Monday, June 20, 2016

So Long 2016

Session is finally over and although we are excited to switch our focus to developing new educational programs and updating our electronic voter guide for the upcoming primary and general elections (  we just posted the candidates for the Congressional primary so be sure to check it out!)  We are disappointed at the lack of campaign finance and ethics reforms this session; but before we dwell on the negative, let’s take a moment to reflect on the positives. In total the League had quite a few successes this session:
·         We once again kept the Education Tax Credit from coming to a vote in the Assembly, an arduous but satisfying fight.
·         We saw movement in the Assembly on some of our core voting reforms including early voting, allowing for electronic poll books, an amendment for no-excuse absentee voting, and the Voter Friendly Ballot Act.
·         We also helped push the LLC loophole for a vote in the Assembly where it passed easily with support from both democrats and republicans.
·         We were also successful in raising public awareness for our core ethics and campaign finance issues. We held many press conferences and issued countless memos and statements pushing to see some form of ethics reforms happen before time ran out.
To see all of the issues we worked on throughout this session visit our website at
Even though we’ve had success moving these issues in the Assembly, we are very disappointed the Senate did not take the opportunity to vote on any of these common sense election law and campaign finance reforms. It is however very satisfying to see these bills at least move in one house, many of these bills have never even been voted out of committee!
Although the legislation we advocated for was not signed into law, the Governor did put forward an ethics packaged aimed primarily at independent expenditures which we have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, the package includes some reforms that we have been fighting for for nearly a decade.  Pension forfeiture of elected officials convicted of corruption, the timely closure of political PACs after a candidate passes, and having political consultants register as lobbyists, are all measures the League supports. What we don’t support is how the Governor quickly put together this package, without including laws aimed at bigger issues such as closing the LLC loophole and eliminating pay to play by lowering contribution limits, and then the two houses passed the package in the dead of the night (Senate at 2:00am and Assembly at 5:00 am). For this entire legislative session, the League and its good government partners have held press conferences urging the Governor to pass these reforms and put his focus on money flowing directly to elected officials.  Yes we want to take away pensions from corrupt politicians, yes we want better disclosure for lobbyists, yes we want consultants to be on the record as lobbyists, but we also want to see some bigger changes. Changes that would limit and bring transparency to money in politics, changes that would strengthen JCOPE, And changes that would actually address the underlying problems that allow politicians to receive unlimited campaign contributions from undisclosed donors.

Are we happy? No, not really. Are we disappointed? Well, at least we got more done this year than last year. The truth is until we pass strong anti-corruption laws we will continue to see politicians abusing the system for their own self gain. For now we will take advantage of the new “Boozy Brunch” law, have a few Bloody Mary’s, and start to strategize our approach for next session. Have a great summer everyone!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Only 3 Days Left of Session 2016

My how six months can fly by! With only one week remaining it appears that once again no ethics reforms will be passed. This week the Governor released his independent expenditure bill which he says will help address the problems created by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the 2010 Citizens United case. Unfortunately for New York, campaign finance abuses have been occurring long before Justice Kennedy issued his final opinion of the case. The League distributed a full statement after the event which can be read here. In our statement we recognize that this proposal will only address a small part of the larger problem that we face with our campaign finance system. The League has spent a significant amount of time and energy researching and studying campaign finance and this proposal is not nearly enough to curb corruption in our state. In 2012 we issued a large briefing paper on the topic which can be found here. If you’re interested in seeing what it would really take to overhaul our campaign finance system it is certainly worth a read! 

This week the Assembly took up Assemblywoman Glick’s bill on reproductive rights. The bill would ensure that current law on the issue remains strong and would expand a woman’s access to reproductive services. As usual the Assembly Republicans took the opportunity to grad stand on the issue and try to gin up support from other religious members in the Assembly. This debate was unlike the debate in years past and seemed more akin to the debates that took place when New York was first dealing with the issue of reproductive choice. The new Republican member from the south shore of Staten Island rose to speak on the bill and ignited an all-out race debate in the Assembly.   Nearly all Democratic members rose to their feet to ask the new member to yield. 

