Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/268 Wed, 26 Jun 2019 01:59:49 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) In ‘Most Historic and Productive’ Session, Albany Democrats Move Extensive Agenda to Transform New York https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8629-historic-productive-session-democrats-albany-cuomo-transform-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8629-historic-productive-session-democrats-albany-cuomo-transform-new-york gov cuomo photos

(photo: the governor's office)


Just after it ended, Governor Andrew Cuomo deemed 2019’s “the most productive legislative session in modern history” at a news conference on Friday in Albany.

The Democrat in the first year of his third term went through only a partial list of the many laws and investments he and state legislators had made between January and June, in what was the first period of full and functional Demcratic control of state government in decades.

Though the session included a good deal of sparring between Cuomo and legislators, especially with the governor repeatedly attacking or needling Senate Democrats, a pattern that intensified after the demise of the deal to bring an Amazon campus to Queens, almost all of the priorities laid out by the governor and the legislative majorities were accomplished in some form.

"Six months ago we laid out our 2019 Justice Agenda - an aggressive blueprint to move New York forward - and today I'm proud to say we got it done," Cuomo said on Friday, adding, “...this was the most progressively productive legislative session in modern history. The product was extraordinary, and we maintained our two pillars - fiscal responsibility and economic growth paired with social progress on an unprecedented and nation-leading scale."

As the Legislature wrapped up its work, similar boasts came from the two majority leaders -- Carl Heastie in the Assembly and Andrea Stewart-Cousins in the Senate -- as well as many other Democratic state lawmakers, advocates and activists, and like-minded officials from around New York, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.

“This session we’ve chosen to stand up with the people over special interests,” Stewart-Cousins said in her closing remarks as the Senate completed its session. “We’ve chosen to invest in the future over the failed policies of the past. We’ve chosen science over rhetoric. We’ve chosen equality over divisiveness. This is the most historic and productive legislation session in New York State history, period.”

“We haven’t seen a session this daring, productive and progressive in decades,” de Blasio said in a long, celebratory Friday statement about the session. The mayor highlighted many of the bills that were passed, from stronger rent regulations to congestion pricing, criminal justice and voting reforms to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and more.

In many ways it was a historic session, with Democrats following through on much of what they promised during last year’s campaigns, when Cuomo easily won a third term and the party took a commanding new majority in the Senate to couple with long-standing control of the Assembly. There were roughly 800 bills passed by both the Senate and Assembly, according to Stewart-Cousins.

But Republicans also believe the session provides them with significant new ammo to flip Senate seats back next year and begin to line up the pieces to eventually retake the chamber and win their first statewide office come 2022, when Cuomo has said he’ll seek a fourth term.

Much of life for New Yorkers will be altered by what Democrats in Albany decided this year, with impacts -- social, economic, environmental, and political -- for many years to come. The party in power is certain it has produced for New Yorkers who will benefit in many ways. The results will start to be seen soon.

Here’s a look at what got done this session in Albany:

JANUARY
>Election Reform
Lawmakers started off the session passing legislation aimed at reforming voting and elections in New York. The Legislature passed a series of bills to establish early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, expand voter registration, impose limits on LLC campaign contributions, and extend primary election voting hours.

>LGBTQ and Women’s Issues
They also passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. This act also added transgender people to those protected under New York’s Hate Crimes Law, which defines a hate crime and specifies mechanisms for punishing those who commit hate crimes.

Also in an effort to protect members of the LGBTQ community, lawmakers banned conversion therapy for minors.

They also codified Roe v. Wade abortion protections into state law through the Reproductive Health Act. The RHA legalized abortion past 24 weeks of pregnancy if the woman’s health or life is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable.

The Legislature also passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which requires health insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive options, and the Boss Bill, which ensures that employees are able to make reproductive healthcare decisions without fearing adverse employment consequences.

>Children, Immigrants, and Survivors
The Legislature passed the Jose Peralta New York State DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students in New York to qualify for state aid for higher education and create a Dream Fund for college scholarship opportunities for these students. It was named after the late Senator Jose Peralta, who had championed the bill in the past.

They also passed the Child Victims Act, which reformed the state’s statute of limitations for child sexual abuse. The legislation provides that the statute of limitations doesn’t start until someone turns 23 years old, where it previously started when a child turned 18. It also allowed a temporary look-back window to allow individuals to file civil claims for long-ago incidents.

>Gun Control
Lawmakers also passed a gun control bill package that bans bump-stocks, creates regulations for gun buybacks, extends the background check period for people trying to purchase a gun, and institutes the “red flag” law to allow teachers and others to petition judges to order removal of firearms from a troubled student’s home.

FEBRUARY
After an onslaught of legislation in January that opened the floodgates after years in which Democrats saw their agenda items often stall in the state Senate, February was slower. This was in part due to the fact that there are often fewer session days in February due to the annual school vacation-aligned break.

Legislators did pass a bill that criminalizes “revenge porn,” or the distribution of intimate images with the intent to cause harm to another person.

MARCH
The Legislature passed additional gun and voting reforms in March just ahead of the budget deal that came together at the end of the month: a bill that creates stronger regulations for gun storage, aiming to prevent unintentional gun violence, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, which aims to create a more readable ballot layout.

>Budget
As usual, the state budget was perhaps the most consequential piece of legislation to pass during the month of March. Along with spending decisions adding up to about $175 billion, it included sweeping legislative changes.

Lawmakers and Cuomo reformed the criminal justice system, the electoral system, health care, and public transportation. From bail and discovery reform to a plastic bag ban and congestion pricing and the expansion of speed cameras allowed in New York City, the budget was home to many major changes for the state and city.

It also increased funding for education through local school aid and grants across the state. And, they made the property tax cap, which prevents annual increases in property taxes from exceeding 2% of the previous assessment or rate of inflation, into permanent law (it applies everywhere outside New York City).

The budget passed a compromise on campaign finance reform, creating a commission to propose a public campaign finance system, with recommendations due before the end of this year.

The budget agreement came together in the final days and hours of March, and was given final passage on April 1, the day of the start of the new fiscal year.

APRIL
As is often the case in Albany, the post-budget months of April and May were relatively quiet times between the big budget push in late March and the end of session flurry in June.

But, just after the budget, in April, lawmakers raised the age to purchase tobacco products in the state from 18 to 21. This legislation includes cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and vape products.

The Legislature also passed a bill package aimed at promoting environmental protection and conservation. Among the provisions of this bill package is a ban on harmful pesticides and the establishment of a constitutional right to water and life and strict regulations on the toxic chemicals in children’s toys.

MAY
In May, the Legislature passed a series of bills aimed at protecting victims and survivors of domestic violence. These bills varied from special ballots for victims of domestic violence to requiring companies to allow victims of domestic violence to cancel contracts.

Among the domestic violence protection bills, the Legislature also passed a bill banning the manufacturing and selling of undetectable or “ghost” guns, such as 3D printed guns. It makes it illegal for anyone to knowingly possess, manufacture, sell, transport, or possess undetectable firearms.

They also created protections for disabled New Yorkers through a bill package that: creates an advocacy office for those living with disabilities, expands Medicaid coverage for people with autism, and provides housing for New Yorkers with therapy animals.

JUNE
Things in Albany got very busy again in June, especially toward the end of the legislative session and at its very end, with movement on a variety of bills, though Democrats did not find compromise on some professed priorities.

