Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/510 Mon, 25 Jun 2018 13:28:08 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7764:pointing-to-deficiencies-victims-call-for-changes-to-state-s-new-sexual-harassment-policies gov cuomo bill clinton electoral

(photo via the Governor's Office)


The problem of sexual harassment in New York state politics is systemic and plaguing young women beginning their careers, according to a group fighting to change the culture and the laws around the issue. And, they argue that recently adopted state measures to fight the scourge are insufficient, despite being touted by Governor Andrew Cuomo as “the best in the nation.”

The seven women of The Sexual Harassment Working Group -- all of whom have been personally affected by sexual harassment while working for lawmakers in the New York State Legislature -- have consulted a handful of advocacy and legal groups, and called upon their own experiences and expertise, to put together a detailed report with recommendations for ways to better protect women working in government.

“We wonder why there aren’t women in higher office, we wonder why women are so underrepesented in our legislature and in all levels of our government. And this is a big part of why: It does not feel safe to work in government if you’re a woman,” co-author Eliyanna Kaiser, a one-time chief of staff to former Assemblymember Micah Kellner, said during an event in Manhattan on June 19. Kaiser was not herself directly a victim of sexual harassment, but instead reported to the former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that Kellner had been sending inappropriate messages to one of his staffers, which led to initial inaction, attacks against Kaiser, and, eventually, Kellner’s ouster from the state Legislature.

Also on the panel were working group members and co-authors Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Kellner who reported his harassment to Kaiser; Leah Hebert, former chief of staff to the late, disgraced Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel and deputy chief of staff to Lopez; Erica Vladimer, former education policy analyst and counsel for the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC); and Elizabeth Crothers, former legislative aide in the New York State Assembly who publicly accused Assembly lawyer Michael Boxley of rape in 2003, two years after the alleged incident and when another victim of Boxley’s came forward. The discussion was moderated by political consultant and columnist Alexis Grenell, who has helped bring to light victims’ experiences as well as the insufficient responses from government officials.

The stories of these women run together in a horror plot that involves countless obstacles to reporting, near-dismissal, and a reluctance to investigate from those in charge, as well as forcibly implemented nondisclosure agreements that hinder the complainant's chances of reemployment and their ability to warn others.

“I agreed not to file a civil suit in exchange for [him to get] a HIV test,” Crothers said, adding the “loss of anonymity” after going public “follows you.”

“I really didn’t think there was another way out aside from suicide,” said Hebert, who was one of the first women to complain about Lopez groping and harassing female staffers, of her experience.

“These things that are happening are not the product of an individual harasser, they’re not mistakes,” Pasarell, another complainant against Lopez, added. “It’s massive, it’s systemic, and whenever I hear a new person coming out I say, ‘hey remember us, remember this happened to us in 2012?’”

It’s a cycle that exploits women and protects men who behave abhorrently and, as Grenell pointed out, it’s a reality yet unchanged by Governor Andrew Cuomo’s claims that New York has the “strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation” following the recent budget, wherein the anti-harassment legislation was passed. Grenell compared the governor’s statement to the “mission accomplished sign” former President George W. Bush stood in front of during 2003 remarks about the war in Iraq, only two months after the U.S. first invaded.

The Working Group is calling for Cuomo to hold public hearings to listen to victims of sexual harassment -- as its members demanded before the policies were decided by all-male leadership with little apparent regard for the opinions of victims. The group’s Harassment-Free Albany website states: “New York State has not held a state hearing on sexual harassment since Governor Mario Cuomo [Andrew Cuomo’s father] created a Sexual Harassment Task Force in 1992.”

The reporting system has no transparency for complainants, limited uniformity, and an obvious lack of objectivity, the panel urges. For example, when Vladimer, who this January publicly accused now-Deputy Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein of kissing her forcibly and against her will outside a bar in 2015, was asked where her case is at now, she said she has no idea.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Vladimer told event attendees on Tuesday. “[It’s with] the state’s Joint Commission on Public Ethics [JCOPE], which under some very vague executive law somehow has the authority to investigate sexual harassment claims. There are no experts on this commission and the commissioners who vote to decide whether or not there is wrongdoing are all appointed by elected officials.” They are also almost all men, with one woman in 14 commissioners.

“I don’t know where my investigation is and I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve talked about is that there is no transparency and I know, and have been told, I don’t have a right to know where my investigation’s going,” Vladimer added.

When Vladimer went public, Klein immediately denied the allegations, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate would not investigate given no formal complaint had been lodged with its internal staff. Klein himself asked JCOPE to investigate, but other than Klein indicating an investigation had commenced, there is little information to go by.

In the lead-up to the new state budget, Cuomo had called for sweeping anti-sexual harassment policies, including greater resources for and transparency in JCOPE investigations. While Cuomo pushed through some measures, those JCOPE recommendations were not among what was passed into law.

The same Klein accused of sexually harassing Vladimer was one of the three other elected men, and no elected women, who assisted Cuomo in deciding the sexual harassment legislation this March, ahead of the annual budget. According to the budget, there are five measures designed to address sexual harassment in state politics -- as the governor’s office puts it, to “further build upon his 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York.”

In a press release announcing highlights of the new budget in March, Cuomo said, "We put into place the strongest and most comprehensive anti-sexual harassment protections in the nation, ending once and for all the secrecy and coercive practices that have enabled this unacceptable behavior for far too long.”

Under the new legislation, all employers working with the state, including vendors and contractors, must implement a written policy addressing sexual harassment prevention and provide prevention training to all employees. This is an extension of a previously-existing law to include contracted workers, and means that employers may now be held liable for the sexual harassment of non-employees if the employer knew, or should have known, of the harassment and failed to take action. It does not, however, address the ambiguity around employees of elected officials.

The Sexual Harassment Working Group is recommending the definition of “employee” be changed to clearly include employees of elected and appointed officials, and that the New York State Human Rights Law should stipulate elected officials are also considered “employers.”

“Our recommendation is to specify employees as everybody -- essentially someone for hire -- this is how the labor law defines it and we just want every worker to have the same protection, including staff of elected officials,” Pasarell told Tuesday night’s event.

In the new legislation, New York employers are prohibited from requiring mandatory arbitration of claims of workplace sexual harassment, except where inconsistent with federal law, and this will come into effect in July.

Any officers and employees of the state or any public entity who is subject to a final judgement of personal liability in cases of sexual harassment will have to reimburse the state for the award given to the complainant, however the Sexual Harassment Working Group points out this is only applicable for cases determined by a judge, not necessarily to those settled out of court.

Cuomo’s legislation also states no employer has the authority to include or agree to include in any settlement a nondisclosure agreement, unless the condition of confidentiality is the complainant’s preference. And, notably, a model sexual harassment guidance document and a sexual harassment prevention policy is to be created with the Division of Human Right by October -- meaning a key portion of the new policy is not yet written.

“This year, Governor Cuomo signed the strongest anti-sexual harassment policy in the country,” Dani Lever, press secretary for Cuomo, told Gotham Gazette in a statement. “It closed gaping loopholes that entrapped women in toxic workplaces, extended protections to contracted workers, and strengthened rules that prevent companies from shirking their responsibility to root out bad actors—instead of sweeping problems under-the-rug.”

On the surface, all measures included in the enacted budget appear to go a long way towards exactly what the governor is promising but, according to the panel of women who’ve experienced sexual harassment in state politics first-hand, there are some areas of ambiguity that impede the path to reporting and justice for potential victims.

First, the budget hasn’t defined “sexual harassment” and the way the issue is currently treated under state law leaves much room for interpretation. The Sexual Harassment Working Group recommends adding “sex and gender” to the list of classes protected from discrimination in the New York State Constitution, to offer another level of protection for all New Yorkers, including victims. And the authors suggest the current standard for behavior to qualify as sexual harassment in state law -- that it must be “severe or pervasive” -- be changed to mirror the recent changes to New York City law, where the standard for discrimination and harassment reads simply that the person is treated “less well.”

“When you’re talking about standards in law, the ‘litigative itch,’ as they call it, is all in these terms,” Kaiser said. “People are always going to bicker about the actual event that happened. We’d prefer that bickering to be asking, ‘didn’t he treat her less well?’ Rather than, ‘was it severe and pervasive?’”

The working group is also calling for an independent body to oversee all discrimination harassment policy enforcement. At the moment, JCOPE members are appointed by state elected officials. Of the 14 members, three are appointed by the Temporary President of the Senate, three are appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate, one is appointed by the Minority Leader of the Assembly, and six are appointed by the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor.

Many of the stories from the women in The Sexual Harassment Working Group involve some level of disbelief from those charged with investigating their reports of sexual harassment. In Crothers’ case, it wasn’t only disbelief, it was outright protection of her alleged attacker.

“Before it came out in the press and when I met with the speaker [Sheldon Silver], I didn’t feel he didn’t believe me, he just said ‘well I won’t let him go out to bars anymore and my first priority is protecting the institution,’” Crothers said at the panel event. Silver resigned as speaker in 2015 after being arrested on federal corruption charges, and long after being accused of facilitating former Assemblymember Lopez’s harassment of 33 women who were on his staff. The panelists believe this culture of cover-up and protection will continue unless there is an independent body appointed to investigate, and determine, reports of sexual misconduct in Albany.

