Skoufis plans listening sessions in 39th District

State Sen. James Skoufis will speak with constituents at Betty’s Country Kitchen in Washingtonville on Tuesday, the first of 10 “Skoufis on Your Street” sessions he plans to hold at eateries and other businesses in the 39th Senate District.

The Washingtonville visit starts at noon and is scheduled to last an hour and a half, like the ones after it. The next few stops on his tour are: noon on Aug. 7 at Javajo’s Coffee Bar in Monroe; noon on Aug. 13 at the Walden Diner; and 9 a.m. on Aug. 20 at 2 Alices Coffee Lounge in Cornwall-on-Hudson.

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Metzger, Skoufis led local Albany delegation in fundraising

Freshman Sens. Jen Metzger and James Skoufis each raised almost $100,000 in the first half of the year, the biggest campaign hauls among the eight state lawmakers representing parts of Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties.

Campaign finance reports filed Monday reinforce the fundraising edge that comes with being in a majority party – and the perils of sliding into the minority in Albany. Metzger and Skoufis are Democrats who won their seats in a blue wave that catapulted Democrats into a strong majority in the formerly Republican-led Senate.

James Seward, the longtime Republican senator from Otsego County who represents part of Ulster County, used to be the Insurance Committee chairman and raked in major contributions as a result of that, taking in more than $163,000 in the first half of 2017, for example. He raised $54,000 this year as a minority-party senator with no chairmanship.

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who won Skoufis’ former 99th Assembly District seat, touted the $34,000 he raised in a press release on Thursday, saying he collected more than any other new Assembly member, Democrat or Republican. He noted that he also out-raised four fellow Assembly members representing other pieces of Orange County.

“Our campaign’s fundraising strength and success in the first report is a critical sign of the grassroots support of my efforts,” Schmitt said in a press release. County Republican Chairwoman Courtney Greene said Schmitt’s “fundraising strength is a testament to people’s strong support and faith in Colin and the recognition of the overwhelming effort he puts in every day on behalf of our district.”

Here are the amounts each legislator from the region reporting raising and spending since Jan. 11 and their account balances as of July 11.

Sen. Jen Metzger, D-Rosendale

Raised: $98,474

Spent: $9,686

On hand: $102,571

Sen. James Skoufis, D-Woodbury

Raised: $98,336

Spent: $22,818

On hand: $111,238

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston

Raised: $60,800

Spent: $30,256

On hand: $62,579

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford

Raised: $54,030

Spent: $58,911

On hand: $231,721

Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam

Raised: $37,949

Spent: $18,761

On hand: $68,939

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, R-New Windsor

Raised: $34,512

Spent: $4,592

On hand: $30,784

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark

Raised: $13,413

Spent: $10,332

On hand: $20,186

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh

Raised: $11,600

Spent: $19,586

On hand: $168,965

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, D-City of Newburgh

Raised: $8,465

Spent: $921

On hand: $20,399

Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford

Raised: $2,985

Spent: $1,923

On hand: $3,180

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Neuhaus reports $49,000 on hand after six-month hiatus

Getting deployed to Iraq for military duty for the first six months of the year meant a fundraising drought for Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus, who collected a dozen donations totaling $1,500 in July at the end of the fundraising period, according to the disclosure report his campaign filed on Monday.

Neuhaus, a Republican who won a second term in 2017 and has more than two years until his next election, had a modest $49,000 in his account as of July 11. He is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserves and was deployed to Iraq with a special operations team in January, returning home in late June.

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Metzger raises a torrent of individual donations in first six months

Sen. Jen Metzger has raised $98,000 since taking office in January and collected the bulk of it with a deluge of 490 individual donations, most of them for modest amounts.

The Rosendale Democrat received around $84,000 in total contributions from individual supporters, while roughly $14,000 came from unions, other candidates and organizations like Planned Parenthood’s campaign arm. Metzger, who supports banning corporation contributions and introduced a bill to that effect this session, had no money from businesses in the report her campaign filed on Monday.

Metzger had about $103,000 on hand after expenses as of July 11. The former Rosendale councilwoman beat Orange County Clerk Annie Rabbitt in November to succeed Republican John Bonacic in the 42nd Senate District, which takes in all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware.

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Delgado campaign raises $673,000 in three months (corrected)

Democratic Rep. Antonio Delgado has more than $1 million in his campaign war chest at the midpoint of his first year in office after raking in another large sum in the second quarter.

