Metzger calls Senate Dems’ bail plan “just and protective of all New Yorkers”

State Sen. Jen Metzger was one of eight Democratic senators who helped craft a proposal to alter the state’s controversial new bail policy that they hope will answer concerns about public safety while retaining the goal of ending discrimination against poor defendants.

“For the past several weeks, I have been participating in a Senate bail reform working group to develop a proposal that the communities I represent will find both safe and fair,” the Rosendale Democrat said in a statement about proposed revision, which isn’t in bill form yet. “My Senate colleagues and I recognized aspects of the new law needed amending, and I am glad we have been able to put forth a plan that is just and protective of all New Yorkers.” 

She and her colleagues were responding to heavy criticism from law enforcement and Republicans about the state eliminating bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges. The law took effect on Jan. 1 and was meant to stop the practice of jailing only defendants who can’t afford bail while they await trial, but it triggered a strong backlash and news reports about courts having to release repeat offenders and suspects accused of violent acts.

Under the revision reported by Newsday on Wednesday, judges could order defendants with felony charges to be held in jail or released with monitoring if warranted by their criminal records or likelihood of fleeing. Judges would use prescribed guidelines to make those determinations.

Orange County District Hoovler, a Republican who leads the state District Attorneys Association and has been a critic of the new bail law, told the Times Herald-Record on Thursday that the proposed revision was a “positive step” and sounded similar to bail reforms New Jersey has adopted, although he couldn’t elaborate without knowing the details.

“It’s better than what we have now,” Hoovler said.

Sen. James Skoufis, a Cornwall Democrat who wasn’t part of the group that developed the revision, called it “a big step in the right direction” that would preserve the safeguard against discrimination while restoring judges’ ability to jail persistent offenders and dangerous suspects.

He said Senate Democrats will likely pursue the proposal as a standalone bill, but may later try to pass it as part of the budget if the idea meets resistance. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has sounded dubious about revisiting the bail issue so soon, and bail-reform advocates have urged Democrats to resist what they describe as fear-mongering against the law.

Skoufis said he disagreed that more time was needed to asses the impact.

“I believe there’s ample evidence, including crime data from the NYPD and elsewhere, that the concerns regarding bail reform must be addressed now,” he said. “When it comes to public safety, time is always of the essence.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, a City of Newburgh Democrat, also called the Senate Democrats’ proposal “a step in the right direction.” He said he liked that it would set strict standards for holding defendants, given past complaints that bail decisions seemed arbitrary or tilted against black and Hispanic defendants.

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State lawmakers press DOT commissioner on Route 17 widening

The state transportation commissioner got an earful during a recent budget hearing from lawmakers pushing for the addition of a third lane on Route 17 to ease growing tourist traffic on a central artery through Orange and Sullivan counties.

Four of the region’s legislators – Sens. James Skoufis and Jen Metzger and Assemblymen Jonathan Jacobson and Colin Schmitt – took turns asking Marie Therese Dominguez on Jan. 28 about an awaited study on Route 17 traffic and urging the Department of Transportation to include money for the widening its next capital plan. They noted the long quest for a third lane and the tourism sites that have arisen in the meantime – a casino and water park in Sullivan and a nearly completed Legoland theme park in Orange.

The DOT commissioner indicated the traffic study would start in April, but made no commitment to scheduling construction funds.

When asked by Schmitt about not doing so, Dominguez answered, “We’re committed to doing the study to make sure we see what the alternatives are and how we would approach what the path forward is.”

She then came in for a grilling from Skoufis, who demanded to know why the study has taken so long to start after lawmakers approved the $5 million to fund it 22 months ago. And he he questioned why the DOT can’t budget construction funds in the second year of the two-year capital plan that it will soon release.

He told her municipal leaders and other stakeholders who support the road widening “are sick and tired of hearing ‘we need more time.'”

“If this doesn’t happen there is only stakeholder who is to blame, and everyone will know it, and it will happen very publicly,” Skoufis told her.

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Maloney, Delgado tout House bill to bolster unions

Hudson Valley Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado touted their support for a bill passed by the House on Thursday that would strengthen union protections for workers and allow government fines against employers who violate labor laws.

The vote on the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, split along party lines with most Democrats in favor and most Republicans against it. Among other things, the proposal would allow workers to file class-action lawsuits and enable the National Labor Relations Board to impose fines of up to $50,000 per violation against employers.

“Our labor unions protect the rights of Hudson Valley workers and help set a higher standard of living for working families across our state,” Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat representing New York’s 18th Congressional District, said in a statement. “As powerful special interests continue to attack our unions, Congress needs to draw a clear line in the sand and stand up for hard-working families. I’m proud to support the PRO Act, which will protect our unions, give New Yorkers the freedom to negotiate a better working environment, and strengthen our local economy.”

