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.