James Calls For Forgiveness Of ITT Tech Student Loans

Attorney General Letitia James’s office on Wednesday backed an effort calling on the federal Department of Education to forgive the loans of former students of ITT Tech, which filed bankruptcy and closed.

James signed onto a letter with 22 attorneys general that was sent to Federal Student Aid Chief Operating Officer Mark Brown..

The letter urged the Department of Education to comply with federal regulations that require it to automatically discharge loans for borrowers who have enrolled at closed schools and have not continued their education elsewhere.

“The Department of Education’s neglect has saddled students across the country with approximately half a billion dollars in additional student loan debt,” James said.

“Unfortunately, school closures often leave students worse off than when they enrolled — stuck with debt, no diploma, and without enhanced career prospects. For these borrowers and their families, discharge of federal loans is extremely important, which is why I am committed to ensuring that all eligible ITT students receive the closed-school discharge relief they deserve.”

The coalition of AGs says there are an estimated 52,000 former students of ITT Tech who are eligible for more than $800 million loan relief.

ITT Tech had campuses in Albany, Liverpool, and Getzville and 149 sites across the country.

Erie County Clerk’s Green Light Battle Wages On

The legal battle between the Erie County Clerk’s office and New York state over granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants will continue.

Last week, a federal judge determined Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, D, did not have standing to challenge the state’s Green Light Law. Kearns had previously predicted this suit could go all the way to the Supreme Court but was not prepared the day of the decision to talk about the appeals process.

After consulting with county attorneys, He said he filed a notice of appeal Wednesday.

“It’s a high standard,” Kearns said. “We know that, so you’re right, the second circuit, it’s a high standard. They would have to reverse the Western District circuit.”

But Kearns said he has a few things that are going for him. He said another pending federal court case could influence whether he does, in fact, have standing.

He also believes the case deserves to be judged on its constitutionality rather than who brought the lawsuit. Although Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz issued a statement suggesting it was time to move on, Kearns said the County Attorney’s office represents him too and continues to cooperate.

In the meantime, the clerk is preparing for Green Light to go into effect on December 14. He said clerks across the state have received little guidance from the Department of Motor Vehicles about implementation.

As a result, he expects to need to hire 11 new part-time positions. He said the office needs experts to interpret foreign documents and asked the county Legislature Wednesday for roughly $670,000 more in next year’s budget.

The request seems a bit odd as Kearns has maintained he won’t allow his staff to implement the new law, regardless of how litigation plays out.

“If we don’t have to process those licenses (then) we don’t need that money but I wanted, as they’re budgeting overall, I want them to at least have a number in their mind on what the impacts could be of this law,” he said.

Kearns pointed out the governor still has the power to remove him from office. There’s been no indication that will happen, but Kearns said it’s his responsibility to prepare for all possibilities and the request is essentially a contingency if the office is forced to process licenses.

At the same time, the clerk said he doesn’t expect the County Legislature to approve the request. Members of the Democratic majority were not available for comment Wednesday.

As for proponents of Green Light who suggest the law will actually bring in more revenue to counties because there will be a new customer base, Kearns admitted theoretically that might be the case. However, he said there is not enough information about how many undocumented immigrants there are in the state to plan.

“All we know is obviously people who are here illegally, they’re not letting themselves (be) known and they’re anticipating, the state of New York, there’s between 750,000 and 1 million people here illegally,” he said.

December 14 is a Saturday and Kearns is expecting a showdown between immigration advocates and his office. He said he believes Erie County is the only county upstate with Saturday auto bureau hours.

Lawmakers Want Legal Fund For Survivors Of Childhood Sexual Assault

State lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly on Wednesday announced support for a measure that would create a civil legal services fund for the survivors and victims of childhood sexual assault.

The bill is meant to be a companion measure alongside the Child Victims Act, approved earlier this year, which makes it easier for childhood sexual abuse survivors to file lawsuits.

The fund is meant to help childhood sexual abuse victims afford legal counsel or if private law firms are reluctant to take on cases that did not occur in an institutional setting. The measure is meant to assist non-profit entities that provide legal services on behalf of victims and survivors as well as those who may come forward in the future.

The bill creating the fund is backed by Sens. Jim Gaughran and Alessandra Biaggi and sponsored by Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou and Assemblyman Charles Lavine.

