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Senate Democrats Pursue No Formal Consequences for Parker After 'Kill yourself!' Tweet


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Senator Parker, left, with Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins (photo: @SenatorParker)


The newly-seated Democratic majority in the state Senate does not seem inclined to take any formal action against one of its members, Senator Kevin Parker of Brooklyn, for an inappropriate Twitter outburst last month, directed at a Republican Senate staffer, or his apparent misuse of his official parking placard.

In tweets on December 18, GOP spokesperson Candice Giove had highlighted what seemed to be Parker’s inappropriate use of his parking placard. Parker responded with a shocking tweet, writing “Kill yourself!” to Giove. He later deleted the tweet but not before it was widely shared and memorialized, becoming the subject of a good deal of attention both on social media and in news reports.

The incident sparked a quick backlash against Parker, who has a history of losing his temper and getting in trouble for it. Elected officials, including those within his party, were quick to condemn his flippant remark about suicide. And many also raised the underlying question of whether he was among the public officials, elected and not, that have been abusing the parking privileges they receive as a perk of the job, which has become a broader issue in New York City in recent years.

Parker later expressed some contrition. "I sincerely apologize," he tweeted. "I used a poor choice of words. Suicide is a serious thing and and (sic) should not be made light of." But he continued to criticize Giove on Twitter and elsewhere, calling her “an internet troll” in an interview with the New York Daily News. In a statement at the time, which was between the elections where Democrats flipped the Senate and their official ascent to control of the upper chamber, now-Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “I was disappointed in Senator Parker’s tweet. Suicide is a serious issue and should not be joked about in this manner. I am glad that he has apologized.”

But that may be the end of it. Stewart-Cousins’ office did not respond to repeated requests for comment on whether Parker would face any formal action for his behavior. The incident is not being probed by the Senate’s Committee on Ethics and Internal Governance, chaired by Senator Alessandra Biaggi, who has promised to reinvigorate what has been a dormant committee despite constant ethical lapses among state officials. And Parker himself told Gotham Gazette in a phone interview that the matter was “handled internally.”

In response, Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif had harsh words for the Senate majority. “Senator Parker tells a young female staffer to go kill herself and the Democrats don’t give him so much as a slap on the wrist?,” Reif said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Punish him for his inappropriate rhetoric. Punish him for violating the parking placard rules. But don’t just bury your head in the sand. Despite their talk, it looks like the new Democratic Majority doesn’t really care about ethics after all.”

Parker, in the phone interview, said he’d learned his lesson. “The rules have been reinforced to me and I will continue to abide by the rules,” he said. “We’ve moved on. We’re passing legislation.”

But he refused to address whether he had improperly used his parking placard. “It’s a tempest in a teacup, I’m not going down that road,” he said. And he would not reveal details of how the matter was resolved. “That’s a private conversation between me and the majority leader,” he said.

There are several avenues for holding state legislators to account for their conduct in office. Besides the ethics committee, there are the oversight and enforcement bodies -- the Joint Commission on Public Ethics and the Legislative Ethics Commission -- charged with investigating and penalizing violations of Public Officers Law (though the law is written vaguely and may be hard to apply to Parker’s situation).

Biaggi’s committee is not taking up the issue. “The first priority for the ethics committee is to ensure there are clear standards of behavior and a clear means for dealing with alleged violations in a timely manner,” said David Neustadt, a spokesperson for Biaggi. “The first focus of the ethics committee is dealing with the issue of sexual harassment and ensuring that New York State is a leader in making sure everyone is safe at work.”

On the potential parking placard violation, Neustadt said, "It's up to the issuing authority to make sure that parking placard holders know and follow the rules. It's up to the police to issue parking tickets when placards are used inappropriately.”

It’s unclear if there have been any complaints filed with either JCOPE or the LEC, or if either body is looking into the incident. Such investigations are usually kept confidential under state law. “We can’t comment on anything that is or might be an investigative matter,” said Walter McClure, a JCOPE spokesperson.

Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a group that advocates for government reform, transparency, and accountability, said Parker’s inappropriate comments and alleged placard misuse “ought to be looked at” by both the Senate and JCOPE.

“They should err on the side of acting formally, even for low-level infractions, because it sets a serious tone,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

State Census Commission Yet to Be Named or Funded as Key Initial Deadline Passes


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(photo by Governor's Office)


A legally-mandated state commission that was meant to examine the challenges in counting New York’s population for the 2020 Census and craft recommendations to achieve an accurate count has not been named despite having already missed a January 10 deadline for issuing its initial report.

Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature included in the state budget a measure to create the New York State 2020 Complete Count Commission, a 16-member body charged with studying the reasons for past census undercounts and plotting ways to improve performance in the high-stakes effort. By January 10 of this year, the commission was supposed to issue a report on those causes and lay out a comprehensive plan, along with budget projections, for ensuring an accurate count in 2020.

But the commission hasn’t been created, nor did the governor propose any funding for census efforts in his executive budget proposal released on January 15.

Cuomo only mentioned the census sparingly in his State of the State speech that day, celebrating the fact that a federal judge ruled in favor of the lawsuit led by the New York Attorney General’s office against the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census. “Now let's go out there and count every New Yorker so we get what we deserve in the state of New York,” Cuomo said, without outlining any other details of the state’s census efforts.

The upcoming census is expected to be a particularly challenging effort for states as the federal government is putting far fewer resources than experts say are necessary to fully count the population of the entire country as required by the constitution every ten years. New York already has its fair share of challenges.

The state is home to many “hard-to-count” communities, where at least a quarter of the population does not self-respond to the census questionnaire. This is particularly true for immigrant communities with sizeable undocumented populations, where fears of interacting with federal authorities has been heightened under the Trump administration. There have also historically been other hard-to-count communities, including low-, middle- and upper-middle income African-Americans.

The 2020 Census will also be the first to mostly employ digital technology, another obstacle, especially in rural communities with limited access to the internet and among older people. An undercount can be disastrous for New York, with consequences ranging from cuts in federal funding -- New York receives as much as $80 billion each year -- and the loss of congressional representation. Due to population loss the state is projected to lose at least one congressional seat, with possibly another on the line depending on the count. After the 2010 Census, New York lost two congressional seats.

Half of the state commission’s members were meant to be appointed by the governor; three each were meant to be appointed by the state Assembly speaker and the Senate majority leader, while the minority leaders in both houses were supposed to appoint one member each.

“We have yet to receive all recommendations from appointing bodies for the commission,” said

Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for the governor, in an email. “We are hopeful that the new Senate Majority will be more committed to the census effort.”

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not respond to a request for comment. Mike Whyland, a spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said in an email that the speaker appointed three individuals in August, though he did not name the members or provide any further details when asked. Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb’s spokesperson did not provide comment.

The governor’s office did note that the state has launched an effort to ensure the accuracy of census address data, which Gotham Gazette reported on in December. “In 2019, Governor Cuomo will launch a comprehensive campaign to protect the integrity of the 2020 Census and to ensure that every New Yorker is counted,” Crampton-Hays added.

New York City, meanwhile, is forging ahead with its own census efforts. Mayor Bill de Blasio allocated $4.3 million in funding in the current year’s budget for the census and is expected to add more in the budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1 of this year. Earlier this month, de Blasio also announced that Julie Menin, the commissioner of the Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment, would take on a new role as Director of the Census for the city.

Community advocates are worried that the state is not taking the 2020 census seriously. The New York Counts 2020 coalition, made up of nonprofits and community-based organizations from across the state, commissioned a study by the Fiscal Policy Institute that estimates about $40 million in total funding is needed to ensure an accurate count. These organizations will be particularly crucial in order to reach immigrant communities and the most vulnerable residents of the state.

“Governor Cuomo must take crucial steps now so that every person in our state is counted in the 2020 census,” said Rachel Bloom, director of public policy & programs at Citizens Union and the co-chair of the state and local government committee of New York Counts 2020. “New York desperately needs funding in the state budget for census outreach as well as a Complete Count Commission. An accurate census count impacts not just our political representation, but New York’s federal funding. Money and resources spent now will benefit New Yorkers enormously for the decade to come.”

