Fighting for Fair Elections and Public Campaign Financing

New York badly needs to combat the influence that big-money interests exert on State government – and I’m fighting to change the system.

I’m working with good-government organizations, progressive activists, and other legislators to enact public funding to match small-donor campaign contributions, plus other reforms, now as part of the State budget.

A candidate doesn’t have to out-spend an opponent to win. You need a winning message and enough money to get your message out to the voters. Small donor matching can make that possible.

This is not a new cause for me – I wrote New York’s first bill on public campaign financing. That bill, modified over the years, has passed the Assembly many times. It served as a model for New York City’s very successful public campaign finance system. It’s a goal we can finally achieve this year, now that the State Senate is ready to be a willing partner in passing meaningful campaign finance reforms.

Under our current laws, large, well-heeled donors can have an outsized impact on elections. Campaign contribution limits in New York allow a single donor to contribute up to $22,600 to a statewide primary campaign and $47,100 to a general election bid. That’s a total of almost $70,000 for a single candidate!

A report by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice earlier this year showed that deep-pocketed donors dominated New York’s 2018 State elections, with the top 100 donors contributing more in campaign donations than all the estimated 137,000 small donors combined. Smaller donations were only 5% of all the money donated to candidates for New York State offices last year.

Earlier this year, the new Senate majority helped us enact the bill closing the “LLC loophole” that allowed real estate and other interests to get around our campaign finance laws. Along with demanding greater transparency about the source of campaign funding, New York State needs to create and implement a small-donor matching system for elections for State offices. By matching small donations with public funding, we can strengthen the voices of all New Yorkers, not just the wealthy few.

It’s the best way to level the playing field in New York politics. And it’s a change we can make now!

The Nation: “Richard Gottfried’s Health Care Crusade Is Paying Off”

Richard Gottfried’s Health Care Crusade Is Paying Off

The NY State Assembly member has spent 27 years advocating for statewide health care. Now, his colleagues in Albany are finally catching up.

By Raina Lipsitz

MARCH 1, 2019

New York Assemblyman Richard Gottfried speaks at a news conference at the Capitol in Albany on April 28, 2015. (AP Photo / Tim Roske)

Two posters hang on the door of New York State Assembly member Richard Gottfried’s Albany office. One has a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., underneath a quote: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” The other says “Healthcare is a Human Right!” and urges the reader to “Pass the New York Health Act.”

First elected at age 23, Gottfried is now 71 and one of the longest-serving legislators in New York history. He has sponsored the New York Health Act in the Assembly since 1992. The Assembly has passed the bill, which would establish single-payer health care in New York, in the last four legislative sessions; now that the State Senate is also under Democratic control, it has a real opportunity to become law.

Gottfried is optimistic. After all, his Senate colleagues not only support the bill; many of them actively campaigned on it. While granting that there would be “nervousness” to move forward on the part of Senate leadership, he believes that, given the level and consistency of support for single-payer health care “not only among self-identified Democrats, but particularly among independents” and the number of senators who cosponsored the Senate version of the bill, “there will be vocal and negative voter reaction” if the Senate fails to “fulfill its promises.”

Still, even for those who say they support it, the bill isn’t as easy to sell constituents on as you’d think. In a recent interview, Assembly member Catalina Cruz told me she is for the bill, but shares concerns raised by “union colleagues,” like whether it would negatively affect certain contracts and whether retirees who have paid into the system will continue to benefit if they move out of state.

“First of all, a large part of labor in New York very strongly and actively supports the bill and has for some time,” Gottfried said when presented with these concerns. “The New York State Nurses Association was part of a group that, 28 years ago, persuaded me that I should be for single payer.”

Major unions that support the bill, he said, include 1199, the health-care workers; 32BJ, the building service employees; and RWDSU, the retail workers, as well as “a large part of” the CWA and the UAW. Some union leaders, however, argue that they’ve ceded wages and benefits in exchange for union health plans and the New York Health Act would take away a key bargaining chip.

To Gottfried, that “misses the point.” Nearly all health-care plans now, union or otherwise, have deductibles, co-pays, restricted networks, and out-of-network charges, he pointed out. In fact, he said, “I’ve never heard of any union health plan that is as good as the New York Health package.”

In New York City, Gottfried added, municipal employees have had a deal for more than 30 years under which the city pays 100 percent of the premium. Under the New York Health Act, the employer has to pay at least 80 percent of the payroll tax that will fund the plan. Gottfried tells public-sector union members in New York that if they can get their employer to pay 100 percent of about $20,000 in premiums, they should be able to get the city to pay 100 percent of $6,000 to $8,000, and push for the savings to be used to increase wages and non–health care benefits.

“Their answer…is often something like, ‘We’ve already negotiated for 100 percent of the premium; why should we have to bargain again?’” In a tone of mild frustration, Gottfried answered the hypothetical question: “Because it would put more money in your members’ pockets…and get them better health coverage.” Furthermore, he said, “Public employees who retire and move out of state still get their retirement benefits, including retiree health coverage…. we put that explicitly in the bill.”

