WXXI Capitol Bureau Report

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Updated: 11 min 31 sec ago

Hochul pledges to recuse herself from state matters involving husband's firm

4 hours 18 min ago
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a series of steps to improve transparency in state government that overturn many of the policies practiced by her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Cuomo, who resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal, was criticized for not following the spirit of the state’s Freedom of Information Laws, which require state officials and agencies to hand over documents requested by the public and the media. Hochul said FOIL requests will no longer have to be vetted by the governor’s office. That practice led to long delays and denials of the requests, and will instead be carried out expeditiously by state agencies. The governor -- whose husband, William Hochul, is executive vice president and general counsel for hospitality company Delaware North, which lobbies the Legislature -- also issued new rules for recusals by top state officials to avoid any potential conflicts of interest. Delaware North spent more than $360,000 lobbying the Legislature in
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Hochul enacts new anti-harassment policies for state workforce

Mon, 10/25/2021 - 4:57pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that she’s enacting several anti-harassment and anti-discrimination measures in state government, with a particular focus on the governor’s office. Hochul took office just over two months ago, after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in a sexual harassment scandal. A report by the state attorney general found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women, many of them junior employees in his office. He was accused of overseeing an executive chamber rife with bullying and intimidation. The report also found that Cuomo and some of his former top aides tried to retaliate against one of his accusers when she came forward to complain. Hochul, who promised that she would end what was described as a toxic workplace, sent a video message to all state employees outlining the changes she’s making. “First, and it should go without saying, we will treat one another with respect,” Hochul said in the video. “The workplace is no place for bullying or intimidation, sexual
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Statewide Proposition Two would guarantee right to clean air and water

Fri, 10/22/2021 - 2:45pm
A proposition on this fall’s ballot would give all New Yorkers a constitutional right to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Environmental groups say voters should say yes to the measure, while some business leaders in the state say it could have unintended consequences. Peter Iwanowicz with Environmental Advocates said Proposition Two amends the state’s constitution to give New Yorkers a guaranteed right to clean air and water. “(It’s) adding 15 simple words to our constitution,” Iwanowicz said. The proposal would add a clause to Article 1 of the New York Constitution to “establish the right of each person to clean air and water and a healthful environment.” “Most people when you talk to them think we already have this right, and as humans, we do,” he said. “But legally, in the eyes of New York state, we don’t.” Iwanowicz said the state’s constitution already grants the rights to free speech and assembly, and even the right to gamble on games of chance like bingo. He urged a yes
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New Yorkers will decide on 5 statewide ballot propositions

Thu, 10/21/2021 - 5:51pm
When New Yorkers begin early voting on Saturday, their ballots will contain an unusually high number of propositions on issues from expanding voting access to whether everyone in the state should be guaranteed the right to clean air and water. There are five statewide proposals, as well as many local issues, to be decided. Since many of them aren’t exactly clearly written, Jennifer Wilson with the League of Women Voters advised voters to do some research before going to the polls. “We definitely recommend for this election that voters do their homework,” Wilson said. “Go to the poll (web) site, whether you are going to vote early or on Election Day. Know what these proposals are.” The League has a special site, VOTE411.ORG , that explains each proposition and offers the pros and cons of each without taking sides. The state Board of Elections also has information. Wilson walked me through the five proposals, beginning with the first one, which would change New York’s redistricting
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Cuomo continues to fight AG report that found he sexually harassed 11 women

Wed, 10/20/2021 - 3:45pm
Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned from office nearly two months ago, is continuing to fight an August report by state Attorney General Tish James that found he had sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo’s lawyer, Rita Glavin, is demanding an independent review of the report, which she said destroyed the former governor’s reputation. Glavin is accusing James of political bias against Cuomo. She said James interfered with the sexual harassment inquiry carried out by her office and violated the terms of the referral that Cuomo gave to James last spring to conduct the probe. She argued that the investigation should have been carried out solely by the two independent investigators chosen by the attorney general. Glavin cited remarks that James gave during a speech in late September to Democrats in the Hudson Valley, where the attorney general described how she had personally spoken to the women that the report found that Cuomo sexually harassed. She said James, who has not ruled out a run
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Hochul calls Democratic Party Chair Jacobs' remarks 'disturbing' but doesn't call for his exit

