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Amazon Fallout, State Transit Hearing, Second Public Advocate Debate & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 18


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week we're watching several storylines, even as it is a quiet week in city and state government in terms of action at the City Council and State Legislature, with both bodies largely on the annual mid-February break.

One is the continued fallout over the end of the deal to bring a massive Amazon campus to Queens. There will also be continued dissection of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 30-day amendments to his executive budget plan, which were released at the end of this past week and will help set the stage for the legislative and budget negotiations are set to heat up as the April 1 deadline for a new state budget fast approaches. Those negotiations are now also going to be influenced by what happened with the Amazon deal, including the fact that Cuomo is attempting to sow division in within the Senate Democratic conference, which he has blamed for sabotaging the deal based on the opposition of Senator Michael Gianaris.

Another key storyline this week is the special election for Public Advocate, which will enter its final week. The vote is set for February 26, one week from Tuesday, and there will be the second official televised debate on Wednesday night this week, with seven "leading contenders."

As always, there are several events to be aware of this week - see our 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
Monday is the Presidents Day holiday.

At 8:30 a.m. Monday morning, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will give remarks at the Association of Towns 2019 Annual Meeting, in Manhattan.

At 11 a.m., City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will host "#BreakThePatent Rally with Council Member Carlina Rivera, Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, Former State Senator Tom Duane, PrEP4All Collaboration (#BreakThePatent Campaign) and Advocates" at the New York City AIDS Memorial in Manhattan.

Mayor de Blasio will appear on NY1's Inside City Hall on Monday in the 7 and 11 p.m. hours.

Tuesday
Tuesday marks one week until the special election for Public Advocate.

At noon on Tuesday in Brooklyn, "Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement about Vision Zero." "After, the Mayor will attend the wake of Detective Brian Simonsen." "Later, the Mayor and First Lady McCray will host a Black History Month Celebration where they will honor Me Too Founder Tarana Burke."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at the New York Immigration Coalition Policy and Legislative Breakfast in Manhattan. At 6:30 p.m., Stringer will hosts a Lunar New Year Celebration in Flushing.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the State Senate will hold the first of five public oversight hearings on the “effectiveness of New York’s transit networks.” The hearing will take place at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.

On Tuesday at 11:45 a.m. at Lincoln Center, "11:45 AM Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul and Secretary to the Governor and Chair of the New York State Council on Women and Girls Melissa DeRosa Unveil the 2019 Women's Justice Agenda."

Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. will be U.S. Representative Adriano Espaillat’s State of the District event, at Our Children’s Foundation in upper Manhattan. Several other elected officials will attend.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a Lunar New Year celebration at Flushing Town Hall. Stringer will honor State Senator John Liu, the Korean American Family Service Center, and Sun Yup Kim, President of the Korean American Business Council of New York.

Wednesday
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy will air on WBAI radio -- 99.5FM and wbai.org -- and feature interviews with public advocate candidates Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez.

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the 2019 Charter Revision Commission will meet in the City Council Chambers at City Hall for an “issues forum” discussing instant runoff voting and other electoral reforms, the redistricting process, the structure of the Campaign Finance Board, and “alternative campaign finance mechanisms.”

At 7 p.m. Wednesday will be the second official televised debate in the special election for Public Advocate, airing on NY1 television and the NY1.com website, among other places. The “leading contenders” debate will feature seven candidates seeking the position. The vote is set for Tuesday, February 26.

Thursday
At 8 a.m. Thursday, James Patchett, President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, will join Crain’s for a “Business Breakfast Forum” at the New York Athletic Club, discussing “the Amazon deal, EDC’s biggest projects and the de Blasio administration’s economic-development agenda.”

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. will deliver his State of the Borough address at Samuel Gompers High School in the South Bronx.

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

Friday is the deadline for members of the public to apply to serve on the city’s new Civic Engagement Commission.

At 1:30 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney, and State Senators Michael Gianaris, Brian Benjamin, and Robert Jackson will host a “Town Hall for Democracy,” discussing opportunities to get money out of politics and reform New York’s election system. The town hall will take place at Washington Irving High School, near Union Square.

At 2 p.m. Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will hold her annual State of the Borough event at the NYU Skirball Center.

***
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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Automatic Sealing? Expungement? As They Legalize Marijuana, New York Lawmakers Negotiate Clearing Criminal Records


may bdblasio office

Mayor de Blasio discusses marijuana policy (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


New York seems poised to enact the country’s first automatic record-clearing guidelines for past marijuana convictions. Doing so, advocates and officials say, could remove barriers for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers whose convictions -- for behavior that may soon be legal -- complicate tasks ranging from obtaining child custody to job searching to renting an apartment.

Automatic record-clearing is part of a larger ongoing discussion on legalizing adult marijuana use in New York, something Governor Andrew Cuomo has made a 2019 priority after years of opposition that also has support in both Democratically-controlled houses of the state Legislature. “Legalize adult-used cannabis,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address in January. “Stop the disproportionate criminal impact on communities of color.”

Bronx Senator and Senate health committee chair Gustavo Rivera also emphasized on the Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter earlier this month that “the primary concern for many of us is the restorative justice aspect of this.”

New Yorkers poised to benefit from record-clearing for past marijuana offenses are majority black and Hispanic. In New York City, these communities made up 85 percent of marijuana possession arrests in 2016. It’s still unclear, though, how many crimes will be eligible for automatic clearing. There are also different record-clearing processes within an automatic framework: to seal a record is to shield it from view, while to expunge it -- advocates’ preference -- removes it completely.

