Friday, May 12, 2017

Push for Procurement Reforms

This week the League, ReInvent Albany, NYPIRG, Citizens Union, Fiscal Policy Institute, and the Citizens Budget Commission held a press conference in Albany pushing for reforms to our state contracting system. Last year there were several state and federal indictments related to a major state contract bid rigging scandal that cost tax payers an estimates $800 million. This scandal arose after oversight authority of state contracts was taken from the State Comptroller. Our organizations are supporting legislation that will increase transparency and government accountability when contracts are awarded. We are supporting the following 5 reforms:

  1. Require competitive and transparent contracting for the award of state funds by all state agencies, authorities, and affiliates. Use existing agency procurement guidelines as a uniform minimum standard.
  2. Transfer responsibility for awarding all economic development awards to Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) and end awards by state non-profits and SUNY.
  3. Empower the Comptroller to review and approve all state contracts over $250k.
  4. Prohibit state authorities, state corporations, and state non-profits from doing business with their board members.

  1. Create a ‘Database of Deals’ that allows the public to see the total value of all forms of subsidies awarded to a business – as six states have done.

The Senate has already passed legislation enacting these reforms. The League and our good government partners will be lobbying this legislation in the Assembly over the coming weeks. We hope to see this bill passed in the Assembly and signed into law before session ends.

Friday, May 5, 2017

New York Wants Early Voting NOW!

This week we made a big push to get early voting moved in the Senate. We gathered together nearly 20 of our members to attend the Senate Elections Committee meeting to let the Senate know we mean business! Several bills were killed during this committee meeting including the Voter Empowerment Act and a bill to force all Presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns. All three of these bills were petitioned by their sponsors to be heard by the committee. Lucky for us, the early voting bill survived and was moved to the Local Government Committee.

The Senate Republican committee members voted "without recommendation" meaning they would allow the bill to pass but if it came to the floor for a vote they may vote against it. Only Senator Marchione was a solid "no" vote. Unfortunately for us, she is also the chair of the Local Government Committee. Our members worked quickly to put in calls to her office asking her to put the bill on the agenda.

We were so pleased on Friday when we saw that she had moved the bill to Senate Rules. Although we would have preferred the bill to move to the floor we were happy that they bill wasn't killed in committee. We are now focusing our attentions on getting this bill taken up in Rules. The bill's sponsor, Andrea Stewart-Cousin, is also the ranking member on Rules. Our hope is that she will use her power and influence to get a vote on this bill!

On Tuesday we kept the momentum going and worked with the NYC Campaign Finance Board on their call to remove barriers to elections. We joined them for a morning rally that was packed with high school students and our NYC League members. Senators Stewart Cousins and Gianaris also attended as well as Assembly Members Carol and Kavanagh. You can read the release about their VoteBetterNY project here. Many thanks to VoteBetterNY for including us in their event! We really do all need to be working together on these reforms.

On the national level, we are becoming increasingly concerned with what could potentially happen to the health care of millions of Americans. Our National organization released the statement below on the new health care plan.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Lobby Day 2017

We started off the second half of the legislative session with a bang and a shout! On Tuesday we held our annual lobby day and had fantastic attendance from our Local League members. This year we had members from as far west as Chautauqua county, as far north as Plattsburgh, and as far south as New York City. We kicked off our lobby day with a huge press conference outside of the Senate chamber demanding that the legislature pass voting reforms before session ends. Our members were joined by Senate Democratic Leader, Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senator Gianaris, Senator Squadron, Assemblyman Kavanagh, Assemblyman Carroll, and Assemblywoman Fahy. All of these legislators are strong supporters of voting reforms and sponsors of legislation that would make voting easier and more accessible. The press conference was aimed at drawing attention to these issues and the fact that the Assembly Election Law committee would be voting on an early voting bill the very next day. You can watch the full press conference here.  

After the press conference our members headed out to lobby their state legislators on these reforms as well as the Reproductive Health Act, the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act, the New York Health Act, a Constitutional Amendment to make clean air and water a first amendment right, and reforms to the delegate selection for a Constitutional Convention.  A special thank you to all the legislators who made time to meet with our members, although they may not always agree with our positions we appreciate the time they take out of their busy days to sit down with our members.

