Gov. Andrew Cuomo and groups pushing a Women's Equality Act have decided to split the omnibus legislation into 10 component parts, essentially unhooking a controversial tweak to the state's abortion laws from measures that ensure pay equity and combat discrimination, human trafficking and domestic violence.
It's unclear if this maneuver, which came less than 12 hours after Cuomo's office released an updated version of the omnibus bill, would force a Senate vote on the abortion plank. It has been declared unpalatable by Senate Republicans, who control that chamber in coalition with the four-member Independent Democratic Conference. Senate GOP spokeswoman Kelly Cummings reiterated her conference's opposition to bringing any abortion vote on the floor, and Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Democrats who dominate the Assembly, said they still planned to pass the package as an omnibus bill.
The introduction of separate bills late Tuesday makes the bills live for votes on Friday. As recently as Monday, Cuomo and women's advocates had insisted that all 10 provisions were essential legislation, even though their separation decreases the likelihood that the abortion plank will pass.
"We have another three days. We will continue to press for a vote on every single issue," said Barbara Bartoletti, legislative director for the League of Women Voters.
Cuomo also considered advancing a nine-point bill, but made the decision in concert with coalition leaders after discussions late Tuesday. Leaders of the IDC said Monday that the other provisions should not be held back because of objections to the abortion language, which would create an affirmative right to abortion under the Roe v. Wade decision and amend state law to allow late-term abortions to protect the health of the would-be mother, a right affirmed by other federal court decisions.
Mixed martial arts will remain illegal in New York for another year. Democrats who dominate the state Assembly decided not to advance the measure to a floor vote amid continued objections from some legislators, including some women in the conference.
"There was a lot of discussion about it — people were for it, people were against it — and with the split, they didn't want to bring it to the floor," Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, said after the closed-door discussion Tuesday evening. It's unclear if there was a formal tally taken, but the bill has passed the state Senate four times and has 64 co-sponsors. Its backers insist it has the votes to pass.
But opponents led by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Nyack, argued that MMA — where combatants punch, kick and wrestle their opponent to submission — promotes a culture of violence. They've also cited homophobic and misogynist statements by some fighters.
The sport's supporters note it has become increasingly mainstream, and say New York's continued ban results in lost economic opportunity. One Democrat who supports the bill said concerns over the way Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver handled sexual harassment allegations made it difficult, this year, to advance the bill.
"It was dead on arrival," he said.
A group of public officials is on the verge of recommending what should be done about the changing parent-child relationship between the University at Albany and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
Nancy Zimpher, State University of New York chancellor, charged a seven-person "working group" with finding the best path forward for both institutions, with options including a complete split.
Spokesmen for SUNY and for its Research Foundation, whose president, Timothy Killeen, is overseeing the group, provided limited information about the group's work. But they confirmed that the group is nearing completion of a report for Zimpher.
The panel has been looking into whether the current relationship, in which CNSE is tethered to the university, should continue. It is also reviewing whether an independent CNSE makes sense and whether there is a better platform for it to flourish.
David Doyle, a spokesman for Zimpher, would not say what triggered the assignment, or why the chancellor did not hire a consultant — as she did in 2010 to examine the relationship between the Research Foundation and SUNY.
The analysis may have been motivated by CNSE leader Alain Kaloyeros' restlessness about the current structure, according a state official who said he could not speak publicly about the working group. The action also comes as a new UAlbany president, Robert Jones, stakes out his own priorities.
The official said the working group seems to be heading in the direction of recommending a new arrangement.
Kaloyeros has been running the NanoCollege without always clearing things with campus and SUNY leaders; he approached Zimpher about the idea of a different structure for the college, according to the official.
Kaloyeros declined to comment.
"They have a draft," Doyle said of the group, which has met three times and isn't scheduled to meet again. "They are working on finalizing a report. The next step is for the chancellor to get the report. I expect it to happen soon."
He said the document will become public eventually, and will be presented to the SUNY Board of Trustees. The trustees are scheduled to meet next in September but a summer meeting is possible, Doyle said.
Doyle said he is unaware if Gov. Andrew Cuomo has a preference for CNSE's future. The governor has one representative on the working group: Andrew Kennedy, who specializes in economic development issues for the executive chamber.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the administration is neutral on the matter, and views it as a SUNY concern.
Others on the working group are SUNY trustees Angelo Fatta and Henrik Dullea, CNSE Executive Vice President Dean Fuleihan, and two UAlbany representatives — University Council Chairman Michael Castellana and Vice President for Development Fardin Sanai.
Stacey Hengsterman, the governmental affairs director for SUNY's central administration, has been assisting the group.
