Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1894 Fri, 19 Oct 2018 07:06:54 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) City Health Commissioner Explains Essential Path to Fight Opioid Epidemic http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7830:city-health-commissioner-explains-essential-path-to-fight-opioid-addiction http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7830:city-health-commissioner-explains-essential-path-to-fight-opioid-addiction brasset hac

Dr. Mary Bassett (photo: @nycHealthy)


Last year, 1,441 individuals in New York City died of a drug overdose, most of which were opioid-induced, and current trends indicate that the death count in the city only stands to rise. But as much as these drugs can cause death, Dr. Mary Bassett, the city’s health commissioner, is arguing that others can prevent it.

During a recent appearance on the What’s the [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Bassett, the commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that the controlled use of narcotics like methadone and buprenorphine do wonders for those addicted to opioids, and that the city must increase accessibility to and use of these life-saving treatments.

Methadone treatment has long been the primary means of treating opiate addiction. Methadone is an opioid, like morphine, heroin, and oxycodone, but its relative mildness is meant to alleviate a recovering addict’s desire for the stronger opioids. By inhibiting opioid receptors in the brain, methadone is also meant to reduce feelings of withdrawal.

Similar to methadone, buprenorphine is a drug that can minimize cravings and withdrawal symptoms in a person with an opioid-use disorder. Unlike methadone, it is a partial opioid agonist, meaning that its euphoric effects are weaker than those of full opioid agonists like methadone and heroin. Buprenorphine’s opioid effects intensify with increases in dose size only up to a certain point, meaning that a user would get no stronger effect from a large dose than they would from a medium one, an appealing trait for addiction specialists.

“People on methadone or buprenorphine get their lives back, they restore their relationships with their family and they go back to work,” Bassett said on the podcast, pointing to their significantly more prevalent use elsewhere in the world.

Methadone and buprenorphine treatment regimes are strictly regulated in the United States.

Methadone is one of the most extensively controlled therapeutic drugs in the country, according to the National Institutes of Health, and its medical use is regulated by a host of government bodies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Substance and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Food and Drug Administration. Federal regulations require patients to take methadone in-person at a treatment site while medical professionals observe. Patients who take the medication regularly for six months can receive permission to take home up to a month’s supply of methadone, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Buprenorphine has similarly strict regulations. In the United States, doctors must take a special, eight-hour class in order to qualify for a physician waiver that would allow them to dispense buprenorphine. However, barriers like the high cost of classes, the daunting nature of treating drug-addicted individuals, and lack of information can discourage medical professionals from receiving the waiver.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife, Chirlane McCray, who helps coordinate the administration’s health care initiatives, have both spoken about the need to expand the number of doctors and physicians who can prescribe buprenorphine. Nevertheless, the development of buprenorphine prescribers has been slower than expected.

Bassett said she’s dedicated to training more physicians so that they can get the authorization required to distribute Buprenorphine.

“Physician’s assistants and nurse practitioners can now prescribe it due to a new law which expands the access to buprenorphine prescribing,” Bassett said during the podcast. “But getting trained to prescribe it isn’t enough, so we have a nurse care-manager program where we work with primary care practitioners to actually make sure that they start prescribing and identifying people who are using opioids.”

The city has a goal of increasing the number of patients who receive buprenorphine treatment from 38,000 to 58,000 over the next five years. Bassett said that there is no definitive estimate of the number of New Yorkers who are misusing opioids, but the number has clearly increased, as has the death toll.

“Buprenorphine is very underused in the United States compared to other countries,” Bassett said. “France, for example, stopped its opioid use almost entirely with buprenorphine…We’re training people, we’ve committed to training 1,500 new prescribers.”

Bassett said the U.S. should look to follow in the footsteps of other countries that have distributed buprenorphine at higher rates. In France, in response to a severe heroin crisis, doctors have been able to prescribe buprenorphine without special licensing or training since 1995. As a result, ten times as many addicted patients received medication-assisted treatment than they had before the loosening of restrictions, and, within four years of the policy’s initiation, overdose deaths had declined by 79 percent.

