Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lobby Day 2017

We started off the second half of the legislative session with a bang and a shout! On Tuesday we held our annual lobby day and had fantastic attendance from our Local League members. This year we had members from as far west as Chautauqua county, as far north as Plattsburgh, and as far south as New York City. We kicked off our lobby day with a huge press conference outside of the Senate chamber demanding that the legislature pass voting reforms before session ends. Our members were joined by Senate Democratic Leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Gianaris, Senator Squadron, Assemblyman Kavanagh, Assemblyman Carroll, and Assemblywoman Fahy. All of these legislators are strong supporters of voting reforms and sponsors of legislation that would make voting easier and more accessible. The press conference was aimed at drawing attention to these issues and the fact that the Assembly Election Law committee would be voting on an early voting bill the very next day. You can watch the full press conference here.  

After the press conference our members headed out to lobby their state legislators on these reforms as well as the Reproductive Health Act, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, the New York Health Act, a Constitutional Amendment to make clean air and water a first amendment right, and reforms to the delegate selection for a Constitutional Convention.  A special thank you to all the legislators who made time to meet with our members, although they may not always agree with our positions we appreciate the time they take out of their busy days to sit down with our members.
On Wednesday the Early voting bill was moved out of the Assembly Election Law committee. The bill was reported and we expect that it will be moved to the calendar soon. We are hoping to see more voting legislation pass through committee in the coming weeks. Last session the Assembly passed several progressive voting reforms including this early voting bill, a Constitutional Amendment for no-excuse absentee voting, a bill to allow for electronic poll books, and a bill to make ballots easier to read. Unfortunately the Senate did not address any of these bills.  This year we will really be pressing the Senate and demanding that they take up voting reform legislation. 

Wednesday evening the League participated in a panel on the Constitutional Convention held at Onondaga Community College. The panel was co-sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute and NY Bar Association. There was quite a good turn out and the audience asked some great questions at the conclusion of the presentations. This is the 7th public forum the NYS League has participated in and the 35th that the League as a whole has done. We will continue to do public education as we get closer to the November election. To see our Executive Director, Laura Ladd-Bierman, speaking about delegate selection and process see our video here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Be Earthwise - Create a Healthier Planet: Here's How!

Although there was no legislative session this week, the League office was busy planning the roll out of our Be Earthwise campaign for 2017.



In the first phase of this program we asked citizens to pledge to vote with their dollars and their actions and respect the environment through their daily decisions. You can learn more about the pledge by clicking here or by watching our brief PSA.


Now we are asking citizens to work even harder to help preserve our planet by being meat free, being chemical free, and reducing, reusing, and recycling. 


These three initiatives will not only lead to a healthier planet but can also help improve your own health. To learn more about the initiatives click here.

Take the pledge to Be Earthwise today!   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Post Budget Highlights (and Failures)

This year’s budget was a several week endeavor. For the first time since Governor Andrew Cuomo was elected, the budget was 9 days late. The legislature had to pass one extender to keep the government working for 9 days until the legislature came back and spent Palm Sunday weekend finishing the budget. 

The Assembly spent 8 hours on Saturday debating and passing the budget legislation. The Senate returned at 5:30 pm on Sunday and debated for 6 hours on the agreed to budget. The $153.1 billion budget included many progressive legislative proposals. The most debated issue this year was whether or not to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. This proposal dominated both the Assembly and Senate debate over the weekend. The Assembly debated this issue for most of their 8 hour debate. Surprisingly, the Assembly debate was not acrimonious; the vast majority of legislators were in agreement that this issue’s time had come and New York did not want to be associated with being the last state in the nation to have not raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The final the program is incremental in implementation and gives flexibility for which court will try teens based on the crimes they committees. Violent crimes involving a weapon, crimes that inflicted physical injury on victims, and crimes involving sexual violence will all be heard in traditional criminal court.

The other visible issue in this year’s budget was the governor’s proposal to allow for free college for SUNY and CUNY to students. The final proposal included a number of provisions that the Governor had not initially agreed to. Private schools were also included in the proposal but with the state only paying up to $3,000 and only if the college agreed to match that money. SUNY and CUNY students can receive up to $5,500 per semester. To qualify students must have a household income below $100,000 for the next four years; the qualifying amount will be raised to $125,000 by 2020. Students must also take a certain number of credits, maintain a GPA specified by the school, and they must work in New York State for 4 to 5 years post-graduation. Students who do not work in the state will have to repay their grant. This policy does not include room and board for schools or books.