Eventually the outraged members cleared out of the chamber as he continued his comments. When the members did finally file back in they launched into a nearly 3 hour “debate” over why his comments were both racist and sexist. Finally Assemblywoman Corwin and Assembly Minority Leader Kolb had to defuse the situation and ask for a short break in the session before the vote. The bill did eventually pass but it is unlikely the Senate will consider this bill.

As session winds down, the League is still advocating for some of our core issues. We are concentrating our efforts on the Contraceptive Coverage Act, the constitutional amendment that would allow for no-excuse absentee voting, and ethics reforms.  Even though the outlook is grim, we will continue pushing for ethics reforms until the very last day of session! 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Where's The Ethics!?

With seven days of session remaining will the legislature pass any ethics reforms!?!? At that moment we’re feeling rather pessimistic, especially in light of this being an election year. Many members are anxious to head back to their districts to collect signatures for their petitions before the August 8th deadline. Although we are pessimistic we continue to be proactive and have been working with our good government partners planning our moves for the final days of session.

Luckily some of our other priority issues are moving including the Single Payer Health bill which passed in the Assembly on Wednesday. The League has also partnered with PowHer to push a bill on Pay Equity. We issued a joint memo of support to the Assembly and Senate for A.8487/S.6059A. This legislation would ensure that companies receiving state contracts are paying their employees fairly regardless of gender and race. You can read the full memo here.  The League is also keeping a close eye on the Contraceptive Coverage bill which would ensure all forms of contraception are covered by private insurers. We are hoping to push this bill through the Assembly and Senate before session ends.

On Wednesday we were treated to an explosive Assembly Election Law Committee meeting. Many of our priority bills on voting have been moved out of committee and placed on the calendar but there were several bills which went on to be held in other committees. Assemblywoman Walker was furious that her new omnibus bill on voting reforms was not even considered by the committee. The Chairman, Assemblyman Cusick, instead chose to move his own bill which had similar reforms but excluded some key components of her bill that would add additional protections for minorities who are discriminated against at poll sites. The Assemblywoman took a stand and demanded to know why the other omnibus bill was pushed through the committee while hers was not considered. The two then engaged in a lengthy debate (nearly 15 minutes of yelling!) over whether or not the Chairman had followed the protocol surrounding bringing a bill to vote in a committee. Many bills were held including Assemblywoman Galef’s pay-to-play bill which would ensure that all businesses dealing with the government could not make large campaign contributions (looking at you LP Cimminelli). Much to our dismay, the bill was held. We will be joining the Assemblywoman at a press conference on Friday and urging the legislature to take action on instituting real ethics reforms. Here’s hoping something happens between now and June 16th!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Lobby Day For the League

This week was a very exciting week for the League. We kicked off the second week of May with a large list of priority bills being moved in both the Assembly and Senate. On Monday we stood with Senator Daniel Squadron and his Senate allies outside of the Senate chamber to make one final push to move his LLC loophole bill through committee and onto the floor. We were joined by Senators Kreuger, Latimer, Rivera, Montgomery, Little, and Kaminski; as well as the Assembly sponsor Brian Kavanagh. There was quite a showing of press and several reporters made their way over to the committee meeting to see what would happen to the bill. Unfortunately, the bill did not move to the floor. Instead Senator Akshar moved the bill into Codes, he said this was requested by a member of the Codes Committee but did not specify who. Senator Squadron was distressed over the new committee assignment and this will likely be the last we hear about this bill for the rest of session.  The League was also interested in two other bills in this committee, one on early voting and one on electronic poll books. Both bills were moved to new committees and we are hopeful that they will reach the main calendar before the end of session.

On Tuesday the League had its annual lobby day. It was an extremely busy day and many other groups were also holding events and lobby days including the coalition on Raise the Age. Several of our members from Schenectady attended the Raise the Age press conference and lobbied with the group. After our morning presentations our members spent the afternoon mingling with their local legislators and advocating for voting and ethics reforms, as well as several social policy issues.
Wednesday was not quite as busy or exciting but the constitutional amendment on no-excuse absentee voting was moved to the assembly calendar (finally!) and a bill on allowing the State Board of Elections to make use of voters email addresses was also moved to Ways and Means.