The fate of the UAlbany-CNSE relationship has political, economic and academic ramifications. Several governors and legislative leaders — past and present — have pumped public dollars into CNSE to help it develop and come up with matching dollars to attract private investments, with the goal of creating jobs and building a hub of specialized technology research in Albany.
At the same time, UAlbany is concerned about academic programs and a vigorous and robust university center, which currently benefits from and supports CNSE.
The college also has corporate entanglements. It is overseen by Fuller Road Management Corp., a nonprofit corporation whose board includes Kaloyeros. The corporation serves as the landlord and outfitter for the buildings that make up the NanoCollege — a growing high-tech array of classrooms, research labs and incubators used by major technology companies concerned about their long-term investments.
With about 3,100 private and public employees, CNSE has estimated that since it was created in 2004 it has generated more than $14 billion in public and private spending to create a dominant presence along Interstate 90. In May 2012, President Barack Obama toured the facility and said he hoped it would serve as a model for similar institutions around the country.
The school has also been broadening its reach with relationships in western and central New York.
Kaloyeros' salary, which is partly tied to his ability to get sponsors for his research and development programs, is among the highest in the state workforce.
He has become a force within the SUNY system and an influential lobbyist to advance his operations.
According to Research Foundation data, CNSE secured $242 million in grants in 2012. The University at Stony Brook was the next highest grant winner at $183.1 million.
In 2008, the SUNY trustees by resolution made the position that Kaloyeros occupies at CNSE "fully comparable and equal" to that of a SUNY university president.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders agreed to allow four casinos in upstate and three in the New York City region seven years later, according to terms planned to be written into a bill ready for adoption on Friday.
The legislation spells out that two would be allowed in the Catskills and one each in the Capital Region and Southern Tier, according to a person briefed by bill-drafters. The state would accept bids for casinos in the New York City region in a second phase of gambling expansion.
The measure stitched together by legislative leaders and Cuomo represented a compromise by the governor for legislation needed to implement his vision to change the state constitution to allow for seven commercial casinos.
Cuomo had wanted just three casinos in a first phase of development, but Senate Republicans pushed for more immediate growth, particularly in the economically distressed Catskills. The bill would also accommodate Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos by allowing off-track betting corporations in Suffolk and Nassau counties to install up to 1,000 video lottery machines, the first sites other than racetracks to be agents of the Division of the Lottery, according to the person briefed.
The new casinos would be required to share 39 percent of slot machine revenues with the state and 10 percent of revenues from table games. Slot machine revenues average about 70 percent of a casino's overall take.
The bill will not require a specific upfront fee for a casino license and it will not demand thresholds for capital investment or job creation.
Cuomo had not wanted to identify the second phase of gambling expansion but allowed for up to three downstate casinos to be part of the bill, perhaps to help win votes if the constitutional amendment goes to voters this fall as planned.
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The last week of the legislative session has been consumed with deal-making on casinos and tax-free zones, but the bulk of the Senate Republican conference turned out Tuesday to promote a crackdown on welfare fraud.
While conceding the measure isn't likely to move forward in the Democratic Assembly, GOP Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous said the need to curb the abuse of cash assistance debit cards for welfare recipients will be front and center next year.
That's because New York stands to lose some $120 million in federal funds if it doesn't act by February to create a program to rein in welfare abuse.
"The bill isn't perfect but it is a major step," Libous said of the measure, which would help prevent the purchase of cigarettes, alcohol, lottery tickets and other "vice" products with public assistance debit cards.
The amount of public assistance money that goes to pay for such things, as well as for illicit drugs or visits to strip clubs, is hard to gauge. Libous pointed to various media exposes and anecdotal evidence that substantial amounts of public assistance grants pay for items other than necessities. "We get inundated with calls" from constituents complaining when they see people buying beer and cigarettes with the distinctive blue-and-white benefit cards, Libous said.
An expose last winter in New York City found ATMs in strip clubs as well as bars dispensing cash to those on welfare, who are presumably spending their benefits in these establishments.
"This isn't a discretionary-income card," added GOP Sen. John DeFrancisco, who noted that assistance is supposed to pay for basic necessities like rent and utilities. People on public assistance can also purchase food on the cards through a separate more closely regulated account.
Libous took a swipe at both the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and Assembly Democrats who seem indifferent to misuse of the benefit. "We don't get a lot of responses from OTDA" on complaints, he said.
In Warren County, a part-time welfare fraud investigator recovered $1.5 million in misspent funds over four years, said Sheriff Bud York. They grew interested after police in Glens Falls realized welfare recipients at night would line up at certain ATM machines, get cash with benefit cards and buy drugs. Libous said the state spends $2.7 billion a year on the cash assistance program.