Melissa Moore, deputy New York director for the Drug Policy Alliance, said advocates with the statewide marijuana abolition campaign Start SMART took notes on California’s approach to marijuana legalization. There, people with certain marijuana-related convictions were invited to apply for their records to be cleared. The Drug Policy Alliance has hosted free legal clinics in the state to assist them. “It’s still onerous,” says Moore. “In New York, how do we do this in such a way that places the lowest burden possible on individuals who have already been wronged? Making it automatic.”

“I believe that the Governor's office shares the goal of Assemblymember Peoples-Stokes and I,” stated Senator Liz Krueger, “to create a mechanism for automatically clearing records for marijuana offenses that would no longer be crimes.” Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, carries the Legislature’s Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act along with Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat who is also the majority leader of the Assembly.

As for scope, Cuomo’s budget proposal would automatically clear the low-level possession convictions that make up the majority of marijuana arrests -- 800,000 over the last 20 years according to his office -- by amending existing record-sealing procedures. By contrast, Democrats in the Legislature have in recent legislative sessions proposed clearing more records: all possession-related, and some sale-related, convictions.

“We recognize and see where the governor was trying to go and we think it just needs to be much more expansive,” says Kassandra Frederique, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “If we are going to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, then we have to end the criminalization of marijuana in this state, wholesale.”

"We have three goals,” Cuomo’s counsel Alphonso David told Gotham Gazette, defending Cuomo’s proposal. “The first goal is to make sure that we advance social justice. The second is to advance economic development, and the third is to protect public health and safety. Our proposal addresses all three goals."

Currently there is no expungement procedure in New York, and the governor’s office has indicated he prefers sealing. But advocates say expungement would remove ambiguity. “You would be able to say, ‘I have no criminal record,’ and that would be the end of the conversation,” says Legal Aid Society attorney Emma Goodman, an expungement expert who helped draft relevant bill language shared with Krueger’s office in January.

Advocates have proposed that court records, including criminal complaints and any written decisions, be marked as expunged, while ancillary records such as fingerprints and mugshots are physically destroyed. (Even expunged marijuana convictions can be grounds for deportation, notes Immigrant Defense Project Supervising Attorney Marie Mark, so the proposal includes additional protective measures for non-citizens.)

“Expungement means completely erasing these convictions and criminal records to give New Yorkers of color a fresh start,” said Samaria Phillips, manager of the We Rise to Legalize campaign, in a statement. Her group is attending the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators’ annual conference on Saturday in Albany to call for expungement.

Mayor Bill de Blasio also endorsed automatic expungement in a December 2018 task force report from his administration, with the caveat that district attorneys should have the ability to challenge on a case-by-case basis. “Expungement should occur as an automatic process…to minimize procedural burdens on those with past convictions,” the report states.

But in the interview, David emphasized the governor’s support for sealing. Because New York has strong sealing laws, he argued, the “impact of sealing is a functional equivalent of expungement, while immunizing the legislation from potential legal challenge.”

Senator Krueger’s chief of staff, Brad Usher, also confirmed that her office does not have a preference so long as the process is automatic.

“While sealing does essentially the same thing to the record, it does not bring the same level of clarity and peace of mind,” Goodman challenges. “Sealing is ambiguous and confusing for employers and people with convictions, whereas expungement is not.”

***
by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

Max & Murphy Podcast: A Hearing on Sexual Harassment in Albany


mxm logo

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


February 13, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: A Hearing on Sexual Harassment in Albany, with Rita Pasarell of the Sexual Harassment Working Group

rita pasarell wbai 150Rita Pasarell was a victim of sexual harassment as a legislative aide and has more recently been an advocate pushing the state to hold public hearings on sexual harassment and improve its laws to combat the scourge in the public and private sectors. After much advocacy, the state Legislature held its first hearing in decades on Wednesday February 13. Pasarell and her colleagues were among those to testify. She joined the show to discuss the hearing and related issues.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

***
by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Legislators Pursue Campaign Finance Reform for District Attorneys


cy vance manhattanda

Manhattan DA Cy Vance (photo: @ManhattanDA)


District attorneys wield nearly unfettered discretion as to whether to prosecute potential defendants, but nothing in the law prevents lawyers for the accused from donating to a district attorney’s election campaign. Most New Yorkers became aware of this glaring blindspot in the state’s campaign finance law in 2017, following news that Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s campaign had accepted thousands of dollars from an attorney for Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced Hollywood mogul who Vance’s office had declined to prosecute after he allegedly groped a woman and was caught on tape seemingly admitting to the act.

But the state Legislature could soon make sweeping changes to the rules governing district attorney campaign financing, as Assemblymember Dan Quart and Senator Liz Krueger, both Manhattan Democrats, are pursuing legislation to enact stringent restrictions on who can contribute, and how much, to candidates running for district attorney, of which there are 62, one for each county, across the state.

“Reforming of our campaign finance laws with respect to how district attorneys and candidates for district attorneys run is critical,” Quart said in a phone interview, “so that the public gets confidence that decisions made by district attorneys are on the merits and free of any conflicts.” Quart is rumored to be considering a run for Manhattan DA in 2021.

The proposed legislation would require that all district attorney candidates disclose to the state Board of Elections whether they have accepted campaign contributions from a law firm or an attorney at that law firm representing a criminal defendant in any New York state court. The bill would also mandate that the BOE create a statewide “legal dealings database” with the names of every licensed attorney, law firm or a firm executive who represents an individual or corporation in a criminal proceeding in any state court. The individuals and firms in the database would be restricted to donating only $320 to any district attorney candidate.

Spokespeople for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not respond to requests for comment about support for district attorney campaign finance reform. Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Governor Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement, "The Governor has put forward a comprehensive ethics package in the Executive Budget and we will review any additional legislation if it passes both houses."

The proposal was first introduced by Quart in October 2017, shortly after Vance, a Democrat, requested an external, independent review of his campaign finances to rebut allegations that his office gave favorable treatment to Weinstein and other wealthy actual or potential defendants, including Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., whose lawyers gave to this campaign and who Vance’s office declined to prosecute for alleged criminal fraud in the sale of condos in the Trump SoHo hotel development.   