[READ: On Census Preparations, State Lags While City, Advocacy Organizations & Business Community Move Ahead]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

City & State Legislative Action & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 21


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week starts with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, which will include many commemorative events acoss the city and state.

The week will feature a lot of action at the Democratically-controlled state Legislature in Albany, on Tuesday and Wednesday, as both houses continue to pass bills that have not moved in past sessions when Republicans controlled the state Senate, and at the New York City Council, where there will be a variety of committee hearings and one full-body Stated Meeting, at which new bills are first introduced and bills that have passed committee receive a floor vote.

We're continuing to watch four other themes this week: next steps after Governor Andrew Cuomo's State of the State and budget presentation from last week; how the MTA Board is handling the change of L-train tunnel repair plans; what Mayor Bill de Blasio will do next in his rollout of his State of the City agenda and his pursuit of a national spotlight; and the race for New York City Public Advocate, with the Feb. 26 special election rapidly approaching.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with 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
Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There will be remembrances and celebrations across the city and state, with many elected officials participating. Governor Cuomo has no public events for the day, however, while Mayor de Blasio will deliver remarks at the annual Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) tribute to Dr. King and the National Action Network celebration of King's legacy -- the latter event will be attended by many officials and candidates.

Tuesday
The New York State Legislature will be in session on Tuesday in Albany. It is expected to be another busy day of passing bills that were passed by the Assembly in prior years but not voted on in what was the Republican-controlled Senate. "New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie will hold a press conference regarding women's reproductive health on Tuesday, January 22, 2019 at 1:30 p.m. in the Assembly Parlor, Room 303 of the New York State Capitol, Albany." Both houses are expected to pass the Reproductive Health Act on Monday.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in Brooklyn, Mayor de Blasio "will make an announcement about increasing access to health insurance" at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County Hospital. "Later, the Mayor will attend the wake for Police Officer Brian Kessler."

At the City Council on Tuesday:
--The Committee on Public Safety will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the Civilian Complaint Review Board, as well as to discuss a proposed law requiring the CCRB to report semi-annually “the reasons that cases are closed without the benefit of a full investigation, and the efforts it made to avoid such closures.”
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 10:30 a.m.
--The Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet at 10:45 a.m.
--The Committee on For-Hire Vehicles will meet at 11 a.m. to discuss proposed laws prohibiting and establishing penalties for the operation of commuter vans by drivers without commuter van licenses, and to require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to set items such as disclosure requirements and consumer protection practices as preconditions for financial agreements drivers enter into.
--The Committee on Land Use will meet at 11 a.m.
--The Committees on Civil Service & Labor and Housing will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “Section 3 hiring requirements.”
--The Committee on Cultural Affairs will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “arts, culture, and Stonewall 50.”

At 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will appear on PIX 11 morning news.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, "the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) will consider calendaring 4 historic districts in Sunset Park, Brooklyn: Sunset Park North, Central Sunset Park, Sunset Park 50th Street, and Sunset Park South. These areas contain the most cohesive and intact concentrations of high quality architecture in Sunset Park and together represent the neighborhood’s primary periods of historical and residential development. The Commission will also consider calendaring the First Hungarian Reformed Church of New York, one of few religious properties designed by the distinguished New York City architect Emery Roth. It is also significant for its association with the Hungarian-American community who settled in the Yorkville neighborhood. Calendaring is the first formal step in the designation process. Once calendared, LPC will hold a public hearing on the proposed designations at a future date, followed by a public meeting during which the Commission will vote on the designation."

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, "Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul is a Guest on WUTQ's 'Talk of the Town' with Jason Aiello." At 10:30 a.m., "Hochul Makes an Announcement and Delivers 2019 State of the State and Budget Presentation" in Utica. She'll then preside over the state Senate session in Albany.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the New York City Advisory Commission on Property Tax Reform established by Mayor de Blasio and the City Council will hold its latest public meeting at 250 Broadway.

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy will hold a budget hearing in Albany regarding NYSERDA.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson will appear on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

On Tuesday at 5 p.m. at Gracie Mansion, "First Lady Chirlane McCray will hold a media availability about the ‘She Persists: A Century of Women Artists in New York 1919-2019'..."Later, the First Lady will deliver remarks at the opening reception for the ‘She Persists’ art exhibit."

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Association for a Better New York will host two talks at LMHQ: one on public-private partnerships and their impact on parks and communities, with former Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe, and one on mobile broadband infrastructure with former Verizon region president Chris Levendos.

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

At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committees on Aging and Women will meet jointly at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “women aging into poverty in New York City,” as well as to discuss a resolution calling upon Congress to pass and the president to sign the Protecting Older Workers Against Discrimination Act.
--The Committee on Mental Health will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding a three-year update on ThriveNYC.
--The Committees on Environmental Protection and Parks & Recreation will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “the status of the East Side Coastal Resiliency Project.”
--The Committee on Transportation will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss several proposed laws relating to bicycling, including laws to legalize certain electric bikes and scooters, require DOT to create a program to assist low-income owners of e-bikes to convert their bikes to pedal-assist, and to create a pilot program for shared e-scooters.
--The Committee on Economic Development will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “Brooklyn Navy Yard expansion plans.”

Starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Vocal-NY will hold a lobbying day in Albany to “demand housing and services for all New Yorkers living with HIV.”

At 5 p.m. Wednesday, this week’s Max & Murphy show will air on WBAI radio (99.5FM and wbai.org). The hosts will continue to interview candidates for Public Advocate in the February 26 special election: Assemblymember Ron Kim and activist Nomiki Konst will join the show this week. (Prior weeks have featured City Council Members Rafael Espinal and Eric Ulrich, Assemblymembers Michael Blake and Danny O’Donnell, and attorney Dawn Smalls)

At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Gay Men’s Health Crisis and the Schools of Public Engagement at the New School will host a forum for candidates for Public Advocate. Topics will include “social and public health issues affecting New Yorkers, including HIV/AIDS prevention and education, substance use, mental health, LGBT rights, and discrimination.” The forum will take place at the New School Auditorium in Greenwich Village.

On Wedensday at 6:30 p.m. in Brooklyn, Borough President Eric Adams is hosting the second in a series of public workshops on the "Brooklyn Downtown Revitalization Initiative," a project underway as a result of a $10 million state grant.

Thursday
The City Council will hold a stated meeting at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Speaker Corey Johnson will hold the usual pre-stated press conference at 12:30 p.m.

Also at the City Council on Thursday: the Committee on Finance will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss proposed laws relating to property taxes.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, the MTA will hold a board meeting.

At 9 a.m. Thursday, City & State will host the P3 Summit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, discussing public-private partnerships. Keynote remarks will be given by Derek Utter, Chief Development Officer at the Port Authority. Other speakers will include Council Members Ben Kallos and Ydanis Rodriguez, Assemblymember Amy Paulin, Port Authority CFO Elizabeth McCarthy, and others.

At noon Thursday, the New York State Board of Elections will hold a commissioners’ meeting in Albany.

Friday and the weekend
At 9 a.m. Friday, the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary will hold a public hearing at the offices of OATH at 100 Church Street for public comment on nine interim Civil Court judges.

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

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will deliver her State of the Borough address at LaGuardia Community College.

***
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

What's The [Data] Point? $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget


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What's The [Data] Point? Episode 62 -- $175.2 Billion, Cuomo's Executive Budget, with Andrew Rein of CBC [You can download What's The [Data] Point? wherever you get your podcasts, including on iTunes]

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$175.2 billion is the size of Governor Andrew Cuomo's Executive Budget plan for Fiscal Year 2020, unveiled earlier this week and now the basis for hearings and negotiations with the Legislature.

The New York budget is one of the largest government budgets in the world, and it’s poised to grow 4 percent over this year’s budget for fiscal year 2019. The Governor has included proposals for everything from congestion pricing to recreation marijuana and sports gambling legalization. Of particular note are significant spending increases on priorities such as education that are backed by a five-year extension of the income tax surcharge on millionaires. Andrew Rein, new president of Citizens Budget Commission, joined the hosts to give an initial assessment of the Governor's budget plan.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

15 Notable Cuomo Proposals Not In His State of the State Speech


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Gov. Cuomo (photo via the Governor's office)


In his expansive State of the State speech on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo articulated wide-ranging priorities for the legislative session and the budget for the 2020 fiscal year that is due April 1. But there was plenty left unsaid in the 80-minute speech, included instead in the detailed policy book and budget documents released along with the governor’s address. Some of those proposals could have broad social and economic consequences for the state should they come to pass, with many likely to move forward as Democrats control the entire State Legislature.

