Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Appointed as Special Advisor to Moreland Commission

Today Governor Cuomo announced creation of a Moreland Commission. He asked me to be a Special Advisor to the Commission. Read his press release here: http://www.governor.ny.gov/press/07022013-moreland-as-deputy-attorney-general

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

End of Session Wrap-Up

Advocates and capitol insiders have characterized the 2013 legislative session as 'the session of scandal' or 'Seinfeld lite, much ado about nothing.’ For the League’s legislative agenda it was profoundly disappointing.  As the League's legislative director I have been through sessions where we knew our issues would be a heavy lift – especially in the areas of government reform, whether it was budget reform or voting reform, ethics reform or openness in government – but after three decades of walking the capitol, I really thought we had finally evolved when it came to equality for women. 

Where things stand:

Women’s Equality Act –
As you know by now, The Assembly passed the entire 10 point Women’s Equality Act on Thursday, June 20.  On Friday, June 21, Senator Klein introduced a hostile amendment (the language of the WEA, codifying Roe v. Wade into law) to a bill about medical records.  After a debate about abortion, all Republican Senators and two Democrats voted that the amendment was not germane to the bill.  This procedural vote, by a show of hands, will serve as a record of where the Senators stand on reproductive choice.
After that maneuver, the remaining nine points of the Women’s Equality Act were each introduced as separate bills, debated, and passed (all but one, unanimously). The Assembly refused to consider the separate bills before adjourning on Friday evening.
This leaves us with no law because there is no “same as” bill in either house.  The Assembly could come back some time during this legislative session and pass the same nine points that the Senate did, and I hope that they will. 
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's the League strongly opposed legislation that would roll back reproductive health in NY and we were mostly successful.  So updating New York's law to codify Roe v Wade was not unimaginable.  Boy was I wrong!  It would appear that the Conservative Party with their stranglehold over the Republican Party superseded many Senators need to call themselves pro-choice.  In the Assembly the need to protect Speaker Silver and legislative egos got in the way of making every day women’s' lives better.  In the end New York did not pass any of the Women's Equality Agenda, except for one provision on human trafficking, which extends to 17 from 15 the age at which judges can offer counseling instead of jail time to minors facing prostitution charges.  On a slightly more positive note the League did get much visibility throughout the session on the Women's Equality Agenda traveling to Seneca Falls to introduce the Governor, speaking out on media outlets and at rallies.  

I had hoped that the extraordinary efforts we all put into trying to pass WEA would make us successful, and that we could cross these items off our “to – do” list.  But instead it is time to just take a breather, recoup our energies, and be persistent.
Campaign Finance Reform -

Despite the introduction of three major campaign reform bills (Speaker Silver’s, Governor Cuomo’s program bill, and the IDC’s) and a great deal of public support, yet another session went by without passage of a comprehensive campaign reform bill.  Once again New York State’s leaders missed the opportunity to stem the tide of corruption in Albany and give New Yorkers the transparent, responsive, and ethical state government they deserve.  Reform on this front has, of course, always been a heavy lift in Albany – this is an issue that affects legislators’ election and reelection, and they almost always opt for the status quo. 
While the Assembly passed Speaker Silver’s Fair Election bill back in May, comprehensive campaign finance reform bills were blocked from coming to the floor for a vote in the Senate.  Late last Thursday night, Senate Democrats introduced the Fair Elections bill as a hostile amendment to another bill.  However, the amendment was ruled non-germane – the vote on its germaneness failed to gain enough votes to pass.

We will continue to advocate vigorously until comprehensive campaign finance reform becomes a reality in New York.  Going into the summer, we now look to see what comes of the governor’s Moreland Commission to investigate corruption in Albany. 

Voting Rights –

The Voter Friendly Ballot Act and a bill to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote stood very little chance of passing because the Senate majority likes the way they are elected (i.e. the status quo).  Thus, the bills did not pass this session and next year, an election year, these bills will again stand little chance….Unless, of course, there is a change in how the Senate coalition works (or doesn’t work). 

Hydrofracking –

Although there was much vigorous lobbying by our members and environmental advocacy groups on A.1046/S.674, the bill, which would have required fracking waste to be treated as the hazardous waste it is, died in the Senate Rules Committee (the legislative graveyard).  At the end of session, all bills end up in Rules, which is controlled by leadership and decides what does and does not come to a floor vote.  Like so many other bills this session, A.1046/S.674 was denied a vote on the floor.
Education -

The League did have one victory, an "under the radar" bill that came up very late the last few days of session.  This was legislation that would constitute a burdensome unfunded mandate for school districts by requiring for expensive private special education school placements and services, regardless of whether the placement, program or services made available by the district are appropriate – and regardless of whether the placement, program and services offered by the district are better than those preferred by the student’s parents – so long as the private program/placement preferred by the parent is also appropriate.  We were able, along with many education advocates (including NYSUT, NYS Council of School Superintendents, NYS NAACP, NY Civil Liberties Union, the UFT, School Administrators Association of NYS, NYS School Boards, Big 5 School Districts and NYC DOE) to hold it back in the Assembly after it had passed the Senate (Click here to watch the Senate debate on the bill).

