Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act Brings The A-Word To New York State Politics

In the video below, Governor Cuomo lays out his intentions for the Women’s Equality Act – a plan that would focus on erasing specific gender biases in New York State law. Akin to the gun control bill passed in December, it’s a landmark piece of legislation for the Cuomo administration and, per usual, many speculators see its possible passage as a platform jump for the Governor’s presidential aspirations.

And it’s shaping into one of the more controversial pieces this side of Albany.

The legislative session upstate ends in late June and, before then, the Governor hopes to get this package passed in the Senate and Assembly. And, by “package,” we mean the following ten points as lined out by Cuomo’s office:

  1. 1. Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice
  2. 2. Achieve Pay Equity
  3. 3. Stop Sexual Harassment in All Workplaces
  4. 4. Allow for the Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees in Employment and Credit and Lending Cases
  5. 5. Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws
  6. 6. End Family Status Discrimination
  7. 7. Stop Source-of-Income Discrimination
  8. 8. Stop Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic Violence
  9. 9. Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All
  10. 10. Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws

Can you guess why the bill has already sparked drama in the State Senate?

The bill’s first provision – “Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice” – indirectly implies the a-word. And, since the rise of Tea Party politics in America, New York State has evaded the political vulgarity that has attached itself to the controversial issue. It’s no frontpage story now that Republican-controlled statehouses across the country have revisited the constitutional foundations of Roe v. Wade, adding more limitations to what a woman can and cannot do to her unborn baby. Vaginal ultrasounds, trimesters, cuts to federal funding for clinics, etc., etc.

Hence the included provision. By codifying abortion rights into the state law, Cuomo would move beyond Roe v. Wade in an attempt to prevent any infringement on a women’s right to choose. It’s a reaction to reactionary politics sweeping through states. And, by doing so, New York State politics is buckling itself up for an abortion battle.

The opposition is being led by State Senate Republican chieftain Dean Skelos of Long Island. Yesterday, he made it perfectly clear that his party would not let the abortion provision come to a vote. The other parts of the bill? Totally fine. But that one provision is not cutting it for Skelos.

His argument lies in its text: “You don’t need it because Roe v. Wade is never going to be changed.” In this sense, he called the provision “unnecessary.” It’s like Alexander Hamilton’s problems with the Bill of Rights: why do we need to spell these ideas out when they already exist in our system? Also, he stated that citizens want their elected representatives to care about jobs, not defend their right to abortion.

Without the Republican conference’s support, the bill cannot come to the floor for a vote. So, if this provision is included, the Women’s Equality Act will be D.O.A. and, naturally, this is the last thing the Governor wants to hear.

The Voice will keep you updated on this impending legislative drama.


State Lawmakers Propose a Ban on Using Campaign Money for Legal Fees

Let’s say you donate to a campaign. You really like said candidate and believe he or she will do a great job representing you and your interests in government. Eventually, your preferred politician gets elected and you’re confident that your donation was well-spent.

And then, a year later, he or she is involved in a corruption scandal and, soon enough, you see your donation dollars in the hands of the candidate’s lawyers. Wait, that’s not okay, right?

That’s the question being asked in Albany this week, as state lawmakers debate whether to include a ban on using campaign money for outrageous legal fees in the campaign finance reform bill coming out of Governor Cuomo’s office. In 1989, the State Board of Elections decided that it was totally fine for candidates to spend their electoral cash on defenses in court. But, in the wake of the recent scandal fest, that opinion is quickly being revisited.

The Daily News reports that 20 elected officials have paid nearly $6.78 million on legal fees–all of which came from campaign treasure chests. But, in some cases, the politicians were forced to defend themselves against meaningless lawsuits; the fees just being a product of the expensive legal system we have in place.

But is that an excuse still to use money that was donated to you?

Although the ban has received bipartisan support, Senate Democrats are the ones really pushing for this thing. Its main opponent lies in Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which makes sense. Over the years, Silver has spent thousands to defend himself in court – most recently, he had to hire a lawyer in the Vito Lopez case, when the Speaker was probed for coming to a secret settlement with the harassment chargers. So, yes, he would be against this ban.

The Voice will keep you updated on the campaign finance reform bill as it makes it way through Albany’s legislative halls.


Mayor Bloomberg To New York State: Follow My Lead On Soda Ban

Two weeks from today, Mayor Bloomberg’s citywide ban on the sale of soda pop beverages above the 16 oz. size will take full effect. Once that occurs, all establishments regulated by the City’s Health Department are expected to toss their fizzy beverages into the trash. Expect rioting from the New Yorkers for Beverage Choices (or whoever else is still morally opposed to this infringement of our civil drinking liberties).