>Rent Regulations
Expiring rent regulations that apply to roughly 1 million New York City apartments was the marquee issue of the end of session. After a great deal of debate, advocacy, negotiation and consternation -- including some conflict between the governor and Senate -- the Legislature passed and the governor signed the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, which was called the strongest tenant protection bill in state history.

The legislation makes the rent regulations permanent, with no sunset clause as had been the precedent, repeals two key elements that had led to many thousands of units leaving regulation over decades, vacancy decontrol and the “vacancy bonus,” drastically reduces what landlords can recoup in rent for “major capital investments” into buildings, and more.
The legislation also allows other areas of the state to opt into the regulations if they have a housing emergency based on a lower than 5% vacancy rate and the local legislature votes to adopt them.

>Fighting Climate Change
During the last month of session, there was increased pressure from lawmakers and activists on passing the Climate and Community Protection Act, an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and move New York toward renewable energy and a cleaner economy. The legislation, which had fairly aggressive timelines and requirements, as well as mandates around environmental and economic justice to ensure investments in communities hardest hit by climate change and pollution, was opposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said in a June 7 interview with WAMC radio that “it actually doesn’t do, in my opinion, any of the main goals or initiatives.”

Despite Cuomo’s repeated criticism and opposition, a compromise was reached with lawmakers that included elements of the CCPA into a bill more aligned with Cuomo’s related bill, with the new law known as the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The legislation that was passed has New York transitioning to 70 percent renewable energy by 2030 and 85 percent greenhouse gas emissions reductions by 2050.

Part of the reason for Cuomo’s opposition related to the redistribution of funding to communities most vulnerable to climate change and hurt by pollution. The agreed-upon bill has between 35 and 40 percent of the funds allocated by transition requirements going to impacted communities. It also creates wage and labor standards for state-supported green jobs.

>”Green Light”
Undocumented immigrants now have access to driver’s licenses in the state with passage of the Driver’s License Access and Privacy Act (known as “Green Light NY” as termed by supporters). This legislation was a priority for many progressive organizations, and it repeals a 20-year-ban enacted after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 on undocumented immigrants obtaining driver’s licenses.

>Farmworkers’ Rights
Another of several major pieces of legislative to move in the final week of the session, the legislature also passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. The legislation is aimed at addressing the standards of working conditions for farm workers across New York. It grants collective bargaining rights, workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits to farm laborers, as well as bringing them in line with other workers in terms of mandatory overtime and time off, where they had been carved out of labor law decades ago.

“We are correcting a historic injustice, a remnant of Jim Crow era laws, to affirm that those farmworkers must be granted rights just as any other worker in New York,” Senator Jessica Ramos, a Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement.

Some lawmakers and farm owners who would be affected by the bill were opposed to it, saying that the legislation disregarded the interests of Upstate New Yorkers.

“The new One Party Rule continued to steamroll over Upstate interests, this time targeting our farmers,” Republican Senator Fred Akshar said in a statement.

>Sexual Harassment and Rape Law Udpates
The Legislature moved and Governor Cuomo supported significant changes to the state’s sexual harassment and rape laws, lowering what was called an exceedingly high bar to proving sexual harassment in the workplace and extending the statue of limitations on rape in the second and third degrees from five to at least 10 years, with specifications at times allowing more than that.

"Sexual abuse is a far too widespread and pervasive stain on our society, and the five-year statutes of limitations for rape in the second and third degrees has been an abject dereliction ofjustice,” Cuomo said in a June 19 statement. “By providing victims more time to bring claims in court, we are honoring those who suffered pain, endured humiliation, and had the courage to come forward.”

>E-scooters and E-bikes
The legislature also passed a bill to legalize e-scooters and e-bikes, but would allow localities to determine implementation and regulation. But unlike most other high-profile measures passed by the Legislature, this bill does not necessarily have Cuomo’s blessing.

“That's a bill that's going to I think need more review and discussion,” Cuomo said in his end of session news conference when asked if he’d sign it.

Not Passed
The most high-profile measure not to pass this year despite widespread expressions of support for it from Democratic leaders is the legalization of adult-use marijuana. It was a priority for many Democratic legislators and activists, and was listed on the governor’s early 2019 agenda and top ten end-of-session priorities when he put forth that list after the budget.

The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, which would have legalized marijuana use for people at least 21 years of age, came close to passing but ran out of time, according to its lead sponsor in the Senate, Senator Liz Krueger, a Democrat.

"It is clear now that MRTA is not going to pass this session,” Krueger said in a statement just before the end of session. “This is not the end of the road, it is only a delay. Unfortunately, that delay means countless more New Yorkers will have their lives up-ended by unnecessary and racially disparate enforcement measures before we inevitably legalize.”

Although the MRTA didn’t pass, lawmakers did pass legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and establish procedures for record expungements for past and future convictions. Cuomo said marijuana legalization efforts should have been included in the budget, as he initially recommended, but indicated he would sign the decriminalization measures.

Lawmakers also failed to pass the Human Alternatives to Long-Term Solitary Confinement (HALT) Act, which according to the bill “limit[s] the amount of time an inmate can spend in segregated confinement, end the segregated confinement of vulnerable people, restrict the criteria that can result in such confinement, improve conditions of confinement, and create more human and effective alternatives to such confinement.”

The governor, Stewart-Cousins, and Heastie did, however, form a joint agreement on addressing some of the goals of the legislation administratively, to be executed by Cuomo’s administration in the prisons.

"While we are disappointed that HALT legislation could not be passed this year, we have reached an agreement to dramatically reduce the use of solitary confinement in correctional facilities,” reads a joint statement released by the three parties. “These new steps build on this year's landmark reforms and will further help to correct inequities and end inhumane practices in our criminal justice system.”

Lawmakers were also unable to pass bills on automatic voter registration (though legislative leaders promised to move it in 2020), the legalization of paid surrogacy, and an expansion of the prevailing wage requirement for building projects that receive state subsidies. And though it was much-discussed in last year's elections, the New York Health Act to institute single-payer health care in the state did not come to a vote.

What the Session Means
This session marked the first time in about a decade that Democrats have been the majority party in both houses of the Legislature, and the first time in well beyond that where they had a functional majority in both houses. For party members and progressive activists, this session proved that the party is capable of accomplishing big things.

“We demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only we can govern, but we can govern like gangbusters,” Democratic Senator Gustavo Rivera said, with reference to the questions facing the Senate Democrats as they took power with remnants of 2009-2010 dysfunction and chaos hanging over them.

The session included a good deal of infighting between Cuomo and legislators, especially in the Senate, with Cuomo repeatedly questioning the Senate’s ability to find consensus, focus on policy over politics, and move controversial legislation -- most of which was proven unfounded in the end, Rivera and others note.

“Across the board, I think we've had an incredibly successful year, which I put right at the feet of our leader,” said Rivera, who has repeatedly criticized Cuomo on multiple fronts, in part in defense of Stewart-Cousins. “And she has been very ably dealing with all the difficulties like of us figuring out how to be a majority conference which has its own idiosyncrasies, and the fact that we have been fighting somebody downstairs on the second floor [where the governor’s offices are], who would not like us to be successful, everything that we've been able to achieve has not been because of the governor, it's been in spite of him.”

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb disagreed on the session’s successes and called it a six-month parade of irresponsible progressivism.

“One-party rule in Albany is an unmitigated disaster,” Kolb said in an end-of-session statement. “The best part about the 2019 Legislative Session is that for now, the damage is over. What we saw during the last six months was unchecked liberal extremism too eager to show what could be done, without giving any consideration to what should be done.”