OTDA spokesman Marc Kaplan said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.
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Christopher K. Kay was unanimously approved on Tuesday by the board of the New York Racing Association to be its next chief executive officer.
Chairman David Skorton called it "the start of a new era for NYRA." Kay showed up at the Manhattan meeting to say he was excited to be taking over on July 1.
A former partner in Florida law firms, Kay's latest job was as the No. 2 administrator of the Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit agency with $181 million in assets that helped arrange space nationwide. He also held top jobs at Toy "R" Us and was a lawyer for Universal Studios and Argosy Gambling.
He'll fill the post last occupied by Charles Hayward, who was dismissed more than a year ago by the NYRA board. Kay's salary was not disclosed at the meeting, but NYRA had previously said the jobn would receive base annual compensation of $300,000 with optional bonuses of up to $250,000 per year.
At the same meeting, the board canceled its proposed contract with Global Betting Exchange, a company that would have improved the advanced deposit wagering platform, which makes it easier for people to bet on NYRA races.
The GBE contract — representing two years' work — will be scrapped because the state's Franchise Oversight Board objected to the way the deal came about. NYRA board members blamed failures of communication between themselves and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's budget office, the FOB and NYRA management.
The contract will be rebid as soon as possible, NYRA board members said.
Many reacted with outrage at a memo from FOB Chairman Rob Williams, who said the GBE selection failed to follow NYRA's bid policy. Members acknowledged that the Request for Proposal that resulted in the GBE contract didn't specify the minimum qualifications of the bidders.
Because a new RFP is required, NYRA estimates it will lose $5 million in extra revenues.
Colonie is under stress.
While lawmakers have spent recent months detailing the common fiscal issues of the state's cities, towns, counties and school districts, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli on Tuesday attempted to quantify the problem. His analysis found 24 municipalities under economic stress, with Colonie — the Capital Region's most populous town — ranking sixth-worst because of low cash reserves.
The Democratic comptroller also ranked Albany and Saratoga counties as under "moderate stress," and said Rensselaer County is "susceptible" to stress.
"The challenges facing local governments have reached a critical point, and these fiscal stress scores should serve as a wake-up call," said DiNapoli. "Taxpayers, local officials and state policymakers need an objective analysis to help them understand the economic and budgetary challenges facing our communities. My office's monitoring system was designed to do just that."
Population shifts, deindustrialization and a recent spike in pension costs have stretched municipal budgets near the breaking point, prompting layoffs, calls for increased state aid and a new program that lets cities and school districts borrow to "smooth" required pension contributions.
It's also led Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, to insist on new language governing binding arbitration with unions representing municipal police and firefighters that forces a panel of arbitrators to give the heaviest weight to a fiscally stressed city or town's ability to pay its workers.
But that bill, pending before lawmakers in their final week of session, does not use the comptroller's formula. DiNapoli examined 23 pieces of data, including cash on hand, budgeting practices, use of reserve funds and population trends before announcing his findings. The comptroller's office cited Colonie's low reserves — it has less than $1 million in cash and an annual budget above $80 million — in determining the low rating.
Colonie Supervisor Paula Mahan said she was not surprised. Since taking office, the Democrat has worked to eliminate a $21 million deficit and privatize the town landfill.
"As we move forward, building up the reserve fund is our most important goal," Mahan said.
Charlton Supervisor Alan Grattidge, current chairman of the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, said it was wrong for DiNapoli to fault the county for dipping into its reserves after "dramatic events" led sales tax receipts to drop below projections in 2010.
"We did exactly what counties are supposed to use a fund balance for: prevent a big jump in our property tax," Grattidge said.
DiNapoli's list only includes cities that align their budget years with the calendar year, and as such did not evaluate Syracuse, Rochester or Yonkers — three of the state's largest and, according to their leaders, most struggling municipalities.
Albany and Schenectady were not found to have stress, and DiNapoli said his system did not pass judgment on how Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings has balanced recent budgets by counting on millions in advance state aid payments related to Empire State Plaza.
For now, DiNapoli said, the stress ratings are purely advisory. But under a bill introduced Tuesday to reauthorize binding arbitration in the state — which many municipal leaders say is a major cost-driver — aides to Cuomo define fiscal stress by either measuring reserve funds or considering where a municipality's tax rates rank. This definition captures 53 of New York's 61 cities.
The same bill also would create a special advisory panel to recommend financial restructuring for these municipalities. It will include representatives from Cuomo's Division of Budget as well as DiNapoli's office, and carrying out its recommendations will be a condition for receiving state funding.
