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Albany Times/Union

Data: Percentage of women in NY Legislature beats national average

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The percentage of women serving in the state Legislature has increased slightly over recent legislative sessions and is just above the national average, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In New York, 27.2 percent of state lawmakers are women, just higher than the 24.8 percent of women state lawmakers serving nationwide, the data show.

New York ranks 21st in the nation in terms of percentage of women lawmakers. Nevada ranks highest with 39.7 percent women representation (25 of 63 lawmakers).

In total, 58 of the 213 members of the New York State Legislature elected to serve in 2017-18 are women. Forty-four of the 150 members of the Assembly are women, and 14 of the 63 state senators are women. A total of 48 women in both houses are Democrats; 10 are Republicans.

The percentage of women who serve in the New York State Legislature has been on a slight upward trajectory since 2009 as the percentage of women serving in legislatures nationwide has remained flat (around 24 percent). In 2009, the earliest year NSCL tracked the data, 24.5 percent of New York legislators were women.

The numbers at the state level are slightly better in some regards than the numbers at the congressional level. The 115th Congress is roughly 20 percent women, according to analyses.

But New York is among the states with a higher percentage of women representation in the 115th Congress (34 percent).

Though the percentage of women in government at all levels has notably increased in the past century, the political system remains replete with barriers to entry and unsettling cases of sexual discrimination, according to women currently serving in elected office.

"Each week when I drive up to the state Legislature ... I often feel like I'm driving three hours north and 30 years back in time because attitudes toward women in the Legislature are so out of date and out of sync with actual understanding of the general public," Democratic state Sen. Liz Krueger of Manhattan told the Times Union last summer as part of a special report on women in politics. "The fact that we have a woman leader (Senate Democratic Conference Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins) both reflects the fact that we are seeing changes since I started there. But also the fact that it's such a big deal reflects that we're still not at the 21st-century mark yet."

A November poll conducted for the Times Union's Women@Work magazine showed that 13 percent of New Yorkers agree that it is not at all important to increase the number of women in Congress. Forty-five percent of New Yorkers agreed that political parties and voters are generally opposed to women politicians.

Still, women in office urge others to join the political realm.

"The No. 1 reason women don't run is because they don't like the negative campaigning, the negative ads. If you tell a woman, it's all true – but you're the only one who's going to fight for affordable day care. You're the only one who cares deeply about universal pre-K," U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat, told the Times Union last summer. "If you don't run, your opponent will never do the things you think are so important, she will often say, 'I will disregard the negative atmosphere because of the issues that mean so much to me.' You just need to tell her that: 'You are the one who will carry this message. You are the one will fight for this effectively, and if you don't run, nobody will.' "

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Eric Schneiderman: Voter fraud? Not in New York

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wrote to Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday that there was not a single substantiated claim of voter fraud in New York last year.

Schneiderman sent a letter to three House Democrats stating that while New York's voting system is rife with challenges, the state Board of Elections has not referred any cases of voter fraud during the 2016 elections to his office, nor did two allegations of voter fraud brought directly to his office last year pan out.

"The lack of such complaints made directly to my office, as well as the absence of referrals from other agencies, leads me to conclude that voter fraud — the act of an ineligible individual casting a vote in an election — is a non-issue, at least in New York State," Schneiderman wrote to Rep. Elijah Cummings, ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Rep. Robert Brady, ranking member of the House Administration Committee; and Rep. James Clyburn, assistant House Democratic leader.

Schneiderman's letter was in response to an inquiry from the three Democrats last month, seeking information on confirmed incidents of voter fraud during the November federal election. That letter also was sent to top Board of Elections officials.

A Board of Elections spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding potential on-going BOE investigations.

Letters were sent to officials in 49 other states as well.

"President (Donald) Trump wants a major investigation of voter fraud — well now he has one," Cummings said in a statement when the letters were first sent. "He continues to be obsessed with false numbers and statistics, but these are not 'alternative facts,' and there is no evidence to support these claims."

Trump has continually asserted that voter fraud took place in some states, though he hasn't specifically identified New York as a state where alleged illegal voting took place.

Though Wednesday's letter was not a direct condemnation of Trump's claims, Schneiderman found another way to continue his needling of the commander in chief, issuing a statement decrying recent deportation orders issued by the federal Department of Homeland Security.

"President Trump does not have the legal authority to unilaterally transform state and local police officers into federal immigration enforcement agents," Schneiderman said. "As the legal guidance issued by my office in January makes clear, state and local law enforcement agencies cannot be forced to participate in President Trump's destructive and ill-advised deportation policies. ... As we have learned from local law enforcement agencies across the country — including NYPD, which polices the safest big city in the country — effective policing depends on building and maintaining trust with the individuals and communities these officers serve. That trust is undercut by draconian deportation policies that place divisive political agendas and flashy rhetoric over proven law enforcement strategies."

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

The full Wednesday letter from Schneiderman is below. The initial inquiry from the three House Democrats is below that:

 

Schneiderman Voter Fraud Letter 022217 by Matthew Hamilton on Scribd

 

 

 

2017-01-25.EEC Brady Clyburn to New York Officials Re.voter Fraud by Matthew Hamilton on Scribd

 

 

Categories: State/Local

Protesters greet Faso outside Albany fundraiser

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

Scores of protesters took up position as dusk fell over Washington Avenue, flanking the entrance to the venerable Fort Orange Club as employees departed and attendees at U.S. Rep. John Faso's fundraiser slipped past the throng and a quartet of police officers.

