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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.

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.

SLive.com: Push to repeal cop secrecy law

CITY HALL — Lawmakers, advocates and the families of victims of police violence gathered on the steps of City Hall Wednesday demanding a law that prevents the public from accessing police disciplinary records, known as 50-a, be repealed.

The rally came ahead of a series of hearings on 50-a, slated to begin Thursday, as Democratic lawmakers push forward with legislation in the upcoming legislative session that would repeal the more than a decades-old law.

Expanded marijuana decriminalization takes effect

Dear friend,

New York’s new marijuana decriminalization law takes effect today.

I sponsored the 1977 law that first decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, making possession of fewer than 25 grams (about 7/8 oz.) only a violation punishable by a fine, legally not a “crime.”

At the time, negotiations with the Republican State Senate required us to keep the “decriminalization” quantity below an ounce and keep possession in “public view” a misdemeanor. For over 20 years, that wasn’t a big problem. But increased use of “stop and frisk” meant that year after year, tens of thousands young people – almost all people of color – were ordered to “empty their pockets” and get arrested for a misdemeanor and stigmatized with a criminal record for the rest of their lives. This recent New York Times story tells the story very well.

With the new Democratic majority in the State Senate, the new law restores what we had to bargain away back in 1977, especially eliminating the “public view” provision. It also helps undo the human damage done by those criminal records. Criminal records for conduct that wouldn’t be a crime under the new law will be “expunged:” legally and physically erased.

The new law, which I co-sponsored, includes:
-Elimination of the “public view” misdemeanor provision.
-The “decriminalized” quantity level is now 1 oz., not 25 grams.
-The penalty is lowered from $100 to $50.
-Changes possession of up to 2 oz., from being a misdemeanor to a violation, with a penalty of up to $200.
-Automatic record expungement for past possession arrests and convictions for amounts and offenses that are now “decriminalized” under this law.

It is not yet clear how the courts and law enforcement will make the “automatic” expungement work. Sealing of records should be automatic. Actually erasing the record will require some action by the defendant, because some defendants will need proof for federal immigration purposes what the case was about and that it has been cleared.

This is a great step forward for social justice. But we still need to pas the bill to legalize, regulate and tax adult use of marijuana, sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo, which I co-sponsor. Peoples-Stokes was the lead sponsor of the new law.

If you have questions about the new law, please feel free to contact my office. Legal services programs like the Legal Aid Society in New York City are preparing to provide information and assistance.

Very truly yours,
Richard N. Gottfried
Assembly Member

Press release: Gottfried bill expanding protections for trafficking survivors passes Assembly

A landmark 2010 New York law lets victims of human trafficking get prostitution-related criminal convictions erased if the convictions directly resulted from the trafficking. On June 13, the Assembly passed a bill, A. 6983A, to broaden the law to apply to other convictions. The bill is sponsored by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried and Senator Jessica Ramos. Gottfried was the author of the 2010 law. Over twenty-five states have since followed with similar laws.

New York Daily News: New York State Bill to Boost Prisoner Health Care to be Introduced Following Reports of Treatment That Led to 50 Deaths

By Reuven Blau, November 12

Assembly Member Richard Gottfried plans to create legislation to give the state Department of Health more power over prisoner medical treatment. (Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News)

Prisoner health care must be significantly improved and staffing levels should be regularly monitored, a state lawmaker said Monday following reports of horrific medical abuses that led to 50 deaths over the past five years.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) will introduce legislation to give the state Department of Health more oversight power over prisoner medical treatment. Currently, medical treatment is largely handled internally by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“People in prison and jail, sort of by definition, are not looked at kindly by most New Yorkers,” Gottfried said. “We also have to realize they are human beings. They are in our custody, and we have a constitutional obligation to protect their health, whether they have done wrong or not.”

The Daily News on Monday reported that a state medical review board concluded 50 prisoner deaths may have been prevented had they gotten better health care.

Commission of Correction review panels repeatedly criticized prison medical staff for failing to complete basic checkups and mental health screenings. In multiple cases, doctors and nurses totally discounted prisoner complaints until they were too serious, according to the death probes.

Gottfried’s proposed legislation will also require state officials to study health care staffing in prisons and issue a report on the issue twice each year.

The number of health care practitioners employed by the department shrank by 3%, according to DOCCS. Some doctors are in charge of 500 or more prisoners.

“I think today it is all too easy to ignore inadequate staffing in prisons and jails particularly relating to health care,” Gottfried said. “If DOCCS and the Health Department are required to study and report on it that gets us a lot closer to dealing responsibility with it.”

The legislation was introduced last year but failed to pass the Assembly after it got stuck in the Codes Committee. The bill would also have likely gotten voted down in the GOP-controlled State Senate.

Gottfried believes the Democratic takeover of the Senate will lead to its passing.

