February Community Update

Introduction of “Vehicular Violence Accountability Act” To Crack Down on Dangerous Drivers

           With violent injuries to pedestrians and bi-cyclists at an all-time high in New York City, especially in Manhattan, I have joined with State Senator Tim Kennedy of Buffalo, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, to sponsor the Vehicular Violence Accountability Act (S. 7298/A. 9605).

            I introduced the legislation in the Assembly after consultation with the New York County District Attorney’s office, members of Manhattan Community Boards, and organizations promoting pedestrian safety like CHEKPEDS, the Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Chelsea Coalition for Pedestrian Safety.  They expressed concerns that current New York State law governing the “right of way” is limited to collisions in which a driver fails to yield to pedestrians or bicyclists with the right of way.  Current law fails to take into account other aspects of a driver’s behavior, such as whether the driver was speeding, texting while driving, or other engaging in other conduct that could cause injury to others.

            The bill that I’m sponsoring will provide law enforcement authorities with additional tools to address vehicular violence in New York, and al-low prosecutors to consider aggravating factors such as speeding, texting or phoning while driving, previous vehicular convictions, or incidents that entail more than one moving violation.

Board of Standards & Appeals’ Tie Vote on Upper West Side “Supertall” Sells Out Community

In an unusual 2-2 tie vote last Tuesday, the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) failed to approve a community effort to overturn the Department of Buildings (DOB) approval of Extell Development’s application to erect a 775-foot-high “supertall” building at 50 West 66th Street.  That means the DOB approval of the project stands.  I and the other elected officials representing the area will continue to fight alongside the community.  We have called on the DOB to justify its granting of the permit, including the developer’s “mechanical deductions” for four full floors.  (A “mechanical deduction” lets a developer deduct space for a building’s mechanical equipment from the height calculation for zoning purposes, letting the developer build a taller building.) 

            Landmark West!, the neighborhood preservation organization that had filed the appeal with BSA, and the elected officials say Extell has never shown how the horizontal void space will be utilized, other than to boost the height of the building.  Landmark West! is reviewing its options, which include filing a lawsuit to block the project in NYS Supreme Court.

            Although our BSA appeal failed to win a majority, the rare tie vote showed that half of the BSA members object to Extell’s attempt to boost the height of its building by several additional stories.  At the BSA meeting, its Chair, Margery Perlmutter, joined the two BSA members who voted in favor of the appeal to urge DOB to develop clearer and more transparent policies and procedures to ensure that mechanical floor spaces are appropriately sized to serve their stated purpose of housing mechanical equipment and infrastructure needed to operate the building and not for other accessory or ulterior uses.

            The 50 West 66th Street development is an abuse of zoning regulations, is out of scale with the area, and would set a terrible precedent for future proposed developments.  I stand with Landmark West! and local residents in urging the City to crack down on these and other developers’ abuses of the system.

‘No Hate, No Fear’ March Across the Brooklyn Bridge Against Antisemitism

           With incidents of antisemitism and brutal and often violent attacks against Jews on the rise around the country, I joined tens of thousands of New Yorkers on January 5 in a peaceful “No Hate, No Fear March” across the Brooklyn Bridge.

            It was inspiring to see New Yorkers from all communities unite to speak out against hatred, intolerance, and antisemitism!

NO HATE, NO FEAR: I joined Governor Cuomo, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Mayor de Blasio, dozens of elected officials, and tens of thousands of New Yorkers in marching across the Brooklyn Bridge to protest acts of antisemitism.

Assembly Passes Package of Bills for New Yorkers with Disabilities           

On January 29 – Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day in Albany – the New York State Assembly passed a package of bills aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities.  I joined with Assembly Members from both par-ties to help them address the challenges they face.  The package included the following bills:

Disability Rights
            To establish the Office of Advocate for People with Disabilities (A. 9004, sponsored by Assembly Member Phil Steck), which I am co-sponsoring.  The office would advocate on behalf of people with disabilities and assure that they can exercise all of the rights and responsibilities accorded to all citizens of New York State, including the opportunity to live an in-dependent life in their local community.

            Also included is a bill that I am co-sponsoring that would allow the State to be sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as they apply to the protection of state employees (A. 1092, sponsored by Assembly Member Barbara Lifton). 

            Additionally, we passed a measure that would require public officers and bodies to provide qualified interpreters and assistive learning devices for hearing impaired individuals upon request at public meetings and hearings at no charge (A. 3385, sponsored by Assembly Member Inez Dickens).

            Another measure would clarify that reason-able accommodation to enable a person with a disability to live in a dwelling includes the use of an animal to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a disability (A. 7331, sponsored by Assembly Member Erik Dilan).

Emergency Preparedness
            Another bill in the package would require counties with local emergency management plans to maintain a confidential registry of people of all ages with disabilities who may re-quire evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster.  Inclusion in the registry would be optional (A. 3923, sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin). 

Employment
            Another bill would establish a small business tax credit for the employment of people with disabilities to encourage the employment of capable individuals who are often overlooked (A. 8996, sponsored by Assembly Member Michael Cusick).

Health Care
            In the event that an individual applying for public assistance has work limitations, disabilities or health issues receives a diagnosis from a practitioner provided by the local social services district that is inconsistent with the applicant’s treating health care practitioner, a measure included in the Assembly’s package would require that the district’s practitioner provide explicit written determination and evidence to support their diagnosis (A. 8994, sponsored by Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi). 

Housing
            Another piece of the legislation would create a tax credit for new or retrofitted principal residences which are universally designed to be accessible and adaptable housing (A. 9005, sponsored by Assembly Member Charles Lavine).  Universal designs make residences accessible and user friendly for senior citizens and people with limited mobility.

Assembly Health Committee Advances Legislation

           The Assembly Committee on Health, which I chair, advanced several important pieces of legislation in January. 

            These included a bill (A. 6677) I have introduced that would better target funds in the “Indigent Care Pool,” or ICP – money meant to supplement payments to hospitals who serve high proportions of low-income, uninsured, and Medicaid patients.  ICP funds are currently distributed according to an old, outdated formula that actually gives disproportionate funding to hospitals that provide little to no actual care to low-income patients, including some of the highest-profit hospitals in the state.  My bill, drafted in consultation with New York City Health + Hospitals, rebalances the ICP to better target the facilities which actually provide the bulk of care to low-income patients, typically including both urban public hospitals and rural sole community hospitals.