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Tuesday's rear-guard actions by progressive advocates hoping for last-minute legislative breakthroughs ran cold and hot.
The lower temperature was seen in a news conference hosted by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause and New York Public Interest Research Group that featured a reprise of recent data showing the disproportionate power of money in state politics. It's power made possible, they said, by high donor limits and loopholes such as one that allows business entities to multiply the impact of their giving by funneling it through subsidiaries.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week introduced a bill that would tighten those standards and create a public financing system for statewide elections. But the governor has admitted that the bill is almost certainly dead, primarily due to opposition from Senate Republicans. Instead, Cuomo is preparing to launch a Moreland Act investigation into the nexus of money and politics.
The advocates, however, insisted it was not too late to make changes before this week's scheduled end of the legislative session. "We've seen plenty of other bills become law that are introduced often five minutes before they're voted on," said Bill Mahoney of NYPIRG.
A much hotter protest a few hours later ended with 21 people being arrested on disorderly conduct charges after they blocked entrances to the office of state Sen. Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference.
The rally began at the top of the Western Staircase, where about 200 activists — including members of Citizen Action, Occupy Albany and other groups — decried the obstruction of legislation including campaign finance overhaul as well as the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, the New York Dream Act, a hydrofracking moratorium and the full 10-point Women's Equality Act, including a controversial abortion plank. The four-member IDC has been criticized for allowing Republicans to block action on many of those items through their power-sharing deal.
Outside Klein's fourth-floor offices, activists locked arms and sat down, offering speeches and chants knocking the IDC ("Klein got more clout/We got sold out").
Among those arrested about an hour later was Michael Kink of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, a former Democratic Senate staffer in 2009 and 2010.
IDC spokesman Eric Soufer castigated Kink: "Let me get this straight — Michael Kink, the architect of the Senate Democrats' brief and dysfunctional time in the majority, is now giving lobbyists advice on how to get things done? That's rich." (Klein was the Democrats' deputy majority leader during the same period, serving under former IDC member Malcolm Smith.)
Staten Island Sen. Diane Savino, an IDC member, said the protesters should "grow up."
Behind closed doors, Cuomo and legislative leaders continued negotiations on creation of his Tax-Free NY proposal.
They had hoped to conclude negotiations on Tuesday, allowing for final votes by week's end. Bills must wait for three days before they can be considered by legislators, a requirement Cuomo has said he won't waive with a special "message of necessity."
"It's very clear that we're going to be here Friday," Klein said as he left Cuomo's office at midday.
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NEWBURGh — New York officials say a repainting project on an upstate bridge spanning the Hudson River will resume after being halted following two worker accidents within a month.
The state Bridge Authority says Tuesday that work on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge will resume Wednesday with workers equipped with personal alarms and other safety measures in place.
Paint removal work was halted June 6 after a worker from Newark, N.J., was found injured in the cocoon-like containment area under the bridge's deck. Authority officials say the cause of the accident isn't known.
The accident followed on one May 21 that left two workers dangling underneath the span in their safety harnesses.
Officials say all workers in the containment system will be required to have personal alarm devices similar to ones used by firefighters.
— Associated Press
ALBANY — Sections of New York state's canal system shut down by high water from recent heavy rains have reopened, but some waterways remain closed.
The state Canal Corp. says the Champlain Canal between Lock 1 in Waterford and Lock 7 in Fort Edward opened to navigation Tuesday morning.
The Erie Canal between Lock 17 in Little Falls and Lock 22 in New London and between Lock 26 in Clyde and Lock 29 in Palmyra has re-opened, but the stretch between Lock 6 in Crescent and Lock 16 in St. Johnsville is still closed.
Other closed sections of the Erie Canal are between Lock 23 in Brewerton and Lock 25 in Mays Point. The Oswego Canal remains closed, as does the Cayuga-Seneca Canal from Lock 1 through the confluence of the Erie Canal.
— Associated Press
NEW YORK — The New York Police Department's widespread spying programs directed at Muslims have undermined free worship by innocent people and should be declared unconstitutional, religious leaders and civil rights advocates said Tuesday after the filing of a federal lawsuit.
"Our mosque should be an open, religious and spiritual sanctuary, but NYPD spying has turned it into a place of suspicion and censorship," Hamid Hassan Raza, an imam named as a plaintiff, told a rally outside police headquarters shortly after the suit was filed in federal court in Brooklyn.
The city's legal department responded with a statement calling the intelligence-gathering an appropriate and legal tactic that helps keep the city safe from terrorism.