Many held handmade signs calling on the freshman Republican from Kinderhook to protect the Affordable Care Act, investigate the Trump administration's alleged contacts with Russia, and ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency remains robust.

The overwhelming call, however, was for Faso to hold a town hall gathering to hear their concerns.

With Congress in recess, Faso and other GOP representatives have returned to their districts to find restive crowds. Faso told the Times Union last week that he would be meeting with constituents in smaller groups — a format he said was "much more productive than some mass meeting where people stand up and scream."

Shelley Eshkar and his wife Elizabeth Simon drove up from Ulster County with two signs: One a lottery-sized check for $2,700, the other garlanded with fake greenbacks and the message, "Money is the only constituent Faso listens to!" (Tickets to the fundraiser started at $1,000.)

"We're going to get in," Eshkar said, brandishing the check. "We're going to get in on some of that sweet, sweet lobbyist action."

He dismissed Faso's criticism of the town hall format as nothing more than an excuse to hide from voters. "It's getting to be embarrassing," Eshkar said.

Mike Robbins, who said he lives three blocks from Faso, noted that Republicans were "not having a lot of fun at these (town hall) meetings — but you've got to work with your constituents."

Jamaica Miles of Citizen Action helped organize the event along with the 1199 health care workers union, whose members are particularly concerned about the future of the ACA. Miles arrived just as the protest was getting started to distribute signs and plastic buckets for drumming.

"What's fun is that more people are showing up as they get out of work," she said. At its height, the protest included roughly 100 people.

Miles dismissed the contention — floated by GOP lawmakers as well as President Donald Trump — that the protests were "astroturf" campaigns. The energy of the resistance to the new occupant of the White House, she insisted, was coming up from the grassroots.

"I'd say yes, there are activist groups (involved) — but they've helping make sure that these individuals have a platform," she said. " ... They want to be heard."

Robbins called the astroturf allegations "nonsense."

"You walk around and talk to these people, this is real grassroots stuff," he said.

Categories: State/Local

Trump strikes new tone on anti-Semitism

47 min 2 sec ago

Washington

President Donald Trump offered a forceful condemnation Tuesday of anti-Semitism, but Jewish clergy and lay representatives continued to question the president's sincerity in combating a wave of incidents that followed Election Day.

"I'm certainly glad he's made a statement," said Rabbi Scott Shpeen of Congregation Beth Emeth in Albany. Last week, he said, Trump "had a prime opportunity to make a simple statement, and it was a bit shocking that he chose to skirt around it."

A rising tide of anti-Semitic incidents, including a rash of bomb threats to Jewish community centers and the toppling of tombstones in a Jewish cemetery in a St. Louis suburb, has rattled the Jewish community and the nation. Among the incidents were two phoned-in bomb threats last month to the Sidney Albert Albany JCC as well as separate threats to two other centers in the state. The acts led Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare, "in these turbulent times, New Yorkers reject the divisive forces of hate and bigotry. We will not permit anti-Semitism or bias incidents to go unpunished — period."

Last week, Trump bobbled two opportunities to firmly address anti-Semitism. Asked about it by an Israeli reporter at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump offered a rambling response about his electoral college victory before concluding that "a lot of good things are happening (in the United States), and you're going to see a lot of love."

And asked again at a news conference the next day by a reporter for a Jewish publication, Trump declared, "I am the least anti-Semitic person that you've ever seen in your entire life" before calling the reporter a liar and accusing him of asking "a very insulting question."

On Tuesday, Trump struck a different tone in an interview on MSNBC. "Anti-Semitism is horrible, and it's going to stop and it has to stop," he told the interviewer during a visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. "You don't know where it's coming from, but I hope they catch the people."

Trump has been dogged by suspicion among critics that whatever his views on Jews and Judaism may be, his divisive campaign and subsequent hiring of Stephen Bannon — who operated on the precipice of outright anti-Semitism as chief of alt-right Breitbart News — may have inspired the wave of anti-Semitic actions.

"The byproduct of his rhetoric was the unleashing of acts of bigotry, and he wasn't as zealous in his reaction as we would have liked," Shpeen said. "So it may be too little too late, but better late than never."

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, praised Trump's response but said the FBI and all of law enforcement must aggressively investigate these incidents and root out perpetrators.

"People of Jewish faith across the country, including right here in the 20th Congressional District, are being terrorized," he said. "Such statements are a first step. Let's get on to business at hand. Let's commit the resources to address these threats."

Tonko said he'd written a letter to the FBI calling for more vigilance in enforcement of hate-crimes law. He stopped short of criticizing Trump for tardiness in his condemnation, or the possible influence of Bannon and white supremacist groups that have praised Trump since his election.

"I'm a firm believer that the president of the United States and the administration have the awesome responsibility of setting the tone for who we are as a nation, and it's a tone that's heard around the world," the congressman said. "But the first step has now been taken and it's time to move on to completion of the task at hand."

dan@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local

NY financial regulator vows to investigate insurers' contraception coverage

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The state Department of Financial Services said Tuesday it will investigate whether New York health insurers are complying with contraceptive coverage required by law.

