Maloney presides over vote on bill to enshrine LGBT rights in federal law

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney gave an impassioned speech from the floor and then presided over a House vote on Friday on a bill that would fully establish LGBT rights in federal law and prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The House approved the Equality Act in a 236-173 vote, with eight Republicans breaking ranks to side with the Democratic majority. Before the vote, Maloney, a Cold Spring Democrat and co-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus, had urged Republicans who supported the bill to vote their consciences and ignore the threat of negative scores by groups that oppose the legislation and track lawmakers’ votes for future campaigns.

“That’s how Washington scores,” Maloney told his colleagues. “But history scores differently. Conscience has its own rules. Decency sees something beyond such agendas. History records the good, conscience aligns with what is right, decency endures the unfair attacks and protects what truly matters. This is a good and simple bill of extraordinary historical importance.”

The bill would extend to LGBT persons the same anti-discrimination protections in employment, housing, education, public accommodations and other areas that are now granted for race, gender and other categories.

“Right now in 28 states, my family could be evicted from our home just because I’m gay,” Maloney said in a press release after the vote. “My husband, Randy, could be fired from his job because we’re married. It’s crazy – you step across a state line and suddenly you can be legally discriminated against just because of who you are or who you love.”

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Skoufis bill on disclosing municipal well use gets final approval

A bill proposed by Sen. James Skoufis in response to concerns over Kiryas Joel’s new well in Cornwall and approved by the Senate in March cleared the Assembly this week and will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for approval or rejection.

The legislation, first introduced last year when Skoufis was an assemblyman and passed only by the Assembly in 2018, would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to post all information about water usage for the public wells that it permits on its website. The purpose is to make the DEC’s well monitoring reports and other data about municipal water use easily accessible to the public.

“Our constituents deserve transparency and access to clean water, and I strongly urge the Governor to sign this into law,” Skoufis said in a statement on Thursday.

Both the Senate and Assembly passed the bill almost unanimously, with only a single member in each chamber voting “no.” Assemblyman Colin Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who succeeded Skoufis and co-sponsored the bill in the Assembly, said in a statement after the Assembly passed it on Wednesday that reports on municipal well use are “of paramount importance, and the public has a right to access them in the easiest fashion possible. “

Cornwall, Woodbury and several non-profits had challenged Kiryas Joel’s well permit in court, arguing that pumping up to 612,000 gallons a day could deplete nearby wells and the Woodbury Creek and that the permit provided inadequate protections for neighbors. Kiryas Joel won those cases and began operating its well in the Mountainville section of Cornwall in March 2018.

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Stefanik endorses Farley for Congress

Rep. Elise Stefanik, the New York congresswoman who’s pushing to raise the low number of Republican women in Congress, endorsed Chele Chiavacci Farley this week for next year’s race for New York’s 18th Congressional District seat.

“Chele Farley brings intelligence, energy, and determination to her race for Congress,” Stefanik said in a press release from the Farely campaign. “Her real-world business experience will be an asset in Congress as she fights to protect tax dollars for hardworking families, fully fund our military, take care of our military families, and address the state’s crumbling infrastructure.”

Farley, a private equity executive who lost a race against Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last year, plans to challenge four-term Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney in 2020.

Only 13 of the 199 Republicans in the House of Representatives are women, while 89 of 235 House Democrats are women, according to the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

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Bill would let Orange municipalities tax property sales for land conservation

A state bill introduced Thursday at the request of the Orange County Legislature would entitle any town or city in Orange to impose a tax of up to 2 percent on property sales and use the proceeds to buy land or development rights, if authorized by voters in that municipality.

The bill is very short, just two words – “or Orange” – added to a law enacted in 2007 that gave municipalities in Westchester and Putnam counties the same blanket authority to establish a real estate transfer tax and a community preservation fund. That countywide authorization puts the decisions in the hands of individual municipalities and spares each the trouble of having to get Albany’s blessing for the tax, although they would still need to seek voter approval through a referendum.

The sponsors are four Assembly members representing Orange: Aileen Gunther, Jonathan Jacobson, Colin Schmitt and Karl Brabenec.

Orange County lawmakers passed a home rule request for the legislation on May 2. That same week, the Chester Town Board, which already has prepared a community preservation plan that lists farm parcels and other desirable properties it wants to protect, passed a resolution supporting a 0.75 percent real estate transfer tax.

There is also a separate bill pending in Albany, first introduced last year, that would allow Chester alone to seek voter approval for a land conservation tax. Sen. James Skoufis and Schmitt resurrected that legislation this month after it cleared the Assembly but wasn’t brought to a vote in the Senate last year.