New York City is also expanding the distribution of naloxone, a synthetic drug similar to morphine that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system and can be used to halt potentially-lethal overdoses. The city recently added $22 million to its citywide plan to fight the opioid crisis, HealingNYC, increasing total investment to $60 million a year. The new investment will be used toward establishing peer intervention programs at more hospitals and increasing the distribution of naloxone. Since the launch of HealingNYC, the city has distributed nearly 100,000 naloxone kits to opioid overdose prevention programs. Some of the money has also been dedicated to policing efforts, which has drawn criticism from some advocates. The city is also planning to pilot four "overdose prevention centers," a controversial program by which people can find a safe place to take drugs, while also being pitched on counseling and other services.

Bassett said she helped spearhead the initiative to provide those struggling with addiction greater access to naloxone, which included making the drug available over-the-counter at every major pharmaceutical chain in New York City.

“We began with a real press to get naloxone out to people who are using drugs, to people who know people who use drugs, and we want anybody who’s using drugs to have naloxone around so that they can be reversed,” Bassett said during the podcast. Individuals suffering from an overdose “start out blue and you give them naloxone and they pink up. They start breathing again and it’s really a miracle, and now it’s provided in formulations that are really easy to administer.”

But she cautioned that naloxone is not a form of treatment: “It literally just reverses overdoses.” Bassett stressed that people “want to live” and that people abuse drugs because they are addicted, while there are often other underlying causes.

Naloxone is more important than ever now, Bassett said, due to the rise of fentanyl, a potent street opioid said to have helped caused overdose rates to increase by 50 percent between 2016 and 2018.

“Our street drugs have never been more dangerous,” she warned.

Bassett said that, though New York City has seen some successes, it has more work to do.

“What the numbers show is that we’ve flattened the curve,” Bassett said of opioid overdose deaths. “We want to see it go down, and it has gone down in Staten Island and Manhattan, but it still hasn’t gone down in the Bronx or in Brooklyn.”

Race complicates the matter, as well. Bassett spoke frankly about race affecting perceptions of opioid users; the current opioid epidemic, wherein victims are mostly coded as white, has spurred far more sympathetic, public health-oriented action than previous opioid epidemics wherein victims were mostly represented as black.

While white Americans do suffer from opioid addiction at higher rates than black Americans, the nation recently experienced a 50% increase in overdose deaths of African-Americans, said Bassett. She also pointed to the stigma around methadone as something that needed to be further tackled, while indicating that stigma is another reason to pursue more prescription of buprenorphine.

For all the geographic, racial, and class-based distinctions among opioid users, though, Bassett’s guiding public health principle is that “Every life counts.”

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A methadone provider in the city can be found here, buprenorphine providers are found here, and anyone struggling with addiction can contact NYC Well, New York’s confidential hotline, by calling (888) NYC-Well (888-692-9355) or texting “WELL” to 651-73.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Health Commissioner Explains Essential Path to Fight Opioid Epidemic Thu, 26 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
City Awaits State Permission to Open ‘Overdose Prevention Centers’ http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7819:city-awaits-state-permission-to-open-overdose-prevention-centers http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7819:city-awaits-state-permission-to-open-overdose-prevention-centers de Blasio opioid

Mayor de Blasio & HealingNYC (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)


More than 1,400 New Yorkers died of drug overdoses in 2017, most of them the result of opioid abuse, and one of the next steps the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio plans to take in fighting rampant opioid addiction is to open safe injection sites, which the administration is calling “overdose prevention centers.” There is currently no timeline for the four planned pilot sites to open, the city’s health commissioner said during a recent interview, as the de Blasio administration waits for approval from its state-level counterparts.

