Monday, June 15, 2015

The Week That Was The Prison Break

    The last two weeks of session are usually marked by a steady stream of leaders meeting with the Speaker and Majority leader marching up and down from the third floor to the second floor meeting with the Governor.  This week because of the prison break in upstate New York, the Governor was in Albany only sporadically and so the negotiations on the big issues at the end of sessions languished and members went home yesterday with little settled.

   The League has been busy, however, tracking issues of importance to our members.  Our intensive lobbying efforts have been to stop the education tax credit legislation and so spent time doing press work and face to face lobbying.  We also spent time watching the "off the floor" committee meetings where often bad legislation pops up at this time in session.

   Next week is slated to be the last week of session and the rent laws expire night. It should be an interesting end to a VERY interesting session, stay tuned!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The end (of session) is near!

With the end of session quickly approaching, it should come as no surprise that we – along with all the other advocates that can be seen running around the halls of the Capitol – have been really busy.

A few weeks ago Governor Cuomo proposed a new program bill, the “Parental Choice in Education Act,” which includes a version of the Education Investment Tax Credit that we have been working all session to vigorously oppose. Much of our advocacy work week this week focused on keeping this bill from coming to the Assembly for a vote and our efforts to this end will likely carry us to the end of session. 

The League extended its support for A.3874b (Brennan) this week, which would allow any voter to request an absentee ballot and vote by mail without declaring any reason for doing so. We watched the bill move through the Election Law Committee Wednesday morning and will keep an eye out for its appearance on the Judiciary committee, where it was referred to. To read our memo of support for this bill, click here.

Yesterday at the Capitol was pet advocacy day, where Legislators (some of who may not have many friends this session) were able to find (wo)man’s best friend at work. There were dogs and birds all over the Legislative Office Buildings! You never know what’s going to appear at the Capitol or what will happen at the end of this session, so we hope you will continue to check back here updates these next two weeks. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Another Theater Filled Week

You’ll be unsurprised to hear that there was a lot of drama here at the Capitol this week.

On Monday, we observed another theatrical performance from the Senate gallery. The transition of the leadership position from Senator Skelos to Senator Flanagan was one that, though strangely celebratory in nature, was nonetheless characteristic of Albany. From the perspective of an observer, one might have thought Skelos was abandoning his position because of retirement, as opposed to corruption charges! The League later attended Senator Flanagan’s press conference.  

On Tuesday, we watched legislation that would close the LLC loophole move swiftly to its grave during a Senate Corporations Committee meeting. Thanks to proxy voting, spectators and the media outnumbered the Senators in the room, with only 3 Senators physically present for this meeting. It’s now up to Senator Flanagan to revive this critical piece of legislation and we, of course, will press him to bring the bill to the floor this session.

And, as expected, the Education Investment Tax Credit made its unfortunate return this week when the Governor announced a new program bill called the Parental Choice in Education Act. The bill still diverts public dollars to private and parochial schools and the League will continue its advocacy work opposing this legislation, as it is bad public policy and we strongly believe public dollars should go to public education. LWVNYS, in coalition with many other groups, will be holding a press conference next week to reiterate our concerns with this legislation. 

Finally, next week the League will be holding its annual Students Inside Albany program! For the beginning of next week, we will be joined by 62 high-school students from across the State and will provide programming that will teach them about New York State government, how they can become involved and give them a chance to explore the Capitol and shadow their legislators. We look forward to sharing highlights from this great program soon. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Here We Go Again!

Well, this session has certainly been keeping us on our toes!

The Capitol was rocked yet again this week by the arrest of the Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on federal corruption charges. After a 3 hour Republican conference on Monday night, there was a “consensus” to keep Senator Skelos as Majority Leader.  However, by Wednesday, there were four Republican Senators calling for Mr. Skelos to step down. With the Senate out for the next few days, it remains to be seen if Mr. Skelos can continue under this cloud to maintain his leadership position.

On Wednesday, the League sat in the Senate gallery to observe Senate Democrats’ attempt to suspend the chamber’s rules in an effort to hold a vote on a resolution that would remove Senator Skelos from his leadership position. The exchange was a bit dramatic, but ultimately the Senate Democrats were unsuccessful in securing a vote on the resolution, leading them to walk out of the chamber. Earlier Wednesday morning, Barbara Bartoletti was featured, along with Blair Horner from NYPIRG, on Capitol Pressroom for a timely discussion on ethics and campaign finance reform. You can listen to their radio interview here.

We were delighted to see the Assembly pass 3 additional WEA bills this week, 2 of which (Sexual Harassment and Pregnancy Accommodation) also passed the Senate earlier this session. This means a total of 5 WEA bills are headed to the Governor’s office for signing! We will, of course, continue our advocacy work around women’s issues during the remaining weeks of session. To read our memos on the bills that passed the Assembly this week, click here (re: familial status), here (re: pregnancy accommodation) and here (re: sexual harassment).

With so much still up in the air, next week will likely be another interesting one, so be sure to check back in! 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Another busy week!

Post-budget session is now in full swing and it was yet another hectic week for the League!

