Senate bill targets drivers who pass stopped school buses

Senate Republicans are promoting a bill that would let school districts put cameras on the stop arms of school buses to help catch drivers who illegally pass stopped buses.

Violators could be fined $250 under the bill, which was first introduced five years ago and has never passed in either the Senate or Assembly. Sen. John Bonacic, a Mount Hope Republican and one of 17 sponsors, attended a press conference in Albany on Tuesday to urge lawmakers to pass the bill before the 2018 legislative session ends next Wednesday.

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Gillibrand touts bill to stop border agents from separating families

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced a new bill on Friday that she and her and her fellow Senate Democrats introduced to try to stop the Department of Homeland Security from taking immigrant children away from their parents at the Mexican border.

“Like millions of Americans, I am sickened that the Homeland Security Department has been tearing young children away from their parents at the border,” Gillibrand said in a statement. “This cruel, inhumane policy is the kind of thing we read about in a history book and shake our heads at in disgust, and I have no doubt that it will traumatize a generation of children, who will never forget for the rest of their lives that when they arrived in the United States, the government took them from their parents.”

The bill – the Keep Families Together Act – was sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and co-sponsored by 30 other Democrats. Senators were told at a recent hearing that 658 children were taken from the parents over two weeks in May, the result of a new policy announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 7 that all adults stopped at the border will be prosecuted for illegal entry, even if they are seeking asylum.

The Senate bill would allow children to be removed only if their parents are trafficking or abusing them.

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Pro-Ryan Super PAC buys anti-Delgado poll

Congressional candidate Antonio Delgado called out Democratic rival Pat Ryan last week for a poll that a pro-Ryan Super PAC reported buying in opposition to Delgado, arguing it violated a positive-campaign pledge taken by six of the seven Democratic candidates in New York’s 19th Congressional District race.

Delgado’s campaign noted that the Super PAC – called With Honor Fund, Inc. – spent $3,500 on polling to support Ryan and $14,000 on polling to oppose Delgado on May 29, the same day the candidates promised not to attack one another and to oppose negative ads by outside groups. Both Delgado and Citizen Action of New York – a group that has endorsed Delgado – criticized the negative poll and called on Ryan to condemn it.

“The last thing NY-19 needs is outside big money groups to be directing negative campaign ads toward a possible Democratic challenger to John Faso, and that is exactly what a negative poll leads to,” said Jessica Wisneski, deputy director of Citizen Action of New York.

Ryan campaign spokesman Tim Wagner responded that his campaign had nothing to do with the poll and is prohibited by law from coordinating with independent expenditure groups. “The campaign has not gone negative,” he said. “We stand by the pledge.”

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House approves Maloney bill to renew funding for dam repairs

A bill by Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney to reauthorize federal funding for dam repairs through 2024 cleared the House on Thursday as part of the Water Resources Development Act.

“Dam safety may not sound like the most exciting subject, but that perception would change in a hurry if one of our dams in the Hudson Valley failed during a storm and folks lose their homes, their livelihoods, and even their lives,” the Cold Spring Democrat said in a statement after the 408-2 vote. “We’re talking about the program that protects our communities from almost a hundred aging dams – we can’t let the funding lapse, and I’ll keep working with folks in the Senate to make sure we get this provision passed into law.”

Maloney introduced similar legislation that preserved dam funding through 2019.

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Dems blast Senate GOP for blocking abortion, contraception bills

Four Democratic women running for state Senate in the Hudson Valley and Catskills issued a joint statement this week condemning Republican Senate leaders for preventing votes on bills that would codify abortion rights and guarantee insurance coverage for contraception.

The statement came from Jen Metzger, one of two Democrats running to succeed retiring Republican Sen. John Bonacic in the 42nd District; Pat Strong, who’s challenging Sen. George Amedore in the 46th District; Joyce St. George, who’s challenging Sen. James Seward in the 51st District; and Karen Smythe, the challenger for Sen. Sue Serino in the 41st district.