Tue, 10/19/2021 - 2:26pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul condemned state Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs' remarks comparing an African American mayoral candidate in Buffalo to a Ku Klux Klan leader. But the Democratic governor stopped short of calling for Jacobs' resignation, saying for now, she is satisfied with his apology. Jacobs, in an interview with Spectrum News , made an analogy between Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton and former KKK leader David Duke. It happened after he was asked whether he would endorse Walton over four-term incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who lost the June primary to Walton. Brown and Walton are both African American. Jacobs answered that, as party chair, he does not feel he has to endorse Walton, who also identifies as a socialist. He compared the situation to a party chair not endorsing David Duke, if Duke were to hypothetically win a primary in a Democratic mayoral race in a city in New York. Jacobs said he did not consider Walton to “be in the same category” as the KKK leader.
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State settlement ends long-running court fight on school funding

Thu, 10/14/2021 - 1:59pm
Gov. Kathy Hochul says the state has ended its opposition to a 2006 ruling from New York's highest court that required billions more to be allocated each year to schools to address inequities in the education system. The legal settlement means that New York will fully abide by the court order. The New York Court of Appeals ordered that the state pay the additional money to the poorest schools 15 years ago, but the decision was never fully carried out by lawmakers. The Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which won the original case, filed suit again in 2014, along with the state school boards association, the PTA, and individual parents from New York City and Schenectady, to try to get the governor and Legislature to actually carry out the court order and allocate the funding. The administration of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been fighting the lawsuit. Now, Hochul -- who became governor after Cuomo resigned in a sexual harassment scandal -- said she’s reached an agreement to settle the case,
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Hochul apologizes to families of nursing home residents who died of COVID-19

Wed, 10/13/2021 - 1:24pm
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday that she has apologized to family members of nursing home residents who died at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York. The governor, in a weekly briefing on the state’s management of the coronavirus, also drew attention to another infectious disease -- the flu -- which she says may also pose a serious health threat this year. Hochul, who was the first state elected official to publicly get the COVID-19 vaccine, received her annual flu shot on Wednesday before the cameras. “I made sure I wore the mask so you wouldn’t see whether I winced or not,” Hochul joked. The state is running a public service announcement urging New Yorkers to get the flu vaccine. Last year’s flu season was very light, as the pandemic placed restrictions on social interactions, but the governor said that might not be the case this year, and more people could get sick. Hochul also revealed details of a private meeting she held Tuesday with Assembly Aging Committee Chair Ron
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Poll finds Hochul is 'front-runner' in governor's race

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 3:18pm
A new Marist College poll finds that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul -- who’s been in office for less than two months after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned in disgrace -- is the front-runner for election next year. Hochul, who was virtually unknown to New Yorkers before she took over from Cuomo on Aug. 24, has a 55% approval rating, according to the poll. Lee Miringoff, director of polling, said 49% believe the new governor is doing a good job in office. “It’s fair to say that she is entering an election season as the early front-runner,” Miringoff said. "With others, including former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, as underdogs.” Cuomo has not ruled out trying to seek his old job back. He has $18 million in a campaign war chest. And he and his attorneys continue to defend the former governor against state Attorney General Tish James’ report that found he sexually harassed 11 women. Cuomo’s lawyers are also asking federal prosecutors to drop a probe into whether he and his top aides hid nursing home
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Court rules unvaccinated hospital workers can continue for now to claim religious exemption

Tue, 10/12/2021 - 11:06am
New York state will have to temporarily continue to allow religious exemptions for health care workers who say their faith prevents them from getting the COVID-19 vaccine. A federal court ruling extends the moratorium on that portion of Gov. Kathy Hochul’s vaccine mandate for hospital workers until a full court proceeding can be held. The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by 17 health care workers. They say they should not have to obey Hochul’s order that all hospital workers were to be vaccinated by Sept. 27 because their religion prevents them from getting the shot. The ruling, by U.S. District Judge David Hurd, who is based in Utica, says the health care workers who sued have raised a legitimate question of whether the state’s requirement conflicts with their federally protected right to seek religious accommodation from their employers. Hochul has said she does not believe a religious exemption is a valid reason to not get the shot. The court decision keeps the rest of
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Hochul, in first 45 days in office, has dealt with big challenges facing state