At a safe injection site, individuals struggling with addiction are allowed to inject and consume drugs under the supervision of medical professionals. Over 100 safe injection sites operate around the world in more than 60 cities, and the first North American location launched in Vancouver, Canada in 2003. It prevents approximately 35 cases of HIV and three deaths a year, according to a 2008 study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania.

Safe injection sites are generally thought to reduce the health risks of drug addiction by providing sterile and safe equipment, like needles, access to medical staff, and treatment referrals, with the hope that users will seek a pathway out of drug use. They also concentrate drug use in controlled locations, reducing the public disorder associated with public injections and improper syringe disposal. According to New York City officials, no one has ever died inside a safe injection site.

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene plans to run a one-year pilot program establishing four safe injection sites, with one each in Manhattan’s Washington Heights and Midtown neighborhoods, Brooklyn’s Gowanus, and Longwood, in the Bronx --- all at sites currently run by community non-profits that offer needle-exchange programs and would run the “overdose prevention centers” with the city’s blessing and a beefed up police presence nearby.

As DOHMH released a report studying the possibility and recommending the pilot, de Blasio, a second-term Democrat, gave his blessing, pending certain next steps. The decision immediately provoked blowback from Republicans and some moderate Democrats, like the Staten Island district attorney, Michael McMahon. Some don't want city government sanctioning any drug use, others worry about impacts on communities where the sites may be opened, either in the first round or beyond.

De Blasio has said that the program “will save lives and get more New Yorkers into the treatment they need to beat this deadly addiction.” The city plans to open facilities only after a six-to-twelve-month period of outreach to residents of the planned neighborhoods, and once it receives a permission of sorts from the State.

Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett discussed her support of the opening of the sites and the larger context of the city’s efforts to fight drug abuse and addiction in New York City during a recent appearance on the “What’s The [Data] Point?” podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission.

She said that a recent modeling exercise showed that these sites could save up to 130 lives a year. New York City recently reached record numbers of overdose-related deaths, with 1,441 New Yorkers killed in 2017.

“These deaths are all preventable and we want to ensure that people survive opioid use,” she said. “These sites will save lives, they will reduce transmission of preventable diseases like HIV or Hepatitis B or C, and they will provide people with a first step towards being in a safer place, including being on treatment.”

Bassett also said that the facilities would provide safety and protection for those struggling with addiction, particularly women, who may be subject to predatory activity while under the influence of opioids.

The plan, however, is contentious.

For one, it may violate federal law. The legality of safe injection sites has never before been tested in court, but a Department of Justice attorney in Vermont stated last year that workers at safe injection sites would be exposed to criminal charges, and the sites’ property would be vulnerable to federal forfeiture.

Bassett said that the city has requested that the state Department of Health “provide a legal umbrella” for the plan, but that nothing has yet been developed.

"Unfortunately, the timeline is really dependent on actions that the city doesn’t entirely control," Bassett said. "The mayor made a couple of conditions, he said that he wanted to see the state provide a legal umbrella for a demonstration project that Deputy Mayor Herminia Palacio wrote to the State Health Commissioner requesting this research designation and there’s been some back and forth on that but it hasn’t been acquired. The next thing was to have the elected official who represented the district where the OPC, as we call them now, was planned should support its implementation, and finally that there would be a community consultation process whereby communities can express their concerns and efforts can be made to address those concerns. That’s the process but at the moment it doesn’t have a timeline. Obviously as health commissioner, I’m confident that these would save lives."

Jonah Bruno, the New York State Department of Health director of communications, wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette that the city’s plan is currently being evaluated.

“We are reviewing the City’s proposal,” Bruno wrote. “We support the mission of reducing opioid related deaths and have been studying multiple options for combating the opioid epidemic.”

Special Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan highlighted the legal risks of safe injection sites during a televised forum on the opioid crisis broadcast by NY1 in May, during which Bassett also participated.

“First and foremost, they’re not legal,” Brennan said. “They’re not legal under state law and they’re not legal under federal law.”