The results of what Democrats passed are yet to be seen: much of the legislation doesn’t go into effect right away, and even after it does, only time will tell.

“We still have a long laundry list of things that we need to pass, because our communities have been under resourced and over criminalized for so long that we have to undo those harms,” Javier Valdes, co-executive director of Make the Road New York, an immigrant advocacy organization, told Gotham Gazette. “So this is a long term process. But the thing this session has shown us that we're building momentum, even better things to come.”

And there’s another session before the next state legislative elections in 2020, when the entirety of both chambers will again be on the ballot.

“All of those things speak to the energy that's got us here, and that's the same energy is going to carry us next year,” Rivera said of Democrats’ long list of 2019 achievements and the 2020 elections.

***
by Caitlyn Rosen, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this story.

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In ‘Most Historic and Productive’ Session, Albany Democrats Move Extensive Agenda to Transform New York Sun, 23 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Rep. Serrano’s Retirement and a Looming Rumble in the Bronx https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8394-rep-serrano-s-retirement-and-a-looming-rumble-in-the-bronx https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8394-rep-serrano-s-retirement-and-a-looming-rumble-in-the-bronx rubendiazjr richie torres cm

Rep. Serrano, BP Diaz Jr., CM Torres (l-r) (photo: @rubendiazjr)


It’s time for a rumble in the Bronx. After 29 years in Congress and 44 years in elected office, Congressional Rep. José Serrano has decided to retire from office. Together with the likes of Herman Badillo, José Rivera, Robert Garcia, Gerena Valentin, and Ramon Velez in the Bronx, Serrano has been a pioneering figure within the Latino/Puerto Rican political landscape in New York City.

Serrano fought at the frontlines for Latino political representation at a time when Puerto Ricans were left out of the political equation despite their burgeoning numbers. Serrano, and the rest, fought arduously for this long-sought-after recognition. Their hard work paid off. Serrano won an Assembly seat in 1975.

While Serrano’s early work to gain Latino political representation is not debatable, the rest of his legacy is more dubious. Serrano has not been known for any sort of legislative prowess. The South Bronx, which he represents, has long been a poverty stricken area that has seen scant federal resources for decades, despite Serrano’s long tenure in Congress.

As a result of this record, observers like long-time political operative Mike Nieves had surmised that a formidable and credible candidate could defeat Serrano. No one ever did.

Serrano’s legacy notwithstanding, the eyes of our political world will now turn to the 15th Congressional district in the Bronx to see who will succeed him in Congress.

The timing of Serrano’s retirement announcement coincides with City Council Member Ritchie Torres’ own recent announcement that he would challenge the incumbent representative for the seat. In a previous column, I mentioned that Torres would be one to watch as we eye the future of Latino politics in the city. His intellectual abilities, grasp of public policy, and ability to articulate his view have deservedly caught people’s attention.

Torres is clearly a formidable candidate for the “open” congressional seat. Most of his Council district, which he first won in 2013, lies within Serrano’s Congressional district. After six years in the Council, Torres has been able to gain some recognition among voters for his work on behalf of his constituents, particularly in areas affecting NYCHA residents.

Various other names are being floated at this nascent stage. Among them are former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Mark-Viverito has just come off a dismal showing in her race for the citywide position of public advocate. Yet she still holds some name recognition, particularly among Latinos.

Her home congressional district is currently represented by Adriano Espaillat but since there are no in-district residency requirements for a congressional seat, she could still make a play for the Serrano seat.

Then there is Assemblymember Marcos Crespo, who is also the Bronx Democratic leader. Crespo’s Assembly district lies entirely within Serrano’s Congressional district and he would therefore potentially go into a race of this sort with a natural base of followers. Some will question his alliance with Council Member Ruben Diaz, Sr., who has been challenged for repeated homophobic statements and positions. But given Crespo’s potential to capitalize on some of the resources that would naturally come his way by virtue of his party position, he would quickly be considered a leading candidate for the position.

Yet another recent public advocate candidate might also throw his hat in the ring. Since Michael Blake’s election to the Assembly, and then his appointment to be a vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, rumors have swirled that he would one day challenge José Serrano.

That day never came. But this opening can provide an opportunity for Blake. Despite losing the public advocate race, Blake won his home borough of the Bronx and did fairly well in the portion covering Serrano’s Congressional district.

And if he’s the only African-American in the race, that could also create a path to victory for Blake. With multiple formidable Latino candidates, a strong African-American candidate could win the seat.

Almost a third of the Democratic electorate in this Congressional district is African-American. Over 55 percent is Latino. If the race takes an ethnic path, that could lead to a split Latino vote and a more consolidated African American vote.

Then there’s state Senator Gustavo Rivera. Rivera, first elected in 2010, represents a swath of Serrano’s district in the state Senate. He has earned admiration from many progressives for standing up to the Bronx political machinery and for policies that progressives have long championed.

Lastly, if he were to step up, one elected official who could clear many if not all in the field would be Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. Diaz, Jr. is known throughout the borough and remains popular among many voters. Furthermore, this district has always been his home district -- he represented parts of it in the Assembly for 13 years.

Diaz Jr.’s capable communications guru, John DeSio, has tweeted that the borough president is not interested in the position. The borough president appears focused on launching a mayoral bid. But politics is practical and a congressional run could be an easier path to victory than a citywide mayoral race.

All this is conjecture, of course. What’s certain is that we can expect a free-for-all for the position ahead of the 2020 vote, and thus another rumble in the Bronx.

***
Eli Valentin teaches political science at Monroe College and is a frequent guest political analyst on Univision NY. On Twitter @EliValentinNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Rep. Serrano’s Retirement and a Looming Rumble in the Bronx Wed, 27 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Automatic Sealing? Expungement? As They Legalize Marijuana, New York Lawmakers Negotiate Clearing Criminal Records https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8288-automatic-sealing-expungement-as-they-legalize-legalize-marijuana-new-york-lawmakers-negotiate-criminal-record-clearing https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8288-automatic-sealing-expungement-as-they-legalize-legalize-marijuana-new-york-lawmakers-negotiate-criminal-record-clearing may bdblasio office

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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by Emma Whitford, Gotham Gazette
@emma_a_whitford

Read more by this writer.

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Automatic Sealing? Expungement? As They Legalize Marijuana, New York Lawmakers Negotiate Clearing Criminal Records Sat, 16 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Creating a Single-Payer Health Care System That Works for All New Yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8273-creating-a-single-payer-health-care-system-that-works-for-all-new-yorkers https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8273-creating-a-single-payer-health-care-system-that-works-for-all-new-yorkers health care is a right

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


In November, New Yorkers voted for a united government in Albany with a resounding directive: fix our broken healthcare system. Those election results are directly linked to the financial strain New Yorkers are facing as they struggle to choose between paying for their medication, premiums, long-term care, and basic needs, such as food or housing.

The high costs of healthcare in our state have devastated hundreds of thousands of New York families by bankrupting those who are underinsured or forcing them to forgo treatment due to the financial burden it usually causes. According to the Campaign for New York Health, approximately 1 million New Yorkers still do not have health insurance; 20,000 New Yorkers have died due to their lack of coverage in the last ten years; and millions more would be bankrupt if faced with a medical emergency under their current health care plan.