Gottfried has spent nearly 30 years making the case for the New York Health Act; he can recite the pros and counter the cons in his sleep. The insurance industry’s claim that only 5 percent of New Yorkers lack coverage, and the problem can be solved simply by getting those people on Medicaid “completely ignores the reality that 95 percent of New Yorkers who have health coverage are constantly being knocked around and shortchanged and abused by that coverage,” Gottfried said. There is no way to fix the current system without eliminating insurance companies, because the money New York would save by doing so is “absolutely essential to delivering the full benefits” of single payer, such as expanding coverage, including long-term care coverage, and protecting patients from deductibles and out-of-network charges.

“Anybody who tries to sell the snake oil that getting the last million New Yorkers into health insurance is all we need to do,” he said, “is deliberately or negligently missing the point.”

The point, to Gottfried, is that single payer is a moral imperative, which is why he sees many of the questions skeptics raise as nitpicky or irrelevant. But he doesn’t dodge one of the biggest: Can the New York Health Act be funded without raising taxes? “To do it, you need to convert premiums and other out-of-pocket spending into a smaller number that is paid through taxes,” he acknowledged. “If you focus on whether we’re spending more money on taxes, then you’ll say we’re spending more money on taxes. If you focus on how much New Yorkers spend, and how much of what they spend actually goes for health care, and how much they get to keep in their pockets, then [you’ll see that] we’re saving New Yorkers money, and getting them better health care.”

As for the fears of Democratic leaders like Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, both of whom have publicly signaled that they won’t raise taxes, Gottfried said, “A pledge not to raise taxes should not prevent you from lowering the cost burden on New Yorkers…. If you can save New Yorkers billions of dollars by converting spending to the public sector, that shouldn’t violate anybody’s pledge.”

Asked how serious Cuomo is about supporting single payer—the governor says he likes the idea, but has hardly been a full-throated proponent—Gottfried remains optimistic. “Unlike about 48 other governors. Governor Cuomo says single payer is the right thing to do,” he says. But what about the difficult, practical work of making it happen? “I’d be surprised if the governor’s thinking evolves in the next couple of months,” Gottfried allowed, “but if and when the bill is on the floor of the State Senate, ready to be passed, I think we will start having serious conversations with the governor.”

For the bill’s critics, another sticking point is the Trump administration’s likely refusal to approve state waivers for single-payer health care. But, although it would “certainly be simpler to run the New York Health plan with federal cooperation, and it would even save the federal government money,” Gottfried said, “we can still run the New York Health Act by various mechanisms around or through Medicaid and Medicare and the Affordable Care Act.” The bottom line: “We can do it legally without federal waivers.”

What can be done to help get the bill to a vote? Gottfried said that he and Senator Gustavo Rivera, the bill’s Senate sponsor, need to continue answering questions and “explaining the merits of the bill,” as well as aggressively reaching out to groups that have questions about it and encouraging them to “come tell us” if there’s anything they think needs to be nailed down or changed. Gottfried cited productive discussions with labor unions, physicians, and the hospital community. Community organizations and grassroots activists also need to “keep up their advocacy,” he said, and “keep the fires lit under legislators.”

Given the national political climate, Gottfried believes it’s especially critical for states that can “move aggressively forward with a progressive agenda” to do so, in part because of the difference it can make nationally. The Children’s Health Insurance Program began in Minnesota; several years later, it was adopted by New York. “And in almost no time,” he said, “every state in the union had a children’s health-insurance plan.” New York can now do the same for single payer. If a couple of states enact single-payer legislation, “I think it’s only a matter of time before it becomes nationwide.”

Raina Lipsitz has written about gender, politics, and pop culture for a variety of publications, including Al Jazeera America, Jewish Currents, and the online editions of The Atlantic, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour.

PRESS RELEASE – Governor Signs GENDA

Protecting the Right to Gender Identity and Expression:
Governor Signs “GENDA”

Statement by Assembly Bill Sponsor Richard N. Gottfried

“Today is an historic day,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried,Assemblysponsor of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA,” A747/S2017).  “Governor Cuomo took strong action in 2015 when he issued statewide regulations under the State’s Human Rights Law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and transgender status.  But adding gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Law and the Penal Law will give proper recognition, protection against repeal of these regulations, and add protection under the State’s Hate Crimes Law. With an administration of bullies in Washington, New York is standing up for common sense, fairness, and justice.”

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Press Release: Protecting the Right to Gender Identity and Expression – “GENDA” Passes Assembly and Senate

Debating GENDA on the floor of the Assembly, January 15, 2019

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA,” A747/S1047), which protects transgender people under the State Human Rights Law and the hate crimes law, was approved by the Assembly and Senate today and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. The bill also protects people who are gender non-conforming (non-binary) and other gender identities or expressions.