However, there is a legislative linchpin in this ban that exempts hundreds of commercial businesses from soda pop regulation: if a grocery store, supermarket or bodega makes less than 50 percent of its sale from processed foods, that enterprise is under the oversight of New York State’s Department of Agriculture, not the City.

In essence, this loophole will leave New Yorkers with the ability to walk right into, say, Gristede’s and buy all of the 32 oz.’s of soda they wanted but the inability to do the same at any local pizzeria.

With that being said, the entire efficacy of the law (as well as the anti-ban advocates’ immense frustration) comes into question. What’s the point of having a half-ass soda ban? If this exemption exists, we can’t even really call it a ‘soda ban’ – it’s more like a ‘soda inconvenience,’ if anything, right?

Well, Mr. Bloomberg has apparently asked himself these questions, too. So, yesterday, he told Albany to jump on his banning bandwagon in an attempt to ensure that every 32 oz. in the State goes unturned.

“Keep in mind we’re trying to save the lives of these kids, particularly kids…The state should do exactly the same thing in stores,” the Mayor told reporters.

According to the Post, Governor Cuomo’s office is busy putting together a response to Mr. Bloomberg’s demand. It’s going to be difficult to convince the entire state to give up larger-than-life soda, especially with a state government that just recently had to deal with New York City’s nonsense re: the teacher evaluations deal.

Let’s call it even and compromise on a statewide styrofoam ban, okay?


Gov. Cuomo Has Decided: The State Will Take Over Teacher Evaluations

Looks like State Education Commissioner John King wasn’t kidding.

Yesterday, the Associated Press was informed by an anonymous Cuomo administration official that, in his 30-day budget amendments coming up this week, the governor will position Albany to be the central arbiter of a still-not-disclosed statewide teacher evaluations deal; one that will garner millions of Race to the Top funds for New York. After a threat from Mr. Cuomo a few weeks ago, this is the official announcement that, yes, things have gotten that bad.

But this will only happen if the City and its teachers can reach a deal by the newly set deadline, September 17th.

This transfer of power away from the local municipalities is a direct result of the inability of New York City, along with a few other school districts, to get their act together on the controversial subject. The core of the 2010 law passed by state lawmakers — to outsource responsibility to local municipalities on coming to an accountability agreement — broke down late last month when Mayor Bloomberg’s Department of Education walked out of negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers.

And, as we know, the teachers union has had a rough past dealing with City Hall wrested with mayoral control over educational policy. So we can’t blame them for losing $250 million in state aid, leading to a free fall in the Mayor’s budget that will result in the dismissal of 700 teachers, right?

After the failure in January, the deadline for the two feuding parties was first extended to March 1, which Education Chancellor Dennis Walcott told Mr. King was, realistically, not going to happen. Thus, the September 17 deadline was created in order to fend off the coming second wave of possible cuts from City Hall. More time, more opportunity to prevent an additional 1,800 layoffs.

Obviously, state intervention is not exactly favored by the DOE or UFT; the tantrum-filled parties would like a teacher evaluation system that works in their interest, not in Albany’s interest. Even though President Michael Mulgrew has said that he prefers a step-in from upstate than to lose more money. But, honestly, after losing $250 million for our children, should we even care what’s in the interest of these two parties anymore?

Alas, here’s the good news: with Albany now automatically taking the reigns if the City messes up yet again, our schools will not lose any more money because of this stupid, stupid situation.

And, for this strung-out story, that is definitely the good news we wanted to hear.


Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Wants To Bring The $9 Minimum Wage To New York

Because, in 2013, $7.25 is seriously not cutting it.

One of the most attentive features of President Obama’s State of the Union address the other night was his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $9. The move comes as a reaction to inflation, the higher costs of seemingly everything and the revelation of “Oh wait, no one can live off of $7.25” (let alone $9 too, actually).

So, as a result, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced yesterday that he has introduced legislation to bring that same level to New York State. If the bill is enacted, the higher minimum wage would begin next January, with inflation indexed in 2015.

But, of course, the bill has some sort of political subtext. Last year, Mr. Silver wanted to raise the current state minimum wage of $7.25 to $8.50. In Governor Cuomo’s budget speech a few weeks ago, he called Mr. Silver’s bluff and said $8.75 would be more properly sufficient for the State. And, now, Mr. Silver is using Mr. Obama’s speech as evidence that he meant $9 the whole time.

It’s common that states follow federal trends in situations like these; states peg their minimum wages to D.C. and build upon the federal as a default. But who knows what Washington will do in this situation. Congress has a hard enough time passing Sandy relief bills, let alone a minimum wage bump.

And, in this case, New York only moves if Washington moves. We’ll just have to wait and see.


Gov. Cuomo To NYC: If No Teacher Evaluations Deal Is Made, the State Will Intervene

After letting $300 million in state funds slip out of our children’s hands, coercion might be the only way to get Mayor Bloomberg’s D.O.E. and the United Federation of Teachers to come to an agreement.