It’s the Lopez example that best shows the need for further restrictions around the use of nondisclosure agreements, beyond what is outlined in the new legislation. Three of the women in the working group, who were on the panel, ultimately signed nondisclosure agreements after accusing the former Assembly member of sexual harassment and groping. They said they didn’t want a nondisclosure agreement -- it wasn’t implemented to protect their privacy -- but it was offered to them as a ‘take it or leave it’ measure.

“We wanted an investigation, we asked multiple times for an investigation,” Hebert said. Hebert’s name went public, despite her having signed a nondisclosure agreement, when reports from other victims were published by the media ahead of Lopez’s resignation in 2013. Instead of an investigation, Hebert said she, along with Kelly and Pasarell, were made to sign nondisclosure agreements and were told Lopez would go through sexual harassment prevention training.

“The NDA, it wasn’t just that...we couldn’t speak to anyone,” Hebert said. “It was, at first, $10,000 in liquidated damages if we broke it for every occurence, and it would happen with a mediator behind closed doors so no one would know they were enforcing the agreement. And it also contained a provision that we could never apply to the Assembly again.” This last measure effectively limiting their opportunities to work in state government, and the fine making it impossible for the complainants to explain their circumstances to future employers, file for unemployment benefits, or warn others or the Human Rights Division of Lopez’s behavior.  

They pushed back on their exclusion from the Assembly and the response was, “we could never apply to Lopez’s office again, which was fine, but they increased our liquidated damages cost to $20,000,” Hebert said.

Pasarell, another of Lopez’s victims, said the anti-sexual harassment legislation in the budget regarding nondisclosure agreements -- that they can only be used in cases where the complainant consents -- can too easily be twisted to benefit the harasser.

“The way they phrased the new law is for the complainant to have a nondisclosure agreement, it’s got to be the complainant’s preference. In our case we saw repeatedly how the Assembly portrayed it as if it was our preference when it absolutely was not,” she said. “The nondisclosure agreement came to us very late in the game and it was ‘take it or leave it.’”

Women reporting sexual harassment will be better assisted, The Sexual Harassment Working Group argues, if the Legislature provides greater protection against victim coercion into signing nondisclosure agreements. The group also recommends the law allow for individual liability, so harassers can be targeted without taking the Legislature or State to arbitration or court. And, in cases where complainants do want a nondisclosure agreement for confidentiality reasons, there should be a “Sunshine in Litigation” law to prevent serial harassers (who’ve offended at least once prior) from re-offending. “Limited information would be shared but a pattern of harassment would be outed,” Pasarell said.

The way to change the culture of sexual harassment and exploitation is through changing the law, The Sexual Harassment Working Group maintains, and the way to do that is through consulting with victims, advocacy groups, and others, including lawmakers -- a process much more extensive than how Cuomo and legislative leaders, all men, went about it.

In response to The Sexual Harassment Working Group’s report, Cuomo’s team said it will review the recommendations but gave no indication of whether or not they will consider holding or pushing for a public hearing on the issue.

“No woman should ever be violated, let alone in the workplace—period. And that’s why Governor Cuomo has championed measures that hold employers accountable for ensuring a hospitable workplace,” Lever, Cuomo’s press secretary, told Gotham Gazette. “The ‘Me Too’ movement has caused an awakening in our society, and while we’ve taken positive concrete steps in New York, we need to continue to see progress in our state and across the country. We look forward to reviewing these recommendations and continuing this important work.”

***
by Caitlin Bishop, Gotham Gazette
@caitybishop  @GothamGazette

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Pointing to Deficiencies, Victims Call for Changes to State’s New Sexual Harassment Policies Sun, 24 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7758:democratic-campaign-chief-even-a-blue-trickle-will-flip-state-senate gianaris via facebook

Senator Gianaris and colleagues (photo via Gianaris Facebook)


Predictions of a nationwide “blue wave” of anti-Trump sentiment resulting in major Democratic gains have been tempered as the president maintains strong support among Republicans and the economy, broadly speaking, is going strong.

But even if the blue wave ends up being more like a trickle, that would be good news to state Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, who chairs the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee (DSCC) and needs to net just one seat this fall to take control of the chamber and thus the entire Legislature.

In an interview as the end of session and official start of campaign season approached, Gianaris said Republicans have been holding on to numerous seats by slim margins.

“By virtue of the gerrymandering that’s happened here in New York in the Senate, Republican districts are stretched so thin and their margins of victory are always so narrow that a trickle is enough for us to make a difference,” he told Gotham Gazette.

“It’s just a question of degrees. Any tip in our favor will lead to more seats in our hands, and we’re one seat shy. So, we’re very optimistic,” he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who could become the first woman and first woman of color to lead the Senate if the Democrats take control.

Gianaris said the DSCC won’t start investing in individual Democrats’ campaigns until late summer or early fall. He mentioned numerous seats the committee might target throughout the state, though it is yet to make a decision about Senator Simcha Felder and his Brooklyn district.

Republicans are blocking Democrats from controlling the chamber thanks to Felder, who is a registered Democrat and has repeatedly run on the Democratic line, but caucuses with Republicans. Felder ran unopposed in 2016 and appeared on both major party ballot lines.

At their state nominating convention last month, Democrats passed resolutions to kick Felder out of the party and support a challenger to him. He is still running as a Democrat, though.

While Gianaris called Felder’s seat “a hostile district” -- and he faces a Democratic primary challenger, Blake Morris -- Gianaris said the DSCC was still waiting to determine if it would get involved in the race.

“What we’re evaluating is, is beating Felder in a primary more or less likely than winning some of these general election contests?” Gianaris said. “We have a lot of opportunities on our plate.”

Most of those opportunities appear to be outside the five boroughs -- there are just three members of the Senate Republican conference that represent New York City districts -- Senators Felder, Marty Golden, and Andrew Lanza.

Gianaris also shied away from committing to either of the Democrats in the other potentially intriguing New York City general election Senate race, for Golden’s Brooklyn seat (Lanza, of Staten Island, is not seen as beatable). The incumbent has provoked a streak of damaging headlines -- ranging from alleged threats against a bicyclist to parachuting while receiving disability payments -- providing Democratic challengers Ross Barkan and Andrew Gounardes plenty of fodder for attacks.

“There’s one blunder after another that will make that race even more possible than usual,” said Gianaris.

But he added, “I try to look at it coldly. As long as I pick up the seats I need, which right now is one...I’m agnostic as to where it comes from.”

Golden ran unopposed in 2016. He won easily in 2014 and 2012, when he beat Gounardes by a decisive margin.

As this year’s legislative session ended, the Senate -- Republicans’ only stronghold at the state level given Democratic control of the Assembly and all four statewide positions -- was deadlocked 31-31 between Republicans and Democrats since the GOP’s 32nd senator, Tom Croci of Long Island, was called to active duty with the Navy last month. Through the fall elections, Democrats must net just one seat to take the majority in the chamber for the first time in nearly a decade. Depending on the results of the gubernatorial race -- no Republican has been governor since 2006 -- Democratic control of the upper chamber could pave the way for passage of a slew of the party’s priorities.

Gianaris indicated Democrats are likely to focus on two Long Island seats where the incumbent won by razor-thin margins two years ago: Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who won parts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties by less than 1 percent of the vote; and Democrat Senator John Brooks, who won by an even smaller margin.

Gianaris also pointed to the high number of Republicans who have announced they aren’t seeking reelection. In addition to Croci, they include John Bonacic of the Hudson Valley, John DeFrancisco of Syracuse, William Larkin of Orange County, and Kathy Marchione of Saratoga. Not all of the seats are in play for Democrats, but some appear to be.

Gianaris is also eyeing Republican seats that Democrats have won in the past - the 46th district outside Albany, currently held by George Amedore; and the 41st district in the Hudson Valley, where Sue Serino is the incumbent.

“Before you know it, you’re looking at 10 to 12 pockets of opportunity on offense and, effectively, the only seat we have to defend is John Brooks,’” he said.

Senate Democrats have crowed over Republicans’ resignation announcements, saying they show the GOP knows it’s doomed this year. A Senate Republican spokesperson did not answer a request for comment for this article.

Senator John Flanagan, the Senate majority leader, has tried to sound a confident note amid the flurry of resignations.

"New Yorkers know that our Majority is the only thing standing in the way of the New York City politicians implementing an agenda that will hurt our economy and make life more difficult for hardworking middle-class taxpayers," he told the New York Daily News. "We will succeed in November and maintain our majority so the true priorities of New Yorkers continue to be put first."

Senate Democrats increased their ranks in April, when the group of eight renegades known as the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) ended its coalition with Republicans and rejoined the mainstream Democratic fold, taking the conference from 23 to 31 members. The move came as nearly all of the IDC members faced primary challengers who decried them as “Trump Democrats” willing to empower Republicans in order to gain perks at the expense of progressive values.

Gianaris was one of the strongest critics of the IDC during its seven-year alliance with Republicans, and he was part of a long-term feud with Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the IDC. But Gianaris said the DSCC has no intention of supporting challengers like Alessandra Biaggi, who is running against Klein, of the Bronx, as long as the ex-IDC members don’t break their promises.