On Wednesday the Early voting bill was moved out of the Assembly Election Law committee. The bill was reported and we expect that it will be moved to the calendar soon. We are hoping to see more voting legislation pass through committee in the coming weeks. Last session the Assembly passed several progressive voting reforms including this early voting bill, a Constitutional Amendment for no-excuse absentee voting, a bill to allow for electronic poll books, and a bill to make ballots easier to read. Unfortunately the Senate did not address any of these bills.  This year we will really be pressing the Senate and demanding that they take up voting reform legislation. 

Wednesday evening the League participated in a panel on the Constitutional Convention held at Onondaga Community College. The panel was co-sponsored by the Rockefeller Institute and NY Bar Association. There was quite a good turn out and the audience asked some great questions at the conclusion of the presentations. This is the 7th public forum the NYS League has participated in and the 35th that the League as a whole has done. We will continue to do public education as we get closer to the November election. To see our Executive Director, Laura Ladd-Bierman, speaking about delegate selection and process see our video here.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Be Earthwise - Create a Healthier Planet: Here's How!

Although there was no legislative session this week, the League office was busy planning the roll out of our Be Earthwise campaign for 2017.

In the first phase of this program we asked citizens to pledge to vote with their dollars and their actions and respect the environment through their daily decisions. You can learn more about the pledge by clicking here or by watching our brief PSA.

Now we are asking citizens to work even harder to help preserve our planet by being meat free, being chemical free, and reducing, reusing, and recycling. 

These three initiatives will not only lead to a healthier planet but can also help improve your own health. To learn more about the initiatives click here.

Take the pledge to Be Earthwise today!   

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Post Budget Highlights (and Failures)

This year’s budget was a several week endeavor. For the first time since Governor Andrew Cuomo was elected, the budget was 9 days late. The legislature had to pass one extender to keep the government working for 9 days until the legislature came back and spent Palm Sunday weekend finishing the budget. 

The Assembly spent 8 hours on Saturday debating and passing the budget legislation. The Senate returned at 5:30 pm on Sunday and debated for 6 hours on the agreed to budget. The $153.1 billion budget included many progressive legislative proposals. The most debated issue this year was whether or not to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18. This proposal dominated both the Assembly and Senate debate over the weekend. The Assembly debated this issue for most of their 8 hour debate. Surprisingly, the Assembly debate was not acrimonious; the vast majority of legislators were in agreement that this issue’s time had come and New York did not want to be associated with being the last state in the nation to have not raised the age of criminal responsibility to 18. The final the program is incremental in implementation and gives flexibility for which court will try teens based on the crimes they committees. Violent crimes involving a weapon, crimes that inflicted physical injury on victims, and crimes involving sexual violence will all be heard in traditional criminal court.

The other visible issue in this year’s budget was the governor’s proposal to allow for free college for SUNY and CUNY to students. The final proposal included a number of provisions that the Governor had not initially agreed to. Private schools were also included in the proposal but with the state only paying up to $3,000 and only if the college agreed to match that money. SUNY and CUNY students can receive up to $5,500 per semester. To qualify students must have a household income below $100,000 for the next four years; the qualifying amount will be raised to $125,000 by 2020. Students must also take a certain number of credits, maintain a GPA specified by the school, and they must work in New York State for 4 to 5 years post-graduation. Students who do not work in the state will have to repay their grant. This policy does not include room and board for schools or books.

The budget also included Upstate Ridesharing. The new policy comes with a hefty sales tax, mandatory background checks for all drivers, and a $1.5 million insurance policy for all drivers.

The Governor said this was the most difficult budget he had to negotiate because of his concerns over potential budget deficits from Washington. A major sticking point in this budget negotiation was the Governor’s insistence that his budget division be given unilateral authority if there are federal budget cuts. The legislature agreed to give the Governor authority to put out his own proposal but only if the Assembly and Senate have the option to pass their own version within 90 days of the release. If the legislature does not act the Governor’s proposal would stand.