Either bill – countywide or town-specific – would enable Chester to proceed to a referendum this year if passed by the Legislature before this year’s session ends on June 19 and signed in time by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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Anagnostakis seeks state probe of past interest owed to county nursing home

Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis announced this week that he’s asking the state Comptroller’s Office to investigate what became of past interest earned by the county’s nursing home, following the recent pledge by county officials to pay the home $600,000 in interest for last year alone.

The decision to forward those earnings acted as a sort of counterweight to a new county policy of charging the home for the services of other departments, like the County Attorney’s Office and Information Technology. After billing the Valley View Center for Nursing Care in this year’s budget, lawmakers voted this month to claw back another $1.6 million for 2017 services, over the protests of Anagnostakis and other Valley View advocates.

County officials argued they were merely restoring a past accounting practice now that the 360-bed home is financially stable, and said they would take the additional step of sending Valley View the massive interest generated last year by its cash reserves, which grew to $55 million. That raised a question for Anagnostakis: what did those officials and the previous administration do with all the interest Valley View earned in prior years?

Anagnostakis, a Town of Newburgh Republican who delved into Valley View’s finances while fighting past attempts to privatize the home, said in a statement that the home had $9 million in its reserves as early as 2000 and had added more each year.

“Since that time, each and every year many millions, and in some years many tens of millions, of dollars of Valley View cash have been earning interest — interest that can ONLY legally be received by Valley View — yet Valley View had never collected a single penny of it, ” he said. “That’s a hell of a lot of interest that was earned during that time!”

State Sen. James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, issued a statement this week condemning the Valley View billing, saying, “It is disheartening and fundamentally wrong to see the county cut millions of dollars that should’ve been invested in our community’s seniors and veterans at Valley View.”

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Metzger bill would halt fossil-fuel plans and chart path to green energy

A new bill by state Sen. Jen Metzger would put a moratorium on state permits for gas-fired power plants, oil pipelines and other fossil-fuel infrastructure until the state has plotted a course to using only renewable energy sources by 2030 if possible or by 2040 at the latest.

Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who led the nonprofit Citizens for Local Power before being elected to the Senate in November, held a press conference in Albany on Monday with the bill’s Assembly sponsor, Nily Rozic, and other supporters of the Freedom From Fossil Fuels Act.

“The urgency of climate change requires a rapid transition to clean energy,” Metzger said in a statement afterward. “We cannot achieve that transition, or the economic benefits to New York that it promises, if we continue to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure and extend our dependence on fracked gas and oil from out of state.”

The bill would remove gas, oil and coal from the state’s energy plan and infuse it with green priorities, adding the mitigation of climate change and reduction of carbon emissions as its goals. It also would require the plan to consider the climate impact of all state energy policies and programs.

Sen. Pete Harckham, a fellow Democratic freshman from Westchester County who co-sponsored the bill, said: “Fossil fuels are killing our planet and New York State must end the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure and proactively shift to clean energy. This legislation will set the state on the right path to help mitigate the effects of climate change, and to ensure that our economy is based on clean, renewable sources.”

Among the environmental activists who joined them at the press conference was Andy Bicking, director of public policy for Scenic Hudson. In a statement, Bicking called the bill “visionary” for recognizing “the urgency of taking more direct and immediate action to confront the climate crisis” and offering “a framework for incorporating land-use planning” into a statewide strategy to speed the transition to renewable energy.

Bicking also cheered the bill’s proposal to increase the number of regional energy-plan councils to nine from two and expand their membership to “ensure that all people have a seat at the table.”

Metzger sponsored a bill earlier this year that would encourage the purchase of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids by exempting the first $35,000 of a vehicle’s cost from state sales tax.

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Brabenec rips move to grant licenses to undocumented immigrants

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark, issued a preemptive rebuke this week as Democrats reportedly moved closer to passing legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants to qualify for driver’s licenses.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told reporters after Democratic members discussed the issue in private on Tuesday that his conference had enough supporters to approve the measure, and would likely proceed once its benefits had been explained to residents around the state. He argued it would ensure immigrant drivers are insured and enable migrant farm workers to drive to work, among other virtues, according to Newsday.

Brabenec, whose party has been pounding Democrats for allowing tuition aid for the children of illegal immigrants, quipped in response to Heastie’s remarks, “’I Love New York’ is becoming a slogan more closely revered by illegals, criminals and felons rather than law-abiding citizens.”

He called the license proposal a “public safety concern” in a press release, taking the opposite view of the legal compliance and improved safety that Democrats say it would encourage.