“Today is an historic day,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Assembly sponsor of GENDA. “The Assembly has passed the bill 11 times, but the Senate’s Republican Majority refused to let the bill have a floor vote. Today, the new Democratic Majority has joined us in protecting the rights of New Yorkers regardless of gender identity or expression. I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing GENDA into law.”

“The passage of GENDA – 16 years in the making – will codify our progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated equally and with respect,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, Senate sponsor of GENDA. “As the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans, today’s victory sends a strong message to LGBTQ people across New York: you are loved, understood, and protected by your state government. We will not let you down.”

Transgender and non-binary people – whose gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression differs from their genetic sex at birth – face discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and other areas of life, and they are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes.

“The Assembly has now passed GENDA for eleven consecutive years under the leadership of Assemblymember Gottfried, and I’m grateful for his persistence,” said Hoylman. “After years of Republican opposition, I am proud to be part of a Democratic Majority that works to safeguard the rights of all New Yorkers. Thank you to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and my colleagues in the Democratic Majority for leading the charge to protect our LGBTQ community. I am also deeply grateful to the previous sponsors of GENDA in the Senate, Senators Tom Duane and Daniel Squadron. ”

“Governor Cuomo took strong action in 2015 when he issued state-wide regulations under the State’s Human Rights Law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and transgender status,” said Gottfried. “But adding gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Law and the Penal Law will give the community proper recognition, protection against repeal of these regulations, and add protection under the State’s Hate Crimes Law. With an administration of bullies in Washington, New York is standing up for common sense, fairness, and justice.”

“The Trump Administration’s attack on the rights of transgender people, as well as taking steps to literally erase our existence in federal guidelines and legislation, has made the passage of a state transgender civil rights bill imperative,” said Juli Grey-Owens, Executive Director of Gender Equality New York. “It is time to pass explicit and permanent protections from discrimination against transgender and non-binary New Yorkers. Further, it is time to fight transphobia and send the strong message that New York State supports the free expression of gender identity and the right to be our authentic selves.”

“Today our state has taken a powerful step forward in the journey towards equality and justice. New York stands for vision and opportunity, embracing diversity and the potential we each have to thrive. With the passage of GENDA we are a safer place for more of us to achieve our potential and live our lives with greater security and freedom,” said Gabriel Blau, Chair of Equality New York. “Transgender people, especially those of color, are among the most attacked in our nation, facing discrimination, verbal and physical attacks, and murder. Today’s passage of GENDA will go down in history as a major milestone on our journey, a tribute to the people whose work over decades has led to a safer and stronger New York.”

“I have been advocating to get GENDA passed for over 15 years,” said Kiera St. James, Executive Director, New York Transgender Advocacy Group. “Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman have worked tirelessly year after year to get it passed, never giving up. I am so grateful to celebrate this win with them and my Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) community. Passing GENDA will change the lives of so many TGNC New Yorkers because they are finally given the protections they deserve.”

“Today is a landmark day for transgender and gender non-confirming citizens of the State of New York,” said Judy Sennesh, Board Chair of PFLAG NYC and founder of PFLAG NYC’s Trans Families Project. “PFLAG NYC families and allies are immensely grateful for the many years of hard work and persistence of GENDA’s sponsors and all legislators who’ve supported this incredibly important bill from the beginning. My son and the children of so many families I’ve come to know over the years are now protected by law in our state, and can live, work, and learn with the civil rights and dignity they deserve. We are all delighted and relieved and want everyone to remember that without a “redesigned” State Senate this couldn’t have happened. Every vote counts!”

“In the face of the Trump administration’s constant attacks on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, passing GENDA could not come at a more critical time,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We applaud Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman for shepherding this bill through to ensure that all New Yorkers are protected. Albany is sending a clear message that the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers are not up for debate and will not be at risk of being thrown by the wayside with changing political winds.”

“That the Senate and Assembly have passed GENDA at the very beginning of this session fills me with a joy and gratitude that’s hard to fully express,” said Kristen Browde, President of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater NY; Co-Chair of the National Trans Bar Association; and Director of Trans United and Equality NY. “It’s a sign of immense progress in protecting all New Yorkers that because of the blue wave that flipped the Senate and the tireless work of Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried – as well as the full support of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, we’re now seeing the dawn of an era in which all New Yorkers can feel protected under our law against the rollbacks and right-wing attacks from DC. As a proud transgender New Yorker, I have the deepest gratitude for all those who got us here. Governor Cuomo – we can’t wait for you to sign this bill!”

“I was in the room when GENDA was born, in Albany, in December 2002, with Joanne Prinzivalli and Charles King,” said Melissa Sklarz. “But the real beginning goes back to 1998, when Sylvia Rivera called a trans community meeting to address gay and lesbian civil rights language that excluded gender identity and expression. The trans community of New York owes a debt to hundreds of people, hundreds of meetings, hundreds of community groups, and 25 different strategies, to arrive at this special moment. I personally wish to thank Senators Tom Duane, Dan Squadron, Brad Hoylman, David Paterson, and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried for fighting this political battle in Albany for the last 20 years.”