But the governor has also been known to include proposals in past policy books and budgets without putting any political capital behind them once negotiations with the Legislature are underway. Below is a list of notable Cuomo proposals that didn’t make it into the governor’s speech:

Increasing protections against harassment in the workplace
Though the governor has touted passing last year the strongest laws in the nation against sexual harassment in the workplace, he did not mention them at all during his State of the State speech. Nonetheless, his plans do include proposals to expand the protections passed last year, including by lowering what some have called onerous standards for proving harassment under the Human Rights Law, mandating that non-disclosure agreements articulate a victim’s right to file a complaint or participate in an investigation, and requiring workplaces to prominently display sexual harassment informational posters.

The governor and legislators have been under pressure from advocates and some lawmakers to hold public hearings on sexual harassment in both the public and private sector -- hearings that were not held before last year’s laws were passed -- and to strengthen the new laws. While Cuomo included enhanced laws in his proposals, legislative leaders announced a joint hearing for February 13.

Cuomo is also proposing removal of the statute of limitations for reporting rape.

Pursuing universal access to health care
The governor will establish a commission comprised of the Department of Health, Department of Financial Services, health care and insurance experts to explore how the state can provide universal access to health care in the state. The commission would have to issue a report by December 1.

Cuomo has dismissed calls from legislators and advocates to support creation of a single-payer health care system in New York, but outlined several health care proposals in his speech and included the commission in his written plans.

Criminal penalties for assaulting the press
Taking direct aim at President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press, including calling journalists the “enemy of the people,” and accusations of “fake news” against reporters, Cuomo, who has had his own issues with the press, is proposing legislation that would make it a felony to assault a journalist while they are doing their job. Journalists would join several other classes of worker, such as nurses, in this category.

Creating a database of economic development deals
Cuomo’s budget proposes several reforms to state contracting processes, which have been at the center of recent corruption scandals that have marred his administration. Among those reforms is an online database of economic development projects that receive state assistance. Good government advocates have repeatedly called for that “database of deals” to provide more accountability for state spending and the Legislature has in the past promised to pass such legislation even if the governor did not support it.

It’s unclear if the database the governor has in mind will meet the expectations of those who have demanded such a public accounting, which would ideally show investments and their results in granular detail.

Protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation
The governor backed the “One Day to Save New Yorkers” bill, a small but significant change to sentencing for Class A misdemeanors. The bill would reduce the maximum punishment for such offenses from 365 days -- exactly one year -- to 364, in an effort to protect undocumented immigrants who, if convicted of crimes with a sentence of one year or more, could face deportation proceedings.

A permanent watchdog over police-involved killings
Cuomo signed an executive order in 2015 giving the state Attorney General the authority of a  special prosecutor to investigate instances where unarmed civilians are killed by law enforcement officers. His budget proposal includes support for legislation to codify that order by creating a permanent special counsel to probe such incidents, something he has backed in the past.

Additionally, Cuomo’s budget would require all law enforcement agencies across the state to implement a use-of-force policy and to collect and report all data on incidents where the use of force leads to death or injury.

Tackling lead exposure among children
The governor has proposed lowering the threshold of blood lead levels in children that would trigger intervention by public health officials. The proposal could be particularly significant for New York City, where the city’s public housing authority (NYCHA) has been sued in federal court for failing to deal with lead paint in its apartments (and covering up missed inspections) while Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly downplayed the number of children exposed to lead.

Creating a new agency to help domestic violence survivors
The budget proposes creating a new state agency called the Division of Victim Prevention and Response, by consolidating the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety.

The governor is also proposing legislation to modernize policies for providing relief to domestic violence survivors -- no longer requiring them to pay certain costs for staying in a domestic violence shelter and removing the requirement that they must apply for public assistance. He is also creating a task force to study the state’s service delivery system for survivors. Cuomo is also pushing the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would expand certain protections for survivors caught up in the criminal justice system.

Protecting breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination
The governor intends to propose legislation that would clearly establish lactation as a pregnancy-related condition covered by the state’s Human Rights Law. It would ensure that employers provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding women (i.e. to pump) or be liable under the law.  

Expanding protections against wage theft
In his “first 100 days” agenda, Cuomo spoke about passing new protections for the freelance and gig economy but made no reference to it on Tuesday and his policy book only mentions it sparingly, in its introductory section. What the document does include is a proposal to expand criminal penalties for wage theft, a crime of which freelancers and gig workers often find themselves the victims. The budget proposes changing the state’s labor law and establishing an expanded range of violations, from misdemeanors to felonies, for wage theft. It would also give the state Department of Labor the authority to refer cases for criminal prosecution.

Protecting sex trafficking victims
The budget commits to closing loopholes in the state’s rape shield laws, which are meant to protect victims of sexual violence by limiting evidence of their sexual history from being introduced in court. Cuomo’s budget proposes expanding the law to cover sex trafficking victims and to prevent prostitution convictions from being used against victims.

Establishing compassionate release
Cuomo’s budget proposes introducing legislation to establish a compassionate release process for incarcerated individuals above the age of 55 suffering from debilitating health issues. The bill would allow these individuals to be considered for medical parole after serving half their sentence.

Promoting corporate diversity and pay equity
Cuomo’s budget creates a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency, to devise ways the state can promote diversity on corporate boards and in their workforce and to ensure pay equity. Cuomo will also order a study -- by the Department of State, Department of Labor and the Division of Human Rights -- of the gender and racial composition and inequity of boards of firms that have state contracts.

Encouraging youth participation and engagement
The policy book proposes creating a Youth Council made up of 62 young people, one from each county in the state, between the ages of 13 and 21. The council is meant to operate for two years, meeting at least three times a year, to inform the state government’s policies on education, the environment, civic engagement, and juvenile justice. It would also include subcommittees dedicated to discussing sexual harassment and assault, female empowerment, and cyberbullying.

Extending the millionaire’s tax and closing the carried interest loophole
The state’s millionaire’s tax is slated to expire at the end of 2019 and so far its fate has remained somewhat uncertain, though Cuomo announced his intention to renew it during a December policy speech. The governor’s policy book proposals includes a five-year extension of the tax to retain the $4.4 billion that it is estimated to bring to the state coffers each year from roughly 60,000 taxpayers, half of whom are from out of state.

The governor is also proposing to do away with the “carried interest” loophole. Hedge fund managers, private equity investors, and venture capitalists earn a portion of their income in the form of carried interest, which is taxed at a lower rate than regular income, costing the state about $100 million, according to state estimates. Cuomo has proposed a change in how this income is treated, and would impose a 17 percent “fairness fee” to raise about $1.1 billion annually.

[Read: Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms]

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo's 2019 Agenda of Election, Campaign Finance and Government Ethics Reforms


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(Photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of progressive legislation in his State of the State speech on Tuesday, accompanied by more detailed policy and budget books, including several measures aimed at improving New York’s democracy and increasing public trust in state government.

Emboldened by full Democratic control of the State Senate and Assembly, after years of a split Legislature where Republicans controlled the upper chamber, Cuomo reiterated many of the proposals that he has repeatedly advanced in vain in previous years and also introduced new ideas to combat public corruption, reduce the effects of money in politics, and provide more transparency about the workings of the Legislature and Executive branches.

Cuomo took stock of the state government’s failure to police its own -- as he spoke about passing ethics reforms, the powerpoint slide behind him filled with newspaper headlines about corruption in state government, starting with his own administration. “If you read the headlines over the past few years, they have been continuous and they have been disappointing, and they have been disgraceful, and they have been widespread,” he admitted. “It looks terrible and it is terrible.”

Government reform advocates have broadly praised the governor’s platform as they continue to examine the details included in the budget. On voting reforms, there seems to be general agreement, while the campaign finance and ethics proposals may prompt further debate.   