The review was conducted by the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity at Columbia University, which issued seven recommendations for district attorney candidates to prevent real and perceived conflicts of interest or unconscious bias by prosecutors. They include blind fundraising (so candidates are not aware of donor identities), refusing or limiting contributions from donors with real or perceived conflicts, a strict firewall between a DA’s office and campaign, refusing contributions from one’s own office staff and their spouses, strong donor vetting processes, requiring certifications of eligibility to contribute, and published campaign contribution policies.  

Quart and Krueger’s bill would establish some of those firewalls. Quart’s legal dealings database is modelled on New York City’s own “doing business” database that logs companies and individuals who have contracts with the city and limits how much they can contribute to candidates in local elections. The $320 limit applies to candidates for borough president, whose districts are equivalent to the jurisdiction of a district attorney in the city. “I took those rules and that principle and applied it to district attorneys’ races,” Quart said.

The proposal would apply statewide. So, for instance, a law firm representing a defendant in Suffolk County wouldn’t be able to give more than $320 to a candidate running for Brooklyn District Attorney.

"It is vital that every New Yorker be able to trust our judicial system to reach conclusions based solely on the fact of cases, without even the perception that other influences might affect the results,” Senator Krueger said in a statement. “District Attorneys hold a singularly powerful position in our system, and therefore must be held to the highest standards to avoid potential conflicts of interest. This bill will help ensure that in New York, justice remains blind.”

The bill doesn’t cover all of CAPI’s recommendations, however. Berit Berger, executive director of CAPI, said the legislation is a “good start” but could go further. “The legislation does not require district attorneys to adopt blinding procedures that shield them from learning their donors’ identities,” she pointed out, in an email to Gotham Gazette. Blinding standards are currently used by candidates running for judicial seats in New York.

“As we explained in our report, this approach would most clearly address the conflicts of interest issue and safeguard against any conscious and unconscious bias in favor of campaign contributors,” Berger continued. “While the increased transparency from disclosing contributions from attorneys or firms representing criminal defendants is a great first step, I think more is needed to truly preserve the integrity of this fundraising process.”

It’s unclear if the bill will be supported or opposed by the District Attorneys Association of New York. Morgan Bitton, a DAASNY spokesperson, said the association is reviewing the proposal and that its legislative committee is set to meet later this month.

If the bill passes into law, Quart believes it could be in place for the 2021 elections. If he runs for Manhattan District Attorney that year, it would put him in contest with Vance, who will be up for reelection but has not declared whether he will run again or not. “My dissatisfaction with Cy Vance, the Manhattan District Attorney is well known,” Quart said, insisting that he had not made any decisions about his own political future yet. “I have said that whether this legislation passes or not, I would self-police in a way if I were a candidate in 2021.”

Whether Vance decides to seek reelection or not, the 2021 race could be a crowded one. This year, with no incumbent running, the race to be the next Queens District Attorney features more than half a dozen Democratic hopefuls, while races in the Bronx and on Staten Island with incumbents running again have sparse fields.

For his part, Vance, a former DAASNY president himself, supports Quart’s proposal. “As DA Vance said last year when he announced the most restrictive voluntary campaign finance limits of any elected prosecutor in New York, ‘legislative action is the surest way to achieve lasting, mandatory campaign finance reform,’” said a spokesperson for his campaign, who also noted Vance’s support for a public matching funds program for DA candidates, which is not part of the Quart-Krueger legislation, but could potentially be included in any broader public campaign finance system that Democrats in Albany hope to pass this year. Assemblymember Tom Abinanti, a Democrat, has reintroduced a bill this year that would establish such a public financing system for candidates for district attorney and supreme court justices. 

But the Vance spokesperson did say the Legislature should consider the feasibility of the legal dealings database proposal, which would be far more vast than New York City’s doing business portal. “As Columbia’s report notes with regard to the City database, ‘the class of individuals subject to Doing Business restrictions in New York City is relatively small, and is limited to senior company executives, major stakeholders, and registered lobbyists’ – as opposed to the vast and fluid population of lawyers who represent criminal defendants in New York State,” the spokesperson said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to note that Assemblymember Tom Abinanti reintroduced a bill on public financing for district attorneys and supreme court judges.  

Claiming Attempt to Silence Them, Advocacy Groups Oppose Cuomo Lobbying Proposal


Cuomo press conference

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Mike Groll/Governor's Office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 agenda includes a host of voting, campaign finance, and ethics reforms. Of three provisions related to government lobbying, one is spurring backlash from nonprofits, smaller advocacy organizations, and grassroots activists who feel threatened. Cuomo would like to require any individual or organization spending over $500 in a year on lobbying to be required to register as a lobbyist, lowering the threshold from $5,000.

The proposal is sparking outcry from nonprofit leaders and members, among others, who view the legislation as exclusionary of smaller organizations and unincorporated activist groups that do little formal lobbying and cannot afford the labor or time to navigate the state’s complex lobbying regulations. A letter from 15 New York nonprofits outlines vehement opposition to the new legislation. “Perversely, while this might increase the number of filings, it will effectively silence small groups while increasing the influence of big money in government,” the letter reads.

Signees include The Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, the Hispanic Federation, Homeless Services United, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Lawyer’s Alliance, the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance, and the NYC Immigration Coalition, among others.

In addition to lowering the registration threshold, Cuomo’s two other lobbying reforms include redefining “reportable business relationships,” i.e. compensation paid to individuals connected with lobbying, to those involving $500 or more, instead of the current $1,000.

