Skip to main content

Albany Times/Union

Legislative session sputtered to an end amid mistrust, finger-pointing

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

This year's legislative session ended on a distinctly sour note, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo accusing lawmakers of "dereliction of duty."

But the session didn't begin that well, either.

The 2017 political calendar began in January with lawmakers — especially in the Democrat-dominated Assembly — still seething over the decision by Cuomo's appointees to a special salary commission to derail a long-sought pay raise. That was followed by Cuomo's suggestion that lawmakers could earn their raises by returning to Albany to take action on a laundry list of his initiatives.

Lawmakers this month said they've gotten beyond that dispute — but it's clear that it cast a shadow over the negotiations that followed.

"For me, there is less trust. I can't take him at his word," said Assemblyman Michael Den Dekker on Friday. The Queens Democrat was a vocal critic of Cuomo when the pay plan fell apart in November.

Cuomo compounded the ill will by deciding to forgo the traditional State of the State address to the Legislature at the Capitol in favor of a mini-tour of speeches to largely hand-picked audiences around the state. Only a handful of legislators showed up for those addresses.

Next came the budget process, which ran a week past the March 31 deadline. By the time that was over, it was clear that as far as the governor was concerned, the year's top priorities had been addressed by the $153.1 billion spending plan. Days later, the governor said he believed most of the session's work was done.

To be sure, the governor and lawmakers reached several important agreements in the otherwise fractious negotiation.

The budget included a deal to raise the age of criminal responsibility ("a legacy accomplishment," the governor said), allow the expansion of ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft into upstate and Long Island, and create a college affordability plan for public university students. They also extended the so-called "millionaires' tax" on high earners, which had been scheduled to lapse at the end of 2017.

Also new, the "Federal Funding Response Plan" calls for the state Division of Budget to design a cost-cutting proposal if federal aid drops by at least $850 million. Lawmakers would then get 90 days to come up with their own plan, or the DOB plan would automatically go into effect. The mechanism was put in place as the state learned of potential significant cuts in federal dollars.

Post-budget, lawmakers in the final days of session agreed to ban e-cigarette "vaping" in public indoor spaces, and expanded the guidelines for the state's nascent medical marijuana program. Senators confirmed the state's first openly gay Court of Appeals Judge, Paul Feinman, as well as new members of the Public Service Commission.

But there was no significant ethics reform enacted at any point in the session, despite the continued fallout from a pay-to-play scandal that in 2016 engulfed several upstate development projects.

A proposal that would have restored more comprehensive oversight powers to the state Comptroller's office for procurement contracts with the SUNY and CUNY systems was left on the table. Cuomo opposed that idea, arguing the creation of a special inspector general appointed by him would be a better way to guard against corruption.

Reform advocates were angered by the lack of action, but they were not surprised.

"What message does it send when the governor, Senate and Assembly fail to pass reforms after the biggest bid-rigging scandal in state history?" asked John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany.

And there was the discordant thud last Wednesday night, when Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, and Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, declared they were sending their members home without doing one of the few things that actually came with a deadline: extending mayoral control for New York City's schools, a system that both houses and parties view as a vast improvement over the old system of board control.

This was the failure that prompted Cuomo's "dereliction of duty" line in a Thursday news conference at the Capitol.

The current mayoral control law is set to expire at the end of the month. It was left in limbo after Assembly Democrats shot down a Senate Republican attempt to tie the renewal to a set of measures that would benefit charter schools; Republicans in turn refused to pass a standalone measure on mayoral control.

That battle goes beyond New York City, though. The Assembly had earlier tied mayoral control to a needed extension of extra sales taxes for 53 counties. These extensions, which allow counties to charge sales taxes above 3 percent, must be renewed every two years.

Once June 30 comes and goes, the bureaucratic wheels of restoring control to local New York City school boards begins. And while most believe that mayoral control will eventually be restored, the bureaucratic costs of making even an abortive change could be significant.

"It's going to cost them money starting in July," Den Dekker said.

The extra sales taxes are slated to lapse in November. Cuomo and others were confident that lawmakers will return to renew them even if they haven't agreed on mayoral control. On Thursday, Cuomo said lawmakers have "gone through this dance before."

That's cold comfort to local officials. The New York State Association of Counties believes its members will eventually get the $1.8 billion these extra taxes generate. Losing them would lead to steep cuts or higher property taxes.

But if they run out then and aren't quickly restored, counties could lose out on the holiday season tax revenue.

"We are worried about it now,'' said association spokesman Mark Lavigne.

Troy Mayor Patrick Madden told city residents non-renewal of the extra sales taxes would equal a 10 percent property tax increase. The Collar City is also trying to institute a new hotel tax which could generate $300,000, but that also got caught up in the legislative dispute.

Madden in a letter is urging Troy residents to reach out to Heastie and Flanagan. "Summer vacation shouldn't begin until the work is done," he wrote.

Albany Democratic Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy said she hopes the two houses can come together and resolve the issues quickly.

"Cooler heads have to prevail," she said. "Hopefully sooner rather than later."

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Race tinges LGBT events

30 min 43 sec ago

New York

Gay pride marches in New York City, San Francisco and in between this weekend will have plenty of participants — and also protests directed at them from other members of the LGBT community, speaking out against what they see as increasingly corporate celebrations that prioritize the experiences of gay white men and ignore issues facing black and brown LGBT people.

The protests disrupted other pride events earlier this month. In Washington, D.C., the No Justice No Pride group blocked the parade route. In Columbus, Ohio, four people were arrested after a group set out to protest violence against minority LGBT people and the recent acquittal of a police officer in the shooting death of Philando Castile, a black man, during a traffic stop.

"Nobody wants to feel dropped in a community that prides itself on diversity," said Mike Basillas, one of the organizers of the planned New York City protest action by No Justice No Pride.

In Minneapolis, organizers of Sunday's Twin Cities Pride Parade initially asked the police department to limit participation following the acquittal of police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the death of Castile. But organizers changed their minds after meeting Thursday with Janee Harteau, the city's openly gay police chief who called the decision divisive and hurtful to LGBT officers. On Friday, organizers apologized and said they'd neglected to consider other alternatives. They said the officers are welcome to march after all.

Categories: State/Local

Little reform, but many Albany fundraisers this session

30 min 43 sec ago

ALBANY — At least 183 fundraisers were held by state lawmakers or conference leadership committees during the 2017 legislative session, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group, a government reform organization.

That included more than 170 held in Albany, with a whopping 64 of them held at the Fort Orange Club on Washington Avenue.