Election Reforms
Cuomo backed several voting reforms, many of which were passed by the State Legislature on Monday and sent to the governor’s desk for his signature. They included early voting -- he has proposed 12 days of early voting while the Legislature passed a 10 day bill -- consolidation of state and federal primaries into one date in June, pre-registering 16- and 17-year-olds to vote, and portability of voter registrations. There was also the campaign finance reform measure of significantly limiting contributions through the so-called LLC loophole and requiring more transparency from LLC owners.

The Legislature also began the process of amending the state constitution to establish same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots by mail, both of which will have to be approved by the next Legislature seated in 2021 and then through a ballot referendum.   

Cuomo supports all of the above, and his proposals go further, some of which are matched by bills Democratic legislators have introduced. The governor wants to make Election Day a state holiday, implement automatic and online voter registration, and also expand voting hours for primary elections upstate where polling sites currently only open at noon.

Campaign Finance Reform
Cuomo is supporting a sweeping campaign finance reform agenda that includes a public matching system for the state.

The Legislature’s LLC bill brought contribution limits in line with those for corporations, at $5,000. Cuomo, on the other hand, has proposed closing that loophole entirely (something some legislators have said they want to do in a next phase) and banning all corporate contributions to candidate campaigns, while also lowering contribution limits across the board. He also proposed prohibiting any contributions from individuals or entities that have recently applied or are seeking government contracts.

Separately, the governor pushed a measure to require reporting of intermediaries or “bundlers” who collect donations from several contributors and funnel them to candidates.

He wants to establish public financing of elections, providing 6-to-1 matches for small contributions up to $175, similar to the system currently in place in New York City. The public funds limits would be $8 million for candidates for governor; $4 million for lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller candidates; $375,000 for Senate candidates; and $175,000 for Assembly candidates.

On Wednesday, the governor’s office put out details of his proposal to lower contribution limits -- statewide candidates would be able to receive a total of $25,000 ($10,000 for the primary and $15,000 for the general election) down from the current effective total limit of roughly $65,100. Limits would be lower for state legislators -- Senate candidates would be allowed to raise a total of $10,000 from individual contributors, down from $18,000; Assembly candidates would be limited to $6,000 total, down from $8,800. While significant reductions, the numbers are still quite high relative to individual donation limits to presidential candidates or candidates for mayor of New York City, for example.

Cuomo is also seeking to take on the scourge of “dark money” flowing into elections through independent expenditures by anonymous sources. His budget briefing book calls for expanded disclosure by 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) nonprofit groups of the “extent and nature of their expenditures used to influence the debate on public issues, and the identity of large donors who facilitate that speech.”

“These loopholes make the entire campaign system fraught for a lack of integrity,” Cuomo said. “You want to talk about franchising individuals who now feel disenfranchised - a corporation, a large contributor with a $10 million check can buy an election and nobody knows who he or she is.”

Government and Lobbying Ethics
Though some of his proposals are likely to face resistance from the State Legislature, Cuomo wasn’t shy about challenging his legislative counterparts in his Tuesday speech as he railed against the recurring instances of corruption that have come to light in recent years, including from within his own administration.

“Now, we will never stop venial, greedy, ignorant, behavior by people. And we shouldn't be expected to do that,” Cuomo said, “but we should be expected to do everything we can to have a system in place that safeguards against fraud or theft, and there it is a continuing battle, but there I believe we can do more to ensure the public trust.”

He proposed requiring candidates in state elections to disclose their tax returns, a measure that is usually voluntarily taken by candidates for major offices like mayor, governor, and president. Cuomo’s budget proposal would require statewide candidates to release ten years of tax returns and five years of returns for candidates for Senate and Assembly.

He also emphasized the need to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, a move that certain lawmakers have backed in the past but one that previous legislative leaders have ardently opposed.

The governor is also seeking to ban government employees from volunteering for their employer’s political campaigns, and wants to require local elected officials to annually disclose their finances to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), just as state elected officials and employees are required to do.   

Cuomo also floated a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” to severely limit real and perceived pay-to-play politics and to curb the revolving door practices that have become commonplace in Albany. He proposed greater penalties for violations of lobbying laws, lowering the threshold for disclosure of lobbying activities to $500, down from $5,000, a ban on loans from lobbyists to candidates, and preventing political consultants from lobbying the elected officials who they helped get into office. He is also advocating for expanding the blackout period in which government employees and elected officials, as well as their staff members, would be prohibited from becoming lobbyists from two years to five.

The governor promised on Tuesday that if the state Legislature did not approve the code of conduct for lobbyists, he would prohibit those lobbyists who do not voluntarily abide by it from lobbying the executive chamber. The provisions of his proposal, however, contain many gray areas as well as steep penalties -- a lobbyist who deliberately violates the rules could receive a civil fine of $25,000 or be banned from lobbying for six months to five years -- that will be part of negotiations if there is any movement on the proposals.  

In a surprising move, the governor also announced on Tuesday that he had reached an agreement with State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to implement certain reforms to the state’s contracting and procurement processes, including returning to the comptroller certain powers that had been stripped during Cuomo’s first year as governor. Cuomo said he would allow the comptroller to pre-audit any SUNY, CUNY and Office of General Services contracts worth more than $250,000, granted the audits are done within 30 days, and, in turn, the comptroller agreed to turn over contracts above that threshold to the state inspector general for audits.

“Contract procurement review must be performed and government must function on a timely basis,” Cuomo said. “I don't believe one is the enemy of the other. Yes, review contracts, but yes let's get it done quickly because government has to function and we have to get things done.” The agreement neutralized criticism that Cuomo faced for undermining the comptroller’s authority and also preempted the potential threat of the state Legislature passing these measures against the governor’s wishes.   

Cuomo also proposed strengthening the powers of the State Inspector General, giving the office the authority to oversee nonprofits affiliated with SUNY and CUNY, as well as “state-related procurement and the implementation and enforcement of financial control policies at SUNY and CUNY.”

“This proposal is a positive step forward,” said Jennifer Freeman, a DiNapoli spokesperson, in a statement. “Improvements to the procurement process will assure that independent checks and balances are in place to prevent abuse.”

Finally, the governor’s briefing book indicates that he will direct Empire State Development, a state agency responsible for economic development programs, to create a publicly accessible online database of projects getting state benefits. Good government advocates, DiNapoli, and some legislators have long been pushing for such a “database of deals” and praised its inclusion in the governor’s budget proposal.  

“We’re very pleased by the sheer scope of the many good government reform measures the governor issued and we’re carefully evaluating them,” said Alex Camarda, senior policy advisor at Reinvent Albany, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We’re most pleased with progress on clean contracting.”

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

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Promising Sweeping Change, Cuomo Outlines State of the State Policy Agenda and $175 Billion Budget Plan


cuomo sotos ja

(photo via the Governor's office)


Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat starting his third term, laid out an ambitious social, economic, and racial “justice agenda” at his State of the State speech on Tuesday as he also presented a $175.2 billion executive budget proposal for the 2020 state fiscal year that begins April 1.

Speaking at the Hart Theater in Albany, Cuomo celebrated full Democratic control of the State Legislature for the first time in his tenure and promised quick movement on a raft of legislation within the first 100 days of the new legislative session, which began last week. “We’re off with a bang,” Cuomo mused, as he began his roughly 80-minute speech by playing a video of the Tuesday morning demolition of the old Tappan Zee bridge. Indeed, the returning Democratic majority in the Assembly and new majority in the Senate have already begun passing bills long-stalled in what had been the Republican-led upper chamber, including several voting reforms and protections for LGBT New Yorkers -- all legislation Cuomo is expected to soon sign.

Cuomo had already articulated much of his State of the State policy agenda in the previous weeks, but added new elements both in his speech and the accompanying policy book, while also reviewing what he sees as his top accomplishments and connecting policy plans to his budget outline. He also repeatedly took issue with federal policies, such as tax reforms he said are causing crises in the state, and sought to juxtapose New York with the Trump administration on issues like immigration.