Thursday former Senate Majority leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam were finally sentenced following their acts of corruption when Skelos was leader. The former Senator received 5 years and his son was sentenced to 6.5. The trial was live tweeted by several reporters and much like the Silver sentencing, we spent the hour and a half leading up to the sentences glued to our phones. Whether or not these sentences are enough to deter corruption in Albany remains to be seen. The rest of session will surely be interesting especially since it appears the US Attorney’s investigation of Buffalo Billion funding is finally heating up. As Preet Brahara would say “stay tuned”!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Session is once again underway and now more than ever the League is fighting to ensure something, ANYTHING, gets done on ethics this session. Tuesday was a monumental day with former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver being handed a heft sentence of 12 years in prison, $1.75 million in fines, and an additional $5 million in forfeitures, for his underhanded backdoor deals while in power. The League and our good government allies held joint press conferences in Albany and New York City calling on the legislature to implement stronger reforms on ethics and campaign finance. Whether or not the Governor and legislature will heed our cries is to be determined later this session.

On Wednesday, the League attended an event which we co-sponsored with Common Cause and the Rockefeller Institute on voting modernization. We heard from two former Colorado election officials on how their state has modernized their voting system successfully. The system in place in Colorado is both cost effective and inclusive of all voters. We were delighted to see several New York State election officials in attendance including the State Board of Elections Commissioner, Peter Kosinski, and Co-Executive Directors, Robert Brehm and Todd Valentine. The panel was well received and the audience posed many interesting questions.  

Next week the League will be extremely busy with our annual Lobby Day on May 10th. We expect to have a great showing from our members and anticipate our lobby visits will cover a wide range of topics that we are advocating for this session.  

Monday, April 18, 2016

TOMORROW IS ELECTION DAY IN NYS: Presidential Primary, Special Elections and Special Help Hotline - read below!
Polls are open on Primary Day from 6 a.m. to 9 the following localities: New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Erie. In all other counties in New York State, polls are open on Primary Day from 12 noon to 9 p.m.

The purpose of the Presidential primary is to select delegates to a national convention of a political party. Voters must be registered in the Democratic or Republican party to vote in that party’s primary. In New York State, the Republican and Democratic Presidential primaries are organized differently.

REPUBLICAN VOTERS will be issued a ballot with candidates listed. The voter will choose one candidate, but will not vote for delegates. Please be advised that some candidates have withdrawn from the race but are still listed on the New York Ballot. Delegates for the Republican Party’s national convention are selected by the state’s Republican Committee.

DEMOCRATIC VOTERS will be asked to vote for the Presidential candidate AND delegates for the democratic convention. The delegate distribution will be determined by the number of votes each Presidential candidate receives. Based on the population of your congressional district, you will vote for 5-7 delegates (indicated on the ballot instructions). Outside of NYC, the delegates listed in the same row across from the Presidential candidate are the delegates for that candidate. In NYC, the delegates are listed in a separate column next to the column of Presidential candidates; the name of the candidate that they are pledged to support is indicated under the delegate’s name .
For any questions regarding your ballot please call your County Board of Elections office or call our State League office at (518) 465-4163

If you are registered to vote in Lower Manhattan, Central Nassau, South Shore of Staten Island, or South East Brooklyn you will have the opportunity to vote in a special election for state legislators representing your Assembly or Senate district. Go to and enter your address for information about each of these races and the candidates. You do not need to be registered in a party to vote in a special election, but must be registered to vote.
• Lower Manhattan: Assemblyperson for the 65th District
• Central Nassau: Senator for the 9th District
• South Shore Staten Island: Assemblyperson for the 62nd District
• South East Brooklyn: Assemblyperson for the 59th District
As New Yorkers will head to the polls to vote in the New York presidential primary election on April 19, 2016, Election Protection (EP) – the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) – will ensure that all eligible New Yorkers have an equal opportunity to vote and provide voters with information, guidance and assistance. The 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) hotline will be available to answer calls live on primary Election Day from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT.