“When you look at the potential benefit from the safe injection site and you balance it off against the downsides,” she continued, “I think you just come up saying, ‘this just isn’t a good deal.’”

The plan is also controversial for reasons beyond its legality. Bassett said that, while de Blasio supports the proposal, he has several preconditions for its enactment, including the approval of elected officials representing districts slated to host sites and the implementation of a community consultation process.

Bassett acknowledged on What’s the [Data] Point? that the facilities would only be a relatively small part of the city’s broader response to the opioid epidemic. While they are projected to save hundreds of lives, the city has thousands of overdose deaths to eliminate, and a much more expansive set of programs that opening the injection sites.

Last year, as part of its HealingNYC plan to reduce drug overdose deaths by 35 percent over the next five years, DOHMH unveiled a campaign to encourage judicious prescribing, including one-on-one educational visits with clinicians. Bassett said that doctors should prescribe opioids less often, for shorter durations, and at lower doses.

“[The overdose prevention centers] would never be enough, and we really shouldn’t start thinking of them as a magic bullet,” she said. “They’re part of a multi-pronged response.”

What it boils down to, Bassett said, is that people with a drug addiction “don’t want to die. They want to be in a safe place...We want to make sure people survive opioid use.”

[LISTEN: What's The [Data] Point? 1,441, with City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett]

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by Jordan Kimmel & Daniel Yadin
@GothamGazette

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City Awaits State Permission to Open ‘Overdose Prevention Centers’ Sun, 22 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What's The [Data] Point? 1,441, with Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7797:what-s-the-data-point-1-441-with-dr-mary-bassett http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7797:what-s-the-data-point-1-441-with-dr-mary-bassett whats the data point


What's The [Data] Point? Episode 46 -- 1,441, with Dr. Mary Bassett, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

wtpd dr bassett w maria and ben

Dr. Mary Bassett is the city's health commissioner, a position she has held since 2014, when newly-elected Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed her. Her portfolio includes helping New Yorkers achieve better health practices and outcomes, fighting the opioid addiction epidemic, combatting lead poisoning of children, and more. She joined the podcast to discuss some of her efforts to improve health equity in New York City.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think: Ben Max of GG (@TweetBenMax), Maria Doulis of CBC (@MariaDoulis). Listen below or download wherever you get your podcasts!

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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What's The [Data] Point? 1,441, with Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett Wed, 11 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
End of Session Menu Previews Next ‘Big Ugly’ in Albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6370:end-of-session-menu-previews-next-big-ugly-in-albany http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6370:end-of-session-menu-previews-next-big-ugly-in-albany heastie cuomo flanagan june 2015

Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan June 2015 (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Last week, the Senate came to standstill as the star of popular beer commercials came to the Capitol as a guest of Senate Republicans. Legislators of both parties fawned and snapped pictures with Jonathan Goldsmith, of Dos Equis fame. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan’s office proudly posted a picture of the two men together on Twitter; Democratic legislators quoted catchphrases of “the most interesting man in the world” on the Senate floor. While it's fairly customary for both houses of the Legislature to honor various heroes and celebrities, it was striking to see the house come to standstill with less than two weeks left in the legislative session and a myriad of major policy issues not being given a moment of public debate.

On Wednesday, the Legislature will return to Albany after a long Memorial Day weekend facing just nine remaining scheduled session days. Many legislators and advocates have abandoned hope for any significant, substantive policy victories. After a particularly contentious budget process that yielded major victories for Governor Andrew Cuomo on a path toward a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, the leadership of both houses appear to be more concerned with the impending election season than hashing out deals on a variety of subjects. The spectre of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has also chilled legislators’ appetites for deal-making. And yet there remain some policy matters that will likely be smashed together into a casserole of legislation that has come to be be known as “The Big Ugly.”