“This year we passed landmark legislation to give long-awaited justice to countless victims of child sex abuse,” Gaughran said.

“Unfortunately, many victims are now facing barriers to pursuing justice against their alleged abusers. I am proud to work side-by-side with these brave victims, including my colleagues Senator Biaggi and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, to establish a legal fund to ensure that every victim of child sex abuse has access to funding for legal services to seek the justice they deserve.”

Brindisi Given Spot On House Armed Services Committee

Rep. Anthony Brindisi has been named to the powerful House Armed Services Committee, a prominent position for a freshman Democrat, his office announced on Wednesday.

“This is an honor and a big deal for Upstate New York,” Brindisi said. “Our district has a rich history of being at the forefront of our national defense and now we will have a bigger seat at the table. From the critical mission in Rome, to the groundbreaking research and manufacturing in the Southern Tier, and the defense jobs across our communities, I cannot wait to use Upstate innovation to continue to keep our country safe.”

The district, which stretches from the Mohawk Valley in central New York to the Southern Tier region, has defense assets that include the Air Force research laboratory Information Directorate.

“The work conducted at our defense installations in Rome and across our state is critical for our national security,” Brindisi said. “Protecting these installations is important for our regional economy. I look forward to working with stakeholders across upstate New York to find ways to grow the missions of our state’s defense installations.”

Brindisi is facing a potentially difficult re-election next year to a district President Donald Trump won in 2016. Brindisi last month announced he would support a resolution advancing impeachment hearings against the president.

Public Finance Commission Heads into Home Stretch

The Public Finance Reform Commission will hold its last two public meetings before releasing their final report later this month. The Commission is charged with structuring a robust campaign finance system that includes public matching funds for small donors, much like we have in the City. The idea is to get big money influence out of politics.

But the Commission is also charged with taking a hard look at fusion voting. And that has been a source of controversy. The Working Families Party and the Conservative Party preemptively sued to block the Commission from throwing out fusion. Both parties would have trouble surviving without it. But on Tuesday, a conference was held among all the attorney’s and the judge informed the parties that there will be oral arguments December 12, and a ruling is expected shortly thereafter.

Another curious thing happened last week when New York Communities for Change and Housing Justice for All released a video targeting the State Senate Democrats. Specifically, the video took aim at the “Long Island Six,” the recently elected delegation from the Island who haven’t voted 100% of the time with the more progressive members of the conference. It compared them to the IDC, which is now a dirty acronym in the Senate. As recently as last year, the members of the IDC formed a governing coalition with Republicans and helped keep them in control of the upper chamber.

The video was widely panned by individual Democratic Senators who said the LI6 are much different than the IDC. I can understand Senators taking offense, just as I can understand advocates making the comparison to push the more conservative members into supporting their priorities.

But the timing was a bit awkward. It comes just as the Commission ( which has members appointed by the Senate ) is considering whether or not to harm fusion and put a wrench in the WFP’s future. While NYCC is not the same organization as the WFP, Jonathan Westin who helped put the ad together, is a high ranking member of the WFP. The other organization that sponsored the ad, Housing Justice for All, is an umbrella organization for many different groups including Citizen Action. Karen Scharff is the previous Executive Director of Citizen Action, and is also a key member of the WFP, representing New York on the WFP National Board. Make the Road Coalition, another group that is part of Housing Justice for All is headed by Javier Valdes who also represents New York WFP on the national WFP Board.

So while these maybe separate organizations, its some of the very same people who have a stake in keeping the WFP alive. So why would they attack the Senate, who’s appointees to the Commission have been some of the few to stand up for the WFP?

Says one Democratic insider,

The WFP – through their three anchor entities – just declared war on 6 members of the Democratic conference and you’ve heard nothing but crickets about that from their colleagues…it’s mind blowing.

**UPDATE**

In response to this post, Valdes says,

“While we were not involved in the production of this ad, we do agree that too many Senators are taking large amounts of toxic real estate money. With so many tenants facing displacement across the state because they have no tenant protections, it is urgent that both chambers of the legislature move swiftly to pass good cause evictions legislation in the upcoming session.”

And Bill Lipton of the WFP adds,

“The Working Families Party did not make this video–implying a connection where there is none is seriously misleading.”