With both the Assembly and Senate under the party’s control, Cuomo and the Legislature are in a position to advance sweeping progressive bills and a budget that would make significant shifts in everything from education and health care to elections, women’s rights, the criminal justice system, environmental and rent regulations, mass transit, and labor protections, to name a few. The governor outlined policies from ending the use of cash bail to legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana to a “Green New Deal” for New York that increases investments in renewable energy. He also outlined sweeping campaign finance and government ethics reform plans, some of which may set up clashes with the Legislature, and made a surprise announcement that he and Comptroller Tom DiNapoli had come to an agreement about contract pre-review that the governor had previously resisted.

As he has done since running for reelection, and most forcefully in his inaugural speech on Ellis Island on New Year’s Day, Cuomo presented New York as a countervailing force to the federal government under President Donald Trump and as a vanguard for progressive policies in the nation. Though he has dismissed rumors that he harbors greater ambitions for 2020, the speech could easily sketch the outline of a presidential campaign.

“We face real challenges in the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “We have a federal government that is assaulting our values, our liberties, our rights and our economy.”

Cuomo noted that the state would have to fill a budget gap of $3.1 billion, even as he boasted of his record on fiscal management, reduction in taxes to their lowest in decades, and positive credit ratings for the state. But he warned of slowing revenues, blaming the 2017 federal tax code overhaul that reduced the State and Local Tax (SALT) deduction that New York taxpayers can claim. While pointing to an increased overall tax burden for many New Yorkers, especially those who pay high property taxes, Cuomo pitched proposals to reduce taxes on the middle-class at a cost of $1.8 billion and to permanently cap property tax increases at 2 percent annually (everywhere outside New York City), something the state has done annually for several years.

On both education and health care funding, which comprise the two largest chunks of the state budget, Cuomo proposed a 3.6 percent increase. He proposed a total education budget of $27.7 billion, an increase of $1 billion, and floated a new funding method called the “Education Equity” formula, to ensure that state aid to poorer districts is distributed equitably to poorer schools, rather than what he depicted as the lopsided distribution under the current ‘Foundation Aid’ formula that does not dictate where money goes within districts. Education funding may also form the basis for disagreement with the Legislature, both houses of which are likely to push for more than a $1 billion increase in overall state funding to localities.

Health care spending would increase to $19.6 billion, up from $18.9 billion, though the governor also warned of federal cuts, including $2.5 billion to Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments and $1 billion to cost-share reduction payments, besides the perennial threat from Republicans seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

A leader who wants to be known as a builder, and one who can get large projects completed, Cuomo touted his successful infrastructure projects and those that will come to completion in the next few years. At the same time, he took no ownership of the crisis at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), seeking, as he has done in the past, to deflect blame for the crumbling subway system and the mismanaged agency where he appoints the largest share of board members and its leadership. Cuomo proposed overhauling the agency to clarify who controls it, though he already does, in effect, but did not offer specifics. He also reiterated a push for a congestion pricing proposal that he said could bring in $15 billion for the agency (apparently over a ten-year window, though details have not been released), far short of its estimated needs, and insisted that any other need should be split evenly between the city and state, setting up another battle with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Cuomo proposed a broad agenda of women’s rights protections, including codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade by amending the state constitution, passing the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. He also said he would enact the Equal Rights Amendment, outlaw revenge pornography, eliminate the statute of limitations for rape, modernize the pay equity law and take efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates and the related racial disparities.

Touting the state’s passage of strong gun protections in his first term -- Cuomo mentioned he was speaking on the sixth anniversary of passage of his signature SAFE Act legislation -- the governor pushed for enacting new regulations including a “red flag” bill, expanding the waiting period for background checks, and banning bump stocks, all of which appear likely to sail through the Legislature.

The governor also put forth his version of a Green New Deal, which would move the state towards 100 percent clean energy by 2040. He said he would create a new Climate Action Council to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, establish a $70 million property tax compensation fund to incentivize localities to close obsolete power plants and transition to clean energy, and announced several investments in clean water infrastructure and expanding environmental protection efforts.

Cuomo called for the passage of several other bills that languished for years when Republicans controlled the Senate, including the Jose Peralta Dream Act (renamed for the state Senator who passed away last year and had championed it), the Child Victims Act, and reformed rent regulations to protect tenants and the state’s affordable housing stock.

He also reiterated a call for a criminal justice reform package that would eliminate cash bail and enact speedy trial reform and discovery reform. In further outlining his support for legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults, Cuomo said it is expected to bring in about $300 million in annual tax revenue for the state, though the governor’s proposal would allow municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana stores. He insisted that legalization would have to go hand-in-hand with decriminalization, pushing for automatically sealing certain marijuana-related criminal records, and investment in communities.

“Let's stop the disproportionate impact on communities of color," he said. “Let's create an industry that empowers the poor communities that paid the price and not the rich corporations that come in to make a profit.”

Toward the end of his speech, Cuomo again performed the annual ritual of discussing the need for building public trust in government and preventing the repeated scandals that have rocked the state, including his administration and many legislators. The governor outlined a host of proposals -- many repeated from past years, several new -- meant to ensure greater transparency in government and prevent public corruption.

He unveiled a “Lobbying Code of Conduct” which would lower the threshold for financial disclosure of lobbying, expand the period of time that legislators and policy-makers in state government are banned from lobbying after they leave their positions, and require increased conflicts of interest disclosures by lobbyists. If the Legislature refuses to take up the idea, Cuomo said he would unilaterally prohibit any lobbyists that do not voluntarily follow the code from lobbying the executive branch. Additionally, he proposed a number of campaign finance reforms -- banning corporate contributions, establishing a public campaign financing program, reducing contribution limits, and completely closing the LLC loophole (with expressed intention for further action, the state Legislature passed bills on Monday to severely limit contributions from LLCs but it remains open to exploitation).

Cuomo also announced a proposal to expand the Freedom of Information Law to cover the state Legislature, an idea that has been around for decades but rejected by legislators, and the state procurement reforms on which he reached an agreement with Comptroller DiNapoli.

In a news conference in Albany after the governor’s speech, Mayor de Blasio broadly praised the platform that Cuomo set out to achieve. In particular, he was encouraged that Cuomo separately proposed extending mayoral control of New York City schools, set to expire in June, by three years. In previous years when it was due to expire, the governor had also suggested a three-year extension but he and Republicans in the Senate had used mayoral control as leverage to extract concessions from the city. There may still be some appetite in both branches for pushing de Blasio on his leadership of city schools.

The mayor did strike a note of caution about a few items. He insisted on the need for a long-term funding stream for the MTA -- he has been hesitant to fully embrace congestion pricing and has instead said a millionaire’s tax would be the best solution -- and said Cuomo’s portrayal of the history of the agency’s funding -- that the state has stepped in to fund it in recent years while the city has been reducing its contributions -- “simply wasn’t accurate.” As he has indicated in the past, he disagreed that the city should bear half the costs of funding shortfalls in MTA needs. He also pushed back against the governor’s critique of the city’s school funding formula, insisting that the city has consistently sent money to the schools that need it most.

De Blasio promised he would have more to say as he and his team review Cuomo’s proposals in fine print, and offer their own rebuttals to Cuomo’s depiction of MTA and school funding.

The governor’s speech now sets the stage for negotiations with the Legislature, which will soon issue its own budget priorities. However, it appears that the pace of action in Albany will be far different from past years where almost every significant legislative action was lumped into a big budget agreement right around the April 1 deadline. Legislators have already shown they plan to pass legislation and send it to Cuomo to sign.

And for the first time this year, there will no longer be the infamous “three men in a room” negotiating the spending plan for the next year, as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the first female leader of a legislative chamber, will join the governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie in hashing out policy and budget deals as those negotiations are needed.

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

Read more by this writer.

Cuomo's SOTS, MTA 'Emergency' L Meeting & More: The Week Ahead in New York Politics, Jan. 14


New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

While there is a lot going on, the main event this week will be Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address and executive budget presentation, set for Tuesday afternoon in Albany. Cuomo, who reportedly moved up the speech by about two weeks due to the Legislature’s plans to start moving significant bills, has already outlined a lengthy and ambitious policy agenda, and he has been adding to it in recent days with announcements of policies he will include in his budget plan, such as raising the statewide age for buying cigarettes and nicotine products to 21 and banning plastic bags throughout New York.

The Legislature will be in session on Monday and Tuesday and both Democratic majorities plan to move a number of high-profile pieces of legislation, including several voting reform bills.