On many nights, multiple lawmakers held coinciding events at the Fort Orange Club, such as the eight Assembly members that did so on March 20. The practice allows lobbyists to more efficiently ply their trade at many fundraisers. There were also at least three other fundraisers that night, with price tags ranging from $250 to $500.

On June 19, Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan held a non-Albany event at the Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor in Westchester. A ticket for dinner and golf cost $3,000.

The data from the NYPIRG report, released Friday, relied on information from lobbyists, and not all the events were confirmed by the group.

There have been proposals to rein in the Albany money hunt. Assemblywoman Sandy Galef, D-Ossining, has backed a bill that would ban political fundraisers in Albany County during the legislative session.

Lawmakers departed Albany after Wednesday's final scheduled session day of the year, though they could return in the coming months to addressed unfinished business such as the extension of mayoral control of schools in New York City, which is slated to lapse at the end of June.

Categories: State/Local

Commissioner hears Paladino complaints

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

A state Education Department hearing got underway Thursday for a one-time candidate for New York governor who publicly insulted former President Barack Obama and his wife and stands accused of disclosing confidential school board business.

Several days of hearings are scheduled in Albany for wealthy developer Carl Paladino to determine whether his public release of information on teacher contract talks should cost him his position on the Buffalo School Board.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia is hearing testimony in a petition filed by other school board members seeking Paladino's removal from the fractured body. They say Paladino publicly disclosed information about teacher contract negotiations discussed in closed-door sessions.

Paladino counters in a federal lawsuit that the board's claims are retaliatory for derogatory remarks he made about the Obamas and an attempt to stifle free speech.

School board President Barbara Seals Nevergold testified that Paladino breached a code of conduct when he went public with the information about teacher contract talks.

"When you go into executive session, the information discussed is confidential," Nevergold said.

Paladino, a Republican who was active in President Donald Trump's campaign, said his opponents made the disclosure claims only after being advised that his published statements about the Obamas — including that he hoped the outgoing president would catch mad cow disease and that his wife would live in a cave with a gorilla — were protected free speech and not grounds for removal from the school board.

He also said his disclosures about teacher contract negotiations after they had wrapped up were in the public interest.

"This is all a charade," said Dennis Vacco, a former state attorney general who is one of the lawyers representing Paladino. Vacco called the effort to remove Paladino "a subterfuge" in retaliation for the controversial businessman's remarks about the Obamas.

The state Education Department hearing on the board's petition is expected to last several days. Elia will issue her decision at a later date.

Paladino was the GOP candidate for governor in 2010. He was elected to the school board in 2013 and re-elected in 2016.

A supporter of charter schools, vouchers and tax credits, he is regularly at odds with the school board majority and the city teachers' union.

The Buffalo Federation of Teachers also called for Paladino's removal following the Obama remarks, which were published in a December issue of Artvoice, a Buffalo newspaper, in response to questions posed to various public figures about what they would like to see in the New Year.

Paladino said his emailed answers were meant for his friends and that he sent them to the newspaper by mistake.

Categories: State/Local

End of session (maybe) on 'New York Now'

30 min 43 sec ago

Don't miss this week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning co-production of WMHT and the Times Union. Highlights include:

It's the end of the legislative session as we know it — or is it? The Reporters Roundtable has Jimmy Vielkind of Politico New York and Karen DeWitt of New York state Public Radio discussing the end of regularly scheduled session days, and the prospects for overtime.

DeWitt conducts an exit interview with Barbara Bartoletti of the state League of Women Voters, a prominent reform advocate marking her final session before retirement.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.

— Staff report

Categories: State/Local

Faso-Collins Medicaid provision remains in Senate GOP health care bill

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

A provision that would require New York state to pick up the counties' share of Medicaid costs has been included in the U.S. Senate Republican health care bill, which was released Thursday morning. 

The intent of the measure is to alleviate the Medicaid burden on counties so they can reduce property taxes. But state officials have estimated the plan would cost the state $2.3 billion in lost Medicaid funding beginning in 2020. 

The provision, authored by GOP Congressmen John Faso of Kinderhook and Chris Collins of western New York, is a carryover form the House's American Health Care Act. 

The bill language was not amended by the Senate. It gives the state the same ultimatum the House gave: Either the state picks up the county share of costs, or it will lose federal Medicaid funding worth the same amount.

"For decades, Albany's Medicaid mandate and resulting property taxes have burdened New Yorkers unlike in any other state," Faso said in a statement. "What we've got to show for this scheme is people fleeing our state in droves, businesses relocating, and crushing and often unpayable bills for those who stay behind."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in March threatened to sue the federal government if the cost-shifting measure becomes law. The governor said the provision is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets a sovereign state without a clear federal objective. Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Cuomo said "anything is possible," when asked if that threat still stood.

As written, only New York would be subject to that piece of the bill.

In a statement on Thursday, Cuomo called the provision "reckless" and said it would lead to "devastating cuts to our hospitals, nursing homes and home care providers."

"The Senate Republican health care bill continues the ultra-conservative assault on New Yorkers and our values," Cuomo said. "Senate Republicans have broken their promise to protect the American people and are trying to pass an inhumane piece of legislation that hurts middle class New Yorkers, discriminates against women, defunds Planned Parenthood, and turns its back on the most vulnerable Americans."

But Faso and Collins have said the state can cut fat from its budget to make up for the cost shift.

Faso, a former longtime state assemblyman and 2006 candidate for governor, originally proposed such a shift during his bid for Congress last year. He has billed it as fixing "Nelson Rockefeller's 51-year-old mistake" to have the counties pick up a portion of Medicaid costs. He's noted most states split the cost with the federal government without pushing some burden onto counties.

Faso scoffed at the Cuomo administration's warning that it could have to take the local share of sales taxes to help pay for new costs to the state.

"Governor Cuomo's false and hysterical charges about this provision are unfortunate," Faso said. "Rather than false claims, Mr. Cuomo should start preparing to reform his Medicaid program and finally take full responsibility for the program, as governors in the other states are already doing."

Some county officials remain split on the plan. 

"Given the apparent failure once again this year of our state Legislature to provide any meaningful mandate relief, this action by Congress becomes even more imperative if we are to finally be able to provide our residents with the tax relief they deserve," Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino said in a statement, referencing the end of the state legislative session on Wednesday. 

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy said in March that his county is saddled with a $64 million "unfunded mandate."

"Given the Governor's statements about the impact to upstate counties if the cost of Medicaid is shifted to the state, Albany County can't afford that," McCoy said.

On Thursday, McCoy said the "so-called reform legislation targets New York in a specific way and would prove to be disastrous for seniors, low income residents and veterans who depend on Medicaid for basic health care."

