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What’s Next For Albany?
The legislative session this year generated a lot of headlines when it came to strengthening abortion rights, LGBTQ rights, banning plastic bags, new gun control laws and efforts to stem climate change by cutting emissions.
And, after a swing to the left with large Democratic majorities in both chambers, lawmakers could go even further next year. A caveat: it’s an election year. And an added wrinkle: Many lawmakers will be juggling both session and a potential primary challenge looming for them when they return home in June 2020.
So, let’s look into the crystal ball and take a look at some issues that may dominate the 2020 session:
Decriminalizing sex work
Single-payer health care
Money for education
The session is over, and it was perhaps one of the most consequential six months for New York in a very long time.
Bills were moved that touch on nearly every facet of life in New York — from the means in which we get our food, to how it’s bagged in supermarkets and how, one day, the car we use to get to the store will be powered.
Here are four takeaways from the legislative session.
Elections do indeed have consequences. Voters swept Democrats into power last year in the state Legislature, giving the party a comfortable majority in the state Senate and sustaining the seemingly endless advantage in the state Assembly.
This time around, Democrats signaled little desire to squander one party rule in Albany, pushing through bill after bill the base of the party had long sought to strengthen abortion rights and labor rights for farm workers, gun control, fight climate change, enhance LGBTQ rights and expand and bolster rent control laws.
New York is now firmly in the column of a vanguard of progressive states controlled by Democrats like California that are enacting liberal policies in the era of President Donald Trump. Indeed, it’s easy to see much of what happened in Albany over the last six months as a direct reaction to Trump’s election nearly three years ago.
vists hold sway
In a related development, activism in state government has never been more intense — or effective. Lawmakers listen to the activists who show up — be it on issues like criminal justice reform, affordable housing or marijuana legalization — there is a palpable sense at the Capitol that elected officials don’t want to anger the people who are showing up to demonstrate and command what is likely outsize influence over the legislative process. They are the ones engaged in the process, being able to spread their message on social media like never before.
At the same time, the activism is also driving primary threats next year for Democratic incumbents, especially in the state Assembly.
As one lawmaker put, lawmakers once reacted to the editorial boards; now they’re reacting to the activism.
The Democratic majority in the state Senate is new. Heastie’s speakership is not. And this year Heastie demonstrated a degree of command over the budget process and legislative negotiations like never before. The job of Assembly speaker — riding herd over more than 100 members from vastly different regions of the state — is perhaps the hardest job in Albany. But this year, Heastie demonstrated an ability to both count votes on nail-biting outcomes like a measure to end the religious exemption for vaccinations, while also allowing Democratic no votes on measures like extending driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
Heastie also set his sights early on a major rent control deal, striking one with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, seemingly to the surprise of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, successfully negotiating one of the most consequential housing policy developments in recent history.
On top of that, he remains one of the more accessible legislative leaders in Albany.
Much has already been said about whether Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s influence is waning in Albany after a legislative session that saw lawmakers seemingly acted independently of the governor on major issues. And this session could very well mark a major shift in the relationship between a newly emboldened Legislature and a governor in his third term.
Still, Cuomo’s legislative prowess should not be napped on: He muscled through an appointment of his budget director to the board of the MTA, he held sway over the Capitol Projects budget bill until the very end, and, as he was happy to point, lawmakers could not get a deal done on full marijuana legalization outside of the state budget.
The job of governor remains a powerful one in state government. The Legislature is only now really waking up to the power it holds against him, but Cuomo’s experience in the process remains an advantage.
Cuomo Questions Whether Session Was
The legislative session over the last six months produced a laundry list of Democratic goals longer than your arm. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview on Monday morning question whether it was “progressive enough.” He pointed to a lack of progress, as it were, on issues like closing the jail at Rikers Island and a shelved plan he proposed that would spread more money to poorer school districts.
“How do you have a discussion of criminal justice reform and not insist that you close Rikers Island, the worst jail in the United States of America, which we’ve been talking about closing for years and nothing has happened,” Cuomo said.
“It’s pure government apathy, but because they’re minorities and they’re in Rikers, they don’t get the kind of government action. Why don’t we really say we’re going to fund poor public schools – poor. Not fund all public schools, so we trickle down to the poor school, but take the political bull by the horns and say, ‘No, the rich schools don’t need more money. We’re going to fund the poor schools.’ These kinds of issues. I call myself an aggressive progressive.”
Statements like these are likely to rankle Democrats, who hold control of both chambers of the Legislature for the first time in a decade, after a session and budget that largely ended with much of what they had sought.
David To Depart Cuomo Administration
Alphonso David, the top counsel to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the last four years, will depart the administration, the governor’s office on Tuesday announced.