Yesterday, Governor Cuomo told reporters that Albany has no problem imposing its own teacher evaluations system on New York City if the two parties miss the September 1st deadline. Repeat: the September 1st deadline — another eight months have been given to school districts to solve this mess.

This extension still doesn’t stop the Mayor’s budget from cutting 700 teachers this year; however, this state intervention parallels the impending doom for 1,800 teachers come September. And, if that’s what it comes down to, the City will no longer lose state funds because of the negotiation nonsense, which will hopefully stifle further cuts into staff.

But what’s ironic about the governor’s gesture is the origin of the policy controversy: the 2010 state law that outsourced the responsibility to local school districts of coming to a deal. It knowingly cornered the already-tenuous relationship of the Bloomberg administration and its teachers; now that’s failed, Mr. Cuomo is flexing its enforcement to solve a mistake Albany made.

This irony was the main motive behind a verbal dispute in the Capitol a few days ago between Mayor Bloomberg and the State Legislature. Hizzoner blamed the State Legislature for even writing the 2010 law while the State Legislature blamed the Mayor and the union for placing politics above future generations’ education. If you haven’t realized yet, politics is mostly finger-pointing and solutionless bullshit. But at least it’s entertaining so you can watch the sparring.

Regardless, President Michael Mulgrew is in support of Gov. Cuomo’s interventionist approach: “While we would prefer a negotiated settlement, it’s good to know that should the talks fail again, people who actually understand education will be part of the decision-making process.” The mayor, on the other hand, is a bit more reluctant to let the lawmakers who initiated this feud in the first place take the reigns from his D.O.E.

This story will seriously never end.


New York Becomes First State to Pass Gun Control Bill After Newtown

Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address was entitled “New York Rising.” What happened yesterday in Albany might explain why.

In a 104 to 43 vote, the New York State Assembly officially passed the NY Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act on Tuesday afternoon. The bill was handed down from the State Senate, where it passed 43 to 18 late Monday night. In a signing ceremony on Tuesday evening, Governor Cuomo, alongside other top state officials, signed the bill, making New York the first state in the country to pass significant gun control measures after what happened in Newtown a month ago.

As President Obama weighs 19 executive orders related to the issue on a federal level, the NRA issued a statement in response to New York’s new law, calling it an “all-out assault on the Second Amendment and the law-abiding citizens of New York.” But, if the large margins in both of New York’s chambers are any indication, the gun-toting lobby group may be in the serious minority on this one.

The bill was heralded by New York’s upper echelon of power.

In no surprise to anyone really, Bloomberg applauded the NY SAFE Act and reprimanded the NRA for pulling the Second Amendment card, arguing that it “protects the Second Amendment rights of people and, at the same, it makes all New Yorkers safer.” And, in a statement released by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the top lawyer defended his boss’s landmark, too:

“With the passage of this legislation, our state has taken decisive action to protect New Yorkers from gun violence. By expanding the state’s assault weapons ban, limiting high-capacity magazines and improving background checks, among other measures, the Legislature and Governor Cuomo deserve credit for putting the safety of our communities first. I look forward to continuing to work together with my colleagues in government and law enforcement as we seek to expand our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

Ranging from mental-health issues to improved data-gathering authority, the bill has a lot in it — a longitude of provisions that, knowing the nature of politics, attests to the remarkable pace that Albany actually got this thing passed. If you want to read the whole thing, The New York Times has it here.

Cheers to being a New Yorker. Now on to Washington.



The Mayor’s D.O.E. and UFT Will Resume Talks Today, Just Hours Before $300M Deadline

For whatever reason, “coming down to the wire” doesn’t cut it here. Maybe it’s the $300 million that’s at stake. Who knows.

As we reported last week, a deadline has been set for tomorrow on statewide teacher evaluation deals. If achieved, the state will qualify for millions in Race to the Top grants from Washington, which will help fulfill a staked-out 4 percent increase in education funding from Governor Cuomo’s office. The rest of New York’s schools are waiting on the city to negotiate this relatively touchy subject.
But that’s no surprise: The two parties — the Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers — have had longstanding politics between each other for years now. The fact that the teachers haven’t had a contract with the mayor’s office since 2007 doesn’t help. And Bloomberg likening the UFT to the NRA two weeks ago didn’t, either. For many more reasons than none, the talks stalled some time before Christmas, letting the intensity of this issue build up like a student writing a 30-page paper on existentialism the night before it’s due.
But, hopefully, students are in luck: the AP has reported that the two parties have agreed to come back to the table this afternoon. While the clock ticks away, it’ll be their last attempt to fix a mess that could have widespread repercussions. But no pressure or anything.
The Voice will keep you updated.