The battle over the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, has fueled significant political fire in New York. Cuomo accused Faso and other House Republicans from New York of violating their oaths of office earlier this month, a step toward his involvement in next year's mid-term races.

The state Democratic Committee sent out an email from Cuomo on Thursday warning that the Faso-Collins provision would lead to a 26 percent tax hike for the middle class. That email included a link to make donations to the state committee's federal account.

"And we are telling you those are not just words," Cuomo said at a Manhattan rally June 7 after promising to help oust the Republicans. "You can bet your political life that New Yorkers will do just that."

Faso countered at that time that he believes Cuomo could work with the congressional delegation on myriad issues.

"But it's hard to see when you observe the hysterical and over-the-top reactions from Mr. Cuomo that he has any serious interest in governing," Faso said. "He apparently only has interest in politics."

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

Categories: State/Local

Sputtering to an end

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

State lawmakers ended the 2017 legislative session late Wednesday without resolving what were key sticking points for weeks: Whether to grant New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio an extension of control over the city's schools and if more charter schools should be allowed in the city.

An additional bargaining chip in that dispute left unresolved was the critical extension of sales taxes in 53 counties, including the Capital Region.

The lack of a deal on mayoral control and the sales tax extenders in particular leaves open the possibility that lawmakers could return to the Capitol later this year — when exactly is not known. Mayoral control lapses on June 30; the city's Board of Education takes over if control isn't extended.

County sales taxes, critical to funding daily operations of counties, would expire at the end of November. It would leave Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the position of having to call lawmakers back.

In a statement touting the year's accomplishments released just before 11 p.m., Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said, "We would have preferred to have tied everything up with a nice neat bow and returned to our districts with nothing at all left on our plate, but under the circumstances, that just wasn't possible."

Despite the deadlock, the Legislature pushed through some notable measures during the last few days of the legislative calendar.

Senators confirmed a new Court of Appeals judge, Paul Feinman, who will be the first openly gay member of the top court.

They confirmed three new Public Service Commissioners. While Senate Republicans had earlier in the month groused that they weren't given enough time to consider nominees, they still quickly confirmed the three earlier Wednesday.

The new members included former Republican Sen. Jim Alesi of Rochester. Alesi was one of four Republicans to support Cuomo's successful 2011 push to legalize same-sex marriage. He later stepped down. His nomination over the last few days was viewed as an olive branch to Republicans who control the Senate and were angry that no Republicans had previously been considered.

Also confirmed was John Rhodes, who currently runs the state Energy Research and Development Authority, and Philip Wilcox, an official with the IBEW union which represents numerous power plant employees. Rhodes will serve as chairman.

Senators also reappointed incumbent commissioner Diane Burman to a six-year term. She was a former counsel to Senate Republicans.

On the legislative front, lawmakers approved a bill Wednesday that would require the state Department of Health to post an online list of practitioners registered to certify patients who want to take part in the state's medical marijuana program.

The legislation would require that the names and contact information for practitioners be posted on the DOH's website in a searchable form. A caveat is that the practitioners could request that DOH not post their information online.

The state's tightly regulated medical marijuana program has come under fire because people with need for the treatment often have difficulty finding doctors who will certify them for the program.

The department has published a list of doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who have consented to make their names public. That change was made in May.

The Assembly and Senate also both approved "Buy American" legislation in a deal with the governor, who pushed for the program in January. It would require the use of American-made steel or iron for road and bridge contracts that cost $1 million or more.

Some initiatives will have to wait until next session, though.

One of the highest profile battles centered on a plan to extend the time during which young victims of sexual abuse could bring a case against their abuser. The Child Victims Act passed the Assembly, but Majority Leader Flanagan's comments on Tuesday that the Senate would not take up the bill held true. Flanagan has come under fire from supporters of the measure who have pressed the Senate leader to explain his opposition to the measure.

Also expected to be back next year is legislation to allow the use of electric bicycles. Permitting the powered bikes was halted amid worries about traffic congestion in New York City.

Another issue unresolved is a measure to return oversight powers to the state Comptroller's Office for State University of New York contracts, which were taken away in 2011. Supporters, including Syracuse Republican Sen. John DeFrancisco, said the oversight is needed, especially in the wake of recent corruption and bribery charges filed against multiple business leaders, SUNY officials and former aides and associates of the governor in connection with SUNY projects.

"The governor was not interested in doing it. It was pretty obvious and unfortunately, we should have done it," DeFrancisco said Wednesday night.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758

Categories: State/Local

Schumer: Summer camps should have FBI access

30 min 43 sec ago

Washington

With the first day of summer here and camp season gearing up, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer on Wednesday called for camps and other youth programs to get easy access to FBI sex-offender records.

"Right now, there is a serious gap in federal law that is making it harder for New York's summer camps, day cares and other child-serving organizations to fully screen their paid and volunteer applicants," Schumer said on a conference call with state reporters. "I'm a parent myself, so I know what it means to say goodbye to your kids and hope they're in good hands."

Although states like New York run checks of statewide criminal databases for camps and other care providers, the systems cannot detect offenses committed in other jurisdictions.

The idea of a prospective camp counselor or other youth-activity leader having a sex-offense record in another state that goes undiscovered in New York "would send a chill down the spine of any parent," Schumer said.

The American Camp Association lists 117 in the state that have accreditation. The ACA breaks down into 23 regions, one of which is solely devoted to upstate New York.

Current law provides for a patchwork system in which some states act as go-betweens for camps and programs seeking to access the FBI sex-offender database.

A total of 34 states permit this level of access to FBI records, while 16 — including New York — do not.

Schumer insisted that whatever points of access exist now, the entire nation should come under one uniform policy of being able to clear prospective employees and volunteers through the FBI.

For camps and other prospective employers, the only choice now is to hire a private data-search firm, which "is really expensive," Schumer said.

He pointed to the 2013 case of Daryl Vonneida, a soccer and baseball coach, Boy Scout leader and church counselor who was arrested in Schuyler County and sentenced to life in prison. Authorities eventually found Vonneida had a 40-year record of sex abuse in other states.

Under the bipartisan Child Protection Improvements Act of 2017, camps would be able to call a toll-free number and find a local place — likely a police station — that, for a fee, could process the request. The camp could then send fingerprints to the Department of Justice, which would run the record through the FBI system and report back whether the paid or volunteer counselor had a serious conviction or open arrest for a serious offense.

In New York, according to Schumer's office, there are 17,117 registered sex offenders — 2,586 in the Capital Region, which incorporates Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie and Washington counties.

dan@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local

Senate confirms Court of Appeals nominee Paul Feinman

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

The state Senate on Wednesday confirmed the nomination of Paul Feinman to the state Court of Appeals, filling a vacancy created by the death of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam.

