Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced five appointments to his administration, building on a diverse, growing team committed to implementing his bold agenda.
Elizabeth De León Bhargava has been appointed Deputy Secretary for Labor. Ms. Bhargava previously served as First Deputy Chief of Staff for New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito and, prior, as Deputy Commissioner for the Neighborhood Development Division of the New York City Department of Small Business Services, where she was responsible for the city’s Business Improvement Districts, the largest network in the country investing more than $100 million in programs and services throughout NYC.
Rose Rodriguez has been appointed Chief Diversity Officer. She has served the State in a variety of executive and management roles, most recently as Special Assistant to the Commissioner and Director of Workforce Development at the New York State Department of Labor, where she spearheaded several agency efforts linked to the Governor’s initiatives including the Buffalo Billion, The New NY Bridge, and the New NY Bronx Works partnership.
Jorge Montalvo has been appointed Deputy Secretary of State for Economic Opportunity where he will advise and support the Secretary of State in the management of the Department of State and will be responsible for assisting in formulating agency policy and implementing program plans related to the $60 million Community Service Block Grant, the Division of Consumer Protection and the Cemeteries Division, among other State programs.
Matthew Fernandez Konigsberg has been appointed Special Counsel to the Secretary for Ethics, Risk and Compliance at the Department of State. Mr. Konigsberg previously served as an associate at Foran Glennon focusing on first-party property coverage, subrogation recovery, casualty/liability defense matters, as well as other types of commercial litigation.
Angel Santana has been appointed the Governor’s Bronx Regional Representative. Mr. Santana previously served as Director of Community Affairs and, prior, Community Liason for State Senator Jose M. Serrano.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo issued the following statement in response to the announcement of support of the New York State and New York City Bar Associations for his proposal to require state lawmakers to fully disclose all outside income they receive.
“The bottom line is that New Yorkers will never trust government until they know the who, what and where of outside employment and unprecedented reforms put forward by this administration and the New York State Assembly will do just that. The New York State and New York City Bar Associations’ affirmation that our proposal does not conflict with attorney-client privilege eliminates any excuses as to why this should not be law.
“These organizations uphold the highest standards in their profession, and their support of this proposal is greatly appreciated. I look forward to working with them and with my colleagues in both houses of the legislature to pass these reforms and restore trust in our state government.”
Full statement released by the City Bar addressing the Budget disclosure proposals and other ethics issues: http://bit.ly/1FC6SZp.”
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched #Broadband4All, a campaign to rally support for his New NY Broadband Program proposal, which will ensure that every New Yorker has access to high-speed Internet service by the end of 2018. As part of the campaign, the Governor unveiled a new website, ny.gov/BroadbandForAll, which provides New Yorkers with more information about the issue and encourages them to become involved. Additionally, members of the Governor’s administration are continuing to visit communities across the state to present the proposal in regions with some of the greatest broadband needs.
Broadband refers to wide bandwidth data transmission, and this technology enables the fastest, most reliable Internet access service available today. One of the most transformative innovations of the current era, investing in broadband infrastructure is on par with technological breakthroughs such as running water, electricity and the interstate highway system. Broadband is overwhelmingly important to a myriad of tasks in the 21st century, from banking to schoolwork to telemedicine and business operations – yet too many households and organizations across the state lack sufficient access.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and Speaker Carl Heastie outlined an agreement on groundbreaking reforms to New York State’s ethics laws and rules.
“I said that real ethics reform was essential to a complete budget this year and I applaud Speaker Heastie and the Assembly for their leadership in supporting the highest ethical standards New York has ever established,” Governor Cuomo said. “This new level of disclosure and transparency will go a long way towards restoring the public trust. The more trust, the more credibility.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said, “When I assumed the leadership of the New York State Assembly, I assured the voters of this state that their government is working for them. I assured them that by whatever means necessary, we would do everything in our power to regain their trust and to bring true reform and accountability into these halls. Today, the Assembly Majority took a monumental step toward fulfilling that promise. I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement with Governor Cuomo on ethics reform.”
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that 11 counties will be eligible under the proposed $30 million Southern Tier Agricultural Economic Development Initiative, first announced by the Governor last week. Eligible counties under this initiative will include Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tompkins and Tioga. The program, included in the Executive Budget, will make available $30 million for projects that help farms and agribusinesses grow throughout the area, with additional funding to assist targeted agricultural economic development projects.
Under the initiative, $25 million would help farmers increase agricultural production on farms and improve profitability, as well as support farmers in better managing environmental resources. Projects that are awarded state funding may receive up to $100,000, which will go toward funding up to 75 percent of an eligible project. Applicants are responsible for the other 25 percent, and all projects should be completed within one year of the contract.