In the city, we’re watching for more from Mayor de Blasio after last week’s State of the City address and its multitude of plans and proposals. The mayor may follow the speech with events this week to discuss certain proposals further. He may also provide additional information about his stated plans to travel around the country talking up his progression policies -- the mayor appeared Sunday morning on CNN’s State of the Union with Jake Tapper and repeatedly declined to rule out a presidential run. De Blasio will also be in Albany Tuesday to attend Cuomo’s speech. [Read: De Blasio Gives Little Mention to Several Major Challenges in State of the City Speech]

Regardless of how much the mayor does, it will be an eventful week in New York City, where there are key deadlines and more forums in the race for Public Advocate. The special election is six weeks from this Tuesday, on February 26. [Read: Everything You Need to Know About the Special Election for Public Advocate]

It’s also a very busy week of hearings at the City Council -- see details below.

And connecting the city and state, the MTA, where there will be an “emergency” board meeting on Tuesday to discuss the recently-announced alternative L train tunnel rehabilitation plan from Cuomo and his team that still needs to be fully fleshed out, vetted, and voted on by the MTA board, which will also need to approve changes to the prior contract that had been set for the full shutdown of the tunnel that had been long-planned.

There's a lot to know as the week begins -- 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 1 p.m. Monday, O"Mayor de Blasio will make an announcement about the NYC Ferry expansion" at P.S. 188 in Brooklyn.

The State Legislature will be in session on Monday in Albany. The Legislature is in session on Monday and Tuesday this week, and both houses are expected to pass several long-awaited Democratic priorities, from multiple voting reform measures to the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), and more. The Senate Democratic majority will hold a noon press conference on Monday to discuss the "historic voting reforms" that will be passed.

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

Candidates for New York City Public Advocate in the special election set for Tuesday, February 26 have until Monday to file their petition signatures to the Board of Elections in order to appear on the ballot.

On Monday at 11 a.m., Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul will be a guest on The Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. In the afternoon, Hochul will preside over the state Senate session.

At the City Council on Monday:
--The Committee on Housing and Buildings will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding housing lotteries, as well as to discuss several proposed laws relating to housing lotteries, to create a “preferred list of contractors,” to require reporting on waiting lists for Mitchell-Lama, and to require that developers receiving city financial assistance on developments of at least 15 units to set aside 15 percent of units for the homeless.
--The Committee on Governmental Operations will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed law authorizing the creation of “legal defense trusts” by public officials able to solicit donations to pay their legal bills.
--The Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions will meet at 1 p.m.
--The Committee on Fire and Emergency Management will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding the “impact of new development on Long Island City’s emergency services.”

Starting at 11 a.m. Monday, the Let NY Vote coalition, which is led by Common Cause NY, will hold a day of action in Albany to lobby state lawmakers to pass “comprehensive, equitable voting reform,” several planks of which appear set for passage that day.

On Monday at 11 a.m., "Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams will join NYC Health + Hospitals President and CEO Dr. Mitchell Katz, MD, as well as NYC Health + Hospitals/Coney Island President and CEO William Brown, dieticians, and health care advocates in launching a new initiative to remove meat on Mondays from food menus at all 11 public hospitals across the NYC Health + Hospitals system. The expansion of plant-based menu options addresses a growing crisis of preventable diseases citywide; according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), an estimated 987,000 New Yorkers are living with diabetes, with other chronic preventable diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity growing in prevalence."

At noon Monday, Riders Alliance will gather at the Canal Street A/C/E stop to unveil data showing that “signal problems delayed trains during 92% of morning rush hours last year.”

Tuesday
Governor Andrew Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address at 2 p.m. Tuesday in Albany, where he will also unveil his executive budget proposal. The speech will be delivered at Albany's Egg Center. Mayor de Blasio, among many other officials, plans to attend.

At the City Council on Tuesday: The Committee on Youth Services will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing on the Interagency Coordinating Council on Youth.

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

End of the night Tuesday is the first campaign finance filing deadline for candidates in the special election for Public Advocate. Some filings may be available during the day on Tuesday via the New York City Campaign Finance Board. The election is February 26.

At noon Tuesday, “MTA to Hold Emergency Board Meeting” so that the Board can be “briefed on matters related to L train project.” “At the meeting, which will be open to the public, the Board will be briefed by WSP on the alternative Train design modifications to the original tunnel restoration plan, also designed by WSP. WSP has studied the proposed design alternatives and the preliminary new construction schedule developed by the construction manager. WSP will be recommending to the Board that it pursue the modified plan as a better alternative, as it does not require a total shutdown of train service. The Board will also be discussing the concept of hiring a new consultant reporting directly to the Chairman and the Board to oversee operation, oversight and precautions for the train and the tunnel reconstruction.”

At noon Tuesday in Albany’s Legislative Office Building, “on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday,” there will be a press conference to call for “immediate reform to New York State’s Discovery Laws. This is the key criminal legal system reform, the foundation from which bail and speedy trial reform can flow.” There will be announcement of “an amended bill supported by Democrats in both the Assembly and the Senate, and a wide-range of advocacy groups around the state, including legal groups and labor unions.” The press conference will include “Bishop Rosario and other faith leaders, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, Senator Jamaal Bailey, People impacted by NY’s bad discovery laws, Discovery for Justice, VOCAL-NY, the Innocence Project, JustLeadershipUSA, It Could Happen to You, Citizen Action-New York and additional members of the Repeal the Blindfold Coalition.”

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the New York City Board of Elections will hold a commissioners meeting.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the New York League of Conservation Voters will host a forum focused on environmental issues for candidates for Public Advocate, at Brooklyn Law School. Politico New York’s Gloria Pazmino will moderate more than a dozen candidates set to participate.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, City & State will host “Health Power 50,” honoring the 50 most powerful people in health care in New York. The event will take place at the Mezzanine in the Financial District. Speakers will include Senate Health Committee Chair Gustavo Rivera; Greater NY Hospital Association President Kenneth Raske; Tom Moriarty, Executive Vice President at CVS Health; Dr. Ramon Tallaj, Board Chairman of SOMOS Care; Denise Gonick, CEO of MVP Health Care; and Holly Lynch, a “citizen advocate.”

Wednesday
At the City Council on Wednesday:
--The Committee on Juvenile Justice will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “evaluating programs that aim to reduce recidivism among justice involved youth.”
--The Committee on Civil and Human Rights will meet at 1 p.m. to discuss a proposed law “recognizing 1/27/19 as Holocaust Remembrance Day and the week beginning on 1/27/19 as a citywide week of Holocaust Education in NYC.”
--The Committee on Hospitals will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “charity care funding for New York City hospitals.”
--The Committee on Education will meet at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “health and wellness instruction in NYC schools.” The Committee will also discuss three bills, to require all schools to stock opioid antagonists, to require the city to establish a task force on start times for middle school and high school, and to require DOE to submit an annual report on nutrition education in city schools. Finally, the Committee will discuss resolutions calling on DOE to ban processed meats from being served in schools and to create a “diabetes and prediabetes health based curriculum.”

This week's Max & Murphy show on WBAI radio will feature interviews with three candidates for New York City Public Advocate: Assemblymember Michael Blake, Assemblymember Danny O'Donnell, and attorney Dawn Smalls. Recent shows have featured other candidates: an interview with City Council Member Rafael Espinal about his candidacy and an interview with City Council Member Eric Ulrich about his candidacy. The show airs at 5-6 p.m. Wednesdays on WBAI, 99.5FM or wbai.org, and is available as the Max & Murphy Podcast shortly thereafter.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:
--The Committee on Higher Education will meet at 10 a.m. for an oversight hearing regarding careers in health care at CUNY.
--The Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet at 10 a.m. to discuss a proposed bill banning employers from requiring employees to check work emails and other communications in non-work hours.
--The Committees on Governmental Operations and Technology will meet jointly at 1 p.m. for an oversight hearing regarding “311 customer experience and operations,” as well as to discuss proposed laws to require 311 to “stop referring non-emergency, anonymous calls about harassed properties to agencies for follow-up” and to “require the development of a protocol for identifying the languages spoken by callers to 311.”