The third provision would mandate a semi-annual report for lobbying expenditures exceeding $500, lowering the threshold from the current $5,000. Cuomo has included the three lobbying reforms in his policy book and Executive Budget, setting the stage for negotiations with the Legislature before a budget deal is due April 1 for the new fiscal year.

According to the governor’s office, his larger bill is a multipronged reform package. “It’s not just lobbying reform. It’s lobbying reform, and campaign finance reform, and independent expenditure reform, and voting reform, and procurement reform. It’s all related and we have an unprecedented opportunity to increase transparency and disclosure and improve our democracy for the better. The fact that some self-described reform groups are against reform speaks to the problem in better ways than I can,” said Rich Azzopardi, a senior advisor to Cuomo.

Co-signers of the letter believe the bill would limit their ability to participate in New York democracy, and some observers of state politics believe it is purposefully aimed at quieting Cuomo critics.

Jim Purcell, chief executive officer of the Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies, made the decision to add his organization to the letter. “It’s not a fundamental disagreement about accountability, but this is taken in a direction that’s unnecessary and burdensome,” he said.

Purcell gave an example of how quickly an individual can hit $500 in lobbying expenditure. “The train back and forth to Albany is $100. A cab is $20. An organization that spends one day a year lobbying or organizing a letter to support foster care for kids, it ends up feeling like you don’t want to hear from us.”

From a bigger picture perspective, $287 million was spent in 2017 on lobbying state government by 3,415 filers, per the latest available data from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE). Laura Abel, senior counsel for the Lawyer’s Alliance, an organization that co-signed the letter, said the top 100 filers spent 22 percent of the total amount, which translates to $63 million. By contrast, 390 filers spent less than $10,000.

“It’s a lot like election spending, where you’ve got a handful of really wealthy people and companies putting in most of the money. And then you’ve got a lot of small, really small spenders.” said Abel.

Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit watchdog that advocates for transparency and accountability at the state and city levels, also opposes the governor’s proposed lobbying reform. Its analysis, released last month, cites New York State’s 92 pages of lobbying regulations as “some of the most comprehensive in the country,” consisting of “carefully tracking and reporting compensation, expenses, hours spent lobbying, persons lobbied, and bills, executive orders, and procurement lobbied on in addition to potentially having to disclose reportable business relationships.”

Alex Camarda, a senior policy advisor for the organization, said “We think the benefits of the additional transparency are exceeded by the cost of burdens on smaller organizations.”

The burden of the legislation, if enacted, also goes in another direction. JCOPE commissioners during a January 29 meeting to discuss the governor’s proposed budget recognized what would be added responsibility for regulators. After the proposed legislation was read aloud, commissioner James E. Dering said, “Requiring lobbyists to spend $500 or more would precipitously increase the resources needed. One would hope if this is enacted there will be resources provided certainly at that time, but we may need resources in advance to gear up for that. It would be quite an increase.”

While many typically think of lobbying as done by high-powered for-hire firms, it takes many forms. As Purcell said, “I can hear someone saying ‘Lobbying is a dirty business, and I don’t want to do that,’ but if you want to have your voice heard, you have to visit your local official or go to Albany.”

Note - This article has been updated.

De Blasio Testifies in Albany; State Sexual Harassment Hearing & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 11


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week looks like it will be dominated by several storylines:

-Controversy over comments made by City Council Member Reverend Ruben Diaz, Sr. that the City Council is "controlled by the homosexual community," as reported by NY1's Juan Manual Benitez. Diaz Sr.'s comments, the latest in a long line of controversial and bigoted statements, have been met with condemnation by many, and calls to resign from some, including many of his Council colleagues. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson -- who sought Diaz Sr.'s support for his speakership bid and rewarded him with the creation of a new committee for him to chair -- said Sunday that the Council is looking into its options for consequences for Diaz Sr., who said he has no plans to resign and refused to apologize for his comments.

-Monday will see Mayor Bill de Blasio and other local officials testify at a legislative budget hearing in Albany. It is de Blasio's yearly trip to the capital to discuss the governor's executive budget plan, the city's top state government priorities and funding needs, and to take questions from legislators.

-Wednesday will see a joint legislative hearing on sexual harassment in New York, both the public and private sectors. The hearing will also include discussion of how to improve upon the anti-sexual harassment laws passed last year without public hearings. Victims and alleged victims of harassment are expected to testify, including about how sexual misconduct has been part of a culture in state government in Albany and the systemic failures to address it that persisted for a long time, and may still have remnants even as awareness has been heightened and new laws have been passed.

-Tuesday will mark just two weeks until the February 26 special election for Public Advocate. Candidates are raising money, getting their messages out, working to secure endorsements, and trying to make sure they qualify for the second televised debate, which will be on NY1 on February 20.

It will also be a very busy week of hearings at the City Council, including a Stated Meeting of the full Council, at which new bills are introduced and those that have passed committee are voted on by the full body. That's not it, though. As always, there are a variety of events to be aware of - see our 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Monday.

At 10:30 a.m. Monday, State Senator James Sanders will hold a press at the State Capitol to discuss new legislation for a “Green New Deal for New York.” [Read about Sanders’ proposal here: State Senate Bill Would Advance Framework for More Aggressive Green New Deal in New York]

Also at 10:30 a.m. Monday in Albany, “dozens of Mayors and village officials from across New York State” will hold a press conference “to call on Governor Andrew Cuomo to restore over $60 million in funding to municipal governments across the State,” according to a press release from Village of Freeport Mayor Robert T. Kennedy.

At 11 a.m. Monday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on “local government officials/general government.” Mayor Bill de Blasio will be the first to testify at the hearing. After the mayor, Comptroller Scott Stringer and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will each testify, as will leaders from other cities around the state.