The suit asks a judge to order the nation's largest police department to stop their surveillance and destroy any related records. It's the third significant legal action filed against the NYPD Muslim surveillance program since details of the spy program were revealed in a series of Associated Press reports starting in 2011.
The lawsuit alleged that Muslim religious leaders in New York have modified their sermons and other behavior so as not to draw additional police attention.
— Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch meticulously planned his own funeral, but his tombstone has the wrong birth date.
NBC 4 New York reported Monday that the headstone lists his birth year as 1942 instead of 1924.
The engraver, Tommy Flynn, of Flynn Funeral and Cremation Memorial Services, says it was "an inadvertent error" and that he feels "terrible." He says he'll correct it.
Koch was buried in Trinity Church cemetery in Washington Heights after dying of congestive heart failure in February at 88.
The Democratic mayor is credited with helping save New York from its economic crisis in the 1970s and leading it to financial rebirth.
Negotiations over bills to tweak the state's abortion and campaign finance laws devolved into posturing Monday, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo predicting that neither would be enacted before the legislative session's scheduled conclusion on Thursday.
Instead, top lawmakers spent over an hour behind closed doors trying to finalize legislation to privatize the Long Island Power Authority, create tax-free zones on upstate university campuses, reauthorize binding arbitration with special provisions for fiscally distressed cities, and authorize up to four new casinos around the state.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said shortly after 5 p.m. that legislative leaders had agreed on a "framework" they were hopeful could pass by Thursday, and that aides would finish writing bills before midnight Monday. That would allow floor votes by the final scheduled session day.
"We agree that we want to be finished by Thursday," said Jeff Klein, leader of the Senate's Independent Democratic Conference.
The early part of the day consisted of finger-pointing over abortion rights and public campaign finance.
Admitting that those measures were stalled in the Senate, Cuomo joined a slew of progressive advocates in singling out Klein's four-member IDC, which runs the chamber in coalition with Republicans, and repeated his threat to call a special commission to investigate campaign spending.
The IDC, saying the abortion plank of Cuomo's 10-point Women's Equality Act doesn't have the votes for Senate passage, introduced a version of the bill without the reproductive rights provisions.
"I think it's a mistake for the IDC, who are theoretically Democrats," Cuomo said of the conference's strategy during a radio interview. "It's not what they said initially, and I think that's what's giving people pause. Women's equality, especially, (as well as) campaign finance, public finance — what they're really saying is, these are going to be election issues next year. And they're not going to take them up governmentally."
But Republican Leader Dean Skelos reiterated his opposition to any changes to the state's abortion law, which abortion rights advocates insist must remain wrapped inside the 10-point Women's Equality Act. Skelos also objects to public campaign finance, which Cuomo says must be the core of any bill taken as a response to a recent spate of public corruption scandals. Advocates of both measures have continually blamed the IDC.
"For the IDC to have spent the last five months bloviating about how pro-choice they are and then explicitly and willfully introduce a bill without pro-choice provisions is essentially mocking a majority of New Yorkers," said Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York.
Klein insisted his edited bill was much better than nothing. "Do we let the rest of the agenda fail, including paid maternity leave, pay equity, because we can't have enough votes for one piece?" he said.
Cuomo also appeared close to a final deal that would extend but tweak the state's binding arbitration process, set up to settle contract impasses between municipalities and public safety workers unions, predominantly police and firefighters.
The law sunsets at the end of the month. Local governments complain that the current process, established in 1974, drives up personnel costs without sufficient regard for local finances.
A source briefed on a draft agreement said the new law would require three-member arbitration panels to give added weight to a locality's "ability to pay" and consider comparisons to other collectively bargained contracts in that community, and similar localities. Those requirements would only apply if a locality was determined to be in "fiscal distressed," defined by either high local taxes (in the top 25 percent) or low reserve funds (5 percent or less of operating expenses) averaged over five years.
Roughly a quarter of local governments statewide currently meet the definition of fiscal distress, and 53 of New York's 62 cities would meet it.
Cuomo's spokesman Rich Azzopardi declined to comment.
Casey Seiler contributed to this report.
A congressional committee has told the head of New York's Office of Medicaid Inspector General that his office acted improperly by warning an employee that cooperating with federal investigators may be hazardous to her career.
In a letter to Medicaid Inspector General James Cox, representatives of the U.S. House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform chastised him for advising an employee to get permission to talk to committee probers, and for not providing requested documents.
The letter from U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the committee's chairman, and two other members calls out Cox for denying whistle-blowers protection and for threatening the employee's job.
It identifies an email Cox's director of employee relations, Matthew Chiesa, sent to an OMIG employee stating that if she speaks with congressional investigators "you do so at your own risk, and may subject yourself to administrative action, including potential discipline."
