Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/vocal-ny 2017-12-18T22:26:17+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com Major City Issues at Play in Politically Charged, Post-Budget Legislative Session 2016-04-06T22:49:29+00:00 2016-04-06T22:49:29+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6267:major-city-issues-at-play-in-politically-charged-post-budget-legislative-session Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/26096555691_00e0f8bb7b_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget paid leave pic" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."</p> <p>It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.</p> <p>All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.</p> <p>Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.</p> <p><strong>Mayoral Control</strong><br />Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com:8080/index.php/government/6241-senate-schedules-de-blasio-for-two-hearings-on-mayoral-control-of-city-schools" target="_blank">scheduled hearings on mayoral control</a> for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.</p> <p>Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reforms</strong><br />Gov. Cuomo has supported <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6249-criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations" target="_blank">three major criminal justice reforms</a> over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.</p> <p>This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.</p> <p>On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.</p> <p>"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."</p> <p>Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.</p> <p>Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that&nbsp;"The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."</p> <p><strong>Housing</strong><br />Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6038-negotiations-to-extend-important-affordable-housing-tax-break-said-to-reach-impasse" target="_blank">Negotiations floundered</a> and 421-a is dead.</p> <p>The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6098-de-blasio-calls-for-albany-to-make-right-on-program-at-center-of-rift-with-governor" target="_blank">leading to his now-infamous tirade</a> against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.</p> <p>On Monday, Cuomo <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/albany-newsmakers/2016/04/4/ny1-online--governor-cuomo-breaks-down-state-budget.html" target="_blank">told NY1's Errol Louis</a> that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."</p> <p>Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2016/04/8595747/cuomo-administration-hopeful-about-421-successor?top-featured-image" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"</p> <p>Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.</p> <p>"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."</p> <p>A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."</p> <p>Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.</p> <p>"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."</p> <p>Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.</p> <p><strong>Other Education Issues</strong><br />Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.</p> <p>Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.</p> <p>For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:</p> <p>"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:</p> <p>"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."</p> <p>Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.</p> <p><strong>Albany Tradition</strong><br />If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.</p> <p>Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com:8080/index.php/government/6241-senate-schedules-de-blasio-for-two-hearings-on-mayoral-control-of-city-schools" target="_blank">all-but-sure to see action</a>. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.</p> <p>Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/calendar/" target="_blank">its scheduled</a> end on June 16.</p> <p>

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/26096555691_00e0f8bb7b_z.jpg" alt="cuomo budget paid leave pic" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Gov. Cuomo announces the budget deal (photo via The Governor's Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>Governor Andrew Cuomo dismissed the idea of extending state government's legislative session this year to tackle ethics reform during an appearance in Binghamton on Wednesday. "We have a relatively light agenda because we did so much work in the budget," the governor said. "We passed the minimum wage increase, we passed paid family leave, we passed a great package for the middle class, we passed a great package for upstate New York, more education funding than ever before."</p> <p>It's a concerning statement for some advocates and elected officials who see the session full of unresolved issues - including, but beyond ethics - especially ones that impact New York City, issues that the governor himself tackled during his January State of the State speech or has since brought to the table. Some advocates take the governor's statement as an acknowledgement that he traded away issues Senate Republicans oppose to get a minimum wage increase, and not only in the budget, but for the rest of the legislative session that has just begun and is scheduled to end in June.</p> <p>All-important control of the State Senate will be up for grabs again in November, but a key battle in the overall war will be decided on April 19 in the contest to fill the seat vacated by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, recently convicted on federal corruption charges. The April special and impending November elections mean legislators are anxious to get back to their districts while avoiding political landmines.