Those eligible to apply for this program would include: people, partnerships, associations, cooperatives, corporations, or LLCs that manage a “farm operation” as defined in section 301 of Agriculture and Markets. Costs could include construction, renovation, irrigation, drainage, environmental enhancements, fencing, trellis systems and greenhouses.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that 55 organizations from across the state, including statewide and local nonprofits, advocacy organizations and labor groups, are joining the Enough is Enough campaign to combat sexual assault on college campuses. Many of these organizations represent countless victims of sexual violence, and they are adding their voices to the growing coalition of supporters of the Governor’s proposal to codify uniform sexual assault prevention and response protocols for all colleges and universities – public and private – in New York. The adoption of this proposal will make New York a leader in the fight against on-campus sexual violence and will better protect the State’s 1.2 million college students.
The “Enough is Enough” campaign includes a new State Police hotline – 1-844-845-7269 – dedicated to reporting sexual assaults on college and university campuses. Specially-trained members of the State Police will be on-call 24 hours a day to respond to sexual assault calls throughout the State. The campaign also has a video featuring students, advocates and elected officials supporting the Governor’s policy to address sexual assault on college campuses. The video can be viewed here.
Governor Cuomo announced five appointments to his administration. These appointments bring additional talent to the administration and will build on the Governor’s bold agenda.
Seth Agata has been nominated to serve as Chairman of the Public Employment Relations Board. Most recently, he served as Counsel to the Governor and, prior, as First Assistant Counsel and Assistant Counsel. Before joining the Governor’s staff, Mr. Agata served as Assistant Secretary for Program and Policy and as Senior Associate Counsel in the Office of Counsel to the Majority for the New York State Assembly. He was also Assistant Counsel Program and Counsel Staff in the Assembly. He served as Counsel for Investigations in the Office of State Comptroller, Assistant District Attorney for Columbia County, a trial examiner in the New York City Office of Collective Bargaining and was in private law practice in New York City and Columbia County. He is a co-author of The History of the New York Court of Appeals, 1932-2003 (Columbia U. Press, 2006) and has written articles on other topics, as well. Mr. Agata graduated from the New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University as well the Cornell Law School. This nomination requires Senate confirmation.
Michael Weisberg has been appointed Chief Information Security Officer and Deputy Commissioner of Information Technology Services, with a special focus on cyber security. Most recently, Michael was CIO and Director of Information Technology for a consulting firm in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to that, Michael worked at the U.S. Federal Reserve as their Senior Information Security Architect, where he developed and published security architectures and designs, and advised Senior Federal Reserve Officers and management on security technologies and practices. In addition, he was the Vice President for Information Security for Bank of America and served as an Information Security Consultant. He is the Director of the Cyber Security program in the School of Professional and Continuing Education at the Sage Colleges. Mr. Weisberg has a Bachelor of Science from RPI and holds several industry recognized certifications, including Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and Certified Scrum Master.
Johannah Chase has been appointed Assistant Secretary for Education. She previously was a consultant at Bank Street College of Education, where she worked with senior leadership on developing their strategic plan. Prior to that, Ms. Chase held a number of roles at the New York City Department of Education, most recently serving as Chief Executive Officer of the Office of Special Education and Chief Operating Officer of the Division of Students with Disabilities and English Learners. She also served as a Senior advisor on special education reform, Chief of Staff of the Division of School Support & Instruction and Associate Director of the Division of School Support & Instruction. She was also an eighth grade English and Math teacher in New York City for three years. Ms. Chase has a B.A from Cornell University and an M.S. in Teaching from Pace University.
Lisa Black has been appointed Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. She previously held a number of roles at the New York City Department of Homeless Services, most recently serving as Assistant Commissioner and, prior, Acting Deputy Commissioner, Director of Government Relations, and Acting Director of Communications and External Affairs. She also held a number of roles working in leadership in the New York State Senate for 14 years. Ms. Black has a B.A. from the College of Saint Rose.
Brian Shea has been appointed Upstate Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services. He held a number of roles in the Office of Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo. Most recently, he served as Chief of Staff where he oversaw all office operations, legislative initiatives and external communications. Prior to that, he served as Clerk to the Assembly Committee on Children & Families and Legislative Director to the Assemblywoman. Mr. Shea has a B.A. in Political Science from Binghamton University.