Metzger pointed out that Bonacic himself is the sponsor of the contraception bill his own party leaders blocked.

“We need a Senate majority that will make sure women are guaranteed access to affordable, safe, and essential reproductive health options,” she said. “Our rights must be protected under the law in New York State.”

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Senate passes three bills to help farmers

The state Senate voted Wednesday to double a tax credit that helps farmers pay their workers raises and to create a new credit to help dairy farmers expand their operations to make yogurt and other popular products.

Doubling the “workforce retention credit” – a proposal the Senate also passed in 2016 and 2017 and the Assembly did not take up – would bring the credit to $600 per employee instead of $300 for this year and cost the state an estimated $15 million in the 2019 state fiscal year. The dairy bill is new and is not expected to have much fiscal impact.

The Senate also unanimously passed a bill that day – the Legislature’s annual “Agriculture Day” – to give farm trucks a 10 percent discount on Thruway tolls.

“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy in New York State and I’m pleased to support these common-sense bills which will help our local farmers,” Sen. John Bonacic, a Mount Hope Republican, said in a press release promoting the bills.

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Reform Party endorses Skoufis in Senate race

Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury, announced Friday that the Reform Party has endorsed his bid to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Bill Larkin in the 39th Senate District.

“James Skoufis is the best choice to represent Rockland, Orange and Ulster in the State Senate,” Curtis Sliwa, the Reform Party chairman, said in a campaign press release. “He has proven in the Assembly to be a true reformer.”

The Reform Party is the outgrowth of a new ballot line then-Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino created in 2014 for his run for governor, and it initially served as a Republican appendage on election day. Only Republican Senate candidates had the Reform endorsement in 2016; Larkin won 496 votes on that ballot line.

As the Skoufis endorsement shows, the Reform Party is less tethered to Republican candidates since Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels in the 1970s, helped commandeer the party in 2016.

“I’m proud that my record as an independent leader committed to putting people ahead of politics has earned me the support of the Reform Party,” Skoufis said in Friday’s announcement.

Two Republicans – Stony Point Councilman Tom Basile and Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis – plan to compete in a Sept. 13 primary for the 39th Senate District seat. Basile has the Conservative Party endorsement.

Getting the endorsement of groups like the Reform and Conservative parties generally guarantees a candidate those parties’ ballot lines in November, although rival candidates can force a write-in primary challenge by filing what is known as an opportunity-to-ballot petition.

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Anagnostakis, Skoufis blast Basile for Mercer ties

Republican Senate candidate Tom Basile caught flak from two directions on Tuesday when rival Republican Mike Anagnostakis and Democrat James Skoufis both unloaded on him on Tuesday for his links to the wealthy family that funds the conservative Breitbart news site and a conservative advocacy group in New York.

Anagnostakis, an Orange County legislator waging a GOP primary race with Basile for the 39th Senate District seat, went first with a press release that listed some heinous, misogynistic Breitbart headlines, all for columns by Milo Yiannopoulos, such as “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “Does Feminism Make Women Ugly?” Anagnostakis proclaimed his support for a constitutional amendment banning gender discrimination – a proposal that he said Senate Republican leaders have blocked – and accused his opponent of having ties to “vile and hateful extremists.”

“It is alarming that Mr. Basile – who has earned a living from, and collaborated with, the vile Breitbart outlet – wants to come to Orange County and be the representative voice of our fine citizens!” he wrote.

Skoufis, an assemblyman from Woodbury who will face the Republican primary winner in the November election, later weighed in with a statement declaring Basile a “puppet of anti-women extremists,” melding his connections with the Mercer family to a clash in the Senate that day over stalled legislation to codify abortion rights and ensure contraception coverage. That conflict led to the spectacle of male Republican senators berating Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who was presiding over the Senate.

“Where is Tom Basile denouncing the anti-women actions taken today by the State Senate?” Skoufis asked. “Where is Tom Basile denouncing the misogynistic, vile articles on Breitbart and other outlets he contributes to?”