</p> <p>Ethics reforms are one of the many issues jettisoned from budget talks that lawmakers say were dominated by minimum wage negotiations. Major issues of particular importance to New York City yet to be addressed this year include mayoral control of schools; a multitude of criminal justice reforms, some of which were introduced by Cuomo; housing programs, including a replacement for the 421-a property tax credit aimed at spurring affordable housing development; and two education matters that have been linked in the past: The DREAM Act and the education investment tax credit.</p> <p><strong>Mayoral Control</strong><br />Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and his conference have used Mayor Bill de Blasio as a progressive boogieman since the mayor tried to help Democrats win control of the chamber in 2014. Last year Flanagan successfully beat back the mayor's push for a seven-year extension of mayoral control, getting his negotiating partners to settle on one year. He again maneuvered discussion of renewal out of this year's budget discussions and before a spending deal was even announced, he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com:8080/index.php/government/6241-senate-schedules-de-blasio-for-two-hearings-on-mayoral-control-of-city-schools" target="_blank">scheduled hearings on mayoral control</a> for May 4 in Albany and May 19 in New York City. Mayoral control is due to sunset on June 30.</p> <p>Many Democrats expect Senate Republicans to delay actually acting on mayoral control until as late as possible in order to keep de Blasio "in check." With no other sensible alternative, de Blasio has been gracious about the situation so far, saying he plans to attend the hearings "personally" and welcomes the chance for "dialogue" on the issue.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reforms</strong><br />Gov. Cuomo has supported <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6249-criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations" target="_blank">three major criminal justice reforms</a> over the last two years: Raise the Age, an effort to end New York's practice of treating 16- and 17-year-olds as adults in the criminal justice system; an effort to create independent review of police killings of civilians; and a program to increase data reporting of the race and ethnicity of individuals involved in police interactions. Unable to deliver on the first two last year, Cuomo took executive action. He moved 16- and 17-year-olds out of adult prisons and gave Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office the discretion to look into police killings of civilians. Advocates were pleased, but acknowledged both issues still needed to be addressed in law.</p> <p>This year Cuomo has proposed a bill that would give his office the ability to convene an investigation into police killings of civilians but only if certain criteria is met. He has continued to push for Raise the Age but not with the urgency supporters would like. They point out that even being held in separate facilities from older inmates, 16- and 17-year-olds are still treated as adults when arrested and tried, which make negative outcomes and criminal records more likely.</p> <p>On Tuesday, supporters of a bill that would mandate the state collect data on police interactions with the public gathered in Albany to push Senate Republicans and Cuomo to act on an issue they call "common sense."</p> <p>The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Joseph Lentol and state Senator Daniel Squadron, both Brooklyn Democrats, would require the state to collect and report data on the number of tickets and misdemeanor arrests across the state; the number of civilian deaths in police custody or during an arrest; the race, ethnicity, and sex of those charged with misdemeanors and violations; and the geographic location of enforcement-related activity and arrest-related deaths. Lentol said the bill is not "anti-police" but a "transparency" and "open government" tool to improve relations between police and communities across the state. Lentol prodded Gov. Cuomo to act, noting that Cuomo has a similar bill that has failed to garner support.</p> <p>"Yet again, communities of color were left behind in New York State budget negotiations, with no meaningful advancement of any criminal justice reforms," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY. "Passing the STAT Act this legislative session provides an opportunity for Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature to show they value the safety and dignity of all New Yorkers."</p> <p>Squadron told Gotham Gazette that the bill is one that Senate Republicans "put in a black box, a dark room," never to be seen again. "This isn't something we have debated. We haven't heard their argument against it, it just disappears." Lentol, however, said that he believes police unions are using their influence to block the bill.</p> <p>Assembly Member Jeffrion Aubry, Democrat of Queens, supports Lentol's bill and said that he feels his constituents and advocates are growing frustrated that the Senate fails to vote on criminal justice reforms year after year. "I think the governor is really going to have to move on some of these bills and not just wave his hands in the air and say 'It's the Republicans'" Aubry said. "We know he can get what he wants. He has an election coming up and he's got to deliver for these communities."