting on many of the critical voting reforms that are part of our 100-day agenda and I look forward to working with them to finish the job and enact these additional measures into law in the budget. The time is now.”

Cuomo is set to unveil his 2019-20 budget proposal on Tuesday.

Cuomo Adding Speed Camera Program to Budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will reinstate and expand the New York City speed camera program in his 2019 executive budget, which will be unveiled tomorrow.

His plan includes increasing the amount of speed camera zones from 140 to 290 and placing “additional signage” in the designated areas.

The program lapsed last July following inaction in the state Senate – in part due to Brooklyn Sen. Simcha Felder, a conservative Democrat who was caucusing with the Republican majority at the time, and wouldn’t support the legislation without language that would add police officers in NYC schools.

Other past key players on this issue were now-former Brooklyn Republican Sen. Marty Golden, and former Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt, a Rochester Democrat.

Cuomo finally addressed the legislative inaction by declaring a state of emergency in August, temporarily re-authorizing the program.

In his statement today, Cuomo wasn’t shy about placing the blame for the program’s failure on Republican shoulders – a not terribly difficult thing to do, given the fact that the Republicans are no longer in charge of anything at the state Capitol.

“After Senate Republicans shamefully refused to extend this life-saving program, I declared a State of Emergency before the start of the school year to temporarily keep the cameras operating,” the governor said.

“With this new proposal we will not only reinstate the program the way it should have been done in the first place – we will also expand the number of cameras to protect more children and prevent needless tragedies and heartbreak.”

The program, designed to record and enforce speeding violations near school zones, is operated and controlled by New York City. It was first signed into law in 2013.

Partnership For NYC Backs GENDA

One of New York City’s primary business groups on Monday announced its support for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, a bill likely to pass the state Senate under Democratic control.

The bill is meant to provide legal protections for transgender people in housing, the workplace and other facets of life.

“Gender variant individuals face discrimination ranging from housing to health care, as well as harassment and violence in many aspects of their lives,” the group said. “They deserve the same protections in New York that many employers and other states, including California, Connecticut, Iowa, Nevada and New Jersey, already provide. Safeguarding basic human and civil rights for gender variant individuals is critical to maintaining New York’s competitiveness as a global economic and cultural hub—one that thrives as a result of its diverse citizens and workforce.”

The bill did not gain a vote in the state Senate under Republican control, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo took the broad strokes of the legislation and included them in the state’s human rights regulations.

Meanwhile, a bill that would seek to ban conversion therapy for LGBT individuals has cleared the Senate Higher Education Committee.

“So-called conversion therapy is child abuse—plain and simple. I applaud Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Higher Education Chairwoman Stavisky, co-prime sponsor Gianaris and my colleagues in the Democratic Conference for recognizing that being gay is not an illness, and that this debunked and harmful practice amounts to nothing less than consumer fraud,” said Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat who sponsors both bills. “To the LGBTQ youth across the state of New York: we hear you, we see you, and we have your back on the Senate floor tomorrow.”

Cuomo: Marijuana Age Limit 21, Local Govs Can Opt Out

Local governments can opt out of adult use marijuana, while the minimum wage for purchasing cannabis would be set at 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday in a radio interview.

As the Department of Health has in a report issued last year, Cuomo pegged the potential revenue for adult use marijuana at about $300 million.

“It’s not for the money,” Cuomo told WAMC’s Alan Chartock. “The benefits outweigh the risks. It has to be regulated.”

Cuomo is expected to include the adult use marijuana proposal in his budget, scheduled to be unveiled on Tuesday in Albany.

It’s not entirely clear what the opt out provision for local governments will mean, including whether county or city governments can deny permits for marijuana retailers.

But the governor also once again indicated the program would provide support for communities that have been impacted by strict drug laws.

Cuomo said he was reviewing how “poor communities that paid the price rather than having rich corporations and having another pay day” could benefit from the program.

Heastie Says He Supports Bag Ban

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters on Monday he would be supportive of a ban on plastic bags in the state, but said he would discuss the issue with his full Democratic conference.