Feinman was nominated by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week. In a statement, Cuomo said Feinman's confirmation "is a major step forward for the state's judicial system."

"With decades of experience, Judge Feinman is a leader in his field and a trailblazer who joins the court as its first openly gay judge," Cuomo said. "He has spent nearly his entire career serving New York courts and championing the principles of justice and fairness. With today's confirmation, we are honoring the legacy of Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam and adding another supremely talented and deeply respected legal mind to the state’s highest court."

Feinman will be the first openly gay person to serve on the state's highest court. The pick has been lauded by LGBT groups. 

"I will strive daily to earn the excellent reputation that (Abdus-Salaam) enjoyed for her collegiality, thoughtfulness and industriousness," Feinman said at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination Tuesday afternoon.

During the hearing, Feinman was asked about his leukemia diagnosis in 2015. He underwent treatment and has been assured by his doctors that he can carry out his responsibilities on the court, Feinman said.

Feinman also was asked about his 1999 admonishment by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which he said made him a better judge. Feinman was admonished for allowing a defendant to remain handcuffed in his courtroom for roughly an hour and 40 minutes after the defendant's beeper went off during a court proceeding. Feinman intended to admonish the man for his using his beeper in court, according to Commission on Judicial Conduct records.

Feinman was elected to the bench for the New York City civil court in Manhattan in 1996 and was elected to the Supreme Court in the 1st Judicial District in Manhattan in 2007. He was appointed by Cuomo in 2012 to serve as an associate justice of the appellate division of the Supreme Court in Manhattan.

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

Categories: State/Local

Democrats battle GOP over under-wraps health care bill

30 min 43 sec ago

Washington

Senate Democrats went all out Tuesday to derail the Republican health care replacement for Obamacare, saying GOP senators are keeping it secret because they are "ashamed" of it.

Led by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, Democrats highlighted President Trump's description of the Republican House-passed version as "mean."

"For once, on the topic of health care, I find myself agreeing with the president," Schumer said on the Senate floor.

Also Tuesday, three Democratic senators went on a failed quest to the Washington headquarters of the Congressional Budget Office to obtain a copy of the Senate bill, livestreamed via Facebook.

"What we're trying to do is demonstrate the absurdity of this," said Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who took the short cab ride from the U.S. Capitol with Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Chris Murphy, D-Conn. "It is so outrageous that nobody can see it, that it's being done in a back room."

CBO director Keith Hall met briefly with the senators and told them he could not provide a copy of the bill, which CBO auditors are now reviewing. The CBO analysis of the House-passed bill concluded it would deprive 23 million people health insurance they would otherwise maintain if Obamacare stayed in place through the coming decade.

In addition, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand joined with two other Democrats to voice opposition to the "age tax" — the prospect of escalating premium prices for those between ages 50 and 64 if the House-passed Republican bill is the basis for replacing Obamacare.

Unlike the 2010 Affordable Care Act, the House bill provides for a premium rate structure based on age rather than income. But it also permits insurers to charge older recipients five times the amount billed to younger, healthier ones.

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans would forge ahead with the still-germinating proposal, and that a draft of the GOP bill would be released Thursday. A vote is possible next week prior to the July 4 recess.

"The Senate will soon have a chance to turn the page on this failed law," McConnell said, referring to Obamacare. "We have to act, and we are."

At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer also characterized the GOP legislative process as a nick-of-time antidote to Obamacare's tailspin.

President Trump "understands the role that health care plays in the lives of so many families and individuals," he said. "And he wants to make sure we do everything we can to provide the best options for them as Obamacare continues to fail."

Schumer accused Republicans of hiding the bill out of shame.

"If they were proud of the bill they would announce it, they would have brass bands going down Main Street America saying 'Look at our bill,'" he said. "They can't even whisper what it's about (because) they are so, so ashamed of it."

And he took particular umbrage over GOP characterizations of the Affordable Care Act as failing, saying the structure put in place by Democrats in 2010 only suffers from direct GOP sabotage rather than defects of its own.

Republicans have refused to guarantee Obamacare's promise of premium subsidies based on income, Schumer said.

"That uncertainty caused by President Trump and Republicans about cost-sharing is causing (some insurers) to pull out of certain markets," he said. "So this idea, this cynical ploy (of) blaming someone else other than themselves, it's pitiful."

It remains to be seen whether Democrats on Capitol Hill can stop the Republicans' forward momentum. Republicans are in a majority in both House and Senate, and Trump campaigned on the promise of a repealing Obamacare and replacing it with a GOP law providing lower deductibles and premiums.

Democrats will need the support of wavering Republicans to stop the bill in the Senate. Some, like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, have expressed chagrin over the secretive process, but insist they want to see the legislation and the CBO analysis of it before making up their minds.

The Democratic strategy appears aimed at converting Republicans, even a handful.

"Please speak up, because pressure works," Booker said, addressing the public via Facebook after failing to obtain the GOP bill from the CBO. "All we need is three senators to say, 'This is not how it's going to happen.' "

Dan@hearstdc.com

Categories: State/Local

Bleak outlook for Child Victims Act

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

Tuesday was a tale of two types of policies at the state Capitol.

The sticky policies remained stuck as the legislative session nears its scheduled Wednesday end, and one initiative appeared to die on the vine when Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Senate will not bring up the hotly debated Child Victims Act.

But the floodgates remained open for less contentious pieces of legislation, with state lawmakers passing bills to add e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act, allow those with PTSD to use medical marijuana, and ban sex offenders from driving for ride-hailing companies.

And there was an announced deal on legislation that would implement a "Buy American" program for certain state projects.

News broke late Tuesday afternoon that the Child Victims Act, which would extend the time during which young victims of sexual abuse could bring a case against their abuser, appeared to be dead. On his way out of a meeting in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office with other top lawmakers, Flanagan said that while discussions continue, the Senate won't be bringing up the legislation this year.

That bill has passed the Assembly and has the support of the governor. Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein, who is at the negotiating table with Flanagan, backs a measure that is slightly different than the one pushed by the Assembly and Cuomo.

Leaving the meeting shortly before Flanagan, Klein said the Child Victims Act had not been discussed at that point in the day.

Advocates were incensed: "Why is Majority Leader Flanagan holding the Child Victims Act hostage in the Senate Rules Committee?" Nikki DuBose and Gary Greenberg said in a statement. "The senator is obstructing justice for victims."

The battles ended on less sour notes for other legislation.

The Senate passed legislation that would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana in New York. It passed the Assembly in early May.