            Another bill I’m sponsoring that we reported out of the Health Committee, A. 7839, would help maintain water quality in smaller municipalities around New York State.  The Legislature passed a law in 2017 that required the monitoring of “emerging contaminants” in small water systems that provide water to less than 10,000 people.  That law included a short list of just three emerging contaminants, while directing the NYS Health Commissioner to create a longer list.  Because the Commissioner has since failed to produce such a list, my bill adds a longer list of chemicals, largely reflecting federal standards.  I drafted it in consultation with Environmental Advocates, the New York Public Interest Research Group, and other environmental groups.

Deadline to Enroll for Health Care Insurance through NYS Health Exchange Extended to February 7

            The deadline to enroll in a health plan for 2020 through the New York State of Health ex-change has been extended to Tuesday, February 7th.

            Individuals and families living in New York City may compare health plan options, apply for assistance and enroll online at:

nyc.gov/GetCoveredNYC. 

            City residents can also get free enrollment assistance by texting ‘CoveredNYC’ to 877877, or by calling 311 to connect with a health care enrollment specialist.

Census Job Opportunities

            Every ten years the United States Census Bureau takes a count of every person living in the United States.  It’s required by the Constitution.   Getting accurate Census data in New York is vital for ensuring that we receive our fair share of $650 billion in federal funds for public education, public housing, infrastructure, and more — as well as the number of

seats we have in the U.S. House of Representatives.  It also determines how much representation each community has in the State Legislature and the city council.

            It’s critical that every New Yorker be counted in the 2020 Census.  In the last Census in 2010, New York City’s self-response rate was less than 62%, significantly lower than the national 76% response rate.

            There are many jobs now available for workers to conduct the 2020 Census.  To inquire about Field Representative Testing in New York, please send an email with your

name, zip code, and phone number(s) to new.york.recruit@census.gov, or call 212-584-3495.  For other questions or inquiries about Census opportunities outside New York City, please call the New York Regional Census Center at 212-882-7100.

Deadline to Apply for Manhattan Community Board Membership is Extended to Fri., Feb. 14

            Interested in what gets built in the com-munity in which you live or work, and how government works to deliver services in the neighborhood?  Apply to join one of Manhattan’s 12 Community Boards!  The new deadline to submit your application is Friday, February 14 at 5:00 p.m.

            Every Community Board has 50 seats which are filled for two-year terms by volunteers, who are selected by the Borough President and local City Council members. Half the seats are up for appointment or reappointment every year.

            Community Boards get a seat at the table in high-stakes land use, real estate, and zoning negotiations, and they work directly with City agencies to influence how government services are delivered at the neighborhood level. 

            If you’d like to serve as a member of your Community Board, apply online at https://www.manhattanbp.nyc.gov/cbapplication/. You can also print the application and drop it off by mail or in-person at:

            Manhattan Borough President’s Office

            Attention: Rosie Mendez and Elka Morety

            1 Centre Street, 19th Floor

            New York, NY  10007

The deadline to apply for membership on a Manhattan community board is Friday, February 14 at 5:00 p.m.

Fri. Feb. 14 is the Deadline to Register to Vote for the Presidential Primary

            Under a new law passed by the Legislature, you can now change your party enrollment closer to next year’s New York presidential primary.  February 14 – Valentine’s Day – is the deadline to re-register to change which political party you are enrolled in, or to enroll with a party for the first time, in time to vote in New York’s April 28 presidential primary.  If you are already registered at your current address and enrolled with the party of your choice, you do not need to do anything.

            To make a change, send a Voter Registration Form with your new choice to the board of elections office for your borough or county.  You can learn more about registering or changing your party affiliation by going online: https://www.elections.ny.gov/VotingRegister.html

            To mail your voter registration form, send it to the New York County (Manhattan & Roosevelt Island) Board of Elections is:

            New York County Board of Elections

            200 Varick Street – 10th Floor

            New York, NY 10014

January Community Update

’Twas the Night Before Christmas… when Extell Sued a Non-Profit over its Opposition to Supertall UWS Skyscraper

            I’ve been working with a coalition of New Yorkers, including Community Board 7, LandmarkWest!, Upper West Side block associations, and the City Club, to fight the wave of “supertall” buildings that threaten the Upper West Side, including the 775-foot-tall luxury high-rise that the Extell Corporation is seeking to build at 50 West 66th Street.  I’m also fighting to eliminate the “mechanical void” loophole in certain R9 and R10 zoning districts (mostly found in Manhattan), which allows developers to insert massive empty spaces into their buildings in order skirt zoning laws and boost their overall height.  Developers do this so they can get higher prices for upper-floor apartments.  Extell wants to use the mechanical void loophole at 50 W. 66th Street to add 160 feet to the building’s height.  It’s an outrageous practice, and it has to stop!

            I’m one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Extell filed in April by the City Club of New York.  On Christmas Eve, Extell’s lawyers filed a countersuit against the City Club, seeking financial damages.

New Laws Take Effect in 2020

            Several new laws – on birth certificates, cash bail, “pre-registering” to vote, farmworkers’ rights, and boating safety, among others – are taking effect beginning in 2020. 

            And an increase in the minimum wage began on December 31, with hourly minimums rising

to $15 an hour in New York City, $13 on Long Island and in Westchester County, and $11.80 in the rest of the state.

            I was proud to have been an Assembly cosponsor of a bill (sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin and Senator Andrew Lanza) that allows persons who were adopted unrestricted access to their birth certificates once they turn eighteen.  Previously, adoptees could only get access by petitioning a court, and even then only with the consent of both biological parents.  The law, which was strongly supported by many adoptees seeking potentially life-saving information on their family medical history, takes effect on January 15.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

            Important changes are also taking place affecting cash bail and streamlining pre-trial procedure.  Beginning on January 1, persons charged with most misdemeanors and Class E felonies will no longer be required to post cash bail or bond to be released from jail

while awaiting trial, which will help end the criminalization of poverty that imprisons those not yet convicted simply because they can’t afford bail. 

            Several reforms to speed up trials and streamline the discovery process also took effect on January 1.

            Also taking effect on January 1 was a new law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote by completing a voter registration form that will make them automatically eligible to vote once they turn 18, making New York the 14th state to allowing pre-registration for persons beginning at age 16.