Governor Cuomo announced completion of another round of targeted crude oil tank car and rail inspections, which uncovered 93 defects, including seven critical safety defects that required immediate corrective action, and two hazardous materials violations. The inspections are the latest in a series of actions that state agencies are taking at the direction of the Governor to protect New Yorkers from the potential dangers associated with the transport of crude oil by freight rail companies. State and federal teams examined 453 crude oil tank cars and approximately 148 miles of track in these inspections.
Critical defects identify important maintenance issues that must be addressed immediately, but do not necessarily indicate safety lapses. Non-critical rail defects must be repaired within 30 days, while all tank car defects must be fixed before the train departs the yard. If that is not possible, the affected car will be pulled from the train to await repair.
Governor Cuomo announced that $7.7 million will be distributed to seven health providers to support pre- and post-natal care for at-risk families. New York secured the funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV).
New York’s MIECHV initiative works to improve the health and wellbeing of at-risk families by implementing proven home visiting programs. Through periodic home visits, home visitors assess pregnant women’s health and social and economic support needs, newborn’s health, school readiness as well as for the prevention of domestic violence and child abuse. Home visitors provide support and information to improve birth outcomes and connect families to needed services. Home visiting programs help guide families during the critical prenatal, newborn and early childhood periods. This initiative is a critical component of New York’s work to ensure that children have the best start possible.
Currently, the MIECHV initiative serves 2,400 families a year through 10 home visiting projects, and with the additional $7.7 million in funding, it is estimated that seven new home visiting projects will be added to serve an additional 700 families a year over two-and-a-quarter-years.
Governor Cuomo announced that business leaders from New York City, Long Island and the Hudson Valley have joined the “Fight for Fair Pay” campaign to raise the minimum wage in New York this year. These 41 business leaders represent broad private sector support – including some of New York’s most prominent business leaders and an array of small businesses – for the Governor’s proposal, which increases the minimum wage from the current $8.75 to proposed $10.50 statewide and $11.50 in New York City.
In total, 1.3 million New Yorkers will experience higher wages as a result of the minimum wage increase, which translates into a $3.4 billion direct economic value statewide – meaning that more New Yorkers will have more money to spend on goods and services in their community. During the last six increases in New York State’s minimum wage, employment subsequently increased in industries with many minimum wage workers.
Tax collections of $4.9 billion in February were $21.6 million above the state’s latest estimates, according to the monthly cash report released by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. Through 11 months of the fiscal year, tax collections were $636.6 million higher than originally projected, and $19 million higher than the latest estimates.
Personal Income Tax (PIT) receipts in February totaled $3.4 billion, an increase of 7.9 percent from February 2014.
Other findings from the February cash report include:
- Consumption and use tax collections totaled just over $14 billion through February, an increase of 1.8 percent from the previous year, but $28.8 million lower than updated projections due to weaker sales tax collections in February. Business tax collections through February totaled $5.7 billion, up 2 percent from last year and $21.8 million above the latest projections;
- All Funds receipts totaled $131.6 billion through February, $1.2 billion higher than updated projections. The majority of the variance was in federal receipts ($1.1 billion), primarily due to the timing of reimbursements. Miscellaneous receipts ended the month $40.8 million higher than current projections;
- All Funds spending of $122 billion through February was $147.2 million lower than updated projections. Spending for local assistance grants totaled $88.8 billion and was 6.1 percent or $5.1 billion higher than last year and $5.4 million more than updated projections. State operations spending totaled $18.1 billion through February, which was less than $1 million lower than planned. Debt service totaled $3.4 billion and was $671.2 million lower than last year, and $2.6 million below projections; and
- The General Fund ended February with a balance of $11.2 billion, which was $340.9 million higher than projected and $2.4 billion more than last year at the same time.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the appointment of Assistant Attorney General Roberto Lebron as Assistant Attorney General In Charge of the Harlem Regional Office. In his new role, AAGIC Lebron will oversee an office that serves a large constituency in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, covering issues from consumer frauds to public advocacy litigation.
Roberto Lebron’s appointment follows the departure of former Assistant Attorney General Guy Mitchell, who was recently appointed as Criminal Court Judge in New York City. Lebron was appointed Acting Assistant Attorney General in Charge of the Harlem Regional Office on February 13, 2015. He also served as Public Integrity Officer.
As Assistant Attorney General, Roberto Lebron investigated and prosecuted affirmative cases. Previously, Lebron worked as an enforcement litigation attorney with the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development. A former president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association, Lebron is a graduate of St. John’s University School of Law.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urging the Senate to confirm Loretta Lynch as U.S. Attorney General. The following are excerpts from the letter:
ON HER POTENTIAL CONFIRMATION: As the Attorney General for the State of New York, I am confident that Ms. Lynch will provide the strong leadership necessary to fully enforce the law and defend the rights of Americans living in my state and across the nation.