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

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Bar Association will host “Reimagining Domestic Violence Services,” discussing the “current and future state of domestic violence services.” Cecile Noel, Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence, will deliver welcoming remarks. Afterwards, a panel will convene, consisting of Albery Abreu of the Children’s Aid Society; Tanya Apparicio, Deputy Chief of the Domestic Violence Unit at the Manhattan DA’s office; Ana Bermudez, the City’s Probation Commissioner; Juliana Chereji of Brooklyn Defender Services; Bea Hanson, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Domestic Violence Task Force; and Quentin Walcott, co-Executive Director of Connect.

Friday and the weekend
At 8:15 a.m. Friday, the Center for New York City Law will host a “CityLaw Breakfast” with former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. Lippman, who now chairs the Independent Commission on New York City Criminal Justice and Incarceration Reform, will discuss “the closing of Rikers as a catalyst for criminal justice reform in New York.”

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

This year’s Women’s March will be Saturday.

***
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).

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by Ben Brachfeld and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

Colleges Likely to Continue Bans If New York Legalizes Recreational Marijuana Use


St. John's University

St. John's University (photo via St. John's on flickr)


The legalization of adult recreational marijuana use is on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2019 agenda for the first 100 days of his new term, and the governor is expected to announce details of his legalization proposal on Tuesday, during a joint State of the State speech and executive budget presentation. There appears to be support for the measure, at least the general concept of recreational marijuana use becoming legal for adults in New York, among the Democratic majorities of both houses of the state Legislature, meaning legalization could occur within the next few months, with a likely age requirement of 21.

However, regardless of changes to state law, college students 21 or older may need to consult a different set of guidelines — institutions of higher education in New York may continue to ban marijuana use on campus and punish students who smoke on school grounds, several sources indicated to Gotham Gazette.

In other states that have legalized recreational marijuana use, from Washington to Massachusetts, this is the norm. Many colleges receive federal funds through research programs or grants and also allocate federal financial aid or FAFSA to students. In order to continue using federal funding and aid, colleges must continue to enforce federal law, according to sources at multiple universities.

The Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988 is a federal law signed by President Ronald Reagan that requires those who receive contracts or grants from the government to maintain a drug-free workplace. The Drug Free Schools and Communities Act is another federal law requiring universities receiving federal funding to implement a program to prevent the use of illegal substances by students and employees. Both of these laws prevent colleges and universities from enacting marijuana legalization.

Ken McConnellogue, Vice President of Communication at the University of Colorado, told Gotham Gazette that marijuana use on campus is still a punishable offense there. Students caught using the substance are warned, although the university has a “three strikes, you’re out” policy. The third offense of any kind by a student often results in expulsion, he said.

“Marijuana, like alcohol, is banned on our campuses,” McConnellogue said. “Although we’re not so naive as to think students aren’t using it just like alcohol.”

In response to the passage of Colorado Amendment 64 — the ballot measure initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in the state in 2012 — McConnellogue said that the university has increased its efforts to educate students on the law and university policy, as well as to enforce its policy against the drug.

Students are not the only ones that need educating about the university’s policy, as parents from out of state who send their kids to Colorado are often concerned about the campus environment, according to McConnellogue.

“They worry students are walking around on campus smoking a joint,” McConnellogue said.

Brian Browne, Executive Director of University Relations at St. John’s University, said that if New York legalizes adult marijuana use the Queens school would be following a similar path to the University of Colorado, and continue to enforce federal law.

"The proposed legalization of recreational marijuana in New York State will most likely not put any new or legal high in New York's higher education,” Browne wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette. "As long as marijuana remains a controlled substance according to federal law, we can expect that most college campuses will continue to ban marijuana use by students and employees regardless of state law."

New York University spokesperson Shonna Keogan confirmed that NYU would also continue to enforce federal law.

“In compliance with federal law, NYU does not permit possession, use, or distribution of marijuana in any form for any purpose on campus,” Keogan wrote in an email to the Gazette.

While colleges plan to continue to ban use on campus, it appears legal marijuana is indeed coming to New York. Governor Cuomo first called on the Department of Health to conduct a study in January of 2018, then commissioned a workgroup in August and began a series of listening sessions around the state in September, lasting until mid-October.

In addition, the state conducted a report that concluded that there would be a net positive effect if marijuana was legalized in New York, despite some potential negatives. Other state agencies and subject matter experts were consulted by the Department of Health in the hopes of getting a complete picture of the issue, though Cuomo has not outlined his proposed legal and regulatory system yet.

The process is one that Sandy Mullins, Senior Research Scholar in the Litmus program at NYU’s Marron Institute, believes had a positive result. As Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s senior policy advisor, Mullins was involved in the legalization process that occurred in that state in 2012.

Mullins said that the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which is the proposed legislation that would legalize marijuana in New York that has been introduced in the state Legislature, is already a step in the right direction compared to other states because it is legislation rather than a ballot initiative. In states like Colorado and Washington, legalization has occurred through ballot initiatives or amendments that cannot be changed easily. Most amendments require a supermajority in the Legislature to be changed, or passage by voters. Washington State Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana there, could not be changed until a year after it passed. By legalizing through legislation, New York leaves the ability to amend the law fairly quickly and efficiently if necessary.

“Creating the draft and having public input into that draft legislation and having minds around it, that in and of itself was a very thoughtful process,” Mullins said. “As a policy wonk, it made me tear up, just looking at their process and this legislation that was so thoughtfully crafted.”

That legislation is not necessarily what Cuomo will propose, though, and the governor and Legislature will need to come to an agreement on the details of New York is to legalize recreational marijuana use, including a detailed regulatory scheme.

During the listening sessions, two major concerns were brought up, according to marijuana legalization activists who attended. Some worry that youth use and driving while under the influence will increase if the legislation is passed.

The Drug Policy Alliance is an advocacy group that supports policy that decriminalizes drug use, among other things. Deputy State Director of the DPA Melissa Moore said that based on states that have gone through the process, these fears can be alleviated.

“Some of the concerns around youth use and driving, in particular, are really assuaged by looking at the data from states that have legalized for years,” Moore said. “We see from Colorado that youth use has remained stable, if not actually declined, since legalization.”

A study done by the libertarian think-tank the Reason Foundation found that “There are few convincing conclusions to be drawn concerning the risk of traffic accident fatalities from marijuana legalization.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio released a 77-page report on December 20 with his own recommendations for how the legalization process should occur. In it, the report cites multiple studies that suggest youth use does not increase after legalization.

“Recent studies show that following legalization in other states, past-month use generally remained stable or declined among adolescents and college students” the report says.

Angela Hawken, Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management and a member of Governor Cuomo’s workgroup, suggested that this decline in use may be due to legalization making smoking marijuana less of a defiant act for adolescents, and mentioned the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, an activist group.

“NORML was predicting that adolescent use would go down in the face of legalization because it throws the rebellious act out the door,” Hawken said.

One aspect of legalization that may cause problems for universities, especially in New York City, is the inevitable opening of retail marijuana stores near campuses. At the University of Colorado Boulder, McConnellogue says that such shops have gone so far as to ask if the university would be willing to put a 2-for-1 coupon in the welcome week packets they give to students.

Although the university declined, retail stores opening near campuses is something the college does not have power over.

“We don’t control what happens beyond the borders of our campus,” McConnellogue said. These types of considerations could be part of how regulations are drawn up by lawmakers, however.

For colleges like Columbia, New York University, and CUNY, among others embedded into New York City neighborhoods, distinguishing between on and off campus, and making sure students know the boundaries, could pose some difficulty. However, for some schools, drug use is against the code of student conduct, and so impermissible wherever it occurs.

Emerson student Anissa Gardizy, who has written about marijuana policy at her Boston area university for the school newspaper, said that this is the case at Emerson.

“You would assume that if you have an apartment and you find your own lease that you can do whatever you want if it’s legal in your state,” Gardizy said. “But technically not if you’re an Emerson student.”

All told, even if official school policy at any higher education institution is that marijuana use is banned, enforcement is another -- like with alcohol on campuses. At the University of Colorado, McConnellogue says enforcement has increased.

“In some senses, we have had greater numbers of tickets and counters with students, but that’s not so much to do with marijuana legalization but to do with our efforts to enforce [the ban on] illegal substances,” McConnellogue said.