Gianaris noted that Senator Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic leader, is supporting all members of her conference, including former IDC members, a point she recently stressed during a Gotham Gazette/City Limits podcast appearance.

“At this point, the former IDC members are members of our conference,” Gianaris said. “We’ve committed to not opposing them.”

Asked whether he would go so far as to discourage Democrats from challenging ex-IDC members, Gianaris declined to comment.

“Everyone seems to be on their best behavior on both sides and there seems to be genuine effort to work cooperatively and get to where we’re trying to go, so hopefully that continues,” he said of the Democratic conference since ex-IDC members rejoined it.

Asked whether he actually trusts the former IDC members -- who reneged on campaign promises to quit their alliance with Republicans in 2014 -- Gianaris said with a laugh, “I’ve come to trust very few people in politics.”

“But I can say…there’s been action behind the words. Hopefully that holds,” he added.

As in previous years’ elections, the Republican campaign committee has much more cash than the Democrats do -- $1,549,017.70 compared to $691,274.46, according to the latest disclosure reports.

However, Gianaris said trends are favoring Democrats this year.

“That gap is much smaller than it would normally be,” he said. “I think we’re about a half-million ahead of pace and they’re a million below pace, if you went back to 2016.”

Around this time in the 2016 election cycle, Republicans had more than $2 million and Democrats had a little over $225,000.

True to his role as Democratic cheerleader, Gianaris said he’s confident this year will bring a “blue wave” to the state.

“All around the country, Democrats are performing at a higher clip than would normally be expected,” he said. “I think it’s a legitimate wave.”

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Democratic Campaign Chief: Even a ‘Blue Trickle’ Will Flip State Senate Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
What Did and Did Not Move at End of State Legislative Session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7761:what-did-and-did-not-move-at-end-of-state-legislative-session http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7761:what-did-and-did-not-move-at-end-of-state-legislative-session Cuomo gun safety press conference

Gov. Cuomo holds a press conference (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


A particularly dysfunctional, even for New York, state legislative session came to a halt on Wednesday with little movement on most of the major issues animating state government. The reunification of the Independent Democratic Conference and the mainline Senate Democrats led to business slowing to a drip in the Senate after the passage of the state budget; things became particularly impaired after one Republican senator, Tom Croci, was recalled to active military duty, leaving the chamber with no working majority and a paralysis of legislative business on anything controversial, and at times even on the mundane.

Even as the Democrat-dominated Assembly passed a wide variety of legislation, there appeared to be little appetite for the annual package of compromise legislation, in part, it seems, due to election year considerations. Every seat in both houses of the Legislature is on the ballot this fall, as well as the four statewide positions of governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general.

Perhaps the most significant item to break through the Albany morass was the approval of the Airtrain LaGuardia project, and the simultaneous approval of the use of eminent domain to build it. Otherwise, there was no movement on major issues such as ethics reform, criminal justice reform, teacher evaluations, and the renewal of speed cameras near New York City schools, among other more contentious issues where no agreements were reached among Assembly and Senate leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Even as lawmakers left Albany for the end of the scheduled session, presumably done with legislative business for the rest of the calendar year, there was some talk of a special session in the coming weeks or months in order to address a small number of issues, like the speed cameras.

But as of now, the session is over and there are no concrete plans for legislators to be called back to the Capitol. A look at some of the highlights of what did and (mostly) did not move as the legislative session ended.

What awaits the governor’s pen

Airtrain LaGuardia
The Assembly and Senate passed a bill that would authorize the Airtrain LaGuardia project to bring a rail link to LaGuardia Airport, and would also authorize the state to acquire property in Queens via eminent domain for use in that project. The bill further stated the expected route that the rail link would take. The bill passed the Assembly on Monday 134-1, with new Manhattan Assemblymember Harvey Epstein the sole dissenter; it passed the Senate 52-8 on Wednesday, with seven city Democrats and one upstate Republican, Joseph Robach, voting against.

Fixing up LaGuardia, the only major airport in the region without a direct rail link, has become something of a calling for Cuomo, a Queens native, throughout his tenure, so he is almost certain to sign the bill into law. Cuomo has championed the Airtrain LaGuardia project, saying that his program is “transforming LaGuardia into a world-class transportation gateway.” Cuomo has also helmed the construction of a new terminal at LaGuardia for Delta Airlines.

But community groups in the Queens neighborhoods surrounding the airport have been steadfast in their opposition to the project, which they believe will negatively impact their quality of life with little upside for community members. Transit advocates, meanwhile, contend that the funds used on the construction of the Airtrain can be put to better use. On Thursday, opponents protested the Airtrain’s approval at the governor’s office. Meanwhile, Queens civic organizations have floated a petition demanding an environmental impact statement for the project.

Prosecutorial Accountability Office
The Senate passed a bill last week to establish a “State Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct,” an eleven-member body consisting of appointees of the governor, Legislature, and chief judge. The commission would investigate prosecutorial misconduct and, if warranted, discipline prosecutors found guilty of wrongdoing. The Assembly passed the bill on Tuesday. It’s not immediately clear if Cuomo will sign it.

The Assembly noted that the past few years have seen several “high profile exonerations of people who were wrongfully convicted of serious crimes in New York State.” Such wrongful convictions are not always the result of an accident: prosecutors have been known to withhold or even tamper with evidence that could potentially exonerate a defendant. As such, district attorneys have historically opposed legislation forcing them to turn over all evidence in the discovery phase of the legal process.

Prosecutors have also come under suspicion in recent years due to their close working relations with police, and the potentially related and frequent lack of charges for officers accused of wrongdoing. In 2015, Governor Cuomo empowered the New York Attorney General to act as a special prosecutor in cases when officers are involved in the death of unarmed civilians.

The Assembly noted that the measure has been endorsed by Human Rights Watch. It was championed in the Senate by retiring Senator John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican.

Feminine hygiene products for inmates
The Senate, on June 12, passed a bill to provide free menstrual products, such as tampons or pads, to inmates at state and local correctional facilities. The bill passed 59-2, with Republicans Pamela Helming and Robert Ortt dissenting. The bill passed the Assembly later that same day 142-1, with Republican Christopher Friend dissenting, and awaits the likely signature of the governor, who signaled his support in January. The Assembly had earlier passed the bill in June of last year and January of this year, but it failed in the Senate.

In 2016, New York City required that women be provided free menstrual products in all city correctional facilities, as well as schools and homeless shelters. The federal government did the same for its prisons last summer. But as of 2017, according to the Roosevelt Institute, women in New York State prisons were provided only 10 free pads per month, “which is far below the recommended amount of 20 per monthly cycle.”

Otherwise, inmates must purchase tampons or pads from the prison commissary; according to Senator Roxanne Persaud, at the Taconic State Correctional Facility, “one tampon costs 24 cents. The average female inmate makes approximately 17 cents per hour. Thus, female inmates must spend their week's earnings to purchase a 20-count box of tampons, which still may be insufficient for many women whose periods last up to seven days.”

There are also dozens of other, non-controversial bills that both houses passed that will head to Cuomo’s desk.

What failed to pass the Legislature (a partial list)

Speed cameras
The Legislature failed to renew and expand the city’s program to use speed cameras around schools, eliciting anger from Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local elected officials and advocates, as well as the governor. De Blasio, who said the inaction was a “massive failure of leadership” by Senate Republicans, called on the Legislature to return for a special session to renew the program.

“The State Assembly majority has shown the way with their expansion bill,” de Blasio said in a statement. “Senate Republicans haven't done their job until they pass the bill, which has majority support. Our families now need the Governor to do all he can to aid its passage and sign it into law. The Senate must return next week to keep our children safe.”

Governor Cuomo also criticized the Senate, saying on a press conference call Thursday that he “pushed the Legislature very hard” on the speed camera issue. Like the mayor, the governor said that the Legislature should convene a special session, before the beginning of the school year in September, to renew the camera program.

The renewal and expansion of the program, meant to increase road safety around schools and discourage reckless driving, was passed by the Assembly and had the support of a majority of senators, but was nevertheless held up by the Senate’s Republican leadership. Senator Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans said he would agree to support the measure as long as it was tied to increasing the presence of police at all city schools; the Democrats were not in favor. A Senate GOP spokesperson said that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Mayor de Blasio did little to come to a compromise on the speed camera issue.

A somewhat related bill proposed by Senator Marty Golden of Brooklyn, which would place new signage in school zones to prevent reckless driving but would not renew the camera program, resulted in a rare failed floor vote in the Senate. The measure lost 30-28 on party lines (a bill needs 32 votes to pass), with Republicans plus Felder voting in favor and Democrats voting against, signaling their refusal to settle for anything short of the cameras.

Education
Amid the hullabaloo over Mayor de Blasio’s new push to reform the specialized high school admission process, including controversially eliminating the entrance exam, the Assembly and Senate declared that a vote on abolishing the test would not take place this year. Governor Cuomo dismissed de Blasio’s proposal, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said that he would not schedule a vote before engaging in discussions on the proposal with relevant parties.

Meanwhile, the Assembly in May passed a bill that would decouple student scores on state standardized tests with teacher evaluations, a controversial issue over the course of several years that appeared on its way to some finality. The Senate passed the measure as well, but tied it to an increase in the cap on charter schools, to 560 charters to be allowed in the state. Heastie referred to that aspect of the Senate bill as “cyanide” for the anti-charter Assembly Democrats, and the teacher evaluation reform did not move through Albany by the end of the session.