In 2009, Gottfried and former State Sen. Thomas Duane passed a similar measure requiring the Department of Health to “conduct annual reviews of HIV and Hepatitis C care” in correctional facilities. That bill, which was signed by former Gov. David Paterson, has been hailed as a success by prison advocates.

NY Times: It Wasn’t a Crime to Carry Marijuana. Until the Police Found a Loophole.

By Benjamin Mueller,  August 2

It was the 1970s, and marijuana raids and mass arrests had been sweeping college campuses and suburban concert venues in New York. The crackdown outraged parents. There was talk of ruined reputations and “Gestapo” police tactics.

State legislators in 1977 devised what they took to be a simple fix: a bill that made carrying small supplies of marijuana a ticket-worthy violation, not a crime. To win enough votes from Republicans, the authors carved out an exception that said it was still a crime to carry marijuana “open to public view.”

The bill’s backers thought the addition was harmless enough, given that people did not usually take out their stash in front of the police anyway. The era of mass arrests for carrying around marijuana seemed to be over.

City and State: The other argument for recreational pot

By Rebecca Lewis, June 3

The push to legalize marijuana for recreational use is gaining momentum in New York. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon is pushing for it, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signaled that he is open to it and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has concluded that it is inevitable.

Much of this drive appears to come from a social justice campaign to end racial disparities in arrests for marijuana offenses. Nixon made that clear in her campaign video. De Blasio’s new position, which included a demand that the NYPD stop making arrests for smoking marijuana in public, came after reports of enforcement disproportionately affecting black and Latino residents.

But changes could remove or ease restrictions on medical marijuana in New York and might even help to curb the state’s opioid epidemic.

New York has a medical marijuana program, but it is more restrictive than in other states. For instance, a person must be diagnosed with a qualifying condition. While that list was recently expanded to include post-traumatic stress disorder, a patient must still have a “severe, debilitating or life-threatening” condition, which leaves out many others who may benefit from medical marijuana.

City and State: Joint effort: Where key players stand on legalizing recreational marijuana in New York

By Grace Seegers, April 20

Recreational marijuana has recently been high on the list of priorities for New York politicians. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has made legalization an important part of her campaign, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s opinions seem to be evolving. The Republican gubernatorial candidates, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and state Sen. John DeFrancisco, did not return requests for comment on their positions on recreational marijuana, although DeFrancisco did vote against the bill which legalized medical marijuana in New York in 2014.

Meanwhile, legislation is under consideration in the state Legislature that would legalize recreational marijuana, although it faces stiff opposition. In honor of 4/20, here is an in the weed(s) look at the politicians who are blazing the trail for legalizing recreational marijuana in New York, and the ones who are harshing the mellow.

SUPPORTERS

Assemblyman Dick Gottfried & State Sen. Liz Krueger

The long-time chairman of the Assembly Health Committee is a staunch advocate of making marijuana more accessible. He helped to write the law which legalized medical marijuana in the state for a narrow set of conditions and does not allow patients to smoke it but imbibe through other means, but has criticized it for being too restrictive. He has introduced legislation to allow people to smoke marijuana and to loosen the restrictions on which afflictions qualify for medical marijuana use. Gottfried is also an Assembly sponsor of the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act. This bill would legalize marijuana for adults over 21, which Gottfried has said is “long overdue” in New York.

Krueger is also an advocate of legalizing recreational marijuana. She is the Senate sponsor of the Taxation and Regulation Act, which has previously stalled in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Krueger’s position is that prohibition of recreational marijuana “disproportionately affects communities of color and wastes valuable law enforcement resources.”

Daily News: Assembly members demand Manhattan DA reverse policy letting NYPD prosecute activists’ summons cases

By Shayna Jacobs, 3/6/18

Seven lawmakers are pushing for the Manhattan district attorney to withdraw from a controversial policy in which the NYPD was given authority to prosecute activists in summons cases, the Daily News has learned.

Assemblyman Dan Quart (D-Manhattan) and colleagues are urging DA Cy Vance Jr. to rescind his delegation of violations to the NYPD’s Legal Bureau — a policy that allows department lawyers to play prosecutor in summons court.

The collective, in a sharply worded letter to be delivered Tuesday, is asking Vance to “rescind” the permission he gave to the department in a February 2016 agreement.

It is the subject of a lawsuit following the 2016 protest arrests of two Black Lives Matter activists.

The police department sought the access to the low-level court proceedings — that are not even usually handled by a prosecutor — as a way to try to minimize potential future exposure in lawsuits, The News previously reported.

Vance has “made himself and his office into an appendage for insulating the NYPD from civil liability,” Quart charged Monday.

The letter is endorsed by assembly members Inez Dickens, Daniel O’Donnell, Rebecca Seawright, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Gottfried; Sen. Liz Krueger and City Councilmember Carlina Rivera.