This is a very dangerous bill that would be an "unfunded mandate'" on public school districts.  With the help of Assemblymember Pat Fahey and the upstate Assembly Republicans, we were able to run out the legislative clock.  Late Friday night too many Assembly Democrats had left the capitol and the session ended without addressing this bad bill.  It is sad that our one accomplishment was killing a bad bill and not putting forward any reform legislation.

Friday, June 14, 2013

End of Session Updates

Monday was the 50th anniversary of the day Congress enacted the Equal Pay Act, which requires employers to pay women the same salary they pay men doing the same work. Decked out in 1963 styling (our own Barbara Thomas was rocking some bell-bottoms – I stuck to a dress suit), members of the Women’s Equality Coalition held a press conference to say that, 50 years later, women still don’t have equal pay and we can’t wait another 50 years to take action on the issue – the legislature must enact the WEA now! WEA legislative champions, Assmeblywoman Janet Duprey and Senator Liz Krueger joined us, as well as a former Ms. New York (who we ran into in the LOB before the press conference and was very happy to join us). Check out the Time Union coverage for video of the event (and to see hippy Barb)!

Campaign finance reform was highlighted on Tuesday, as the governor released his three-part public ethics agenda, which includes campaign finance reform. We were pleased to see Governor Cuomo bringing attention to campaign finance reform in these closing weeks of session – his leadership is critical for the passage of a comprehensive campaign finance reform package. We must now urge legislative leaders to bridge the difference between the three major reform packages and bring a vote to the floor. Click here to read the League’s statement released Tuesday. Tuesday also saw yet another anti-SAFE Act rally, though a considerably smaller one than previous months’. The gun-violence issue has been put to rest in the legislature and will now play out in the courts.

On Wednesday, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms (extreme “right to life” advocates hailing primarily from western New York) converged on the capitol by the busload, spreading misinformation and straight-out lies about the reproductive health measure in the WEA. My fellow, Sarah, even overheard some of them telling a senator that “this [bill] is so radical that even pro-choicers don’t want it.” Make sure to correct that lie and keep telling your legislators how important it is to you that they pass the WEA this session! The reproductive health measure of WEA is not an “abortion expansion” as the pro-lifers are so fond of saying – It is merely a codification of Roe into New York law!

As we enter into the final week of session (session is expected to end the end of next week), we see more and more power suits about the capitol. The area outside of the Senate chambers has become much denser with lobbyist (and constituents) jockeying to knock bills down and get others through. As usual, the League will continue to advocate hard for our issues through the end of session.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Power of Women

8 days. That's all that's left in this legislative session. 8 days for the legislature to take action to be remembered for more than corruption and scandal this year. 8 days to pass campaign finance reform. 8 days to pass the Women's Equality Act (WEA). 8 days for them to act on the host of other League issues being stalled in the Senate. We continue to work hard to make this happen.

This past week was largely focused on the Women's Equality Act. Tuesday, June 4th, at a press release attended by the League and the other steering committee members of the Women's Equality Coalition, the governor announced the release of the Women's Equality Act language. During the press conference, various members of the coalition spoke on different points of the 10-point legislation. Brianna, a survivor of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, also told her story and shared her support for the WEA. There didn't see to be a dry eye in the room by the time she was finished speaking.

Following the press release, The League joined the Women's Equality Rally in West Capitol Park. League members, along with many many other organizations and WEA advocates, from across the state were out in force! There were a number of passionate speakers, including Sarah Weddington, attorney who argued Roe v Wade before US Supreme Court, and Cynthia Nixon, TV star of Sex and the City. I spoke after Cynthia Nixon and was joined on stage by a great number of League members (see our website and facebook page for photos). Later I was asked for an encore – i.e. to introduce the governor at Seneca Falls on Wednesday where he spoke about the WEA at the Women's Rights National Historical Park.

Yesterday, the governor's office picked me up at the League office for the three hour drive up to Seneca Falls, where I was joined by League members who came out to support the WEA. It was very exciting to be at this historic site where New York's long struggle for Women's suffrage began. I met Governor Cuomo's car as it arrived and walked with the Governor across the lawn to the chapel (was careful not to get my heels stuck in the lawn so I didn't walk out of my shoes)! I then introduced the event and the list of local elected officials. I spoke about how important Seneca Falls was to women's rights and how important this current Women's Equality Agenda was to achieving equality and fairness for the women of New York.

I then introduced Mylan Denerstein, the governor's counsel, who walked the gathering through the ten point act. The governor then spoke and credited his father for guiding him toward this agenda. (Yes, I did, I called the current governor, “Mario.” I recovered quickly and told the gathering that one of my first legislative victories was with his father on women's equality.. Everyone laughed and it gave Andrew the opportunity to then go on thank me and his father, whew!) The Governor gave an impassioned speech about the societal bias against women and why the WEA is so important. I then closed the event after which the Governor took questions from the local press as he moved toward the door to go on to Vassar college for another WEA event. His staff then drove me the three hours back to the League office. It was a long but very exciting day.

