Schmitt touts victories in budget he mostly opposed

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt held a press conference in New Windsor with local officials on Wednesday to celebrate parts of the state budget completed two days earlier, such as a provision that made permanent the property-tax cap New York has had since Gov. Andrew Cuomo took office in 2011.

The only problem is that Schmitt voted against nine of 10 budget bills, including the one that contained the permanent tax cap.

Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican who took office in January, explained by phone on Wednesday that the one bill he did support – Aid to Localities – contained most of the items he touted that day, which were largely averted cuts like the aid that the Cuomo administration had proposed stripping from most towns and villages. And he said he voted against the tax-cap bill because it contained policies he strongly opposed, like the elimination of cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies and the creation of a “congestion-pricing” toll for driving below 60th street in Manhattan.

Schmitt wields little budget clout as a new member of a weak minority, but he said he feels sure he helped secure the permanent tax cap – even through Cuomo was so insistent on it that he refused to sign a budget without it, and even though the Senate had voted 58-2 for a permanent cap in January. He wasn’t one of the “three men in a room” in Albany’s notoriously closed budget haggling, but he did introduce a tax-cap bill, issue press releases and attend rallies to promote a permanent cap, including one that Cuomo held in Westchester County last month.

“I was proud to lead that effort for my conference and the (Assembly) chamber,” Schmitt said, later adding, “I am confident my efforts played a role in making this a reality.”

He took a bolder view in a press release last Sunday, declaring that he had “delivered” the permanent cap and thereby achieved his “top legislative priority in less than 3 months in office.”

The cap has restrained tax increases by letting school districts and local governments raise their levies by no more than two percent a year or the rate of inflation, whichever is less – a limit that boards can be override but usually don’t. Had it not been made permanent, it would have been up for renewal next year because of a sunset clause.

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Metzger will hold hearing in Sullivan County on farm workers’ rights bill

State Sen. Jen Metzger and a fellow senator have scheduled a public hearing in Sullivan County and two elsewhere in the state on a long-standing proposal to expand the labor rights of farm workers, a bill that farmers have steadfastly opposed as a threat to their businesses.

“It’s very important that we hear from farmers and farm workers as we weigh this legislation and make sure that we are addressing the concerns and needs of all of those who will be affected,” Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat who took office in January, said in a press release on Friday. “We must take into careful consideration the realities of small and family-owned farm operations – the vast majority of farms in New York – and the long-term viability of agriculture in the state.”

Metzger is chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and represents Orange County’s Black Dirt vegetable-growing region and other farming areas in the 42nd Senate District, which takes in all of Sullivan County and parts of Orange, Ulster and Delaware.

Also presiding over the upcoming hearings will be Sen. Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat who is sponsoring the Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act and is chairwoman of the Senate Labor Committee. She demanded reforms in the press release, saying “there is a Jim Crow-era law still on our books that denies human beings – mostly black and Latino taxpaying New Yorkers – parity with nearly every other worker in this state.”

The bill’s provisions include allowing farm workers to unionize; mandating overtime pay after eight hours of work per day or 40 weekly hours; and offering unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation.

The New York Farm Bureau praised Metzger for holding the hearings, saying she “has been working with us since early February to ensure that hearings will take place in key agricultural communities across the state before this bill goes to the Senate floor.” Bureau President David Fisher said in a separate release that the bureau supported some parts of the bill, including a required day of rest for farm workers, but called mandatory overtime “a difficult financial burden to bear.”

“Farms compete in a marketplace and can’t just pass along price increases to recoup their losses, especially in this difficult farm economy,” Fisher said. “The farm labor legislation as written will force farms out of business hurting the very workers the legislation is looking to assist.”

Orange County lawmakers are poised to pass a resolution on Friday declaring their opposition to the bill.

The Sullivan County hearing will take place from 1-5 p.m. on May 2 at SUNY Sullivan, 112 College Road in Loch Sheldrake. Anyone who wants to attend or testify should register at or by calling 845-344-3311.

