Lawmakers tell everything! The Senate secret group comes out

12 Min Read

With help from Shawn Ness

THE SENATE’S JUICY SECRET: It has been around for decades, but some lawmakers said they had never heard of it.

The backroom nature of the Senate Working Rules Working Group was chronicled in a New York Focus story published this morning.

And although the existence of the group (WRGfor those in the know) has been mentioned in news articles long before today’s Focus article, the story shines a new spotlight on the way Albany works for – but often out of sight of – the people of New York.

“There is no transparency in the legislative process,” Democratic Sen. Leroy Comrie of Eastern Queens told Playbook. ‘Who told you there was transparency? We are in the state legislature. Labor rules have been around for decades and people concerned about transparency are not focused on what is important.”

Comrie’s light-hearted comments may come as a shock to the government nuts, but it is also a sober analysis of the way bills become law across the legislature – and not just the Senate.

As a member of the State Assembly points out, the legislative body — which, as COVID has ruthlessly restricted the access of journalists to the areas outside its chamber — is also making crucial decisions with little explanation to its rank-and-file members and the public.

“We don’t have a work rules committee,” Upper West Side Democrat Daniel O’Donnell told Playbook. “We have a rules committee, but you know, it’s up to Carl to decide which bills get moved. It is the same.”

“How does the bill get on the agenda of the Rules Committee? It’s called Carl Heastie’s head,” O’Donnell noted, referring to the Assembly speaker.

The Senate Working Rules Group reportedly has about 10 members and is made up of high-ranking lawmakers who meet in secret to decide which bills can come to the floor in the final week of the session — and which are no longer valid. Lawmakers say it’s a necessary tool used to reduce the thousands of bills left standing as the end of the session approaches.

“You take a group of legislators — diverse in race, gender, geography and political views — and you put them in a room together to work things out in the best interest of everyone,” said Senate Finance Chairwoman Liz Krueger . a Manhattan Democrat. “That’s our model for anything controversial in the Senate. I think it’s a testament to Andrea Stewart-Cousins’ great leadership that we’re working this way.”

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Senate Majority Spokesman Mike Murphy agreed, also clarifying that any bill can be considered by the full conference at any time, regardless of what happens in the WRG. The group will only meet for about a week at the end of the session, he said.

Lawmakers told Playbook that bills sometimes make their way into the classified pool — and even die there — without the lead sponsors even knowing.

“Sometimes we receive notice that a bill is being submitted [the Working Rules group]but it is not automatic,” said Senator Julia Salazar.

Although the Focus story made the group’s existence seem sinister, most lawmakers approached by Playbook were willing, at least reluctantly, to discuss the open secret on the record.

Except for Senator James Skoufis of Orange County, that is. “I don’t have the freedom to talk about labor rules,” Skoufis said with a smile. “But I appreciate your persistence in asking.”

Skoufis is mentioned as one of the members of the WRG in the Focus story. State Senator Jamaal Bailey, who joins Heastie and is also listed as a member of the group, gave a similar response:

“I don’t want to have the conversation about the conversations or the inner workings,” he said. “I just think it’s a conversation for leadership. I think it’s important that we can move bills.” Jason Beeferman

New York now has Inflation Reduction Act funds intended for energy-efficient projects for low-income residents.

NEW YORK ROLLS OUT ENERGY ASSISTANCE: New York is the first state to use federal Inflation Reduction Act funds for energy efficiency projects for low-income residents. U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm joined Governor Kathy Hochul and Senator Chuck Schumer on Thursday to highlight the new program in New York City.

“We are making real progress, something that is tangible,” Hochul said. “We’re going to impact people’s ability to adjust, adapt and reduce their energy bills.”

The Energy Department announced last month that the state was the first to have its application approved under the $8.8 billion federal program aimed at helping homeowners reduce their energy costs and make their properties more energy efficient.

New York is now launching the first phase of its $158 million program for home electrification and appliance rebates, and will do so through the government. EmPower+ program, which serves homeowners and renters with incomes below 80 percent of their area median. Homes up to four units are eligible for the first phase, which will support the installation of air sealing, insulation, ventilation, heat pumps and other electrical upgrades. There is up to $14,000 available in rebates per household, Granholm said.