The New York Health Act (NYHA) is the only option on the table that would provide comprehensive healthcare coverage to all New Yorkers. It would extend coverage to those that currently have no access while providing quality and comprehensive care to New Yorkers who have been traditionally underinsured.

This year, we are going one step further. We are introducing a version of the NYHA that aims to close an additional gap in our healthcare system by integrating long-term care coverage into the legislation. This shift in policy will address our state’s long-term care crisis and meet the healthcare needs of seniors, people with disabilities, as well as countless family caregivers, who are primarily women, for generations to come.

The benefits of including long-term care in the NYHA will not only be felt by those who will now be able to afford assisted living, nursing home care, or home health care, but it will also have a rippling effect on our economy. In the Northwest Bronx, where we both live and work, thousands of home health aides, care workers, and unpaid caregivers have to withstand low wages, few benefits, and not enough investment in training and retention services. The current system is financially debilitating to families, those who require care, and the workforce that is tasked with administering care, all of whom are predominantly women struggling to provide for their loved ones. For instance, nationally, Latinx family caregivers spend 44% of their annual income providing caregiving services, while African-American family caregivers spend 34% of their income.

A healthcare system that guarantees long-term care coverage would help ease the financial burden of thousands of families across our state while dramatically improving the system for those who receive and provide care. According to a study recently released by the RAND Corporation, even with the addition of long-term care, the NYHA would cost less than what is being spent under the current healthcare system. It is simply the most fiscally responsible step to take.

The majority of New Yorkers have spoken loud and clear. They are demanding a healthcare system that works for them and not for the most powerful corporations. This new version of the NYHA and our new leadership in Albany bring us one-step closer to making healthcare a right and not a privilege for all New Yorkers.

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State Senator Gustavo Rivera is the Senate sponsor of the New York Health Act. Karla Lawrence is a direct care worker specializing in gerontology and long-term care; she is a member of 1199 SEIU and the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and a leader in the New York Caring Majority.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Creating a Single-Payer Health Care System That Works for All New Yorkers Mon, 11 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Will Single-Payer Health Care Come to New York? https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8139-max-murphy-podcast-will-single-payer-health-care-come-to-new-york https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8139-max-murphy-podcast-will-single-payer-health-care-come-to-new-york mxm logo

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


December 12, 2018 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Will Single-Payer Health Care Come to New York?

wbai dec12 400One of the most hotly-debated issues in state government is whether New York should or will move ahead with the New York Health Act, which would institute single-payer health care. State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Bronx Democrat, is the Senate sponsor of the bill and will soon be part of the Democratic majority in the Senate, as well as the health committee chair. He joined the show to discuss the broader priorities of the Senate Democrats and the prospects for the New York Health Act when his party has full control of state government come January.

Then, Bill Hammond, director of health policy at the Empire Center, joined the show to dissect the New York Health Act and a variety of ways in which he thinks it is problematic legislation, as well as the political terrain ahead for it.

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

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Will Single-Payer Health Care Come to New York? Wed, 12 Dec 2018 05:00:00 +0000
With Full Democratic Control, Sponsors of New York Single-Payer Health Care Hopeful About 2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8066-with-full-democratic-control-sponsors-of-new-york-single-payer-health-care-hopeful-about-2019 https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8066-with-full-democratic-control-sponsors-of-new-york-single-payer-health-care-hopeful-about-2019 Cuomo health care

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor's Office)


This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

Though Governor Andrew Cuomo has not expressed support for instituting a single-payer health care system in New York, his fellow Democrats campaigned on the issue as they flipped control of the state Senate, landing all of state government into Democratic hands and providing a significant boost of optimism to the lead sponsors of the New York Health Act, which would create a government-administered single-payer health care system.

The bill has passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly several times and all the members of Senate Democratic conference signed on as co-sponsors at the end of last legislative session in a unified show of support for the program heading into the election season.

Cuomo has said he supports a Medicare for all-type system at the federal level, but cast doubts on the cost and complexity of doing it in New York, and since their resounding wins on Election Day, the incoming leaders of the Democratic Senate majority have indicated that the massive undertaking of single-payer is not at the top of the agenda.

Still, with Democratic control of the Senate and the Assembly by wide margins, single-payer healthcare could be passed as early as the 2019 session, according to Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, chair of the Assembly Health Committee and lead sponsor of the New York Health Act.

“It was clear in the country and New York that healthcare was the number one issue on voters’ minds,” Gottfried said, before pointing to his legislation. “A solid majority of the new state Senate has either been a cosigner, voted for it in the Assembly, or campaigned on it. So I think we’re on track to get it passed in the Assembly and state Senate.”

The New York Health Act would replace health insurance companies with New York state government as the payer of healthcare costs for all New Yorkers. It has been passed in the Assembly four years running but has yet to be voted on in the Senate, where Republicans have held control. All of the other 30 Democratic senators joined lead sponsor Senator Gustavo Rivera of the Bronx to co-sponsor the legislation, though the Senate Democratic conference is seeing significant turnover due to primary wins by insurgent challengers. But, those challengers have in general been even more vocally supportive of single-payer health care than their more moderate predecessors. These facts give Gottfried confidence that the New York Health Act will pass during the 2019 session, which begins in January.

But the bill still faces an uphill battle, in part because of the massive changes it would institute, and the fact that though it might reduce overall individual and business healthcare costs after implementation, for the state to run the system it would require raising taxes significantly, something many Democrats have promised not to do and Cuomo is vehemently opposed to. It would also drastically impact the state’s private and public hospitals, the health insurance industry, and more. Some of the changes would of course be beneficial to New Yorkers, but the undertaking is complex and the New York Health Act as currently written leaves a lot of detail undetermined, including funding.

The governor has repeatedly opposed single-payer healthcare at the state level, suggesting that it would be more rational and financially feasible if administered by the federal government. Cuomo questioned in the past how a single-payer system could be put in place without doubling the tax burden, and cited California’s and Vermont’s debates over single-payer — which both ended when supporters were not able to answer one question: where would the funding come from? — as paragons of the impracticality of state-level single-payer.

Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, is confident that with his fellow lead sponsor Senator Rivera, who is likely to be the Senate health committee chair come January, and other legislators, he will be able to sway Cuomo to support the legislation.

“He’s obviously not on board yet, but he and his staff are very open to working with the Legislature on the issue,” Gottfried said. “I’m convinced we can satisfy their concerns.”

And after a recent study by RAND Corporation concluded that the New York Health Act would result in a reduction of administrative costs, provide all New Yorkers with healthcare, and reduce healthcare costs for most, Gottfried says the financing of the bill will not be a problem.

“New Yorkers are all going to have to think about what they will do with the hundreds of thousands of dollars that will end up in their pockets, and that’s a nice problem to have,” Gottfried said.

The study has a caveat, however, stating in its conclusion that “the estimated effects depend heavily on the assumptions about provider payments, administrative costs and drug prices.” Politico highlighted these assumptions as well as the likely tax increases that have largely been brushed aside by Democrats supporting the legislation. Wealthy people leaving the state, companies restructuring, the cost of hospital expenses rising at a faster rate or the Trump administration not issuing a federal waiver to redirect all healthcare-related funds to the new state entity are all possible events that could result in RAND’s conclusion falling apart.

For it to work, while health care costs drop, taxes would undoubtedly increase significantly for many New Yorkers. As cited by Politico, “a household reporting $150,000 in income would see its state tax rate increase from 6.45 percent in 2017 to 18.3 percent,” under one model scenario. Additionally, those who receive Medicaid or fall under the state’s Essential Plan, which subsidizes health insurance for low-income New Yorkers, have less to gain from the expansion. According to RAND, though, 1.2 million New Yorkers would gain health coverage.