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 4:20pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul was thrust into the state and national spotlight this summer when she replaced former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in disgrace over a sexual harassment scandal. At the time, Hochul asked the public to give her 45 days to make the transition and start implementing key changes. Here's a look at what she's done in that time. Hochul, a 63-year-old Buffalo native and the granddaughter or Irish immigrants, was a top aide to the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and has held several elected offices, including Erie County clerk, congresswoman and lieutenant governor. She was largely unknown to New Yorkers before Aug. 10, when Cuomo announced he was leaving office in two weeks. Hochul hit the ground running. She assured New Yorkers that she would end the scandals plaguing the former governor’s administration, including an investigation into an alleged cover-up by Cuomo and his top aides of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, a state attorney general
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Saying it's personal, Hochul signs anti-opioid addiction bills into law

Thu, 10/07/2021 - 12:30pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday signed a package of bills into law dealing with the opioid addiction crisis, saying the issue is a personal one for her family. Hochul shared the story of her nephew, Michael, who was prescribed an opiate-based painkiller after he cut himself on a meat slicer while working part time at a deli as a teen. He became addicted and sought drugs on the street, became homeless and went to prison. Hochul said her nephew later began to turn his life around, becoming a sports coach and an addiction counselor. But he slipped up and died after overdosing on fentanyl. “His mother found him with the needles in his arms,” said Hochul. She said Michael’s wake drew 500 people, many of whom were themselves struggling with recovery. “How devastated they were when they saw how someone who had believed in their recovery did not survive themselves,” she said. The new laws will decriminalize the sale and possession of a syringe, establish a statewide directory for the
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JCOPE votes to investigate itself over Cuomo book deal approval

Tue, 10/05/2021 - 2:23pm
The state ethics panel voted Tuesday to open an independent investigation of how the panel approved a $5 million book deal for former Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The deal has been the subject of a probe by the state’s attorney general as well as federal investigators. The Joint Commission on Public Ethics, or JCOPE, called a special meeting to reexamine the panel’s own decision, made in the summer of 2020, to allow Cuomo to write a memoir about his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. The former governor was paid $5 million for the book, titled “American Crisis: Leadership Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic,” after the commission’s top staff approved Cuomo’s request to receive the outside income. Cuomo never submitted the book contract to the panel, and the full commission never voted to approve the arrangement. Several commissioners complained at the time that they were shut out of the decisions. The commission’s staff said the former governor could not rely on state employees or other
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Hochul increasingly likely to face a primary challenge

Fri, 10/01/2021 - 1:20pm
It’s increasingly likely that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul will face challenges in the June 2022 Democratic primary when she runs for election to the seat next year. Potential opponents include the state’s attorney general and New York City’s public advocate. Attorney General Tish James was considered a potential challenger to former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had intended to seek a fourth term in office. But then, two reports by the attorney general – one on allegations of a cover-up of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic, and another on accusations of sexual harassment from 11 women -- led to Cuomo’s resignation. James spoke Wednesday to a New York City-based business group, Association for a Better New York, where she noted that the previous speaker had been Eric Adams, who won the Democratic primary in New York City’s mayoral race in June. “And here I am, Letitia James, and, so who knows,” James said to laughter from the audience. “Don’t read anything into that,” she added.
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Hochul prepares for fallout from vaccine mandate court challenges

Thu, 09/30/2021 - 1:07pm
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for hospital workers has not caused any major crises in the first three days of the requirement, but she says there are still staffing shortages and ongoing court action that create uncertainty. Hochul said 92% of all hospital workers in the state have received at least one dose of the vaccine. She said vaccination rates for nursing home staff and home health care workers are also rising in anticipation of an Oct. 7 mandate that those workers also get vaccinated or lose their jobs. Despite that, the governor estimates that hundreds of hospital workers have been laid off or suspended for refusing the vaccine. The state does not keep those numbers. Some hospitals have postponed elective surgeries or temporarily closed down satellite offices. Hochul added that the outcome of a court case challenging the state’s rule that disallows religious exemptions could cause deeper staffing shortages. Some health care facilities have
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Hochul appoints new health commissioner, copes with vaccine mandate staffing shortages

