Thursday, February 4, 2016

Monday got off to a quick start with a League priority bill. The single June primary bill appeared before the Election’s Committee which was to be called off the floor, in the Speakers Conference Room, during session. We attended that Committee meeting where the bill passed with the minority in the negative and the bill moving immediately into Rules Committee.  A note of clarification- bills that are considered to not be addressed by the other house are often taken up and pushed off the calendar early in the session. Unfortunately, the single primary bill is one of those bills where it is assumed that the Senate will not take up this legislation, therefore the Assembly wanted to take it up and be done with it. Even with League’s vigorous attempts at lobbying this legislation four years ago it is clear that the Senate will not address this bill in an election year. On Tuesday the bill passed the Assembly and was delivered to the Senate where interestingly it was refer to the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs. Only the Senate could refer a voting bill to a committee on veteran’s affairs.  

Tuesday was another busy day for the League. Marian Bott, our issue specialist on Education Finance, testified before the Joint Budget Hearing on Taxation. This is the second testimony from Marian during this budget cycle. Her full testimony can be found here. As budget testimony continues, Barbara Thomas, our issue specialist on Women’s Issues, participated in the Paid Family Leave lobby day. Paid Family Leave legislation passed the Assembly but will have an uphill climb for passage in the Senate. Between Barbara, Marian, Jennifer and myself, the League was very visible in the legislature that day.

Earlier on Tuesday the League also attended the Assembly Education Committee where Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia again talked about her education priorities for this year.
We started our Wednesday with a fabulous breakfast and budget briefing by the Fiscal Policy Institute. FPI presents their analysis of the Governor’s budget every year and they never fail to impress us with their in-depth analyses.  After the briefing, the League was able to submit testimony to the Workforce Development budget hearing on minimum wage and paid family leave. You can read the full testimony here.

Thursday Barbara finished the budget testimony week with our testimony before Public Protection, expressing the League’s concerns and recommendations on the State Board of Elections and the budgetary ramifications of the coming election year. In total the League has testified or submitted testimony for 5 budget hearings.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What a fun week for the League! Last Friday we celebrated the 43rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade with our Women’s Issues Specialist, Barbara Thomas. Barbara threw a fun party to raise money for Planned Parenthood and celebrate the landmark ruling that changed the lives of women nationwide.

On Monday we met with our ally, Family Planning Advocates, for their annual lobby day. They had a terrific turnout for the event even with the snowstorm that hit NYC over the weekend. The Well was adorned with pink banners and many legislators joined the festivities wearing FPA signature pink scarves and ties. The headliner for the event was none other than Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. She spoke briefly about the importance of organizations like Planned Parenthood and the service they provide to the state. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli also spoke to the group about his push to maintain adequate services for women throughout the state. The most interesting speech came from Assemblywoman Richardson who shared that as a sexually active 16 year old woman she turned to Planned Parenthood when she had questions and needed answers. Her comments made more than a few male Assemblymembers blush but drew cheers from the audience of young women proudly wearing their pink scarves.

After the rally the group members were off to lobby their legislators on the bill that had passed through Ways and Means last week pertaining to insurance coverage for contraceptives. The bill passed in the Assembly with no debate and is on its way to the Senate. The Senate sponsor, Senator John Bonacic, also spoke at the rally telling the audience that although he personally is against abortion, his wife and daughter are pro-choice and he wouldn't oppose any woman's right to choose.
Monday was also the Joint Budget Hearing on Health. Although the League did not submit testimony this year we did sit in for many of the speakers.
On Tuesday we attended several Committee meetings including Assembly Election and Health, and Senate Health. This is the first Assembly Election Committee to be held this session; three bills were voted on and passed. These bills related to streamlining election night procedures, allowing 16 and 17 year olds to serve as poll workers, and adjusting poll book laws so that they can be typed lists rather than penciled in books.

Wednesday was a busy day for the League. Our Education and Finance Specialist, Marian Bott, presented testimony at the Joint Budget Hearing on Elementary and Secondary Education. The hearing lasted a grueling 10 hours but many members stuck it out until the last groups had a chance to testify. Our testimony will be posted to our website later this week.