It is likely that funds for New York single-payer health care would partially come from a new payroll tax, which RAND projects to fall largely on employers. However, RAND suggests the health act payroll tax would cost less for businesses already contributing toward employee health insurance and the Medicare payroll tax, estimating decreases in employer costs fairly quickly.

Concerns about businesses and high-income individuals leaving the state persist, with a tax atmosphere in New York that many, including Cuomo, acknowledge is already burdensome and became more so for many taxpayers, especially top earners, under the new federal tax code.

Senator Rivera, aware that cost is the primary argument against single-payer health care, repeatedly emphasized the need to work towards a version of the bill that would reduce the financial strain.

“I will continue working diligently with Assembly Member Gottfried, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and the Senate Democratic Conference to make the New York Health Act a bill that is not only fiscally responsible, but that provides comprehensive coverage to all New Yorkers,” Rivera wrote in an email to Gotham Gazette.

The bill and its potential ramifications have been studied closely by Bill Hammond, director of health policy at The Empire Center, a think tank. "Regardless of which party controls the state Senate, the New York Health Act remains a wildly unrealistic idea," Hammond said by email. "It means putting New York's entire health-care system — representing one-fifth of the economy — in the hands of the same state government that struggles to run the subways. It requires massive, draconian tax hikes, enough to roughly triple total state revenues."

"Plus, a true single-payer plan would need federal waivers that the Trump administration has vowed to block," Hammond continued, also noting a political angle -- that if Democrats spend great sums of money and political capital on a health care overhaul of this magnitude, what will they ignore, like fighting climate change or improving mass transit.

"It was easy to cast a symbolic yes vote for a single-payer bill that had no chance of passing," Hammond said. "Now that that it might actually happen, supporters are going to be forced to confront the practical realities. Then, hopefully, they’ll focus on helping the 6% of New Yorkers who still lack insurance, rather than disrupting coverage for those who already have it."

agenda19v2 aRivera acknowledged that moving to single-payer would not satisfy everyone, especially those who benefit from the current system, and that there are negotiations to come that will likely adjust the bill to make it more palatable to holdouts.

“The biggest challenge will be to reach a consensus among stakeholders that the NY Health Act is feasible [and] fiscally responsible,” Rivera wrote.

Citing “healthcare practitioners, prescription drug companies, healthcare providers, employers, unions and New Yorkers,” as the various groups involved, Rivera also mentioned courting Cuomo as an important step to take in the coming legislative session.

“Our main priority for the next legislative session is to continue shaping the bill so that it is feasible, affordable, that the Governor is willing to sign, and that primarily, provides quality healthcare for everybody,” Rivera wrote. “During the next legislative session, we will focus on making the necessary amendments to the bill so that it truly reflects the different healthcare needs affecting all New Yorkers.”

For now, it is very difficult to imagine Cuomo coming on board, especially given the pains he’s taken to keep state spending increases at around 2 percent per year and to lower taxes. Asked about single-payer health care during a Thursday appearance on The Capitol Pressroom with host Susan Arbetter, Cuomo painted it as unrealistic given budget constraints. He said Democrats are generally in agreement on the concept, but legislators will have to deal with reality in working with him on a state budget next year, while he also said he thinks it's much more workable on the federal level. “Single-payer health plan, for example," Cuomo said, "conceptually I think it’s the right way to go in. I believe it’s more feasible financially on the national level. No state has been able to finance the transition costs.”

A variety of factors, including the challenge of getting Cuomo’s support and not wanting to come into power quickly pursuing something as revolutionary as single-payer health care, may be why the likely next Senate majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and her likely deputy, Senator Michael Gianaris, have not highlighted it as top priorities for the coming session.

Assemblymember Gottfried noted that state Senators’ public approval of the bill gives him no reason not to “take them at their word,” and said he expects the legislation to move through the Legislature. He knows that private health insurers are certain to vehemently oppose the continued push.

“The insurance industry will be fiercely lobbying against the bill and they have a lot of money, going up against their lobbying will take a lot of work,” Gottfried said. “but I’m convinced with so many senators on the record in support of the bill, we will prevail.”

This is part of AGENDA 2019, a joint Gotham Gazette-City Limits project
Find the rest of the series here

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by Victor Porcelli, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

This article has been updated with Cuomo's comments from 11/15/18 on The Capitol Pressroom.

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With Full Democratic Control, Sponsors of New York Single-Payer Health Care Hopeful About 2019 Tue, 13 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7995-despite-lack-of-support-from-cuomo-democrats-in-swing-districts-run-on-not-from-single-payer-health-care andrewcuomo affor

Gov. Cuomo & Long Island Democratic Senate candidates (photo: @andrewcuomo)


Since the Affordable Care Act has failed to tame the beast that is America’s private health insurance system, and a new presidential administration is actively hostile to even that modest attempt at near-universal coverage, activists and many Democrats in New York have recently come to embrace a way forward. Single-payer, state-government-administered health care coverage has become something of a rallying cry for progressive activists in New York even as Governor Andrew Cuomo has argued it’s a program better-suited for the federal government to tackle.

While often thought of as a politically risky issue to embrace outside of solidly progressive areas, candidates in swing districts across the state are carrying the torch for single-payer and calling it a morally correct thing to do that will also save the state money. And with criticism of the proposal from Republicans, the issue has become a flashpoint in the battle for control of the New York State Senate, the GOP’s only source of power at the state level and the key for Democrats hoping to enact a long list of progressive goals.

The New York Health Act, the proposed law that would set up single-payer health insurance in New York, has gained momentum in the state Senate after years as an Assembly-focused effort. Every Democrat in the upper chamber of the state Legislature, where the party is in the minority by one seat, signed on to the bill last session.

The push saw added attention as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon made passing the bill a centerpiece of her campaign, although unlike on other issues like legalizing marijuana, Nixon didn’t appear to push Cuomo left on healthcare. But while Nixon and New York City Democrats -- the lead sponsors of the NYHA are Manhattan Assembly Member Dick Gottfried and Bronx Senator Gustavo Rivera -- have received the most attention for their embrace of the plan, Democratic state Senate candidates in the Hudson Valley and Long Island are also running on the passage of the bill despite the risk that an embrace of big government socialism could be a liability in their swing districts.

Conventional wisdom about the relative conservatism in many areas outside of New York City, and Cuomo’s own reluctance to embrace statewide single-payer (during his debate with Nixon he said it is a good idea “in theory,” but that it would double the state’s tax burden and he supports single-payer at the federal level), would suggest that Democrats in tight races would avoid the New York Health Act. Prominent Cuomo-led events where he’s endorsed suburban Democrats haven’t included mention the bill at all, instead focusing on issues like the continuation of the two percent property tax cap, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and a “red flag” gun control law, and funding an effort to fight the MS-13 gang.

As Cuomo avoided the issue, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan brought up the specter of socialism and high taxes in an op-ed column arguing for the GOP’s continued control of the state Senate. “The Democrat Conference vows to enact single payer health care, and so do all the candidates they are running. Medicaid for All would double the state’s budget while taking away Medicare from our seniors. You cannot support a cap on spending and a permanent cap on property taxes, while supporting budget-doubling policies like socialized medicine.”