DFS said it is conducting the investigation after an undercover sting of 15 unnamed insurers. The sting identified 11 insurers that allegedly provided consumers with incorrect information about contraceptive coverage. DFS claims some insurers are incorrectly telling callers that consumers must pay for contraceptive drugs and devices, though state law and the Affordable Care Act mandate that they be covered without co-payments, deductibles or out-of-pocket costs.

DFS did not respond to inquiries as to which 11 health insurers have run afoul of the law and what exactly the sting entailed.

A group that represents health plans bristled at the agency's rhetoric.

"We do not believe that a series of a few calls to plans' member services departments constitutes an 'undercover sting' investigation, as characterized by the Department of Financial Services, and feel this is simply old news because the Department already issued a Circular Letter clarifying contraceptive coverage rules prior to this report," New York Health Plan Association President and CEO Paul Macielak said in a statement.

DFS plans to request that noncomplying insurers develop a corrective action plan and that they provide information and documentation regarding their coverage and reimbursement of contraception, specifically whether claims were paid out without cost-sharing being imposed.

"Any insurer that is not providing full and accurate information about coverage requirements will be met with swift action to ensure full compliance with this important coverage protection," DFS Superintendent Maria Vullo said in a statement. "DFS's undercover sting identified insurers that provided inaccurate information about contraceptive coverage, and DFS will ensure that all New Yorkers have full access to reproductive health care as mandated by New York law."

Macielak said health plans are ready to work with the department to ensure New York consumers are getting proper information to make decisions about their insurance coverage.

Last month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced regulatory actions to ensure that contraception is covered by commercial health insurance policies without co-pays or deductibles, regardless of whether the ACA is scrapped or reworked. A requirement that medically necessary abortions are covered by commercial health insurance policies — except for high deductible plans — without co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles also was imposed.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

6 teens rescued after falling through ice in Central Park pond

47 min 2 sec ago

NEW YORK (AP) — Six teenagers have fallen through ice into an off-limits pond in New York's Central Park but have been rescued.

It happened Monday evening at the southern end of the park.

Police say the 15- and 16-year-olds were on the ice when it gave way. A nearby sign said, "Danger Thin Ice Keep Off."

Police and fire rescue units including divers responded. Two good Samaritans also helped pull the teens out of the freezing water.

A police spokesman says the teens are expected to be OK.

Categories: State/Local

Schneiderman vies to be top Trump foe

47 min 2 sec ago

New York

More than most, Eric Schneiderman understands the risks of taking on Donald Trump.

New York's attorney general was a target of Trump's Twitter feed years before the president's assaults on "Little Marco" Rubio or "Lyin' Ted" Cruz.

He was once depicted as a deranged ''Clockwork Orange'' character on the cover of a newspaper owned by Trump's son-in-law. And he faced intense anti-Semitic attacks from Trump loyalists on social media that continue even today.

"It's really vile stuff. It's a picture of your face going into a gas chamber, your face on a lampshade," Schneiderman told The Associated Press, acknowledging a new rash of anti-Semitism in recent weeks as he fought the new president's travel ban.

Even Schneiderman's daughter was targeted in one social media post.

"If there's something that they take seriously as a threat, they tell me. I don't pay attention to it," Schneiderman said. He later added, "I have a responsibility to fight." Indeed, this 62-year-old Democrat with little national profile is maneuvering to be a key player in the broader Trump resistance. Backed by one of the nation's largest public law firms, he is positioned to challenge Trump's agenda in ways his Democratic allies in Washington cannot — even as critics question whether he has the fortitude to effectively challenge the brash billionaire's aggressive agenda.

Trump called Schneiderman a "lightweight" on Twitter in 2013, when the attorney general was investigating Trump University.

Schneiderman is quick to point out he has already beaten Trump.

The ambitious attorney led a lawsuit against Trump University alleging fraud, ultimately helping to secure a $25 million settlement after the election. Trump had vowed never to settle.

Schneiderman also investigated Trump's family foundation, and he played a role recently in organizing legal opposition by Democratic attorneys general to Trump's travel ban.

"Eric, who leads a very large public law firm, he brings significant resources to bear," said Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

But others note he has struggled to build the same national profile as recent New York attorneys general like Eliot Spitzer and Andrew Cuomo, both hard-charging Democrats who took on Wall Street and eventually became governor.

Schneiderman insists he's planning to run for re-election in 2018, dismissing speculation he may run challenge Cuomo instead. He has more than $6 million in his campaign account, a haul dwarfed by Cuomo's $22 million.

In the meantime, Schneiderman and his legal team of nearly 700 attorneys are focused on the Republican president. Targeting the new administration is also good politics in a state Trump lost by 22 percentage points.

"All these things Trump is trying to do are very unpopular in the state of New York," New York Democratic consultant Bruce Gyory said.

Beyond immigration, Schneiderman's team is preparing to challenge the White House on the environment, civil rights, women's health care, labor rules and consumer protection, among other issues.