Child Victims Act
Once again, the Child Victims Act failed to pass through the Legislature before the end of the session. The legislation, which would extend the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse and create a “lookback window” of one year for victims of abuse to sue their abusers, has the support of Governor Cuomo and has repeatedly passed the Assembly, but has stalled in the Senate, where Republicans have again proposed their own version of a bill on the topic that Democrats call overly watered down.

Ethics reform and good government
Government ethics reform achieved no ground again in Albany this year. Governor Cuomo and the Assembly, during the budget process, proposed closing the LLC loophole in campaign finance and creating a statewide public campaign financing system similar to that of New York City; the Senate rejected these measures and they did not appear in the budget. As in previous years, the Assembly and governor did not prioritize the measures in post-budget legislative activity.

The Senate, in May, passed a good government reform package that, among other things, would create a searchable database of state economic development contracts, return certain procurement oversight powers to the state comptroller, and ban executive appointees from donating to the executive’s political campaigns. These measures, which were not supported by Cuomo, were not taken up by the Assembly, though the majority there has supported the “database of deals” and restoration of comptroller powers in the past.

Criminal justice reform
The Assembly passed several criminal justice reforms this session, including some that were in its budget proposal but failed to make it into the enacted legislation. Many had been supported by Governor Cuomo. These include an elimination of cash bail in most instances, and reform of the state’s poorly-regarded discovery laws. The Assembly also passed bills to seal low-level marijuana conviction records and to reduce the use of solitary confinement in state jails and prisons. None of these bills were passed by the Senate.

Healthcare
The Assembly passed the New York Health Act, which would establish a single-payer healthcare system in New York State. The Senate did not take up the bill, and the governor has been ambiguous on whether or not he supports it.

The Reproductive Health Act, which would codify the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision into New York state law, passed the Assembly in March but, once again, did not make it through the state Senate. The RHA was involved in last month’s chaos in the Senate: Democrats introduced the RHA and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which would codify the requirement of insurance companies to provide free contraception as part of their plans, as amendments to an uncontroversial Republican bill regarding concussions.

When Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul intended to break a tie to pass the amendments, the Senate majority instead tabled all legislative matters that day.

Guns and school safety
In the wake of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Governor Cuomo launched a renewed push for additional gun control. His marquee item, a “red flag” bill that would allow school staff to petition judges to remove guns from certain students’ homes, passed the assembly last week. The Senate, however, pushed Felder’s school safety measures that would place armed guards or police officers at every school in the state. The measures pushed by Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans were both unpalatable to the other, leading to inaction on the gun control front.

Miscellaneous
There was no agreement on legalizing sports gambling in New York, a potential new practice and revenue source for the state after a recent Supreme Court ruling allowed states to adopt it. While the Senate appeared ready to make a deal, the Assembly balked.

The Senate on Wednesday voted to declare baseball as the official sport of New York State, and to rename the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge (formerly the Tappan Zee Bridge) as the Mario M. Cuomo Tappan Zee Bridge. Neither were taken up by the Assembly.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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What Did and Did Not Move at End of State Legislative Session Thu, 21 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Passed by Senate, Bill Would Allow Public to Call State Agency Hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7750:passed-by-senate-bill-would-allow-public-to-call-state-agency-hearings http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7750:passed-by-senate-bill-would-allow-public-to-call-state-agency-hearings sengianaris press

Senator Gianaris (photo: @sengianaris)


New Yorkers may soon have a new tool to influence their government. A bill in the state Legislature would allow members of the public, given enough support, to compel state agencies to hold public hearings on proposed rules.

The bill (S2397), sponsored in the state Senate by Senator Michael Gianaris of Queens, would establish a three-year pilot program ordering seven regulatory agencies — the Workers' Compensation Board and the Departments of Education, Environmental Conservation, Health, Financial Services, Labor, and Family Assistance — to hold public hearings if at least 125 New Yorkers petition them to do so.

Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that these agencies were selected for being those that “the public would benefit the most from opening up.” The agencies listed craft rules that directly impact ordinary New Yorkers.

The legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously on June 11 and now awaits action in the Assembly, where it has been stuck in committee since early February, also authorizes agencies to use “innovative means” of enhancing public participation in the rulemaking process, including establishing a designated time for public questioning of agency officials, organizing roundtable discussions, and using teleconference technology.

New York could join several other states that require public rulemaking hearings upon petition. California, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, Illinois, and Utah all have similar rules, though none require as many petitioners as New York might. In California, for instance, state agencies are required to host public hearings upon “request of any interested person.”

Similar legislation passed both houses of the State Legislature in 2008, but then-Governor David Paterson, citing “technical flaws,” vetoed the bill. In response to this previous legislative failure, this bill included the Workers’ Compensation Board within its ambit and established a timeliness clause. If a petition is received later than the twentieth day before the last date for public comment, the public hearing becomes optional.

Senator Gianaris told Gotham Gazette that “agencies come out with regulations that have the force of law and [New Yorkers] don’t know anything about it or how the process happened.”

He expressed hope that the legislation would “force agencies to opine on issues that they’d like to ignore and sweep under the rug.” When asked to specify such issues, he named transportation and healthcare, but added that there’s “no limit to the type of thing that people can now have open up to public discussion.”

Anticipating that “one of the main things that will come out of this [legislation] is related to housing issues,” Gianaris called the state’s Housing and Community Renewal agency “completely inaccessible.”

The Senate bill and its companion in the state Assembly, A9737, appear to be identical. The Assembly bill, however, has not progressed beyond its February 5 introduction and referral to the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Governmental Operations. Until it is passed by committee, approved by the full Assembly, merged with S2397, and approved by Governor Cuomo, the aforementioned measures will have no bearing on the functionings of New York state agencies. It’s unclear if Cuomo supports the bill, which would place the burden of implementation upon executive branch agencies under his purview.

Through a spokesperson, Assistant Assembly Speaker Felix W. Ortiz, of Brooklyn, said the bill should be considered next year. The legislative session is scheduled to end for the year on Wednesday.

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by Daniel Yadin for Gotham Gazette

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Passed by Senate, Bill Would Allow Public to Call State Agency Hearings Tue, 19 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7745:andrea-stewart-cousins-on-democratic-unity-and-the-value-of-primaries andrea stewart cousins sk gg2

Andrea Stewart-Cousins at the state party convention (photo: Samar Khurshid/Gotham Gazette)


While policies to prevent and punish sexual harassment were being decided in Albany during state budget negotiations earlier this year, four men led the closed-door talks: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and the leader of the now-defunct Independent Democratic Conference Jeff Klein. Even as female aides had some level of participation, there was a great deal of scrutiny of the absence of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic minority in state Senate, especially given that Cuomo’s office had indicated she would be included.

“You would’ve thought you would’ve been able to get in a room and at least let her say something,” Stewart-Cousins said of her own situation during a recent episode of the Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits. “Never happened.”

Stewart-Cousins called it a feature of “an institution that has institutionalized a lot of stuff,” and said that “breaking those norms are really, really difficult things to do.”

But breaking established ways of doing things is something of a pattern for Stewart-Cousins, who is both the first woman and the first African-American woman to be elected as the state Senate minority leader. Now, after post-budget reconciliation between the mainline Democrats she leads and Klein’s IDC, Stewart-Cousins is also in position to become the first woman and woman of color to be the majority leader of the Senate, depending on the results of the fall elections. They are elections she is becoming increasingly involved with, she indicated on the podcast, connecting the upcoming attempts to flip seats from Republican to Democrat as part of a “blue wave” sweeping the nation.

Stewart-Cousins’ frame for viewing the elections and potential Democratic majority in the Senate, and thus the Legislature given the party’s stranglehold on the Assembly, is the recent Senate reunification, pushing her, it seems, to be more forgiving, take the long-view, and look ahead, not back.

Exclusion from the anti-sexual harassment talks – and the state budget discussions in general – may be a thorny issue, but not one that poses a major point of contention between Stewart-Cousins and her colleagues.

“It goes back to the basic tenet: a house divided against itself can’t stand,” Stewart-Cousins said in response to a question of her possible frustrations with elements of the unity deal that was struck among her, Klein and Cuomo in April, and whether she trusts Klein. “How are we gonna do this?...I’m not gonna be sitting there having people somehow undermine the efforts that we have to be a team. That’s always been the case.”

There are still challenges to the notion of a unified Democratic front: each of the eight former members of the IDC is facing a primary challenge, and while the Democratic establishment has agreed to mutual support, a number of grassroots groups and a handful of elected officials are backing the challengers.

On the podcast, Stewart-Cousins emphasized that she has endorsed all incumbent Democratic senators, including those who were formerly part of the IDC, “so that people are very, very clear where I stand,” she said in response to a question of whether or not she would tell fellow party members to drop their support for the challengers. “I think that in and of itself sends a message.”

While she did not call primaries a bad thing, Stewart-Cousins further emphasized the importance of moving past former divisions in order for the party to function. “I think that’s over,” she said of the Senate Democratic division, “and it’s up to me...to give the kind of support and respect that I should be giving as the leader and as a colleague, and I believe that we set that tone,” she said. “There’s nobody coming in feeling less than, unworthy. There’s no recriminations.”