At the end of the day it may not matter. The Commission is unlikely to end fusion voting. The fact the Cuomo has now been saying publicly he supports it is probably all you need to know. However, the Commission is likely to change the vote threshold parties need to reach in order to remain on the ballot. That threshold is currently 50,000 votes every 4 years. They likely will not raise it as high as 250,000, which Commission member Jay Jacobs first proposed, but something more like 150,000 votes every two years. Interestingly enough that could likely have the effect of killing the WFP, but preserving the Conservative Party.

Wouldn’t that be something.

Alternative Model For Public Financing To Be Proposed

From the Morning Memo:

The public campaign financing commission is set to meet today as it prepares its final report by the end of this month setting down its final recommendations for how a system would work.

The commission could determine the future of how campaigns are funded and function in New York elections and its recommendations have the force of law if state lawmakers do not return and vote to make changes.

So far, advocates for public financing of campaigns have not embraced all of the floated proposals made at the public meetings amid concerns the system would be too unwieldy for candidates to participate in, making it potentially a bust.

One of the commissioners appointed by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins is expected today to propose something of a counter program.

Here, broadly outlined, are the details:

-Donation limits of $5,600 statewide, $4,200 for Senate, $2,850 for Assembly for candidates participating in the program. Donor limits would also be lowered for candidates who do not participate.

-The creation a campaign finance board to monitor and regulate the system.

-Matches for public funds would be phased over the course of contributions, 12:1 to 8:1 for in-district contributions, with $100 of out-of-district donations matched at 4:1 for poorer districts

-Candidates who are participating in a public financing program would be barred from spending money amassed in campaign account from previous cycles where they did not receive matching funds. The money and be spent elsewhere for officeholder expanses or future campaigns where they are not participating in the program.

-Adoption of New York City’s rules for banning contributions from those doing business with the government

-The program would begin in the 2022 election cycle.

At the moment, it seems clear the commission has been moving toward a model that would encourage in-district contributions and reduce New York’s overall donation limits, which are higher than the federal contribution caps.

It’s a tricky balancing act, however. Campaigns are run differently in different areas of the state, where the cost of running a TV or radio ad are higher or lower depending on the media market and contributions from constituents can be difficult to rise if a candidate is running in area with high poverty.

And, as of this week, there has been little appetite signaled from lawmakers about returning to Albany to make wholesale changes or rejections of the commission’s work.

That, of course, could change if the commission releases something too egregious for the Legislature to accept, even if their own appointees back the recommendations.

Total Property Tax Levies Rise Slightly In New York

From the Morning Memo:

The total amount of money raised in property taxes by local governments increased by 2.4 percent this year to a total of $36.6 billion, according to a report released Tuesday by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office.

The report found the majority of that revenue, nearly $23 billion, was levied by school districts.

County governments collected $6 billion in property tax levies, about 16 percent of property taxes in the state.

Property taxes in the state are capped at 2 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is lower. Local governments can vote to override the cap, which has been in place since 2012.

New Yorkers pay some of the highest property taxes in the country and the highest as a percentage of home value. Still, the last decade has led to a slower growth of tax levies statewide.

The report found that from 2017 to 2019, property tax levies grew the most in cities, 6.1 percent. In towns, the levies grew 4.4 percent. School district leaves have grown an even 4 percent.

During that same time period, home values have grown the fastest in western New York and on Long Island.

Here And Now

Good morning! Happy Wednesday. It’s very cold out, if you haven’t noticed.

Happening today:

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in Albany. He is calling into Long Island Radio at around 8:30 this morning.

At 10 a.m., Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chairs Brad Hoylman and Jeffrey Dinowitz will take testimony to examine the most recent proposal made by the chief judge of the State of New York to consolidate New York’s trial courts. This is the first of two hearings on this issue. Assembly Hearing Room, 1923. 250 Broadway, 19th Floor, New York City.

Also at 10 a.m., Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul will deliver remarks at the groundbreaking at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. 10405 Lockport Road, Niagara Falls.

Also at 10 a.m., Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick and Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee Chair Steve Englebright will take testimony to examine the environmental footprint of colleges and universities in New York State, and the academic and research programs colleges and universities offer that focus on the environment. Hearing Room C, Legislative Office Building, Albany.