This year’s education budget was a tug of war between public schools and charter schools. The League had advocated strongly for an increase in foundation aid. The resulting budget allocated $700 million for Foundation Aid, which is funding for both rural and urban high needs school districts. Total education aid was $1.1 billion. The charter school cap remains intact but charter aid was unfrozen for this year. There was also a $500 per student increase in tuition aid and a $500 increase in charter’s capital aid reimbursable by the state. The state took this over so it wouldn’t be such a large toll on local districts. STAR rebate checks will also continue.

Another issue the League lobbied during this budget session was a $2.5 billion for water infrastructure which will be used to rebuild and replace aging water infrastructure. This investment will be used by localities and local governments to help pay for clean drinking water projects and new infrastructure upgrades as well as water testing.  

One issue area that was completely absent from budget negotiations was voting reforms. The League had lobbied legislators leading up to the release of the one-house budgets to include voting reforms in their budget packages. Although the Governor and Assembly had included early voting and automatic voter registration in their respective budget proposals, the Senate had not even toyed with the idea of including voting. As soon as negotiations began, both the legislature and Governor were silent on the issue of voting reform. We are truly shocked that the two houses and Governor were able to compromise on so many policies but NOT voting. You can read our full statement on our budget disappointment here.

The legislature remains on break until April 24th. The League will host its annual Lobby Day April 25th and we plan to hit the ground running and screaming about voting reforms! The time is now to bring New York’s antiquated voting system into the 21st century!  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Joint Conference Committee Sessions Have Begun!

What a whirl wind week! Monday the Joint Budget Conference committees met to lay out their respective priorities. We were not surprised to find out the Joint Committees had not received their table target budget amounts. The Joint Leader’s Conference met fist. Senator Flanagan kicked off the committee, emphasizing the Senate's desire to spur job creation, transportation infrastructure, college affordability, the creation of a clean water bond act, and workers compensation. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie reaffirmed the Assembly's commitment to Raise the Age and funding of Foundation Aid. Senator Klein, leader of the Senate Independent Democratic Conference was allowed to speak before Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, he laid out the IDC's budget plan emphasizing the IDC's commitment to seeing Raise the Age pass during this budget process. The Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb spoke next about the minority's concerns over the STAR rebate program and the oversight of the Regional Economic Development Corporation. When Senator Stewart-Cousins was finally allowed to speak she started off with her disappointment that the Senate Democrats were not permitted to have their budget considered by the Senate. She said the IDC's Raise the Age proposal was inaccurate and that the Senate needed a greater focus on school funding. 

The Joint Committees broke out into three meeting rooms, each presented for an average of 15 minutes with much of that time being spent on members saying what aspects of the budget were most important to them. The League sat in on several committees including health, environmental conservation, transportation, public protection, and education. We were pleased to see that the Education Committee reaffirmed their commitment to a full phase in of Foundation Aid. The bipartisan committee also agreed that they needed to take additional steps to help with the recent influx of English as a second language students in both New York City and Upstate. The two houses did not agree on Mayoral Control. 

The League and its good government allies fought tirelessly to make sure that budget negotiations are open to the public. New York State law now mandates that these budget conferences meet in public and allow citizens to see how deals are being made. Unfortunately, these conference sessions have become political theater and much of the budget negotiations will be done behind closed doors. We do not anticipate any other joint conference meetings. 

On Thursday the legislature was hit by another federal indictments. Senator Robert Ortt and former Senator George Miziarz were accused of filing a false instrument by Attorney General Eric Schniederman. Ortt is accused of giving his wife a no-show job when he was Mayor of North Tonawanda. Miziarz's case is somewhat more complicated and involves a staffer accused of sexual harassment that was paid by the county GOP committee even after he had stepped down from his position. The payments had been concealed to avoid scrutiny. The legislature and Governor continue to blatantly ignore the obvious problem of corruption plaguing Albany. While we hope that the legislature will add stronger ethics reforms to the final budget proposal, there has been little attention paid to the issue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

March Budget Madness Continues

Monday started with a conference and rally by NYCLU dealing with reproductive justice, GENDA legislation, and legal services for the indigent and immigrants. The conferees rallied outside of the Capitol in very cold temperatures but the conference attracted over 2,000 people.  All of the speakers delivered moving firsthand accounts of the challenges they have faced because of outdated and prejudicial laws surrounding reproductive health care, the judicial system, and immigration. Several League members were part of the rally. The one house budget resolutions were released in both houses but because of the blizzard Tuesday’s session was canceled.