The letter from Issa says such a warning is prohibited by federal statute and such expressions would have a chilling effect on people who might want to cooperate. The email may run afoul of prohibitions against trying to impede, or obstruct a congressional probe by threatening witnesses with adverse personnel actions, the letter states.
The committee has been looking into waste and abuse within New York's $56 billion Medicaid program, and is concerned about ineffectiveness of the OMIG to weed out fraud and overpayments.
The probe follows a story last fall in the Times Union. Several current and ex-OMIG workers described the agency as adrift and politicized.
Committee spokeswoman Caitlin Carroll said the letter speaks for itself. "The evidence presented in the letter and Mr. Cox's refusal to provide the committee with requested documents raise serious concerns about his willingness to cooperate with congressional investigators." She said workers have a right to speak and "we intend to make sure that right is being respected without intimidation or threats of disciplinary action."
The letter reveals areas of investigation by the committee, particularly settlements with audited pharmacies that faced large penalties but paid modest sums to end a dispute.
The letter said Cox failed to turn over information about his plans to work with health industry officials on new audit protocols; about a case involving Marra's Pharmacy and John McDonald, the Cohoes assemblyman whose family-owned business faced $1.5 million in penalties for missing prescriptions; about the Visiting Nurse Service in New York City, which was the subject of a lengthy audit that has never been made public but involved tens of millions in penalties, according to people familiar with the review; about Town Total Health in New York City, which settled a $12 million case for about $500,000, according to a state official.
The committee also sought reports issued by a consultant, LogicalWave Technologies, on OMIG's performance.
The letter said Cox's actions are "further evidence" that New York does not want transparency when it comes to its Medicaid program. Issa demanded proof in writing by Thursday as to what OMIG's counsel has done to advise employees of their right to voluntarily cooperate.
The letter says if OMIG denies information sought since April, the committee may use "compulsory processes."
"The Office of the Medicaid Inspector General has provided all the requested information permitted by state law,'' said OMIG spokeswoman Wanda Fischer. "The direction provided to the individual in question was a restatement of current regulatory requirements. This letter, which was received after 5 p.m. on Monday, has been forwarded to counsel for review."
A spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he was unaware of the letter.
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Denouncing Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a "schoolyard bully," Capital Region Assemblyman Steve McLaughlin confirmed he is "considering" a run against him in 2014, fueled by his opposition to Cuomo's new gun control law.
"Could it be viewed as a David vs. Goliath? Yes — but David won," McLaughlin, R-Schaghticoke, said in an interview. "I'm not a wallflower."
McLaughlin gained attention for his willingness to criticize the governor, especially since the January passage of the SAFE Act. It broadened the definition of banned assault weapons, required they be registered, limited the number of rounds that can be contained in a magazine and increased penalties for unlawful gun possession.
McLaughlin said the state has 4 million gun owners, mostly living upstate, who would provide a natural support base. That matches the strategy of Carl Paladino's 2010 candidacy, which also fed on a unique brand of conservative upstate populism. McLaughlin said a challenge will be easier in 2014 because he can pick apart Cuomo's record. Like Paladino, McLaughlin has made public remarks that raised eyebrows, including saying earlier this year that "Hitler would be proud" of how Cuomo's gun law was passed. The assemblyman later apologized.
In addition to opposing the SAFE Act, McLaughlin said his basic message would be on economics: New York still ranks near last in the national rankings of business climate, and Cuomo's programs in this area — the development of regional economic development councils and a proposal to create tax-free zones rooted at upstate university campuses — simply benefit "cronies."
"If you're going to revitalize upstate, a two-day canoe trip isn't going to do it," McLaughlin said, referencing a whitewater rafting competition the governor is sponsoring.
McLaughlin's interest in a 2014 gubernatorial run was first reported in Monday's New York Post.
The second-term lawmaker and former commercial pilot said he's talked to several party leaders and political types around the state, but so far hasn't taken any polls, hired any staff, or scheduled any out-of-area trips. Money will be a challenge: Cuomo reported $22.5 million in his bank account as of January, compared to McLaughlin's $4,396 war chest.
The lawmaker said he's raised more, but compiling a valid fundraising plan was a key hurdle.
A poll released Monday by the Siena Research Institute indicated Cuomo's favorability rating slipped to 58 percent, the lowest since he took office. Fifty-two percent said they'd re-elect Cuomo, 41 percent would prefer someone else — but the result is inverted upstate.
An effort by lawmakers to restore funding to nonprofit organizations that care for the developmentally disabled breezed through the Assembly on Monday, days after officials resolved a dispute over the job classification of lawyers being hired for a new oversight agency.