ON HER PREVIOUS RECORD: During her tenure as the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ms. Lynch has developed a long record of achievements, and she enjoys a reputation for fairly and even-handedly enforcing the law. She demonstrates extraordinary character, sound judgment and clear commitment to the principle of equal justice under the law.
ON HER QUALIFICATIONS: Moreover, the breadth and range of her experience handling some of our nation’s most challenging federal law enforcement matters, her commitment to public service and strong management skills, make her well-suited to serve in this position.
The full letter can be read here.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office will be introducing an application-programming interface (API) that will allow application developers to access and use data from its NYOpenGovernment.com database. NYOpenGovernment.com is an effort by the Attorney General’s office to promote the public’s right to know and monitor governmental decision-making; it is the only statewide resource that aggregates a range of sources for state government information – including data on campaign finance, lobbying, charities, state contracts, member items, corporate registrations, elected officials, and legislation – which is otherwise scattered or difficult to retrieve. The NY Open Government API will allow developers easier access to this data, which they can use in the creation of applications. Currently, the database is used by good government groups, reporters, and law enforcement agencies for analysis, general information, and even investigations.
Currently, the NY Open Government databases can only be accessed through a simple search tool bar. The API will allow developers to build new graphical interfaces, devise algorithms for mining the data in innovative ways, create applications that join the Open Government information with other publicly available data, and a host of other potentially useful approaches. Other government agencies have begun to see the benefit of APIs, including the New York State Senate, New York State’s Open NY, and NYC OpenData. The Metropolitan Transit Authority’s API currently powers numerous apps that make navigating public transportation easier than ever before. Many popular media sites also offer APIs, including Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the fifth settlement since last year in an unprecedented enforcement effort of mental health parity laws. The settlement, reached with Rochester-based Excellus Health Plan, requires the health insurer to cover residential treatment for behavioral health conditions and reform its procedures for evaluating behavioral health treatment claims. The settlement also requires Excellus to provide notice of a new appeal right to 3,300 members whose requests for inpatient substance use disorder rehabilitation and eating disorder residential treatment Excellus denied from 2011 through 2014. The estimated value of Excellus’s denial of these individuals’ requests is up to $9 million.
Excellus, which is part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, has 1.5 million members and is upstate New York’s largest health plan. An investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman’s Health Care Bureau found that Excellus denied inpatient substance use disorder rehabilitation recovery services seven times as often as inpatient medical services.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they have reached a settlement with Coach USA Inc., CitySights LLC, and their joint venture, Twin America, LLC, to remedy the loss in competition in the New York City hop-on, hop-off bus tour market that occurred when the defendants combined to form an illegal monopoly. The settlement requires the defendants to relinquish approximately fifty bus stops across Manhattan controlled by City Sights, including highly coveted locations in Times Square and near the Empire State Building. They are also required to disgorge $7.5 million in profits obtained by operating their joint venture in violation of the antitrust laws between 2009 and 2015.
Attorney General Schneiderman and the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2012 alleging that the March 2009 formation of Twin America violated the antitrust laws and resulted in higher prices for hop-on, hop-off bus tours in New York City. Today’s settlement, if approved by a court, resolves the claims alleged in the complaint filed in this case.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman offered a sharp critique of Albany’s long history of ethical lapses and past claims of reform, and made comprehensive proposals to fundamentally change New York State government by striking at the root causes of corruption.
During remarks delivered at a forum hosted by the nonpartisan good government group Citizens Union, the Attorney General outlined what he believes is required to help “cure the disease” of public corruption, including a total ban on outside employment income for legislators, an end to per diems, rules reform to empower individual legislators, and a constitutional amendment to extend legislators’ terms from two to four years. The Attorney General also proposed a comprehensive overhaul of New York’s campaign finance system.
The Attorney General’s proposed legislative changes go further than any package previously proposed by a statewide elected official or legislative leader.
To read the Attorney General’s full address, click here.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Governmental Operations Committee Chair Crystal Peoples-Stokes announced the passage of the Assembly’s Sunshine Week legislative package to increase government transparency and enhance the state’s Freedom of Information Laws (FOIL).
Included in the legislation approved by the Assembly is a key measure (A.114, Buchwald) to increase the public’s access to government records. The bill would expedite the FOIL appeals process by limiting to 30 days the time an agency would have to appeal a court judgment to disclose the information requested. Currently, agencies can file an appeal and have up to nine months to perfect the appeal, a delay that impedes timely access to government documents.