PTSD would become the 12th condition treatable with medical marijuana products if the legislation is signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Others on the list include cancer, chronic pain and epilepsy.

In the Assembly, lawmakers passed a bill that would add e-cigarettes to the Clean Indoor Air Act, which would ban their use indoors at establishments such as bars and restaurants after the Senate approved it on Monday night.

There are some county bans on e-cigarette usage, but there is no statewide prohibition on vaping indoors.

Should Cuomo sign the bill, vaping would be banned in the workplace and in outdoor areas where smoking is otherwise banned, such as within 100 feet of a school. Among the areas in which vaping would still be allowed are outdoor dining areas that do not have a roof or other ceiling enclosure.

By Tuesday evening, the Senate had approved legislation that would bar Level 1 sex offenders from driving for a ride-hailing company. It was then delivered to the Assembly for consideration.

A law passed as part of the state budget that authorizes ride-hailing outside New York City bars those convicted of a sex offense in the last seven years from obtaining a ride-hailing driver permit. Additionally, any person who is listed on the U.S. Department of Justice's National Sex Offender Public Website also would be banned from receiving a permit.

But Level 1 offenders — who would not show up on the DOJ website, even though they are required to register with law enforcement for 20 years under state law — could obtain a driver permit after the seven-year post-conviction period ends.

Cuomo also did a bill signing on Tuesday, albeit behind closed doors with advocates. He approved legislation that raises the legal age for marriage in New York to 17 years old.

Under the old law, children age 14 and 15 could marry if they received parental consent and the authorization of a judge. More than 3,800 minors were married statewide between 2000 and 2010, according to Cuomo's office.

The new law requires that 17 year olds still receive parental and judicial signoff before they can be married. It also outlines how a judge must review a couple's request for permission before that judge can approve the nuptials.

Cuomo and the leaders also announced a deal on a bill that would require that certain state agencies require the use of American-made structural iron and structural steel for all surface road and bridge projects.

The program would apply to contracts worth $1 million or more, according to the bill.

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

Categories: State/Local

Opponents fight nuclear subsidy in court

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

Representatives of the state Public Service Commission were in court Monday defending their decision last August to award a multibillion dollar, 12-year subsidy to a group of upstate nuclear power plants along Lake Ontario. Opponents say it is a corporate giveaway, but state officials contend it will cut down on greenhouse gases.

The commission has "broad authority" to regulate power production in the state, said PSC lawyer John Graham, who was moving to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a coalition of activists who oppose the deal.

"This isn't a small change. It's a dramatic change," said John Parker, a lawyer representing the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater ,which has opposed the deal with the New York Public Interest Research Group and other groups.

The arguments unfolded before acting Supreme Court Justice Roger McDonough in Albany.

The plaintiffs maintain the PSC overstepped last August when it approved the subsidies for the Ginna, FitzPatrick and Nine Mile Point plants in Wayne and Oswego counties.

While the PSC views the subsidies as a way to control carbon emissions as the state moves toward more renewable energy sources, critics believe the Cuomo administration, which supported the plan, was intent on avoiding the job losses that would have come with plant closures in the hard-pressed region where the plants operate.

"You really have the executive branch extending its authority to this agency," said David Barrett, a lawyer with the Coalition for Competitive Electricity.

In an example of strange bedfellows, the coalition fighting the deal includes oil and gas producers who, like anti-nuclear activists, oppose the subsidies. The oil and gas interests believe it puts them at a competitive disadvantage.

They also note the subsidies will flow to Exelon, the large Chicago-based firm that owns the plants. "They are imposing a tax on people for the benefit of a private company," Barrett said.

Lawyers for both sides in the two-hour hearing veered a bit from the issue at hand which was whether the plaintiffs had legal standing to move ahead in their case.

McDonough on several occasions prompted the lawyers to stay on track as they parried back and forth.

While Graham and others questioned the PSC's ability to arbitrate environmental rather than utility issues, the commission's lawyers questioned whether the plaintiffs had legal standing since the organizations fighting the subsidy were mostly from the lower Hudson Valley, which is some four hours away from the nuclear plants.

"The vast, vast majority of petitioners here live far, far, away," said PSC lawyer John Sipos.

Opponents of the plan questioned whether it is really carbon-free, given the emissions involved in extracting the uranium that powers nuclear plants.

The two sides also disagree over the subsidy's long-term cost which began showing up in a surcharge on power bills statewide in April.

Opponents peg the 12-year cost at $7.4 billion while the PSC says it's more like $2.86 billion, which would work out to about $2-per-month for residential users.

While Monday brought the first arguments in state court, a group of oil and gas producers also filed a related lawsuit last fall in federal court. They contend the subsidy violates a federal policy of letting the free market dictate energy prices. That case is pending.

Politics has come into play as well.

Downstate lawmakers have complained that ratepayers in places like Long Island, which already has high power prices, are subsidizing the ailing upstate economy, although PSC officials note that the power goes into a statewide grid.

Earlier in June, Senate GOP Majority Leader John Flanagan offered a proposal to fund the subsidy by taking money from the state's Energy Research and Development Authority, NYSERDA, which administers the surcharge.

But that would deprive NYSERDA of funds to continue developing green and alternative energy sources, said opponents of that plan.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Board of Elections questions Senate Republican campaign spending

30 min 43 sec ago

Ahead of last year's elections, New York Senate Republicans boosted many of their candidates with financial support from a campaign fund that was barred under state law from being used to promote individual candidates, according to a court filing by the state Board of Elections' independent enforcement office.

The recent filing in state Supreme Court in Albany indicates the Senate Republicans' campaign housekeeping account — which is intended to be used for party-building operations such as financing a headquarters and staff salaries — was used to pay for campaign flyers that supported individual Senate Republican candidates.

Housekeeping accounts face no contribution limits but under state election law they are not to be used for the "express purpose of promoting the candidacy of specific candidates."

The motion by the Board of Elections' enforcement office was filed in response to a petition last month by the Senate Republicans which seeks to quash subpoenas issued by the Board of Elections that seek access to records on the GOP accounts. The subpoenas ask officials for the Senate Republicans' campaign arm and housekeeping account to produce 38 different types of records, mostly focusing on the work provided by a number of campaign vendors.

The recent motion, filed by Bruce Lennard, associate counsel at the Board of Elections, cites invoices from Digital Xpress, an Albany-based printing and design company that performed campaign work for the Senate Republicans. Officials with the firm didn't respond to a request for comment.

The company netted tens of thousands of dollars of work for literature boosting Republican senators Bill Larkin, Carl Marcellino and George Amedore of Rotterdam, or knocking their opponents, according to the invoices. Digital XPress also was paid to produce invitations to an event honoring Sen. Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who caucuses with Senate Republicans, according to the court filing.