</p> <p>A spokesperson for the governor, Dani Lever, said in a statement that&nbsp;"The governor has and continues to push for comprehensive criminal justice reform to address the treatment of juveniles in the system and the prosecution of fatality cases involving law enforcement. Despite the legislature's failure to agree on these reforms, the governor has taken bold action and issued executive orders appointing a special prosecutor in police cases (the first of its kind in the country) and removing juveniles from adult state prisons. Until the legislature passes real reforms, the governor's executive orders will remain in effect."</p> <p><strong>Housing</strong><br />Last year in an unprecedented move, Cuomo put the fate of the 421-a tax abatement program in the hands of the two stakeholder industries - real estate developers and construction unions. Whatever deal they reached on wages in new housing developments utilizing 421-a was to be enacted into law with other reforms to the program, but if they failed, 421-a would sunset. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6038-negotiations-to-extend-important-affordable-housing-tax-break-said-to-reach-impasse" target="_blank">Negotiations floundered</a> and 421-a is dead.</p> <p>The program is thought to be essential to affordable housing production in New York City, making it profitable for developers to build new rental housing with some affordable units included. When Cuomo rejected compromise legislation crafted by de Blasio last June, it was one of the final straws to break de Blasio's back (along with the mayoral control compromise and more), <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6098-de-blasio-calls-for-albany-to-make-right-on-program-at-center-of-rift-with-governor" target="_blank">leading to his now-infamous tirade</a> against the governor on June 30. De Blasio's affordable housing goals rely on 421-a-related production.</p> <p>On Monday, Cuomo <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/albany-newsmakers/2016/04/4/ny1-online--governor-cuomo-breaks-down-state-budget.html" target="_blank">told NY1's Errol Louis</a> that he is looking for a replacement. "You can have a fair program that pays a fair rate to the unions and also a fair rate of profit to the developers," Cuomo said. "I believe there is that balance to be struck. But they have to strike that balance. We're still trying, but the Legislature is not going to approve a plan that kicks the labor unions out of the affordable housing business."</p> <p>Bill Murrow, the governor's top aide, followed up those comments on Tuesday during a Crain's New York Business breakfast event, indicating that labor and real estate are indeed negotiating again. "The developers, REBNY, and the construction trades...they'll find some common ground. I am hopeful that sometime between now and June that something will actually happen," Mulrow <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2016/04/8595747/cuomo-administration-hopeful-about-421-successor?top-featured-image" target="_blank">said</a>.</p> <p>On Tuesday, tenant advocates gathered in Albany to demand that negotiations on 421-a or something like must also include strengthening rent regulations. Delsenia Glover, campaign manager for the Alliance for Tenant Power opened the press conference by condemning the deal that renewed the rent laws last year. "We pretty much got nothing," she said. "At the time Governor Cuomo said they were the 'strongest rent laws in history.' It's not true, we got nothing." Members of the crowd shouted "He lied!"</p> <p>Glover said she has been disturbed to hear "lamentations" that 421-a is dead, saying she was glad a "giveaway to luxury developers" and "$1.1 billion tax suck" was dead and that assertions that developers won't be able to build affordable housing without it is patently false.</p> <p>"Our demand," said Glover, "is this: If 421-a or anything that looks like 421-a is revived or created then the rent laws must be reopened, we get rid of vacancy bonus, fix preferential rents, and then maybe we can have a conversation."</p> <p>A number of legislators who spoke after Glover pushed against the idea of any 421-a renewal. Assembly Member Walter Mosley of Brooklyn said he doesn't use the term '421-a' because "We don't want nothin' like 421-a to resurface, but ultimately we understand if anything like 421-a comes to the floor then we reopen the rent laws. Without that we have no discussion."</p> <p>Assembly Housing Chair Keith Wright, who introduced a plan of something of a 421-a alternative earlier this year to a tepid response, brought up his proposal in front of the audience that was openly hostile to any replacement. Wright's plan would utilize the state's abandoned property fund to give a subsidy of $100,000 per affordable unit at a cost of about $200 million per year, compared to 421-a's 25-year property tax break and $1 billion annual tax revenue price tag.</p> <p>"The plan was not...people were intrigued by the idea," Wright told the crowd, seeming to catch himself in an effort to promote the measure, "but listen anything in Albany takes a minute to work up to, but we are still pushing that plan, but we are still under siege."</p> <p>Wright is a close ally of Cuomo and many expect that his plan was the first shot fired in an effort to restore a 421-a plan. The fact that Cuomo and Wright are openly pushing a replacement and that Senate Republicans are likely to want to deliver for real estate developers makes many advocates think it is a question of "when" not "if" a 421-a replacement comes to the floor of both houses. They hope to keep up public pressure to win some sort of concessions when it takes place.</p> <p><strong>Other Education Issues</strong><br />Last year Cuomo tried to connect the DREAM Act that would allow the undocumented access to college tuition assistance and the education tax credit that would give benefits to those who donate to private schools. The DREAM Act has massive support in the Assembly, which has passed the measure repeatedly over the last few years and the education tax credit is a favorite of Senate Republicans. Cuomo's bid at linkage failed last year (he did not attempt to link them again this year, but did include both in his executive budget), but both issues remain on the table and the fact that they were left out of the budget has rankled a number of lawmakers.