In response to a question of whether Cuomo – who has long been criticized for encouraging or at least tolerating the IDC’s existence – could have brokered such a unity deal earlier on, and thus possibly prevented the handicapped progress on key issues for the Democratic Party, Stewart-Cousins said, “Like I always say, he did make it happen....I don’t think he was terribly concerned about the situation because as far as we he was concerned, maybe it was manageable. I think it’s gotten to the point where it was looking unmanageable because of all the different factors, so he asserted himself.”

If the Democrats are able to obtain majority control of the state Senate in November, a policy agenda including action on immigration, climate change, voting and elections, campaign financing, reproductive rights, and more may move. Stewart-Cousins referenced pieces like the Child Victims Act and the Dream Act stagnating in the currently Republican-controlled state Senate. Additionally, Republican senators recently blocked Democrats’ attempts to see voting on the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Care Act – two pieces of legislation that would, respectively, enshrine in New York law the same reproductive rights under the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling and mandate accessibility to birth control medication – when Democrats attempted to push them through late last month.

“There’s so many things that we could do in addition to, obviously, the things that we’re bringing up today,” Stewart-Cousins said.

For their part, Senate Republicans often seek to ‘warn’ New Yorkers of what full Democratic control of state government could bring. “The New York City politicians who think it will be easy to flip the State Senate and impose their radical agenda on the people of New York should take heed,” said Senate spokesperson Scott Reif, in an April statement. “Our Majority represents the checks and balances, and the real accountability that hardworking taxpayers need and deserve.  Without us it’s one party rule, higher taxes, runaway spending and New Yorkers will be less safe.”

Democrats first need to contend with reconciling the different wings within their own party, a division apparent in the challengers to former IDC members and to Cuomo. Stewart-Cousins has unique perspective, representing Senate District 35, an area that includes towns like Yonkers, White Plains, and Scarsdale, with a wide variety of Democrats and plenty of Republicans and party unaffiliated voters.

Asked which wing of the party she identifies with, Stewart-Cousins deemphasized the ostensible differences in her party. “I’ve been able to, I think, gain a perspective that a lot of people don’t have as it relates to governing,” she said, referring to her unique position as the first Democratic leader representing a district outside New York City in a hundred years. “Everybody pretty much wants the same thing. It’s not different. It’s how you deliver these things or how you’re able to characterize these things or how you react is really where the differences lie.”

On the question of primaries, like that Governor Cuomo is facing, Stewart-Cousins took a different approach from some others, like Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “I certainly have no problem with the fact that there’s a primary going on,” she said, responding to a question of whether or not the gubernatorial candidacy of challenger Cynthia Nixon is emblematic of the Democratic Party being a ‘house divided.’ “The conversations about the vision for New York and who should lead it are valuable,” she added.

For now, at least, Stewart-Cousins maintains a face of smiling unity toward Klein, who serves as her deputy, and the rest of the Democratic Party.

Asked if there’s a chance that party members pull another IDC-esque ploy in the coming years, Stewart-Cousins said, “The environment has changed and that’s why I think this unity works, because we’ve been to the other side. We know what that looks like, and I don’t know if anybody needs or wants to go back there again.”

[Listen: Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins]

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by Chelsey Sanchez, Gotham Gazette
@chelseynsanchez  @GothamGazette

Read more by this writer.

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Andrea Stewart-Cousins on Democratic Unity and the ‘Value’ of Primaries Mon, 18 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 18 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7741:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-june-18 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7741:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-june-18 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

The final three scheduled days of this year’s legislative session in Albany are Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week. Will there be the annual “big ugly” mash-up of compromise policy passed on the final night of session? Stay tuned.

There are not very many issues that appear close to a compromise among Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, the Democrat-led Assembly, and the Republican-led Senate. But, most years the parties come to some agreement on a few big-ticket items. This year that could include sports gambling, decoupling teacher evaluations from student test scores, school area speed cameras, economic development transparency, criminal justice reform, gun control, and/or a handful of other items. Most signs have pointed to a limited, if any, big ugly, but machinations in Albany are difficult to predict, other than knowing that the details of whatever is passed will most likely not be given the proper public discussion or review before legislators vote it through.

As is the case every two years when the entire Legislature is up for election, but even more so every four years when the statewide positions are on the ballot, like this year, the session is clouded with political considerations. Senate Republicans, hoping to keep their one-seat majority through the fall elections, have little reason to say “yes” to anything that Democrats want. The ongoing saga of corruption trials involving state government also continue as a backdrop to government business this week.

Also this week: we’re hitting one week until the congressional primaries in New York. There are a handful of primaries in New York City where incumbents are facing spirited challenges. The most-watched primary is of course centered on Staten Island, where incumbent Republican Representative Dan Donovan is being challenged by former Representative Michael Grimm. The Democratic primary in that race, NY-11, is also worth watching, as the general election will be an important race in the larger picture whereby Democrats are trying to flip enough seats in New York and beyond to take control of the House of Representatives.

Several other city races on the Democratic side are interesting, and though incumbents are heavily favored, several -- like Reps. Joe Crowley, Carolyn Maloney, and Yvette Clarke -- have had to sweat more this year than in past cycles.

And there are of course primaries outside the five boroughs worth watching as they set the stage for key swing district general election battles.

Additionally on the elections front, we are of course continuing to watch the races for those statewide seats: governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general. Cynthia Nixon appears to have lost some momentum in the Democratic primary challenge to Gov. Cuomo -- can she regain some? What are the Democratic candidates for attorney general -- Letitia James, Zephyr Teachout, Sean Patrick Maloney, Leecia Eve -- doing to differentiate themselves and to introduce themselves to the many New York voters who don’t know them well? How is fundraising and ballot signature petitioning going for candidates?

We spoke at length with incumbent Democratic Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul this past week -- listen to the conversation: Max & Murphy Podcast: Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

And we spoke with Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro about his developing campaign platform, which is still devoid of most details but coming into somewhat sharper focus: On Taxes, the MTA & More: Molinaro Discusses Developing Campaign Platform.

As for city government, on Friday Mayor Bill de Blasio told WNYC’s Brian Lehrer that this coming week he and NYPD officials will be announcing the results of the department’s 30-day review of its marijuana policing practices. It’s not yet clear which day that will occur. And, there are two more meetings of the mayor's charter revision commission this week.

There’s also a variety of City Council hearings this week and the usual bunch of singular panel and other events to be aware of -- see the day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
e-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 6 a.m. Monday morning Mayor de Blasio will make a taped appearance on NPR's Morning Edition. In the evening, the mayor will make his usual weekly appearance on NY1's Inside City Hall, in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany, the first of the final three scheduled days of the session.

At the City Council on Monday: The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “protections for workers under the city’s human rights law” and “prohibiting retaliation against individuals who request a reasonable accommodation under the
city’s human rights law.”

The corruption trial of former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros, for bid-rigging, bribery, and other charges related to his work in Governor Cuomo’s signature Buffalo Billion economic development program, will begin on Monday in Manhattan.

Democratic attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marc Molinaro are both holding morning press conferences outside the federal courthouse. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon will present her campaign finance reform agenda at a press conference at Tweed Courthouse at noon.

And, at 12:15 outside the federal courthouse, “Government and budget watchdogs highlight corruption risks identified by bid rigging trial and call on the Assembly to stop stalling and pass transparency and accountability bills already passed by the state senate, and supported by state comptroller and over twenty prominent NYS organizations.” Participants will include Citizens Budget Commission, Citizens Union, Common Cause NY, Fiscal Policy Institute, and Reinvent Albany.

At 9 a.m. Monday, New America will host “2020 Census: A Tech Revolution or Risk” at NYU Law School’s Greenberg Lounge. Topics of discussion will include whether issues such as a citizenship question and a digitally-based census will lead to lower turnout among minority populations. Speakers will include U.S. Reps Adriano Espaillat and Carolyn Maloney, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Joe Salvo of the Department of City Planning, and Steve Choi of the New York Immigration Coalition, among others. Dr. Christina Greer of Fordham University will moderate.

At 11 :15 a.m. Monday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul Rallies to Pass Red Flag Gun Protection Bill" at Nottingham High School in Syracuse.

On Monday at 12:30 p.m. in Bay Ridge, "members of the de Blasio Administration, elected officials and street safety advocates will gather at P.S. 264 Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts to urge for the passage of A7798C/S6046C, a bill that would preserve existing speed cameras near school zones while also expanding them to additional, high priority school zones where speeding is prevalent. Currently, A7798C/S6046C has bipartisan support in the state Senate and 33 co-sponsors. The bill has yet to reach the floor for a vote where only 32 votes are needed to pass any given bill. A7798C/S6046C passed the Assembly overwhelming in June 2017." Participants will include James P. O’Neill, Police Commissioner; Elizabeth Rose, Deputy Chancellor, Department of Education; Dr. Oxiris Barbot, First Deputy Commissioner, NYC Health Department; Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams; City Council Member Justin Brannan; Patrice Edison, Principal, P.S. 264; Zaman Mashrah, P.S. 264 Parent and Advocate; and Adam McLeer, Families for Safe Streets.

