Faso bill to undo NY’s Scaffold Law heads to House vote

Rep. John Faso’s push from Washington to undo New York’s 133-year-old Scaffold Law cleared its first hurdle on Tuesday, when a House committee approved his bill to deny federal funding to construction projects that use New York’s “absolute liability” standard for workplace injuries caused by falls.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 16-14 along party lines on Faso’s bill, following an unusual debate that mixed arguments about federalism and tort law with unrelated, partisan clashes over the Trump-Russia probe and its spinoffs. Faso’s “Infrastructure Expansion Act,” cosponsored by four other New York Republicans, heads next to the House floor for a final vote. There is no Senate sponsor yet for the bill.

The Scaffold Law, enacted to protect workers erecting skyscrapers in New York City in the 1880s, required employers to ensure their workers’ safety, and courts have determined that to mean that employers and property owners are fully responsible for gravity-related falls at work sites that lacked adequate safety measures. Contractors and business groups have long railed against the law, arguing it inflates construction costs in New York by raising liability insurance costs, while unions have defended it as a reasonable and vital protection for workers in dangerous jobs.

That longstanding Albany debate migrated to Washington on Tuesday. Jerry Nadler, a New York City Democrat who started his political career as as assemblyman, and whose tenure in the Assembly overlapped with Faso’s, recalled debating the Scaffold Law 30 years ago, and defended it by pointing out that employers are held liable only if they fail to provide a safe work environment. He called Faso’s bill a congressional “end run” around New York’s lawmakers.

“The key point is this is a decision for New York to make, and not for Congress,” Nadler said.

Faso, whose district includes Ulster and Sullivan counties, and the four New York co-sponsors don’t serve on the Judiciary Committee and couldn’t take part in the debate. That left Republicans from distant states, such as Steve King of Iowa, Louie Gohmert of Texas, and Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, to argue against New York’s Scaffold Law. Their arguments and the Democrats’ counter-arguments reversed their parties’ usual postures on federalism, with Republicans defending Washington’s involvement in the liability standards of a single state.

One Republican, Ted Poe of Texas, wasn’t buying it. “This is not our issue,” Poe said, after bemoaning the erosion of the 10th Amendment’s principle of states’ rights. “It’s a state issue. I don’t think Congress ought to be involved in this at all.”

But other Republicans argued that the application of Faso’s bill to construction work that receives federal funding – directly or indirectly – made the issue a legitimate concern for Congress.  “We’re chasing federal dollars that my constituents could otherwise be on the hook for,” said Andy Biggs of Arizona.

That ticked off Hakeem Jeffries, another New York City Democrat who also got his start in the Assembly. He heatedly pointed out that New York is a major “donor state” that sends about $40 billion more in taxes to Washington each year than it gets back in services. The congressmen defending Faso’s bill could not make that same claim about their own states, he said.

“Don’t lecture us about taxpayers you represent being on the hook,” he said. “That’s a joke.”

The debate got more complicated when Goodlatte, the committee chairman, broadened the bill to require states to apply either a “comparative negligence” or “contributory negligence” standard for falls on federally subsidized projects. Jamie Raskin of Maryland protested that with that change, the bill could now upend tort laws in every state. Goodlatte countered that state courts would be free to preserve whichever of those two standards is already in place.

In a press release last week about the upcoming committee vote, Faso provided letters of support for his bill from organizations that included Habitat for Humanity of New York State and Associated General Contractors of New York.

“New York’s Scaffold Law is a regulation for the sake of regulation,” Faso said in that release. “It provides no measurable safety improvements and costs our state dearly. By passing this legislation, every dollar of federal funding going towards repairing roads, bridges, airports, and building affordable housing will go further. With infrastructure investment upcoming, there is no time like now to fix this burdensome regulation.”

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Bonacic leads region’s state lawmakers in 2017 expenses

Sen. John Bonacic had the highest expense total in 2017 for the 11 state lawmakers representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, seeking reimbursement for more than $18,000 in travel, lodging and meals, according to year-end data the state Comptroller’s Office posted online.