</p> <p>Sen. Simcha Felder, a Democrat from Brooklyn who caucuses with Republicans, was said to be so upset that Republicans didn't demand the education tax credit be part of the budget that he didn't conference with them during budget negotiations (he was then the lone Senate "no" vote on the minimum wage and education budget bill). Meanwhile, DREAM supporters like Sen. Jose Peralta, a Democrat from Queens, railed against its exclusion during the late-night budget debate.</p> <p>For supporters of each measure the problem seems to be that opposition to the other measure has become a litmus test for some in their party's base. Senate Republicans have included language touting the disinclusion of the DREAM Act in the budget on the Senate website, listing it as an accomplishment:</p> <p>"Rejecting the Use of Taxpayer Dollars to Fund College Tuition for Illegal Immigrants:</p> <p>"The final budget rejects an Executive Budget proposal that would have cost state taxpayers $27 million and reward people who are here illegally by giving them free college tuition. The measure would have extended all other criteria, exemptions or opportunities found within the education law - including all scholarship and tuition assistance programs funded with state tax dollars - to illegal immigrants while hardworking middle-class families are already being forced to take out massive college loans to pay for higher education."</p> <p>Meanwhile, public school advocates are entrenched against the education tax credit, saying that it is a taxpayer giveaway to millionaires who will flood their favored schools with donations using up the credit before average families can utilize it. The Alliance for Quality Education, a teachers union-aligned group, has held press conferences and briefings against the policy this year.</p> <p><strong>Albany Tradition</strong><br />If the past is indeed prologue than it is a safe bet that many of these issues will not come to a vote in both houses this year. With an important special election, a presidential race, and the entire Legislature up for (re)election, leaders will likely be looking to rest on the work they did in the budget and get back to their districts. While there will be a lot of noise made by the media and good government groups around ethics reform, no one who knows Albany is holding their breath.</p> <p>Mayoral control of city schools is the only key policy related to New York City facing an expiration date and <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com:8080/index.php/government/6241-senate-schedules-de-blasio-for-two-hearings-on-mayoral-control-of-city-schools" target="_blank">all-but-sure to see action</a>. The questions are what Senate Republicans demand in exchange for extension, how long it is extended for, and how much they make de Blasio sweat in the process.</p> <p>Including Wednesday, April 6, there are currently 25 session days remaining until <a href="http://assembly.state.ny.us/leg/calendar/" target="_blank">its scheduled</a> end on June 16.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations 2016-03-29T05:00:00+00:00 2016-03-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18532201992_d568c22e11_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison visit dannemora" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora&nbsp;(photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.</p> <p>A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.</p> <p>For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.</p> <p>To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.</p> <p>Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.</p> <p>Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.</p> <p>However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5908-cuomo-takes-additional-executive-action-on-criminal-justice" target="_blank">issued an executive order</a> giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.</p> <p>The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.</p> <p>Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">one of just two states</a>, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."</p> <p>The issue of how to treat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system</a> is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.</p> <p>Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.</p> <p>Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5945-one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action" target="_blank">details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated</a>. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."</p> <p>Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO147.pdf" target="_blank">this year's executive budget</a>. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.</p> <p>The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.</p> <p>With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank"> took executive action</a>, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.</p> <p>"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions</a>]</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18532201992_d568c22e11_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison visit dannemora" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora&nbsp;(photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.</p> <p>A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.</p> <p>For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.