At the rally on Tuesday, the crowd was majorly energized as the sizable Greater Capital Region contingent of the Women's Equality Coalition marched onto the lawn from State Street, chanting “There ain't no power like the power of women 'cause the power of women don't stop!” The power of women was certainly evident at Tuesday's rally. And it was certainly evident in Seneca Falls on Wednesday. We need now to make sure the power of women (and our allies) remains evident on every single one of these final days of the legislative session. Call, write, visit your legislators, NOW! Call, write, visit Senate co-leaders, Senator Klein and Senator Skelos., NOW! Tell them they cannot leave this legislative session without passing the WEA and campaign finance reform. Tell them to bring the bills to the floor on these and other important issues, including hydrofracking waste and GENDA.  At the very least, the people of New York deserve a vote on the issues that matter to them.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Indictment, a "Public" Hearing, and a New Ad

Corruption & Reform

Monday morning began as unfortunately many mornings began this session with more indictments of legislators – in the Senate, once again.  There ensued several local television appearances to discuss corruption and reform.   As session began, there was clearly nothing else on the legislative agenda except the chilling effect of more corruption charges.
On Tuesday morning, NYPIRG held a press conference and released a report finding over 100,000 violations of NYS campaign finance laws in the past two years, and pointing out that the NYC Campaign Finance Board has been more responsive in responding to violations than has the state Board of Elections.  The report was released on Tuesday to counteract the Senate Republican’s “public” hearing that day, which was sham attempt by the Senate Republicans to discredit the NYC’s public financing system, the system upon which the Fair Elections legislation is based.   All of the good government groups participated in the press conference with a united message for a need for comprehensive campaign finance reform, including all of the reforms for which the league has lobbied in past decades.  The good government then groups walked en mass from the LOB to the capitol to attend and listen to what was supposed to be a public hearing.  Since the invitation was issued as a public hearing, we clearly anticipated that the public would be allowed to attend.  As we approached capitol 124 – which is where many standing committee hearings are held, but is not where public hearings are usually heard – we were told that the room was at capacity and the door was shut in our faces.  Even as people exited the hearing, no one else was allowed in, as is usually the case with public hearings at capacity. 
Citizen Action, MoveOn, and Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Albany had organized a rally to show support of public financing and protest the influence of big money in politics.  The rally was planned to be a silent protest.  Only after it was established that no one could get into the “public” hearing did the crowd outside become loud.  Chants of “let the public in” could be heard throughout the capitol and, we are told, within the meeting room.  When a window was opened inside the hearing room, protesters went outside to the open window, tossed dollar bills into the window and stage-whispered questions and comments like “How much does it cost?”
Several of the good government groups, including the League, sent a letter to the NYS Committee on Open Government, urging the committee the investigate the Senate’s breach of the Open Meetings law and to formally censure the Senate Elections Committee for shutting on the public on Tuesday.  The Committee on Open Government ruled that the senate was indeed in violation of the Open Meetings law, that the meeting should have been moved to a larger room, and that the crowd could have been told to leave if they had then disrupted the hearing.
Later on Tuesday afternoon, Speaker Silver’s Fair Elections Act passed in the assembly, with a vote of 88-50.
Women’s Equality Push Heats Up
Some more exciting news this week is that a new media campaign for WEA was launched Tuesday – Check it out!
Legislative meetings on the WEA have been taking place at a furious pace and we will be asking leagues to come to a rally day for Women’s Equality on June 4th.  Busses to Albany will be provided around the state.  It will be a major day, with celebrities and music, and voices raised to demand equality – so save the date!   We’ll be sending out more details as we get closer to the date.  We hope to have a huge league presence at the rally!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Early Voting, GENDA, and Broken Records

Updates from Last Week

 Last Tuesday, the Assembly passed both GENDA (the Gender Non-Discrimination Act, A.4226/S.00195) and Speaker Silver's early voting bill (A.00689).  Opponents to GENDA rolled out the tired bathroom argument again during the floor debate, mischaracterizing the bill as granting ill-intentioned men license to access women's bathrooms, a straw-man that the bill's sponsor Assemblymember Gottfried fiercely shot down. Referring to the 16 states and many cities that have already enacted gender expression anti-discrimination laws, he shouted “Give me one example, one example, of that happening!”  Later, during the debate on early voting, concerns from the opposition mainly focused on unfunded mandates on localities.  Democrats countered that, in instituting early voting, no new Board of Elections would need to be hired.  Of course, if the Senate hadn't blocked efforts last year to create a single primary date, there would certainly be enough funds to deal with any cost arising from early voting.