The Mount Hope Republican billed almost $12,000 for overnight stays in Albany and about $4,200 for gas reimbursement for his car, the two biggest expenses for many lawmakers shuttling back and forth to the capital. Second place went to Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican whose expenses totaled $15,767. He had about $12,300 in overnight expenses – lodging and meals – and almost $2,800 in gas charges.

Close behind was Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat who had lower overnight and gas costs than Bonacic and Brabenec but did spend almost $3,300 on air fare for conferences he attended. Sen. James Seward, a Milford Republican, also had air travel on his vouchers – about $2,000 worth. Cahill and Seward are each the chairmen of the insurance committees in their respective chambers.

Lawmakers are paid fixed amounts for meals and lodging in Albany for the days they work there, regardless of how much they actually spend. The amounts last year were $59 per day for meals and $116 for each night in a hotel.

The same three lawmakers who charged no expenses in 2016 also put in for no reimbursements this year: Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam; Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie (who has since left office after being appointed regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency); and Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton.

Here are the expense totals for the eight legislators who sought reimbursement:

Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope: $18,084

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark: $15,767

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston: $15,084

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh: $14,089

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford: $13,902

Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury: $11,584

Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford: $7,089

Sen. Bill Larkin, R-Cornwall-on-Hudson: $5,578

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Skoufis bill blocks insurance payouts for person who caused death

Responding to the latest twist in the 2015 death of a Poughkeepsie man who drowned while kayaking on the Hudson, Assemblyman James Skoufis introduced a bill on Thursday that would prevent anyone convicted of causing another person’s death from then collecting life insurance benefits for that death.

Angelika Graswald, who pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide in Orange County Court last year for the drowning death of her fiancee, Vincent Viafore, is already out on parole and seeking to claim $492,000 as a beneficiary of Viafore’s life insurance policy. Viafore’s sister is challenging Graswald’s claim in Dutchess County Surrogate Court.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, now has legislation declaring that anyone convicted of specified crimes for causing someone’s death – including negligent homicide – is ineligible to collect life insurance payments for the person whose death they caused.

“This isn’t simply a matter of finances and insurance, it’s a matter of justice,” Skoufis, who serves on the Assembly Insurance Committee, said in a press release announcing the impending bill last Sunday. “Any life insurance benefit ought to go to a loved one, not a convict who is so intrinsically responsible for the person’s death. Individuals like Angelika Graswald should never see a penny of life insurance money from their homicide victim’s policy.”

The bill’s memo explains that it would codify the “slayer rule” New York courts have followed since a Court of Appeals ruling almost 130 years ago, and add negligent homicide to the list of convictions to which it applies.

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Faso bill seeks deductibility for prepaid tax estimates

Rep. John Faso has co-sponsored a bill to help a portion of the New Yorkers who rushed to pay their 2018 property taxes at the end of December to beat the new federal deduction limit his party imposed: those who paid estimated amounts because they didn’t have their actual bills yet.

The one-sentence, one-house bill, introduced in the House on Jan. 16, stipulates that any 2018 property taxes paid in 2017 must be treated as “paid or accrued within calendar year 2017.” He and eight other mostly Republican House members from New York and New Jersey – states hit hard by the $10,000 deduction limit for state income and local property taxes – sponsored the bill in response to an IRS advisory last month that only 2018 taxes that were assessed in 2017, meaning calculated and billed, would be deductible for 2017.

“Due to the extremely quick turnaround between passage of tax reform and implementation of the new code, this legislation is a common-sense step that helps all New Yorkers that chose to prepay their property taxes, and ensures they receive the deductibility that they had planned for,” Faso, a Kinderhook Republican, said in a press release about the bill.

The same day that legislation was introduced, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, had launched his own crusade to help that same class of taxpayers who rushed to pay their taxes early but didn’t have their bills. He sent a letter to the acting IRS commissioner, David Kautter, urging him to rescind its Dec. 27 advisory denying 2017 deductions for taxes that hadn’t been assessed yet. He noted that thousands of New Yorkers paid 2018 property taxes in the short time between the enactment of the Republicans’ tax code revision and the Jan. 1 effective date for the new deduction cap.