</p> <p>To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.</p> <p>Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.</p> <p>Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.</p> <p>However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5908-cuomo-takes-additional-executive-action-on-criminal-justice" target="_blank">issued an executive order</a> giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.</p> <p>The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.</p> <p>Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">one of just two states</a>, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."</p> <p>The issue of how to treat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system</a> is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.</p> <p>Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.</p> <p>Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5945-one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action" target="_blank">details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated</a>. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."</p> <p>Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO147.pdf" target="_blank">this year's executive budget</a>. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.</p> <p>The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.</p> <p>With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank"> took executive action</a>, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.</p> <p>"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions</a>]</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
New York City Needs Supervised Injection Facilities 2015-12-23T16:01:24+00:00 2015-12-23T16:01:24+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6053:new-york-city-needs-supervised-injection-facilities Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/23261677995_f9d85691e3_z.jpg" alt="mccray bassett thrivenyc" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">First Lady McCray &amp; Health Comm. Bassett (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There is a hot topic trending in the debate over the war on drugs: should there be safe places for intravenous drug users to inject? A panel of experts from around the world convened a symposium in New York City to share their experiences and the panelists and their sponsor, VOCAL NY, called for such a facility in the city. They are completely correct.</p> <p>There are an estimated 100 supervised injection facilities worldwide and advocates credit them with reducing both overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases (HIV and hepatitis C). These facilities offer clean needles, a sterile environment, and emergency services in the case of an overdose. They also provide education, counseling, access to treatment, and other services that might save users' lives.</p> <p>Without such refuge, addicts resort to "whatever it takes" to get high and the resulting health problems resonate throughout society by way of the spread of infectious disease and the death of loved ones.</p> <p>The rise in heroin, the primary drug used via injection, is well-documented and New York is no exception. Staten Island is the borough hardest hit by the heroin epidemic; 74 people there died of overdose in 2014. Many heroin users began by taking prescription painkillers that are chemically similar and after becoming addicted find that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio traveled to Staten Island in early December to announce measures addressing the heroin crisis there. He has made naloxone, an overdose antidote, available in pharmacies without a prescription and promised to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment by licensing more physicians to prescribe maintenance drugs that dull the cravings for heroin.</p> <p>These are good steps. We still need supervised injection facilities.</p> <p>Naloxone does not prevent overdoses which can occur from the improvised situations that users often find themselves in. Supervised facilities prevent overdoses by providing an environment that is cleaner and less chaotic than, say, a gas station restroom.</p> <p>The spread of infectious disease through unsanitary conditions and instruments represents an even deadlier and widespread threat than overdose - infected users spread disease to unsuspecting loved ones, often through sexual intercourse.</p> <p>One of the thorniest problems in combating illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal and addicts, because they are punished, deplored, and shamed for their disease, live in the shadows, apart from mainstream society. Supervised facilities provide a place where they are not judged. Staff, often recovered addicts who understand their dire situation, can offer users a path out of their misery and provide education on infectious diseases and methods of prevention.</p> <p>Supervised injection facilities are one example of the "harm reduction strategy" towards substance abuse. Needle exchanges are another example; they accept the fact that users will utilize infected needles if that is their only choice, but respect that users are intelligent and prefer clean needles if they are available. The immediate result of needle exchanges is fewer persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, thus the harm of addiction is reduced. New York City has 15 needle exchanges, but only one on Staten Island and, sad to say, no one is asking for more.</p> <p>The harm reduction strategy is the polar opposite of the 50-year-long "war on drugs" which was lost long ago, though few will admit it. Throughout the world opinion is shifting towards decriminalizing all drugs. A recent draft United Nations report recommended decriminalizing drugs and Portugal did so about ten years ago with no discernible detriment to civil society.