GENDA is supported by New York State United Teachers, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Housing Works, dozens of LGBT organizations, a broad range of religious and faith communities, the New York City Bar Association, and numerous labor unions including the NYS AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, AFSCME District Council 37, United Auto Workers Region 9A Metro NYC CAP Council, CSEA, Screen Actors Guild, and Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

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WAMC (Audio) – Many Unanswered Questions On Marijuana Legalization In NY

AUDIO HERE

By Karen Dewitt, January 5, 2019

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to release details of a plan to make recreational marijuana legal in New York when he outlines his state budget proposal later this month. But the Democrat concedes that there are many unanswered questions about how to proceed.

Cuomo, who less than two years ago called marijuana a “gateway drug,” says he still has some questions and concerns about legalizing the drug for recreational use. But he says he’s working with a panel of experts, including law enforcement, and health officials who have determined it can be done safely, and that the “benefits outweigh the risks.” The governor says his position has also been influenced by the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New Jersey that have legalized marijuana or are in the process of doing so.

“You’ll just force people to drive to Massachusetts or drive to New Jersey and then come back into this state and use it in this state,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he’s working out a lot of the details right now on how to implement the program, including what the age requirement should be to gain access to the drug.

“How old, how many stores, how much marijuana do you sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” Cuomo said. “The devil is in the details.”

There are many ideas on how to best use the revenue from the sale of marijuana, including one to help fix New York City’s subways.  

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is sponsoring a bill she says would help right the wrongs created by the decades of marijuana prohibition. Peoples-Stokes, who is African American, says arrests for using the drug have fallen disproportionately on black and Hispanic New Yorkers, while white residents have rarely been punished. Her measure, which is sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger in the state Senate, would dedicate 50 percent of revenues raised from taxing marijuana sales to a Community Grant Reinvestment Fund, directed at neighborhoods most affected by prohibition. It would fund programs like job training, afterschool activities and reentry programs for people coming out of prison. Peoples-Stokes says it’s very important that legalization of marijuana include reparations for communities most negatively affected.

“It’s critical,” Peoples-Stokes said.

She says it will save the state money because fewer people will be in prison on minor drug charges, and will instead be able to be home to take care of their families. 

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Health Committee, sponsored the law to implement medical marijuana in New York a few years ago, and supports legalizing the recreational use of the drug.  

Gottfried says he does not necessarily back dedicating sales tax revenues to a specific fund, though he does want to end inequities in the state’s criminal justice system over past enforcement of the prohibition of the drug.  

“One reasons why I hate the term ‘recreational use’, is that this is not about people having a good time at parties,” said Gottfried. “This is about undoing and preventing the damage that our prohibition system does.”

Gottfried says he’d like to see past criminal records for marijuana related convictions erased.   

The Assemblyman credits Cuomo and his staff for reaching out to supporters, and stakeholders, like marijuana growing businesses to get ideas on how to craft the bill. Gottfried says he does not want to see sales and distribution of the drug come under the control of big businesses, with existing distributors of medical marijuana having a greater influence than smaller startup companies.

And he also supports allowing New Yorkers to grow a limited amount of marijuana at home.

“In some product areas we do allow home production. If you want to brew beer or wine in your basement you’re free to do that,” Gottfried said. “Just don’t try to sell it to your neighbors.”

Not everyone is in favor of legalizing marijuana in New York.

The New York State Association of County Health Officials issued a statement, saying they have “serious concerns” and urging that legalization be approached “thoughtfully and with extreme caution.” 

The county officials say no one under 21 should be permitted to use the drug, and any new rules should fall under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure children, and other vulnerable populations are not exposed to marijuana use or secondhand smoke. The group also wants toxicology studies conducted to set standards for impaired driving under the use of the drug. The health officials say they are already dealing with the devastation from opioid abuse, and do not want to see the state inadvertently create another public health crisis.

Buffalo News: Key questions remain in New York’s road to legal marijuana

By Tom Precious, 12/25/18

ALBANY – New York officials are moving ahead with efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use, but they are running into a barrage of complicated issues that must be resolved if their end-of-March timetable to act is to be realized.

Among just a handful of lingering questions to be answered: how much will the state tax the sales and where does the money go; who gets to grow, distribute and sell the drug; will homegrown pot be legal; will it be available in a variety of forms, including things like candy bars; how many people will have their marijuana arrest and conviction records expunged and what will the state do to deter a rise in driving while impaired situations?

With Democrats who support marijuana legalization efforts now in control of the executive branch and both houses of the legislative branch, there is no doubt that some sort of major change in the drug law is coming in 2019.

The question is: How extensive will it be?

“It has to be done right. There are a lot of questions. There are a lot of pitfalls,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a radio interview last week.

In a speech outlining his top priorities for the first 100 days of the 2019 session that starts next month, Cuomo put marijuana legalization on the list, saying it should be made legal “once and for all.” It’s a sharp turn from only a year or so ago when he talked against legalization of marijuana because it was a potentially dangerous “gateway drug.”