The convictions of both former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on multiple federal corruption charges led many legislators and advocates to assume that this year would see significant action on government ethics reform. Gov. Cuomo put forth an ambitious ethics agenda during his January State of the State speech.

New Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan refused to negotiate ethics reforms in the March budget deal and has since stonewalled on any reform issue other than legislation to strip pensions from state employees convicted of felonies. The Assembly has refused to move on the Senate version of that bill because labor unions are concerned their members would lose their pensions after offenses.

Despite a standoff on ethics, legislators don’t appear worried that passing bills to allow fantasy sports gambling, online poker, mixed martial arts fighting, and easier access to liquor will hurt their chances at reelection this fall.

However, a new Siena Poll released Tuesday shows that 96 percent of voters say passing ethics reform legislation should be the top priority for legislators at session’s end - with 81 percent calling it “very important.”

Good government groups see the pension forfeiture measure as a token reform and have pressed for the closing of the “LLC loophole” that allows businesses to create multiple limited liability companies to donate virtually unlimited amounts of campaign cash; public financing of candidate campaigns; the end of lump sum appropriations in the budget; limits on political contributions by companies with business before the state; limits on legislators’ outside income; and a renovation of Albany’s ethics watchdog, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE).

Only one of those proposals, closing the LLC loophole, appears to have any life left this session. Meanwhile, top priorities for lawmakers appear to include legislation around the aforementioned topics like daily fantasy sports, but also regulations of for-hire vehicle services like Uber, combating the heroin epidemic and a couple of more serious issues - the governor has also mentioned an interest in a breast cancer screening program. High-profile legislation like the DREAM Act, which would make undocumented students eligible for state financial aid, and raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 17 or 18, appear completely off the table.

There is, though, the issue of mayoral control of New York City schools, which will expire at the end of June unless it is renewed, and whether Cuomo and legislative leaders can reach a memorandum of understanding around how $2 billion in budget money targeted for affordable housing will be spent.

As lawmakers, lobbyists, and advocates hit the home stretch of legislative session, the following issues may be on the verge of some action:

Campaign Finance Loophole
Gov. Cuomo recently proposed eight bills, all of which would restrict each LLC to giving $5,000, for every combination of different elected offices, and make the people behind LLCs more transparent. The legislation would not limit the number of related LLCs that can donate, though, nor would it address the issue of labor unions and their local subsidiaries, which some compare to the issue of LLCs.

One bill would cover only the Governor’s race - Cuomo said that bill was to “show that I’m willing to go first, and I’m willing to go it alone.”

State Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan, said that she welcomes the effort despite not thinking the legislation goes far enough and not believing Senate Republicans will pass anything. Action on the LLC loophole would likely force Krueger and her allies who are suing the State Board of Elections to end the loophole to have to start the process all over again. “It might interfere with my lawsuit and yet I welcome it,” Krueger told Gotham Gazette. “Yes it will only limit LLCs to $5,000 and most of these real estate guys have tons of LLCs, but it's a start that I would welcome. However I don't have much faith the Senate will allow it.”

Senator Daniel Squadron, also a New York City Democrat, has repeatedly tried to force his bill to close the loophole to a vote in the Senate only to have it bottled up in committee. Squadron issued a statement supporting the governor’s menu of reforms. “However,” wrote Squadron, “it’s critical the Loophole be closed for the Legislature, especially given the central role the Loophole has played in ethics scandals in both houses. Anything else would be a cop-out by the Senate Republican Majority.”

Flanagan quickly shot down Cuomo’s efforts in a statement, rejecting the LLC loophole as a reform issue and insisting reform efforts should focus exclusively on reforms related to activities of Mayor Bill de Blasio, despite the fact that his predecessor, Skelos, was convicted on corruption charges that involved the influence of real estate groups that have flooded legislators’ campaign coffers with donations through the loophole. De Blasio is being investigated for efforts he led to flip the Senate into Democratic hands in 2014 and is the subject of other controversies that Flanagan referenced.