Also among the Assembly’s Sunshine Week legislative package are bills that would:
- Require the disclosure, in response to a FOIL request, of the name of retirees of various public employee retirement systems but not the names of their beneficiaries (A.3149, Englebright);
- Prevent government officials from using copyright protections to deny the disclosure of public information except when the information requested reflects such areas as artistic creation or scientific and academic research. The bill also would ensure that unreasonable claims of copyright violations are not used to deter a citizen from gaining access to public records (A.3489, Galef);
- Direct the Secretary of State to maintain and post on its website information about state boards, commissions, councils and other similar entities, including the disclosure of reports and other products, membership, responsibilities and meeting and contact information (A.1163, Paulin); and
- Enhance public access to the results of the Department of Agriculture and Markets’ food- safety inspections of food businesses by requiring the findings and notices of violations to be posted on the agency’s website (A.4436, Silver).
Speaker Carl Heastie joined together with members of the Assembly Majority and advocates to announce that the Assembly intends to pass a comprehensive package of legislation to combat human trafficking. This critical legislation is aimed at implementing protections for victims, expanding access to services to empower survivors and strengthening criminal penalties for persons convicted of trafficking offenses.
The Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (A.506/Paulin) will strengthen New York’s existing human trafficking laws by:
- Increasing penalties for sex and labor human trafficking;
- Escalating penalties for promoting prostitution and patronizing minors for prostitution;
- Extending the inter-agency task force on human trafficking;
- Requiring anti-human trafficking training for law enforcement;
- Creating a civil right of action to enable victims of human trafficking to sue their perpetrators for damages; and
- Establishing an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if the defendant was a sex-trafficking victim.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion global industry. It is estimated that more than 17,000 victims are brought to the United State each year, held against their will and forced into involuntary servitude, debt bondage and the sex trade.
The New York State Senate hosted the fourth annual 10th Mountain Division and Fort Drum Day recognition event in the Senate Chamber. The post is located in Jefferson County and is represented by Senator Patricia Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton).
Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos said, “Fort Drum Day is a very special event that allows us to honor the men and women of the historic 10th Mountain Division for their service all over the world – and for their many contributions to communities in the North Country and throughout the State of New York.”
Senator Ritchie said, “Fort Drum Day has proven an effective way to introduce Albany’s leaders to the mission and importance of the 10th Mountain Division and the post, not just to our nation’s defense, but also to our local, regional and Upstate economies.”
Home to 38,000 soldiers and family members, Fort Drum is the largest Army post north of North Carolina and east of the Mississippi River. With nearly 5,000 civilians, the post is the state’s largest single-site employer and it supports tens of thousands of jobs off base to aid the North Country’s economy. According to a recent economic impact study, it was estimated that Fort Drum generated $1.3 billion into the economy last year.
The New York State Senate passed legislation that would prohibit registered sex offenders from living with individuals with developmental disabilities in community residences operated or licensed by the state. The bill (S2885), sponsored by Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst), strengthens current protections and helps ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities are living in a safe environment.
Currently, registered sex offenders are permitted to reside in facilities that provide supervised residence for individuals with developmental disabilities. This bill would prohibit registered sex offenders from residing in a community residence operated or licensed by the state Office of Mental Health or the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
This measure responds to the public’s growing concern after it was reported last year that a number of convicted sex offenders were placed in neighborhood community residences across Western New York, including one in Newstead and another in West Seneca.
The bill will be sent to the Assembly.
The New York State Senate gave final passage to legislation that would expedite access to critical information in missing child cases. The bill (S3520A), sponsored by Senator George A. Amedore, Jr. (R-C-I, Rotterdam), is in response to a recent tragic child abuse case in Albany County and would help provide child abuse and maltreatment records to law enforcement agencies when that information is needed to find a missing child.
In December 2014, five-year-old Kenneth White was reported missing by his older cousin, who was watching him at the time. She claimed two masked men entered the house where Kenneth and his two siblings lived with their custodial aunt and abducted the boy. When the Albany County Sheriff’s office contacted CPS to request access to Kenneth’s records, they were denied. Tragically, Kenneth White was found dead later that night and his cousin, who had originally reported him missing, has been charged with his murder. A review of the case determined that the records should have been turned over when requested.
The new legislation would clarify existing law by specifying that CPS records can be released to expedite an investigation when law enforcement is investigating a missing child and there is reason to believe that a parent, guardian, or other person legally responsible for the child is the subject of a report of child abuse or maltreatment. If CPS denies the request, law enforcement agencies can request an administrative review by the state Office of Children and Family Services, which would have the ability to overturn a decision by the county CPS.
The bill has passed the Assembly and will be sent to the Governor for consideration.