Delgado, whose fundraising prowess helped propel him to victory in a seven-way primary and then his bid to unseat Republican Rep. John Faso in 2018, reported collecting $673,000 and having $1.1 million in his coffers after expenses as of June 30. That came after an even bigger haul in the first three months of the year, when his campaign drummed up $746,000. (This post originally understated the campaign’s total income for the second quarter by omitting $32,000 in transferred funds from other fundraising committees.)

That is a daunting fundraising pace and account balance for any Republicans now contemplating challenging the freshman from Rhinebeck for New York’s 19th Congressional District in 2020. No Republicans have jumped in the race and started raising money yet, despite Delgado being one of four House Democrats from New York that the National Republican Congressional Committee has targeted as vulnerable. (Challengers already have started races against the other three Democrats, including Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney of the neighboring 18th District.)

By contrast, eight Democrats itching to challenge Faso had declared their candidacies by this time two years ago.

Ulster County Republican Chairman Roger Rascoe told the Times Herald-Record last week that he and his fellow chairmen for the 11 counties in the 19th District will likely meet this month to discuss the potential Delgado challengers who have so far expressed interest.

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Lawmakers cheer renewal of fund to compensate ailing 9/11 responders

Emergency workers suffering serious illnesses caused by toxic dust at Ground Zero won an emotional victory on Friday when the House overwhelmingly approved a bill that will prolong a compensation fund for them and fill a looming shortage that threatened to slash their payments.

The vote took place a month after Jon Stewart, the comic and stalwart advocate for ailing 9/11 responders, berated Congress members at a hearing for dithering over the fund and forcing responders and their advocates to return repeatedly for renewals. The bill that passed 402-12 on Friday would effectively make the fund permanent by authorizing it through 2092.

“Look, this isn’t just another bill,” Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, said in a statement afterward. “This is a sacred duty. You can’t go to a community in the Hudson Valley without finding a New Yorker who lost someone on 9/11 or in the years since. This fund helps these brave first responders and volunteers who risked everything after the attacks to live a longer life.”

Quoted in the same press release was Orange County resident Rafael Nieves, a retired New York City police detective who is suffering illnesses from his work at Ground Zero and got help from Maloney’s office to benefit from the compensation fund.

“As a first responder who was on duty during the September 11th terror attacks, I know firsthand the lasting horrors experienced by emergency responders and volunteers who spent weeks sifting through the rubble for any signs of life,” Nieves said.

The bill now awaits a Senate vote. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has been a vocal advocate for the compensation fund, noted on Friday that the Senate now has a fillibuster-proof majority in support of the bill – 72 co-sponsors from both parties. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to bring a vote on the bill within two weeks, she said.

“This needs to get done now,” she said. “We need to let these men and women get back to their lives and families. We need to show with our actions – not just our words – that we will never forget what these heroes did for our nation. We owe them nothing less.”

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Judge denies stay in religious exemption case

A judge hearing a case brought by Orange County civil rights attorney Michael Sussman refused on Friday to issue a temporary restraining order to preserve for now the canceled religious exemptions that allowed parents to send their kids to school without being vaccinated.

New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo dropped the exemption from state law in June in the wake of a measles outbreak affecting mainly unvaccinated children. Sussman and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – an environmental attorney and prominent vaccine opponent – sued the state this week to reinstate the exemption, arguing that its elimination tramples on families’ religious rights and violated the Equal Protection Clause.

Sussman announced on Friday that state Supreme Court Justice Michael Mackey in Albany refused to suspend the exemption’s repeal while the case is pending, concluding “we had not met or carried the very high burden of demonstrating substantial likelihood of ultimate success on our claims.”

He said Mackey indicated that “if we can demonstrate the merits of our case before him or another Judge, we will have time to do so before September and the extensive irreparable harm children will then suffer.”

Parents whose children had religious exemptions must now get them shots or they won’t be able to attend school in the fall. Almost 2,200 kids in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties had those types of waivers during the 2017-18 school year, according to state data.

“This is not the decision I had hoped for, but I recognize that getting a TRO against state legislation is very difficult,” Sussman said. “I hope that further development of all the issues will cause this or another Judge to preliminarily restrain the operation of this statute and I will be working on making that happen.”

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Farley raises $260K for 2020 congressional run (updated)

Republican House candidate Chele Chiavacci Farley announced Friday that she raised $260,000 in three months and had $230,000 on hand for her bid to challenge Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney next year.