“I’ve said before that me, personally, I’d be OK with a plastic bag ban,” he said. “As many of the things he puts in his budget, as members, we will conference them.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sunday announced he would include a full ban on plastic bags in his state budget as well as an expansion of the state’s bottle deposit law.

The ban has been sought by environmental groups, but several also have called for a fee on plastic bag usage as well.

Cuomo and lawmakers in 2017 backed a measure overturning New York City’s 5-cent fee on plastic bags as the governor also created a statewide task force on the issue.

“To Governor Cuomo’s credit, this budget should be a vehicle to advance innovative and bold ideas to protect our environment,” said Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee said in a statement.

“The scourge of plastic pollution needs to be addressed and I look forward to getting into the details of these proposals to ensure they have maximum impact. I am proud to carry plastic bag legislation in the senate that also addresses paper bags, something I will continue to advocate for during this process.”

Legislative Leaders: Cuomo Not Being Cut Out

Long-sought bills for election reform are being passed today and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign them.

But the process is something of a change from previous years in which big picture, headline-making measures were included in the budget, modified in negotiation and approved or taken out of the final day.

This time, lawmakers are approving longtime bills re-introduced each year. No leaders meetings with Cuomo appear to be being held. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie worked out many of the details for the votes themselves.

But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters at the Capitol Monday this wasn’t about cutting Cuomo out of the law-making picture.

“The governor has the right to put whatever he wants in the budget,” Heastie said. “I would say in previous times it was probably more of a necessity because of the Republican Senate because that was the best way to get things done. The Senate didn’t really agree with a Democratic governor and a Democratic Assembly.”

At the same time, the legislative process still was a process when Republicans controlled the Senate, like when the Legislature approved the creation of a prosecutorial conduct panel last year.

“Even when there was a Republican Senate, there were a lot of bills the Assembly passed,” Heastie said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not going to engage the governor. We’re passing bills we know that we people in the state have wanted for numerous years.”

Cuomo already has signaled an aggressive budget with policies like banning plastic bags, expanding the bottle deposits, increasing the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 and new regulations for e-cigarettes.

And the budget’s biggest items — health care and education spending — will still have the governor’s stamp on the final deal.

But at the same time, lawmakers are taking up a package of measures virtually every session day, including gun control, LGBTQ rights and more.

“Our objective is not to do things quickly,” Stewart-Cousins said, “but to do them right.”

Erie County GOP Chair Argues Election Reform Could Lead To Fraud

Erie County Republican Committee Chairman Nick Langworthy warned voters should beware “legalized rigged elections” ahead of expected election reform votes Monday in the state Legislature.

Langworthy said the Legislature, now totally under Democratic control, is trying to make sure elections are skewed in their favor for years to come. The GOP boss said the package of legislation is being rushed and as a result cannot be well thought out public policy.

“There have been no public hearings,” Langworthy said. “New York taxpayers deserve some honest hard work, debate and discussion from their legislators on an issue as critical as the future of our elections, not a package thrown on their desk by the Governor with a demand for an affirmative vote.

In particular, he expressed concern about “ballot harvesting” if no-fault absentee voting is approved. The measure would open the absentee process up to all registered voters, who could cast their ballot without an approved excuse needed under the current system.

“Ballot harvesting” he said is when paid election workers collect massive amounts of absentee ballots for delivery to boards of election or polling places.

“It is nothing more than an opportunity for special interests to commit voter fraud,” he said. “It is the practice that is the central focus of the controversial 9th Congressional District of North Carolina that has led to the voiding of the 2018 election and will lead to a new election being called.  This nefarious practice was also legalized by phony reformers in California and led to wild irregularities in 2018. Those that believe in honest elections must work to prevent ‘ballot harvesting’ from coming to New York State.”

Langworthy also expressed concerns about same day voting and automatic voter registration. He said the measures could encourage a Tammany Hall-style vote “early and often” practice in New York.