“Many state and local government did not have time in these nine days, which fell in the middle of a holiday break for many, to react to this new law and accept prepaid property taxes,” Schumer wrote. “However, certain states’ governors, including New York’s, moved with haste to issue executive orders authorizing local governments to accept prepayments. These efforts were made with a fair interpretation of the new law which has been challenged by the IRS’s recent guidance.”

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Maloney, Faso on opposite sides in DACA standoff

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and John Faso voted in line with their parties on Thursday in a partisan clash over protections for children of illegal immigrants that threatened to result in a government shutdown by week’s end.

In a largely party line vote, the House of Representatives had approved a short-term spending measure that didn’t include the renewed protection from deportation that Democrats like Maloney wanted and that some Republicans, including Faso, say they wanted as well. Maloney, who voted against the resolution, blasted it both for perpetuating stopgap spending by Congress and failing to restore the protections for roughly 800,000 so-called Dreamers that President Trump lifted.

“Congress has to stop playing games with government funding and with the lives of hundreds of thousands of Dreamers,” the Cold Spring Democrat said in a statement. “This is the fourth short-term funding bill Republican leadership has brought to the floor since September, and it’s a shortsighted, lazy way to govern. We have a responsibility to fix the mess the President made when he ended reasonable protections for Dreamers.”

Maloney argued there was bipartisan support for solutions to the immigration problem that would pass overwhelmingly if brought to the floor. “Republican leadership needs to get their act together and work with us,” he said.

Faso, a Kinderhook Republican who voted for the resolution, also criticized the short-term spending approvals, but blamed Senate Democrats for blocking the year-long appropriations bills that House Republicans passed. “This is unacceptable as government agencies, and especially the Department of Defense, cannot operate effectively without having appropriations passed in a timely manner,” Faso said in a press release.

Faso said he was disappointed that Congress hadn’t replaced President Obama’s DACA program – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – and reiterated his support for helping DACA beneficiaries while strengthening border security. “However, I cannot in good conscience shut down the government and deny critical national security funding that is vital to our safety and security just because I’m not satisfied with the lack of progress on these matters,” Faso said.

Senate Democrats appeared likely to block the spending resolution for omitting DACA and renewing the expired Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years instead of 10. That was expected to cause a government shutdown by Friday night.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, in a statement on Friday, said she couldn’t support the resolution and blamed Trump and Republican leaders in Congress for a “manufactured crisis”: “For the first time in our nation’s history, it is possible we will have a government shutdown tonight while one party controls the White House, the U.S. Senate, and the House of Representatives. A government shutdown is both regrettable and 100 percent avoidable. The problem is that President Trump has previously declared he wanted the government shut down and is doing all he can to get it.

“The truth is that there is broad bipartisan agreement that the government should not shut down, the Children’s Health Insurance Program should be extended for 10 years and that Dreamers should be protected. Unfortunately, the President and his irresponsible enablers in Congress refuse to take yes for an answer and instead want to hold America hostage for funding for a taxpayer-funded and ineffective border wall he promised Mexico was going to pay for.”

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Bonacic leads local pols in campaign cash at start of election year

State Sen. James Seward raised over $125,000 for his campaign in the last six months, the largest fundraising haul of the 10 state lawmakers representing Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties and more than twice as much as the second largest collection in that group.

But fellow Republican Sen. John Bonacic of Mount Hope still had by far the largest campaign war chest of those legislators as they gear up for this year’s elections, according to semi-annual financial disclosure reports filed with the state Board of Elections this week. Bonacic, who reported raising about $48,000 since last July, had almost $720,000 in his coffers. By comparison, Seward, an Otsego County Republican whose district includes part of Ulster, had about $395,000, and only one other state legislator in the region – Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther – had more than $100,000 on hand.

Gunther, a Forestburgh Democrat who represents most of Sullivan and part of Orange, and who has run unopposed in every election except one since she took office 14 years ago, collected more than $50,000 in the last six months, an unusually high amount for her. She finished the fundraising period with almost $185,000 in her account.