For $109,000, the company produced absentee-ballot application forms sent to voters, which included materials critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, an ally of the Senate Democrats, the filing states. But the work was ultimately paid for by the Senate Republicans' housekeeping account, not by its campaign committee, the Board of Elections' enforcement unit alleged in the court filing.

In 2016, Senate Republicans maintained their narrow majority by winning in a number of swing districts in New York, including those of Larkin, Marcellino and Amedore.

The office of the Board of Elections' independent enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, issued the subpoenas on March 22.

Senate Republicans have argued the subpoenas are overly broad and burdensome, characterizing them as being used in a "political witch-hunt" by the office of Sugarman, who was appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat.

A Senate GOP spokesman, Scott Reif, referred to an earlier statement he made calling the subpoenas "a back-door political attack on an organization that has a proven record of successfully running campaigns and winning elections. It also threatens our two-party system here in New York."

The motion from Sugarman's office argues there is a factual basis to issue the subpoenas, that they are not overly broad and they do not violate any constitutional rights.

It emphasizes that the Senate GOP's housekeeping account's spending has spiked ahead of Senate elections every two years, on expenses such as "issue advocacy" and polling. Spending on Facebook advertising also spiked to $156,000 during the last half of 2016, according to the court filing, which suggests the timing of those expenditures raises questions about whether the funds are being used to help individual campaigns.

cbragg@timesunion.com • 518-454-5303 • @chrisbragg1

Categories: State/Local

War historian inspiration found in Cohoes resident

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

When military history author Bill Sloan sought inspiration for his new book on World War II in the Pacific, he found it in a then-96-year-old combat veteran from upstate New York who survived one of the war's bloodiest battles.

John Sidur rescued two hometown buddies during Japan's largest banzai attack of the war, near the end of the Battle of Saipan in July 1945. Sidur's Army regiment, part of the New York National Guard, was nearly wiped out in the attack.

"If one person could be identified as the reason I wrote this book, John Sidur of Cohoes, New York, is that person," writes Sloan at the end of "Their Backs Against The Sea: The Battle of Saipan and the Largest Banzai Attack of World War II."

The book, being published this month by Da Capo Press, tells the story of the fight for Saipan in the Mariana Islands that began June 15, 1944. Part of the American island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific, it drew less attention back home because it started just nine days after the D-Day landings at Normandy.

The U.S. plan had the Marines landing two divisions, with the Army's 27th Infantry Division held in reserve. But as the Marines met tough resistance from the 30,000 Japanese defending the island, the mostly inexperienced troops of the 27th Division were sent in on June 17. It was the first time in the war that Army and Marine divisions would go into a campaign fighting side-by-side at division strength. Problems between the services began nearly from the start.

"The Marines thought the Army was cautious, too slow, too plodding," said Tom Kelly, professor emeritus of history and American studies at Siena College.

For his Saipan book, Dallas-based Sloan researched official U.S. combat reports, including a trove of 27th Division documents at the New York State Military Museum. The lone 27th Division member he interviewed was Sidur, who lived near Albany before his death in 2015.

Categories: State/Local

Talks grind on during Day 1 of final legislative session week

30 min 43 sec ago

Albany

There was some movement on certain outstanding issues at the state Capitol on Monday — albeit in different directions. 

With the major negotiating points — mayoral control of New York City's schools, local sales tax extensions, charter school provisions and the Child Victims Act — all still apparently hung up, a "Buy American" state procurement program was given life at the same time a bill to allow alcohol sales in movie theaters was given a bleak outlook.

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein said legislative leaders and the governor were nearing a three-way agreement on some form of Buy American legislation, a proposal pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that fell out of the budget earlier this year.

Cuomo’s initial “Buy American Act” would have required that the state purchase U.S.-made products for state projects worth more than $100,000. Products with an end-manufacturing process done in the United States and 60 percent of their components coming from inside the U.S. would have qualified. 

That proposal was opposed by some involved in international trade.

“We’re happy that we look like we’re coming to an agreement on a buy American bill, a three-way bill, that was something that was very important to myself and I know Sen. (John) Flanagan’s conference,” Klein said after emerging from the governor’s office with Flanagan, the Republican majority leader, following an early evening meeting with Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “We’re trying to work on something more to help with the heroin epidemic. That’s something that we hope to get done before the end of session.”

Moving in the other direction was alcohol in movie theaters, with Heastie saying earlier in the day that the Democratic Majority Conference is not supportive of the legislation.

“We want people to be able to take their children to a movie theater and not have to worry about the sobriety of the people sitting next to them in the movie theater,” he said before the afternoon session.

Under state law, movie houses that have a licensed restaurant and seats with tables are authorized to sell alcohol. But patrons at the average theater cannot purchase an adult beverage. 

The legislation would bar sales to G and PG film ticket holders.

Cuomo also supported alcohol in movie theaters in his executive budget proposal, though that too fell off the table.

Elsewhere at the Capitol, the scene was what would be expected for the final few days of the legislative session. 

There was silent protest outside the Senate Republican conference room by women dressed as handmaids, similar to characters in the Hulu show "The Handmaid's Tale." They were there in support of legislation to codify the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision into state law and legislation to provide for insurance coverage of FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, devices and products.

There were two Tesla vehicles on the Empire State Plaza concourse as the company and some lawmakers push for legislation that would allow the automaker to expand its sales reach in New York. 

And of course there were the swarms of lobbyists scurrying through Capitol hallways making their last-minute pitches for clients. 

Both the Assembly and Senate continued working late Monday evening.

As for what's next in the coming days, both the Assembly and Senate leaders have stated they are prepared to leave Albany on Wednesday.

But in the meantime, "We're talking, and there's two days left," Heastie said.

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

Categories: State/Local

Warren County DA Hogan confirmed for state judge post

Sat, 06/24/2017 - 11:07pm

Albany

Warren County District Attorney Kate Hogan will join the state Court of Claims as a judge following her confirmation by the state Senate on Monday. She was among a batch of 15 nominees and re-appointees confirmed during an afternoon session.

"Being DA was a great privilege," she told the Times Union just after her confirmation. "I really, really loved the job, and I'm so grateful to the people of Warren County to give me that opportunity."

Hogan, a Glens Falls Republican, was nominated for the job by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Her appointment comes after she was under recent consideration for the U.S. Attorney's position in the Northern District of New York.

"It's a nomination he will never regret, I guarantee him," state Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, said of Cuomo's nomination. 