On Tuesday New York State was hit with a large snow storm that stalled budget negotiations in the Senate and Assembly. Wednesday business resumed and the two houses began debating their budget resolutions. The Assembly included early voting, automatic voter registration, closing the LLC loophole, and some other ethics reforms in their package. They also included as a priority Raise the Age, funding for immigration services, a $1.8 billion increase in school funding,  and a commitment to a full phase-in of the Foundation Aid formula starting with a $1.4 billion increase this year.
The Senate’s proposal was quite different with a heavy focus on further reducing taxes on the middle class and wealth 1%. The Senate also proposed an increase in school aid by $1.2 billion and increase in foundation aid by $4.7 million over executive proposal. Both houses disagree with Governor over the elimination of foundation aid formula. Both resolutions also included a clean water bond act, and an opioid addiction plan.

Senate Democrats put forward their own resolution that was not permitted by the majority to be considered by the full Senate. There was extreme tension between the GOP and Dempcrats that resulted in a heated debate between Senators Bonacic and Gianaris. The Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) also created their own budget resolution. The Senate GOP allowed the conference to have their resolution come to the floor for a vote. Mainline Democrats were furious and all voted against the resolution after some very raucous debate.

The IDC resolution was largely the same but did focus on Raise the Age (although not the same Raise the Age provisions as the Assembly), more money for legal defense for immigrants,  different monetary amounts for Medicaid, the DREAM act, and a few other “progressive” policies. Over all the two bills are very similar and the Democrats were furious over the obvious power play by Senator Klein. Senator Gianaris was particularly upset and got into a heated debate continues  with the new Senator from Manhattan Marisol Alcantara who eventually went on to accuse Gianaris of white privilege because he was opposing the DREAM Act (a bill which Gianaris is actually a staunch supporter). Eventually Senator Flanagan had to rise and remind the Senators to keep with chamber decorum or else face being removed from the chamber.

Even though the IDC resolution passed this really doesn’t mean anything.  We expect on Monday the General Conference Committee (aka Mothership) will meet this coming Monday and our hope is that they will set table targets for the different issue area committees to discuss (ex. Health care, education, transportation). As always the three men in the room do the actual budget negotiations behind closed doors.  The League will continue to push for open leaders meetings as the budget negotiations continue. It is likely that many of these proposals will be stripped from the final bill but we hope that the Assembly will stand strong on their proposals to include Raise the Age and a full phase in of Foundation Aid. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

The Budget Deadline Nears...

As the budget clock ticks closer and closer to March14th the League is continuing to advocate to keep early voting and automatic voter registration in the final budget. Both of these voting reforms will need seed money to get them up and running. Over the course of this week we met with several legislators and urged them to put money behind Governor Cuomo’s early voting proposal. Although early voting could be achieved legislatively, without the proper funding counties will have to find their own source of funding to pay for the poll site locations and staff to man the locations.

In addition to election reform funding, the League has been lobbying to keep foundation aid in the final budget proposal. Past failures to fulfil the state’s mandated commitment to Foundation Aid has left students in overcrowded classroom with limited resources.  The League has partnered with several education activist organizations and is working to make sure the legislature fulfills their commitment and funds public schools in New York State. We are advocating for a three year phase in of Foundation Aid.  This year the Governor did not include the Education Tax Credit in his budget proposal but the bills have been introduced legislatively in the Senate.

We were pleased to see several of our voting reform bills move out of committee in both the Senate and Assembly. These bills include removing party emblems from ballots, allowing for the usage of email addresses on voter registration forms, the Voter Friendly Ballot Act, pre-registration for 17 year olds, and a bill to allow for the usage of electronic poll books.