With Compromise In Sight, Gov. Cuomo Talks Gun Control In State Of The State Address

In recent weeks, we’ve been following the Governor’s actions regarding gun control quite closely. After the Newtown tragedy, Cuomo proposed a handful of measures to hopefully curb gun-related violence; one of which would be the strictest magazine clip ban in the nation. However, the momentum hit a wall in Albany, where Senate Republicans, after initially supporting the Governor’s actions, refused to hear out the Democrats’ proposals.

But, on the heels of news from Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver that state lawmakers were ‘95 percent‘ done with a gun control deal, the state’s top dog entered Albany yesterday to deliver his annual State of the State Address. His agenda included economic growth, the environment, Hurricane Sandy relief efforts, tourism and, most significantly for our conversation, gun control.

Although the issue didn’t dominate the speech as most predicted, Cuomo’s words reaffirmed the fact that he’s gung-ho about passing this proposal – if he does, it’ll without a doubt go down as one of his landmark achievements, in the vein of New York’s same-sex marriage bill. But we’ll let his words from the speech explain the current situation for you.

“And I say to you: forget the extremists. It’s simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs ten bullets to kill a deer,” Cuomo said.

(As per usual, a transcript is not available to the public; instead, you can check out this 300-page report, appropriately entitled ‘NY Rising,’ provided by the Governor’s office.)

The applause-ready line refers to the aforementioned magazine ban; a proposal that opponents think would lead to New York turning into ‘Nazi Germany’ because, as we all know,  Hitler was out to take away Second Amendment rights. In addition, the Governor extended the policy talk into the mental health factor. Inspired by the shooters behind Aurora and Newtown, the proposal that’s moving through Albany hopes to give the ability to counselors to revoke one’s gun license if he or she shows symptoms of violent nature. To supplement that, gun owners would be reviewed regularly to show that they are capable to handle a weapon.

In terms of the actual deal, Silver told reporters of the legacy at stake here: “New York leads the nation in everything; it’s time we lead the nation in this.” Apparently, the main linchpin for the Senate Republicans’ approval was the crime issue. To address this, the deal has a few new features. For tracking purposes, New York State will create a universal licensing system for sales. Also, law enforcement officials will have a wider breadth of authority to end illegal gun trafficking – a crime that would now have stiffer penalties for those involved.

According to Senate Republican leader Dean Skelos of Long Island, the negotiations are going well; as a result, a deal is predicted to be done by the end of this week. Wait, politicians are agreeing on something? That can happen? Where are we?

We’ll find out at the end of this week if this is too good to be true.


Gov. Cuomo’s Gun Control Push Already Hit A Wall In Albany

Did anyone expect this to go smoothly at all? Doubtful.

Echoing sentiments from both President Obama and Mayor Bloomberg, we learned last week that Governor Andrew Cuomo planned on making gun control a top priority after the Newtown tragedy. His administration called for tougher background checks for registration, a wider scope for New York’s already-existent assault weapons ban and, most significantly, a magazine ban that would limit gun owners to seven bullets a clip. The final measure mentioned would be the strictest of its kind in the nation.
However, as per usual, a push for gun control has been met with clear opposition from both inside and outside of Albany. The first time we reported this, we mentioned that the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association – a quasi-NRA offshoot lobbying group – was literally up in arms over the proposals, arguing that the Wayne LaPierre Approach to put guns in schools was best fit to protect our children.
Next week, Mr. Cuomo will deliver his State of the State address. It was expected that he’d announce some sort of deal or compromise on the issue beforehand. But, now, it doesn’t look like that’s happening anytime soon.
According to the Daily News, an insider source has told reporters that “the sides are still far apart,” meaning “a quick deal is unlikely” because, of course, it’s politics in the end. The source is referring to the Senate Republicans – a group that at first pledged to support further assault weapon restrictions soon after the Cuomo administration mentioned it would be pursuing them.
Time (a week) changes everything. The Republicans “are bulking on certain restrictions,” informing sources that this support wasn’t an all-out support for the Governor’s proposals… only a few of them, maybe. And this should be a given: in the original proclamation of support, the party never said exactly what restrictions they’d back. As we know, political strategy is all in the fine print.
As of now, the main block to agreement between Cuomo’s Democrats and the Senate Republicans is what an assault weapon actually is. But, after Newtown – the horrific catalyst to this revived issue – shouldn’t this no longer be a question?
Regardless, what’s most important here is that there’s an argument happening in Albany; an action that hasn’t been taken in too long. Something should be said to validate all this nonsense: the fact that this issue now has opposition, players and controversy means, as a talking point, it has arms and feet. And that’s the most progress lawmakers have made in years.
We said on Monday that gun control vitriol in Capitols across the country will define the months to come in 2013. Governor Cuomo will announce his proposals in his State of the State address next week. The Voice will provide commentary then.