Schneiderman said it's nothing personal. "No matter how rich or powerful you are, if you're hurting people of the state of New York, we will go after you," he said. "I'm concerned about real harm to real people."

The New York City native's path to politics began in a Washington, D.C., abortion clinic more than four decades ago.

At age 17, he said, he helped transport women from the airport to the clinic in one of the few cities where abortion was legal in the early 1970s.

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

47 min 2 sec ago

Discount offered on State Fair midway

SYRACUSE — The New York State Fair is offering a big discount on ride-all-day weekday wristbands.

The sale starts at 6 a.m. Thursday, with 5,000 wristbands available at the special price of $15. That's $10 off the full price during the fair and $5 off the advance price.

Tickets can be purchased at http://etix.com

A wristband allows one person to take unlimited rides on the Wade Shows Midway during a single day.

The fair runs Aug. 23-Sept. 4.

— Associated Press

Saranac Lake hosts snowshoe event

SARANAC LAKE — The World Snowshoe Championships are being held in the United States for the first time later this week.

Organizers say they're expecting more than 300 athletes to compete Saturday in the event being held in the village of Saranac Lake. Previous world championships have been held in Japan, Canada and several European nations.

The inaugural U.S. event will include the World Championship and Junior World Championship, with athletes from 21 American states and 11 nations competing. An athlete's parade will march down Broadway to the town hall for the opening ceremony.

— Associated Press

Small plane crashes in New Jersey

BAYONNE, N.J. — Authorities say the pilot of a small plane that crashed in a New Jersey neighborhood encountered mechanical issues just before it went down.

But federal officials are still probing the crash that occurred shortly after 10 a.m. Sunday in Bayonne.

Authorities say the 56-year-old pilot, George Pettway, was alone in the Piper PA-28. The Long Island man suffered a broken left forearm, several broken ribs and numerous contusions and abrasions.

The plane had departed from an airport in East Farmingdale earlier Sunday. Authorities say Pettway encountered the issues while flying near the Statue of Liberty and was making a detour when he crashed not far from a gas station.

No one on the ground was injured. But the plane mangled power lines and damaged parked vehicles.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local

State pays $3M to family of molested boy

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

New York state is paying $3 million to the family of a developmentally disabled boy repeatedly molested by a staffer at a state-run group home who later wrote that lax supervision at the facility made it "a predator's dream."

The former staffer, Stephen DeProspero, is now imprisoned in the Attica Correctional Facility.

He was incriminated by videos and photographs he took of the molestation, which occurred from 2005 to 2008 at the facility located in central New York.

"The lack of supervision there made it easy to do what I did," DeProspero said in a handwritten affidavit obtained by The Associated Press. "I could have stayed in that house for years and abused him every day without anybody even noticing at all. It was a predator's dream."

State officials say new policies are in place to prevent similar crimes. But a leading critic of state institutional care said the problems persist.

"Tragically, this sexual predator case is a drop in the bucket in regards to the rampant sexual abuse occurring within New York State's mental health care system today," said Michael Carey, whose autistic son was killed by a state caregiver 10 years ago this month.

Categories: State/Local

In New York, voter fraud tends to be local

47 min 2 sec ago

Washington

In the world according to President Donald Trump and his senior policy adviser, Stephen Miller, the U.S. is awash in voter fraud — enough to give defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton the popular vote as well as getting her the win in New Hampshire.

But in the world of reality in the state of New York and elsewhere, voter fraud is not common. And when it does happen, it is often a matter of local pols trying to game the system in local elections.

"Voter fraud in all of its forms is rare," said Jennifer Clark, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, a part of New York University School of Law. "It does happen — it's not zero — but not often."

And voter impersonation — the act for which Republicans in many states prescribed photo ID requirements as the solution — "is incredibly rare," Clark said. The Washington Post found 31 cases of voter impersonation between 2000 and 2014 out of more than one billion votes cast.

The subject of voter fraud would not be on anyone's radar absent Trump's numerous broadsides on the topic, the result of his having lost by close to three million total votes to Clinton even though he won the election via the Electoral College.

Miller was on television talk shows last weekend, saying that voter fraud in New Hampshire was "very real" and "very serious." It is "widely known," he said, that buses of bogus voters regularly cross over from Massachusetts.

The allegations of Trump and his adviser are only the latest outbreaks of a long-running effort by Republicans for mandatory photo IDs in order to vote.

Republicans who favor the requirement insist voter fraud is commonplace and can alter election results. Democrats, supported by some court rulings, counter it is a thinly veiled ruse aimed at suppressing minority and youthful voter turnout — sources of electoral support for Democrats.

New York has a long and checkered history of voter fraud dating back to the 19th-century rule of Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall machine in New York City.

Albany too had its "$5 votes," a then-princely sum paid to Dan O'Connell Democratic machine loyalists in the 1930s and 1940s. The pols of the time, according to "Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma" by the Paul Grondahl, even had a phrase to describe the practice they considered a badge of honor: "Making the machine dance."

There is evidence New York's electoral process is still open to manipulation. In 2013, New York City's Department of Investigation sent 63 operatives to cast ballots under the names of "ineligible or deceased individuals." Sixty-one succeeded, although the report said no votes were cast for actual candidates.