At noon, Lt. Gov. Hochul will discuss flood mitigation efforts. Somerset Town Hall, 8700 Haight Road, Barker.

At 12:30 p.m., Lt. Gov. Hochul will tour flood resiliency projects with local officials, Beach Street, Olcott.

At 6:15 p.m., Lt. Gov. Hocul will announce the winners of Round I of Grow NY competition. Riverside Convention Center, 123 E Main St., Rochester.

At 7 p.m., New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold a town hall meeting. August Martin High School. 156-10 Baisley Blvd, Queens.

Headlines:

New York City Housing Authority residents who were expected to lose heat and hot water due to planned repairs Tuesday will not be left in the cold after all.

Fed up with his long fight with National Grid, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has ordered the state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, to begin a formal revocation process of the company’s license to operate in New York state.

The real-estate entity of SUNY Polytechnic has voted to sell a former Kodak facility in Rochester at loss after pledging to fill it with jobs and investment.

New Yorkers are playing a prominent role in the U.S. Supreme Court case to preserve the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola says he’s undeterred by the failure of the Erie County clerk’s lawsuit against the measure known as the Green Light law. He hopes his challenge will have more success.

A record early snowfall in western New York is complicating efforts to control flood levels on Lake Ontario.

New Yorkers may be soon footing the bill for tolls in Connecticut on I-684.

A commissioner appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the MTA urged critics of transit cops to “take a breath” amid viral videos of enforcement efforts at subway stations.

Why does it cost so much to build a subway in New York City? The MTA is only just now trying to figure out why.

The new tap-and-go payment system for the subways is coming to 48 stations in December, MTA officials said.

A study meant to review accessibility issues for New York City subways is rising in cost.

New York City ignored legally obligated reviews when picking a site in Queens for a new homeless shelter, a lawsuit alleges.

The vast majority of lead hazards in New York City are ignored, according to a report released on Tuesday.

A proposed bill by Councilman Ritchie Torres would require New York City to improve is emergency response times.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and Jewish leaders denounced the growing anti-Semitism seen in the borough.

In Manhattan, a plan for the Lower East Side is bracing for coastal flooding as the result of climate change.

The race for the 27th congressional district has drawn a second Democrat for the seat.

With its suburban neighborhoods, conservative politics, and distance from the rest of the city, Staten Island has always felt like a borough apart. Now two lawmakers are resurrecting an old idea that would make Staten Island a true breakaway borough, by seceding.

Republicans in Monroe County are seeking to strip incoming Democratic County Executive Adam Bello’s powers before he enters office.

Lawmakers, law enforcement officials and advocates gathered at state Sen. Jim Tedisco’s office in Clifton Park on Tuesday morning to call for more consideration on the new cash bail and discovery laws set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

New York’s court system is planning to expand the gender options on jury documents to be more inclusive of people who do not identify as male or female.

Tuesday is the last day that 18-year-olds will be able to legally buy tobacco products in New York State.

Nearly $500,000 in taxpayer dollars — that’s how much money the City Council spent in the wake of a scandal involving Democratic Bronx Councilman Andy King.

A bell chimes, marking 18 years since American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in Belle Harbor, Queens, just three minutes after it took off from Kennedy Airport.

The sale of flavored tobacco products across Albany County will continue. Local Law E failed in the Albany County Legislature on Tuesday night.

Syracuse University’s Department of Public Safety is investigating after racist graffiti was found in a dorm on campus.

The Syracuse Police Chief has extra time to train for his New York State certification.

A new bill recently signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo will increase incentives for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.

A key figure in the corruption trial of ex-Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota was in court to watch jury selection.

In Glen Cove, Democrats are returning to power at the local government level.

Rep. Tom Reed was given an award for being a Republican “problem solver” by an institute run by a prominent Democrat.

Hunting is on the decline in western New York, and the Buffalo News took a deep dive into why the culture is ebbing.

As he pushes to expand benefits for veterans exposed to Agent Orange, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed to a western New York man who has been affected.

Two women employees of Niagara County Community College have filed sexual harassment complaints against a former administrator at the school.

The Rochester City School District has released details of how it’ll balance a $30 million budget shortfall revealed this past summer.

Erie County’s Opiate Epidemic Task Force played host Tuesday to leaders from five other counties across the nation.