On Friday, during a brief stop in Buffalo, Cuomo offered up just some of the questions his administration is considering on the topic. “How old, how many stores, how much can (a retailer) sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” he said.

The governor said the state is working with New Jersey, which is preparing to legalize marijuana use, and Massachusetts to ensure there is some uniformity in tax rates so that New Yorkers don’t simply drive across the borders to get cheaper – via lower-taxed – pot.

Behind the scenes in advance of Cuomo laying out his legalization plan more fully in his January state budget presentation, there is a flurry of studying, debating and lobbying underway by drug legalization advocates, health experts, law enforcement officials, local governments and the existing 10 firms registered by the state to provide medical marijuana products to certified patients.

Some involved in the discussions believe Cuomo will try to take a more measured approach, unlike when California legalized marijuana in what some in New York call the Wild West approach to legalization. It is a route he took when he ended his opposition to medical marijuana products and approved such use, but under what at the time was the nation’s strictest medical pot laws.

Local health officials’ concerns

Last week, the New York State Association of County Health Officials, which represents 58 local health departments in the state, raised what it called “serious concerns” about the push to legalize adult marijuana use.

The group urged that sales be banned to those under age 21, that the state spend money for research efforts to identify “unforeseen” effects by legalization of the drug, that marijuana be added to the Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure its use is banned in certain areas and that localities be given additional state money to help fund expanded sales enforcement and public health activities associated with legalizing the drug’s use.

“As public health officials, we must articulate our steadfast opposition to legalization of an adult-use regulated marijuana policy. From our viewpoint of community health and wellness, there are simply too many associated risks including unintentional exposures in children, increased motor vehicle accidents, future addiction to other substances and adverse cardiac and respiratory effects,” said Paul Pettit, president of the group and the public health director for the Genesee and Orleans county health departments.

One of the chief battles underway in discussions between the state and various outside stakeholders is what kind of production, distribution and retail system will be created. In the state’s medical marijuana program, there are 10 state-authorized “registered organizations” mandated to operate in what is known as a “vertical integration approach.” That means they handle all aspects of the system, from growing the plants to running the dispensing sites for qualified patients.

Some want no integration at all, modeled after how the state’s alcohol laws are structured so that there are different companies that produce, distribute and then sell to retailers.

A battle over who gets to grow, sell pot

The firms with those state medical marijuana licenses believe they are best positioned to quickly add recreational marijuana products to their portfolio when New York legalizes pot. If they are excluded, one executive said, the state could have to wait as long as two years before state-sanctioned marijuana products could hit the retail market.

“I’m hopeful that we don’t err by kind of running full-tilt into a California-style adult use regulated system where there are regulatory challenges in keeping all the cats herded,” said Jeremy Unruh, director of regulatory and external affairs at PharmaCannis, one of the 10 medical marijuana companies operating in New York. The firm grows marijuana plants at a facility in Orange County and dispenses the drug to patients in four locations, including Amherst.

Unruh said the state should let the existing medical marijuana organizations be among the suppliers to help get the program up and running faster and with regulatory controls already in place to safeguard such things as the product that ends up in the consumer’s hands.

“If we don’t want a gap between now and whenever the first new adult licensed retailer opens up then you have to use the existing infrastructure,” he said of the present marijuana growing facilities.

“I fear that folks who don’t really take the time to understand this industry will be the ones who end up setting the policy,” he added.

But some advocates worry that small businesses wanting to get into the marijuana growth and sales sector could be shut out by the already-operating firms doing medical marijuana now. One lawmaker who has pushed for marijuana legalization for years said minority communities have been hit disproportionately hard by law enforcement efforts targeting marijuana arrests, and that there should be special consideration for minority businesses that want to get involved in a New York marijuana economy.

“I think there’s a lot of concern about not wanting to have the existing registered organizations push everybody out of the market. And that’s a valid concern. I don’t have anything against the registered organizations, but we want to try to create a market that is open to all qualified players,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the Assembly health committee.

He said those 10 registered organizations will likely have some role, but the state doesn’t want them to use their existing position “to monopolize” an adult recreational pot market.

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading marijuana legalization advocacy group, urged Cuomo and lawmakers to legalize pot “in a way that ensures equity and diversity while reinvesting in the communities hit hardest by marijuana criminalization.”

The group is among those pushing for, among other things, financial reparations – paid for out of marijuana use tax receipts – in the form of state community investments for those areas that it says have been affected by the “ongoing, damaging collateral consequences of marijuana criminalization.’’

Many unanswered questions

Will New York go like some states, such as Massachusetts and Vermont, that permit residents to grow pot at home? How, then, will it safeguard against people growing not for personal use but more to sell on an untaxed, black market? Gottfried, who holds considerable sway over Assembly positions on health-related topics, believes homegrown pot should be permitted under certain conditions. But the lawmaker, who is in regular contact with Cuomo’s marijuana advisers, said he doesn’t know the governor’s thinking on that issue.