The DOI investigation "demonstrates that voter fraud is easy to commit and not easy to find," said John Conklin, Republican spokesman for the bipartisan New York State Board of Elections. "It shows that someone with a little knowledge of where the cracks are in the system can exploit them and we wouldn't know about it."

About the most serious incident in the Capital Region in recent times was the case in Troy in which Democratic Party officials and workers forged 50 absentee ballot applications for the Working Families Party primary in 2009. The ensuing investigation resulted in four guilty pleas.

Other conspiratorial-type cases in New York have more to do with local politics than grand schemes to swing major elections.

In Bloomingburg in Sullivan County last December, a real estate developer and two cohorts were charged in a federal indictment with plotting to take over the small town of 420 through payments to fraudulently register voters who didn't live within its limits.

The developer, Shalom Lamm, wanted control of the town as a guarantee of government cooperation with his plans for housing developments.

According to the indictment, Lamm and his associates went so far as to back-date leases and put toothpaste and toothbrushes in empty apartments to make them appear lived-in.

And in the Rockland County town of Ramapo in 2014, allegations of voter fraud surfaced in a hotly contested local election over the size of the town board and whether representation should be at-large or through geographic districts.

The town's Hasidic orthodox Jewish population favored the status quo while a movement among the non-Hasidic population, which had pursued the ballot referendum, wanted more board members and defined districts.

A Supreme Court judge in nearby New City impounded the results, saying the electoral process had been compromised by "disenfranchisement of voters and chaos and confusion at polling places." A state appellate court reversed the ruling.

The Hasidic side won the election through an influx of absentee and affidavit ballots — which local law permitted for unregistered voters with proof of 30 days residence.

The Ramapo vote shows that in New York, "Local politics is far more important than national politics," said Gerald Benjamin, a political scientist at SUNY New Paltz who recounted the case in an upcoming article on Hasidic political influence in the Hudson Valley that will run in the Albany Law Review.

But these incidents notwithstanding, the average voter fraud case involves more humdrum circumstances like one individual voting twice in Onondaga County or another individual voting under his brother's name in the town of Catskill.

"I pay serious attention to this," said Benjamin, who has served as a Republican legislator in Ulster County. "I can't remember any serous examples and I would know about it."

In accordance with federal law, New York maintains a statewide computerized voter registration list to guard against voter fraud. Voters registering for the first time must provide a driver's license or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Voters with neither of those are assigned unique numbers requiring them to present additional identification when they vote — a valid photo ID, utility bill, bank statement or government document that verifies name and address.

The registration includes a checkbox asking whether an applicant is a U.S. citizen. Citizenship is not verified but a misstatement subjects the applicant to perjury prosecution.

dan@hearst.com

Categories: State/Local

A break before work on budget

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

In New York state government news, budget deliberations get serious and lawmakers examine a growing shortage of home health care workers.

While most of the Legislature will take the week off before a month of work on the budget, some will meet in New York City for a hearing on what health experts say is a looming crisis in home health care services.

A guide to what's coming up:

Budget buildup

Following a straight week of long hearings on the state budget, lawmakers can look forward to a month of backroom negotiations over the massive spending plan.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo's $152 billion budget proposal includes a plan for free state tuition for middle class students, $2 billion for water quality and infrastructure over five years, an expanded child care tax credit and $1 billion more for public schools.

Lawmakers are likely to seek several changes before the final compromise is hammered out between Cuomo, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan.

Cuomo and the Legislature aim to approve the budget by April 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

Lawmakers take a break

The Legislature will take a full week off this week after spending only four days in session so far this month.

Many lawmakers have events planned in their home districts. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, for instance, will hold a community meeting in her hometown of Yonkers to discuss Cuomo's proposed budget.

The full Legislature will next convene in Albany on Feb. 28.

Uber is waiting

One of the most pressing questions facing lawmakers is whether to authorize Uber and Lyft to expand into upstate New York.

The ride-hailing services are now prohibited from operating outside New York City. They've long sought permission to expand into cities like Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo, which is the second-largest U.S. city currently not served by Uber.

The Senate voted earlier this month to approve the expansion. The Assembly has yet to vote. Supporters say they want to see action in the Assembly soon to allow a compromise to be worked out in the budget.

Home health care

A select group of lawmakers do plan to meet in New York City this week to examine the growing need for home health care aides.

Wednesday's Assembly hearing will focus on the "obstacles to recruiting, employing and retaining an adequate home care workforce."

Projections indicate the number of New Yorkers aged 65 or older will jump sharply over the coming decades. A second hearing on the topic is on Feb. 27.

Categories: State/Local

Congressman swarmed at Western NY town halls

47 min 2 sec ago

Huge crowds of raucous progressives and quieter conservatives overwhelmed Rep. Tom Reed's town hall meetings in Ashville and Cherry Creek Saturday morning, with the progressives repeatedly interrupting and shouting down the congressman's comments as he tried to defend Republican plans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

The crowd in Ashville, Chautauqua County, was so large that it was moved out of the senior center where it was scheduled and into the parking lot outside. There, Reed patiently worked — but failed — to maintain order.

"We do not always agree," the Republican Congressman from Corning told the crowd at the outset of the meeting. "As we have disagreement, let's make sure we have it in a respectful, safe way."