            Farmworkers have more rights under Farm Labor Fair Practices Act that took effect on January 1, aligning them with those already guaranteed other workers in New York: an eight-hour workday, with one mandatory rest day each week for farmworkers, as well as overtime pay set at time and a half.  The law makes it illegal for an employer to “lock out” farm workers over pay disputes or for seeking to unionize.

            Starting January 1, New Yorkers born in 1993 or later will now be required to

take a safety course before operating a motorboat or jet ski.  “Brianna’s Law” – named after Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old killed in a boat crash off Long Island in 2005 – will require every motor boat or jet ski operator to take a course and obtain a boating safety license before operating a motorized vessel on New York waterways, by expanding the age group every year until all motorboat or jet ski operators are included in 2025.

Governor Pledges to Remove Tow Pound from Pier 76

            On Sunday, January 5, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the State would ensure that the NYPD tow pound vacate Pier 76 in the Hudson River by the end of this year.  In 1998, the State Hudson River Park Act (which I sponsored in the Assembly) required

the City to use its “best efforts” to vacate the Pier so it would become part of the Park.  It’s long overdue.

PIER 76: Soon to be part of Hudson River Park (photo credit: Office of Governor Cuomo)

            The ownership of the nearly 250,000 square-foot Pier 76, located near West 38th Street across 12th Avenue from the High Line, the Javits Center, and Hudson Yards, will then be transferred to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) and the Pier will become part of the Park.  HRPT will develop a plan for Pier 76 and for Pier 40, located near West Houston Street.  Planning for Pier 40 has also been in limbo for years.  The plan is to balance maximizing open space and recognizing the financial needs of the Hudson River Park on both piers.  The community is to be involved in developing the plan. 

            I’m joining Manhattan Community Board 4 and other elected officials representing the Hudson River waterfront in enthusiastically supporting the Governor’s initiatives for the Park.

Penn Station Expansion

            On Monday, January 6, Governor Cuomo announced that the State plans to accelerate improvements to Penn Station including easier access to the street and to trains and adding 8 new tracks under the block south the Station (30th to 31st Streets, Seventh to Eighth Avenues).   This will increase Penn Station’s train capacity by 40 percent.  This will help assure Penn Station’s vital role as the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere long into the future.

            Governor Cuomo also announced that the new Moynihan Station being developed in the old Post Office building will open in December 2020.

Five Tin Pan Alley Buildings Are Designated Landmarks

            In a big win for the local community and for preservationists, on December 10 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate five buildings in New York City’s fabled Tin Pan Alley as New York City landmarks. We had been fighting for years to get Tin Pan Alley, the block of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, designated. It became famous in the late 1800s for its association with American popular music.  Dozens of music publishers and songwriters, including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter worked out of offices in a row of Italianate townhouses on 28th Street, writing classic songs like “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

            The most recent testimony I wrote in 2019 and submitted to the LPC along with

New York City Council Speaker Corey John-

son urging it to designate five buildings in Tin Pan Alley as landmarks: 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street.  The LPC’s action in December is the culmination of a long and hard-fought battle to preserve this vital piece of New York’s, and America’s, history.  

Public Finance Commission Issues Recommendations

            New York badly needs to combat the impact that big-money interests exert on State government – and I’ve been fighting to change the system.  It’s not a new cause for me – I wrote New York’s first bill on public campaign financing. 

            To help address mega-donors’ out-sized influence on New York’s government, the Governor and legislative leaders agreed that New

York State needed to create and implement a small-donor matching system for elections for State offices.  By matching small donations with public funding,  voices of all New Yorkers are strengthened instead of being overwhelmed by well-heeled special interests.

            Unfortunately, the Legislature and the Governor did not come to agreement on a campaign finance reform program before the end of the legislative session in June.  Instead, we created a “Public Financing Commission” charged with approving a campaign finance reform package by December, with Governor Cuomo promising that it would establish a campaign finance system that would serve as a “model for the nation.”  The recommendations it issued at the end of November will become law unless the Legislature amends or repeals them.

            The commission process was highly questionable, with its members apparently getting side-tracked by questions like whether to bar “fusion voting,” which allows different political parties in New York to endorse the same candidate; and whether to raise increase how many votes a “third party” would need to receive in order to be legally recognized with an official ballot line.

            Though the Commission did not act to eliminate fusion voting outright, as has been feared, it did move to increase the threshold for parties to obtain a position on the ballot, which puts their long-term survival in jeopardy.  Up until now, “third” parties like the Working Families Party and Conservative Party had to receive 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to maintain a ballot line and thus field candidates in a range of elections across the state on that ballot line over the course of the next four years. Under the Commission’s rules, instead of qualifying in every four-year gubernatorial election, parties will have to receive 2% of all votes cast or 130,000 votes, whichever is higher, for either governor or president, meaning that parties would have to requalify every two years with a significantly higher number of votes than are currently required of them every four years.  (No other state in the country that allows fusion voting requires “third” parties to qualify during presidential election years.) 

            The question of party qualification should have never been a part of this commission. Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve.  The proposed thresholds for par-ty qualification are unacceptable.  We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder.

            That’s why I have introduced legislation to undo the recommendations of the Public Campaign Finance Commission relating to “third” parties.  My bill would restore the provisions of the Election Law relating to third parties.

            I will be working with other legislators to fix the problems created by the Commission’s set of recommendations, ensure the viability of smaller political parties, and make the proposed matching campaign finance system for New York State even stronger.

Looming State Budget Shortfall Threatens Medicaid Funding

            New York’s budget gap for the coming year stands at an estimated $6.1 billion, with much of that shortfall attributed to the State’s Medicaid program.  In order to maintain a “global spending cap” imposed by Governor Cuomo on Medicaid spending, his administration shifted more than $1 billion in Medicaid payments into the next (2020) fiscal year.

            Governor Cuomo’s administration ascribes the Medicaid deficit to several factors, including the effect of an increase in New York’s minimum wage on health care providers, a phase-

out of some federal funding, an aging population resulting in greater demand for long-term care, and the rising cost of that long-term care.

            We can’t cut Medicaid spending to the bone in order to comply with an artificially imposed spending cap without jeopardizing the health of millions of New York families who depend on this vital program.  As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I’ll be working to protect Medicaid patients by providing it with additional revenue on high-income earners.

FIGHTING TO PRESERVE NEW YORK’S HISTORY: Last month, I joined members of the 29th Street Association and other elected officials to rally support for designating the Demarest Building on Fifth Avenue as a New York City landmark.