“We need to bolster our money laundering laws, move aggressively against straw donors and unmask the identity of those groups or individuals who want to operate in the shadows. We should take action to stop non-profits who flout transparency and who donate unlimited sums to directly support a politician’s agenda by regulating them through the Board of Elections, JCOPE or another appropriate agency with jurisdiction. We should clarify the laws which could potentially shield the so-called “agents of the City” and subject these secret agents to the same code of ethics and disclosure laws as the government officials they work for. And, we must provide more frequent and more timely disclosure, and insist on strict enforcement of the laws that are already on the books,” reads Flanagan’s statement.

Krueger said she is disappointed by what she sees as an attitude held by many legislators that there is nothing wrong with the status quo. “I can’t believe my colleagues wake up in the morning and think things are really OK here because things really are not OK,” said Krueger.

Heroin Opioids
Senate Republicans have made dealing with opioid and heroin addiction a priority for the year and Cuomo and legislators have held panels across the state in the last few weeks on how to address the problem. There will be another in Brooklyn on Wednesday.

“We will get a comprehensive plan done before session ends,” Cuomo said at a related event on Long Island on Wednesday. “We are not going to leave Albany until this state has the best plan to deal with this. Period.”

Cuomo is calling the crisis a health issue and said he agreed with a panel member who called on insurers to cover rehab for prescription pill addiction and said he would also like them to fund education efforts.

“Pharmaceutical companies have made a fortune selling these drugs,” Cuomo said. “We should now go back to them and say, 'you have to do an education effort and tell people about the dangers of these drugs,' which they have not done. And I would make them pay for it at their cost.”

Senate Republicans issued a report on May 17 proposing a “four pronged” approach to fighting heroin and opioid addiction. The report focuses on increasing awareness of the problem, expanding treatment through insurance coverage, providing better treatment programs, employment and diversion programs for recovering addicts, and giving law enforcement more leeway to fight drug trafficking.

“This report reinforces the notion that the scourge of heroin and opioid addiction does not affect one region of the state, or one race, or one ethnic group,” said Sen. John Bonacic, a Republican from Mount Hope, in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “It’s a global problem that affects everyone, and this report along with its recommendations, is a positive step towards the goal of one day ending this terrible epidemic.”

It is unclear how Cuomo’s task force will interact with the Senate findings, but a package deal on the crisis is expected to be reached before the end of session. Some of the criminal justice aspects could be contentious.

Alcohol Business
Gov. Cuomo is backing an overhaul of the state’s liquor control laws that date back to the days of prohibition as one of his top priorities. Cuomo has sought to make New York’s breweries and wine-making operations a draw for tourists and a boon for local agriculture. His omnibus bill introduced on May 18 would cut back restrictions on when alchohol and liquor can be served, lessen some burdens for the permitting process to serve alcohol, and reduce fees for wholesalers.

However, Democrats in the Assembly and Senate have expressed concerns that the bill goes too far and could create tension in New York City neighborhoods where bars are sited close to churches and residential areas. “I have a real concern that the governor’s alcohol legislation will end up locating bars near churches,” Krueger told Gotham Gazette. “It is an issue of space unique to New York City, and I’m not sure that has been taken into account.”

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat from Buffalo, expressed similar concerns to Politico New York. “It looks as though this bill would allow ex-cons to get licenses to operate taverns adjacent to churches and sell shots and beers as early as 8 a.m. on Sunday mornings,” said Schimminger. "Obviously, there are many issues with this package.”

Schimminger told Politico he doubts the bill will pass this session as it stands.

Daily Fantasy Sports & Other Betting
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman had barely announced his suit against major fantasy sports operators FanDuel and DraftKings for violating the state’s gambling laws before legislators rushed to promise to legalize the practice. The companies reached a settlement with Schneiderman in late March, promising to cease operations in the state to give the Legislature a chance to change the law.