In contrast, Gardizy said that Emerson has seemed to have introduced a less strict policy in the wake of Massachusetts legalization.

“I feel like Emerson is more focused on keeping us safe as students, they’re not going out of their way to bust students or get them in trouble and get them a criminal record,” Gardizy said. “Our RAs don’t go around smelling the rooms, I think the big thing that people worry about is if the smell interferes with someone else’s learning. If someone doesn’t want that smell and they report it to the RA then they’ll go and deal with it.”

Around the same time recreational marijuana use was legalized, Emerson changed its policy regarding the drug. In the past, if an RA (resident assistant) knocked on a student’s door and said they smelled marijuana, the student would immediately have to attend a conduct hearing. Now, a “scent notice” is left on the door, essentially a warning — students only have to attend a conduct hearing if they receive three scent notices.

Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat who chairs the Health Committee in the New York State Assembly and has supported marijuana legalization for decades, does not think universities should be enforcing the federal ban on marijuana.

“Generally I don’t think colleges should be in the business of enforcing criminal law except in cases where the behavior threatens people’s safety or undermines the college’s functioning,” Gottfried wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “I don’t believe any colleges in adult use states have actually lost funding over non-enforcement of Federal marijuana laws. But if a college chooses to ban adult marijuana on campus even when it becomes legal, I would hope it’s treated similarly to a college banning alcohol, rather than in a disproportionate way where simple possession costs students their housing or financial aid.”

Dr. Hawken, of NYU and Cuomo’s workgroup, said that the issue of what legalization means for colleges and students had not been brought to her attention before, and that she could see why some may encourage both strict and lenient enforcement.

“Everybody is concerned about ‘what does this mean for younger brains?’ and the brain science is still emerging and is still unclear. So if there are parents and if there are educators that are concerned I don’t think those are trivial concerns,” Hawken said. “But it is hugely challenging, and you want to make sure whatever regulatory environment you put in...[doesn’t] have adverse consequences either. You don’t want to derail a life and you can end up having a system of regulation in place that does more harm than good.”

Governor Cuomo’s proposal for the details of legalization will move the discussion into a new phase, which may include legislative hearings. A Cuomo spokesperson told Gotham Gazette the governor has been taking a wide variety of perspectives into account as he drafts his plan.

"The state is looking at the legalization of recreational marijuana and evaluating issues affecting all communities, including college communities,” said Jason Conwall, a Cuomo representative.

***
by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

As Session Starts, Legislators and Advocates Push Overhaul of State Ethics Enforcement


comprehensive reform gov

(photo via the Governor's Office)


As the state Legislature returns to session on Wednesday with Democrats in control of both chambers for the first time in a decade, State Senator Liz Krueger of Manhattan and Assemblymember Robert Carroll from Brooklyn are set to introduce a resolution that would amend the state constitution, adding new provisions to prevent and combat public corruption.

The resolution, first introduced late in last year’s session, would add a new section on state government integrity to the state constitution and would consolidate two agencies that are currently charged with monitoring and tackling corruption -- the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) and the Legislative Ethics Commission -- into a new New York State Commission on Government Integrity. The effort is aimed at dealing with a long-standing problem in New York state government that recently saw the leaders of both houses of the Legislature convicted of public corruption, along with many other legislators who were removed from or left office due to ethical issues over the course of decades.

“We think this is the way to create a truly independent ethics body,” Assemblymember Carroll said in a phone interview on Tuesday, shortly after a rally outside the State Senate chambers alongside Senator Krueger and a cohort of government reform advocates. One of the central criticisms of JCOPE, which was created in 2011, is that it is too closely tied to the governor and legislators to be effective, making it a limited deterrent and a weak enforcer.

The proposed resolution would have to be passed by the current Legislature and again by the next elected Legislature in the 2021-2022 session, after which it would be presented to voters as a ballot question for their approval. If successful during this session and in 2021, Carroll estimated that the new law could go into effect by January 2022.

It would create the new nine-member commission -- five of whom would be appointed by the judiciary; two appointments jointly by the governor, comptroller, and attorney general; and two by legislative conference leaders whose parties are the top-two voter getters in a previous gubernatorial election. The commission would be empowered to issue civil sanctions and censures against legislators, would be able to suspend, demote, or terminate a non-elected employee, and make referrals for criminal prosecution. It would also serve as an independent counsel to legislators and state employees seeking informal ethics advice that can later be used in their defense. Those who have served as political party officials, state employees or lobbyists within the previous three years would be barred from being appointed.

Though the proposal does not require Governor Andrew Cuomo’s support, Carroll hoped that it would receive it nonetheless. “I hope the governor sees this is a major ingredient in reforming our broken political system in Albany,” he said.

During the only general election debate against his Republican opponent Marc Molinaro, Cuomo had signalled support for reforming JCOPE. “Change begins with the thin edge of a wedge,” Cuomo said, using a phrase he has often employed, in this case to indicate that he was pleased to accomplish something on ethics reform, and can then use it to do more.

He added, “I believe we need more independence on JCOPE, I believe we need totally independent appointees and not necessarily representatives of both houses. I’d be open to a number of configurations, but they’d have to be independent.” In a statement on Tuesday, Hazel Crampton-Hays, a spokesperson for Cuomo, reiterated that stance, but stopped short of endorsing the Carroll-Krueger plan: “As the Governor has previously said, we are open to changes to the structure of ethics enforcement and we will review any proposals that are introduced.”

Both Carroll and Krueger, Democrats like Cuomo, argue that a constitutional amendment is essential, particularly with renewed attention in this last election cycle to the activities of JCOPE, headed by Seth Agata, a former Cuomo aide nominated by the governor and appointed as executive director by the agency's commissioners in similar fashion to his predecessors. The state agency, which monitors lobbying at the state level besides ethics violations, has been widely criticized as inefficient and overly vulnerable to political interference, while at the same time being entirely opaque to the public and lacking clear jurisdiction.

In particular, Krueger said the agency has failed to investigate incidents and allegations of sexual harassment, even when they are made widely known. For instance, in January 2018, then-State Senator and Independent Democratic Conference leader Jeff Klein was accused of forcible kissing a former staffer, Erica Vladimer, but JCOPE has yet to make clear whether it is investigating the claim and has not provided any information to either the public, press, or Vladimer in the year since since she spoke out. JCOPE officials have pushed back against such criticism, noting that divulging information about investigations is against the law. At a March 2018 meeting, Commission Chair Michael Rozen said the agency's silence does not indicate action or inaction. "No conclusions should be inferred by the Commission’s silence," he said.

The new agency, on the other hand, would have to establish a dedicated unit for sexual harassment investigations and would also have more expansive transparency provisions, being subject to the same Freedom of Information Law that currently applies to the executive branch (there are ongoing negotiations about extending FOIL to the Legislature).

Last year, JCOPE’s lack of transparency was put to the legal test. New York Republican party chair Ed Cox and Molinaro, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, sued the agency to force a vote on an investigation into Joe Percoco, the former top Cuomo aide who was convicted on federal corruption charges last year. During the trial, Percoco was found to have improperly used his executive chamber office while working on Cuomo’s campaign, but he was never investigated by JCOPE. On December 19, a state supreme court judge ruled that the agency must take a vote within 30 days and then inform the judge, though they were not ordered to release the details of the vote to the public.

“I don’t think that current model is working and I think we need to fix that...It’s just not designed to do its job,” Krueger said of JCOPE in a December interview. She and Carroll were joined at the state Capitol building on Tuesday by representatives of groups including Common Cause New York, Reinvent Albany, the League of Women Voters of the State of New York, the New York Public Interest Research Group, the New York City Bar Association, as well as a few legislators, such as Senator Jen Metzger and Assemblymembers Richard Gottfried and Carrie Woerner.

What remains unclear is whether the leaders of both legislative chambers will support the proposal. Requests for comment to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ offices went unanswered.

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

Read more by this writer.

Note - this article has been updated to clarify that Seth Agata was appointed by JCOPE commissioners, not the governor. It has also been updated to include public statements made by JCOPE chair Michael Rosen about why the agency does not comment on investigations. 



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