Here are the six-month fundraising totals and account balances for the region’s four senators and six Assembly members (another Assembly seat, for a district that includes Saugerties in Ulster County, is currently vacant).

Sen. James Seward, R-Milford

Raised: $125,882

On hand: $395,370

Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam

Raised: $59,033

On hand: $91,109

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh

Raised: $51,550

On hand: $184,774

Sen. John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope

Raised: $48,420

On hand: $717,893

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark

Raised: $38,005

On hand: $12,899

Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury

Raised: $36,280

On hand:  $71,994

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston

Raised: $11,978

On hand: $47,231

Sen. William Larkin Jr., R-Cornwall-on-Hudson

Raised: $8,995

On hand: $66,664

Assemblyman Brian Miller, R-New Hartford

Raised: $554

On hand: $2,432

Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton

Raised: $505

On hand: $19,308

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Basile raises $129,000 to run for Larkin Senate seat (updated X 3)

Rockland County resident Tom Basile has reported raising almost $129,000 since September to run for fellow Republican Bill Larkin’s state Senate seat – an office he has said he will seek only if Larkin doesn’t pursue a 15th term in November.

Basile, a communications consultant and Stony Point town councilman who already has launched a campaign website, put $15,000 of his own money and $4,000 from his consulting firm, Empire Solutions, into the campaign. He also reported an $18,000 contribution from Rebekah Mercer, a wealthy financier of Republican campaigns and conservative causes. Her family funds the nonprofit watchdog group Reclaim New York, which listed Basile as an officer earning $103,680 a year in its most recent tax filing. The same form, filed in November 2016 for the 2015 tax year, lists Steve Bannon – President Trump’s former chief strategist – as Reclaim New York’s vice chairman and a director. (Bannon isn’t currently listed as a director or vice chairman on Reclaim’s website).

In his campaign finance report filed Tuesday with the state Board of Elections, Basile said he received another $18,000 from Sheila Flanigan, a donor from Irondale, Ala. Previous campaign filings show that Flanigan has given $50,000 in the last two years to New Yorkers for Independent Action – a group seeking support in Albany for private and charter schools – and another campaign group called Catholics Count.

Other big contributions on Basile’s campaign finance report are $5,000 from H.J. Kalikow & Co., the Manhattan real estate firm of former MTA chairman Peter Kalikow; and $5,000 from SecureWatch24 LLC, the Manhattan contractor that recently installed equipment in the Orange County Government Center and has donated heavily to County Executive Steve Neuhaus’ campaign.

Basile also reported a $2,500 donation from Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s 2016 presidential campaign account.

(Updates: Larkin didn’t respond to to a request through his spokesman on Tuesday for a statement on whether he plans to run again. His own campaign finance report shows he has done minimal fundraising in the last six months, collecting just $9,000 and receiving only two contributions at all since Sept. 14.

Orange County Legislator Mike Anagnostakis, a Town of Newburgh Republican who also wants to run for the 39th Senate District seat if Larkin retires, reported Tuesday he has about $267,000 in his campaign coffers. Basile had around $123,000 in his account after expenses. Larkin had $67,000.)

(More updates: Larkin spokesman Brian Maher said Wednesday that the 89-year-old senator “continues to be a force in Albany,” has “the passion and energy” to continue representing the district and has “no intentions to retire at this time.”

Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat who is also a potential candidate for the 39th Senate District, reported $72,000 in his campaign coffers, and said Wednesday that he expects to have $100,000 on hand once he receives all of the contributions from his most recent fundraiser.)


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Cuomo wants disclosure for internet campaign ads

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Assemblyman James Skoufis haven’t always seen eye to eye, but both support imposing new campaign disclosure rules to stop the sort of anonymous potshots that can now be taken with impunity through paid ads on social media platforms.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat who was targeted by paid ads making false claims against him on Facebook and Instagram, is sponsoring a bill by Sen. Todd Kaminsky of Long Island that would require all paid “political communications,” including internet ads, to include a “paid for by” line that identifies the source. The smear ads against Skoufis – he said last June he had counted about 35 separate ads over 18 months – each gave the name of a fictitious group as the sponsor.

