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.