“How can we be sure that someone who is already here illegally, breaking the law, will execute the responsibilities of owning a vehicle, like state required inspections, learning dozens of important traffic laws and obtaining car insurance?” Brabenec asked.

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Independent candidate plans another bid for Maloney seat

A middle-school science teacher from Goshen who ran for Congress as an independent in 2014 – and peeled off more than 4,000 votes in a close race between the major-party candidates – has announced plans to run again next year for the seat held by Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney.

Scott Smith, a former Middletown alderman elected as a Democrat in 2009 and 2011, registered as an independent 2020 candidate for the 18th Congressional District in March and posted a video on his campaign website (mrsmithforcongress.com), describing himself as a “foundationalist” who embraces the nation’s founding principles.

Smith overcame a petition challenge in 2014 to get on the ballot with Maloney and Republican Nan Hayworth, who were waging a rematch after Maloney unseated the one-term congresswoman in 2012. Maloney wound up beating Hayworth by 3,333 votes, or less than 2 percentage points, while Smith received 4,294 votes, or 2.4 percent of the total – more than the margin of victory.

Smith also registered as a congressional candidate in 2016 and 2018 but didn’t run in those years.

Chele Chiavacci Farley, the Republican who challenged U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand last year, also has gotten an early jump on next year’s 18th District race, registering as a candidate and announcing her campaign for that office last month.

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Metzger bill sets labeling standards for New York-grown food

A bill introduced by state Sen. Jen Metzger and unanimously approved by the Senate on Tuesday would set standards for which food and drinks can be touted as locally made to appeal to consumers who want to support New York growers and food businesses.

The legislation, which originated in the Assembly a year ago, would require that food products or their main ingredients be produced in New York in order for sellers to proclaim them as “local” or “locally grown” on their labels or in advertising.

“The local food movement provides a tremendous opportunity for our farmers and food producers, and this legislation helps to ensure that they benefit from it,” Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat and chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said in a press release. “Transparency and accuracy in food labeling enables New Yorkers to choose responsibly and with confidence that when a label reads ‘local,’ it truly means local.”

The same bill is awaiting action in the Assembly.

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Town judge knocked off ballot by fellow Dem

A Monroe town justice who’s running for state Supreme Court may have lost his fallback plan to seek re-election as town justice after a fellow Democrat who collected signatures for him and filed his petition then got that very petition invalidated.

Steven Milligram, a trial lawyer who’s finishing his second term as a municipal court judge in his hometown, is running for one of four open Supreme Court justice seats in New York’s 9th Judicial District, which takes in five Hudson Valley counties. Since the party nominating conventions for Supreme Court aren’t until August, Milligram also planned to file a petition for another four-year term as Monroe justice by the April 4 deadline.

But a Monroe Democratic committee member who helped carry Milligram’s town justice petition submitted it to the Orange County Board of Elections with insufficient signatures, and then filed objections on April 15 that caused the county’s election commissioners to toss the petition.

That puts Milligram out of the race for Monroe justice, unless he files an independent petition by May 28 to run on his own ballot line. Absent any independent candidates, Republican candidate James McKnight will run unopposed for the seat in November.

In an exasperated email to fellow Democrats, Monroe Democratic Chairman Tom Kemnitz called the episode a “deliberate act of sabotage” and “stunning betrayal of trust” by Jerome O’Connell, the Democrat committee member who got Milligram’s petition invalidated. He accused O’Connell of collaborating with Republicans to help their candidate, arguing that the GOP didn’t bother to complete its own petition objections because “they knew that Jerome O’Connell would do it.”

“We will have to make extraordinary efforts to ensure that the Republican does not run unopposed,” Kemnitz wrote.

O’Connell told the Times Herald-Record in response on Tuesday that he didn’t submit additional petition pages for Milligram because they were delivered to his house at 10:30 on the night before the deadline, and they lacked the witness signatures needed for them to be valid.

He also said he resented that Milligram didn’t help collect signatures for his petition, and he objected to the candidate that Democrats planned to substitute for Milligram on the town ballot if he’s nominated for the Supreme Court race. (O’Connell didn’t identify the substitute candidate; Kemnitz said by email that “the person he is worried about had long since ruled himself out of running for town justice.”)

He denied colluding with the Republicans, saying, “That’s just absolutely ridiculous.”

Milligram said by email that he believed O’Connell had a “responsibility to assure that appropriate petitions were submitted,” and that he should have contacted someone if any petition pages needed to be signed.

“I called him several times and texted him and he ignored all of my messages,” Milligram said.

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