But for some suburban Democrats, single-payer is as much of a winning issue as any other. “There's definite support [for the New York Health Act],” said candidate Pete Harckham, running to unseat Republican Terrence Murphy in the Senate’s 40th District, in the Hudson Valley. “People are tired of fighting with insurance companies, hospitals are tired of fighting with insurance companies, doctors are tired of fighting with insurance companies. So I think there's a very high appetite for the discussion and the dialogue with the New York Health Act as the starting place.”

Jen Metzger, running against Ann Rabbit in the 42nd District for the retiring Senator John Bonancic’s Hudson Valley seat, also said that she’s heard support for the bill out on the trail. “I come right out and say I'm a supporter of the New York Health Act and no one has said yet that it's a terrible idea or a scary idea,” Metzger told Gotham Gazette. “People understand that this system is not working and that major change is needed.”

“We've got to put every option on the table, because we're coming to a breaking point,” John Mannion, running against Bob Antonacci in the race to replace retiring Senator John DeFrancisco in western New York’s 50th District, told Gotham Gazette.

Both Metzger and Harckham don’t hedge their support either; each candidate told Gotham Gazette that they view healthcare as a human right and believe in a single-payer insurance system. It’s a view that’s become common enough among Democrats that Andrew Gounardes, running against state Senator Marty Golden in a relatively conservative district in southern Brooklyn, said, “frankly I don’t think it’s out of the mainstream to talk about universal health care in the year 2018,” during a previous interview with Gotham Gazette. Cuomo has also endorsed Gounardes, at a rally in Brooklyn where there was no mention of single-payer healthcare.

Support for the bill, even in districts currently held by Republicans, may not be as much of a liability in a wave year for the candidates who’ve expressed their support for it. The 40th and 50th Districts went for Hillary Clinton in 2016 by more than 5 points each, though the 42nd District went for Donald Trump by 5 points.

Gounardes and his primary opponent Ross Barkan were hardly the only New York City Democrats banging the drum for the New York Health Act this primary season. It was one of a slew of issues that challengers to the former members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) regularly used to explain how the incumbents had not represented progressive values while forming a power-sharing agreement with the Republican conference.

Jessica Ramos promoted single-payer on her website, Alessandra Biaggi explained her support for it using her own father’s Parkinson’s Disease as an example of how the current healthcare system was failing, and Zellnor Myrie promoted a recently-released RAND Corporation study that suggested the New York Health Act would save the state money over time -- all three of them defeated former IDC members in the primary.

Even John Brooks, a Long Island Democrat running a tough re-election campaign for his seat on Long Island states on his website that he supports the New York Health Act, and has called affordable health insurance “a right, not a privilege.” Harckham though, said that the bill has appeal outside of the city because “the economic and the healthcare hardship is the same in the suburbs as it is in the city.”

Just under 5 percent of New Yorkers lack health insurance, according to a recent report by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, and 7 million New Yorkers are receiving Medicaid, the federal program administered by the state with localities. Beyond the rhetoric of health insurance as a right and not a privilege, these Democratic candidates are also insisting the move to a single-payer system would actually save taxpayers and businesses money in the long run. “Shifting to a single-payer system would actually reduce property taxes, because it would reduce the cost of local taxes and government costs from how they pay for their employees' health insurance,” Metzger, a member of the Rosendale Town Council, told Gotham Gazette.

This is of course disputed by state Senate Republicans, who have cast the possible change to a single-payer system as a big government takeover of the healthcare sector. “You can’t hold the line on taxes and spending when you’re calling for creation of a new government-run health care system that would double the size of the state budget and cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars more than they already pay,” Senate GOP spokesperson Scott Reif said in response to a Democratic pledge -- signed by Cuomo and Long Island Democratic Senate candidates -- that included a promise to keep property taxes low, but made no mention of single-payer health care.

The RAND Corporation study concluded the change to a single-payer system in New York could (if certain assumptions were made true) save the state money in the long run, as even the bill’s primary sponsor in the Assembly, Gottfried, has said, that payroll and other taxes would need to increase to pay for the new system. The New York Health Act legislation itself doesn’t provide an exact way to pay for the single-payer system, instead authorizing a commission to figure out how to fund the plan should the bill pass. But Mannion posited that it’s not as if health insurance costs are affordable or helpful at the moment.

“I spoke to someone, a small business owner in my district, who said the entire health insurance premium he paid was $300,000 for his employees six years ago, and this year alone it increased by $300,000,” Mannion said, in response to a question on whether he’s prepared to explain tax increases necessary for a single-payer system.

Still, some Democrats are wary to discuss their views on the issue, even if they list it as an issue they’re running on. Jim Gaughran, running against Republican Senator Carl Marcellino in Long Island’s 5th District, called healthcare a right and not a privilege on his website, but did not respond to a request for comment, even after he was reached on his cell phone and promised a return call that did not materialize. The same situation came up with candidates Karen Smythe, whose website calls for universal single-payer, and Pat Strong, who said she would pass the New York Health Act. In the case of Assembly Member James Skoufis, running to represent the 39th Senate District, he’s already voted for the bill more than once in his time in the Assembly, but doesn’t list is as one of his main issues on his campaign website. Skoufis released a campaign ad touting his a fight with insurance companies on behalf of a constituent, but his campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment on whether or not he would support the New York Health Act in the Senate the way he did in the Assembly.

The candidates who spoke to Gotham Gazette did insist that even if they won and Democrats capture a majority in the state Senate, voters shouldn’t expect an immediate passage of the bill in the first budget session.

“During the gubernatorial primary, Cynthia Nixon said ‘Oh just pass [the bill] and pay for it,’ but that's not how you pass and craft legislation,” Harckham said, referring to when Nixon told the Daily News editorial board “Pass it and then figure out how to fund it” when its members asked her about the New York Health Act. “My starting point is New York Health, and let's sit down with the experts. The Assembly has passed this version, so it's pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the Senate can't alter it,” she continued. “Let's do our due diligence, with the goal of providing universal single-payer coverage for all New Yorkers.”

Harckham did say, though, that he felt “two years of legislative time” is long enough to debate and pass a bill, which he called a first-term priority on his website (state legislative terms are two years long).

“The Assembly bill has to be revamped, and we have get it right,” Mannion said. A spokesperson for Mannion later told Gotham Gazette that “getting it right” meant that Mannion believed “a transition from the current system to universal coverage as per the bill would likely require a transitional period in which purchasing into a Medicare-for-all like system would be a possible step, including offering that option on the NY State of Health exchange website.” That website is currently where New Yorkers can purchase health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

And even though the governor has said he prefers single-payer on a federal level, Metzger said there might be hope of convincing him to embrace the New York Health Act by playing to his love of New York being first. “I think we can show that [single-payer] can be done, I think there's a lot of value in demonstration value,” Metzger said. “It's been these academic debates in this country for a long time. If anyone can do it, I think New York can do it.”

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by Dave Colon, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Democrats in Swing Districts Run On, Not From, Single-Payer Health Care Mon, 15 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
As Broader Debate Intensifies, New York Nonprofits Consider Throwing Weight Behind Single-Payer https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7944-as-broader-debate-intensifies-new-york-nonprofits-consider-throwing-weight-behind-single-payer https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7944-as-broader-debate-intensifies-new-york-nonprofits-consider-throwing-weight-behind-single-payer gottfried org 2

Assemblymember Gottfried (photo: Dickgottfried.org)


Wendy Stark is ready to press the reset button on health care. The executive director of Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, based in Lower Manhattan, Stark is hopeful that an overhaul may be on the horizon in New York through controversial legislation gaining increasing attention as this fall’s elections determine the upcoming balance of power in state government, from the governor’s office through the state Legislature.