Wed, 09/29/2021 - 4:52pm
Gov. Kathy Hochul has named former New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett to lead the state’s health department. The announcement comes less than a week after current Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, the controversial appointee of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he would resign as soon as a replacement can be found. Bassett, a 30-year veteran in health care policy making, will take over on Dec. 1. She is currently at Harvard University, managing departments in the School of Public Health and the Center for Health and Human Rights. She served as New York City’s health commissioner from 2014 until 2018. There, she oversaw the city’s response to the Ebola epidemic and the Zika virus, and developed neighborhood health centers. Bassett, an African American, also spoke up in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. She left for Harvard during a controversy over the city’s failure to properly inspect lead paint in public housing. Her appointment was heralded by the County Health
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Hochul to sign emergency order to ease hospital staffing shortages due to vaccine mandate

Mon, 09/27/2021 - 12:23pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday that she’ll sign an emergency order to call in the National Guard and import health care workers from other states and countries to ease anticipated staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes due to a midnight COVID-19 vaccination deadline. In New York, 84% of health care workers are vaccinated for COVID-19. If the remaining 16% don’t comply with the mandate by midnight, existing staffing shortages are expected to get worse. Some hospitals are already postponing elective surgeries. Hochul said she’s taking immediate action to respond. “I will be signing an executive order to give me the emergency powers necessary to address these shortages where they occur,” Hochul said during an appearance in the Bronx. The order will waive some existing regulations and allow licensed health care professionals in other states and countries, as well as retired workers and recent graduates, to practice in New York. Visa requests will be expedited to help
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Hochul tells business leaders she'll intensify economic development

Fri, 09/24/2021 - 12:28pm
In her first speech before the state’s business leaders, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday that she will focus on economic development and helping workers get better access to child care as the economy struggles to regain pre-pandemic levels. Hochul, speaking at the annual meeting of the state’s Business Council on Lake George, said she will intensify efforts to empower the Regional Economic Development Councils, begun by her predecessor, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal. But she told the business leaders that she’s open to altering the program. “I don’t feel constrained that that’s the model we have to stay with,” Hochul said. “I don’t want to dictate from Albany.” Later, speaking to reporters, the governor said she wanted to intensify the focus on reviving downtown areas in struggling cities. Hochul touched on her plans to increase the amount of a planned 2022 environmental bond act to $4 billion, saying fighting climate change
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Hochul says New York's controversial health commissioner is out

Thu, 09/23/2021 - 12:12pm
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday that embattled state health commissioner Howard Zucker is out. Zucker, who became embroiled in a controversy over the true number of nursing home deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, submitted his resignation on Thursday. Meanwhile, Hochul is also bracing for a Monday vaccination deadline for the state’s health care workers amid worries over intensifying staffing shortages at hospital and nursing homes. Zucker oversaw health department policy in the spring of 2020, when a controversial directive issued on March 23 required nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and were still infected with the virus. The rule was later rescinded, but critics say it led to unnecessary deaths at the homes. Zucker insisted that infected nursing home visitors and staff were responsible for the deaths. In January, state Attorney General Tish James found that Zucker and top aides to Cuomo
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Comptroller seeks alternatives to pay down unemployment fund deficit

Wed, 09/22/2021 - 5:44pm
New York’s unemployment insurance fund, which the state Labor Department says has paid out over $100 billion in benefits to millions of New Yorkers during the COVID-19 pandemic, is now running a deficit. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is now proposing some ways to make the fund -- which owes the federal government $9 billion -- solvent. The state’s private businesses are responsible for keeping the unemployment insurance fund in balance. States are allowed to borrow from the federal government when the fund runs a deficit. Employers have to provide the additional money to pay off the loan. DiNapoli said the pandemic caused an unprecedented number of temporary and permanent job losses, with over 4.7 million New Yorkers collecting benefits. In January 2020, before the pandemic hit, the fund had a $2.65 billion surplus and paid an average of $531 million in benefits each quarter. That rose to $6.5 billion in the second quarter of 2020. “That’s an increase of over 1,000%,” DiNapoli said.
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