Sheldon Silver

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The New York Times is reporting that federal investigators are probing outside income paid to the New York state Assembly speaker, among other lawmakers. A reform group says the article is one more reason Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature should adopt long overdue ethical changes.

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, says legislators are finding that if they don’t change their policies they are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors. She says her group hopes to convince them to do so.

Karen Dewitt

Advocates of raising the minimum wage see hope in recent statements by the leader of the state Senate, and hope a deal can be struck by the end of the year.

Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, whose party will control the Senate in January, says while he thinks the state’s gradual increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour next year is good enough, he’s willing to at least discuss raising it higher. Skelos, after meeting with Republican members, says he also wants a pay raise for senators.

Now that the state budget is done, the focus at the Capitol is shifting to other priorities, including whether to allow medical marijuana. Advocates came to the Capitol to lobby lawmakers, but the bill is getting bogged down over political skirmishes.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver caused a bit of a stir when he seemed to say that a bill to legalize medical marijuana might be dead for the year, saying he does not think it has a future in the 2014 session.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are still struggling to come to a final budget agreement, after the time for an expected announcement came and went on Friday.

Optimistic lawmakers had predicted a final accord on the budget by mid day Friday, but in the end, were unable to achieve that goal.

Update as of 7:00 a.m. Friday:

Legislative leaders say they expect to have a final agreement on a state budget later today. They need a deal by midday in order to be on schedule for an on time budget when the fiscal year ends on Monday.

Update as of 4:45 p.m. Thursday:

Legislative leaders are less hopeful now that a budget agreement can be reached Thursday because there are too many unresolved details.

When the budget deal is finally reached in Albany, average New Yorkers will have had little access to the details of the important items that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers are discussing. That's because the longtime Albany tradition known as "Three Men in a Room" continues.

The only difference from the decades long tradition of three men in a room budget negotiations is now there are four men in a room. The Senate is led by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, and so has two co-leaders.

Wallyg / Flickr

State lawmakers say it’s likely the state budget will include a moratorium on the effects of school exams administered in connection with the controversial Common Core learning standards.

The state Assembly already passed a bill to delay the effects of the new Common Core tests on students and teachers, after widespread complaints that schools and the state education department were not adequately prepared to make the needed curriculum changes.

Legislative leaders say they are working together and are close to a budget agreement, after last week's blow up that left the Senate and Assembly leaders negotiating separately with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislative leaders, following a two-hour, closed-door meeting with the governor, seemed in high spirits. Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos gave his oftentimes rival Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver a hug.

“Look how much I love Shelly,” Skelos said with a laugh.

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo enlisted the aid of some local government leaders to promote his tax freeze proposal, which has been losing ground in the New York state legislature.

Cuomo, surrounded by several county executives from across the state, promoted his plan, which is not supported in the state legislature. He says he’s signed up 150 local government leaders as supporters.

“It is a bold proposal, I understand that,” said Cuomo. He predicts the more people hear about it, the more they will support it.

On Wednesday, both houses of the legislature are due to release their one-house budget proposals, which they will then use to negotiate a final spending plan with Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, in an interview with PBS's New York Now and public radio stations, says Assembly Democrats are not yet on board with part of Cuomo’s plan to cut the estate tax.

A new poll finds New Yorkers remain confused about the worth of the new Common Core learning standards, which schools in the state are in the process of adopting.

The Siena College poll finds voters are divided over the program, with around the same amount saying they are not confident that Common Core will result in better preparing students to be college or career ready, as those who say that the new learning standards are on the right track.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Assembly Democrats passed a one-house version of the Dream Act, a bill to give college aid to the children of undocumented immigrants, and urged the Senate to follow suit.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who calls the Dream Act a top priority, blamed opposition among Senate Republicans for the measure’s failure to advance in the upper chamber. And he says the breakaway Independent Democrats in the Senate, who are in a coalition government with the GOP, need to work to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

http://www.corningareaschools.com/index.cfm

Board members of the Corning-Painted Post School District voted last week to step out on its own. Beginning next year, the district will no longer be using the state designed curriculum.

Michael Ginalski, Superintendent of the Corning-Painted Post School District, says the roll-out of Common Core was flawed from the beginning. “What we were trying to do was change the tire on a car while the car was still running with this initiative,” he said.

James F Clay / Flickr

The leaders of the New York state legislature are urging the state Board of Regents to delay the effects of the new federal Common Core standards for at least another two years.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is asking the state Board of Regents and the state Education Department to slow down their rapid adoption of the Common Core standards. Currently, the results of student scores on the new high stakes testing will be used to evaluate teachers this year, but Silver says that should be delayed for another two years.