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Hochul repeatedly praised President Joe Biden for his support of the program. “This president gets the job done,” she said.

An earlier version of EmPower had limited eligibility to 60 percent of the state’s median income was criticized for excluding many low-income New York City residents.

Officials said today that three more states — Massachusetts, Michigan and Rhode Island — have applied to launch their own programs, bringing the total number of states that have signed up for at least one of the law’s funded home energy rebate programs. to 17. – Marie J. French and Kelsey Tamborrino

TRUCKS AT CONGESTION PRICES: The Trucking Association of New York sues the MTA on the implementation of congestion pricing, claiming the policy will unfairly target trucking and logistics companies because of the higher rates they will be charged.

Under the pricing plan, trucks would have to pay $24 or $36 for each trip to the traffic jam zone – depending on its size and time of day – while passenger vehicles would only have to pay $15.

“To be clear: as an organization we are not fundamentally opposed to the concept of congestion pricing,” said association president Kendra Hems. during a webinar. “However, we cannot support a plan that unfairly targets an industry that has no choice but to drive into the congestion zone.”

The lawsuit comes as drivers brace for the long-awaited policy to take effect within a month, underscoring ongoing opposition.

The association is not seeking a complete withdrawal of the plan, but is asking the MTA to “return to the drawing board” to come up with an equitable solution for all users.

Truck drivers do not have the freedom to drive into the traffic jam zone after business hours, as the MTA suggested, because they are tied to delivery schedules. To that end, the lawsuit argues that MTA officials who know about truckers’ inflexible schedules unfairly charge them higher rates.

“As any responsible company does, we deliver when our customers ask us to deliver, and that is during business hours. That won’t change now, but what will change is the higher costs to New Yorkers as a result,” Joe Fitzpatrick, vice chairman of the association’s board of directors, said in a statement. –Shawn Ness

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COVID COMMITTEE: State lawmakers and Hochul’s office have discussed creating a commission to investigate pandemic policies surrounding Covid-19 in recent days, four people familiar with the negotiations told Playbook.

A bill to form the commission has been stalled in Albany for several years. But it will come under consideration in the final days of the legislative session, as former Gov. Andrew Cuomo is scheduled to testify June 11 before a Republican-led House of Representatives subcommittee investigating pandemic-era policies.

Cuomo’s initial handling of the pandemic made him a national star. But he quickly faced criticism for his administration’s policy of requiring nursing homes not to turn away Covid-positive patients — a rule his team defended at the time as broadly consistent with federal health guidelines. The Justice Department also declined to open a civil rights investigation into the matter.

Cuomo resigned in 2021 amid multiple allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

But even though the former governor has not ruled out a possible run for mayor of New York City, supporters of the commission’s formation insist a state investigation is not intended to target him.

“I have always been emphatic that I do not view this bill as being about pointing fingers at anyone,” said former Assembly Health Chairman Richard Gottfried, who helped draft the legislation. “I think there is a need for an objective, professional analysis of the things New York did well and the things New York didn’t do well.”

The commission being considered by lawmakers would have subpoena power and be made up of public health experts appointed by top Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature and by the governor. Nick Reisman

– PAULIN PELEA: Westchester Democrat Amy Paulin got into a “prolonged, heated argument” with Assemblymember Latrice Walker during the conference. Walker worked to kill Paulin’s sex crimes bill, which was created after Harvey Weinstein’s conviction was overturned. (Spectrum News)

— DINAPOLI TALKS JOINT STATE PENSION FUND: When the final numbers are tallied, the fund will likely exceed its long-term revenue forecast. (The Capitol press room)

– Former state Sen. Jeffrey Klein takes a page from Cuomo’s playbook: Klein was accused of forcibly kissing a female employee and has since been the subject of a state ethics commission investigation. Now he claims the body does not have the constitutional authority to do so. (Times Union)

Missed this morning’s New York Playbook? read it here.

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