Basile’s campaign accused Anagnostakis of “playing fast and loose with the facts and making outrageous personal attacks” against Basile in its first response, which dubbed Anagnostakis “James Skoufis’ pit bull.”

“Making over-the-top and irresponsible statements to further his political agenda is not only offensive to Mr. Basile, his wife and his family, but to anyone who has been the victim of domestic violence, hate crime or discrimination,” the campaign statement read. “People are tired of folks like Mr. Anagnostakis shouting insults and saying anything to get attention.”

Basile, a communications consultant and Stony Point councilman, has written political opinion pieces that were posted on Breitbart, but wasn’t paid for them and hasn’t contributed any pieces to the site in more than three years, according to his campaign. He used to be an officer for Reclaim New York, the nonprofit funded by the Mercers, but left that position in 2016 and now advises the group through his consulting firm, Empire Solutions, his campaign said. Until recently, Reclaim New York listed Basile as a senior advisor for policy on its website, and its latest tax form shows it paid Empire Solutions $109,347 in 2016.

Rebekah Mercer donated $18,000 to Basile’s Senate campaign in January, according to the disclosure report he filed that month with the state Board of Elections.

In a response to Skoufis, Basile accused the Democratic assemblyman of supporting excessive state spending and voting for “policies like socialized medicine and ‘free college.’”

“His attacks are a smokescreen to prevent hard-working people in our area from realizing that for all his talk, he has failed time and time again to deliver on his promises,” Basile said. “If Mr. Skoufis actually cared about the needs of women in our area, he’d be fighting to help lower taxes, reduce spending and provide a greater opportunity for our families to stay here.”

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Two Teamsters locals endorse Rhodes for Congress

Two Teamsters units representing about 7,400 union members in the Hudson Valley have endorsed Gareth Rhodes as their preferred candidate among the seven Democrats running in a June 26 primary in New York’s 19th Congressional District.

Rhodes also was endorsed last month by Communications Workers of America Local 1120, which has about 2,000 members in the region. His campaign touted the new endorsements by Teamsters Local 445 and Local 456 as a sign that labor leaders are coalescing around him, noting that he’s the only Democratic contender who has won endorsements from local unions (Brian Flynn, another candidate in the race, has been endorsed by the Transport Workers Union). It expects union members to call voters and knock on doors to rally support for Rhodes in the primary.

“Gareth’s working-class upbringing here in NY-19, his hard work farming and drilling wells, putting himself through college, record of public service, and lifelong commitment to labor unions make him the candidate that organized labor can rally behind to beat John Faso,” Barry Russell, principal officer of Local 445, said in a campaign press release. His approach going to all 163 towns in NY-19 shows a commitment to representing all the working people of this community that no candidate can come close to.”

Roughly 6,000 of the 7,400 members of the two Teamsters locals live in the 19th District, according to Rhodes’ campaign.


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Ryan plans 30-mile trek to promote new gun restrictions

Democrat Pat Ryan plans an 11-hour walk next week to spotlight a campaign issue he hopes will distinguish him from the other six Democrats running in the June 26 primary for New York’s 19th Congressional District.

Ryan will start his June 16 trek to support new gun restrictions at the Franklin Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, cross the river on the Walkway over the Hudson, and wend his way to Republican Rep. John Faso’s district office in Kingston, largely using the Hudson Valley and Wallkill Valley rail trails. The 30-mile journey is scheduled to begin at 7:30 a.m. and end at 6:30 p.m.

Ryan plans to stop at several points to collect letters from students to deliver to Faso’s office. His campaign expects 30 to 40 students to join him for parts of the walk.

Ryan, an Iraq war veteran, recently made a TV ad that used his military background and jarring images of children putting on combat gear to call for a ban on assault rifles. His campaign says he also supports universal background checks and bans on bump stocks and high-capacity magazines, among other measures.

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