At 1 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will speak at a rally calling for the immediate release of Pablo Villavicencio, at 26 Federal Plaza in Manhattan. At 7 p.m., Johnson will attend the LGBT Center Garden Party, at Hudson River Park, Pier 84.

On Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver graduation remarks at three schools in Brooklyn: P.S. 279 Herman Schreiber; P.S. 198 Magnet School of Applied Learning in Arts & Engineering Graduation; and I.S. 340 North Star Academy Graduation.

On Monday at 1 p.m. at City Hall, family members of individuals killed by members of the NYPD and others will rally “to demand action from Mayor de Blasio” on police “accountability and transparency” for the officers who killed Eric Garner, Delrawn Small, Saheed Vassell, and others. Ralliers will call for “firings and release of information.” Participants will include Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Victoria Davis and Victor Dempsey, sister and brother of Delrawn Small; Eric Vassell, father of Saheed Vassell; other family members; City Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Brad Lander; Communities United for Police Reform; Brooklyn Movement Center; Justice Committee; Picture the Homeless; and others.

On Monday afternoon, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza will deliver brief remarks at the NYC Teaching Fellows welcome event.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will deliver remarks at the Project FIND annual gala, at Fifth Ave Presbyterian Church.

Tuesday
At 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, "On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio and Police Commissioner O’Neill will hold a media availability on marijuana enforcement. This event is open press. There will be Q-and-A." It will be held at the Thomas Jefferson Recreation Center. "Later, the Mayor and First Lady McCray will deliver remarks at the Parent Leaders Reception at Gracie Mansion. This event is closed press."

The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committee on Veterans will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “benefits counseling services for veterans,” “creating veterans resource centers,” “the creation of a veterans resource guide,” and “peer support services for veterans.”
--The Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses will meet at noon
--The Committee on Sanitation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law relating to “reducing permitted capacity at putrescible and non-putrescible solid waste transfer stations in overburdened districts.”
--The Committees on Governmental Operations and Women will meet jointly at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to childcare, including laws related to lactation accommodations, diaper provisions, “providing on-site childcare for city employees,” and “permitting the use of campaign funds for certain childcare expenses.” Before the hearing, at 11 a.m., Public Advocate Letitia James will host a rally outside of City Hall "in support of on-site child care for municipal employees."
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 2 p.m.

The retrial on federal corruption charges of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos will begin on Tuesday in Manhattan.

"On Tuesday morning, First Lady McCray will host the City’s third annual “Baby Shower” event for incarcerated mothers and their families at Rikers Island. NYC Baby Showers are a part of the NYC Children's Cabinet Talk to Your Baby campaign...Later, the Mayor and the First Lady will deliver remarks at the Parent Leaders Reception at Gracie Mansion. This event is closed press."

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will lead two rallies Tuesday to pass the "red flag gun protection bill": at 10 a.m. at North Babylon High School and at 11:45 a.m. at Springfield Gardens Education Campus. And at 7 p.m., Hochul will recognize honorees at the NOW NYC Women of Power & Influence Awards.

At 8 a.m. Tuesday, City Planning Commission Chair Marisa Lago will deliver keynote remarks at the Citizens Budget Commission’s Trustee Breakfast at the Harvard Club. “Topics for discussion will include the decennial census, zoning initiatives, and resiliency planning.”

At 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, the League of Women Voters “will present its 2018 Distinguished Service Award to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide,” “at the League’s annual awards breakfast at the Roosevelt Hotel.”

"Senators Fred Akshar, George Amedore, and Chris Jacobs, co-Chairs of the Senate Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, will hold a press conference on Tuesday, June 19th at 10 a.m. in Room 124 of the Capitol to announce funding for jail-based substance abuse treatment services. They will be joined by representatives from the New York State Conference of Local Mental Hygiene Directors, the New York State Sheriffs' Association, the New York State Association of Counties and several local County Sheriffs."

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor Bill de Blasio will hold an issue forum regarding community boards and land use at the Pratt Institute. Comptroller Scott Stringer will be among those to testify.

At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, JustLeadershipUSA will hold a demonstration at Foley Square as part of a statewide day of action to protest against the state’s bail, discovery, and speedy trial laws, and inaction on ameliorating the issues with those.

Also at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Stringer will host LGBTQ+ Pride Celebration Honoring the Fab 5 from Netflix’s Queer Eye, at Macy’s Herald Square.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Sexual Harassment Working Group will host “Fixing Albany’s #MeToo Problem: What’s Next?” at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. The group, consisting of seven women who experienced sexual harassment as staffers at the State Legislature, “will be releasing policy recommendations created after extensive dialogues with advocates and experts.” Panelists include Danielle Bennett, former administrative assistant to Assemblymember Micah Kellner; Elizabeth Crothers, former Assembly legislative aide; Leah Hebert, former Chief of Staff to Assemblymember Vito Lopez; Eliyanna Kaiser, former Chief of Staff to Kellner; Tori Burhans Kelly, former legislative aide to Lopez; Rita Pasarell, former legislative counsel to Lopez; and Erica Vladimer, former counsel for the IDC. The discussion will be moderated by strategist and columnist Alexis Grenell.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Implementation of Raise the Age: Challenges and Opportunities.” Speakers will include Martin Feinman of the Legal Aid Society, Felipe Franco of the Administration for Children’s Services, Faith Lovell of the Office of Corporation Counsel, Judge Edwina Mendelson, Gineen Gray of the Department of Probation, Nitin Savur of the Manhattan DA’s office, and Lisa Schreibersdorf of Brooklyn Defender Services.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY1 will host U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke and challenger Adem Bunkeddeko for a Democratic primary debate for the 9th Congressional District.

Wednesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Wednesday. This is the final scheduled day of the 2018 legislative session.

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Hospitals and Mental Health will meet jointly at 1 p.m. at the Metropolitan Hospital Center on the Upper East Side for an oversight hearing regarding “the future of psychiatric care in New York City’s hospital infrastructure.”
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “New York City’s emergency planning for coastal storms,” as well as to discuss a proposed law relating to “the use of outdoor residential fire pits.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the MTA will hold its monthly board meeting.

This week’s Max & Murphy podcast from Gotham Gazette and City Limits will be recorded and published Wednesday, featuring scholar and columnist Nicole Gelinas discussing the latest on the MTA.

At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Statewide Local Development Corporation will hold a board of directors meeting at Empire State Development in Murray Hill.

At noon Wednesday, the Drug Policy Alliance and other advocates will gather at the City Hall steps to call on Mayor de Blasio to completely end the policing of marijuana, with no exceptions, and for other agencies “to address the harms caused by past arrests and adopt policies to align with the marijuana policy shift.”

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the Panel for Educational Policy will meet at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Economic Development and the Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing “assessing the zoning and financial incentives of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health programs.”
--The Committee on Aging will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “senior center model budgets.”
--The Committee on Justice System will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “addressing the opioid crisis in criminal court.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to “prohibiting single-use plastic beverage straws and beverage stirrers,” “allowing restaurant surcharges,” and “applications for retail dealer licenses for sale of cigarettes or tobacco products.”
--The Committees on General Welfare and Contracts will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “model budget for human services contractors.”

This week’s What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, hosted by Ben Max and Maria Doulis, will be recorded and published on Thursday and will feature New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

At 1 p.m. Thursday, the Charter Revision Commission empaneled by Mayor de Blasio will hold an issue forum regarding civic engagement and independent redistricting at NYU’s D’Agostino Hall.

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, the Association for a Better New York will host an “ABNY Talk” on “Human Services and Unions” at LMHQ in the Financial District. Two talks will be presented: the first on “understanding human services in NYC,” delivered by former Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Lilliam Barrios-Paoli; and the second on “the evolution of labor’s role in NYC,” delivered by Alan van Capelle, President of the Educational Alliance and formerly of 32BJ SEIU.

Friday and the weekend
Mayor de Blasio may make his weekly appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show at 10 a.m. Friday.

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, June 18 Sun, 17 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7723:created-in-budget-state-pay-commission-off-to-slow-rocky-start http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7723:created-in-budget-state-pay-commission-off-to-slow-rocky-start Carl McCall Cuomo

Carl McCall (photo: Governor's Office)


The pay commission tasked with proposing salary adjustments of New York State legislators, statewide elected officials, and top executive branch employees, created in this year’s enacted budget, appears to be in a state of disarray.

The appointed chair of the commission, New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, announced in May that she could not serve on the commission, citing what she believed to be the unconstitutionality of a judge determining matters that could end up before her in court. She has not been replaced, and the commission has not held a meeting.

The commission, as laid out in the budget document passed in late March, is to be made up of five individuals: DiFiore, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, former State Comptroller Carl McCall, and former City Comptroller Bill Thompson. McCall and Thompson are now chairs of the Boards of Trustees at SUNY and CUNY, respectively.

The commissioners have until December to submit recommendations for whether legislators in the Assembly and Senate, statewide officials (governor, lieutenant governor, comptroller, and attorney general), and certain executive branch officials should receive a pay increase, and if so, by how much. Legislators, who are elected every two years, have not had a base salary increase in nearly 20 years. A different effort at a pay commission went off the rails in 2016 when Cuomo, through his appointees, insisted on ethics reforms in conjunction with salary increases. The governor has said he supports higher salaries for lawmakers but that he also wants to see accompanying changes, and he has insisted that it is essential to raise the pay the state offers agency commissioners and top gubernatorial aides in order to attract top talent.