We expect the Senate and Assembly to release their budgets on Monday, March 13th. Stay tuned for our analysis of their proposed budgets. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Women's Suffrage and A Special Announcement!

This week the legislature returned from their week long recess. On Wednesday the League was invited to attend an event with the Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Women’s Bipartisan Political Caucus, and Suffrage Celebration Commission kicking off Women’s History Month. Our League President, Dare Thompson, is a member of the Suffrage Celebration Commission. She and the other commission members will be working to plan events around the state. The commission has established a suffrage website which can be accessed here.   The League has already began our suffrage celebrations. You can see more information on our suffrage plans on our website: here. You can also see a calendar of all local League events happening throughout New York State here. In addition to celebrations and historical materials, we have set up a blog to highlight famous New York Suffragists:

On Thursday we had several meetings with Senators from both political parties. We have been working hard to lobby to keep early voting and automatic voter registration in the budget. We have also been lobbying Senators on the Reproductive Health Act and Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act. In the afternoon we attended a press conference hosted by Assemblywoman Nolan on full funding for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity. The League has long been a supporter of full funding for CFE and we will continue to work on this effort in 2017.

Finally, the League is proud to announce our newest campaign: Be Earthwise! In support of the League’s effort to respect the environment and address the impacts of climate change, the League of Women Voters of NYS has launched Be Earthwise, our new campaign to engage all Americans from every state to learn the facts, vote with your dollars and vote with your daily actions to preserve our planet. We are asking that citizens take the pledge to Be Earthwise on Earth Day 2017:

I’ll vote with my dollars. I PLEDGE to respect the environment and address the effects of climate change when making my consumer purchases.
I’ll vote with my actions. I PLEDGE to respect the environment and the address effects of climate change through my daily activities.
I’ll participate in our democracy. I PLEDGE to take action as a citizen to help shape public policy that respects the environment and addresses the effects of climate change

To learn more and take the pledge visit our pledge page here

Friday, February 17, 2017

Testimony Continues and Constitutional Convention Talk in Utica

This week the legislature continued their budget hearings and negotiations. On Monday the Environmental budget hearing was interrupted by protesters fighting for climate change justice. This is the second budget hearing that was temporarily halted due to protesters (the first was last week during the Tax hearing). These are the same protesters who staged a sit in in Governor Cuomo’s office earlier this year. Some protesters had been arrested during that demonstration but luckily no one was arrested Monday and after several minutes of chanting the group filed out of the hearing room. Some attempted to return later and ultimately the guards resorted to locking one set of doors so that no one could sneak through.

Tuesday was an extremely busy day. The Education Budget testimony occupied much of our attention. Although we were not given the opportunity to testify this year we did submit testimony to the committee. You can read our overview of the budget here. We sat in for much of Commissioner Elia’s testimony and were pleased to see such a heavy focus on the need for more support for English as a second language students. In the morning we attended the Assembly Election law Committee meeting. Two of our priority bills were moved. The Voter Friendly Ballot Act (memo here) and legislation to close the LLC loophole (memo here) were both voted through the committee. We later attended the Assembly Health Committee where we monitored the NY Health Act, also known as the Single Payer bill (more information here). The bill was passed through the committee with Assembly Republicans opposing the legislation. Surprisingly, the minority ranker, Assemblyman Raia, did not allow his conference to debate the bill. He told the Chairman “We’ll save our debate for the floor”.

Later that day we were elated when the Assembly passed a package of judicial reforms including Raise the Age. The League is very supportive of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 18 and we were delighted to see this bill pass in the Assembly so early in the session. We hope that the Senate will act quickly on this reform.

On Thursday the State League hosted it’s fifth Constitutional Convention forum in Utica with support of our Utica/Rome League. We had a great turnout and fantastic discussion from the audience. For more on our Utica/Rome League visit their website:
We will be hosting a fifth forum on February 28th in Binghampton at the Vestal Public Library. More information on that forum can be found on the Broome Tioga website:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Dueling Voting Reform Packages

This week the League was very pleased to see two major pushes for voting reforms – one from Senate Democrats and a second from the Attorney General.