The Assemblymembers arguing against GENDA weren't the only broken records at the capitol last week.  Last Tuesday was also NYS Right to Life lobby day.  They were there to lobby against the Women's Equality Agenda, but their numbers have certainly decreased over the years.  As we walked around the LOB and capitol, their presence was relatively invisible.  Nevertheless, members of the NY for Women's Equality (the WEA coalition), including ourselves, again countered with packages of fact sheets wrapped around broken record pieces delivered to every legislator.  The tactic, used in previous years, highlighted the same tired arguments and flat out lies that abortion opponents having been using for decades to oppose measures to protect women's health.

Our week at the Capitol ended at a Wednesday press conference where Senator Cecilia Tkaczyk and Assemblyman Kevin Cahill announced two pieces of legislation aimed at protecting voting rights and ensuring that all votes are counted.  S.4270/A.6817 and S. 4269 would prevent affidavit ballots from being disqualified for insignificant, hyper technical reasons, as long as the voter is eligible, registered and in substantial compliance with voting regulations and remove the restriction on when a county board of elections can provide ballots to election inspectors problems that came up during the over 2 month recount of ballots from her election.


Check in on Wednesday for a post on the latest corruption scandal and the Senate Republicans “hearings” on public financing.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Students, Memos, and Hearings

For those wondering about the lapse in our blogging last week, we were busy chaperoning fifty-five talented, inquisitive, and just generally amazing high school students who came to Albany from across New York State to participate in the League’s Students Inside Albany (SIA) conference.  SIA is an intensive four day training experience that is designed to immerse students in the process by which public policy is proposed, enacted and changed in New York State and educate them as to how they can influence and affect this process. .  The students spent four packed days learning about New York State government, lobbying, voting, the judicial system, and the legislature, where they spent two days shadowing their legislators.  They even got to have a mock debate on the floor of the Assembly, thanks to Assemblymember  Pete Lopez.  Check out LWVNY’s website for photos of the conference.   Big thanks to all of the staff, chaperones, speakers, local leagues, legislators, and students who made this year’s SIA such a wonderful experience!

Last week also saw bill A1046 appear on the agenda of the Assembly Codes Committee, where it passed.  The bill requires that all waste resulting from the exploration, development, extraction and production of crude oil and natural gas that meets the definition of hazardous waste be subject to the same laws regarding generation, transportation, treatment, storage and disposal as other hazardous wastes.  The League put out a memo in strong support of A1046, as we have for the past couple years that the bill has been introduced and passed in the Assembly.  A1046 has moved on to the Ways and Means Committee, where we will track its progress.  The bill’s same-as, S674, is currently sitting in the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee, where it has yet to see any action, even though all four members of the IDC are cosponsors of the bill.  Keep a look out for League memos and action alerts should S674 make its way onto the committee’s agenda.
This week, Assemblymember Gottfried’s single payer healthcare bill, A5389, passed in the Assembly Health Committee.  The bill has long floated around the Assembly and hasn’t seen a vote on the floor since 1992, when it was first introduced and passed in the Assembly and died in the Senate.   Nevertheless, the League has continuously advocated for the bill, knowing that a single payer health coverage program would save lives and give all New Yorkers the healthcare many so desperately need.  You can read the League’s most recent memo in support of the legislation here.
Finally, in the mist of the recent increased flurry of dialogue on campaign finance reform, the Senate Republicans have taken aim at public financing of campaigns.  In early May, the Senate Election Law Committee will hold a public hearing on the “abuses of the New York City public financing system.” 

Starting May 1, the IDC will be holding their own public hearings on campaign finance reform throughout the state.  The League, which has applauded the IDC’s comprehensive campaign finance reform proposal, will be testifying at at least one of the IDC’s hearings – check back soon for more info.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

And we thought it would be a slow week...

Political Scandal

With the legislature not in session this week, we weren’t expecting to have much to blog about.  However, as you have probably already heard, New York has once again found itself embroiled in yet another political corruption scandal.  On Tuesday, New York State Senator Malcolm Smith was arrested, along with several other lawmakers, by federal law enforcement in connection to a scheme to bribe Republican officials into letting Smith run as a GOP candidate for mayor of New York City.  The scandal, which included plans to use state money in the scheme, highlights the “pay-to-play” culture that permeates New York politics.  On Wednesday, the League joined with NYPIRG, Citizen Action, and the Sierra Club to hold a press conference outside of the Senate chambers calling upon Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature to help end political corruption and restore New Yorker’s faith in their government via passing a comprehensive campaign finance reform package, which would include contribution limits, strong enforcement, an end to "pay-to-play," and a publicly financed small donor matching system.  The press conference was well-attended by the press and Barbara really drove home the need to address the “pay –to-play” culture in Albany and  the point that comprehensive campaign finance reform legislation would make a huge stride towards that end.

And it seems this is the week for corruption, as just today, another five people, including Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, were arrested on bribery charges. Assemblymember Nelson Castro has also resigned as part of a plea bargain for being a "cooperating witness".  He had been indicted in a sealed indictment in 2009 as part of a voter fraud case by the Bronx DA and then became the witness for the US attorney.