Additionally, will whatever emerges in Albany next year permit localities to have the final say on whether a pot farm or pot store opens in their communities? Will it be OK if a town in Erie County doesn’t want to give a permit for a marijuana retail store?

Those questions are, as yet, unanswered and will become a major debating point as the governor and lawmakers hope to resolve the marijuana legalization matter as part of the 2019 state budget talks due to wrap up by the end of next March. Cuomo will be unveiling his 2019 budget plan sometime in January; that plan is expected to flush out his marijuana proposal.

A key point to address is traffic safety. The topic is an emerging one in states that have legalized marijuana, and the national Governors Highway Safety Administration in October reported that in two states – Colorado and Washington – the number of fatal crashes involving marijuana use by drivers increased after recreational pot use was made legal.

Gottfried, the state lawmaker, said Cuomo’s office is looking at a variety of ways to address the matter.

“Long before breathalyzers were invented, police were able to prosecute people for drunk driving. Even though there is not a convenient way to test for marijuana doesn’t mean police today aren’t able to arrest and get convictions for driving while impaired” under marijuana, he said.

As always, a money fight is expected to be fierce. Will pot tax revenues simply go to the state’s overall general budget fund, or will all or a portion be dedicated to any range of areas advocates are already pressing to become pot tax beneficiaries? In New York City, some are pressing that all of the pot revenues be dedicated to repair the city’s crumbling subway system. That won’t work with lawmakers from, say, Long Island or upstate, however.

About the only question that is already answered: Will New York legalize recreational marijuana and sharply alter part of its criminal justice system in doing so?

“There is a very broad consensus for doing that,” Gottfried said.

NY1 (Video) – Recreational Pot Appears Imminent in NY. The Mystery is What the Industry Would Look Like

By Zack Fink, 12/21/18

VIDEO HERE

While the political evolution on legalizing marijuana has been slow, a new consensus by Democratic leaders seems to have arrived almost overnight.

“I think the debate is largely over in New York and we are down to working out the details,” Manhattan Assemblyman Richard Gottfried said.

But it’s the details that will determine whether New York’s program is successful. When the state instituted its medical marijuana program, Gov. Andrew Cuomo insisted that patients could not smoke the drug, which is the most common form of consumption. As a result, advocates say New York’s program has had mixed results, with fewer patients than expected actually participating.

“We have to introduce flower both into our medical program and into our adult-use program,” marijuana advocate Cristina Buccola said. “‘Flower,’ meaning the actual marijuana bud that people smoke — some people prefer that in a medical program, but there’s a whole different way to use flower that does not involve smoking.”

“I think the administration’s view on marijuana has changed enormously from 2014 when we did the medical law,” said Gottfried, who has been working on marijuana legislation for decades. “I think that is partly due to big changes in public attitude.”

This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who had previously opposed legalization, weighed in on how he would like to see it done in New York.

“Why don’t we, from the very beginning, ensure that the game is not rigged? Instead of creating very loose laws or laws that favor the 1 percent and the corporations, why don’t we create laws that explicitly hold the corporations and the 1 percent at bay? Do not even let them into this new industry,” the mayor said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

The mayor went on to admit he does not yet have buy-in from Cuomo on his plan to keep the industry community-based, and a spokesperson for the governor was quite dismissive of de Blasio’s idea. Ultimately, the city has little say over the process, since a state law would establish marijuana legalization.

Cheddar News (Video): Cuomo Expected to Fast Track Legislation to Legalize Marijuana

December 19. 2018

VIDEO HERE

VICE News: This Brewing Healthcare Battle Is a Preview of the Medicare for All War

By Harry Cheadle, 12/13/18

Last month, Democrats achieved an historic win in New York, flipping control of the state senate and thus taking control of the entire government, upending a weird status quo during which a group of breakaway Democrats allowed the Republicans to control the legislature’s upper chamber. Now that they actually have the power to pass laws in one of the most Democratic states in the country, the possibilities seem intoxicating for the left: Abortion access could be codified into law, the subways could finally be fixed, the state’s byzantine election laws could be updated, and New York could commit to fighting climate change.

But right near the top of any progressive wish list is the New York Health Act, the state’s version of Medicare for all—which is to say universal, government-provided—health insurance. Single-payer healthcare, as such systems are also called, has been a left-wing lodestar for generations. If the NYHA passed, it would make New York the first state in the union to guarantee free access to healthcare (and freedom from fear of health-related bankruptcy) to all of its residents, including undocumented people. 

If passed and smoothly implemented, NYHA could be not just a way to improve the lives of New Yorkers but a model for the rest of the country as it debates the merits of Medicare for all, a policy backed by Bernie Sanders and many other potential 2020 presidential contenders. But now that Democrats can actually pass the NYHA, single-payer supporters are facing a fight that could pit them against not just the insurance industry but a host of Democratic constituencies and leaders—a preview of the contentious debate over healthcare that might follow victories in 2020.