On Monday we stood with the Senate Democratic Conference as they announced their package of voting reform bills. The package includes many reforms that the League has long supported including early voting, consolidation of primaries, automatic voter registration, and ballot reform. You can read more about the proposed legislation here. We were very happy to see the conference roll out this package but we will need to work extremely hard to get Senate Republicans on board with these bills.

Tuesday morning we attended the annual budget briefing given by Fiscal Policy Institute.  It is an informative session that both advocates and legislators attend.  The questions for the FPI staff Economists centered around the probable Federal cuts and their impact on New York's budget. The Taxation budget hearing held that same day was interesting this year for two reasons.  The hearing was interrupted twice by protesters, which has never before. Assemblyman Farrell tried strenuously to get them to leave, finally Troopers came in and the protesters left.  The questions centered again on the impact of possible congressional cuts to the state budget.  

On Wednesday the Attorney General unveiled his own voting reforms package.  The AG’s list of proposals was quite a bit longer and more comprehensive than the reforms put forward by the Democratic Conference. His reforms were motivated by the massive issues New York Voters faced on Election Day 2016. The reforms would not only empower voters by instituting common sense reforms such as early voting and no-excuse absentee voting; but would also protect voters from unfair treatment on Election Day through enhanced poll worker training and protections against improper ballot challenges. Our Vice President of Issues and Advocacy, Sally Robinson, spoke at the press conference. You can see his full proposal package here

We are so pleased to see a renewed passion for election law reforms from our elected officials. The League has fought for decades – nearly a century – to repair our broken election system.  As we move closer to the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, and our own 100th anniversary, we are even more impassioned to fight for these reforms. This legislative session we will do everything in our power to see that voting is not put on the back burner by our legislature or our governor! We will pass these common sense reforms! 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Planned Parenthood Lobby Day

The week began on an exciting note – Monday was the annual Family Planning Advocates (FPA) Lobby Day. This year the event was held for the first time since the Spritzer administration in the Convention Center. The annual gathering recently has been held in the Well of the Legislative Office Building but due to the November election and the threats to women’s reproductive choices, 1,700 advocates filled the Convention Center almost to capacity.  Many advocates told their stories about how they became involved with Planned Parenthood. The President of Planned Parenthood US, Cecile Richards,  spoke later in the afternoon about the need for New York State to stand strong against any threats to reproductive health. The sea of pink that filled the convention center was a throwback to FPA’s rallies in the 1980’s and a reaffirmation that NY continues to have a strong commitment to women’s rights.

The governor surprised the audience and showed up as the final speaker. You can watch his full speech here. He spoke eloquently about women’s health and New York’s commitment to immigrants and people of all faiths. Following the rally we were invited to the Governor’s Mansion for lunch with the Governor. We were able to have a conversation with him about his renewed commitment to women’s health and we applauded him for being a leader on this issue.

We returned to the Capitol to monitor the Assembly Election Law Committee. There are several new committee members including a new Republican chair. The Committee passed two bills which the League supports – a bill on allowing the Board of Elections to use voter’s email address to transmit information and a bill on consolidation primary elections in New York State to a single June primary. 
Later that day we testified at the Local Government/General Government budget hearing. We reiterated our recommendations on ethics and campaign finance reforms and highlighted the need for additional funding to be set aside for public education on the upcoming Constitutional Convention ballot question. You can read our full testimony here.  Two of the Committee members thanked the League for our tireless efforts to making government responsive to its constituents.

On Tuesday we submitted testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Protections. The testimony focused on election law reforms and the need for additional funding for the Board of Elections so that they can beef up their cyber security measures. You can read our full testimony here

Over the next two weeks the League will continue to focus on the executive budget. We intend to testify and submit testimony to a total of six committees this year. Stay tuned for more testimony! 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Women's March and Healthcare Concerns

This week National politics were at the forefront of our minds. Saturday January 21st the League participated in the Women’s March on Washington. Leagues from all over the country made their way to DC to show their concern for the current state of affairs in Washington.  Our local Leagues participated in sister marches all over the state. They marched in NYC, Albany, Glens Falls, Seneca Falls, Sag Harbor, Hudson, Ithaca, Utica, Rochester, and Syracuse. Some members even made the long journey to our Nation’s Capital. Many members have shared their personal experiences with us; all were very moved by the passion and energy of the marchers. They marched alongside their daughters and in some cases their granddaughters! Some members were disheartened to see the issues they had fought for over three decades ago brought back to the surface. Others were proud to see so many women and men engaged in such an important movement. We are thankful for everyone who chose to participate in the march and we hope that we can keep this momentum going as we move forward in 2017.