Farley, a private-equity executive who raised her political profile by taking on Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last year, declared her candidacy for New York’s 18th Congressional District in April, and announced just a week later that she already had gathered more than $200,000 in donations and pledged donations. Her campaign said on Friday that it had exceeded its $200,000 goal for the quarter, and finished with more money on hand than the $137,000 Maloney had at the end of the first quarter of the year.

“I am most encouraged by the fact that the campaign received more than 200 donations of $100 or less,” Farley said in a statement. “We are building a strong grassroots organization that will be critical to winning this race.”

Candidates are due to file their second-quarter fundraising reports on Monday. Maloney’s campaign hasn’t announced in advance its income or balance for the quarter.

(Update: Maloney’s campaign said on Friday that it had raised $356,480 in the third quarter and had $322,313 on hand after expenses.)

Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat, has represented the 18th District since 2013 and is serving his fourth term in Congress. The district takes in all of Orange and Putnam counties and parts of Dutchess and Westchester.

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Bill would tighten oversight of pharmacy benefit managers

A bill passed by state lawmakers in Albany in the final days of the legislative session last month echoed the findings of an investigation by a committee led by Sen. James Skoufis into the opaque practices of pharmacy benefit managers, the middlemen in the prescription-drug industry.

A couple weeks before the Senate and Assembly passed the bill, the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee released a 67-page report declaring too little state oversight of pharmacy benefit managers and too little transparency about how they operate, including their use of “spread pricing” – the gap between what they charge health insurers and what they pay pharmacies for drugs – to run up their profits.

“Every single day in this state, someone is forced to choose between buying medication that they need and buying groceries for the week,” Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat and chairman of the committee, said in a statement then. “This is an atrocity and a failure of government oversight. Price hiking has plagued consumers for decades and we are currently at a point where it has gotten out of control.”

The ensuing legislation was passed by the Senate by 49-13 on June 17 and by the Assembly by 147-0 on June 20. Among other things, the bill – if signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo – will require pharmacy benefit managers to register with the state and disclose their “spread pricing” and any rebates or other savings they receive, which must be passed on to the health plans.

The Pharmacists Society of the State of New York praised the legislation, calling it “the toughest bill passed to date in the U.S. regulating PBMs.”

The report by the Senate investigations committee last month was its first since Skoufis took office and became its chairman in January, promising a more aggressive watchdog role for what had been a toothless panel.

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Schumer, NY House members protest Medicare cuts to NY hospitals

Sen. Charles Schumer and New York representatives from both parties are opposing a Trump administration proposal to cut Medicare payments to hospitals in expensive states like New York and divert the funds to those in areas with the lowest incomes.

The Senate’s Democratic minority announced Monday with two congressmen – Lee Zeldin, a Long Island Republican, and Brian Higgins, a Buffalo-area Democrat – that they were leading opposition by New York’s entire congressional delegation to the proposed change in what is known as Medicare’s area wage index. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services wants to cut funding for hospitals in the top quarter of wages and divert it those in the lowest quarter, effectively transferring federal money to rural states.

New York’s hospitals stand to lose $53 million a year, they said.

Schumer noted in a statement that New York hospitals often operate “on a razor-thin budget margin” and need adequate funding to attract doctors to a high-cost state.

“The struggles faced by New York’s hospitals are no different from the struggles faced by the countless others across the nation,” Shumer said. “They must not be allowed to suffer as a result of their zip code.”

Zeldin called CMS’s proposal “short-sighted” and urged it to “reverse course and take action that helps our communities’ hospitals instead of crippling them.”

Schumer, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and all 27 House members from New York signed a letter to Seema Verma, the CMS administrator, opposing the proposed funding shift.

“CMS argues that its proposed changes to AWI seek to help rural hospitals, yet, not one of New York’s rural hospitals – who face the same fiscal challenges as rural hospitals across the nation – would see a benefit from the policy,” the letter reads. “Rather, states like New York with many hospitals that have legitimately high wages commensurate with market competition will be forced to transfer hundreds of millions in Medicare funding to a small handful of states.”

Critics cast the proposal as a deliberate slight against New York, much as the capping of the state and local tax deduction in 2017 was rebuked as a snub against New York and other Democratic-leaning states.

“The area wage index proposal is a direct attack on New York that seeks to redistribute precious Medicare resources from New York to other states,” Bea Grause, president of the Healthcare Association of New York State, said in the statement released by Schumer’s office.

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