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Ryan, Moran may compete in Dem primary for Ulster county exec

Pat Ryan, the Democrat running in a special election April 30 to serve the remainder of Mike Hein’s term as Ulster County executive, may face a primary challenge in June for the subsequent race this year for a full, four-year term as Hein’s successor.

Former Woodstock Supervisor Jeff Moran said Friday that he was still collecting signatures to clear the 750-name threshold, but that he plans to file a Democratic petition for county executive by next Thursday’s deadline, which would force a June 25 primary against Ryan if its survives any challenges. Ryan, an Iraq War veteran who finished second in last year’s seven-way primary for the 19th Congressional District seat, is the Democrats’ nominee for the special election and its endorsed candidate to seek a full term in November.

Ulster County Conservative Party Chairman Jack Hayes – a former county legislator and Gardiner town supervisor – is the Republicans’ nominee for the April 30 special election, and the candidate who will represent the GOP in the Nov. 5 general election (barring any unexpected petition next week by a Republican candidate.)

Candidates running for office in Ulster and everywhere else in New York will file their petitions from Monday to Thursday.

Hein resigned in February after 10 years as county executive to become commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. His former chief of staff, Adele Reiter, is serving as acting county executive until the special election winner takes office.

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Maloney bill would ban use of Medicaid for “conversion therapy”

A bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney would prohibit using Medicaid to pay for gay “conversion therapy,” counseling that critics rip as a cruel and ineffectual attempt to change a patient’s sexual orientation.

“Conversion practices are discredited, harmful, and not therapy,” Maloney said in a press release. “Fundamentally, conversion tactics are based on the idea that a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation are diseases to be cured — they have no legitimate medical application and should not be used anywhere. Until we can just ban conversion ‘therapy’ all together, we must ensure taxpayer dollars aren’t funding a fraudulent practice that has been roundly discredited by the medical community.”

Sixty-three House Democrats co-sponsored the bill. Maloney, D-Cold Spring, is co-chairman of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law in January that prohibits professional therapists in New York from trying to change the sexual orientation of patients younger than 18. The conversion-therapy ban applies only to licensed mental-health professionals, not clergy or other non-licensed figures. Violators would face professional misconduct sanctions ranging from a reprimand to license revocation and fines.

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Skoufis bill would let districts mandate kindergarten

The state Senate unanimously passed a bill by state Sen. James Skoufis on Tuesday that would allow any school district in New York to require all 5-year-olds to attend kindergarten, something only eight of the state’s 700 districts mandate through separate bills they have gotten passed in Albany.

“When children are given a well-rounded kindergarten education, it fosters crucial social, emotional, and cognitive development,” said Skoufis, who previously fought for state aid that will help Washingtonville School District switch from half-day kindergarten to full-day classes this fall.

State law currently requires mandates schooling for grades 1-12, but not kindergarten. According to a memo with Skoufis’ bill, the school systems that have gotten special legislation to require kindergarten are New York City, Syracuse, Rochester, Utica, Buffalo, Cohoes, Watervliet and Yonkers.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat who took office in January, sponsored the same bill last year as an assemblyman.

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Delgado staff holding office hours in Sullivan

Rep. Antonio Delgado’s staff will hold office hours in two Sullivan County locations on April 22 to help constituents with bureaucratic issues, grant applications and other federal services.

District caseworkers will be at Fallsburg Library at 12 Railroad Plaza in South Fallsburg from 10 a.m. to noon, and at the Mamakating Library at 128 Sullivan St. in Wurtsboro from 1-3 p.m.

The caseworkers will stop in three of the 19th Congressional District’s other 10 counties on other dates in April.

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Schmitt introduces term-limit, double-dipping bills (updated)

Assemblyman Colin Schmitt introduced a term-limit bill on Wednesday that would limit statewide officials at state lawmakers to eight years in office and politically appointed staffers to 12 years of employment.

The second part is a new wrinkle in term-limit proposals that previously have gone nowhere in the Legislature. Schmitt, a New Windsor Republican elected last year to succeed now-Sen. James Skoufis, had argued during the campaign last year that appointed staff members in the Legislature amass too much hidden power and should have their tenures restricted in tandem with term limits for elected officials.