After the weather-related death of a Williamsville man last year, the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless is working to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Billy Joel will perform at New Era Field in Orchard Park next year.

In national news:

Nationally televised impeachment hearings are set to begin as Democrats work to build a case President Trump sought to leverage foreign aid to Ukraine for political gain.

What to know before the hearings begin.

An associate of former Mayor Mayor Rudy Giuliani said he discussed Ukraine with the president at a dinner, where firing the U.S. envoy to the country as a topic of discussion.

New documents suggest a proposed citizenship question on the U.S. Census was vetted by Republican operatives who wanted to undercount Latino residents.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made his run for president official, filing paperwork in Arkansas to do so.

The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing a lawsuit filed by relatives of Sandy Hook victims against a gun manufacturer to move forward.

Tariffs on Chinese imports are emerging as a hurdle to a final trade deal with the United States.

From the editorial pages:

The New York Post says even with the impeachment hearings going public, the process still remains a farce.

The Daily News cheered the U.S. Supreme Court for allowing a lawsuit filed by Sandy Hook families to move forward against a prominent gunmaker in what could be a landmark case.

The Times Union urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration to pay better attention to growing problems in the Adirondacks amid concerns surrounding overuse.

The Buffalo News says there has been good progress made on equipping Erie County sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.

From the sports pages:

Knicks players are backing coach David Fizdale amid another loss, this time t the Chicago Bulls.

The Yankees aren’t happy with the news the Astros in 2017 used sophisticated means to steal signs.

Rensselaer County Clerk Moves Forward With Green Light Law Challenge

Rensselaer County Clerk Frank Merola says he’s undeterred by the failure of Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns’s lawsuit against the measure known as the Green Light law.

And he’s forging ahead with his own: Filing an injunction this week to block the measure from taking effect. Merola hopes his challenge will have more success.

Last week, a federal judge tossed Kearns’s lawsuit challenging the Green Light law, a measure that allows undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses, finding he does not have standing in the case.

“Fifty-one county clerks are doing DMV business across the state,” Merola said in an interview. “We run over 100 DMV offices. I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t have more standing than the county clerks.”

The county clerks who run local motor vehicle offices have pledged to not enforce the law if it is allowed to stand by the federal courts. Merola insists he won’t issue driver’s licenses to those he believes are in the country illegall.

“There are county clerks that are adamant they will not do it,” Merola said. “Maybe the state will do it on its own, but I know the clerks are really fighting backing.”

Supporters of the measure, including New York Attorney General Letitia James, believe the measure is constitutional and will withstand legal scrutiny. They argue the law is necessary for public safety and to allow undocumented immigrants to drive to work and take their kids to school.

Merola, meanwhile, does not want the law to take effect on Dec. 14 if legal challenges are ongoing.

“I think that date has got to be pushed back,” he said. “There has been no correspondents between the state DMV and the clerks. I think that date is unrealistic right now.”

And Merola says he and his fellow county clerks have reached out to President Trump’s administration to voice their concerns about the law.

Cuomo Signs Bill Aiding LGBTQ Vets Denied Honorable Discharge

LGBTQ veterans who were booted from the military without an honorable discharge due to their sexual orientation will have their benefits as veterans living in New York restored, based on a measure signed Tuesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The new law is meant to aid LGBTQ veterans who were discharged under before they could serve openly in the military.

“Countless service members were discharged from the military simply because of who they are. Adding insult to injury, they were then denied the services and benefits they earned as members of our armed forces who fought to protect our country and defend our ideals,” Cuomo said. “With this measure we are righting that wrong and sending a message to LGBTQ veterans that we have their backs, just as they had ours.”

The measure allows affected LGBTQ veterans in New York to access state VA services and pension credits, among other benefits that had been previously denied them.

The measure was sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Didi Barrett. Hoylman in a statement pointed to the more than 50 benefits for New York veterans denied to LGBTQ individuals who served, but did not receive honorable discharges because of military policy at the time.

“Even as gay and lesbian Americans have been able to openly serve in the military for nearly a decade, generations of LGBTQ Americans are still unable to access many veterans’ benefits due to the status of their military discharge,” Hoylman said. “We are finally addressing this injustice by passing the Restoration of Honor Act, thanks to a new Senate majority led by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins that stands resolutely in favor of LGBTQ rights.”