Friday, January 20, 2017

Contraceptive Coverage and Reproductive Health Bills Pass Assembly

The legislative session began in earnest Tuesday after the MLK holiday with an Assembly press conference on the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA).   The League was well represented at the press event and then we went on to three committees, health, codes and insurance.  The debate in health committee was predictable with the Republican minority voting against the RHA apparently concerned with person hood and penal law.   We then moved on to codes where the vote was the same, minority in the negative.   On to insurance committee, but same result.   Finally the debate began about 5 pm.  After about one and one half hours of debate which harkened back to the 1980's, the vote was 98 to 46.  All Republicans except Assemblyman Clifford Crouch of Binghamton voted against.  The CCCA had the same result although not as long a debate.  The CCCA was put forward by the Attorney General, it is necessary because if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed women will no longer be able to get contraception paid for by insurance. Unfortunately these votes don't bode well for these issues in the State Senate. The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans who have no interest in seeing these bills put into law. The hope has been that because of the renewed threat to Roe v Wade and the ACA, New York would at last codify Roe here in New York and that contraception would remain guaranteed.  We have work to do in the Senate.




On the same day Governor Cuomo released his budget proposal. He originally wanted to brief the Senate first at a lunch meeting and the Assembly later in the evening at a dinner in the Governor’s Mansion. He had extended to the press the opportunity to view his plans in the afternoon but told them they would have to wait until 7:30 pm to release the details. The press refused to wait and ultimately no one was told anything until his formal address at 7:30 pm. It was a rather awkward presentation with Cuomo presenting his plan in front of just Capitol press and staff – no members of the legislature or the public attended.

Although the day had a rocky start Cuomo and his staff were able to post his proposed budget online for the public right after he concluded his presentation. The full proposed budget, an archive of the presentation, and his budget briefing book are all available on the Department of Budget website https://www.budget.ny.gov/
  
The legislature has released their Joint Legislative Budget Hearing schedule and the League plans to testify and submit testimony for at least 4 of the proposed Committees.  These Committees include Local Government, Taxes, Education, and Health – it’s shaping up to be a busy January.

Friday, January 13, 2017

State of the State Wrap Up

Week two of session was a busy week for the League. We kicked off the attending the State Board of Election’s Commissioner meeting. The meeting was not nearly as exciting as the December and November meetings which involved heated debates between chief enforcement council, Risa Sugarman, and Commissioner Doug Kellner over the whether or not non-filers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, we did learn that the enforcement unit is moving forward with a plan for get non-filers into compliance as soon as possible by issuing warnings in the form of letters and emails. Commissioners Kellner and Kosinski did not seem impressed.  



After the meeting adjourned we headed over to the Elections Commissioners Association’s (ECA) Winter Conference. Every year the League and some of our good government allies attend the winter conference in Albany to lobby county election commissioners on our voting priorities. This year we handed out materials supporting opt-out automatic voter registration and opposing voter ID requirements.  We were able to sit in on their Legislative Committee meeting and hear their debate over their new proposed legislative priorities. The committee proposed 7 new priorities included pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, extended term lengths for Election Commissioners, new post mark rules for absentee ballots and voter registration forms, a proposal for automatic voter registration, and a new requirement for all New York voters to present a government issued ID on Election Day. The committee debated the proposals and ultimately only voted to adopt a single new proposal that would allow the county Board of Election offices to issue same day absentee ballots to people who are hospitalized within 24 hours of Election Day. This proposal will be added to their 2016 proposals which can be found here.

On Tuesday we returned to the conference and handed out more materials listing our legislative priorities related to election law for 2017. You can read our Joint Statement here. We sat in on several panels and spoke with commissioners from around the state about our priorities.   






On Wednesday the League was able to attend Governor Cuomo’s Albany State of the State address. We had members attend his addresses in New York City, Buffalo, and Westchester as well. We were pleased to see he included ethics reforms in his Albany address but a bit disappointed that they were the same old reforms he’s been pushing since before 2016.

Next week we will anticipate the release of his 2017 budget and the calendar of proposed Joint Budget Hearings.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

And we’re back!

The 2017 legislative session is officially underway and what a better way to start the new session than with two totally opposing opening remarks from our legislative leaders. While Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie highlighted the bipartisan nature of his house and the Assembly’s willingness to work with the Senate; Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan swore to keep his house independent. How will this shake out in the upcoming session? Only time will tell.