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Senate passes bills to combat opioid crisis

A bill by state Sen. Jen Metzger to crack down on doctors who over-prescribe narcotic painkillers was one of 17 bills the Senate passed on Tuesday to address the opioid epidemic in various ways.

Metzger’s bill, approved unanimously, would simply add a clause to state law to require the state Health Department to monitor its data on prescriptions for “inappropriate prescribing of controlled substance.” The Senate had passed the same bill near the end of last year’s legislative session, but the Assembly never took it up.

Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat elected in 2018, co-sponsored most of the other bills approved on Tuesday, includes ones that would require updated training for prescribing controlled substances and mandate that patients who are given opioids also be prescribed drugs that can reverse an overdose.

“The communities I represent have been deeply affected by the opioid crisis, with Ulster, Sullivan, Orange, and Delaware counties all facing staggering opioid-related death rates that far exceed the state average,” Metzger said in a statement. “There is no doubt that the package of opioid legislation passed will save lives.” 

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Law enforcement leaders, Republicans protest bail reform at Capitol

Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler speaks at bail reform protest

Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler and three Republican assemblymen representing parts of Orange County took part in a large rally in Albany on Tuesday in opposition to the state’s elimination of bail for many crimes while suspects are awaiting trial.

Police chiefs, sheriffs, district attorneys and Republican lawmakers held the protest in the Capitol to denounce bail reforms that took effect on Jan. 1 and have allowed more defendants to avoid jail. Law enforcement leaders and Republicans have been hammering the new policy as dangerous for weeks, highlighting a wave of news reports about violent suspects getting released. Some agree reforms were needed but say the law went too far and should be modified.

“Our law-enforcement brothers and sisters are at the heart of the criminal justice, and no discussion about the laws of the state can take place without their input,” Hoovler, president of the state District Attorneys Association, said in a statement afterward. “Victims and their families are the most vulnerable members of our communities and are also at the heart of the criminal justice system. It is high time that we really listen to law enforcement and victims if we want to make sure these reforms work for all New Yorkers.”

Democratic lawmakers, who supported the reforms to stop jailing poor defendants who can’t afford bail, have responded in different ways to the outcry, with some supporting amendments to restore judicial discretion and others arguing more time is needed to judge the impact.

Assemblymen Karl Brabenec, Colin Schmitt and Brian Miller, each of whom has parts of Orange County in his district, all attended the rally and issued statements denouncing bail reform afterward.

“The past 35 days have been a nightmare for the people of New York, and we need to repeal these laws immediately before any more harm is done,” Brabenec, R-Deerpark, said. “I introduced legislation three months ago to repeal bail reform because I knew this would be a disaster, and now our darkest fears have been confirmed.”

Republicans hold weak minorities in both the Senate and Assembly and are unlikely to spur an outright repeal. But they have seized bail reform as a central political message that will likely continue through campaign season this fall.

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Farley pledges to support term limits (updated)

Republican congressional candidate Chele Chiavacci Farley announced this week that she had signed a pledge to support legislation that would limit House members to six years in office and senators to 12.

“I believe enacting term limits for members of Congress is one of the most important things we can do to make Congress work for us again,” Farley said in a statement. “More than ever before, the partisanship and obstruction caused by Nancy Pelosi, Sean Patrick Maloney and the other career politicians in the House of Representatives demonstrates the need for term limits.”

Farley is challenging Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, this year for New York’s 18th Congressional District seat. Maloney was first elected in 2012 and will seek his fifth term this November.

The pledge Farley signed is promoted by a group called U.S. Term Limits, which has long advocated for restrictions on how long state and federal lawmakers may hold office. The federal limit that it pitches is three terms for House members and two terms for the Senate.

Update:

Scott Smith, an independent candidate from Goshen who plans to run for the 18th District seat, responded to Farley’s pledge announcement by pointing out that the restrictions U.S. Term Limits wants would be sought through a constitutional amendment and were highly unlikely to advance. He suggested the pledge was an empty promise and challenged both Farley and Maloney to impose term limits on themselves instead.

Smith, a middle school science teacher, also ran for the 18th District seat in 2014 and won several thousand votes.

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Delgado warchest tops $2M after big fundraising haul

Rep. Antonio Delgado reported Friday that has campaign had raked in $773,000 in the last three months of 2019, leaving him with $2.1 million on hand for a race in which no serious challenge has been mounted.