But decorum broke down as Reed described replacing Obamacare with a conservative plan that would include health savings accounts.

"How can the poor get savings accounts? How can the poor get savings accounts?" many members of the crowd replied in unison.

Similarly, as Reed tried to elaborate on the Republican health care plans, another chant broke out.

"We want your health care! We want your health care!" the crowd chanted.

In the meantime, others in the crowd — men wearing NRA and Infowars baseball caps, women in parkas who refused to speak to reporters — stood silently by in the chilly sunshine, frowning.

One man in a plaid shirt and black baseball cap tried to calm the crowd.

"Let him talk," he shouted. "Be respectful."

Despite the constant interruptions, Reed remained steady throughout.

"We are not advocating to go back to pre-ACA," he said.

He said that key features of the Affordable Care Act — like coverage for pre-existing conditions — will continue under Republican reforms.

He also predicted that the reforms will end up "freezing Medicaid where it is in New York" — despite a Republican proposal to repeal the Medicaid expansion that added millions of New Yorkers to the government-funded health care program.

But health care clearly wasn't the only issue on the minds of the progressives in the crowd, who interrupted Reed's comments on health care with the chant: "Taxes! Trump! Taxes! Trump!"

That was a reference to President Trump's refusal to release his income tax returns.

Reed recently voted in committee against legislation that would have forced Trump to release his tax returns, and when he mentioned that, the crowd drowned him out with boos.

When he tried to explain, they drowned him out again.

"What are you covering up?" the crowd chanted. "What are you covering up?"

Finally, Reed was able to get a few words in edgewise. "That is a tremendous amount of power, for the government to come after one individual" and make public their tax returns, he said.

That prompted shouts of: "We are the government! We are the government!"

Categories: State/Local

Bribe or loan? Suit heads to mediator

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

A federal magistrate has referred the civil lawsuit of COR Development against lobbyist Todd Howe for possible resolution by a mediator, according to court papers.

Syracuse-area COR Development is accusing Howe of failing to pay back what it describes as an $85,000 loan.

Lawyers for Howe, the lobbyist at the center of the sprawling upstate development scandal, maintain the payment was actually a bribe by COR that was "part of an illegal conspiracy" to buy the influence of state officials, and that he should not have to repay it.

Two COR officials are awaiting trial along with six others in a separate case brought by Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Howe pleaded guilty in September to multiple felonies, and is cooperating with prosecutors. He was a longtime confidant of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and of Joe Percoco, the former top gubernatorial aide who was also arrested in the federal case.

On Tuesday, Northern District U.S. Magistrate Therese Wiley Dancks referred COR's suit to the court's Mandatory Mediation Program for possible resolution. It will not affect the progress of the case toward trial, except to adjourn any scheduled settlement conferences, she wrote.

Categories: State/Local

Fate of Eric Garner case unclear

47 min 2 sec ago

New York

A federal civil rights investigation into the police chokehold death of Eric Garner has been moving forward in New York, but its future is uncertain as a U.S. attorney general with a law-and-order bent takes over the Justice Department.

Two people with inside knowledge of the probe say a federal grand jury in Brooklyn met as late as last week to hear testimony about Garner's deadly confrontation with New York Police Department officers on Staten Island in 2014.

Garner's dying words, "I can't breathe," became a slogan for the Black Lives Matter movement.

In recent weeks, officers who were present when Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped his arm around Garner's neck have testified before the grand jury, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the secret proceedings and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Whether such testimony continues may depend on internal Justice Department politics.

The federal inquiry, which began after a state grand jury declined to charge Pantaleo in 2014, already stalled once last year when prosecutors based at the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn expressed doubt that there was enough evidence to make a criminal case against the officer.

Their hesitation resulted in the Justice Department, in the waning months of President Barack Obama's term, dispatching Washington-based prosecutors to New York to forge ahead, according to a third person with knowledge of the case, who also was not authorized to discuss the inquiry and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

It is unclear whether new Attorney General Jeff Sessions will take an interest in the case. Both the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn declined to discuss it Friday. Pantaleo's attorney, Stuart London, also had no comment.

But Sessions has the power to freeze the investigation and order a review by Civil Rights Division under new leadership for the unit "that reflects his ideology," said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein.

Sessions had been a vocal critic of the Obama administration's aggressive response to allegations of police misconduct.

Categories: State/Local

Regulator bats back over proposed new powers

47 min 2 sec ago

Albany

The war of words between the state Department of Financial Services and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman continues.

Maria Vullo, superintendent of the state's insurance and banking regulator, on Wednesday sent a letter to legislative leaders disputing claims made by Schneiderman, who in his own earlier letter had complained that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposals to expand the powers of DFS represented "a wholly unnecessary overreach by the Executive (that) ... should be rejected by the Legislature."

Cuomo is seeking to give the agency — which he controls — more power to among other things conduct its own civil litigation instead of having to make referrals to the AG's office.

Vullo wrote that Schneiderman's objections are "premised on unnecessary rhetoric and a series of factual and legal errors."

She noted that the department is already empowered to bring certain types of legal actions — such as seeking a court injunction — against those it believes to be in violation of the banking or insurance laws.