"The restoration of this funding could not have been achieved without the steadfast support of my colleagues," said Long Island Democrat Harvey Weisenberg, who sponsored the initial bill. It drew more than 104 co-sponsors.
While precisely how much of an initial $90 million reduction would be put back wasn't finalized, Weisenberg said they would allocate to the nonprofits savings gleaned from efficiency measures in the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.
The plan moved forward after Gov. Andrew Cuomo told lawmakers he would seek additional money if needed to keep funding the nonprofits.
The $90 million cut was put in the 2013-14 budget after the federal government determined that it needed to recover $500 million in Medicaid overpayments to the state.
New York relies on a vast network of nonprofit organizations, regulated by OPWDD, to provide services as well as housing for developmentally disabled New Yorkers.
The entire system of care for the disabled will also be getting added oversight thanks to a 2012 law that creates a new Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.
The Justice Center is supposed to start operating at the end of June. Last week, the state Civil Service Commission resolved what had been a dispute over the job classifications for 41 lawyers being hired to field and evaluate complaints of abuse and neglect of the disabled.
Initially, the administration wanted to make all those positions "exempt," which allows going around much of the civil service system.
A number of organizations including the Public Employees Federation and the Office of Management Confidential Employees had protested, saying they believed the lawyers should be in the "competitive" class, which adheres to the civil service merit system.
"There can be no justification ... for hiring the entire legal staff in the Justice Center by patronage appointment," OMCE's leaders wrote in a May letter to Civil Service Commissioner Jerry Boone.
Exempt jobs, which lack specific hiring guidelines or qualifications, have been viewed as political or patronage positions.
As a result of the protests, the Civil Service Commission struck a compromise: As it stands now, 21 of those jobs will be competitive, and 20 will be exempt.
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NEW YORK — Nine owners and managers of 7-Eleven stores across Long Island and in Virginia were charged Monday with making tens of millions of dollars by exploiting immigrants from Pakistan and the Philippines, in part by paying them using the stolen Social Security numbers of a child and three dead people while stealing most of their wages.
Most of the defendants were arrested early Monday as federal authorities raided 14 franchise stores. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were executing search warrants at more than 40 other stores across the country suspected of similar infractions, authorities said at a Brooklyn news conference.
"These nine defendants created a modern-day plantation system, with themselves as overseers, with the immigrant workers as subjects, living in their version of a company town," U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch told a news conference in Brooklyn.
Four defendants who hold both U.S. and Pakistani citizenship belong to a family that has participated in social events with Pakistan's former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, prosecutors said in court papers as they highlighted foreign ties while successfully arguing against bail for most defendants. Another defendant is a citizen of the Philippines. The government said the defendants pocketed tens of millions of dollars in the scheme, hiding some money.
Federal indictments naming eight men and one woman allege that since 2000 they employed more than 50 immigrants who didn't have permission to be in the U.S. They tried to conceal the immigrants' employment by stealing the identities of about two dozen people — including those of the child, the dead and a Coast Guard cadet — and submitting the information to the 7-Eleven payroll department.
When 7-Eleven's headquarters sent the wages for distribution, the employers stole up to 75 percent of the workers' pay, authorities said. The defendants also forced the workers to live in houses they owned and pay them rent in cash, they added.
— Associated Press
Opponents of the controversial natural gas drilling technique known as hydrofracking rallied Monday on the east side of the Capitol, attracting more than 2,000 to hear a renewed call for a ban on the process.
Singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant led members of the crowd in a rewritten rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land." Its chorus: New York is your land, New York is my land/From the Southern Tier to the Catskill Mountains/From the Susquehanna to the Hudson Valley/New York was made to be frack-free
Speakers including former Congressman Maurice Hinchey, actress Debra Winger and "Gasland" director Josh Fox. All urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking in New York and take the lead on renewable energy sources.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been constructing a regulatory framework that would guide hydrofracking if Cuomo allows it to proceed in New York. The DEC is waiting for the Department of Health to review its chapter on the potential health impacts of fracking, which is in turn waiting for status reports on a number of studies.
"Celebrities coming to Albany to lobby do little to advance thoughtful discussion about the merits of an issue," said Brad Gill of the pro-fracking state Independent Oil and Gas Association.
Democrats in the state Assembly and Senate have backed bills imposing a moratorium on the technique, but those measures are opposed by Republicans who control the Senate in league with the four-member Independent Democratic Conference.
Also Monday, Cuomo said in a radio interview that a moratorium would likely pass in the Senate if it made it to the floor of the chamber.