Along with salary, the new commission can also make other recommendations, such as the prohibition of outside income that Cuomo says is necessary, and its recommendations will automatically go into effect if legislators don’t act to prevent it before January 1, 2019.

The commission, in the midst of the ongoing drama, has not held a meeting in the more than two months since its creation.

A spokesperson for DiNapoli, Jennifer Freeman, said that there are no firm dates yet decided on for the first meeting, but that “dates being discussed are currently in July.” This would give commissioners approximately five months to deliberate and draw up recommendations. It is unclear what will happen with the position intended for DiFiore, and whether legislators may need to pass a bill to name a new commissioner before their session ends later this month.

State legislators receive a base salary of $79,500 per year, unchanged since 1999. Legislators are allowed to earn outside income, opening the door to conflicts of interest. Majority conferences also award stipends, colloquially known as “lulus,” to committees chairs, a practice that has been abused.

The system, as it stands, has been alleged to help foster a culture of corruption and limit the pool of individuals who will consider working in state government.

When the 2016 commission fell apart, good government groups criticized it and state leaders for failing to raise lawmakers’ salaries. Reinvent Albany, one reform group, is among those in favor of a pay raise, saying that the cost of living has risen substantially since the 1999 wage was set, and that the salary not keeping up with the cost of living leads to more lawmakers taking outside income.

“I think most people recognize that, in particular for the New York City members, that it’s awfully hard to make a living off the salary they make if they’re not holding outside jobs,” said Alex Camarda, Reinvent Albany’s senior policy advisor. “And there’s certainly been a desire by the good government community to see elected officials have their outside income curtailed so that they don’t have conflicts of interest when they are considering policy before the state.”

Citizens Union, another government reform group, said the prior commission should recommend pay increases but not tie them to other legislation, including ethics reform, to avoid any exchange of policies that have merit on their own and the typical Albany horse-trading. Though a deal that largely involves aspects of legislators’ jobs would be less transparently questionable than the 1999 trade that saw pay increase tied to legislation establishing charter schools in New York.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Ethan Geringer-Sameth, public policy and program manager at Citizens Union, said that CU’s position remains unchanged: that legislators should get a pay raise, that the pay raise should be decoupled from other legislation, and that the increase should be even higher if outside income is banned. The organization also wants to see a wide range of ethics and campaign finance reform enacted separately.

The U.S. Congress and the New York City Council both pay members substantially more than the State Legislature: members of Congress make $174,000 while members of the City Council make $148,500. The City Council, in 2016, voted to raise salaries substantially, from $112,500 to $148,500, while also banning almost all forms of outside income.

“Outside income was severely limited and the Council Members here in New York City got a substantial pay raise,” Camarda said. “And I think it serves as a model for the state as well as the U.S. Congress. And it would be good to put it to bed finally.”

Cuomo, as of two months ago, conditionally supports pay raises for legislators; the governor said in March that he would support pay raises for legislators if the budget was passed on time, which it was. The governor’s office appears to have reverted to a neutral stance on the issue.

“There is now an independent commission that will review legislative pay that has not increased for 18 years. We’ll leave it to the commission to decide – that is what is in the law,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens in an email to Gotham Gazette. Stevens declined to comment about what will happen with the commission post DiFiore has declined.

Through a spokesperson, DiNapoli declined to comment on the commission or his positions on the matters at hand. A representative for Stringer did not respond to requests for comment. McCall also declined to comment; a representative said that the commissioners are refraining from public comment before the meeting takes place. Thompson could not be reached for comment.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Created in Budget, State Pay Commission Off to Slow, Rocky Start Thu, 07 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7718:attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7718:attention-shifts-to-assembly-hesitation-on-accountability-bills-opposed-by-cuomo govcuomo speakerheastie

Speaker Heastie, left, and Governor Cuomo (photo via the Governor's Office)


Amid open conflict with Governor Andrew Cuomo, a second-term Democrat, the Republican-controlled state Senate recently passed a package of bills aimed at shedding light on taxpayer-funded economic development projects, among other reform measures. The move helped reignite attention on the legislation and put pressure on the Democrat-led Assembly to pass bills it has previously supported.

The legislation includes the Procurement Integrity Act, which would restore the state comptroller’s power to review contracts before they are officially awarded, and the “database of deals” bill, which would create a public catalogue of economic development awards and their results. Such grants run into hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, though they are often largely hidden from the public and have been at the center of recent corruption charges.

Assembly support for the measures was strong enough that earlier this year they were included in the chamber’s one-house budget, as they were in the Senate’s, though they were not included in the enacted state budget after negotiations among the Assembly, Senate, and governor.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie praised the Procurement Integrity Act last year, saying, “Another set of eyes will make people feel better that, yes, things are done correctly.”

However, the bill hasn’t made it out of the Assembly’s Government Operations Committee -- even though the committee’s chair, Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from Buffalo, is the very lawmaker sponsoring the legislation. The bill has 37 co-sponsors in the 150-seat Assembly.

And as the June 20 scheduled end of legislative session approaches, the “database of deals” bill is stalled in the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Democrat Helene Weinstein of Brooklyn. That bill has 34 co-sponsors.

The reason for the hold-up? Advocates for the legislation are pointing at Cuomo, and his influence over Heastie.

“The speaker is jamming the bills because the governor wants him to,” said John Kaehny, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany. “If those bills went to the floor of the Assembly, they would pass overwhelmingly.”

Assemblymember Robin Schimminger, a Democrat and main sponsor of the “database of deals” bill, echoed Kaehny’s comments.

“The governor does not want this bill moved,” the Buffalo-area representative told Gotham Gazette. “The question is, do Chair Weinstein and Speaker Heastie -- are they going to do the right thing or are they going to roll over and not move?”

Weinstein’s, Peoples-Stokes’, and Heastie’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. Questions around the bills, and whether Heastie and Assembly Democrats are willing to cross Cuomo, come as Democrats have a relatively recent “unity” pledge and coordinated campaign effort ahead of the fall elections.

The economic transparency legislation is seen by many as essential after corruption indictments centering on some of the governor’s most vaunted development programs.

Federal indictments in 2016 depicted a “pay-to-play” culture in which members of Cuomo’s inner circle received bribes or other perks in exchange for lucrative state contracts and special treatment meted out to developers in secret. Longtime Cuomo government aide and campaign manager Joseph Percoco was convicted of fraud and soliciting bribes in March. Former SUNY Polytechnic President Alain Kaloyeros heads to trial later this month for allegedly helping rig multimillion-dollar contracts.

Both the Procurement Integrity Act (S.3984/A.6355) and “database of deals” bill (S.6613/A.8175) aim to address perceived flaws in how Cuomo has overseen funding allocations. The governor’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this article. Cuomo has in the past dismissed calls to restore the comptroller’s pre-clearance authority on the applicable state-funded contracts, which was stripped from the office during Cuomo’s first years as governor.

The projects Kaloyeros helped oversee, including a $750-million solar panel factory in Buffalo, were tied to SUNY Polytechnic. While Kaloyeros was allegedly scheming to reward developers who had donated to Cuomo’s re-election campaign, the state comptroller had no insight into the process; the governor and legislative leaders took away his power to pre-audit all state contracts over $250,000, including for SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated non-profits, in 2011 and 2012.

The Procurement Integrity Act, introduced by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, would restore that power.

"One of the reasons why folks thought they could get away with something is that they knew nobody was really looking, other than the people on the inside who turned out to be benefiting from this," DiNapoli told Syracuse.com last month.

The bill would also authorize the comptroller to approve SUNY Research Foundation contracts valued at over $1 million and would bar state-affiliated nonprofits from doling out contracts unless explicitly authorized by law. Such non-profits are at the center of the Percoco and Kaloyeros cases, with an entity called the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation awarding allegedly rigged bids.

Last year, Cuomo’s counsel told Gotham Gazette the clean-contracting legislation “does not address the issue.”

“The proposed legislation…is both burdensome and duplicative,” Alphonso David said. “The vast majority of these contracts are subject to OSC [Office of the State Comptroller] post-award oversight and these measures only add significant delays and increase costs for New York taxpayers.”

Still, basic information about the taxpayer-funded programs that Kaloyeros helped oversee, along with numerous other public-private projects, is not available to the public. The governor’s office publishes vague information about projects like the Computer Chip Commercialization Center in Utica, which has been variously described as generating 300 to 1,500 jobs and entailing investments from $100 million to $1.5 billion.

The “database of deals” would aim to fill in holes in public knowledge of such projects. It would list every taxpayer subsidy that corporations receive along with the number of jobs created and cost per job to taxpayers.

The Senate passed the “database” bill and the Procurement Integrity Act by votes of 62-0 and 60-2, respectively, on May 9. They were part of 11 total reform bills widely viewed as a snub to Cuomo, who fell out with the Senate’s Republican leadership amid political maneuvering in April.

“Because [Cuomo] went to war with the the Senate GOP, [Senate Majority Leader John] Flanagan put them up for a vote and -- no surprise to anybody -- they passed overwhelmingly,” Kaehny observed.