He is joining the prominent LGBTQ advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, as its president.
David has worked for Cuomo in various capacities over the last 12 years, stretching back to Cuomo’s tenure as attorney general.
“For the last 12 years, Alphonso David has fought day and night to create a better New York, helping to enact real change and increasing rights for all residents of this great state,” Cuomo said in a statement.
“As a key member of this administration and before that as part of my staff at the Attorney General’s office, he had always served with compassion, dignity, intelligence, and a virtually unrivaled work ethic. Make no mistake New Yorkers are better off today because of his years of public service and we will miss him tremendously. I wish him the best on this new and exciting chapter and am proud to consider him always a part of Team Cuomo.”
Prior to serving as counsel, David worked as a deputy secretary for civil rights and served as a staff attorney at Lambda Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“It’s been the pleasure of a lifetime to serve this administration with the most dedicated, hardest working elected official in the State and in the nation,” David said.
“I was fortunate enough to start working with Governor Cuomo in the Attorney General’s office and to continue our work together in the Governor’s office, where I had the privilege of working on the marriage equality law and several other important pieces of legislation. The Governor has been a true leader on so many progressive issues in this state, and I am proud to have been a part of it. I know he will continue this unprecedented progress to move this state forward. I will miss him and everyone in the administration tremendously, and I thank him for this extraordinary opportunity.”
This year’s legislative session has been touted as one of the state’s most progressive in terms of policy.
Perhaps the one stain for Democratic lawmakers focusing on a new agenda, was the failure to legalize recreational marijuana. Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes has been pushing an “adult-use” bill for years now and was disappointed a Legislature controlled entirely by her party, couldn’t get it done.
“In a lot of ways, New York is not is progressive as it thinks. It’s only as progressive as the people who it’s willing to elect to speak for it,” Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, said. “And right now there are a number of people who are elected, particularly on Long Island, who are not progressive. I shouldn’t say they are not progressive but they are not progressive on this topic.”
Some parents, law enforcement and health officials raised concerns throughout the process, but Peoples-Stokes placed the blame mainly on lawmakers who she said needed to get better educated. She pointed out polling continually showed the majority of New Yorkers supported legalization
“I think it’s people’s personal opinions. They were not speaking for the constituents that they represent. They were speaking for themselves and how they feel about a drug that’s been, I will say not only criminalized but almost villainized for the last 30 years and there’s lack of understanding. Hopefully their voters will speak to them,” she said.
However, Peoples-Stokes did not want to classify the decriminalization bill the Legislature did pass as a compromise. Rather, she felt it was a good first step.She said the component of the legislation to expunge many marijuana arrests records was a major component of her legalization bill.
“They’re not going to legalize a product and put it into a market when there are people who still had records. So this is an important piece of that,” she said.
The majority leader would not venture a guess as to when New York will legalize recreational marijuana but believes it will happen or New York will “be standing alone as the lone state” that doesn’t allow it.
Attorney general’s office adding diversity and inclusion czar
State Attorney General Letitia James is creating a new office to promote an environment of “acceptance and open-mindedness” in her department.
Sandra Grannum, who has been with the attorney general’s office for nearly 17 years, is being tapped by James to be the agency’s first diversity and inclusion officer. Since 2007, she has served as director of legal recruitment, where she expanded the agency’s diversity efforts in recruitment.
“Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been the clarion call of Attorney General James throughout her career, and the urgency to heed that call is now greater than ever,” Grannum said in a statement.
James, who took office in January, said in a statement that the new office is an “essential step” in fostering a diverse and inclusive workplace that represents the people of New York.
Republicans hope to use legislative session to advantage
New York Republicans have been using Facebook advertisements highlighting the successes and failure of Democratic lawmakers in their attempt to claw back power in next year's elections.
ALBANY — Republicans are angling to make liberal successes in the state Capitol backfire for Democratic incumbents in moderate and conservative regions.
A year before next year's legislative primaries, the GOP has already begun using targeted social media advertisements to let voters in swing districts know about the adoption of what it characterizes as far-left policies such as driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants and new farm labor benefits.
Ads are also pointing to the pay raise lawmakers approved for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Amazon's decision to abandon plans for a headquarters in Queens in the face of opposition from some Democratic lawmakers.
The focus of the ads has primarily been limited to freshmen senators from Long Island and the Hudson Valley and upstate members of the Assembly, who are vulnerable every two years. The content varies from humorous graphics to ominous images with polarizing language.
Assemblyman Will Barclay, who leads the effort to grow the GOP's ranks in the Assembly, said these communities aren't joining New York City in "popping champagne bottles" following the completion of a busy legislative session last week.
"We just think it's important that the voters know what's going on in Albany," Barclay said.