The breadth of the League’s advocacy portfolio was exemplified this Monday, when we proudly participated in two press conferences on two completely different issues. We hit the ground running on Monday morning when we joined Legislators and other good government organizations in supporting the passage of S.60, a bill sponsored by Senator Squadron that would close the LLC loophole. We then attended the Senate Elections Committee meeting to watch the bill pass and move to the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions committee. You can check out the press release for this event here.

On Monday afternoon, the League joined fellow members of the Women’s Equality Coalition and some Assembly Members at a press conference to highlight the Assembly’s passage of five bills that promote equal pay for equal or comparable work and close loopholes in current state law that allow employers to pay women less. This was definitely a victory for working women! In particular, A.6075 / S.1, which prohibits differential pay because of sex, passed both the Senate and the Assembly and will now move to the Governor’s office to be signed into law. The press release for this event can be found here.

We also made sure to attend the Assembly’s Election Law committee meeting on Wednesday to watch A.6975, which would close the LLC loophole, pass through this committee and move to the Assembly Codes committee. Our Memo of Support for this bill can be found here.  We also issued a Memo of Support for A.2529, which allows 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register to vote. You can read this memo here.

Next week is sure to be another busy one, so check back in for more updates! 

Monday, April 27, 2015

And, they’re back!

The Legislature returned last week from their April recess. It was a pretty typical week filled with committee meetings; including a packed-house codes committee meeting attended by dozens of advocates interested in repealing the safe-act. The League has now shifted to our post-budget legislative advocacy activities, which will involve working to ensure that the Education Investment Tax Credit does not resurface, advocating for a range of women’s issues,  election law reform issues and much more.

The League joined other good government organizations by attending the State Board of Elections meeting where they failed to close the LLC loophole, which treats limited liability corporations (LLCs) like individuals, rather than corporations. To read our joint statement, click here.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

We Now Have A Budget!

The 2015-16 budget was laboriously completed after much waiting for details to emerge on budget bills late into Tuesday. The debate on the Education, Labor, Family Assistance (ELFA) bill went on for a full six hours, with most Democrats and Republicans debating in opposition to many of the Governor’s education reforms. The Senate finally finished its debate shortly after 11pm, but the Assembly Republicans went into conference at 11:30pm, essentially preventing the Governor from having his on-time budget. They emerged from the conference at 1:00 am and debated the “clean-up” bill and recessed at 3:00am. The Governor refused to acknowledge that the budget was essentially 3 hours into the new fiscal year and claimed an on-time budget. 

As you may recall from last week, much was still in the air during the negotiation period leading up to April 1st and we were admittedly anxious about the outcome of the Education Investment Tax Credit in the days leading up to the budget. On Monday afternoon we circled the halls of the Capitol trying to glean whatever information we could about where the issue stood during the negotiations. We later scrambled to send out Action Alerts to our members, reasserting our vehement opposition to this piece of legislation. We are now relieved to report that we were victorious in our efforts and that the ETC bill was not included in the State Budget! We, of course, could not have done this without the help of our members and the state League thanks all of you for your unrelenting advocacy efforts to oppose the ETC bill. With the budget done, focus will center on the Cusick ETC bill. This means our advocacy work around this legislation will continue when the Legislature returns from its April break.

And then, there’s Ethics…

The “so-called” ethics reform measures passed were inserted at the last moment into the Education bill.We believe further reforms are needed in order to truly reverse the climate of corruption in Albany. While the League commends the measure surrounding the forfeiture of pension benefits for all public officials convicted of a felony related to public office. We advocated for stronger restrictions on personal use of campaign funds; more comprehensive reform of outside income disclosure; significant campaign finance reform measures like the closure of the LLC loophole; and additional reform of the per diem system. To read our statement on these reforms, click here.

The outcome of this year’s state budget means we still have A LOT of work ahead of us. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Budget Deadline is Quickly Approaching

It was another eventful week at the State Capitol, as the deadline for an on-time State budget looms near. After two press conferences and much member-to-member lobbying and conference briefings, the League had learned earlier this week that the Education Investment Tax Credit (ETC) was taken out of the budget negotiations. Our rejoicing was short-lived, though, as information circulated Thursday afternoon indicating that the ETC was still being considered in the negotiations. It’s not over until it’s over and we will remain vigilant in the few remaining pre-budget days ahead. On Wednesday morning, Marian Bott, our Education Finance Issue Specialist spoke about the ETC on Capitol Pressroom. To hear her radio interview, click here.
The League stood proudly this week at a press conference with Legislators and other advocates in support of A.6112, which would guarantee a women’s right to make personal, private decisions about her reproductive health care. To read the press release for this event, click here. Throughout the day, Legislators and advocates alike were seen walking the halls of the Capitol, sporting pink scarves and ties to showcase their support for women’s reproductive health care. We later sat in the gallery overlooking the Assembly chamber to watch Assembly Members debate this controversial (yes, it is STILL controversial!) piece of legislation. We applaud the Assembly for passing this and hope that the Senate will join the Assembly in passing this critical piece of legislation. To read our Memo in Support, click here.