Wallyg / Flickr

Some top state lawmakers seem to be changing their minds over whether to call special elections for a growing number of vacancies in the legislature.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver now says he wants voters to pick new legislators to fill 11 vacancies. And Gov. Cuomo now says he is looking at the issue.

Silver had said special elections to fill the nine vacancies in the Assembly and two in the Senate might be pointless, since new members could not be seated before the budget is done, and that he did not expect the legislature to do much work after late March.

knittymarie/flickr

Hundreds of school children, parents and union members held a rally and sit-in at the state Capitol to build momentum for more spending on schools in the state budget.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Patients with serious health conditions, including children with a severe seizure disorder, came to the state Capitol to urge passage of a bill to better allow access to medical marijuana in New York.

Kate Hinz is one of dozens of people who came to the Capitol on the first formal day of session to lobby for the bill to allow medical marijuana in New York as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions. Her daughter Morgan has Dravet’s syndrome, a rare form of epilepsy that is incurable and very difficult to treat with conventional drugs.

The legislative session begins with the New York State Assembly still plagued by sexual harassment scandals.  Seven women have now accused a Buffalo-area assemblyman of sexual harassment.

Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak , of Cheektowaga, has now been accused of sexual harassment  by a seventh woman. Another assemblyman, Micah Kellner, of Manhattan , has been censured by the Assembly Ethics Committee for alleged sexual harassment.

The state’s minimum wage is now $8 an hour, after a new law took effect Dec. 31. It’s part of a phased-in increase that will result in a $9 an hour rate for the state’s lowest income earners by 2016. But a leading lawmaker says the hike should be phased in faster, and advocates that tip earners, like wait staff, should also be included.  

The state ethics board held its final meeting of the year, and announced no major decisions or initiatives. Critics say that’s normal for the controversial Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), and they say that’s part of the problem.

Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty

There’s more bad news for people with ties to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. The husband of a top aide to the speaker has been fired from his job at a top New York City not for profit and is under criminal investigation by the state attorney general.  

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has confirmed that his office has launched a criminal probe of William Rapfogel, CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, one of New York City’s largest human services agencies.

Office of Assembly Minority Leader Brain Kolb

The Republican leader of the state Assembly is calling for the legislature to return for a special session to wrap up some unfinished business.

The legislature adjourned at the end of June with no firm plans to meet again before next January, but Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb says there’s too much left to do to wait until next year.

“I definitely think we should go back,” Kolb said.  

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, met Tuesday and spent most of its time in a private session, as Patrick Bulgaro, a key appointee of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, resigned from the board.

Silver was the subject of a recent ethics commission probe, which examined his role in the sexual harassment charges against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. The report found Silver was not guilty of any wrongdoing, but did criticize his role in a secret $100,000 settlement to two of Lopez’s alleged victims.

The state legislature left Albany last week with some unfinished business. They did not agree on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, and Cuomo says at least one house should return to pass some of the bill’s provisions.

In the final days of the session, the numbers nine and 10 became key points of discussion for Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act. That referred to the debate over whether to pass all 10 or just nine provisions in Cuomo’s proposed legislation.

A new poll finds a slim majority of voters think Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver should step down from his leadership post, following two reports that were critical of his handling of a sexual harassment case.

Assemblyman Vito Lopez has already resigned and is facing record fines for allegedly sexually harassing four women on his staff. Speaker Silver was criticized in an ethics report and a report by the Staten Island District Attorney for initially mishandling the accusations. Silver has apologized.

One day after the state’s powerful Assembly speaker admitted “glaring failures” in his handling of a sexual abuse case, the Albany establishment seemed to be moving on, with the usual round of press conferences, bill passage, and leaders meetings.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is calling on Assemblyman Vito Lopez, the subject of a scathing ethics commission report on sexual harassment, to resign from office or be expelled.

The Legislative Ethics Commission released its report on the sexual harassment allegations against Assemblyman Vito Lopez.  It’s conclusions have New York City’s National Organization for Women calling for a vote of no confidence against the still-serving assemblyman, and the Republicans calling for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to resign.

Columbia City Blog / via Flickr

The state’s attorney general and Assembly speaker have proposed an early voting system for New York that they say can improve voter participation and democracy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to update New York’s antiquated abortion laws to reflect rights affirmed in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. But Senate GOP leader Dean Skelos says it goes to far.

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