Cuomo's proposals, Vullo claims, "simply clean up existing law to ensure that DFS can enforce the Superintendent's orders and administrative decisions irrespective of whether the order relates to a violation of the insurance, banking, or financial services law, or seeks injunctive relief or a money judgment."

Vullo's letter goes further in its criticism of Schneiderman by claiming that he "has not sufficiently used what he claims is his existing authority to disqualify bad actors from future involvement in the banking, insurance, and financial services industries." Cuomo has also proposed conferring the power to call disqualification hearings on the superintendent of DFS.

Schneiderman's spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick said in a statement that the superintendent's letter "is heavy on rhetoric but light on the facts. Far from 'simply cleaning up existing law,' the Superintendent's proposals are nothing more than a desperate attempt to convince the Legislature to adopt the bad ideas it already rejected when creating the agency."

Vullo appeared at Thursday's joint legislative budget hearing on the health and Medicaid portions of Cuomo's budget blueprint.

Vullo reiterated her contention that the proposed changes merely update the law to give her authority over all the entities the department has overseen since its creation in 2011.

"I already have enforcement authority that I realize every day, just like every other regulator does," Vullo told lawmakers.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Ed hearing graded on 'New York Now'

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 10:07pm

This week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning coproduction of WMHT and the Times Union, features Matt Ryan's conversation with Peter Baynes, executive director of the state Conference of Mayors.

The Reporters Roundtable features Ken Lovett of the Daily News and Bethany Bump of the Times Union talking about the latest state Senate feuding and the budget hearing on education.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 p.m. Sunday on WMHT.

—Staff report

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo plans gondola at Belleayre

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 7:07pm

Albany

Plans for a luxury development and expansion of skiing at the Catskills' Belleayre ski center received a major boost this week with news that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration wants to build a gondola to the top of the mountain.

That would make the state-owned facility the third ski center in New York with such an enclosed lift. The other two are at Gore and Whiteface, which like Belleayre are publicly owned and operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority.

News of the planned gondola came a day after developers of a proposed hotel and condominium complex adjacent to Belleayre cleared a major regulatory hurdle when the town of Shandaken's zoning board of appeals upheld plans for the project.

"It was a good 24 hours," said Gary Gailes, project coordinator for Crossroads Ventures LLC, the firm that wants to develop the Belleayre Resort.

That project, which has been 17 years in the making, would include two hotels and 160 condo-style units as well as a public golf course.

The project, estimated to cost upwards of $350 million, also envisions a possible state restoration of the defunct Highmount ski center, a smaller hill next door to Belleayre that was known for its challenging steep slopes. It closed in 1993.

The zoning approval was the last major obstacle in the local permitting process, said Gailes.

The project still faces legal hurdles, however.

Catskill Heritage Alliance, a local organization that opposes the hotel and condo project, is appealing an earlier trial court decision that greenlighted the development.

Now with the zoning clearance, they are considering whether that decision could be added to their ongoing appeal, said group chairperson Kathy Nolan.

Her organization, made up of local environmentalists as well as several land-owning families in the area, contend the project is too big and would damage local watersheds as well as "cannibalize" some of the existing small businesses nearby.

"The proposed development basically would create an entirely new hamlet,'' said Nolan.

Cuomo proposes spending $8 million at Belleayre. In addition to the gondola, the money would also fund ski lodge improvements.

A gondola, in which eight skiers can ride in an enclosed car rather than a chairlift, isn't seen as a necessity in the ski industry — although they can be nice during cold days.

"We see it generally as an amenity item," said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association, a Denver, Colo.-based trade group.

Like chairlifts, a gondola can also be used in the summer to move sightseers, mountain bikers or other visitors to the top of a mountain.

Ski centers are constantly looking to draw visitors during summer months with such activities. As well as bike trails, some resorts offer zip lines and host parties as well as endurance footraces and music festivals to keep active in the off-season.

News of the $8 million funding item comes a month after Cuomo said he wanted to allocate $20 million for improvements at Gore and Whiteface. While that news was cheered in the North Country, Catskills politicians such as GOP Sen. Jim Seward and Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, whose districts cover Belleayre, said their communities needed help as well.

The Belleayre Resort was originally slated for the east side of the Belleayre ski slopes, but amid environmental opposition was shifted to the west side about a decade ago.

Belleayre, which has been used by skiers since the late 1920s, is widely acknowledged as having the state's first chairlift, a single-person model installed in 1950.

At the height of the Catskills prominence as a resort destination, the surrounding region boasted thousands of hotel and lodging rooms. As interstates, affordable airfare and leisure alternatives like Disney World and other theme parks came upon the scene, many Catskills facilities closed.

Supporters of Belleayre have complained that the ski center has been in need of modernization for some time. The first hint that such changes were coming was in 2012, when management of Belleayre was shifted from the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ORDA.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Tedisco, Steck push for water infrastructure fund

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 7:07pm

Albany

In January 2016, some northern Troy streets suddenly became riverbeds.

"Fifth Ave. was an actual creek," City Council President Carmella Mantello said of the aftermath of a water main break that gushed 10 million gallons of water — more than half the city's daily flow — onto the streets.

