New York state Senate

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Democrats in the New York state Senate say they will push harder for gun control bills in the wake of the Florida shooting that left 17 dead and are even considering proposing the measures as hostile amendments.

Before they left for the Presidents week break, Senate Democrats pushed for more measures to strengthen gun control in New York. The state already has one of the strongest gun laws in the nation. Known as the SAFE Act, it was passed shortly after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut at the request of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

New York State Senate

Shortly after sexual harassment allegations against Senate Independent Democratic Leader Jeff Klein emerged, numerous people started calling for an independent investigation. But under current law, there are few avenues available for launching a probe.

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The leader of the Independent Democrats in the state Senate denies that he forcibly kissed a former staffer, and says he intends to remain as leader of the breakaway democratic faction.

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Monday was the first full day of session in the New York State legislature, and lawmakers have a lot to contend with, including a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.

The state Assembly gaveled in first, with remarks by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The speaker, a Star Trek fan, used one of his favorite quotes from the series as he offered a critique of what he calls “radical policies” by President Trump and the Republican Congress in Washington.

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The Independent Democratic Conference, a group of eight Democratic state senators who operate in a coalition with Republicans in the state Senate, has come under increasing criticism by Democrats in the Senate, and across the state. This week on the Campbell Conversations, host Grant Reeher talks with state Sen. Dave Valesky (D-Oneida), a member of the IDC.

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The deputy leader of the state Senate said 2018 will be a difficult year for balancing the state budget.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, R-Syracuse, predicted cutbacks in health care spending to help close a multibillion-dollar deficit.

DeFrancisco said the state’s $4.4 billion projected deficit, combined with potential effects of the federal tax overhaul on New York, will make the next state budget the most difficult one in at least seven years.

“It’s going to be a horrible budget,” DeFrancisco said.

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Two rival factions of the Democratic Party in the New York state Senate are making moves toward unification. 

New York State Senate

The state Democratic Party, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, is offering carrots and sticks to two rival factions of Democrats in the state Senate in an effort to get them to reunite and potentially rule the chamber.

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New York’s leaders are continuing to struggle with actions in Congress on the federal budget and tax overhaul that could adversely affect the state’s finances. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said it’s possible he’ll call a special session to address potential gaps in the state budget that could total several billion dollars. But he said the uncertainty over what will happen in Washington on health care funding and on major tax changes is making it hard to plan.

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Former state Senate Leader Dean Skelos and his son Adam saw their federal corruption convictions overturned by a federal appeals court panel Tuesday.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health commissioner received a grilling from state senators at a hearing this week on whether New York is doing enough to combat tick-borne illnesses.

Health Commissioner Howard Zucker told the senators that this year, there are fewer deer ticks and fewer reported cases of Lyme disease in the state.

But, he said, the number of Lone Star ticks is up. They can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and even cause someone to become allergic to eating red meat.

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A left-leaning group is asking the state’s top politicians to give back donations from a hedge fund manager who made racially charged comments against New York’s only black female legislative leader. But so far, most — including Gov. Andrew Cuomo — have held on to the money.

Daniel Loeb, the founder and chief executive of the multi-billion-dollar hedge fund Third Point LLC, received attention when, in a Facebook post, he compared the leader of the state Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to the Ku Klux Klan.

New York State Senate

There’s growing pressure on a group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate to reunite with the mainstream Democrats and form a majority to rule the Senate.

At a rally in Harlem, many of the state’s top African-American politicians, chanting “Andrea, Andrea,” voiced their support for the current leader of Senate Democrats, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, to become the majority leader of the Senate.

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Gov. Cuomo says the state legislature fell down on the job by leaving town without passing an extension of mayoral control for the New York City schools, and he has not ruled out calling them back for a special session.

Cuomo says by not voting to extend the Bill de Blasio’s authority over the public schools, they essentially voted for a return to the dysfunction of the old system of multiple community school boards. 

“It is a dereliction of duty,” Cuomo said.

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The state Assembly and Senate adjourned for the year last night, without any deals on extending control of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s authority over the public school system, or the continuation of sales taxes in upstate and Long Island counties. Assembly Democrats have tied the two issues together in one bill, and Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle called it a basic concept.

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The state Senate is likely to confirm Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination to fill the latest vacancy on the state’s highest court.

Judge Paul Feinman would be the first openly gay judge on the Court of Appeals. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Long Island native was generally praised by committee members.