The foremost obstacle is the powerful medical industry lobby, which will likely deploy the usual counterattacks—think the “death panels” of the Affordable Care Act debate, or the fear-mongering “Harry and Louise” ads that helped scuttle reform in the 90s. Then you have Democratic lawmakers who may hesitate to back a transformative proposal that would raise taxes on a lot of people, a governor who doesn’t seem particularly warm to the idea, a hostile federal government, and potential lawsuits from employers. While the coming NYHA battle represents a possible turning point in the history of healthcare politics, it won’t be a pretty sight.

Yet if single-payer advocates could get past all that, they’d have a roadmap to victory in other states—and a model that could be replicated in DC.

Richard Gottfried, the chair of the New York State Assembly’s Health Committee and the chief architect of the NYHA, recently explained what it would look like. “It would create universal complete health coverage for every New York resident without premiums, deductibles, copays, or restricted provider networks,” he said over the phone. The bill would pay for this by pooling the money the state gets from the federal government for programs like Medicaid and Medicare, and also by raising taxes. “There would be one tax on payroll income, predominantly paid by employers, and a parallel on unearned income like dividends, capital gains,” Gottfried explained.

This would transform the way New Yorkers pay for healthcare—instead of giving premiums to insurers, they’d be getting taxed—and according to a recent studyby the RAND Corporation, overall health spending would drop by $80 billion, or 2 percent, by 2031, even as the roughly 1.2 million currently uninsured New Yorkers gained access to care. Gottfried said he didn’t necessarily agree with RAND’s report (for one thing, his bill as currently written does not specify tax rates, so RAND analysts made assumptions about what those rates would be) but NYHA backers have trumpeted the finding that the bill could drive costs down.

The arguments against the NYHA are echoes of the normal arguments marshaled against single-payer healthcare. Realities of Single Payer, an anti-NYHA organization made up mostly of business and health insurance interests, warns of high taxes, long wait times for care under a government-run system, and job loss in the insurance industry. (Through a spokesperson, Realities of Single Payer said in a statement that “rather than throwing out a functioning system for a very uncertain future, there should be a greater focus on covering the remaining uninsured New Yorkers.”) Katie Robbins, the director of Campaign for New York Health, a coalition of unions, doctors, and left-leaning groups, called these warnings “talking points that are used to create fear” and noted that this year’s election proved single-payer was popular statewide.

“There’s been a longtime narrative, a false narrative in my opinion, that this is an issue that only New York City liberals care about,” Robbins said. “But what we saw reflected in the results is that Senate candidates outside of New York City—Long Island, Hudson Valley, upstate in Syracuse—who ran on the New York Health Act, not just standing on it, but making it a priority of their campaign… handily won their elections.”

Those election results create pressure on Democrats, according to Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime Democratic consultant in the state who has worked for everyone from Andrew Cuomo to Michael Bloomberg to Bill Clinton: “They have to do something.”

The NYHA—which Gottfried has introduced into the Assembly every year since 1992—has passed the lower legislative chamber in each of the past four years. But even with increased support in the Senate, its path to becoming law is tricky to say the least. The top Democrat in the State Senate, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, seemingly embraced the NYHA last year, but after the election said Democrats wouldn’t raise taxes. And while Governor Andrew Cuomo said the NYHA was a good idea “in theory” during a debate against his left-wing primary challenger Cynthia Nixon, he was also skeptical of the cost and said he’d like to see single-payer healthcare be implemented on a federal, rather than state, level. (Neither Stewart Cousins nor Cuomo responded to requests for comment left with their offices.)

Meanwhile, unions remain a powerful force in state politics—especially in New York City—and some might oppose the NYHA because members generally have good insurance they won through negotiations and may not want to replace that with government-provided plans. Other barriers include the Trump administration potentially refusing to grant waivers to New York that some say would be necessary for the plan to be implemented (Gottfried disputed that such waivers would be needed) and potential lawsuits from employers under a federal statute called ERISA that protects employers who choose to pay insurance claims themselves.

It’s also not even clear the NYHA will pass the Assembly when the legislature goes back into session in January. “It’s like starting from scratch because the political dynamics changed so much,” Robbins said. In other words, now that everyone knows the NYHA may actually become law, some Democrats may have second thoughts about voting for it.

Gottfried, for one, seemed confident of the bill’s chances. “I fully expect the Assembly to pass the bill again,” he said. He added that he and NYHA Senate sponsor Gustavo Rivera were talking to stakeholders to flesh out the details of the bill and add “additional provisions” to speed its passage through the Senate. They were also “working to convince” Cuomo that the NYHA was the way to go, Gottfried said.