Delgado, a Democratic freshman from Rhinebeck whose sprawling district includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, was a prodigious fundraiser during his successful bid to unseat Republican Rep. John Faso in 2018, and has remained so since taking office a year ago. His haul in the fourth quarter of 2019 was his largest so far.

Republicans had hoped to win back New York’s 19th Congressional District this year, but only three potential opponents for Delgado have emerged and one already exited the race. Another contender, Ola Hawatmeh, reported $5,000 in her account as of Oct. 1 and held her first fundraiser in Poughkeepsie on Jan. 16. The third Republican, Mike Roth, has reported no fundraising.

Rep. Sean Maloney, the Cold Spring Democrat who represents the neighboring 18th District, reported raising $534,000 in the fourth quarter – his largest quarterly income in more than two years – and having $754,000 on hand for his bid for a fifth House term.

Chele Chiavacci Farley, the Republican challenging Maloney for the 18th District seat, had reported $240,000 in her coffers as of Oct. 1. No fourth-quarter report for her campaign was available on the Federal Election Commission website as of 5:30 p.m. on Friday, the filing deadline.

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Oppenheimer endorses Fine in Dem contest for NY-17 seat

Allison Fine, a Westchester County resident vying with at least three other Democrats to run for retiring Rep. Nita Lowey’s seat, announced an endorsement on Thursday from former state Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, a fixture in Westchester politics for more than three decades.

“As someone who worked alongside Nita for years, I can think of no one better to build on her legacy than Allison Fine,” Oppenheimer said in a statement from the Fine campaign. “From her work with NARAL fighting for reproductive freedom and women’s rights to being a pioneer in the use of online activism for social good, Allison has built an impressive record of community activism that will bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the male-dominated halls of Congress.”

Oppenheimer represented part of Westchester in the state Senate for 28 years until her retirement in 2012, and had served for eight years before then as mayor of the Village of Mamaroneck.

Fine, a Sleepy Hollow resident and mother of three, is an author, social-change activist and a former board chair of the NARAL Pro-Choice America Foundation.

Other Democrats planning to run in a June 23 primary for New York’s 17th Congressional District seat include Mondaire Jones, an attorney from South Nyack who started his campaign to challenge Lowey before she announced she wouldn’t seek another term; state Sen. David Carlucci of New City; and Assemblyman David Buchwald of White Plains.

Jones won a high-profile endorsement this week from presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator.

The 17th District takes in all of Rockland County and much of Westchester.

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Maloney campaign will report $534K haul in fourth quarter

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s campaign said Wednesday it will report this week its biggest fundraising quarter in more than two years and a $754,000 balance as of Jan. 1 for his upcoming bid for a fifth term in Congress.

According to his campaign, the Cold Spring Democrat raised $534,000 in the last three months of 2019, the most he has raised for his House seat since the second quarter of 2017. He and Chele Chiavacci Farley, the Republican running for New York’s 18th Congressional District seat this year, are due to file their financial reports with the Federal Election Commission on Friday.

Farley reported $240,000 in her coffers as of Sept. 30 at the end of the last fundraising period.

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Skoufis bill would expand rules to form new villages (updated)

A new bill by state Sen. James Skoufis would raise the threshold and add new requirements for incorporating new villages in New York, a consequential step that can be done with little more than 500 inhabitants and a vote by the adults in that area under state law.

A proposal introduced last week by the Cornwall Democrat would lift the minimum population to 2,500 and remove a provision enabling the owners of at least 50 percent of the property value to petition for the new village. Striking that language leaves only one path to a legal petition: by getting at least 20 percent of the area’s voters to sign it.

Skoufis’ bill also would require petitioners to submit a proposed operating budget and capital plan for the municipality they’re seeking to create; a description of the municipal services their village would provide and how it would do so; and five years of property-tax projections for both the proposed village and the rest of the town in which it’s formed.

The state comptroller would review those documents to certify the “financial feasibility” of the proposed village, and could reject the petition if the village would pose an “undue burden.”

Skoufis and several other lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly had made various other proposals last year to raise the low bar for forming a village, none of which made it into law. In Skoufis’ case, the impetus was the push to establish a 1.9-square-mile village in northern Monroe that had only about 600 inhabitants. That petition for the Village of Seven Springs is still pending, awaiting appeals-court rulings in two separate lawsuits.

If approved by the Legislature and signed into law, the Skoufis bill would apply to Seven Springs and any other village petitions that haven’t advanced to a referendum when the law takes effect.

Update:

In a statement, Skoufis argued that tightening the petition standards and having the comptroller review the fiscal impact of proposed village would bring “more fairness and independence in a process that has long-needed reformation.”

“Voters deserve to make an informed decision that best reflects the future of their community, and I’m determined to help give them that voice,”  he said.

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