Fighting to Preserve a Historic Fifth Avenue Building

     On December 18, I spoke at a rally to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant landmark designation to the Demarest Building at 339 Fifth Avenue. An historic Beaux-Arts, iron-framed structure with four-story-high arched windows located on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building, the Demarest was built in 1890 and originally housed a horse carriage showroom as well as the first electrically operated elevator in the world.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell, whose founder James Renwick also created the plans for St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, among many other famous buildings.  Unfortunately, the Demarest is facing demolition because its owner, Pi Capital Partners, has filed an application to construct a new building.

      I have previously joined with community members and electing officials in unsuccessfully urging the preservation of the Demarest and other historic buildings in the area as part of a proposed expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District.  Now, our effort to save the Demarest is assuming new urgency in light of the imminent threat to its survival.

Assembly Task Force on Opiate Addiction

            Across our state, New Yorkers have been struggling to overcome an epidemic of opioid abuse.  To help address the crisis, the NYS Assembly Majority has formed a “Task Force on Examining Socio-Economic Responses to People with Substance Use Disorders.”  I was appointed to serve on the Task Force by Speaker Carl Heastie.

            Opioid addiction does not discriminate, impacting New Yorkers of all ages, races, and genders across the state.  This Task Force will help guide the state’ response with the insight of stakeholders and experts in the field, as we work to break down barriers preventing access to care and services.

         The Task Force will convene hearings to receive recommendations on how to address the opioid epidemic, as well as learn about the impacts of substance use disorders on those that suffer from the disorder, on their support systems, and on their communities.         

The formation of the Task Force is not the first step that the Assembly has taken in 2019 to address the crisis; earlier this year, the Assembly and the State Senate allocated $1 million for NYS substance abuse and rehabilitation service.

Board of Standards & Appeals’ Tie Vote on “Supertall” Continues to Sell Out Community, say Upper West Side Officials

(January 30, 2020) In an unusual 2-2 tie vote on Tuesday, the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) failed to approve a community effort to overturn the Department of Buildings (DOB) approval of Extell Development’s application to erect a 775-foot-high “supertall” building at 50 West 66th Street.  The elected officials representing the area vowed to continue to fight alongside the community.  The officials called on the DOB to justify its granting of the permit, including the developer’s “mechanical deductions” for four full floors.  (A “mechanical deduction” lets a developer deduct space for a building’s mechanical equipment from the height calculation for zoning purposes, letting the developer build a taller building.)  

Landmark West!, the neighborhood preservation organization that had filed the appeal with BSA, and the elected officials say Extell has never shown how the horizontal void space will be utilized, other than to boost the height of the building.  Landmark West! is reviewing its options, which include filing a lawsuit to block the project in NYS Supreme Court.

Although the BSA appeal, filed by Landmark West!, failed to win a majority, the rare tie vote showed that half of the BSA members object to Extell’s attempt to boost the height of its building by several additional stories.  At the BSA meeting, its Chair, Margery Perlmutter, joined the two BSA members who voted in favor of the appeal to urge DOB to develop clearer and more transparent policies and procedures to ensure that mechanical floor spaces are appropriately sized to serve their stated purpose of housing mechanical equipment and infrastructure needed to operate the building and not for other accessory or ulterior uses.

Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried said, “The 50 West 66th Street development is an abuse of zoning regulations, is contextually out of scale, and would set a terrible precedent for future proposed developments.  I stand with Landmark West! and local residents in urging the City to crack down on these and other developers’ abuses of the system.”

Congressman Jerrold Nadler said, “I am disappointed in the BSA’s decision in allowing the development at 50 West 66th Street to proceed, despite the plan’s contravention of zoning rules and regulations.  Condoning the use of mechanical voids as a work-around to build to excessive heights impedes our local lawmakers’ ability to curb the proliferation of ‘super-tall’ buildings that are plainly out of scale on the Upper West Side.”

New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer said, “This developer is creating zoning loopholes to produce a building whose height is grossly out-of-context with the surrounding community and blatantly contrary to the intent of the zoning resolution.  I stand with the community as they press for clarity and a fair resolution.”

State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “The split decision at the BSA shows how extreme Extell’s plans are and the danger mechanical voids can pose to other neighborhoods that could soon be blighted by super-tall buildings. It’s shameful that the BSA is allowing this project to still move forward. I fully support legal action to block Extell, and am committed to passing legislation sponsored by my colleagues Senator Jackson and Assembly Member Rosenthal to ensure that developers can never again flout zoning standards to maximize their profit at the cost of our neighborhoods.”

Council Member Helen Rosenthal said, “This week’s ‘tie-vote’ is yet another example of a process which inherently favors developers. I’m reiterating my call that the BSA step out of its narrow rules and take a stand for our community and the zoning guidelines established to protect it. If Extell wants to construct a building that vastly exceeds the height guidelines for the Lincoln Square Special District, it must provide transparency about how its void spaces are being used.”

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On Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day, Assembly Passes Bills to Improve the Lives of NYers with Disabilities

(January 29, 2020) Today, as Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day is observed in the State Capitol, the New York State Assembly passed a package of bills aimed at improving the lives of New Yorkers with disabilities. “On Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day, I join with my Assembly colleagues from both parties to recognize the significant achievements of New Yorkers with disabilities and to help them address the challenges they face,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried (D/WFP-Manhattan), Chair of the Assembly Health Committee. Legislation passed by the Assembly today included the following bills:

Disability Rights

Today’s legislative package includes legislation to establish the Office of Advocate for People with Disabilities (A. 9004, sponsored by Assembly Member Phil Steck), which I am co-sponsoring.  The office would serve to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities to help ensure that they can exercise all of the rights and responsibilities accorded to all residents of New York State, including the opportunity to live an independent life in their local community. Also included is a bill that I am co-sponsoring that would waive the State’s sovereign immunity with regard to application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as they apply to the protection of state employees (A. 1092, sponsored by Assembly Member Barbara Lifton).  Additionally, we passed a measure that would require public officers and bodies to provide qualified interpreters and assistive learning devices for hearing impaired individuals upon request at public meetings and hearings at no charge (A. 3385, sponsored by Assembly Member Inez Dickens).  Another measure would clarify that reasonable accommodation to enable a person with a disability to use and enjoy a dwelling includes the use of an animal to alleviate the symptoms or effects of a disability (A. 7331, sponsored by Assembly Member Erik Dilan).                                                                                                           

Emergency Preparedness

It is imperative that we can ensure the safety of our communities in the face of disasters and emergencies. A measure included in today’s package would require counties with local emergency management plans to maintain a confidential registry of people of all ages with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster. Inclusion in the registry would be optional (A. 3923, sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin).  