Hours for Live, Real-Time Assistance:
Tuesday, April 19, 2016
6 a.m. to 9 p.m. EDT for English assistance (866-OUR-VOTE)
5:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. EDT for bilingual English/Spanish assistance (888-VE-Y-VOTA)
Election Protection’s toll-free hotlines, 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683) administered by the Lawyers’ Committee for English, and 888-VE-Y-VOTA (888-839-8682) administered by NALEO Educational Fund for bilingual assistance (English/Spanish), are available to any voter who needs information, assistance or guidance in understanding their rights. Assistance is also available in six Asian languages—Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Bengali, Urdu and Tagalog—through the 888-API-VOTE hotline, which is managed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice—AAJC and APIA Vote. However, for the primary election, the 888-API-VOTE hotline will not be providing real-time assistance on April 19; voters will be asked to leave a voicemail.
Spring recess is upon us. The League spent the final week before spring break running to Assembly and Senate Committee meetings on Monday and Tuesday. We will be spending most of our break gearing up for our May 10th Lobby Day and our Student’s Inside Albany program which will take place from May 22nd until May 25th.

Enjoy the nice weather everyone!

Monday, April 4, 2016

This was the week that we didn’t think would ever end and as of Friday afternoon (right now 2:58 pm) the Assembly is STILL in session only now taking up the education, labor, housing, and family assistance budget bill.  The Senate, following a grueling all night session, adjourned at 9:37 am today. One has to feel disheartened that legislators had to endure no sleep and an inability to read what the Governor called “a remarkable budget” and “the best plan produced in decades”.  This budget process has been the most secretive process in several years. At one point, negotiations were taken off the Capitol Campus to the Governor’s private residence where it is impossible for reporters to go.
Monday started with several press events including a press conference outside the Senate where the good government community discussed the lack of ethics and transparency in the budget, including lump sum discretionary funds. After our press conference we taped a segment with Susan Arbetter and the local television stations. In the afternoon we pulled Assembly members off the floor reinforcing our opposition to the Education Tax Credit and support for increasing Foundation Aid. Late afternoon, early evening was spent exchanging intel with coalition members for any leaks of information from the second floor (the Governor’s office).

Tuesday rumors circulated that the Senate was planning to trade minimum wage for the Education Investment Tax Credit. The League quickly issued a memo restating our opposition to the EITC and asking that members stay strong in their opposition. That ended a long day and long evening.
On Wednesday we went up to the Capitol late in the day, amid rumors that the charter school increases were now attached to minimum wage by the Senate and the Governor’s office. Does anyone see a theme here? We sent some time speaking with the Education Chair and other legislators to again reiterate our support for public education.

Much of Thursday was spent waiting for the republican Senate conference to end and the budget debate to actually start. The Assembly took up bills unrelated to the budget while waiting for final negotiations to be hammered out. The Senate finally began debating budget bills at 4:30 pm. The debate started contentiously with Senator Gianaris and Senator Young raising their voices. Senator Gianaris was particularly disturbed and vocal about the lack of transparency and the fact that bills would be debated without any opportunity to first read the language. The same complaints were being echoed by the Assembly republicans during their debates.

Thursday night debate of the budget dragged on in the Assembly until approximately 2:00 am when they stood at ease so the legislators could actually read the budget bills on their computer. The Assembly came back in at 2:50pm to continue their debates. The interesting thing to note is that the Assembly democrats do not debate these budget bills. The Chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Denny Farrell, stands on his feet throughout the debate to answer the questions of the Assembly minority. The debate is all one sided for a reason, because the Assembly is so large if every democrat in the majority rose to debate, the session would go on endlessly so democrats are told to rise to explains their votes only when absolutely necessary.

Although this has been a secretive process, which we have repeatedly criticized for a lack of transparency, and insufficient time for legislators to thoroughly review budget language, the League and our allies were  successful during this process in preventing the EITC from being included in the final budget. We were also pleased to see the legislature pass the Governor’s minimum wage and paid family leave proposals, both of which we supported. We continue to be disappointed with the lack of process on comprehensive ethics reforms and we will continue to advocate post budget for these common sense reforms.   

Friday, March 25, 2016

The budget season is quickly coming to a close and the legislature will need to have their budget finalized by next Friday (April 1st) if they want to avoid the executive taking over the process. This week the Joint Conference Committees released their proposed table targets. Table targets are the amount of money proposed by the leadership to be allocated by the Conference Committees. We were very dismayed to hear that k through 12 Education only received a $60 million target. This $60 million is in addition to a $991 million proposal for general school aid funding, that funding will be allocated through the legislative leaders and executive.

