With help from Shawn Ness
The state Senate was poised to pass a package of health affordability bills late today that includes having the state enter into contracts with private manufacturers to produce generic drugs and one to let New Yorkers start importing medicine from Canada.
The package is part of Albany Democrats’ focus on “affordability” as a theme this election year when they will all be on the ballot.
“We are very clear that we are here to fight for working- and middle-class people,” Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said at a news conference to announce the bills. “We’re here to serve the people, to address their needs, to prioritize issues that we know matter to most working families.”
Notably, most of these bills previously passed the Senate in 2023 yet stalled in the Assembly.
That’s become a bit of a theme early in the 2024 session.
The two houses have each passed a selection of bills that were approved by only their chamber last year, but stalled in the other — including a voting package passed by the Senate and a Port Authority reform bill in the Assembly.
But outside of chapter amendments making technical tweaks to bills that were approved in 2023, and a maternal health package approved last week, there have yet to be any major two-way agreements that have been common in some other Januarys since Democrats won the Senate in 2019.
And with January winding down, there’s not much time left for any of these legislative kumbayas before the budget due at the end of March subsumes everything else.
“We’re always in conversations with our colleagues in the Assembly,” Stewart-Cousins said. “At this point, we are pretty much ensconced in the budget conversations. I could just tell you to stay tuned, I’m not promising anything, but we always are working very, very closely with our colleagues in the Assembly.”
‘RAPE IS RAPE’ BILL SIGNED: Gov. Kathy Hochul signed the ‘Rape is Rape’ bill into law today, which creates new protections for survivors of rape, while also holding perpetrators accountable. The legislation expands the definition of rape to include vaginal sexual contact, oral sexual contact and anal sexual contact.
“Today is about the survivors. It’s about aligning the letter of the law with the pain in their hearts,” she said at a Red Room news conference.
The previous law had excluded oral and anal rape from being called rape, as well as required a higher standard for vaginal rape.
“Rape is rape, plain and simple. In New York State we cannot allow outdated, heteronormative notions of sex to limit our ability to acknowledge that fact and to hold those who commit acts of sexual violence accountable,” Manhattan Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, a Democrat, said in a statement. — Katelyn Cordero
CRIME INCIDENT: State Police said officers responded today to reports of an altercation in the Empire State Plaza Concourse at 11:40 a.m.
The fight was between three individuals known to each other, and when two of them tussled, one brandished a knife, police said. The other individual tried to grab it and cut their hand.
The third person attempted to intervene by engaging the suspect with the knife, and the three suspects were brought into custody, police said.
“State Police are actively investigating the incident and anticipate arrests and charges to follow,” a spokesperson said.
OVERRIDE DELAYED, A BIT: The New York City Council is set to override Mayor Eric Adams’ vetoes this afternoon on two law enforcement bills — dealing a serious blow to the law enforcement mayor.
But that hasn’t happened yet.
That’s in part because conservative City Councilmember Kalman Yeger, who opposes the bills and doesn’t want to see them overridden, took advantage of Robert’s Rules of Order to slow down today’s two council meetings, making multiple points of order and motions.
He argued, among other things, it wasn’t a valid meeting because the council didn’t post the agenda by the charter-required 36 hours in advance.
But the specific argument didn’t matter much: Yeger was more trying to make a point that he finds the body to be unprofessional. “I think we’re pretending here in the council that we’re a legislative body,” he told Playbook. — Jeff Coltin
CONTRACTS DELAYED: The Adams administration has forced many social service providers to work without payment for over a year — delaying payouts on two-thirds of the $38 billion it inked in contracts between the summer of 2022 and 2023, according to a new report from Comptroller Brad Lander.
And for nonprofits in particular, 30 percent of the total negotiated agreements were approved more than a year after work was contractually mandated to begin, Lander found in the city’s Annual Summary Contracts Report.
“We expect our vendors to provide services on time, so we should pay them on time,” Lander said in a statement.
The long-standing problem has grown worse under the Adams administration. In the latter half of 2023, 77 percent of city contracts were delayed, an 11-point increase over the preceding year, Lander found. — Joe Anuta
PRISON REFORM: A collection of legislators, formerly incarcerated people and those with incarcerated family members met today in the Capitol to show support for the “Communities Not Cages” sentencing campaign.
“I’ve talked to people in prison for 20, 30, 50 years. They lost years they can never get back in a way they deserve. That is what we are fighting for,” Assemblymember Harvey Epstein said.
Over 30,000 people are incarcerated in New York’s prisons, and nearly 75 percent are Black or brown, the advocates said.
Second look bills, like the one proposed in the state Senate, have already passed in four states: Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland and Oregon, as well as D.C. Another 22 other states are considering similar legislation.
“The state of New York must say with one voice that perpetual punishment does not make any of us safer. Everyone deserves an opportunity to show how they’ve transformed and can be an asset to their family as well as to their community,” Assemblymember Latrice Walker, a Brooklyn Democrat and the sponsor of the Assembly’s “Second Look Act,” said at the news conference. — Shawn Ness
SUNY PRISON PROGRAMS GET FUNDING: SUNY’s office of higher education in prison received a $3 million grant to bolster its services for incarcerated individuals looking to get a college education.
The funds from Ascendium – a non-profit organization that helps assist low-income communities – will be used to expand and enhance SUNY’s program to help people in prison. In addition, the money will go to the system’s “The Equity Fund,” which is used to increase access to programs and address equity gaps. And lastly the funds are slated to bolster a partnership with the National Association of System Heads to conduct research and establish a network of programming.