The New York State Board of Regents will meet on Monday and Tuesday in Albany.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Justice System will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to issue quarterly reports on MARCH.
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring landlords to take steps to eradicate “indoor asthma allergen hazards” and to establish a “demonstration program” for legal basement apartments in East New York.
--The Committee on Environmental Protection will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the Astoria transformer explosion and the transition to a green grid,” as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability to study and issue a report on the feasibility of replacing gas power plants with renewables.
--The Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet at noon to discuss the DCAS provisional employee reduction plan.
--The Committee on Immigration will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding IDNYC.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.

At 1:15 p.m. Monday, Assemblymember Harvey Epstein, CUNY Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher Rosa, other elected officials, and student leaders will rally at the State Capitol to demand greater funding for students with disabilities in New York colleges.

At 5 p.m. Monday, there will be a meeting of the Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz.

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

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet in Albany for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

On Tuesday, the State Legislature will hold joint budget hearings on:
--Economic development at 9:30 a.m.
--Taxes at 1 p.m.

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Finance and Subcommittee on the Capital Budget will meet jointly at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring city agencies to electronically notify elected officials and community board members of delays in capital projects and requiring the city to create a publicly searchable database on all pending capital projects.
--The Committees on Juvenile Justice and Youth Services will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “runaway and homeless youth (RHY) and the juvenile justice system.”
--The Committee on Technology will meet at 1:30 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Commission on Public Information and Communication’s collaboration in developing city information policies and promoting governmental transparency.”

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Correction will hold a public meeting at 125 Worth Street.

At noon Tuesday, Council Member Brad Lander, Families for Safe Streets, TransAlt, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center will rally at the City Hall steps to demand passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act.

Starting at 2 p.m. Tuesday, faculty unions and student activists from SUNY and CUNY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to press lawmakers for full funding of public higher education.

Wednesday
The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. It will be prefaced by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s pre-stated press conference.

Also at the City Council on Wednesday: the Committee on Immigration will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a resolution calling on the State Legislature to pass a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the Senate Standing Committees on Investigations, Ethics, and Women’s Issues, the Assembly Standing Committees on Governmental Operations and Labor, and the Task Force on Women’s Issues will hold a public hearing in Albany to discuss sexual harassment in the workplace.

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, the City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting at 120 Broadway.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Civilian Complaint Review Board will hold a board meeting.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 9:30 a.m.
--The Committees on General Welfare and Higher Education will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “food insecurity in New York City.”
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss proposed laws prohibiting and establishing penalties for cashless businesses, and requiring cash-only businesses to post signage indicating that they only accept cash.

At 10 a.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board will hold a board meeting at 100 Church Street.

At 10:30 a.m. Thursday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at 250 Broadway in Manhattan for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

At 6 p.m. Thursday, Mayor de Blasio will join CNN commentator Symone Sanders for a discussion at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.

Friday and the weekend
At 10 a.m. Friday, the Senate Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation will meet at the Nassau County Legislature in Mineola for a public hearing to discuss the Climate and Community Protection Act.

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

At 1 p.m. Saturday, U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will deliver her inaugural address at Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx.

***
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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

State Senate Bill Would Advance Framework for More Aggressive Green New Deal in New York


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A New York Renews rally at the state Capitol (photo: @NYRenews)


As Congressional Democrats pursue efforts to pass a Green New Deal at the federal level and Governor Andrew Cuomo has outlined his own version for New York, Queens State Senator James Sanders has proposed a pathway to implementing a more ambitious climate and green jobs agenda.

Proponents of the Green New Deal aim to eliminate the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and transition to 100 percent clean energy, creating thousands of infrastructure and renewable energy jobs in the process and in a way that prioritizes fairness for those communities most adversely impacted by harmful environmental policies. It’s been championed in the past by members of the Green Party, and recently by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rising Democratic star who represents Queens and the Bronx and is gearing up with Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey to introduce a non-binding resolution on the Green New Deal this week, details of which have begun to emerge.

Just as newly re-empowered House Democrats created a “Select Committee on the Climate Crisis” -- though without a mandate to look at the Green New Deal -- the New York State Senate could soon follow suit. State Senator Sanders’ bill would mandate the creation of a Green New Deal task force charged with crafting a “detailed statewide, industrial, economic mobilization plan” for New York to take the state to zero carbon emissions by 2030, a goal more ambitious than those recently proposed by Cuomo and by advocates and legislators backing a separate bill, the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), which has languished in the state Legislature for years despite repeated passage by the state Assembly. The CCPA is part of Sanders’ vision for a New York Green New Deal. The 18-member task force his bill would empanel would have until the end of the year to send its report and draft legislation to the state Legislature and governor.

Cuomo, who has used executive action to mandate carbon emission reductions by 2050,  recently announced support for a Green New Deal as well but his “Climate Leadership Act” proposal stops short of others. In his executive budget proposal, presented at his State of the State address in January, he advanced legislation that would make the state’s electricity sector carbon-free by 2040. He also proposed a Climate Action Council to look at measures to reduce the state’s carbon footprint overall.

The CCPA, on the other hand, would aim to make the entire state economy carbon-free by 2050, not just the electricity sector. It also establishes a Climate Action Council, similar to Cuomo’s proposal but with a different, more democratic structure. The bill is sponsored by State Senator Todd Kaminsky and Assemblymember Steve Englebright, both Democrats. It was passed by the Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, chaired by Englebright, on Tuesday and Kaminsky is holding a series of hearings on it next week. It also has the backing of New York Renews, a coalition of more than 160 organizations across the state that have been advocating for it for the last three years.

There are also two other legislative proposals with similar goals as the CCPA -- the Climate and Community Investment Act, which would enact a carbon tax to fund the transition towards renewable energy, and the Off Fossil Fuels Act, which would establish a 100 percent clean energy system by 2030, among other measures, on a faster timeline than the CCPA.  