Employment

For people living with or without a disability, the opportunity to earn a living, help support their families and contribute to society is an important part of everyday life. Another bill would establish a small business tax credit for the employment of people with disabilities to encourage the employment of capable individuals who are often overlooked (A. 8996, sponsored by Assembly Member Michael Cusick).  

Health Care

In the event that an individual applying for public assistance has work limitations, disabilities or health issues receives a diagnosis from a practitioner provided by the local social services district that is inconsistent from the applicant’s treating health care practitioner, a measure included in the Assembly’s package today would require that the social services practitioner provide explicit written determination and evidence to support their diagnosis (A. 8994, sponsored by Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi).   

Housing

Another piece of legislation in today’s package would create a tax credit for new or retrofitted principal residences which are universally designed to be accessible and adaptable housing (A. 9005, sponsored by Assembly Member Charles Lavine).  Universal designs make residences accessible and user friendly for senior citizens and people with limited mobility. Providing individuals with the opportunity to age in place could save costs associated with assisted living or nursing homes and would assist in building an inventory of residences to ensure accessibility.

# # #

Good News for Hudson River Park and Penn Station!

Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced two exciting initiatives for the West Side.    On Sunday the Governor announced a proposal to require the NYPD tow pound to vacate Pier 76 in the Hudson River by the end of this year.  In 1998, the State Hudson River Park Act (which I sponsored in the Assembly) required the City to use its “best efforts” to vacate the Pier so it would become part of the Park. It’s long overdue.

PIER 76: Soon to be part of Hudson River Park (photo credit: Office of Governor Cuomo)

   

The ownership of the nearly 250,000 square-foot Pier 76, located near West 38th Street across 12th Avenue from the High Line, the Javits Center, and Hudson Yards, will then be transferred to the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) and the Pier will become part of the Park.  HRPT will develop a plan for Pier 76 and for Pier 40, located near West Houston Street.  Planning for Pier 40 has also been in limbo for years.  The plan is to balanced maximizing open space and recognizing the financial needs of the Hudson River Park on both piers.  The community is to be involved in developing the plan.  I’m joining Manhattan Community Board 4 and other elected officials representing the Hudson River waterfront in enthusiastically supporting the Governor’s initiatives for the Park.   Second, earlier today, Governor Cuomo announced that the State plans to transform Penn Station, including easier access to the street and to trains and adding eight new tracks under the block south of the Station (30th to 31st Streets, Seventh to Eighth Avenues).  This will increase its train capacity by 40 percent. This will help assure Penn Station’s vital role as the busiest transit hub in the Western Hemisphere long into the future.   Governor Cuomo also announced that the new Moynihan Station being developed in the old Post Office building will open in December 2020.   Happy New Year!

December Community Update

New Laws Take Effect in 2020

           Several new laws – on birth certificates, cash bail, “pre-registering” to vote, farmworkers’ rights, and boating safety, among others – are taking effect beginning in 2020. 

            And an increase in the minimum wage began on December 31, with hourly minimums rising to $15 an hour in New York City, $13 on Long Island and in Westchester County, and $11.80 in the rest of the state.

            I was proud to have been an Assembly cosponsor of a bill (sponsored by Assembly Member David Weprin and Senator Andrew Lanza) that allows persons who were adopted unrestricted access to their birth certificates once they turn eighteen.  Previously, adoptees could only get access by petitioning a court, and even then only with the consent of both biological parents.  The law, which was strongly supported by many adoptees seeking potentially life-saving information on their family medical history, takes effect on January 15.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

DEFENDING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: On Dec. 10, I joined advocates and elected officials to defend pre-sentencing reforms like eliminating the cash bail requirement for most non-violent crimes.

            Important changes are also taking place affecting cash bail and streamlining pre-trial procedure.  Beginning on January 1, persons charged with most misdemeanors and Class E felonies will no longer be released from jail while awaiting trial, which will help end the criminalization of poverty that imprisons those not yet convicted simply because they can’t afford bail. 

            Several reforms to speed up trials and streamline the discovery process also took effect on January 1.

            Also taking effect on January 1 was a new law allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to “pre-register” to vote by completing a voter registration form that will make them automatically eligible to vote once they turn 18, making New York the 14th state to allowing pre-registration for persons beginning at age 16.

            Farmworkers have more rights under Farm Labor Fair Practices Act that took effect on January 1, aligning them with those already guaranteed other workers in New York: an eight-hour workday, with one mandatory rest day each week for farmworkers, as well as overtime pay set at time and a half.  The law makes it illegal for an employer to “lock out” farm workers over pay disputes or for seeking to unionize.

            Starting January 1, New Yorkers born in 1993 or later will now be required to take a safety course before operating a motorboat or jet ski.  “Brianna’s Law” – named after Brianna Lieneck, an 11-year-old killed in a boat crash off Long Island in 2005 – will require every motor boat or jet ski operator to take a course and obtain a boating safety license before operating a motorized vessel on New York waterways, by expanding the age group every year until all motorboat or jet ski operators are included in 2025.

Five Tin Pan Alley Buildings Are Designated Landmarks

            In a big win for the local community and for preservationists, on December 10 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate five buildings in New York City’s fabled Tin Pan Alley as New York City landmarks. We had been fighting for years to get Tin Pan Alley, the block of West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, designated. It became famous

in the late 1800s for its association with American popular music.  Dozens of music publishers and songwriters, including Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Cole Porter worked out of offices in a row of Italianate townhouses on 28th Street, writing classic songs like “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

            The most recent testimony I wrote in 2019 and submitted to the LPC along with New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson urging it to designate five buildings in Tin Pan Alley as landmarks: 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55 West 28th Street.  The LPC’s action in December is the culmination of a long and hard-fought battle to preserve this vital piece of New York’s, and America’s, history.  

Public Finance Commission Issues Recommendations

            New York badly needs to combat the impact that big-money interests exert on State government – and I’ve been fighting to change the system.  It’s not a new cause for

me – I wrote New York’s first bill on public campaign financing. 

            To help address mega-donors’ out-sized influence on New York’s government, the Governor and legislative leaders agreed that New York State needed to create and implement a small-donor matching system for elections for State offices.  By matching small donations with public funding,  voices of all New Yorkers are strengthened instead of being overwhelmed by well-heeled special interests.