Assemblymember Gary Pretlow, a Democrat from Mount Vernon, and Sen. Bonacic have led the charge to legalize in their respective houses to legalize daily fantasy sports betting. Bonacic’s bill has moved forward in the Senate while Pretlow introduced his on Friday. There are differences in the bills, but both include legalization as well as a licensing fee and a tax. Both bills would tax companies 15 percent.

Bonacic is also sponsoring a bill to legalize online poker.

Some legislators are concerned that the allure of money - both revenue for the state and campaign contributions from major gambling interests - has effectively killed any debate about the impact of gambling on New Yorkers, especially as the state just recently allowed the construction of a number of casinos.

“It is telling that this is a priority at the end of session,” Krueger said. “This is just another example of an industry with loads of money that is going to get what it wants without any real consideration of how what they are asking for will impact the state.”

A number of Democrats say even without the question of morality they wonder when the legalization of so many ways to gamble in the state - from racetrack betting to video slots, casinos, online games, the state lottery, and more - will eventually lead to diminishing returns.

Housing
Senate Republicans and Gov. Cuomo have been pushing for a renewal of the 421-a property tax credit used toward the development of affordable housing that expired at the end of last year. Housing advocates insist that if any discussion of the issue comes up, rent regulation laws must be renegotiated as the two were tied together last year. The tax break expired after real estate and labor failed to come to a deal. The fate of the bill was put in their hands by Cuomo and legislative leaders after the governor insisted any deal had to include wage guarantees for labor - a position the governor still holds despite the fact that no deal has been reached and there are concerns about the development of affordable rental housing in New York City. With few days left in session many doubt anything will come to pass on 421-a or the rent laws.

However, one major housing issue remains that can’t be legislated but should be taken up in a technical process by the governor and legislative leaders. Two billion dollars in funds was included in the state budget to be spent on the creation of affordable housing. While the cash was appropriated Cuomo and legislative leaders neglected to actually spell out how any of the cash would be spent. They are now expected to negotiate an memorandum of understanding to spell it all out. Legislators concerned with how the plan will be decided have said for weeks they expect negotiations with Cuomo’s office to start soon but it is unclear where things currently stand.

A group of housing advocates especially focused on funding supportive housing, which includes social services, has launched a campaign to push Cuomo to finally cut a deal and release the funds. “Promises don't build housing," Mary Brosnahan, president and CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, told The Daily News. "Tens of thousands of homeless New Yorkers await the governor to take immediate action and make good on his promise to build supportive housing. We need Gov. Cuomo's leadership to secure the required MOU."

Mayoral Control
It is assumed, despite Flanagan’s repeated lashings of de Blasio and the fact that his conference is set on using the mayor as a boogeyman in upcoming Senate races, that there will be some sort of extension of mayoral control of New York City schools in order to keep the system alive. How long the extension will be is unclear - some legislators have begun to assume that Senate Republicans will demand another simple one-year extension as they did last year in order to punish de Blasio. Assembly Democrats recently passed a three-year extension, which is what the governor proposed in his budget.

'Playing Defense'
The budget deal or end-of-session “Big Ugly” are notorious for packaging major bills with a number of narrow, industry-tailored pieces of legislation that are not subject to appropriate scrutiny. Last year, the Legislature barely managed to tackle any substantive issues in the budget, but did approve a tax break for luxury yacht buyers that was supported by yacht retailers. One of the arguments for the bill, made by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie at the time was that “Right now, no one purchases their yachts in the State of New York because Florida offers a similar program.”

Krueger said that at this point in session she is past thinking about what good might get done and is focused on trying to catch bad legislation that may get forced through in a last-minute deal.

“I’m really playing defense now. I don’t have much hope for this session,” Krueger said. “I’m on the outlook for those really bad bills that tend to sneak out while no one is paying attention.”

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

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End of Session Menu Previews Next ‘Big Ugly’ in Albany Tue, 31 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000