Following the January adoption of legislation enabling undocumented immigrants to access public tuition assistance, the Senate Republicans began running ads that told voters they're "paying for illegal immigrants to go to college."
Immediately after broad benefits and protections were approved last week for farm workers, ads from Assembly Republicans said their colleagues across the aisle had "voted to put New York farms out of business!" Sen. Michael Gianaris, who oversees the Senate Democrats' political operation, dismissed the GOP strategy and said the reaction to the legislative session has been overwhelmingly positive.
"These are the same attacks they've been trotting out year after year — including in 2018, when we mopped the floor with them," Gianaris said.
He acknowledged that some Democratic seats might be vulnerable, but said the party would be using its track record to go on the offensive in Republican districts.
IJC members, Congressional representatives hold roundtable on Lake Ontario water levels
Members of the International Joint Commission, along with Central New York Congressional representatives, held a roundtable discussion Friday on the high water levels impacting homes and businesses along Lake Ontario.
Members of the International Joint Commission (IJC), the agency that controls water flows and lake levels on Lake Ontario, got a look at flood damage first-hand at Sodus Point.
The first stop for the newly-appointed commissioner and her Canadian counterparts, however, was a roundtable discussion in Oswego. They met with Congressmen John Katko and Anthony Brindisi, along with other leaders from communities around Lake Ontario.
The IJC claims the flooding is caused by record rainfall, and not by the controversial Plan 2014, which specifics when water should be let through dams along the system. Jane Corwin, the newly appointed US Commissioner blames the amount of rain in 2017 and this year. She met with community members on the beach in the second half of her trip. She sat down with Congressman John Katko, Anthony Brindisi, and other lakeside community leaders.
The IJC stands by Plan 2014, but local leaders are encouraged that independent scientists are being brought in to study if it’s doing what it’s supposed to or more harm than good. Assemblyman Will Barclay released the following statement today after taking part in a round table discussion with members of the International Joint Commission and other local, state, and federal representatives in Oswego.
“I want to thank Congressman Katko for hosting the IJC commissioners in Oswego today to discuss flooding on Lake Ontario. Property owners are devastated by the historically high water levels compounded with wind from storms and are looking for help and answers. While I don’t think there is an agreement on the causes of the current catastrophic flooding, I was pleased the IJC came to the county to listen to our concerns about Plan 2014. I was also pleased they recognize that a full review of Plan 2014 is needed.
“I continue to believe that Plan 2014 has contributed to the high lake levels and the resulting property damage. I will continue to advocate for its revocation.”
State Lawmakers Advocate for Funding for Property Owners on Lake Ontario: State Legislators representing shoreline communities along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River joined today to advocate for residents who have been impacted by flooding and severe storms. A joint letter was sent to the Governor from 13 state lawmakers today, urging him to make funding available to private property owners who need to rebuild following damaging floods.
New York State Legislative Leadership
Roxanne Persaud, Chair of Majority Steering Committee
Roxanne Persaud represents the 19th Senate district, which includes parts of Canarsie, East New York, Brownsville, Mill Basin, Sheepshead Bay, Bergen Beach, Marine Park, Flatlands, Ocean Hill and Starrett City in Brooklyn.Roxanne Persaud was first elected to the Senate in November 2015 after serving in the State Assembly.
Roxanne was born in Guyana, South America and migrated to the United States with her parents and siblings. She is a graduate of Pace University from which she holds a Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Education Administration.
Roxanne spent many years as a Higher Education Administrator prior to being elected to the State Legislature. In addition, she is a longtime advocate for the community. She served as President of the 69th Precinct Community Council in Canarsie, a member of Community Board 18 and Commissioner on the New York City Districting Commission. She also is a graduate of the NYPD Citizens Police Academy as well as, the New York City Office of Emergency Management-Community Emergency Response Team.
Erik Dilan, Vice Chair, Majority Conference
Erik Dilan represents the 54th Assembly district, which includes the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bushwick, Cypress Hills, East New York, Ocean Hill, and Brownsville. Mr. Dilan was first elected to the Assembly in 2014.
Prior to his election to the State Assembly, Erik was elected to and served for 12 years in the New York City Council. During his tenure in the Council, he served as the chairperson for the housing & building committee, chairperson of the Brooklyn Delegation and as a member of the budget negotiating team. In these roles, Erik had the honor of setting legislative priorities related to housing and construction in the City of New York, being a point person and consensus builder for the Council’s Brooklyn Delegation on, major legislative items, passage of City budget, funding to Brooklyn cultural groups and not for profit organizations
Erik began his career in public service as a member of community school board # 32. Where he was able to work with other board members, to find the best educators and policies to serve the children of Bushwick. He also served on Brooklyn’s Community Board # 4.