            Unfortunately, the Legislature and the Governor did not come to agreement on a campaign finance reform program before the end of the legislative session in June.  Instead, we created a “Public Financing Commission” charged with approving a campaign finance reform package by December, with Governor Cuomo promising that it would establish a campaign finance system that would serve as a “model for the nation.”  The recommendations it issued at the end of November will become law unless the Legislature amends or repeals them.

            The commission process was highly questionable, with its members apparently getting side-tracked by questions like whether to bar “fusion voting,” which allows different political parties in New York to endorse the same candidate; and whether to raise increase how many votes a “third party” would need to receive in order to be legally recognized with an official ballot line.

            Though the Commission did not act to eliminate fusion voting outright, as has been feared, it did move to increase the threshold for parties to obtain a position on the ballot, which puts their long-term survival in jeopardy.  Up until now, “third” parties like the Working Families Party and Conservative Party had to receive 50,000 votes in a gubernatorial election to maintain a ballot line and thus field candidates in a range of elections across the state on that ballot line over the course of the next four years. Under the Commission’s rules, instead of qualifying in every four-year gubernatorial election, parties will have to receive 2% of all votes cast or 130,000 votes, whichever is higher, for either governor or president, meaning that parties would have to requalify every two years with a significantly higher number of votes than are currently required of them every four years.  (No other state in the country that allows fusion voting requires “third” parties to qualify during presidential election years.) 

            The question of party qualification should have never been a part of this commission. Third parties are an essential part of the electoral system in New York, shining light on important issues that otherwise may not get the attention they deserve.  The proposed thresholds for party qualification are unacceptable.  We should be making it easier for third parties to make it on the ballot, not harder.

            That’s why I have introduced legislation to undo the recommendations of the Public Campaign Finance Commission relating to “third” parties.  My bill would restore the provisions of the Election Law relating to third parties.

            I will be working with other legislators to fix the problems created by the Commis-

sion’s set of recommendations, ensure the

viability of smaller political parties, and make the proposed matching campaign finance system for New York State even stronger.

Looming State Budget Shortfall Threatens Medicaid Funding

            New York’s budget gap for the coming year stands at an estimated $6.1 billion, with much of that shortfall attributed to the State’s Medicaid program.  In order to maintain a “global spending cap” imposed by Governor Cuomo on Medicaid spending, his administration shifted more than $1 billion in Medicaid payments into the next (2020) fiscal year.

            Governor Cuomo’s administration ascribes the Medicaid deficit to several factors, including the effect of an increase in New York’s minimum wage on health care providers, a phase-out of some federal funding, an aging population resulting in greater demand for long-term care, and the rising cost of that long-term care.

            We can’t cut Medicaid spending to the bone in order to comply with an artificially imposed spending cap without jeopardizing the health of millions of New York families who depend on this vital program.  As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I’ll be working to protect Medicaid patients by providing it with additional revenue on high-income earners.

Assembly Task Force on Opiate Addiction

            Across our state, New Yorkers have been struggling to overcome an epidemic of opioid abuse.  To help address the crisis, the NYS Assembly Majority has formed a “Task Force on Examining Socio-Economic Responses to People with Substance Use Disorders.”  I was appointed to serve on the Task Force by Speaker Carl Heastie.

            Opioid addiction does not discriminate, impacting New Yorkers of all ages, races, and genders across the state.  This Task Force will help guide the state’ response with the insight of stakeholders and experts in the field, as we work to break down barriers preventing access to care and services.

          The Task Force will convene hearings to receive recommendations on how to address the opioid epidemic, as well as learn about the impacts of substance use disorders on those that suffer from the disorder,

on their support systems, and on their communities.  

            The formation of the Task Force is not the first step that the Assembly has taken in 2019 to address the crisis; earlier this year, the Assembly and the State Senate allocated $1 million for NYS substance abuse and rehabilitation service.

Tues., Jan. 7: Workshop on “Cultivate Hell’s Kitchen”

       Do you live, work or play in Hell’s Kitchen?  Have ideas about what the future of this neighborhood should look like?  The “Cultivate HK” Town Hall series, sponsored by the Clinton Housing Development Company (CHDC), is designed to mobilize neighbors and advance a greener, more interconnected Hell’s Kitchen.    

            Join your neighbors at the second “Cultivate HK Town Hall” on Tuesday, January 7 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 545 West 52nd Street (between Tenth & Eleventh Avenues) on the first floor.🎉

            This event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be provided.

            For more information, please email Ansley at apentz@clintonhousing.org.  You can RSVP online at http://bit.ly/TownHallJan7

Mulchfest! Through Sat., Jan. 11, Recycle Christmas Trees

            From now through Saturday, January 11, you can recycle your Christmas tree or wreath, courtesy of the New York City Parks and Sanitation Departments. 

            Just bring your tree to a Mulchfest location, and your tree will be turned into wood chips that will be used to nourish trees and make New York City even greener.  More than 28,000 trees were recycled last year.

Help the City top that number in 2020!

            In our Assembly district, drop-off sites are Central Park West and West 65th Street and on East 14th Street between Broadway and Park Avenue South.  Until Jan. 11, you can bring your tree to any Mulchfest location. Find the complete listing online at https://www.nycgovparks.org/highlights/festivals/mulchfest.

            Please remember to remove all lights, ornaments, and netting before bringing the tree to a Mulchfest site.

            Weather permitting, the NYC Department of Sanitation will also be conducting curbside collections for mulching and recycling of Christmas trees from Monday, January 6 through Friday, January 17, 2020.

Mon., Jan. 20: Deadline for Citizens Committee Grant Applications for Local Community Organizations

            Do you have an idea to improve our community?  The Citizens Committee for New York City is now accepting applications from volunteer-led groups for its Neighborhood Grants program, which offers up to $3,000 and project planning support for initiatives aimed at bringing neighbors together and improving the quality of life in neighborhoods across the city.   The deadline to apply is January 20.  An organization does not have to be a registered 501(c)(3) to be able to receive a grant from CCNYC!

            Eligible groups include block associations, tenant associations, PTAs, gardening groups, cultural organizations and others.  Examples of projects considered for funding include turning a vacant lot into a community garden or community composting site; facilitating workshops on healthy cooking and eating; beautifying public spaces; arts and cultural programs; youth fitness initiatives; and much more.