Though water and sewer infrastructure is far from a sexy subject, the Troy water main break, like dozens of other breaks across the region each year, is an indication of the havoc local officials struggle financially to stave off and fix.

So on Thursday, Mantello and other Capital Region municipal officials rallied at the Capitol for legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, that would establish what they say is an equitable state funding mechanism for water infrastructure projects.

Similar legislation was introduced but failed to gain traction last year.

"That's a lurking monster right now," Tedisco said of aging infrastructure. "We can pay now, or we can pay later."

While the subject matter of the bill is thick, the idea is simple: Provide a dedicated, recurring pot of funding for local water projects distributed by a formula based on water infrastructure size.

The Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program, SWAP, is modeled on the so-called CHIPS program, which provides similar formula-based funding for local road projects.

If SWAP were to be inserted into this year's state budget, the funding would be $438.1 million statewide, the same as CHIPS.

There's little doubt that would be just a drop in the bucket of monetary need for infrastructure. State officials estimate that water infrastructure needs statewide over the next 20 years will hit $80 billion.

The Troy water main repair cost the city $73,000. A springtime replacement project for roughly a mile's worth of transmission line will be covered by $3.5 million in grants and a low-interest loan from the state, according to the city.

While infrastructure costs are chunky in general, emergency repairs can be most painful on the wallet. Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said at Thursday's press conference that emergency sewer line repairs cost roughly $1,300 per foot. A planned replacement runs roughly $85 per foot.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $2 billion over five years for local water infrastructure projects. That grant program would go toward drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and source water protection projects.

It's early yet to say if SWAP will be central to budget negotiations among Cuomo and leaders of the Senate and Assembly. Tedisco said Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan is open to the proposal. Steck said he will advocate for the bill when Assembly Majority Democrats further discuss the budget in the coming month.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Troopers: Bodies of 2 snowmobilers found

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 11:07pm

PUTNAM Divers recovered the bodies of two snowmobilers who apparently fell through ice on Lake Champlain between Vermont and New York.

State Police on Thursday confirmed that a body they removed near the shore in Benson, Vt., was Brandon Barrett, 23. The body was found Wednesday.

Later Thursday, State Police said they found the body of the other snowmobiler, Jonathan Ryan, 32, of Shoreham, Vt., in about 20 feet of water at 11 a.m.

Teams found their snowmobiles in the water Sunday near the New York shore.

The two deaths are the latest in several deadly accidents in and around the state this season, including two in the Tupper Lake area and one at Great Sacandaga Lake.

Categories: State/Local

Cost of disputed N.Y. highway signs: $8.1M

Tue, 02/21/2017 - 11:07pm

Albany

The price for hundreds of state tourism signs erected along major New York highways and deemed federally illegal — the source of a years-long Washington-Albany kerfuffle — was $8.1 million, state transportation officials said Wednesday.

DOT Commissioner Matthew Driscoll said during a joint legislative budget hearing on transportation that the total cost for 374 of the I Love NY signs was $5.4 million.

An additional 140 signs erected along the Thruway cost $2.7 million more, acting Thruway Authority Executive Director Bill Finch later told lawmakers.

That makes the total cost of all 514 signs statewide $8.1 million.

Previous cost estimates for the full signage initiative were just $1.76 million, according to the USA Today Network. Driscoll said the initial estimate was based on costs as of November, but all costs are now in, allowing for the current calculation.

Those numbers provide a fuller picture of the state's costs so far for the controversial signs, which appear in rapid succession in groups of five (a "motherboard" followed by four individual signs complete with app and website information) along major state roadways to promote tourism.

While DOT is not erecting additional signs, questions remain about what comes next — and what costs come next — for those promotional efforts.

The USA Today Network broke the story in November that the 514 highway signs statewide run afoul of federal law that regulates what can be displayed on major roadways. Federal officials had been warning the state for three years that the signs violate standards, but the state contends the signs are perfectly legal.

Driscoll said federal officials take issue with font size, lettering and other aspects of the signs.

Now, the state and the feds are in talks over what comes next, though Driscoll denied reports that the signs will come down soon.

"We continue to speak with federal Highway, we're having good conversations as you know," Driscoll told reporters. "We've entered into a work group with federal Highway staff along with New York State DOT staff and we're working through signs with them."

Driscoll said the discussions include potential changes to the existing signs and what the costs of those changes could be.

The commissioner continued to defend the signs as supporting the state's tourism industry. He said web traffic was up 100,000 hits after the signs were installed.

The signs are just one source of the friction between state and federal highway officials. The USA Today Network reported Tuesday that the state will use self-checkout kiosks at two rest-area Taste NY stores in Broome County and on Long Island after the federal government threatened to sanction the state if it did not stop over-the-counter sales. The state plans such rest-stop shops in the 10 regions of the state Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration defines for a number of programs.

Driscoll said DOT, which manages the Broome County rest-area shop, was actually thrilled that federal officials will allow the self-checkout kiosks.

But federal officials have mandated that the self-checkout capabilities are allowed only at the two currently operational rest-stop stores. What will go in at the others planned for highways is unclear.

"We'll continue to work towards design," Driscoll said. "But I won't speculate on what the outcome is. That will be part of the conversation moving forward."

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local