The New York Health Act -- which has increasingly strong chances of passing the state Legislature but does not have the support of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo, who is favored to win a third term -- would set the stage for New York to toss out the current health insurance system in favor of a single taxpayer-funded, government-administered health care program for everyone.

As the bill has been the subject of more debate in recent months, partially stemming from gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon’s support for it, powerful lobbyist groups representing insurers, hospitals, and businesses have been vocal about their opposition. The Business Council of New York State took to Fox & Friends to denounce the legislation, while others have written op-eds in local publications. Republicans running for office, including gubernatorial nominee Marc Molinaro, are warning New Yorkers about a potential government takeover of health care.

But as the leader of a health care provider that serves mostly low-income members of the LGBT community through its clinics in Manhattan and the Bronx and employs more than 350 people, Stark has a very different take. She says in addition to allowing her organization to save on employee benefits and administrative costs -- a projection generally backed up by the RAND Corp.’s recently-published analysis of the New York Health Act -- a single-payer system would cut down on the red tape patients have to deal with.

“So many of the barriers to care people experience are rooted in the economics of health care,” Stark said. “We don’t believe health care can make adequate improvements without changing the foundational economics of how it works and is paid for.”

Under the proposed single-payer system, insurance premiums, deductibles and copays would all go out the window, and patients could visit any health care provider without having to worry about whether they were in their insurance network. Meanwhile, taxes would go up, with the wealthiest New Yorkers paying a greater portion of their income and employers paying a certain amount per employee. Under the sample tax model proposed by the RAND Corp., the state would have to collect an estimated $139 billion in new taxes in 2022 to pay for the single-payer system. Still, RAND projected that overall spending on health care would go down -- barring a few caveats that that could stand in the way of the system being successful.

Callen-Lorde is one of 10 community-based health centers and 183 total nonprofit groups statewide that have publicly endorsed the campaign supporting the New York Health Act (in addition to a variety of mostly small for-profit businesses). But while it may seem like a natural fit, the bill still has a ways to go to become a widespread legislative priority for the large contingent of community-based organizations that help connect immigrants, people with behavioral health problems and housing insecurity, formerly incarcerated individuals, and members of other marginalized groups to needed health care and social services.

Many nonprofit health centers and other organizations, including those in the human services sector -- which employ a growing workforce and have formed coalitions to represent their interests in Albany and Washington, D.C. -- are still examining the implications of the New York Health Act before issuing full-throated endorsements. Others are directing their limited resources to what they see as more pressing policy and funding concerns.

But that may change as the policy conversation develops. Groups like the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, FPWA, which represents 170 human-services and faith-based organizations, are hoping to help move things along.

“We believe the New York Health Act would strengthen nonprofits both for the communities they serve as well as their employees, and make the system more tenable long-term,” said Winn Periyasamy, policy analyst at FPWA.

FPWA, along with the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families and the New York Immigration Coalition, hosted a forum on single-payer for nonprofit representatives on the Lower East Side last month, where they heard about the New York Health Act directly from its lead sponsors in the Legislature, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Senator Gustavo Rivera, both Democrats who represent parts of New York City in their respective legislative houses.

New Yorkers in favor of a single-payer health system will know they’re winning, Rivera told the audience, when sinister images of him and Gottfried start appearing in insurance-industry funded attack ads.

“I can’t wait for that gritty video, I can’t wait for it!” said Rivera, of the Bronx, exuding confidence that the debate over the state’s single-payer bill is on its way to reaching a fever pitch.

The New York Health Act passed the Assembly the last four years in a row, but was thwarted each time by the Republican-controlled Senate. Now the bill--which was already only one sponsor short of a majority in the Senate in the last session--is among a slew of progressive measures that have been infused with new hope following the dissolution of the Independent Democratic Conference, which allowed Senate Democrats to caucus with Republicans.

“This is real,” Gottfried insisted at the forum. “This is not a dream. And you and your people are really crucial to making sure it gets done.”

Those in attendance were particularly interested in how the bill would affect undocumented New Yorkers, who are generally not eligible for health insurance now but would be under the single-payer system. Undocumented New Yorkers currently often use public hospitals at great expense, having eschewed preventative care due to their documentation status and lack of insurance. Dr. Mitchell Katz, chief executive of the cash-strapped NYC Health + Hospitals system, praised the Assembly on Twitter for passing the New York Health Act in June.

Attendees at the event also talked about the need to properly translate materials on single-payer into the languages of the communities they serve.

“We’re reaching into our Asian-American communities,” said Anita Gundanna, co-executive director of the Coalition for Asian American Children and Families. “A lot of people had never heard of the [single-payer] proposal before or thought through the impact of it, so for us the very beginning step is to expose our communities to what’s going on and how it might impact them.”

CACF and other groups serving Asian-Pacific Americans advocate for health care initiatives through Project CHARGE, the Coalition for Health Access to Reach Greater Equity. Gundanna said there’s a need to get more buy-in from individual organizations before single-payer can become an official part of the coalition’s policy agenda.

“We have to be strategic and patient,” she said. “We can’t move without having our coalition behind us.”

On the bright side, Gundanna pointed out, the nonprofit sector had to increase its capacity to share information about health policy a few years ago in order to help people understand and get insured through the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

But more recently everyone has been on the defensive, using their resources to try to preserve the ACA and prevent a wide array of federal policies from taking effect. Lately, many organizations are preoccupied with changes the Trump administration is considering to the Public Charge Rule, which people in the social-services sector say are already discouraging some immigrants from using public benefits, including subsidized health insurance, for fear it could be used as a strike against them later.

Gundanna said she wants to present nonprofits with proactive solutions like single-payer but acknowledges that everyone must consider, “How many resources are there to explore these quote-unquote ideal options in this quote-unquote ideal world?”

Asked about the New York Health Act, the Community Healthcare Association of New York State, which spent much of 2017 and early 2018 consumed by a battle to secure endangered federal funding for its members, said in a statement, “CHCANYS supports innovations in health policy that improve access to high-quality health care for everyone. We continue to study the options for expanding coverage to all New Yorkers and are closely monitoring the current political discourse.”

Meanwhile, the Human Services Council, whose advocacy focuses on improving the government contracts its member organizations rely on for funding, is not likely to take a position on the New York Health Act, said Allison Sesso, the coalition’s executive director.

“Doing stuff on this is not why we exist and could eat up resources,” said Sesso, although she added, “I think this conversation is really important and I’m glad it’s being elevated.”

As advocates for the New York Health Act work to make the case that it’s worth the time and effort for would-be proponents to support the bill, they are also faced with the uphill battle of getting the governor on their side. A year ago, before the bill stood much of a chance of passing both houses of the state Legislature, Cuomo signaled some slight openness to the idea of implementing a single-payer system in New York. Asked about it again during his debate with Nixon, before he beat her in the gubernatorial primary this month, Cuomo came out against the idea. He said he thought it could work at the federal level but would be too costly an endeavor for the state to embark on alone.

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by Caroline Lewis for Gotham Gazette. On Twitter @clewisreports and @GothamGazette.