“Whether it’s national elections or our own Assembly races, anonymous, unaccountable advertising is permeating America’s democracy,” he said in an announcement of the bill last month. “These ads, which usually distort the truth to deceive the public, need to be identified so voters know where dishonest ads are coming from and what their motive is.”

Fast forward to Cuomo’s State of the State speech last week. The Democratic governor, who already had revealed that internet disclosure rules were on his 2018 agenda, had this to say: “Social media must disclose who or what pays for political advertising because sunlight is still the best disinfectant. Disclosure must apply to social media the same way that it applies to a newspaper ad or a TV ad or a radio ad. Anything else is a scam and a perversion of the law and an affront to democracy.”

Cuomo, contemplating a presidential run in 2020, interlaced his remarks with lines about lawmakers in Washington dithering over similar rules while Russia and anonymous donors “jeopardize our democracy.”


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Delgado leads NY19 Dems in 4th quarter fundraising

Antonio Delgado

Antonio Delgado’s campaign has announced it raised more than $425,000 in the last three months of 2017, the largest haul of the three Democrats running in New York’s 19th Congressional District who have given previews of the campaign finance reports they are due to file by the end of the month.

Six Democrats in all are courting support and raising money to challenge Rep. John Faso, a Kinderhook Republican who took office a year ago. The other two contenders who have rushed out their latest fundraising totals are Pat Ryan, who said he collected $317,000 in donations in the fourth quarter, and Gareth Rhodes, who said he raised more than $150,000.

Multiple candidates in the race have managed to raise significant sums in spite of the crowded field, which had as many as eight contenders at one point. As of the end of September, two Democrats – Delgado and Brian Flynn – had more in their coffers than Faso, and Ryan was nearly on par with the Republican incumbent.

Delgado’s campaign said Wednesday he had raised almost $1.5 million altogether since he entered the race last year, and now has more than $1 million on hand after expenses.

“Growing up in this area with working class parents, I learned the value of hard work,” Delgado, a Rhinebeck attorney, said in the announcement. “I believe in a better future for the people of the Catskills and the Hudson Valley, and I will not be outworked on this campaign.”

Each candidate has stressed the torrent of donors making small contributions as a sign of the breadth of his support.

“I’m fired up to begin 2018 in such a strong position, with the support of thousands of individual donors,” Ryan, a Kingston native and West Point graduate, said in his fundraising announcement.

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Brabenec, Miller call on Harris to resign after indictment

Karl Brabenec

Two Republican assemblymen representing pieces of Orange County called on Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Harris of Brooklyn to resign this week after she became latest in a conga line of Albany lawmakers to be charged with corruption or other wrongdoing.

Federal authorities say Harris took money from a nonprofit she ran to take vacations and pay her mortgage, and collected almost $25,000 in federal funds by falsely claiming that Hurricane Sandy forced her from her Coney Island home in 2012. Charges against her for those and other alleged schemes include wire fraud, bankruptcy fraud and making false statements. Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, called Harris’ arrest fresh justification for the Public Officers Accountability Act, a set of ethics reforms Assembly Republicans first proposed in 2013.

“The charges involving Ms. Harris cast a dark shadow on the Legislature, and if she continues serving as an assemblywoman, it will cause major distractions to the business of the house,” Brabenec said in his statement. “It is because of this that I recommend Ms. Harris resign immediately as a member of the New York state Assembly for the benefit of the residents she represents and for the benefit of the citizens of New York.”

Brian Miller

Miller, a New Hartford Republican whose seven-county district includes seven towns in Orange, Ulster and Sullivan counties, called the charge that Harris had fraudulently obtained Hurricane Sandy relief “reprehensible and disgusting,” and said he was embarrassed as a fellow Assembly member.

“This is yet another example of the rampant corruption that goes on in Albany, something I have vowed to fight against,” Miller said. “Ms. Harris is now among a growing group of disgraced legislators who believe they are above the law. Given the seriousness of the charges facing her, it is clear that Ms. Harris is unable to fairly and honestly represent the people of her district.”

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