The League has been very concerned over the lack of transparency during this budget process. Negotiations between leaders have been done behind closed doors and this week’s Mother Ship Conference with the Senate and Assembly leaders lasted a total of 4 minutes. Nearly every Conference Committee leader indicated that the members would be returning home for Easter weekend but that staff will continue to work on the budget.

On Friday the League took a break from focusing on the budget to participate in a forum on the Constitutional Convention. This event focused on the issue of ethics and what sort of changes could be made to help fix Albany’s culture of corruption. Our Legislative Director Barbara Bartoletti participated on a panel with Blair Horner, Executive Director of NYPIRG and Lawrence Norden, Deputy Director of the Brennan Center. The League has teamed up with the Rockefeller Institute and helped to create a multiyear educational campaign to promote understanding and awareness of essential issues pertaining to the NYS Constitution leading up to the 2017 NYS Constitutional Convention referendum. The Rockefeller Institute will be holding events throughout the state this summer and fall. We will be posting upcoming events on our website, twitter, and facebook so be sure to check regularly to see when they will be coming to your area.

Monday, March 21, 2016

This week was Sunshine Week and the League spent it telling lawmakers they need to do more on ethics. The week started with the League, NYPIRG, Citizen’s Union, Common Cause, and Reinvent Albany reacting to the inadequate ethics proposal put forward and passed Tuesday by the Assembly. The bill, sponsored by Speaker Heasite, limits outside income, closes the LLC Loophole, requires more disclosure for lobbying groups, and limits expenditures by “housekeeping” committees.  Although we were happy to see the Assembly at least put something forward  on ethics, this proposal is not nearly enough to curb the persistent corruption plaguing our Capital. For more on our press conference click here.

The one-house budgets were released over the weekend giving us limited time to review them before Monday. We were dismayed to see no additional funding for the State Board of Election in the one-house budgets. We were also extremely disappointed that the Senate chose only to put forward reforms on state pensions of convicted felons and term limits for legislative leaders; not nearly as comprehensive a “package” as we had hoped.  We were relieved that the Assembly stayed true to their word and excluded the Education Investment Tax Credit (EITC) in their proposal. The Senate did include it and we expect this issue will arise again in the Assembly Committee on Education at some point this session.

Monday and Tuesday the League met with several members on the EITC and voting reforms. Tuesday evening the Budget Conference Committees were announced and the League made an effort to attend as many as possible.  In total we attended 5 conferences including Local Governments, Public Protection, Workforce, Education, and the initial “Mothership” Conference where the legislative leaders patted themselves on the back for putting forward such progressive reforms. In each of the Joint Conference Committees the members of the Senate and Assembly laid out their goals and highlighted their priorities; unfortunately there was no mention of possible table targets.

We ended our week on a high note with the release of the recommendations set forth by Assembly Workforce Committee on Legislative Process. We were very pleased to see so many common sense reforms for the state legislature. The proposal includes mandatory webcasting of all Assembly Committee meetings, a new online portal for all official documents on legislation, WiFi in all state offices, and moving bill debates to the beginning of the legislative session rather than saving them for the final weeks. For the full list of recommendations and a response from the League check out this article. We are especially excited for the state to FINALLY make LRS accessible to the public. The Legislative Retrieval System (LRS) is an online program which allows fast up-to-date information on bills. Currently the system is only available to legislative staff and those who are willing to pay its hefty fee.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The halls of the Capitol were filled to maximum capacity this week.  Groups flocked to the legislature to try and lobby their members before the one house budgets are finalized. The League got in on the action and we spent the majority of our Monday trying to pull members off the floor to make one final plea against the inclusion of the Education Tax Credit in the Assembly one house budget. We were extremely relieved Wednesday when we read in Politico that Speaker Heastie will not include the tax credit in the Assembly budget proposal.

On Tuesday we held a press conference with NYPIRG and Citizen’s Union on ethics and transparency.  The League along with our good government allies have called on Governor Cuomo to do more to improve ethics. Specifically, we have asked for a series of leaders’ meetings to publicly discuss and negotiate ethics reforms. Our full joint press release can be found here . After the press conference, Governor Cuomo responded by accusing non-profit groups of being “shadow lobbyists” with hidden agendas.  We have defended our position as a non-partisan, member funded organization, and we will continue to lobby for issues that directly impact all New Yorkers. Our full statement can be read here.  