Heastie highlighted education, health care, and reproductive choice as his top priorities for this session.  Flanagan made several remarks about Upstate jobs and the moderate successes of Start Up NY and the Regional Development Council. Much of his speech appeared to be digs at the Governor. The Assembly finished their session rather quickly while the Senate lingered until 3:00pm debating the lack of democrats on the Senate Ethics Committee and a new rule change that would ban Senators from using their phones to take photos or videos while in the Senate Chamber. The general public has already been barred from using cell phones while in the galleries but now the rule applies to Senators and the press alike.

The day ended with countless receptions held throughout the Capital. We spoke to many members and found that legislators regardless of party expressed anger over Governor's meddling in the Wage Commission which had been set up to be outside of the political haggling. That feeling seemed to shadow the first day of session as well as the feeling that the Governor had disrespected the legislature's rightful position by moving the State of the State outside of the Capitol. There was also among many members, a veiled threat of budget negotiations being impaired by this level of animosity between the executive and legislative chambers.

Next week we will begin business as usual and hopefully get a chance to attend Governor Cuomo’s State of the State road tour. Here are the dates and locations:

  • Monday, 11 a.m.: One World Trade Center in Manhattan
  • Monday, 3 p.m.: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
  • Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.: SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
  • Tuesday, 1 p.m.: Farmingdale State College on Long Island
  • Wednesday, 10 a.m.: University at Albany Performing Arts Center
  • Wednesday, 1 p.m.: Carrier Theater in Syracuse

Here’s hoping this session brings some actual ethics reforms! 

Monday, June 20, 2016

So Long 2016

Session is finally over and although we are excited to switch our focus to developing new educational programs and updating our electronic voter guide for the upcoming primary and general elections (http://www.vote411.org/  we just posted the candidates for the Congressional primary so be sure to check it out!)  We are disappointed at the lack of campaign finance and ethics reforms this session; but before we dwell on the negative, let’s take a moment to reflect on the positives. In total the League had quite a few successes this session:
·         We once again kept the Education Tax Credit from coming to a vote in the Assembly, an arduous but satisfying fight.
·         We saw movement in the Assembly on some of our core voting reforms including early voting, allowing for electronic poll books, an amendment for no-excuse absentee voting, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.
·         We also helped push the LLC loophole for a vote in the Assembly where it passed easily with support from both democrats and republicans.
·         We were also successful in raising public awareness for our core ethics and campaign finance issues. We held many press conferences and issued countless memos and statements pushing to see some form of ethics reforms happen before time ran out.
To see all of the issues we worked on throughout this session visit our website athttp://www.lwvny.org/
Even though we’ve had success moving these issues in the Assembly, we are very disappointed the Senate did not take the opportunity to vote on any of these common sense election law and campaign finance reforms. It is however very satisfying to see these bills at least move in one house, many of these bills have never even been voted out of committee!
Although the legislation we advocated for was not signed into law, the Governor did put forward an ethics packaged aimed primarily at independent expenditures which we have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the package includes some reforms that we have been fighting for for nearly a decade.  Pension forfeiture of elected officials convicted of corruption, the timely closure of political PACs after a candidate passes, and having political consultants register as lobbyists, are all measures the League supports. What we don’t support is how the Governor quickly put together this package, without including laws aimed at bigger issues such as closing the LLC loophole and eliminating pay to play by lowering contribution limits, and then the two houses passed the package in the dead of the night (Senate at 2:00am and Assembly at 5:00 am). For this entire legislative session, the League and its good government partners have held press conferences urging the Governor to pass these reforms and put his focus on money flowing directly to elected officials.  Yes we want to take away pensions from corrupt politicians, yes we want better disclosure for lobbyists, yes we want consultants to be on the record as lobbyists, but we also want to see some bigger changes. Changes that would limit and bring transparency to money in politics, changes that would strengthen JCOPE, And changes that would actually address the underlying problems that allow politicians to receive unlimited campaign contributions from undisclosed donors.

Are we happy? No, not really. Are we disappointed? Well, at least we got more done this year than last year. The truth is until we pass strong anti-corruption laws we will continue to see politicians abusing the system for their own self gain. For now we will take advantage of the new “Boozy Brunch” law, have a few Bloody Mary’s, and start to strategize our approach for next session. Have a great summer everyone!