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.

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