An official in Sanders’ office said that his task force proposal was modelled on Ocasio-Cortez’s effort to push for a House select committee, in an attempt to advance the conversation on the Green New Deal. Sanders has also co-sponsored the CCPA in the past and intends to support it this year as well. His new proposal, the official noted, mandates the shortest timeline and is the most progressive of the proposals.

Its supporters include the New York State Council of Churches, 350 NYC, Bronx Climate Justice North, The Climate Mobilization, North Bronx Racial Justice, Food and Water Watch, and prominent environmental scientists such as Stanford University Professor Mark Jacobson, Paul Hawken and Peter Kalmus, among others, the official said. The senator plans to rally for the proposal in the capital on Monday.

Mark Dunlea, co-founder of the Green Party in New York, said Sanders’ proposal would “go much further” than the CCPA with its longer timeline and would be much stronger than any proposal put forth by the governor. “I think [Governor Cuomo’s] concept of the Green New Deal is a branded slogan,” he said. “He can latch on to the Green New Deal as an economic stimulus program, which is good, but Sanders is going further than that, which is even better.”

But other environmental advocates want to see action immediately, rather than wait for a year from now after the task force would report. “The CCPA is still the most ambitious climate legislation out there...I don’t think that there needs to be any other interim step, this bill is the first step,” said Annel Hernandez, associate director at the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, which is a part of New York Renews.

Hernandez pointed out that the CCPA also includes a guarantee that 40 percent of funds raised from new energy and climate regulations are directed to disadvantaged communities dealing with the effects of climate change. “[A]nything that is proposed by New York State has to be abiding by the principles of a just transition,” she said. “It means that those who are on the front lines of the climate crisis, of dealing with environmental burdens in their communities, have to be a part and leading the solution to the renewable, regenerative economy.”

A spokesperson for the governor did not have comment on Sanders’ proposal (Cuomo’s office rarely provides comment on pending bills) but did note the overlap between the Climate Leadership Act and the CCPA, which are bound to be issues negotiated with the Legislature as the legislative session proceeds, up to and after a budget deal is reached by April 1. The spokesperson speculated that the CCPA will likely not be approved in its current form, and may go through amendments following the Kaminsky-led hearings, after which a version of the bill acceptable to both lawmakers and the governor could come to pass.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated to clarify the provisions of the Off Fossil Fuels Act. 

Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi


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


February 7, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi

alessandra biaggi 150Alessandra Biaggi shocked the New York political world when she defeated then-State Senator Jeff Klein in last September's primary. After hitting the ground running upon taking office in January, State Senator Biaggi joined the show to discuss the work that has been done so far under unified Democratic governance at the state level and what's coming up next, including her work as the new chair of the Senate's ethics committee and where things may get choppy with regard to negotiations with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

As Cap on Charter Schools in New York City is About to Hit, Little Talk of Extension in Albany


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(photo: the governor's office)


Throughout his tenure, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been a strong advocate for charter schools as part of his broader education policy, even as many of his fellow Democrats are far less friendly toward, if not opposed to, the privately-run, publicly-funded schools. Cuomo has repeatedly supported and helped orchestrate a raising of the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in New York, both across the state, and the sub-cap for New York City, where the vast majority of charters exist.

Now, as that sub-cap on charter schools in the city is about to reach its limit with a new round of approvals in March, there is virtually no talk in Albany, from Cuomo or legislators, about raising or doing away with the sub-cap, either of which would allow more charters to open in the five boroughs. Though he has recently reiterated his support for charter schools when asked by reporters, Cuomo did not mention charter schools or the cap in his January State of the State address or the lengthy accompanying policy book, nor in his Executive Budget for Fiscal Year 2020.

During his first eight years as governor, Cuomo has had fellow charter school supporters leading the state Senate, where Republicans held the majority, at times with the help of charter-friendly breakaway Democrats in the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC). The Democrat-dominated Assembly has been unfriendly toward charter schools and closely aligned with teachers unions that oppose them -- most charters are not unionized. But now, both the Republican Senate majority and the IDC are gone. While there are charter-supporting legislators in both houses, including some Democrats and Republicans, Cuomo now faces more of the individual responsibility to advocate for charter-helpful policies in Albany.

While his policy book and budget do not include anything on the charter cap, that does not mean Cuomo won’t push for changes that would allow more charters to open in New York City. A new state budget is due by April 1, and though the city sub-cap will be hit by then, it would be just a short delay if Cuomo orchestrates a cap change in the budget, where many deals are known to come together in Albany.

The governor’s recently-outlined plans do include a 3.5% increase in total per pupil funding for New York City charter schools, but this was the only time charter schools were mentioned in the State of the State book or Executive Budget.

New York State has a cap on the number of charter schools that can be approved by the two authorizing authorities, but there is a special sub-cap for the number of charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, that can be issued for New York City. There are currently 236 charter schools in New York City educating 123,000 students, according to the New York City Charter School Center.

There are now seven remaining charters left under the New York City sub-cap, while there are 99 charters left for the rest of the state. There are currently 18 applicants for charters in New York City that have made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of two authorizers, is set for March.

This would be the first time that the board has to decide not just whether an applicant meets its standards, but also which of the 18 applicants should get the seven remaining charters. Assuming that more than eight applicants meet the standards, this would mean that some potentially satisfactory applicants would not receive charters.

Charter school advocates, such as those at the New York City Charter School Center, believe this is a worst possible scenario. The Center has called for the charter school cap to be eliminated altogether or at least raised to allow for new charters to be issued. Another proposal would be to end the sub-cap so that there would no longer be a distinction between charters issued for New York City and the rest of the state. This could mean dozens of new charters in the city as opposed to the final seven under the current sub-cap (in theory, all 107 statewide slots could go to charters for the city).