The Barbs Talk Women’s Equality
This week the state league also hosted a conference call for league members to provide info and updates and answer questions about the Women’s Equality Agenda & Coalition.  Over 20 league members from across the state called in to listen to Barbara Bartoletti and Pay-Equity Issue Co-Specialist, Barbara Thomas discuss the Women’s Equality Agenda, the League’s role in the coalition, and what local leagues can do and are doing in the regional women’s equality coalitions around the state.  There was a lot of excitement on the call, demonstrating the energy, commitment, and experience local leagues are bringing to their regional coalitions.  Those on the call reported that they have already been scheduling legislative meetings to show their support for the Women’s Equality Agenda (along with the other items in the legislative packet this session – Campaign Finance Reform and Early Voting).  In addition, the Women’s Equality Agenda regional press conferences have kicked off this week and, as the callers reported, will be well-attended by the League.  These calls may become a regular happening, so please join us for the next one!



Friday, March 29, 2013

On-TIme Budget, But Still Flawed Process

The budget is done. The legislature is gone nearly a week later then they had anticipated; they have padded themselves on the back and crowed about the third on time budget in thirty years. What they left behind was a budget process in shambles. There were no open leaders' meetings. This year they were 4 men in a room instead of the usually three men in a room and old Albany, of budgets done behind closed doors, appears to be back. The joint conference committee process which began in 1998 with promise seems now to be strictly when it occurs, mostly for show. The subcommittees with their available appropriations were convened late in the process with so little money and didn’t ever convene to report their work. Yes, the governor issued no “messages of necessity” which did allow for the three day aging of budget bills but the Senate debated those budget bills almost entirely in the middle of the night. The assembly did debate all of its budget bills in 13 hours during a 13 hour marathon ending last night Thursday at midnight. What nobody mentions is the precedent that former Governor Patterson established that, if a budget is not done by the April 1st deadline, the executive just substitutes the entire budget in an extender and legislators either accept that entire budget or shut down government. It would appear that there may never be another late New York State budget.

There were a number of issues that were debated in both the Senate and the Assembly including minimum wage, the cuts to non-profits that provide services to the developmentally disabled, the lack of inclusion in the budget of the Dream Act, and “adjustments” to the NY SAFE Act. By far the most passion debate was a bipartisan angst over the cuts to the developmentally disabled budget. There is some talk of finding ways to recoup more of the cuts to that area. It appears the governor has avoided opening up the NY SAFE ACT by tweaking the bill in the budget.

The Legislature will now be out of Albany and back in their districts for the next two weeks. The rest of the legislative session will deal with issues like campaign refinance reform, election reform, the women’s equality agenda, legalizing small amounts of marijuana for personal use, addressing the “Stop and Frisk” issue and legalizing Mixed Martial Arts. 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Budget Passage

The last several weeks has been all budget all the time at the Capitol.  Most people thought this budget would be a no drama budget mostly because there was not a lot of money to fight over and the Governor (Executive) has most of the power thanks to his predecessor former Governor David Paterson.  Following a lawsuit during the last year Mr. Paterson was in office, a Governor now can just wait out the legislature until after the beginning of the fiscal year, put his entire Executive budget into an extender and then dare the Legislature to shut down government.  It kind of gives the Governor a lot of leverage with the Legislature and "encourages" them to deal and get a budget done.  Subsequently we have had three straight budgets on time, makes them all look positively functional.

As far as the budget process itself, it was feeble to non-existent.  They had one "mother ship" conference committee and a series of subcommittees which had no table targets so lasted only minutes.  An all leaders’ meeting was done behind closed doors with four men in a room this year. Yes, we have an early budget but that's about the best you can say about it.  Up until eight o'clock Wednesday night, several issues not related to the budget were holding up the budget getting printed so leaders finally decided to push them aside and just get the budget printed and debated before the religious holidays begin and their vacations start.  

 What we know about what's in the budget:
  • We know there will be a minimum wage phased in over two years up to $9.00 by the end of 2015.  
  • We know that NYC and a few other districts upstate will to get their state aid ($240 million for the city because they did not meet the teacher evaluation deadline).  
  • We also know that education funds will go to those districts in a different way to make up for those losses.  
  • We also know that legalization of small amounts of marijuana will not be in this budget (we think) and that the "adjustments" of the SAFE act also will not be in the budget.
  • We know that the $120 million cut to the agency which deals with the developmentally disabled will be somewhat restored but we don't know by how much. 
  • We also know that this budget will get debated without a message of necessity but will be debated most likely in an all night session on Saturday and maybe Sunday so stay tuned.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