“Since becoming chancellor, I’ve had the privilege to attend commencements at correctional facilities, and throughout my career I have seen first-hand the positive impact education has on these individuals,” SUNY Chancellor John King said in a statement. – Katelyn Cordero
CLERGY FOR MEDICAID: More than 200 faith leaders signed onto a letter urging a boost in the Medicaid reimbursement rate for hospitals.
The issue has been part of a major push from labor unions like 1199SEIU as well as the state’s major hospital systems.
“This chronic underfunding of Medicaid has created a health crisis that is pushing New York hospitals to the fiscal breaking point,” the clergy members wrote in the letter to Hochul. “Hospitals can’t hire the staff they need, and many hospitals have already cut critical mental health services and closed maternity wards.”
The letter also comes as Hochul and state lawmakers are negotiating a broader $233 billion budget that is due to pass by April 1. Last year, Hochul and the Legislature agreed to boost reimbursement rates for hospitals, but health care networks have argued more help from the state is necessary. — Nick Reisman
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: Over 150 New York immigrants with Make the Road New York, along with state legislators, rallied in the War Room of the Capitol today to demand an expansion of affordable housing programs in Hochul’s budget.
They were there to demand “Hochul and legislative leaders prioritize New Yorkers freedom to stay in their homes and the freedom to thrive in the state,” according to a media release from the event.
“I represent Long Island, one of the most segregated parts of the United States,” Assemblymember Phil Ramos, a Democrat, said. “These housing initiatives, especially the one where they make municipalities exempt to family homes, are so important for us in segregated areas like Long Island.”
Sen. Jabari Brisport, a Brooklyn Democrat, took the floor and asked all in attendance a question: “Does anyone here have $1 billion?” The answer was a resounding no. “If you did, you could write a very big check to Governor Hochul and get a direct line of influence to policy. Nobody here has $1 billion, so it is time to RAISE YOUR VOICE!” he shouted to an echoing callback. — Shawn Ness
ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCATES DESCEND: Environmental groups held a forum on cleaning up fuels in the transportation sector, pushed back on Hochul’s proposed cut for water infrastructure funding and advocated for lawmakers to include a Superfund-style program targeting fossil fuel companies.
The New York League of Conservation Voters organized the event on the “clean fuel standard” for the transportation sector, which Hochul wants to keep studying. Proponents of the policy, however, said it’s time to act and noted that every other state to implement a cap-and-trade program on emissions has also implemented a low carbon fuel standard.
The program faces opposition from environmental justice groups who want to keep the focus on electrification of transportation.
New York City is utilizing renewable diesel and biodiesel in its fleet and support the program because it would bring down the costs of that policy. “We’re the only group on the East Coast that has renewable diesel. We have this domestic, sustainable switch out fuel that works perfectly… but we have to pay a premium,” said Keith Kerman, New York City chief fleet officer.
Later in the day, a coalition, including Citizens Campaign for the Environment and water providers, pushed for $600 million in clean water infrastructure funding with Senate Environmental Conservation chair Pete Harckham.
Hochul has proposed cutting the program down to $250 million annually for two years, threatening a popular program.
“This is a cut that will not stand,” Harckham said.
Hochul’s budget director said earlier this month that the amount could be reduced because there’s money that hasn’t been spent, but Harckham said that’s been a major frustration and that the administration should get it out to communities.
On the revenue positive side, NYPIRG organized an event pushing for the Climate Superfund measure with Assemblymembers Jeff Dinowitz, Anna Kelles, Harvey Epstein and others.
The bill would place an assessment on oil companies based on their historic sales of fossil fuels. The lookback nature would prevent costs from being passed on to consumers, proponents say, because some companies would be paying less compared to others. It would raise about $3 billion annually.
Hochul and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have not backed the measure. — Marie J. French
LITERACY PUSH: Education advocates are pressuring state and local leaders to take action to boost literacy rates among students.
The New York Campaign for Early Literacy — a new statewide movement of nearly 80 organizations and individuals representing children and families, including parents, students, educators and nonprofits — plans to raise awareness about the statewide literacy crisis and push for policy changes to ensure more students can read on grade level by the end of third grade.
Hochul recently unveiled a plan to revamp reading instruction in schools, including $10 million to train 20,000 teachers in the science of reading, an approach that involves teaching kids phonics and how to sound out words.
But advocates and lawmakers want the governor to go a step further: sign legislation sponsored by Assemblymember Robert Caroll (D-Brooklyn) and Hoylman-Sigal that would require the state Education Department to give schools guidance to establish literacy curricula and teacher training based on the science of reading.
“Reading is a civil and human right, and all children can learn to read with the right support,” Jeff Smink, interim executive director of The Education Trust—New York, which launched the campaign today at the Capitol, said in a statement. — Madina Touré
ANOTHER WEED SUIT: New York cannabis regulators are being sued yet again, this time in the state Supreme Court.
A group of women-owned cannabis businesses that applied for dispensary licenses in the latest application round are asking the court for a temporary restraining order to block regulators from issuing licenses.
At issue is a queue that regulators released earlier this month that determines the order in which the Office of Cannabis Management will review licenses. Unlucky entrepreneurs who drew a queue number lower down on the list may not get their license application reviewed at all.
The state is “arbitrarily picking and choosing” which applicants get priority in the queue and “doing so without transparency,” said Joseph Levey, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
A spokesperson for the OCM declined to comment on the pending litigation.
On Friday, the court will consider whether to block the licensing process from moving forward. — Mona Zhang
— United Auto Workers from General Motors are getting profit-sharing payments of up to $12,250. (Buffalo News)
— Foster care agencies are urging lawmakers to help pay settlements from Child Victims Act lawsuits. (Times Union)
— The cost of the study on the Westchester airport keeps rising. (LoHud)