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State lawmakers have passed legislation that could provide financial relief for those affected by Lake Ontario flooding. The new bill was approved after weeks of debate between the state Senate and Assembly over how much to spend and whom should be be eligible

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named the first openly gay judge to New York’s highest court.

Cuomo has nominated Paul Feinman, an appellate court judge and LGBT rights advocate, to fill a vacancy on the New York State Court of Appeals. During an interview on the cable news station NY1, Cuomo praised Feinman’s abilities.

A faction of breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference has been in the news lately for receiving stipend payments for chairing committees that the Senators in fact did not chair. Here’s a look at the history of this power-brokering group of senators and what may be in store for its future.

DeFrancisco says state Senate stipends allowed by law

Jun 1, 2017
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Republican state Sen. John DeFrancisco is weighing in on some big topics facing the Senate before its session ends in June. DeFrancisco said the question of stipends being paid to Democratic and Republican senators has become a huge issue.

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Green Party candidates in Syracuse are pushing state Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) to support universal health care in New York. The bill could be close to getting a majority of senators to sign on.

Syracuse mayoral candidate Howie Hawkins said DeFrancisco is the only New York state legislator representing the city that is not in favor of a single-payer system.

“We want John to be a hero for Syracuse, because this bill would solve the city’s fiscal crisis,” Hawkins said.

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After months of focusing on members of Congress, protesters with the CNY Solidarity Coalition are shifting their attention to the New York State Legislature to push their progressive agenda. They are calling on Democratic state Sen. Dave Valesky to cut his ties with the Independent Democratic Conference. 

Protesters wore black veils and carried fake tombstones at a mock funeral held outside Valesky’s office in Syracuse. Rachel May with CNY Solidarity was among them.

“Dearly beloved, we come here to pay our respects to poor, progressive Bill,” May said.

New York State Senate

After an embarrassing controversy over stipend payments, the beleaguered group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate is trying to change the subject.

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference has been the target of some bad headlines lately because some of its members have accepted stipend payments of $12,500 to $18,000 for chairing committees when they were in fact the vice chairs, a position that does not legally entitle a senator to extra pay.

The IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, has said repeatedly that it’s all legal.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

There are reports that state senators who received payments for chairing committees that they actually did not chair are now under a probe by the state attorney general and at least one U.S. attorney.

Several Republican and independent Democratic senators were paid stipends allocated to chairs of Senate committees. But the senators weren’t actually the chairs; they had all been designated as vice chairs, a relatively new title. There is no provision in state law to pay stipends to vice chairs.

New York State Senate

The state is one step closer to having ride-hailing services available before the Fourth of July, now that the state Senate has passed a bill to speed up when companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York.

When state lawmakers agreed to allow the companies to operate outside New York City as part of the budget, they thought that they would pass the legislation by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

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The leader of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference for the first time publicly answered questions from the media about news stories that some of his members received stipends for committee chair positions that they do not actually hold.

State Sen. Jeff Klein defended the practice, while the leader of the Senate Democrats is calling for an investigation.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There are calls for a criminal investigation of some questionable stipend payments to some New York state senators. One of the senators who received those payments is giving it back, while another is calling the controversy a “witch hunt.”

Several senators who are part of a breakaway group of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference were paid extra stipends — ranging from $12,500 to $18,000 a year — for serving on various Senate committees controlled by the majority party Republicans.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the state Senate remain hopeful that they will regain the numerical majority and control of the chamber after a special election is held later this month. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo dampened those expectations, in remarks made Wednesday in New York City.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she expects the seat of former Sen. Bill Perkins, a Harlem Democrat who won a city council post, to be filled by another mainstream Democrat when a special election is held on May 23.

New York State Senate

Bills to improve voter access advanced in a New York State Senate committee, but their ultimate passage is uncertain.

The measures, which would allow same-day voter registration and early voting, were approved in the Senate Elections Committee and moved to a second committee.

Last year, the second committee, on local government, never met before the session ended, but advocates hope that 2017 is different.

Senate Republican Leader John Flanagan cast doubt on the measures, saying he has concerns about potential costs.

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Republican senators have proposed a state budget for this year that includes $3 million towards helping upstate farmers recover from last summer’s drought, the worst the state has seen in decades. In some cases, the dry summer weather resulted in the loss of entire crops. The federal government designated more than 20 counties national disaster areas due to the severity of the drought.

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