NY Women's Equality Coalition Launch, Budget March Madness

Lots of excitement this week in women’s equality –
The New York Women’s Equality Coalition officially launched our campaign with a press conference on Monday at the start of Women’s History Month.  Our own Barbara Bartoletti was one of the many amazing speakers at the conference speaking on the need for New York to continue its history of being a leader in the fight for women’s equality.  The press conference highlighted all ten points of Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda, from pay equity to reproductive health to stopping human trafficking, and beyond.  Of course, questions from the press focused almost entirely on the reproductive health portion of the agenda, as was expected.  However, Barbara and the other speakers skillfully drove home that this is a much broader agenda, aimed at breaking down multiple barriers for women across many essential areas life.   
After the press conference, the governor invited the coalition to meet with him and his senior staff to celebrate the official kickoff of the campaign.  We also got a tour, led by the governor, of the new Women’s Equality exhibit in the War Room – definitely go check it out if you get a chance!  Also check out the New York Women’s Equality Coaltion website, facebook page, and twitter feed to stay up to date on the most recent news out of the coalition!  And visit LWVNY’s facebook page to see photos of the press conference and the tour!  League members will be hearing from us very soon about how you can help get the Women’s Equality Agenda passed this session!
Other happenings this week –
Budget season is nearing its end, which means its March madness here in Albany.  The halls of the legislature were completely clogged this week, as organizations and constituents came to lobby for funding/against cuts.  Tuesday the capitol and LOB were filled with SUNY students, school aid advocates, immigrant rights advocates, transportation advocates, public employees, and farm interests and business groups.   The capitol deli was so crowded that people were eating in the hallway outside of it.  A rally for school aid organized by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) included a parade down Washington Avenue, led by the Cohoes High School marching band.  The AQE rally highlighted the plight of schools beginning to really feel the impact of the property tax cap.  Wednesday saw lobbying visits from the American Cancer Society and AARP, amongst others.  All the budget chaos will culminate next week when once-house budget bills are voted on and the legislature then moves into joint budget conference committees.  The budget is expected to be acted on the week following that.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Short Week, Big Crowd

 This week in Albany started very slowly thanks to nasty weather and then the gun advocates came to Albany. On Thursday, 6,500 NRA and other gun rights advocates converged on the Capitol, stopping traffic, stalling security lines for well over an hour, and demanding that Governor Coumo be impeached. This is the third such rally in Albany, each bigger than the last. The NYSAFE law is headed to court, with three lawsuits already filed. Nobody in Albany thinks we have seen the last of these rallies.

The budget hearings are now complete and we will soon see the Assembly and Senate one house bills, after which the joint conference committees will begin. The League will monitor the budget, especially the education and health appropriations. We will also be there for the joint conference committees to monitor how open and transparent they are.

The New York Women's Equality Coalition is underway and you will hear much about this in the coming weeks. The League is on the steering committee and we will be providing information to Local Leagues in the Legislative packet as well as action alerts over the next several weeks. This Coalition has 450 organizations (and building) including a very broad array of women's, business, religious, civic, and people of color organizations. The kick-off to the Coalition is next week so stay tuned for much more.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Education, Elections, & Guns

As usual, our issue specialists were quite busy this week, but a couple got a chance to share what they've been up to.

Education specialist, Marian Bott, attended The Alliance for Quality Education of New York's (AQENY) policy conference on Monday, along with busloads of students and parents from all over the state. Marian said the speakers at the conference painted an accurate picture of what public education looks like on-the-ground now and how it differs from what it was four years ago before experiencing major funding cuts. Some of the most compelling speakers were those giving personal testimony, like Zakiyah Ansari of AQE who discussed what educational opportunities have and have not been available to her children over the years due to inequitable education funding. Educate NY NOW!, the education coalition that the League joined this past summer, was distributing and collecting postcards to send to elected officials, demanding equitable education funding. Postcards can be requested on Education NY NOW!'s website.

Government specialist, Aimee Allaud, is tracking bills on early voting, same-day voter registration, and ballot structure in the Assembly Election Law Committee. Aimee attended the committee's meeting this past Tuesday where Assemblyman Kavanagh's bill on ballot structure passed the committee with unanimous support. The bill, which the League supports, would create a ballot layout that is easier for voters to read and use. It will now be going to the Assembly floor, where it passed last year, but then wasn't acted on by the Senate. The other bills for which the League is advocating were not moved forward or discussed during Tuesday's meeting. The League will continue to advocate for measures that increase voter participation and will be meeting with legislators in the coming weeks to discuss early voting.

While at the capitol on Tuesday, Aimee also attended, as an observer, a rally in support of the NY SAFE Act. The rally was organized by One-Milliom Mom's Against Gun Violence and included several busloads of young people from NYC. During a pre-rally meeting, many youth shared personal testimony about how gun violence has touched their lives. The group then proceeded en masse to the million dollar staircase where several legislators were in attendance and spoke on the importance of the SAFE Act. There was a counter demonstration outside of the capitol, but there was no interaction between the two groups.

Also, this just in – the LWVNY board has voted to officially join the New York Women's Equality Coalition, the coalition of organizations working to pass the governor’s women's equality agenda! We will keep you updated as we move forward with this exciting legislation that would mean major progress in the everyday lives of women across the state.