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.silive.com/opinion/columns/index.ssf/2015/12/safe_spaces_for_heroin_injecti.html" target="_blank">recent editorial</a> in the Staten Island Advance excoriated the idea of safe places like supervised injection facilities, saying that they encourage more drug use - but they do not; they encourage safe drug use.</p> <p>It is the plain fact that many thousands of people, without any encouragement, are seeking out heroin for any number of reasons. On Staten Island, and throughout New York City, it is time to tear down the walls that separate us, bring users in from the cold, and offer them whatever help we can.</p> <p>***<br />Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JailedintheUSA" target="_blank">@JailedintheUSA</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/23261677995_f9d85691e3_z.jpg" alt="mccray bassett thrivenyc" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">First Lady McCray &amp; Health Comm. Bassett (photo:&nbsp;Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)</span></p> <hr /> <p>There is a hot topic trending in the debate over the war on drugs: should there be safe places for intravenous drug users to inject? A panel of experts from around the world convened a symposium in New York City to share their experiences and the panelists and their sponsor, VOCAL NY, called for such a facility in the city. They are completely correct.</p> <p>There are an estimated 100 supervised injection facilities worldwide and advocates credit them with reducing both overdose deaths and the spread of infectious diseases (HIV and hepatitis C). These facilities offer clean needles, a sterile environment, and emergency services in the case of an overdose. They also provide education, counseling, access to treatment, and other services that might save users' lives.</p> <p>Without such refuge, addicts resort to "whatever it takes" to get high and the resulting health problems resonate throughout society by way of the spread of infectious disease and the death of loved ones.</p> <p>The rise in heroin, the primary drug used via injection, is well-documented and New York is no exception. Staten Island is the borough hardest hit by the heroin epidemic; 74 people there died of overdose in 2014. Many heroin users began by taking prescription painkillers that are chemically similar and after becoming addicted find that heroin is cheaper and easier to obtain.</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio traveled to Staten Island in early December to announce measures addressing the heroin crisis there. He has made naloxone, an overdose antidote, available in pharmacies without a prescription and promised to increase the availability of substance abuse treatment by licensing more physicians to prescribe maintenance drugs that dull the cravings for heroin.</p> <p>These are good steps. We still need supervised injection facilities.</p> <p>Naloxone does not prevent overdoses which can occur from the improvised situations that users often find themselves in. Supervised facilities prevent overdoses by providing an environment that is cleaner and less chaotic than, say, a gas station restroom.</p> <p>The spread of infectious disease through unsanitary conditions and instruments represents an even deadlier and widespread threat than overdose - infected users spread disease to unsuspecting loved ones, often through sexual intercourse.</p> <p>One of the thorniest problems in combating illegal drugs is the fact that they are illegal and addicts, because they are punished, deplored, and shamed for their disease, live in the shadows, apart from mainstream society. Supervised facilities provide a place where they are not judged. Staff, often recovered addicts who understand their dire situation, can offer users a path out of their misery and provide education on infectious diseases and methods of prevention.</p> <p>Supervised injection facilities are one example of the "harm reduction strategy" towards substance abuse. Needle exchanges are another example; they accept the fact that users will utilize infected needles if that is their only choice, but respect that users are intelligent and prefer clean needles if they are available. The immediate result of needle exchanges is fewer persons infected with HIV and Hepatitis C, thus the harm of addiction is reduced. New York City has 15 needle exchanges, but only one on Staten Island and, sad to say, no one is asking for more.</p> <p>The harm reduction strategy is the polar opposite of the 50-year-long "war on drugs" which was lost long ago, though few will admit it. Throughout the world opinion is shifting towards decriminalizing all drugs. A recent draft United Nations report recommended decriminalizing drugs and Portugal did so about ten years ago with no discernible detriment to civil society.</p> <p>A <a href="http://www.silive.com/opinion/columns/index.ssf/2015/12/safe_spaces_for_heroin_injecti.html" target="_blank">recent editorial</a> in the Staten Island Advance excoriated the idea of safe places like supervised injection facilities, saying that they encourage more drug use - but they do not; they encourage safe drug use.</p> <p>It is the plain fact that many thousands of people, without any encouragement, are seeking out heroin for any number of reasons. On Staten Island, and throughout New York City, it is time to tear down the walls that separate us, bring users in from the cold, and offer them whatever help we can.</p> <p>***<br />Christopher Beall works at a criminal justice nonprofit in the Bronx and is on Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/JailedintheUSA" target="_blank">@JailedintheUSA</a>.</p> <p>***<br />Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com</p>