            Organizations can access the application for 2020 Neighborhood Grants online at www.citizensnyc.org/grants. For more information about the application process or eligibility, contact Arif Ullah, Director of Programs, at aullah@citizensnyc.org or (212) 822-9580.

Wed., Jan. 22: Workshop on SCRIE & DRIE

            SCRIE and DRIE (Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption and Disability Rent Increase Exemption) help eligible New Yorkers stay in affordable apartments by freezing their rent. 

            From 12:00 noon to 2:00 p.m. on Wed., Jan. 22, the New York City Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit will host a workshop on the SCRIE and DRIE programs in conjunction with the office of City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.  The event will be held at Selis Manor, 135 West 23rd St. between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in Chelsea. 

            To apply for SCRIE or DRIE, you must be at least 62 years old, or 18 with a qualifying disability; have a household income of $50,000 or less; live in a rent-regulated apartment (either rent-stabilized, rent-controlled, or a Single-Room-Occupancy hotel); and spend more than 1/3 of your income on rent. 

            To complete an application, you must provide photo identification; 2018 tax returns documenting the income of all household members; copies of your two most recent leases; and, if applicable, a copy of an Social Security Disability award letter or Veterans Administration disability or compensation notice of award letter.  Residents of NYHCA developments or Section 8 housing are not eligible.

            To RSVP for the workshop, please call 212-564-7757 or email SpeakerJohnson@council.nyc.gov.

Fighting to Preserve a Historic Fifth Avenue Building

      On December 18, I spoke at a rally to urge the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to grant landmark designation to the Demarest Building at 339 Fifth Avenue.  An historic Beaux-Arts, iron-framed structure with four-story-high arched windows located on 33rd Street across from the Empire State Building, the Demarest was built in 1890 and originally housed a horse carriage showroom as well as the first electrically operated elevator in the world.  It was designed by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Russell, whose founder James Renwick also created the plans for St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, among many other famous buildings.  Unfortunately, the Demarest is facing demolition because its owner, Pi Capital Partners, has filed an application to construct a new high-rise building.

      I have previously joined with community members and electing officials in unsuccessfully urging the preservation of the Demarest and other historic buildings in the area as part of a proposed expansion of the Madison Square North Historic District.  Now, our effort to save the Demarest is assuming new urgency in light of the imminent threat to its survival.


FIGHTING TO PRESERVE NEW YORK’S HISTORY: Last month, I joined members of the 29th Street Association and other elected officials to rally support for designating the Demarest Building on Fifth Avenue as a New York City landmark.

Joint Press Release: Gov. Cuomo Vetoes Bill to Regulate Pharmacy Benefit Managers and Protect Consumers

Bill would have added accountability, increased fiscal disclosure, and addressed deceptive and anti-competitive practices

(December 26, 2019) Governor Cuomo this evening vetoed legislation to increase oversight, transparency, and accountability of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).  PBMs are companies that manage prescription drug benefits for health plans.  Their negotiations, discounts, and rebate structures are highly secretive and PBMs have been accused of practices including profiteering by overcharging health plans more than they subsequently reimburse pharmacists and pocketing the difference, a practice known as “spread pricing.”

In response to these and other concerns, New York’s 2019 State budget included language eliminating spread pricing and implementing other regulations on PBMs that work with Medicaid.  This bill would have applied similar rules to private health plans.

“The PBM industry spent a lot of money lobbying against this consumer protection bill,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair and bill sponsor Richard N. Gottfried.  “PBMs are widely recognized as major players in driving up drug costs and profiteering at the expense of people who pay health insurance premiums, patients, and pharmacists.  They’re a black box, operating in secret with no effective regulation.  There is plenty of evidence, including an analysis by the State Senate, showing what happens when regulators can’t see into this growing segment of the health care economy.  This veto means higher drug prices, higher costs for health plans and the people who pay their premiums, and lost income for pharmacies.”

“New York was on the cusp of becoming the leading state in protecting consumers, bringing questionable practices to light and saving millions of dollars with the bold proposal by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Neil Breslin to finally join over two thirds of the states in regulating pharmacy benefit management companies,” said Assembly Insurance Committee Chair and bill co-sponsor Kevin Cahill.  Instead, with the stroke of his veto pen, Governor Andrew Cuomo leaves New Yorkers unprotected and these shadowy corporate behemoths free to plunder the sick, over-burdened health insurance public.”

“In this past budget, the Governor supported some protections for the Medicaid program in its dealing with PBMs,” added Gottfried.  “But he now insists that the only way he would’ve signed this bill is if we agreed to gut the bill by taking out key consumer protections, including those that parallel what we did for Medicaid.   The Governor even wanted us to take out a requirement that PBMs operate ‘with care, skill, prudence, diligence, and professionalism, and for the best interests’ of the consumer and health plans. It is incomprehensible to me.  I will be re-introducing the bill shortly and resuming the fight to get it passed and signed.”

Cahill added:  “While we remain only one of about a dozen states without any regulation of this shadow industry and with no adequate recourse for their secretive decisions, impacting millions of patients and professionals and costing millions of dollars, there is a consolation here in that we stood up to the governor’s bald attempt to substitute a fake regulatory schema that protects PBMs instead of consumers.” 

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Five Buildings on Tin Pan Alley Are Designated NYC Landmarks

For several years, I’ve joined with the community members, other elected officials, preservationists, and neighborhood organizations like the 29th Street Association to urge the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to designate Tin Pan Alley on 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue as a New York City landmark. We were gratified when the LPC designated five Tin Pan Alley buildings as individual landmarks on December 10, 2019. Here’s a news account from Untapped Cities:

Tin Pan Alley on 28th Street Designated NYC Landmark

by Michelle Young

Within the former Tenderloin district, Tin Pan Alley was the tiny sliver of a block of 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue. Starting in the late 1800s, the stretch was synonymous with American popular music. Scores of music publishers and songwriters were located there, in former Italianite rowhouses that can still be seen. It was here that songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and “God Bless America” were published. Until recently, those buildings had been at risk of demolition but today, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the designation of Tin Pan Alley as an official landmarks.

Specifically, five buildings on 28th Street, numbers 47, 49, 51, 53 and 55, are the latest New York City landmarks. Landmarks Preservation Commission Chair Sarah Carroll said, “Tin Pan Alley was the birthplace of American popular music, was defined by achievements of songwriters and publishers of color, and paved the way for what would become ‘the Great American Songbook.’ Together, these five buildings represent one of the most important and diverse contributions to popular culture.”