One day before Schmitt filed his bill, Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, introduced the Senate version of an earlier proposal Schmitt sponsored that would prohibit elected officials from collecting their state pensions and public salaries at the same time. While still a college student, Schmitt had waged a public campaign against “double-dipping” after then-Sen. Bill Larkin and then-Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun started claiming their pensions in 2011, while they were still in office.

(Update: State legislative records indicate the double-dipping bill that Schmitt announced this month actually dates back to 2011, when two Democratic senators introduced it. Skoufis sponsored it in the Assembly in 2016, 2017 and 2018.)

Larkin and Calhoun – both Republicans – continued collecting both their salaries and pensions until their retirements, Calhoun in 2012 and Larkin last year (Skoufis succeeded both). Former Republican Sen. John Bonacic of Orange County drew his salary and pension from 2015 until his retirement last year. Sen. James Seward, a Republican whose district includes part of Ulster County, started collecting his pension two years ago.

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Maloney presses for clarity on imperiled West Point projects

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is urging the Pentagon to reveal which military construction plans will be stalled to siphon funds for a Mexican border wall, hoping to clarify the fate of the $252 million Congress allocated for four West Point projects that are now vulnerable.

In a letter released Wednesday, the Cold Spring Democrat thanked acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan for providing Congress a list of all projects whose allocations could be diverted to wall construction under President Trump’s emergency declaration in February. But he said he and other members now need to know “which projects will actually lose funding.”

“Stealing funds from the next generation of military leaders to fund an expensive and inefficient border wall would be a misuse of federal funds and subverts Congress’s Constitutional authority,” Maloney wrote in his letter. “It would also demonstrate a lack of commitment to West Point and its outstanding cadets, faculty, and staff.”

The plans at the U.S. Military Academy that could be defunded include a $22 million cemetery expansion, a $70 million sewage treatment plant, a $95 million engineering center and a $65 million parking garage.

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Ryan backs NY pot legalization, pot business in Ulster

Democratic Ulster County executive candidate Pat Ryan announced his support for marijuana legalization in New York and for welcoming pot businesses in Ulster, which like other New York counties would have the ability to ban pot stores and farms under an “opt-out” clause in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s legalization proposal.

“I believe this represents a tremendous economic opportunity for us, both in terms of boosting our agriculture community and generating additional revenues to support all of our county’s critical programs,” Ryan said in a press release. “As County Executive, I will establish a task force to study how we can responsibly capitalize on this opportunity from an economic standpoint, while ensuring public safety and effective implementation.”

Ryan, who’s running in an April 30 special election to fill the office Mike Hein vacated last month, proposed the county create a task force to “study how we can responsibly capitalize on this opportunity from an economic standpoint, while ensuring public safety and effective implementation.” He pledged to work closely with Sheriff Juan Figueroa and other law enforcement officers.

“I’m excited about the myriad advantages to marijuana legalization for our county, from assisting fellow veterans suffering from PTSD to the significant economic impact it will have as a new industry,” Ryan said.

Cuomo’s proposal would allow all 62 counties and municipalities with more than 100,000 people to prohibit any or all of the six reefer business licenses the law would create. Counties that allow pot stories would get a cut of the tax revenue – a 2 percent charge on the weed retailers buy from wholesalers.

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Maloney, Delgado will speak at Pattern for Progress event

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado will discuss how federal policies affect the Hudson Valley at an upcoming forum by the Newburgh-based think tank Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress.

The discussion – titled “Making the Connection: From Washington to the Hudson Valley” – will take place from 8:30-9:30 a.m. on March 29 at the Poughkeepsie Grand Hotel, 40 Civic Center Plaza.

Maloney and Delgado are Democrats representing neighboring House districts. Maloney is serving his fourth term in the 18th District, which includes all of Orange County. Delgado took office in January; his 19th District includes all of Sullivan and Ulster counties.

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