"I have just watched her in her professional career as she has gone from position to position, her 15 years as district attorney in Warren County, difficult cases, difficult issues, (she has) always been able to handle them and always demonstrated great leadership in everything that she did," Little added.

Hogan and the other judges confirmed on Monday were to be sworn in shortly after the Senate took action on the appointments just before 5 p.m. She said she has submitted her letter of resignation as district attorney to the governor.

First assistant district attorney Jason Carusone is in line to become acting district attorney.

The district attorney's position in Warren County is up for election this year.

Also on Monday, Frank Milano, who serves on the Court of Claims in Albany, was confirmed for re-appointment. Michael Melkonian of Rensselaer County also was confirmed for re-appointment to the Court of Claims. 

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

Categories: State/Local

Broad coalition forms to fight constitutional convention

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 11:07pm

More than 100 groups, ranging from labor unions to environmental advocates to those on both sides of the contraception and abortion debates, are joining together to campaign against holding a constitutional convention in 2019, they are set to announce on Monday.

The groups are coalescing under the name New Yorkers Against Corruption, billing their effort as a campaign to educate voters about "the potentially destructive impact" that a constitutional convention could have.

The formation of NYAC comes months ahead of the November vote, when New Yorkers will cast ballots to decide whether to hold a convention to potentially alter the state's charter document. Should they vote in favor of holding a convention, delegates would be picked next year and the convention held in 2019. Any constitutional amendment to emerge from a convention would then be left up to the voters to ratify or defeat in November 2019.

"The prospect of a constitutional convention touted by idealists is a complete fraud," said Jordan Marks, campaign manager for NYAC, which also includes the state Rifle and Pistol Association and Conservative Party in addition to progressive groups, such as the Labor-Religion Coalition. "We know nothing about the framework of a convention — How much will it cost? What are the rules to run as delegates? Which issues will be considered? How will Albany insiders ensure transparency? There is a total lack of information."

The cost of a convention is disputed, with some estimating hundreds of millions of dollars and others estimating tens of millions. And there is no prohibition on elected officials or other state government insiders running to be delegates, though members of the general public also have the chance to be elected.

The groups joining together to fight against holding a convention are some of the largest interest groups that lobby at the state Capitol every year, and some of them have competing interests.

For example, both Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts and Right to Life have joined NYAC. That is noteworthy given Planned Parenthood's support for a long-shot proposal from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to pass a constitutional amendment that codifies Roe v. Wade into state law after years of regular legislative efforts on that issue stalling out.

"In these perilous times with DC extremists bent on rolling back our access to reproductive health, having New York protect our rights is needed more than ever and we are still pushing for the state Senate to bring our bills to the floor," said Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts. But she has concerns about "insiders and conservative outsiders with big wallets" that could push for constitutional provisions at a convention that her group doesn't support.

"We do not see the constitutional convention as a safe way to protect our reproductive rights because we could lose more than we gain," she said.

Another part of the coalition has pushed for an "Environmental Bill of Rights" constitutional amendment this year. Environmental Advocates of New York backs the proposal, which would enshrine in the Constitution clean air and water protections.

"We view the constitutional convention in the post-Trump, post-Brexit era as being the biggest of 'big uglies,'" EANY Executive Director Peter Iwanowicz said, evoking the Capitol colloquialism for a large deal on unrelated policies. "And we would rather not have our desire for a bill of rights amendment to have clean water and clean air and a healthful environment — a civil right — lumped in with a constitutional convention big ugly. Any trade-off can happen when you go into a bigger event."

Those in support of holding a convention have pointed to numerous issues, from labor to environmental issues, that could be addressed through the constitutional amendment process at a convention. A May Siena College poll found that 62 percent of voters statewide support holding a convention. However, 67 percent said they hadn't heard anything about a convention.

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

Categories: State/Local

Awaiting a 'big ugly' deal, lawmakers take up hundreds of bills

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 6:07pm

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo knows legislators are deadline-driven creatures.

"They used to say a legislative body doesn't do anything until it must," he said in a conference call with reporters on Friday.

The thing is, lawmakers have several deadlines ahead as the end of the legislative session rapidly approaches.

That seemed to leave the governor last week painting a bleak picture of how the "big ugly" — Capitol speak for an omnibus deadline deal on unrelated bills — is shaping up with lawmakers set to leave town Wednesday. Cuomo was not optimistic mayoral control of New York City schools — the main negotiating point — will be re-approved. Without action by the end of the month, mayoral control would lapse.

And with the Assembly passing a bill to extend both mayoral control and local sales taxes, and the Senate tying mayoral control to various charter school provisions, Cuomo was betting lawmakers would return toward the end of the year to meet a different deadline — the one to re-authorize local taxes before they expire.

Later Friday, Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan said the Assembly was "needlessly and recklessly" tying mayoral control to sales tax extenders. Then on Sunday, he pledged not to grant a long-term extension of mayoral control "without first ensuring that all students have opportunities," the punctuating sentence of a statement in support of charter schools and against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's charter policies.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the Senate is "playing games," while "the Assembly respects all by passing an extender for every locality regardless of politics."

So as the legislative leaders and Cuomo continue their staring contest with the clock ticking, what's a Legislature to do as its June 21 session deadline approaches?

Pass bills. Hundreds of them.

More than 890 bills have passed only the house of the Legislature they originated in this month, and 162 have passed both houses, meaning they have been sent to or are ready to be sent to the governor any time before the next legislative session in January.

Last week, lawmakers increased their output, with 605 bills passing only the house they originated in and 125 bills passing both houses.

Such a flurry of action is typical for the Legislature this time of year. New York Public Interest Research Group analyses of bills passed in recent legislative sessions show that June is the busiest month of the six-month session. In 2016, the Senate passed 1,130 bills and the Assembly passed 635 bills.

The bills passed this month range from local housekeeping measures that turn up annually to notable revisions of existing law.

On the local side, seven bills renaming bridges around the state have passed, including one bill to rename the Ballard Road bridge over the Northway at Exit 16 after fallen State Police Trooper Timothy Pratt. Another piece of legislation adds the Bethlehem Public Library to the list of entities eligible to receive funding from the state Dormitory Authority. A third bill would change the meeting requirements for the Albany Convention Center Authority to quarterly, instead of monthly.

Then there are statewide bills including legislation to prohibit the use of elephants in circus acts and other "entertainment acts," such as for rides or in parades. Another bill would change the state's sparkler and sparkling device sales law to require that counties outside of New York City opt out of the law rather than opt in. Forty counties have opted in since 2015, according to State Police.