The Landmarks Preservation Commission notes the unique coalescing of activities in Tin Pan Alley that would have a profound influence on how popular music was produced and promoted: “Here, composers, arrangers, lyricists, performers, and printers came together as collaborative firms and revolutionized the music industry’s practices,” the Commission contends in a press release.

And equally important was the opportunities afforded by the Tin Pan Alley businesses to marginalized populations, like Blacks and Jews. According to the Commission, “Tin Pan Alley’s music publishing brought ragtime to an international public, and Jewish and African-American artists and publishers were able to create new and unprecedented opportunities for themselves in mainstream American music.”  Some of the most prominent among them include Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, and Cole Porter.

Tin Pan Alley also has a fun Erie Canal connection.  According to Jack Kelly, the author of Heaven’s Ditch: God, Gold, and Murder on the Erie Canal who wrote an article for us at the launch of his book, “In 1905 a Tin Pan Alley songwriter named Thomas Allen published sheet music for a tune called “Low Bridge, Everybody Down.” The piece begins, “I’ve got a mule and her name is Sal . . .” It became the classic Erie Canal song, offering a nostalgic look backward at a time when mules were being phased out. Pete Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, and countless millions of school children have sung the song down the decades.”

Today, Tin Pan Alley overlaps with the city’s Flower District, itself a disappearing industry existing on top of another already lost. On a visit during a weekday, you may see flowers and trees taking over part of the road and workers actively cutting and arranging the goods.

The effort to landmark Tin Pan Alley has been a multi-year effort and in addition to the testimony of local preservationists and political figures, the descendants of many of the musicians such as the grandchildren of Duke Ellington, also wrote in support.

Chelsea Community News Op-Ed: “Let’s Get Big-Money Special Interests Out of NY Politics”

By Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried


Assembly Member Gottfried. | Chelsea Community News File photo by Winnie McCroy

(Nov. 22, 2019) New York badly needs to combat the influence that big-money interests exert on State government—and I’ve been fighting to change the system.

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.

Under our current laws, large, well-heeled donors can exert an outsized impact on elections in New York. State campaign contribution limits allow a single donor to contribute up to $22,600 to a statewide primary campaign and $47,100 to a general election bid—a total of almost $70,000 to a single candidate, far more than that donor could legally contribute to a campaign for President or U.S. Senator!

A report earlier this year by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice 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.

To help address mega-donors’ outsized influence on New York’s government, the new State Senate majority this year joined the Assembly in enacting a bill to close the “LLC loophole” that allowed real estate and other interests to eviscerate the spirit and intent of our campaign finance laws. But much more needs to be done: 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, instead of letting them be overwhelmed by well-heeled special interests.

Unfortunately, the Legislature and the Governor did not come to agreement on a campaign finance reform program before the end of the legislative session in June. Instead, we created a “Public Financing Commission” charged with approving a campaign finance reform package by December, with Governor Cuomo promising that it would establish a campaign finance system that would serve as a “model for the nation.” Its recommendations will become law unless the Legislature amends or repeals them before the end of the year.

This commission process has been highly questionable, with its members apparently getting side-tracked by questions like whether to ban “fusion” voting, which allows different political parties to nominate the same general-election candidate; how many votes a “minor” party’s candidate for governor would have to receive in order for that party to maintain a regular ballot line for the next four years; and limiting “matchable” campaign contributions to only those donations made by persons who live in the Assembly or State Senate district in which a campaign is waged.

I’ve joined with 38 of my colleagues in the Legislature in writing to Commission members asking them to achieve several critical goals whose realization inspired the Commission’s formation in the first place.  Among several strong recommendations, we urged the Commission to ensure that:

–small donations be provided at least a 6-1 match, to ensure that participating candidates are able to raise significant sums from small donors

–the maximum amount of a campaign contribution by an individual donations be greatly decreased so as to minimize the disproportionate influence of mega-donors and increase the impact of small donors

–the State establish a truly independent campaign finance agency, separate from the NYS Board of Elections, to guard against fraud but also to help candidates comply with campaign finance regulations

–fusion voting and cross-endorsements by “minor” political parties—which are completely unrelated to public financing—be maintained

At the end of our letter, we reminded the Commission members that the Legislature takes “seriously our statutory responsibility to craft and sponsor legislation” in December if needed.

As we await the Commission’s findings, we remain resolute in our determination to fix New York State’s broken campaign finance system. Candidates don’t need to out-spend their opponents to win elective office. They need a winning message and enough money to get their message out to the voters. A small-donor matching system with meaningful restrictions on special-interest big money contributions can help make that possible. Our democracy demands no less.

Assembly Member Gottfried represents the 75th Assembly District, which includes the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, and part of the East Side and area around lower Central Park.

Adoptees Can Now Obtain Their Birth Certificates in New York

Access to your personal information – who you are and where you come from – is a human right; it’s been wrong for the government to deny you access to it. Connecting adoptees with birth parents works; in the overwhelming majority of cases, these reunions are cherished by both parties. And people need their personal and medical histories. I’m proud to have co-sponsored this bill and admire my Assembly colleague David Weprin’s persistence in getting it passed. Here’s an article from the New York Post about the new law:h

New Law Lets Adoptees Obtain Birth Certificates in NY

by Bernadette Hogan

People who were adopted will soon be able to obtain their birth certificates, under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislation allows any adoptee upon turning 18 to apply to their local or state health department to get an original copy of their certified birth certificate. Such a request had previously been denied.

That would allow adopted people to figure out who their biological parents are as well as providing valuable information about their family’s medical history.

The law also removes a government agency’s ability to impose any restrictions on an individual’s attempt to obtain the information.

“Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records — it’s a basic human right,” said Cuomo.

“For too many years, adoptees have been wrongly denied access to this information and I am proud to sign this legislation into law and correct this inequity once and for all.”

Cuomo vetoed a different version of the bill in 2017 despite its passage in both legislative chambers.

“Why should an adult have any less rights than any non-adoptee? It has major psychological implications, and that simple piece of paper is part of their DNA and really belongs to them,” the bill’s Assembly sponsor David Weprin (D-Queens) told The Post.

The law officially takes effect Jan. 15, 2020, but in the meantime the commissioner of the state health department will be directed to sort out the new rules and regulations for how to comply.

New York will become the 10th state to provide the documents with unrestricted access.