Tuesday evening the League attended an event celebrating International Women’s Day. We set up a voter registration table at Sage College’s  Opalka Gallery where we met with many interesting women from all over the world and helped some new citizens register to vote.

On Wednesday the League attended the Senate majority’s press conference on their budget priorities for 2016. We live tweeted most of the event. We were surprised over Senator Flanagan’s ambitious plan which will allegedly cut middle class taxes by 25%. There was no mention of the Education Tax Credit but the Senate did focus on the need for more tax incentives for the aging. Many New Yorkers move to other more pension friendly states after they retire, and the Senate believes that reducing the tax burden on seniors and private pensions will entice more people to stay in New York after retirement. Unfortunately, there was no proposal to make New York State’s climate more temperate.

Friday, March 4, 2016

This week started with a memorial service dedicated to the beloved Assemblywoman Barbara Clark.  Barbara had long been a friend of the League and we are deeply saddened by her passing. She leaves behind a wonderful legacy as a strong advocate for the rights of women, children, and the undeserved population of New York State.

On Tuesday we participated in a press conference with NYPIRG on the Constitutional Convention urging reforms to the delegate selection process. The full letter send to the Governor’s office on the issue can be found here.  The remainder of the day was occupied with strategy sessions on several different issues including ethics reforms and education initiatives.
Wednesday was a very full day starting with a legislative briefing for legislators on the education investment tax credit issue. It was a standing room only briefing with legislators and staff. We were joined by Fiscal Policy Institute, Citizen’s Budget Commission, Alliance for Quality Education, Reform Jewish Voice, and New York Civil Liberties Union. The briefing allowed legislators to learn more about the issue and have their concerns, both political and substantive, addressed. It was gratifying to see so many newly elected members attend the briefing. After the briefing we met with Assembly member Hyndman who had also attended the briefing and expressed her opposition to the education tax credit (ETC). We discussed the ETC budget proposal, early voting and automatic voter registration. 

At noon we participated in a press conference on the Governor’s executive proposal on the ETC. It was well attended by fiscal, faith, and school association advocacy groups. The groups all expressed their opposition to this flawed budget initiative. A press release from all the groups can be found here. Then it was off to do a news interview with channel 10 on an interesting twist to the current Presidential campaign. The League has received several inquiries about how they can change their party registration to vote either for or against certain Presidential candidates. New York State election law does not allow changes for your party affiliation after mid-October of the previous year; except in the case of new voters or if you have moved to a new county. We also noted that New York is a closed primary state and unless you are registered in a party you cannot vote in a primary election. This is the first time in my decades of experience that people have expressed an interest in jumping parties for the specific reason of voting against another party’s candidate.

As we move closer to the budget deadline the halls of the Capitol and LOB become difficult to maneuver as lobbying organizations make their final push for money in the budget. We anticipate that the assembly and senate one house budget bills will come out on March 14th. Negotiations will then begin in earnest and conference committees will commence. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

After a long, nearly two week break, session has finally resumed! The League kept busy over the recess planning for our upcoming regional workshops and preparing the 2016 Voter Guide. The first workshop will take place in New York City on March 5th. If you’re interested in attending any of the sessions it’s not too late to register, click this link to register for our workshops in NYC, Round Lake, Syracuse, and Buffalo. We hope to have the new Voter Guides published and printed sometime next month; just in time for the Presidential Primary.

Our first day back at the Capitol on Wednesday started with a press conference in the LCA Room. Barbara Bartoletti joined Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, Senator John Bonacic, Senator Jose Serrano, and Blair Horner of NYPIRG at a press conference unveiling Assemblywoman Galef’s new ethics reforms package.  The package includes bills that would help increase transparency for both members and lobbyists. We were very excited to join the Assemblywoman who also happens to be a former local League President!

After the presser we sat in on senate session and watched one of the bill’s senate versions pass. The bill (which the League does not currently have a position on) would limit the tenure of temporary president of the senate, speaker of the assembly, majority and minority leaders and committee chairs.
On Thursday we kept busy pulling members off the floor to lobby them on election reforms and the education tax credit. Later we caught the first half of the New York State Economic and Revenue Consensus Forecasting Conference. Next week we have a very busy schedule with two press conferences, a legislative briefing, and nearly a dozen meetings with legislators. This month is shaping up to be a busy one!

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.