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As Broader Debate Intensifies, New York Nonprofits Consider Throwing Weight Behind Single-Payer Thu, 20 Sep 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Without the Federal Government But With New York, Puerto Rico Endures https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7763-without-the-federal-government-but-with-new-york-puerto-rico-endures https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7763-without-the-federal-government-but-with-new-york-puerto-rico-endures gov puertorican day

(photo via the Governor's office)


Loíza is a town on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, home to almost 30,000 American citizens. For 72 hours last September, as Hurricane Maria ravaged the island and other territories in the Caribbean, Loíza and all of its residents became isolated from the outside world when the three main roads that connect this medium-sized town to the rest of the island became impassable. 

The challenges that residents of Loíza faced and continue to deal with are not only emblematic of the lack of resources invested in rebuilding efforts and the crumbling economy hindering the island's recovery, but also of the resilience and resourcefulness of the Puerto Rican people. 

Last March, I returned to my native Puerto Rico to see the impact of the disaster firsthand. I visited six different towns across the island, including Loíza, and with a great deal of frustration and heartbreak, I confirmed what I had feared: the inadequate and anemic responses from the federal government and the island’s central administration have left almost 3 million Puerto Ricans on the island and their local governments to fend for themselves.  

Thousands, especially those in low-income communities, continue to suffer from unreliable electricity and water systems, food and resource shortages, and serious mental and physical health emergencies. Considering this, it should come as no surprise that the real number of storm-related fatalities is closer to 4,600 souls, according to a recent Harvard University report, as opposed to the 64 official deaths counted by the U.S. government.      

While the trip was disheartening in many ways, it was also inspiring and hopeful. I met several mayors, nonprofit organizations, scholars, labor leaders, and dedicated individuals whose steadfast leadership in helping Puerto Rico recover has been nothing short of heroic. Together, they have slowly built an important grassroots recovery movement that has made significant progress despite minimal resources. 

For instance, Taller Salud, a Loíza-based nonprofit organization seeking to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of low-income women and girls, saw its mission transform out of necessity, becoming a critical emergency response provider giving out life-saving assistance to thousands.  

To put it plainly, Puerto Ricans do not need or want charity. What they need is our support to further invest in those leaders and communities working tirelessly to implement innovative visions and projects locally. They want to maintain full agency over how their hometowns and infrastructure are rebuilt. We do not need to tell them or show them how to survive or thrive -- what we need to do is augment their ability to do what they have already been doing.

Many states and cities across the mainland United States have stepped up to provide support in the face of the failed response by our federal government. I am proud to say that New York has done this and in spades.

Our State and City governments, along with elected officials across all levels of government, local nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, and many New Yorkers launched an extremely dynamic relief effort, which continues to this day. From millions of dollars in monetary donations, to collecting tons of essential items, to sending highly qualified emergency responders, medical staff, and expert personnel to help rebuild the island’s decayed infrastructure, New York has led by example as to how to coordinate a comprehensive relief response and empower the Puerto Rican people to take the lead in its recovery efforts.

During a recent meeting of Governor Cuomo’s New York Stands with Puerto Rico Rebuilding and Reconstructing Committee, I joined my fellow committee members and Governor Cuomo’s administration to identify a list of priorities and recommendations to help facilitate Puerto Rico’s rebuilding efforts.

01 29 14 rivera hs 009My list of recommendations focuses on counseling and mental health services, access to higher education, employment assistance, accessibility of clean water, and promotion of green energy infrastructure. 

As a result of the recent committee meeting, I penned a letter with members of the Senate Democratic Conference urging SUNY and CUNY to extend their in-state tuition credit program. This program aims to ensure that Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students who relocated to New York are able to continue their higher education for the next academic year. Last week, SUNY extended the program and CUNY is expected to do the same imminently.

Puerto Ricans have not only seen their lives completely torn apart by a natural disaster, but also by the criminal inaction of our federal government. While the road to recovery will be long and filled with challenges, the spirit of my fellow Boricuas remains intact. At a time of such darkness, the clarity of their ideas and their commitment to rebuilding is worthy of support. The goal of the diaspora, and all who seek to help, must be to empower our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters to transform and improve their neighborhoods and towns as they see fit. The storm and this administration have dealt a painful blow to Puerto Rico, but the island and Puerto Ricans endure.

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Gustavo Rivera is a state senator representing part of the Bronx and a native of Puerto Rico. On Twitter @NYSenatorRivera.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Without the Federal Government But With New York, Puerto Rico Endures Fri, 22 Jun 2018 04:00:00 +0000
State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6792-state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances https://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6792-state-senator-calls-for-investigation-of-opponent-s-campaign-finances Rivera

Senator Gustavo Rivera (photo: Senate Democrats)


A state Senator from the Bronx is calling on the state Board of Elections to investigate a former opponent’s campaign finances for violations.

Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat, alleges that the Senate campaign of Fernando Cabrera, a New York City Council Member, committed multiple violations in the Democratic primary for the District 33 Senate seat last year. In a Feb. 28 letter to the state Board of Elections, Rivera’s campaign attorney, Sarah Steiner, noted the alleged violations and asked for updates on the status of three previous requests the campaign has made to look into earlier alleged violations.

In the letter, which was addressed to state BOE chief enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman and was made available to Gotham Gazette by the campaign, Steiner identified the new alleged violations by Cabrera’s Senate campaign, including a failure to file a 10-day post primary disclosure and a January periodic report with the BOE.

The letter also alleges that Cabrera’s City Council campaign filed necessary disclosures with the New York City Campaign Finance Board but not with the state BOE; and that Cabrera’s Council campaign committee transferred $11,000 to his Senate campaign committee, which Steiner alleges exceeds the $7,000 limit for contributions to a state Senate primary campaign. However, that last allegation seems to be dubious since transfers by a candidate from one authorized political committee to another do not count as contributions, according to state election law.

Steiner also referred to earlier requests made to the BOE to investigate whether Cabrera’s campaign had illegally coordinated independent expenditures with New Yorkers for Independent Action (NYFIA), a political action committee that was involved in four Democratic primary races last year.

“This person has a history of violating campaign finance laws and skirting ethical boundaries left and right,” said Sen. Rivera, in a phone interview, of Council Member Cabrera. Cabrera has unsuccessfully challenged Rivera in two straight election cycles, in 2014 and 2016. Rivera’s move was prompted by the recent news, reported by the Daily News, that the BOE had recommended criminal prosecutions in five cases last year. Although it’s unknown which specific campaigns were involved, Sugarman told the Daily News that they covered “a more wide-ranging group of violations” than the nine prosecution referrals she made in 2015.

BOE’s Sugarman declined to comment for this article.

That Rivera has chosen to publicly call out his opponent is not surprising. The primary race for District 33 turned bitter at times, particularly with NYFIA criticizing Rivera’s record and seeking to link him with the culture of corruption in Albany. Rivera, for his part, criticized Cabrera as a political opportunist and blasted his conservative leanings on issues such as abortion and marriage equality.

In a statement to Gotham Gazette, Cabrera refuted the allegations in Steiner’s letter. “My campaign meticulously complied with all rules and requirements established by the New York State Board of Elections,” he said, adding that his campaign was notified that they were in full compliance of election law. “I am disappointed that Senator Rivera continues to invest time and energy in negative campaign tactics post-election, rather than devoting his resources to serving his constituents,” he added. “It’s time for Senator Rivera to get to work and start doing his job.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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State Senator Calls for Investigation of Opponent's Campaign Finances Mon, 06 Mar 2017 05:00:00 +0000