Finally, the legislature is not in session next week so please check back in two weeks for our next blog post.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Short, But Exciting Week

We’re now more than half way through the budget hearings and this past Monday’s hearing on environmental conservation was even more contentious than the education hearing.  A League member was able to attend the hearing and report back to us on the happenings.   Fracking, of course, dominated the hearing and there was a major turnout of anti-fracking activists – so large a turnout that our volunteer nearly did not make it into the packed hearing room.  The morning started with DEC Commissioner, Joe Martins, in the hot seat, being grilled about the potential health and economic impacts of hydrofracking.  Martins’s answers bunted a number of the health issues back to DOH and also confirmed that there isn’t any funding in this year’s budget for DEC operations that would oversee fracking.  A number of Martins’s answers drew boos and groans from the audience.  The most cheers and applauds came during Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton’s questions and comments.   Lifton criticized the DEC’s process in developing the environmental impact report, calling the process “convoluted and not transparent.”  She later highlighted a report from Pennsylvania that 400 families in Washington County need to have water delivered due to contamination of their water supply caused by fracking.  The assemblywoman went on to say that the public does not even have all the information about instances like this because of industry nondisclosure agreements and a recent gag order placed on doctors in Pennsylvania.  She concluded with asking Commissioner Martins “Does it make you uncomfortable to hear these things coming out of Pennsylvania?”  The commissioner responded that he’s uncomfortable with any instance of corporate irresponsibility, but that he thinks it unfair to paint the entire drilling industry as irresponsible.   As the Commissioner’s testimony concluded, the large crowd started chanting “Not one well.”  The protest continued out into the hall and then over to the Million Dollar Staircase where an anti-fracking rally was held.  The League supported the issuing of the moratorium on hydrofracking.  Click here for more on the League’s position.
Tuesday was a much quieter day, but an exciting one as it was LWVNY’s lobby day!  There was a great turnout from leagues ranging from all the way from Rochester to NYC and many more.   Attendees got to meet over bagels and coffee and listen to League issue specialists discuss League legislative priorities on healthcare, early voting and absentee ballots, reproductive choice, pay equity, hydrofracking, campaign finance reform, and financing education.   After the morning workshop, attendees got to see just how crowded the Capitol CafĂ© gets during lunch, as about 20 of us tried to squeeze in and grab some lunch before touring the capitol and the Legislative Office Building.  Many league members visited with their legislators (or legislative staff) to discuss the League’s policy agenda.  It was a great day and we hope even more will join us next year!
We’re still continuing to meet with new legislators to introduce them to the League and discuss our policy agenda.  Meetings are going well, and will start to pick up post-budget as the legislature starts to turn its attention to things like campaign finance reform and women’s equality. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

Busy Week at the Capitol

Budget negotiations between leadership in the legislature and the governor aren’t expected to be too contentious this year, but that doesn’t mean the hearings aren’t without some rancor.  On Tuesday, after sitting in on the Attorney General’s hearings on proposed new disclosure requirements for nonprofits (more on that in a moment), we stopped by the Elementary & Secondary Education budget hearing just in time to watch NYC legislators rip into UFT over the failure of the teacher’s union and Mayor Bloomberg to reach an agreement on a teacher evaluation system – a failure that under the Cuomo administration has meant a loss in $250 million so far in state aid to NYC schools for the past year.  Bloomberg was also blasted during hearings on Monday.  What we heard from NYC lawmakers is that the loss of the $250 million in state aid apparently reduces the baseline for funding to NYC schools each following year as well – making the punitive action felt well beyond one fiscal year.   Marion Bott, the League’s Education Finance Issue Specialist rejoining the league after completing her doctorate, testified later that evening about equitable funding of our public schools. 

Getting back to the Attorney General’s hearing –
It was obviously a much much more subdued and shorter hearing than were the budget hearings on education.   AttorneyGeneral Schneiderman has announced new regulations to require nonprofits to disclose independent expenditures they use to influence the outcome of elections.  The League supports these efforts to provide more transparency and to help protect the integrity of New York elections, but League President, Sally Robinson, used her expertise as a tax lawyer during her testimony to suggest some improvements to the proposed regulations.  Testimony from Senators Latimer and Addabos illustrated the role of shadowy 501(c)(4) organizations in influencing NY elections in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  Both Senators ran tight races during which they were the target of very negative ads from a 501(c)(4) called Common Sense Principles, an organization based in Virginia about which Senator Addabos noted that, to this day, neither he nor his constituents know who they are or how they are funded.  However, information about this group’s expenditures was just released under state lobbying regulations to the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

Also of note this week –
During our visits to the capitol this week, we got to hear firsthand about some of the confusion/misinformation about late-term abortion surrounding the Reproductive Health Act components that are in the Governor’s proposed Women’s Equality Act.   To be clear, Roe v. Wade allows for late term abortions when a woman’s life or health is at risk and that is currently the law of the land. Because New York law was never fully updated to reflect the reproductive rights established by the courts and federal law, it does not include a health exception.  That means, should Roe ever be overturned or chipped away at until the point of ineffectiveness, a pregnant woman in New York whose health becomes at risk would not be able to access an abortion later in her pregnancy, even as her health deteriorates. The League has just signed onto the Governor’s ten-point Women’s Equality Agenda, and as we move forward with the struggle for women’s equality, this is the kind of misinformation we will have to fight.