If Gottfried and his allies can pass the legislation quickly in early 2019, it will put Cuomo on the spot, former Assembly member Richard Brodsky—a frequent Cuomo critic—argued in a recent Albany Times-Union column: “Anything short of immediate support puts him under the same kind of statewide and national pressure, intensified by any presidential ambitions he may have.” It’s safe to say that reticence on Cuomo’s part will spark widespread progressive anger. “If Andrew Cuomo’s first appearance in 2019 is to put a bullet through the head of single-payer, it will have political consequences,” Brodsky said in an interview.

If the dynamics of passing the NYHA seem complicated, welcome to a preview of what national politics may look like in 2021. If Democrats can retake control of the federal government in the 2020 elections, they will have likely done so while promising single-payer healthcare, just as New York Democrats did. But passing a bill through Congress will require selling it to voters in the face of intense opposition from insurance companies and the medical industry, and also navigating the push and pull of other priorities like climate change. Medicare for all can seem like a common-sense solution to the country’s patchwork, inhumane, and overpriced healthcare system when advocates talk about it, and it’s popular in many polls. But history suggests the politics turn thorny when government-provided health insurance becomes a real possibility.

“You’re treading into unknown territory here. There’s no map for how to get this down the road.”
–Richard Brodsky

Recent single-payer pushes have come tantalizingly close in other states, only to fail, sometimes in dramatic fashion. In 2014, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin pulled the plug on a single-payer bill, saying his state couldn’t pay for it. Two years later, a Colorado ballot measure that would have created a single-payer system was rejected by voters after a confusing election-season scrum—abortion-rights groups opposed the measure because the new system wouldn’t have covered such procedures. Last year, a California single-payer bill was effectively axed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who said it was “woefully incomplete” and didn’t describe how the system would be paid for. (Single-payer advocates were so incensed they subsequently attempted to remove Rendon from office.)

Gottfried said that unlike the California bill, the NYHA clearly describes where the funding would come from, and unlike Vermont, New York has enough wealth to make paying for a single-system more practical. But other Democratic factions, including some unions and the governor, may not be persuaded by those arguments, setting up a fight between single-payer advocates and the rest of the party, with lawmakers caught in the middle.

As Robbins pointed out, six of the eight former members of the Independent Democratic Caucus—the rogue Democrats who gave control of the Senate to Republicans—lost primaries to grassroots opponents earlier this year, indicating the same base that is demanding single-payer has some teeth. “I would think that the folks who are in elected office now should really figure out how to deliver what they promised in their campaigns,” she said, “because clearly there is a motivated base with high expectations and now the electoral muscle to make them pay at the polls if they don’t deliver.”

That said, Robbins added that “there’s absolutely no guarantee” the bill will pass, and a lot could depend on pressure from activists. Brodsky suggested NYHA sponsors consider a “toned down” bill that is less costly and helps manage the transition so as to address criticisms about job losses in healthcare. He also said Gottfried had the “political shrewdness” to get it done.

“You’re treading into unknown territory here. There’s no map for how to get this down the road. It’s an enormous challenge,” Brodsky said, adding, “the political climate has changed from roughly unfavorable to roughly favorable. That’s not chopped liver.”

The battle over the NYHA will be a state-level political knife fight, but the stakes could be even higher than the future of healthcare in New York. The hope among advocates is that once a single-payer system gets a foothold in one state, it can be exported around the country. The passage of the NYHA would not be the end point of the movement, but the beginning of a new chapter.

“Social progress in this country historically, usually begins at the state level,” Gottfried said. “Our labor laws, a lot of our consumer protection laws, public support for healthcare for poor people, the child health insurance program—all began at the state level.”

The Hill: Cuomo readying plan to legalize recreational marijuana

By Michael Burke, 12/11/18

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) will soon unveil a plan to legalize recreational marijuana in the state, his office announced Tuesday.

“The goal of this administration is to create a model program for regulated adult-use cannabis — and the best way to do that is to ensure our final proposal captures the views of everyday New Yorkers,” Cuomo spokesman Tyrone Stevens told the New York Post.

The aide added that the proposal would come early next year, when Democrats in the state will have control of every branch of New York’s government. 

The Post reported that the plan could be included in Cuomo’s executive budget.

New York state Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Democrat from Manhattan, told the Post that recreational marijuana should be legalized but have limitations similar to tobacco.

“We probably wouldn’t allow smoking cannabis out in public, but might allow it in some establishments,” Gottfried said. “The health questions about smoking cannabis are nothing like problems with tobacco, in part because no one would smoke a comparable quantity.”

Cuomo’s position on marijuana has shifted significantly in recent years. He told reporters in February of last year that he opposed the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, calling it a “gateway drug.”

“It’s a gateway drug, and marijuana leads to other drugs and there’s a lot of proof that that’s true,” he said at the time.

While running for reelection this past August, however, Cuomo created a state panel and tasked it with coming up with a plan to legalize recreational marijuana.

Cuomo’s challenger in the Democratic gubernatorial primary in September, actress and progressive activist Cynthia Nixon, had backed the legalization of the drug.

Nixon said in April it was time for New York to “follow the lead” of other states that had legalized marijuana for recreational use.