As the legislative session continues we turn our attention away from reproductive health and towards general health care. On Monday we met with Assemblyman Gottfried, Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. Assemblyman Gottfried has always been an ally of the League and we have had the pleasure of working with his office on many important healthcare issues. The Assemblyman and his staff briefed us on the current state of healthcare in New York State and helped us understand the risk our state faces should the ACA be repealed by Congress. We will be testifying on Health during the upcoming budget negotiations and plan to highlight these concerns.

We kept our focus on healthcare on Tuesday and sent memos of support for two important healthcare bills – read our memos here and here. Both bills were advanced to the Assembly Codes committee.
In addition to our legislative work this week we presented two public forums on the upcoming Constitutional Convention question. On Election Day of this year all New York State voters will be faced with the question of whether or not to hold a Constitutional Convention. The League is currently working to educate our members and the public on this important issue. For more information visit our website. This week we presented in Albany and Saratoga. We will continue our presentations until the question is put out to the voters on Election Day. To request a public forum in your area contact our State League office at

We end this blog on a somewhat sour note. This week our new President called for a National investigation into the 2016 election. It is his belief that this election involved massive voter fraud – particularly in New York and California. There is absolutely no credible evidence to support this claim and we do not believe an investigation is warranted. Our National League has issued the following statement which we fully agree with:

“President Trump is calling for a major investigation into voter fraud - in an election that he won! We know that wide-spread voter fraud is a myth perpetuated to push election laws that restrict voting.  We cannot allow false claims to drive policies that will limit participation in our election process. There is no need for an investigation into a non-existent problem. The issue has been studied and put to rest.”

Friday, January 20, 2017

Contraceptive Coverage and Reproductive Health Bills Pass Assembly

The legislative session began in earnest Tuesday after the MLK holiday with an Assembly press conference on the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA).   The League was well represented at the press event and then we went on to three committees, health, codes and insurance.  The debate in health committee was predictable with the Republican minority voting against the RHA apparently concerned with person hood and penal law.   We then moved on to codes where the vote was the same, minority in the negative.   On to insurance committee, but same result.   Finally the debate began about 5 pm.  After about one and one half hours of debate which harkened back to the 1980's, the vote was 98 to 46.  All Republicans except Assemblyman Clifford Crouch of Binghamton voted against.  The CCCA had the same result although not as long a debate.  The CCCA was put forward by the Attorney General, it is necessary because if the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is repealed women will no longer be able to get contraception paid for by insurance. Unfortunately these votes don't bode well for these issues in the State Senate. The Senate is currently controlled by Republicans who have no interest in seeing these bills put into law. The hope has been that because of the renewed threat to Roe v Wade and the ACA, New York would at last codify Roe here in New York and that contraception would remain guaranteed.  We have work to do in the Senate.

On the same day Governor Cuomo released his budget proposal. He originally wanted to brief the Senate first at a lunch meeting and the Assembly later in the evening at a dinner in the Governor’s Mansion. He had extended to the press the opportunity to view his plans in the afternoon but told them they would have to wait until 7:30 pm to release the details. The press refused to wait and ultimately no one was told anything until his formal address at 7:30 pm. It was a rather awkward presentation with Cuomo presenting his plan in front of just Capitol press and staff – no members of the legislature or the public attended.

Although the day had a rocky start Cuomo and his staff were able to post his proposed budget online for the public right after he concluded his presentation. The full proposed budget, an archive of the presentation, and his budget briefing book are all available on the Department of Budget website
The legislature has released their Joint Legislative Budget Hearing schedule and the League plans to testify and submit testimony for at least 4 of the proposed Committees.  These Committees include Local Government, Taxes, Education, and Health – it’s shaping up to be a busy January.