“It is imperative that the public trusts the actions of their public officials, especially when it comes to spending the people’s money,” Flanagan, of Long Island, said in a statement after the reform bills were approved. “This extensive package would help fix many of the issues that lead to corruption and the misuse of taxpayer funds.” While pressure from the Senate GOP is unlikely to sway Cuomo, recent weeks have seen the governor change his stance on a variety of issues in the face of the Democratic primary challenge from Cynthia Nixon. Observers have noted she’s pushed him left on policy like legalizing marijuana.

But while the actor and activist-turned-candidate has slammed Cuomo on corruption scandals in general, she is yet to make a cause of transparency and accountability reform legislation in particular.

Speaking on The Capitol Pressroom radio show on Monday, DiNapoli, a Democrat, voiced skepticism that the bills will pass the Assembly this session. Even if the Assembly approves the legislation, one of them -- the “database of deals” bill -- varies slightly from the Senate version and would have to be reconciled in conference.

“I’m the forever optimist, but it seems that the end of session is getting very bogged down and work’s not happening,” DiNapoli told host Susan Arbetter.

“My optimism is somewhat tempered by the seeming stalemate,” the comptroller added, referring to drama in the Senate. “At least, that’s how we ended last week. Let’s hope this week turns out a little differently.”

A number of advocacy and watchdog groups are organizing a final push for the “database of deals” and clean-contracting legislation, including a rally calling on Heastie to advance the bills on Thursday in Albany. Participants include Reinvent Albany, as well as Citizens Union, Common Cause NY,  League of Women Voters NYS, New York Public Interest Group (NYPRIG), and a variety of progressive advocacy organizations, such as Fiscal Policy Institute.

“There are many steps we should be taking, but the time is running out,” Assemblymember Schimminger said.

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by Shant Shahrigianh, Gotham Gazette
      

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Note: Gotham Gazette is an independent publication of Citizens Union Foundation, sister organization of Citizens Union. ]]>
Attention Shifts to Assembly Hesitation on Accountability Bills Opposed by Cuomo Wed, 06 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7709:little-appetite-in-albany-to-address-state-budget-flaws-identified-by-comptroller comptroller tom finger lakes economic

Comptroller Tom DiNapoli (photo via the Comptroller's office)


In March, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature once again passed a budget in the middle of the night with little public review. Keeping form with past years, elected members of the Assembly and Senate voted through major budget and policy decisions that they did not know the details of, while there was also no time for feedback from outside watchdogs. The State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, did release a budget report a few weeks later excoriating not only the process as secretive and unaccountable, but also the budget itself as spending billions of public dollars in an unaccountable way.

A few weeks after that, the State Senate passed a package of reform bills aimed, at least in part, at making the spending of public monies more transparent. The package of legislation has stalled in the Assembly, and the governor is largely unsupportive of the measures, which would add oversight and insight into how state economic development funds are spent, among other changes largely aimed at reining in the governor’s power.

DiNapoli’s annual budget analysis, released in April, gave the budget high marks for its augmentations to the state tax system in response to federal tax reform, with the state attempting to blunt the impact of a new federal cap on how much of their local and state taxes taxpayers can deduct from their federal taxes. Through budget legislation, the state created a new voluntary payroll tax that employers can opt into and state-funded charitable organizations that taxpayers can contribute to in lieu of paying taxes. Despite generalized praise for the attempted workarounds, DiNapoli did not say unequivocally that the measures would be good for New Yorkers, and it is still too early to tell how successful they will be.

“The extent of any federal, state, or local tax savings these new mechanisms may generate for New Yorkers is unclear,” the comptroller said in a statement.

At the same time, DiNapoli sharply criticized the extensive lump sum appropriations in the budget, where funds are earmarked to agencies and organizations without a specifically delineated purpose, allowing the money to be spent throughout the year in unaccountable ways. The comptroller’s office has, year after year, criticized the state budget for excessive usage of these funds, as have non-governmental watchdogs like Citizens Union, Reinvent Albany, and Citizens Budget Commission.

This year, $475 million of lump sum funds were appropriated in the budget for the “State and Municipal Facilities,” or SAM, program. SAM is ostensibly a fund for local capital projects statewide. In an appearance on the Capitol Pressroom radio program, however, DiNapoli described SAM as a new way of saying “member items,” itself a way of saying pork barrel spending on localized projects often disbursed for political reasons.

When Susan Arbetter, the host of the program, described SAM as a “slush fund” tapped into by legislators for anything from art projects to golf tournaments in their districts, DiNapoli said that she had described SAM “harshly but properly.” To illustrate the lack of accountability with SAM, DiNapoli noted in the report that, despite the authorization of over $2 billion in SAM funds since the fund’s inception in 2014, only about 20 percent of the total has actually been spent.

The comptroller also criticized the lack of transparency in procurement, a perennially thorny issue in New York politics.

“The Budget builds on previous years’ actions to bypass statutory provisions that are intended to promote oversight and integrity in State procurement, including eliminating competitive bidding and independent review of contracts in certain cases,” he said in the report.

The state’s problem-plagued procurement process has come under heightened criticism this year, with the conviction of former Cuomo aide and friend Joe Percoco in a bribery scandal involving the governor’s economic development projects. Percoco was convicted of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from contractors in return for a bid-rigging scheme ensuring they received lucrative contracts worth tens of millions of dollars.

Another trial involving larger Cuomo economic development programs, including the Buffalo Billion, and alleged abuses of the procurement process is set to start later this month. The centerpiece of the trial will be former SUNY Polytechnic Institute head Alain Kaloyeros, whom Cuomo empowered over the course of several years, and is alleged to have been part of bid-rigging on contracts that did not have the type of review and oversight such deals require, according to DiNapoli and others.

The state Senate’s reform package includes a publicly searchable “database of deals,” listing economic development awards, project statuses, and outcomes. The measure was included in the one-house budgets of both the Assembly and the Senate but died in closed-door negotiations; the governor was not in support of it. The Senate’s passage of the measure post-budget puts responsibility on the Assembly to pass it and send it to the governor’s desk for approval or veto.

Senate Republicans who hold the majority passed the bills on May 9. Most were either unanimously or near-unanimously with bipartisan support, save for S5912C, concerning prevention of “regulatory steamrolling,” and S7781, which prevents interim department heads from serving without Senate confirmation for more than 90 days during the legislative session and 30 days outside the session. Assembly Democrats who lead that chamber appear less likely to cross the incumbent Democratic governor at this time.

Also passed by the Senate were measures restoring budgetary oversight powers to the comptroller’s office, known as the Procurement Integrity Act. The legislation was proposed by Comptroller DiNapoli himself in 2016. Since 2011, Cuomo’s first year in office, the comptroller’s power of contract pre-clearance in several key areas, such as SUNY- and CUNY-affiliated nonprofits, was eliminated; DiNapoli’s budget report estimated that $31 billion of contracts had been approved without review by the comptroller’s office “for the largest areas where oversight has been eliminated” since April 2011.

The Senate also passed a bill creating a nonpartisan Independent Budget Office to review revenues and spending. Whereas the Office of the Comptroller conducts audits after-the-fact, an IBO would provide analysis before a piece of legislation becomes law. Further, the comptroller is a partisan elected official (DiNapoli is a Democrat) while an IBO would be nonpartisan.

Another bill passed in the Senate banned executive appointees from donating to the campaigns of the executive who appointed them. This was clearly directed at Cuomo; a New York Times story from February revealed that, despite banning the practice in a 2011 executive order, the governor had raised almost $900,000 in donations from his executive appointees, apparently after interpreting the order loosely.

With just a few weeks left in session, the Assembly has not signaled an intent to pass any of the bills. A spokesperson for the Assembly majority did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette.

The governor’s office, when asked about the reform package, said that the Senate Republicans were not serious about ethics reform, noting their opposition to Cuomo-supported measures such as a ban on outside income for legislators, closing the LLC loophole, and a statewide public campaign finance system.

"We proposed many items in the Sen. Dean Skelos Corruption Reform Act, so it's funny that his crony, Sen. Flanagan, only proposed them when he is facing political oblivion,” said Cuomo spokesperson Tyrone Stevens, referencing former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, currently awaiting retrial for public corruption, and current Majority Leader John Flanagan. The governor’s office did not signal support for the Senate-passed measures.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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Little Appetite in Albany to Address State Budget Flaws Identified by Comptroller Sun, 03 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7707:max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7707:max-murphy-podcast-senate-democratic-leader-andrea-stewart-cousins

Jarrett Murphy, left, of City Limits, and Ben Max, right, of Gotham Gazette


June 1, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

andrea stewart cousins

State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins is the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, but has high hopes that come January, after this fall's elections, she will be the first woman and first woman of color to lead a house of the New York State Legislature.

Stewart-Cousins joined the podcast to discuss recent controversy at the state Capitol; the reasons she believes that Democratic control of the Senate would benefit New Yorkers; the Democratic "unity" deal brokered among her conference, the Independent Democratic Conference, and Governor Andrew Cuomo; and much more.

Listen to the full conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy, and this week's guest Andrea Stewart-Cousins @AndreaSCousins. You can listen to the episode through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts.

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins Fri, 01 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000