While we waited for our turn to testify we stopped in at Assemblywoman Woerner’s office to discuss the Paid Family Leave bill. This bill will be brought to the floor on Tuesday which coincidentally is the Paid Family Leave lobby day. Next week we will join the coalition to lobby and present testimony at the Joint Budget Hearings on Taxes and Public Protection. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Short Session Week

This week was off to a slow start. Unlike past years, the legislature had a four-day long weekend and did not report to Albany until Wednesday. The League’s Wednesday morning was spent putting the finishing touches on our Transportation Budget Testimony. Unfortunately, we were unable to give our testimony in person but did submit it to the committee. A copy of our testimony can be found here.  The League did sit in for some of the testimony but had to run off to a meeting with Senator Comrie on voting reforms.
After our meeting we were on the move to the Senate Education Committee. We were delighted to see the Commissioner of the Department of Education, Mary Ellen Alia, speak to the Committee and field questions about possible changes that will be made to teacher assessments, testing, and programs for schools. The Committee was pleased to have her there and several committee members commented on what an improvement she was compared to John King, the former Education Commissioner who had spoken last to the senate. Although the League does not have a position on much of what was discussed it was interesting to hear the questions asked of the new commissioner and how she was received by the senate Republican committee.
Thursday started with an Assembly Health Committee meeting. The League was keeping an eye on A8580 which is an amendment to Assemblyman Gottfried’s Safe Staffing bill. This amendment would enact new staffing requirements that would help make medical facilities safer for nurses and patients. The bill was referred to Codes with Assemblymembers Galef, Walter, Schimminger, Goodell, and Garbarino voting against it. The League then rushed off to (off the floor) Assembly Codes Committee meeting. There was only one bill to be discussed, A8135-B. This bill would amend the insurance law to require all health-insurance policies include contraceptives for FDA-approved contraceptives.  The League was joined in the gallery by our allies at Family Planning Advocates. Only Assemblyman Graf had any questions on the bill at the committee meeting and as expected all Republican members voted against it. The bill was immediately referred to and taken up in Ways and Means. Assemblywoman Maliotakis was the only member to ask questions on the bill. The bill it passed and was referred to Rules  with the Republican minority voting against it again.

Friday, January 15, 2016

This legislative session got off to an unusual start. The Governor has apparently decided he likes giving his State of the State and budget messages together. The State of the State message was exactly a week later than usual; the interesting aspect of this is that the legislative session actually had already started on Monday the week before . What is significant about the delayed State of the State was that one of our top priorities for opposition, the Education Investment Tax Credit (ETC) came out of Rules Committee in the Senate without ever having gone through a Tax or Education Committee. Within 20 minutes it was on the floor and passed. So much for public input or thoughtful deliberation. The League was in the gallery for the debate. Fifteen senate democrats who voted against it, up from last year’s opposition. Similar to last session, it appears  this will be a top priority for the senate republicans going into budget negotiations with the Governor. For a full breakdown of how our Senators voted can be found here

Wednesday was the real beginning of school in legislative lingo; it was when legislators and lobbyists all gather for the day for the State of the State and the many receptions happening that day. It’s like getting dressed up for the first day of school and it’s always fun to see everyone after they’ve been away from Albany for 6 months. The League’s day started early with a reception hosted by NOW New York and attended by many female legislators. It was a perfect opportunity for Jennifer, our new Policy Director, to meet many of the legislators we will work with this session. We stopped by Assembly Speakers Heastie’s reception and spoke briefly with our legislative friends on the Elections Committee. It was then onto the State of the State in the Convention Center, but first we had to go through the now normal screams and shouts from many protesters who now line the Concourse, hoping to be heard by legislators on their way to the State of the State. The Convention Center was crowded and not as cold as it was last year.

Governor Cuomo had just been introduced and had begun his message when there was shouting from the floor of the Convention Center where legislators are seated. I did not even have to stand up to look to see  who it was; I knew it would be Assemblyman Charles Barron. Mr. Barron has had a lengthy acrimonious relationship with the Governor and is very outspoken about children in poverty and their inability to receive a sound basic education. Because he is a legislator, the state police were reluctant to escort him out of the Convention Center,  so he and Mr. Cuomo shouted at one another. Finally, Majority Leader Joe Morelle (Rochester) came to the rescue and with some gentle nudging escorted Mr. Barron out of the Convention Center. This was not before there were loud boos among the audience. It would appear the Governor won that round.

As is quite normal with the Governor, his package of ethics reforms was placed at the end of his message.  This year the Governor also finished his address with a passionate and very genuine plea for a 12-week paid family leave. He used this opportunity to talk about the death of his father in a way not often heard by this Governor in major addresses. He then went on to talk about his longtime companion, Sandra Lee, and her battle with breast cancer. On everyone’s seat was a lapel pin with a pink ribbon signifying the battle against breast cancer. It ignited a standing ovation for Sandra Lee and gave the Governor the opportunity to ask for an expansion in breast cancer prevention measures.

The rest of the day was spent enjoying one reception after the other, including Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousin’s reception, the Comptroller’s reception, and the Republican Majority Leader’s reception. Dessert is always served at the final reception at the Attorney General’s Office. Of course all that fun now shifts quickly into  hard work as the budget testimony begins and the beat goes on.