Friday, January 13, 2017

State of the State Wrap Up

Week two of session was a busy week for the League. We kicked off the attending the State Board of Election’s Commissioner meeting. The meeting was not nearly as exciting as the December and November meetings which involved heated debates between chief enforcement council, Risa Sugarman, and Commissioner Doug Kellner over the whether or not non-filers should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. However, we did learn that the enforcement unit is moving forward with a plan for get non-filers into compliance as soon as possible by issuing warnings in the form of letters and emails. Commissioners Kellner and Kosinski did not seem impressed.  

After the meeting adjourned we headed over to the Elections Commissioners Association’s (ECA) Winter Conference. Every year the League and some of our good government allies attend the winter conference in Albany to lobby county election commissioners on our voting priorities. This year we handed out materials supporting opt-out automatic voter registration and opposing voter ID requirements.  We were able to sit in on their Legislative Committee meeting and hear their debate over their new proposed legislative priorities. The committee proposed 7 new priorities included pre-registration of 16 and 17 year olds, extended term lengths for Election Commissioners, new post mark rules for absentee ballots and voter registration forms, a proposal for automatic voter registration, and a new requirement for all New York voters to present a government issued ID on Election Day. The committee debated the proposals and ultimately only voted to adopt a single new proposal that would allow the county Board of Election offices to issue same day absentee ballots to people who are hospitalized within 24 hours of Election Day. This proposal will be added to their 2016 proposals which can be found here.

On Tuesday we returned to the conference and handed out more materials listing our legislative priorities related to election law for 2017. You can read our Joint Statement here. We sat in on several panels and spoke with commissioners from around the state about our priorities.   

On Wednesday the League was able to attend Governor Cuomo’s Albany State of the State address. We had members attend his addresses in New York City, Buffalo, and Westchester as well. We were pleased to see he included ethics reforms in his Albany address but a bit disappointed that they were the same old reforms he’s been pushing since before 2016.

Next week we will anticipate the release of his 2017 budget and the calendar of proposed Joint Budget Hearings.  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

And we’re back!

The 2017 legislative session is officially underway and what a better way to start the new session than with two totally opposing opening remarks from our legislative leaders. While Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie highlighted the bipartisan nature of his house and the Assembly’s willingness to work with the Senate; Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan swore to keep his house independent. How will this shake out in the upcoming session? Only time will tell.

Heastie highlighted education, health care, and reproductive choice as his top priorities for this session.  Flanagan made several remarks about Upstate jobs and the moderate successes of Start Up NY and the Regional Development Council. Much of his speech appeared to be digs at the Governor. The Assembly finished their session rather quickly while the Senate lingered until 3:00pm debating the lack of democrats on the Senate Ethics Committee and a new rule change that would ban Senators from using their phones to take photos or videos while in the Senate Chamber. The general public has already been barred from using cell phones while in the galleries but now the rule applies to Senators and the press alike.

The day ended with countless receptions held throughout the Capital. We spoke to many members and found that legislators regardless of party expressed anger over Governor's meddling in the Wage Commission which had been set up to be outside of the political haggling. That feeling seemed to shadow the first day of session as well as the feeling that the Governor had disrespected the legislature's rightful position by moving the State of the State outside of the Capitol. There was also among many members, a veiled threat of budget negotiations being impaired by this level of animosity between the executive and legislative chambers.

Next week we will begin business as usual and hopefully get a chance to attend Governor Cuomo’s State of the State road tour. Here are the dates and locations:

  • Monday, 11 a.m.: One World Trade Center in Manhattan
  • Monday, 3 p.m.: University at Buffalo Center for the Arts
  • Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.: SUNY Purchase Performing Arts Center
  • Tuesday, 1 p.m.: Farmingdale State College on Long Island
  • Wednesday, 10 a.m.: University at Albany Performing Arts Center
  • Wednesday, 1 p.m.: Carrier Theater in Syracuse

Here’s hoping this session brings some actual ethics reforms!