A bill working its way through the state Legislature is as much about promoting economic development as it is about making upstate whole.
The measure would add counties in the greater Capital Region to a list of upstate counties that were eligible for an additional film and television tax credit as part of the state budget. State officials said that extra enhancement — which would rebate production companies an extra 10 percent on top of the 30 percent rebate they currently enjoy — was targeted at areas north and west of the Capital Region.
"This gives us the same opportunity as other areas," said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. "I don't know why the were excluded. We're one state. New York is all the same place."
The state budgets over $400 million a year in tax credits for film and television production, as well as post-production credits. Critics say they're a giveaway for a well-heeled industry, but proponents — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — say they're necessary to attract movies like "Spiderman 2," which filmed scenes in downtown Rochester.
Of that amount, $5 million a year is set aside for the upstate enhancement. The bill sponsored by Santabarbara and Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, would open that pool of money to Albany, Columbia, Dutchess, Greene, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, Saratoga, Schenectady, Sullivan, Ulster, Warren and Washington counties.
The bill has no budget impact.
Both Farley and Santabarbara mentioned "The Place Beyond the Pines," the Ryan Gosling crime drama filmed almost entirely in and around Schenectady.
"That's a huge possibility for jobs. The movie industry, which has basically been always in New York City, is interested in making movies around the state and it's a huge opportunity for jobs in the Hudson Valley, the Capital Region and of course the Mohawk Valley," Farley said.
Members of the Senate and Assembly are expected to consider the measure this week before adjourning for the summer on Thursday.
As we begin the last scheduled week of this year's legislative session, odds for some of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's key agenda items look increasingly long.
There is no agreement on any bill to tighten the state's campaign finance laws, with Republicans rebuking a system of public matching funds that Democrats insist be part of any changes. A Women's Equality Act is being hung up over a provision that tweaks abortion law. Other progressive priorities that Cuomo promised in his January State of the State address — including a change to the state's marijuana laws — are similarly stalled in the closely divided state Senate.
"There's currently no sign that there's going to be a Senate vote on these issues. There should be," said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action, which is pushing for public campaign finance.
Instead, Capitol observers expect the final push to revolve around legislation authorizing four upstate casinos — a politically necessary precursor to a popular referendum that would legalize Las Vegas-style gambling parlors — as well as create tax-free zones rooted at upstate university campuses. In recent weeks, Cuomo has focused his attention on the latter. On Monday, members of his cabinet will tout the proposal at eight events around the state.
Advocates of the Women's Equality measure and campaign finance are again training their sights on the Independent Democratic Conference, the four members of which have allied with Republicans in the Senate's ruling coalition. While IDC senators nominally support the issues, the terms of their coalition with Republicans gives either half the power to keep legislation from coming up in the chamber floor. Scharff and 15 other advocates signed a letter urging the IDC and its leader Jeff Klein to bring votes on six currently stalled bills.
"At the formation of your coalition government in the New York state Senate, we trusted in your public promises to 'move a progressive agenda that otherwise might be stalled in Albany,' " the letter says. "Time is running out."
Each issue is different, but some have the support of the chamber's 28 mainstream Democrats as well as the IDC and could theoretically pass if brought to a vote. Other measures, like the abortion provision, do not have enough publicly identified affirmative votes to pass the Senate. Many of the bills in question have passed the Democrat-dominated state Assembly.
IDC spokesman Eric Soufer said his conference's senators "are very proud of the results we've achieved for New Yorkers this year, including the country's toughest gun control laws, a major increase to the minimum wage, and an on-time budget that puts more money in the pockets of working class families. As always, our members are focused on serving the needs of their constituents, not placating Albany lobbyists who are more interested in attacking legislators than actually working with them."
Other advocates have questioned Cuomo's tactics. Bill Samuels, a political fundraiser and founder of the New Roosevelt Institute, said Cuomo waited too long to unveil his campaign finance proposal.
"Anyone who thinks this is going to get done in the next week is kidding themselves," he said.
Gabriel Sayegh, head of the Drug Policy Alliance, also seemed a bit frustrated with Cuomo after a press conference on Thursday. Sayegh is lobbying for a measure to clarify marijuana possession laws that will prevent arrests under the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk program.
"What we would love to see is this issue remain high on the governor's priority list, as evidenced by showing up on his priority list," he said. "The governor's been very good on this issue, which is why we're eager for him to show up."
Cuomo's spokesman Rich Azzopardi dismissed the criticism.
"This session, the governor laid out a comprehensive agenda that is strongly supported by the vast majority of New Yorkers," he said. "He has been aggressively working to see that the Legislature listens to the people and passes this agenda, and will continue to until the bell rings."
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