The League also submitted testimony in the health budget hearings under our long held position on disease prevention/health promotion.   As most league members know, budget hearings often go on for hours and hours and hours and certainly the advocates testifying at the health hearings waited well into the evening.   Blair Horner, vice president of the American Cancer Society, testified to the Cancer Society’s concern that this executive budget will consolidate numerous prevention programs into a competitive “pool” (a la Hunger Games).  However given the lack of transparency, we really do not know how much if any dollars will be invested into the tobacco prevention program. 
Next week the league will be testifying at hearings about the Board of Elections.  Stay tuned for more on that issue.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Budget Season Begins, But First Let’s Talk Redistricting
On Wednesday, the Senate voted on the second passage of the constitutional amendment on redistricting, with 43 senators voting in favor of the amendment and 20 opposed.  Debate on the amendment included a heated exchange between Senator Krueger and Senator Defranciso concerning whether Democrats had faired any better than have Republicans in creating fair redistricting lines – an exchange which highlighted that, as Senator Defranciso noted, “you can’t take politics out of politics” and that fair redistricting won’t happen in 2022 without independent oversight of the politically charged process.  Senator Gianaris of the mainstream Democrats debated in opposition of the amendment, having a lengthy dialogue with Senator Nozzolio, who was speaking in favor of the amendment for the Republicans.  No member of the IDC spoke during the debate, but all 5 members voted in favor of the amendment, as did 13 Democrats and all Senate Republicans.  Having long fought for a change to the current ineffective and unfair redistricting process, the League supports this amendment and believes that it is the best chance for permanent structural reform for decades to come.
This week also saw the release of Governor Cuomo’s 2013-14 fiscal year budget proposal.   Overall, while the governor has indicated a progressive social agenda this session, his proposed budget points to a continuation of a more conservative fiscal agenda.  Over the next 6 weeks, the legislature will begin debating legislative priorities and how they fit into the proposed budget.
Budget hearings begin next week and can be viewed live on both the senate and assembly websites.  The League will be testifying at Tuesday’s education hearings – our education finance specialist, Marion Bott, has been very busy in our offices this week preparing testimony.  While the governor’s budget calls for a 4% increase in education funding, many school districts are still dealing with budget cuts of years past.  The League will also be testifying and/or submitting testimony on the Board of Elections during the public protection hearings and on healthcare and transportation.  Of note, the state budget does not include funding to increase staffing at the State Board of Elections or for a publicly funded campaign finance system.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

First Day of Session

The first day of the 2013 legislative session was like none I have experienced in decades. It started with pink in early morning and ended with guns after midnight.

Women’s Equity
Monday was Family Planning Advocates’ (FPA) lobby day.  There was a sea of pink in the well of the LOB as men and women, all wearing vivid pink scarfs or ties, gathered to rally support for the Reproductive Health Act (RHA).  This year, however, there was a twist.  Following Governor Cuomo's State of the State address announcing the Women's Equity Act – which includes the RHA – FPA displayed signs that read "Women's Equity" Act.  This new initiative includes ten issues which, when taken together, will enhance women's economic, safety and reproductive health.

Back in the well of the LOB, the Lieutenant Governor attended and spoke on the initiative for the Governor. Speaker Silver followed, with a pink scarf draped around his shoulder like a shawl, and spoke eloquently about pay equity and the RHA.  He was surrounded by scores of Assemblymembers.  Several Democratic Senators also spoke including Jeff Klein, the new co-leader of the Majority Coalition in the Senate.  For the rest of Monday, pink scarfed men and women weaved their way through the halls of the LOB and the Capitol.

Gun Control

For weeks after the tragedy at Newtown, CT, Governor Cuomo had been negotiating a package of strong gun control measures with legislative leaders.  The deal between the new Majority Coalition Conference in the Senate and the Assembly leadership was sealed at about 4:00 PM on Monday afternoon.  Once the bill was printed the Senate began debate at about 10:30 PM, with several Dems speaking in support – including Senator Jeff Klein, the Senate Co-leader.  Only two Republicans spoke, including Senator Ball who condemned the bill as a crass political move by the Governor to run for President.  The Senate passed the bill 43 to 18 shortly after midnight.

Speaker Silver scheduled his chamber’s debate for 10:00 AM Tuesday to give the Assembly Minority time to conference the bill.  After a five hour debate where every Republican and several Democratic Assemblymembers spoke, the bill passed by a vote of 104 to 43.  It had been 13 years since the Legislature had addressed gun control.  This has to be seen as a major success for Governor Cuomo as he begins this new session.  It is also a success for the League as we have had a position on strong gun control since 1990, although with respect to process we agree with our good government colleagues and the editorial board of the New York Time that pushing this complex bill through using a message of necessity did not allow for appropriate public discussion and a transparent legislative process.