Among the bills passed this month that has garnered the most attention is legislation that would raise the minimum age for marriage to 17 years old. The marriage age bill is one of 15 bills that as of Sunday was on Cuomo's desk awaiting action. He has until Tuesday to decide what to do with that legislation, which he supports, otherwise it automatically becomes law.

There is a major difference between this year's end of the session and the final weeks in other years, Assemblyman John McDonald, D-Cohoes, said. Lawmakers aren't spending the large amounts of time they usually do discussing major controversial issues, McDonald noted.

To McDonald, that means there has been greater discussion on lower tier issues, such as allowing alcohol in movie theaters. But that doesn't mean that slipping in bills among the hundreds passed is any easier. McDonald noted that the way state government is designed, non-budgetary bills — thousands of them — often are left for consideration in the last two to three months.

"That's not easy because with 150 members, every member feels all their bills are the most important, and there's only so much bandwidth with staff," he said. "I don't find it easier. I don't find things sliding through that normally wouldn't slide through."

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

Categories: State/Local

Ban on salary history questions is on tap

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:07pm

Albany

Should employers be able to ask how much applicants earned at prior jobs?

A bill that would ban such questions is being examined by committees in both state legislative chambers, and could come up for a vote in both houses this week — the scheduled end to the session for this year.

Sponsored by Rockland County Independent Democratic Conference Sen. David Carlucci and Bronx Democratic Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, the bill comes after a similar executive order for members of the state workforce was signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier in the year.

Supporters say the bill would level the playing field for various groups — especially for women, who typically earn less than men and who may have taken time out of the workforce to raise children.

With women earning an estimated 87 cents for every dollar paid to men, that lower level can follow them as they move up the career ladder.

"When you go into a job interview, that should not hold you back,'' said Beverly Cooper Neufeld, president of PowHer NY, a not-for-profit.

Neufeld said the ban would help men as well, especially considering the number of people who took pay cuts during the post-2008 recession. She called it "a common-sense equal pay tool."

Additionally, research has shown that salary histories posted to online applications can be used to quickly narrow or exclude large groups of job seekers. That's an important consideration given the number of digital job applications that are out there.

"The employer assumes that someone whose salary is 'too high' would not be interested in a lower-paying job, and that someone whose salary is 'too low' does not have sufficient skill, knowledge or experience for the position," according to a report from the National Women's Law Center.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in May signed a similar law for employers in the city. He has also banned such questions for city job seekers.

While the city's law is handled by its Human Rights Commission, the state law would be covered by the Department of Labor.

Massachusetts and Oregon already have similar protections, and Democrats in Congress have offered federal versions.

Not everyone is convinced the ban is a good idea. The state Business Council, in a memo of opposition, contends that passing such a law is unnecessary and would force employers to change their application forms.

The Business Council also notes that the bill proposes fines for employers who don't remove salary history questions from applications, and allows prospective employees, or employees who would be asked about their salary histories, to sue.

And Kathryn Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City, said passage could lead to complications with both job candidates and employers.

Cuomo's executive orders regarding state employees are a bit unique in that most government salaries in New York are already publicly listed on databases such as SeeThroughNY.net or available through the state Comptroller's office. That's not the case in the private sector.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

London fire puts scrutiny on 'stay put'

Thu, 06/22/2017 - 10:07pm

New York

A catastrophic blaze at a London apartment tower has brought new scrutiny to a long-accepted, counterintuitive rule for people in tall buildings: If the blaze breaks out elsewhere in the structure, don't automatically run for the stairs. Stay put and wait for instructions.

That's what residents of London's 24-story Grenfell Tower had been told to do, but the strategy failed early Wednesday when flames that began on a lower floor spread shockingly fast and quickly engulfed the entire building.

Many residents were trapped, forcing some on higher floors to jump to their deaths rather than face the flames or throw their children to bystanders below. By Saturday, officials counted 58 people missing and presumed dead, including 30 deaths previously confirmed.

Despite that outcome, fire experts say "stay put" is still the best advice — as long as the building has proper fire-suppression protections, such as multiple stairwells, sprinkler systems, fireproof doors and flame-resistant construction materials, some of which were lacking in the London blaze.

"It is human nature for most of us — if we know there's a fire, start moving and get out," said Robert Solomon of the National Fire Protection Association, a U.S.-based organization that studies fire safety globally. "But we try to make sure people know there are features and redundancies in buildings that you can count on, and you can stay put."

Most major cities with many high-rise buildings have detailed building codes and fire safety rules requiring several layers of protections in tall buildings. The rules vary from place to place, as does advice about when to evacuate, but fire experts say the "shelter-in-place" directive is usually applied to buildings of 15 stories or more.

Floors directly above and below the reported fire are usually evacuated, but others are to stay and use damp towels to block cracks beneath the door unless told otherwise, and call 911 if they have questions.

That's partly to avoid repeated, unnecessary evacuations that cause people eventually to ignore such orders when they really matter. And it also avoids panicked and unsafe evacuations down a long stairwell choked with smoke, which can be just as deadly as the licking flames.

Several such high-rise evacuations over the years have resulted in needless deaths. In 2014, a man who fled his apartment on the 38th floor of a New York City apartment building died when he encountered a plume of suffocating smoke in a stairwell as he tried to descend to the street. His apartment remained entirely untouched by the flames.

What makes the London fire maddening for fire experts who believe in the "stay put" rule is that the Grenfell may have lacked many of the safety redundancies necessary to make it work.

For example, the Grenfell building had only one stairwell. A lawmaker says it didn't have working sprinklers. And Britain's Guardian newspaper reported that cladding used on the high-rise structure was made of the cheaper, more flammable material of two types offered by the manufacturer.

"The bottom line: Sprinklers, fire doors and multiple stairwells work," said Chicago Fire Department Battalion Chief Michael Conroy. "It becomes difficult to shelter-in-place when you have no engineered fire protection systems within a building."

New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, whose department is among the most practiced in the world at fighting fires in tall buildings, says he believes in the stay-put policy but "what happened in London, in which a fire went from the fourth floor to the 21st floor in what we understand was in 17 minutes, is unprecedented."

The sister of a man still missing in the London blaze told reporters that when she phoned him on the 21st floor as the fire spread, he said he hadn't evacuated with his wife and three children because fire officials told him to "stay inside, stay in one room together and put towels under the door." Hana Wahabi said she begged her brother, Abdulaziz Wahabi, to leave but he told her "there was too much smoke."

One question now is whether people will heed that guidance with the Grenfell disaster fresh in their minds. "There is no way I am waiting to die in a building. I am getting out to safety," said Jennifer Lopez, who works in a high-rise building a short walk from the World Trade Center in New York City.

Categories: State/Local