In a statement, James Merriman, the CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said the “arbitrary charter cap for New York City” should be raised. He called the current situation “the definition of a crisis” and that “we are running out of charters at a time when charter schools are making remarkable progress in closing the achievement gap for some of the most vulnerable children in New York City.” Merriman called on state lawmakers “to forgo special interests and ensure all families have the opportunity to access high quality public school.”

No proposal to change the cap is currently on the agenda of the state Legislature, which has been moving a host of progressive legislation long-stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. Gotham Gazette sent multiple requests for comment about the charter school cap to spokespeople for Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie; none of them were returned.

The politics around charter schools has shifted in New York over the last year or two, but especially since the November 2018 elections. While Cuomo, an outspoken advocate for charter schools, won a third term as governor, pro-charter school legislators lost a variety of races, including several in New York City, both in Democratic primaries and the general election. Republicans and members of the Independent Democratic Conference lost a large number of races, though charter schools were rarely central issues in those elections. Advocates for charter schools, of both parties and in both houses of the state Legislature, currently do not hold enough power to extract charter school expansion as a concession in larger policy negotiations, but like with many issues, the fate of the charter school cap may rest in Cuomo’s powerful hands.

Lifting of the charter cap last happened in 2017, when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools that also included a provision that would allow 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued. Now, only seven of those “zombie” charters remain.

***
by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Note: this article has been changed to cite seven available charters in New York City, not eight, as dicated by a spokesperson for the state education department; though there has been conflicting information put forward by several entities involved about whether there are seven or eight charters available under the city sub-cap.

First Public Advocate Debate; Cuomo Manhattan Speech & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Feb. 4


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week the state Legislature will continue its very busy start to the year, including more budget hearings, while Governor Andrew Cuomo will give a speech in Manhattan on Thursday.

The main event of the week might be the first debate in the special election for Public Advocate, which will take place among 10 candidates on Wednesday night (there are 17 candidateson the Feb. 26 ballot). Tuesday will mark just three weeks until the vote; the second debate will be on Feb. 20.

There are several interesting hearings at the City Council this week, but perhaps most notable is the Thursday oversight hearing on police discipline, which comes just after the NYPD received and responded to an independent report commissioned by Commissioner James O'Neill that found the police department's approach to discipline is secretive and inconsistent. O'Neill promised some reforms, while also reiterating support for a state law change that would allow more transparency around officer discipline.

There's a lot to be aware of - see our 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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 11:30 a.m. Monday, Governor Cuomo and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli will hold a press conference in the state Capitol.

At 1:30 p.m. Monday, "On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza will make an announcement about Pre-K and 3K. This event is open press. There will be no Q-and-A." The announcement will take place at PS 128 Audubon on West 169th Street.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “city agency responsiveness to 311 service requests,” as well as to discuss a proposed law to require 311 operators to indicate to callers when an agency can’t respond to a complaint.
--The Committee on General Welfare will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “client experience at HRA centers,” as well as to discuss several related proposed laws, including to require all HRA Job Center or SNAP employees to undergo de-escalation training, require a social worker to be present at all HRA facilities, and requiring space for children at HRA facilities. "The hearing comes after a highly publicized incident in December when Jazmine Headley entered a Department of Social Services (DSS) Job Center after her child care benefits were terminated. Ms. Headley allegedly waited over four hours to speak to a supervisor and subsequently faced a physical encounter with HRA and NYPD officers as Ms. Headley’s child was removed from her arms."

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will deliver remarks at both Council hearings. Later in the day, in his Acting Public Advocate role, Johnson will continue his five-borough bus rider survey tour in Queens, "talking to bus riders at the Jamaica Center - Parsons/Archer Station in Queens with Council Members Adrienne Adams, Rory Lancman, and I. Daneek Miller."

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Monday in the Capitol, "Senator Luis R. Sepúlveda will address the human rights violations at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn involving lack of electricity and heat...The senator will be joined by Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Senator Jamaal Bailey."

On Monday, the State Legislature will hold two joint budget hearings: on housing at 11 a.m. and on workforce development at 3 p.m.

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

"Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins joined Chair of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, Senator Todd Kaminsky, and members of the Senate and Assembly Majority Conferences to announce support for historic legislation to ban oil and natural gas drilling in New York's coastal areas. The legislation (S.2316), sponsored by Senator Kaminsky, will protect Long Island and New York from the Trump Administration’s dangerous offshore drilling expansion efforts. The Senate Majority will pass this critical legislation on Tuesday, February 5."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on health and Medicaid.

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Public Housing will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “NYCHA management of TPA funds.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “discrimination testing and commission-initiated cases at the NYC Commission on Human Rights.”

At 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on elementary and secondary education.

Wednesday at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, the latest episode of Max & Murphy will air; catch it on 99.5FM or streaming at wbai.org.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the first of two televised debates in the special election for Public Advocate. There are 10 participating candidates, who met the financial threshold needed, out of the 17 who will be on the February 26 ballot. The debate will air on NY1 and be streamed online by the network, which is co-sponsoring the Campaign Finance Board-sanctioned debate with POLITICO New York, Citizens Union, Borough of Manhattan Community College, Latino Leadership Institute, The League of Women Voters of the City of New York, NAACP New York State Conference Metropolitan Council, and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and East Kings County Alumnae Chapter.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws requiring the Parks Department to report more detailed information on its capital expenditures, requiring the Department to provide portable defibrillators to all public pools and staffing all pools with someone trained to use it, and to allow the Department to distribute extra defibrillators to sports leagues after fulfilling their obligation to youth baseball and softball leagues.
--The Committees on Justice System and Public Safety will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding police discipline, and to discuss several related proposed laws, including laws requiring the NYPD to report monthly on complaints of police misconduct, requiring the NYPD to study the feasibility of an “internal disciplinary matrix,” requiring District Attorneys to report detailed information on criminal prosecutions, requiring the NYPD to publish its disciplinary guidelines and reports, requiring the NYPD to provide DAs with disciplinary records, and requiring the NYPD to report on arrests for obstructing government administration and resisting arrest. The committees will also discuss a resolution calling for the state to repeal section 50-a of the civil rights law.
--The Committee on Health will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law allowing individuals to request that the name of a physician whose license has been revoked be removed from their birth certificate.