Finally, he said the bills offer zero protections against undocumented immigrants voting and argued there should be a comprehensive voter identification requirement.

Erie County Legislator Calls For Official Social Media Policy

Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joe Lorigo, C-West Seneca, has asked the county attorney to draft a social media policy for elected officials.

Lorigo has publicly questioned whether the county attorney’s office should be defending County Executive Mark Poloncarz, D, in a potential defamation lawsuit. In a December notice of claim, the former operators of Emerald South, a nursing rehabilitation center, said the county executive made false and defamatory statements about them, some on Twitter.

While Lorigo said he is not making a judgement on the validity of the legal action, he pointed out Poloncarz has repeatedly referred to his social media accounts as personal. The minority leader said if that’s the case, taxpayer dollars should not be used as a defense.

Furthermore, he said the legal issues illustrated why the line between personal and public social media cannot be blurred.

“It is misleading to the public to use an account for government-related purposes while at the same time making personal statements and pushing people to attend political fundraisers,” Lorigo said. “As elected officials, it is important we separate our official public statements from those we make as private citizens”

The legislator acknowledged the action could appear to be targeting Poloncarz specifically, but he said all elected officials would benefit from clear rules. Lorigo said the county executive pointed out the county executive is just one of the most prolific and high-profile social media users in the region.

He said he would be happy to work with the county attorney to answer questions, particularly about the use of private and/or public accounts to solicit political contributions. Lorigo noted other government’s across the state are addressing the issue, including Ulster County in response to questions about the sheriff’s posts.

He believes the Erie County rules could be modeled after the federal guidelines in the Hatch Act.

Republicans Challenge Dems To Have Perfect Attendance

As the state Senate today is likely to pass a bill consolidating the state and federal primaries into one day, Republican lawmakers on Monday challenged Democrats to have perfect attendance during the petitioning process.

Currently, the state holds its primaries in September, with primary contests for federal offices — the House and U.S. Senate — are held in June, creating a costly bifucated process for local governments.

The changes were done because of the state adhering to the MOVE Act, a federal law that requires timely access to absentee ballots for military and overseas voters. Because of gridlock over when the primary should be moved, a federal judge ruled the congressional primary must be held in June.

But Republicans have maintained a June primary speeds up the petitioning process, making it difficult to get ballot access while lawmakers are also in Albany to negotiate the state budget.

“Every Senator must remember that we serve the people, not ourselves,” said Sen. Cathy Young. “This pledge is a reminder that the people elect us to be their voices in the state capitol and they rely on us to be here, not absent and on the campaign trail as we have seen before. Empty chairs are simply empty promises to New Yorkers. Let’s show the public that we hold ourselves to the highest standards and sign this pledge.”

Jacobs Tapped For State Party Chair

Jay Jacobs is heading toward an encore as state Democratic Committee chairman.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced Jacobs would succeed Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown as the state party chairman, reprising the role he held under Gov. David Paterson.

“Jay Jacobs is an outstanding champion for Long Island with an unparalleled record of bringing Democrats together to win historic victories, and I am excited to work with him to further strengthen our party and elect even more Democrats up and down the ballot,” Cuomo said.

“I thank Byron Brown for his great leadership in securing key districts for our party last year, and look forward to continuing to work together to deliver for New Yorkers across the state. In the face of unprecedented and frightening assaults on our values from Washington, we will continue to ensure New York is a beacon of progressive policy in action and that the Democratic Party is the party of making a real difference in people’s lives.”

Jacobs’s return as state party chairman underscores the importance of the suburbs for Democrats, who picked up a majority of the state Senate seats on Long Island in November and now control both county executive posts.

“In this consequential time for our Party, our State and our country I am honored to have been asked by Governor Cuomo to once again serve as New York State Democratic Chair,” Jacobs said.

“The governor has been a friend for more than twenty years and as I was honored to be the chair when he was first elected, after so many progressive achievements I am appreciative and excited for the opportunity to work with him and our state party once again as we continue to fight for a progressive agenda and marshal our resources for the upcoming challenges ahead.”