We are hearing that the budget will still be passed on-time next week, so be sure to check back in then!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A typical mid-March week

It was a typical mid-March week at the Capitol – we spent session days running around the Capitol, attending committee meetings, press conferences, working with our coalition partners and meeting with Legislators as much as possible.

As you know, the League is a proud member of the Women’s Equality Coalition and, as such, has engaged in advocacy work on a range of women’s issues, including human trafficking and paid family leave.  We were very pleased that the Assembly passed anti-human trafficking and paid family leave legislation earlier this week. To read our memos on these issues, click here (human trafficking) and here (paid family leave).

On Wednesday, a press conference (which we were, ironically, not allowed attend!) was held to announce the two-way ethics agreement reached between the Governor and the Assembly (not Senate). And while the reforms outlined are surely a step in the right direction, the League and other good-government organizations were disappointed to learn that certain significant reform measures did not make into the agreement – for example, closure of the LLC loophole. You can be sure we will all continue to advocate for items that are not included in the measures advanced by the Governor and Speaker. To read our joint statement on this issue, click here .

Also on Wednesday, our Education Finance Issue Specialist, Marian Bott, joined Legislators and advocates at a press conference to support the Assembly and Governor’s Version of the Property Tax Relief Circuit Breaker, which would provide targeted property tax relief to those that need it the most. Check out the press release from this event here. It has been a busy week for Marian, who, as many of you know, has also been working tirelessly to oppose the Education Investment Tax Credit – check out her blog post this week here.

With the deadline for the budget getting closer with each week, we are sure to have our work cut out for us these next two weeks.  Stay tuned, as more updates are forthcoming!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Let the budget process begin!

It was another busy week up at the Capitol. On Monday, we stood with other civic groups, public education advocates and Legislators to reiterate our strong opposition to the Education Investment Tax Credit. A copy of our press release can be found here. Throughout the week, crowds of citizens and advocates descended upon the Capitol to advocate for their particular issues, making it difficult to maneuver through the hallways, get in and out of elevators and pass through exceedingly long security lines.

The Legislature’s election and re-election of Board of Regents members occupied a long joint session on Tuesday afternoon and Thursday ushered in debates of the one house budget resolutions. With that, the state budget process has begun! It appears that both houses have agreed to disentangle some of the Governor’s linkages in the budget, such as the linkage of the Education Investment Tax Credit to the Dream Act and Tuition Assistance Program. The process will include joint open budget conference committees, starting with the general conference committee comprised of leadership, known to lobbyists and advocates as the “mothership.”  Joint conference committees will begin next week, ensuring another busy week for us up at the Capitol!

Friday, March 6, 2015

2015 Legislative Session is (finally) in Full-Swing

Although the Legislature has been in session since January, it feels as though the work of the 2015 Legislative session has only recently started. A series of snowstorms coinciding with session days, combined with the surprising change in the Assembly leadership, resulted in what felt like an awfully slow (and scandalous!) start to this Legislative session.

With the dust from the Assembly leadership shift finally starting to settle and session now in full-swing, the League has begun its advocacy work around a variety of issues. For a list of our legislative priorities this year, check out our 2015 Legislative Agenda. February afforded us the opportunity to testify at two joint legislative public hearings – education and public protections. On February 3rd, Marian Bott, LWVNYS Education Finance Issue Specialist, presented testimony to the Joint Fiscal Committees and Assembly and Senate Education Committees, voicing our strong opposition to the Education Investment Tax Credit. To read her testimony, click here. On February 26th, I presented testimony to the Joint Fiscal Committees at the Public Protection Hearing, highlighting our position on Election Law reform items and reiterating the League’s positions on Ethics and Campaign Finance Reform. To read my testimony, click here.

At this hearing, I also emphasized the League’s opposition to injecting non-fiscal policies into the State budget process to this extreme, which very much seems to be the Governor’s MO this session. To be sure, our conversations with numerous Legislators and advocates have indicated that the League is not alone in our deep disappointment that the Governor has leveraged the budget process in such a politicized manner. Alas, much of our advocacy efforts this March will involve working to separate some of the good policies that have been, regrettably, tethered to bad policies. And, we will be encouraging Legislators to do the same.

As some of you may already know, the League is vehemently opposed to the Education Investment Tax Credit (ETC), which has been linked in the budget to the Dream Act and to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).  Not only does the League believe that each of these policies should be considered on their own merits, the League also believes that public dollars should go to public education. We, therefore, oppose the ETC bill, which proposes a tax credit – not to be confused with a tax deduction, which represents a much smaller loss of revenue to the state than do tax credits – that will function to divert public dollars to private and parochial schools and siphon $100 or $150 million from the general fund. These are dollars that could (and should!) otherwise be directed toward addressing educational disparities in our public schools, especially given that the State has yet to fulfill the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit’s aim to provide students in low-wealth districts with the sound and basic education they are entitled to.  To read our memo in opposition to the ETC bill, click here. For additional background, check out the Policy Brief issued by Fiscal Policy Institute.  The League, in partnership with other civic groups, parent organizations, public education advocates and Legislators, will be participating in a press conference on Monday, March 9that 11:30am. 

Stay tuned for more updates – we’ve only just begun!