At 9:30 a.m. Thursday, the State Legislature will hold a joint budget hearing on mental hygiene.

At 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Governor Cuomo will speak at the Association for a Better New York at the Midtown Hilton, discussing infrastructure.

At 2 p.m. Thursday, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism will host a debate for Public Advocate candidates. NY1’s Errol Louis will moderate. The participating candidates are former Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Members Rafael Espinal and Ydanis Rodriguez, and Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Nomiki Konst.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton for a “CityLaw Breakfast” focusing on “rebuilding New York’s airports for the 21st century.”

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: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Electronic Poll Books Next Step in New York Election Overhaul


express poll e poll book

(photo: Elections Systems & Software)


As Democrats in the state Legislature continue a rapid pace of passing legislation to start the new session, the state Senate seems poised to advance another round of election and voting reforms, including approving the use of electronic poll books to administer elections.

Electronic poll books, used in at least 34 states and the District of Columbia, are a fairly simple but significant instrument in making elections more efficient, experts and advocates argue. They make voting faster, preventing long lines at polling sites, save costs in the long run, and are easier to update and maintain compared to the paper lists currently used in New York.

Some advocates also say e-poll books, as they’re often called, are essential in implementing improvements to voter registration processes, which the state Legislature put into motion last month, and helpful in the implementation of the significant shift of early voting, also part of the recently-passed package.

On Monday, the state Senate’s elections committee held a vote and approved a bill allowing electronic poll books, among other items on the agenda. The bill will now head to the Senate floor for a vote. Senator Zellnor Myrie, committee chair and the sponsor of the bill, is confident e-poll books will subsequently be passed by the full Legislature, in advance of this year’s primary election in June. The legislation does not mandate the use of e-poll books.

“The larger reforms that we’ve instituted and that we’re looking at for the rest of the session are going to be made much easier by us modernizing how we see whether or not someone has voted,” Myrie said in a phone interview. “So electronic poll books is something that has wide consensus.”

When Democrats took control of the Legislature this year after flipping the Senate, they quickly passed a series of voting and elections measures including early voting, consolidating the federal and state primary to June, and preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds. They also passed measures to amend the state constitution to implement no-excuse absentee ballots and same-day voter registration -- amendments that will require passage by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then approval by voters through a referendum.

Advocates say that early voting and same-day voter registration in particular would be far more efficient with electronic poll books.

“Implementing early voting in New York City without electronic poll books would be an administrative disaster,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy and programs at Citizens Union, a government reform group. “To have effective and organized early voting in New York, we need to allow for the use of electronic pollbooks.”

Other advocates aren’t as worried but agree that electronic poll books should be the next step for the Legislature. “You don’t need to have electronic poll books to do early voting but it would make it easier,” said Jennifer Wilson, director of program and policy for League of Women Voters of New York State. She noted, for instance, that Texas implemented early voting more than a decade ago but started using electronic poll books about five years ago. But for same-day registration, she said it would be “crucial.”

Jarret Berg, executive director of the New York Democratic Lawyers Council, concurred. “I don’t think it’s an indispensable component but it certainly makes a lot of sense and I don’t see how you could do [early voting] effectively without some kind of real-time reconciliation,” he said. “We need to move away from this really sloppy paper-based system.”

The advocates do acknowledge challenges and concerns about electronic poll books. Among them is the upfront cost that local counties may have to bear for purchasing equipment, like digital tablets, on which the poll books would be stored (localities may look to the state for help in paying for such equipment). Poll workers also tend to be older and could struggle with the technology. “There’s a digital divide,” Berg conceded. Training would be necessary regardless.

There are also concerns about the security of voter lists, made that much more severe after Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Digital devices could be vulnerable to hacking, necessitating standalone devices that would not be connected to the internet and would have to be individually updated. This is similar to the electronic ballot scanners that are not internet-connected and therefore far less susceptible to hacking.

Myrie is aware of those concerns but, as the advocates also argue, says the benefits outweigh the costs. “This is really about making and administering elections much simpler,” he said. “It allows for cost savings. In the future we’re not gonna have to pay for storage of all these [paper] poll books. It is a much more efficient way to do things so that...some of the lines that we have become unfortunately very accustomed to when we go to vote are reduced by a significant measure if we make the process of checking a registration easier.”

Electronic poll books also have bipartisan support. Before Myrie took over the elections committee, Republican Senator Fred Akshar had sponsored a bill, with companion legislation put forward by Democratic Assemblymember Michael Cusick that was repeatedly passed by the Assembly. Governor Andrew Cuomo also backs the measure but some say his support would have to be backed up with funding to help counties transition to the new system, money he did not include in his executive budget proposal.

“Governor Cuomo proposed a comprehensive set of reforms in the Executive Budget to make voting easier, including authorizing electronic poll books,” Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson, said in a statement. “We will work with the legislature to identify additional resources to the extent necessary.”

Myrie is prepared to push for those resources; as some are already doing when it comes to funding early voting. It’s not clear what the initial and ongoing costs of the e-poll books may be. “Even if its a significant cost, I’ve been saying and will continue to say, to go from worst to first is gonna require some pain,” he said of New York’s voting laws.

***
by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article was updated after the Senate elections committee held a vote and passed the e-poll book bill.  



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