The budget also included Upstate Ridesharing. The new policy comes with a hefty sales tax, mandatory background checks for all drivers, and a $1.5 million insurance policy for all drivers.

The Governor said this was the most difficult budget he had to negotiate because of his concerns over potential budget deficits from Washington. A major sticking point in this budget negotiation was the Governor’s insistence that his budget division be given unilateral authority if there are federal budget cuts. The legislature agreed to give the Governor authority to put out his own proposal but only if the Assembly and Senate have the option to pass their own version within 90 days of the release. If the legislature does not act the Governor’s proposal would stand.

This year’s education budget was a tug of war between public schools and charter schools. The League had advocated strongly for an increase in foundation aid. The resulting budget allocated $700 million for Foundation Aid, which is funding for both rural and urban high needs school districts. Total education aid was $1.1 billion. The charter school cap remains intact but charter aid was unfrozen for this year. There was also a $500 per student increase in tuition aid and a $500 increase in charter’s capital aid reimbursable by the state. The state took this over so it wouldn’t be such a large toll on local districts. STAR rebate checks will also continue.

Another issue the League lobbied during this budget session was a $2.5 billion for water infrastructure which will be used to rebuild and replace aging water infrastructure. This investment will be used by localities and local governments to help pay for clean drinking water projects and new infrastructure upgrades as well as water testing.  

One issue area that was completely absent from budget negotiations was voting reforms. The League had lobbied legislators leading up to the release of the one-house budgets to include voting reforms in their budget packages. Although the Governor and Assembly had included early voting and automatic voter registration in their respective budget proposals, the Senate had not even toyed with the idea of including voting. As soon as negotiations began, both the legislature and Governor were silent on the issue of voting reform. We are truly shocked that the two houses and Governor were able to compromise on so many policies but NOT voting. You can read our full statement on our budget disappointment here.


The legislature remains on break until April 24th. The League will host its annual Lobby Day April 25th and we plan to hit the ground running and screaming about voting reforms! The time is now to bring New York’s antiquated voting system into the 21st century!  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Joint Conference Committee Sessions Have Begun!

What a whirl wind week! Monday the Joint Budget Conference committees met to lay out their respective priorities. We were not surprised to find out the Joint Committees had not received their table target budget amounts. The Joint Leader’s Conference met fist. Senator Flanagan kicked off the committee, emphasizing the Senate's desire to spur job creation, transportation infrastructure, college affordability, the creation of a clean water bond act, and workers compensation. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reaffirmed the Assembly's commitment to Raise the Age and funding of Foundation Aid. Senator Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference was allowed to speak before Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, he laid out the IDC's budget plan emphasizing the IDC's commitment to seeing Raise the Age pass during this budget process. The Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb spoke next about the minority's concerns over the STAR rebate program and the oversight of the Regional Economic Development Corporation. When Senator Stewart-Cousins was finally allowed to speak she started off with her disappointment that the Senate Democrats were not permitted to have their budget considered by the Senate. She said the IDC's Raise the Age proposal was inaccurate and that the Senate needed a greater focus on school funding. 



The Joint Committees broke out into three meeting rooms, each presented for an average of 15 minutes with much of that time being spent on members saying what aspects of the budget were most important to them. The League sat in on several committees including health, environmental conservation, transportation, public protection, and education. We were pleased to see that the Education Committee reaffirmed their commitment to a full phase in of Foundation Aid. The bipartisan committee also agreed that they needed to take additional steps to help with the recent influx of English as a second language students in both New York City and Upstate. The two houses did not agree on Mayoral Control. 

The League and its good government allies fought tirelessly to make sure that budget negotiations are open to the public. New York State law now mandates that these budget conferences meet in public and allow citizens to see how deals are being made. Unfortunately, these conference sessions have become political theater and much of the budget negotiations will be done behind closed doors. We do not anticipate any other joint conference meetings. 


On Thursday the legislature was hit by another federal indictments. Senator Robert Ortt and former Senator George Miziarz were accused of filing a false instrument by Attorney General Eric Schniederman. Ortt is accused of giving his wife a no-show job when he was Mayor of North Tonawanda. Miziarz's case is somewhat more complicated and involves a staffer accused of sexual harassment that was paid by the county GOP committee even after he had stepped down from his position. The payments had been concealed to avoid scrutiny. The legislature and Governor continue to blatantly ignore the obvious problem of corruption plaguing Albany. While we hope that the legislature will add stronger ethics reforms to the final budget proposal, there has been little attention paid to the issue.