In the latest from Albany and Washington … Rep. Tom Reed isn’t a fan of the President’s national emergency declaration to build the wall. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has reservations about statewide legalization of recreational marijuana. State Sen. Tom O’Mara rails against Governor Cuomo’s plan to cut municipal funding.
Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)
Congress avoided another lapse in federal funding last week, passing a bipartisan, bicameral-drafted bill. Rep. Tom Reed joined 86 other Republicans in voting for the plan which allocates $1.7 billion toward constructing physical barriers, like a wall, on the southern border.
The celebration didn’t last long before President Trump announced he would declare a national emergency in order to rearrange funding to shift more dollars toward the wall. The idea had been floated since the initial shutdown, causing some Republicans to distance from Trump, including Reed.
“I’ve encouraged the President not to go down this path,” Reed told WBEN earlier this week.
Congress is on break this week, but when they return next week, Democrats may bring forward a bill revoking the President’s national emergency declaration. It’s not yet clear how Reed would hypothetically vote on such a bill.
The House did, however, deliver a blow to the Trump administration last week, disapproving 240-188, the U.S.’s support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. Reed voted against the measure.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (125th Assembly District)
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton signed on as a cosponsor to a bill that would tax plastic bags across the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been championing the measure, which would charge consumers 10 cents per bag as a way to push reusable receptacles.
Also introduced in the Assembly this week is a bill, cosponsored by Lifton, that would allow college students to volunteer as poll workers and election inspectors in the districts where their colleges are located. The bill seeks to combat low levels of interest in working the polls.
Lifton hosted two town hall events last week where, on Friday, she fielded questions in Ithaca on topics including early voting, the Beechtree nursing home, property tax caps, and red flag laws. A lengthy discussion broke out regarding the legislature’s likelihood of legalizing marijuana beyond medicinal use. While she has signed onto the bill which would legalize recreational marijuana, Lifton has her reservations and wants to proceed carefully.
“So, a lot of discussion back and forth on it. I’ve met with a lot of people. You know, I’m taking it very seriously. I’m not – I haven’t jumped in,” she said. “I’ve said we need to look close, carefully at this and make sure that we’re not doing something that’s going to harm young people.”
She added that she believes the term “recreational marijuana” sends the wrong message about the drug, “We don’t call it ‘recreational alcohol,’” she said.
Despite her concerns, Lifton is a cosponsor on the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act which would decriminalize and set up a framework to produce, distribute and tax marijuana in the state. She believes existing state and federal laws have had a profound negative impact on criminal justice.
“They swept thousands of New Yorkers into the criminal justice system for non-violent offenses, blocking access to employment, educational loans, housing, voting, and other important services,” she writes in a response letter to constituents who inquire about her views on the topic.
Gov. Cuomo prioritized expanding cannabis legalization earlier this year as part of his proposed criminal justice reforms, but concerns by legislators over the rollout of such an initiative have slowed his momentum on the issue in recent weeks.
State Senator Tom O’Mara (58th N.Y. Senate District)
Last week, State Senator Tom O’Mara railed against a proposal by Gov. Cuomo to cut funding to local cities, towns and villages in his original executive budget. On Friday, the Governor released an amendment to his original plan which charges counties with distributing funds to their respective lower-level governments. Cuomo’s budget suggests counties will make up this revenue from new locally collected internet sales taxes.
“This is government out of touch and out of control,” O’Mara said about the measure. “Governor Cuomo once again ignores the burden already facing upstate local property taxpayers and shirks another state responsibility.”
Related: State funds for towns and villages at risk in Gov. Cuomo’s proposed budget
O’Mara also signed onto a petition opposing a Democratic-led effort to increase the pay for working prisoners.
“It’s an unbelievable proposal, in my opinion,” O’Mara noted in a statement. “Especially with the state facing a budget deficit and when New York is already failing to live up to its promise to increase pay for hard-working, law-abiding workers like our direct service providers who care for our citizens with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Be fair to direct care before coddling criminals with a pay increase.”
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was one of five Democrats and 11 Republicans who voted against the conference report to fund the government last week.
Gillibrand also voted against the confirmation of William Barr, President Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. The nomination was however confirmed 55-44.
Gillibrand missed a vote last week on a non-major procedural measure. It’s unclear what caused her to be marked non-voting, but she made a subsequent vote 36 minutes later. She missed two other votes earlier in the year while she was campaigning for President in Iowa.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer
Sen. Chuck Schumer joined most Senate Democrats in voting against the nomination of William Barr for Attorney General.
Schumer split from Gillibrand voting in favor of the spending bill. However, he did take to the Senate floor afterward to challenge President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build the border wall.
“Declaring a national emergency would be a lawless act, a gross abuse of the power of the presidency,” Schumer said.
New York’s waterways were brought up in a piece of legislation that passed on the Senate floor 87-7 last week. A part of the National Resources Management Act provides $336 million towards grants funding conservation and recreation initiatives along New York’s waterways.
Read previous editions of Capitol Watch here.
Clarification: A previous version of this article noted that Assemblywoman Lifton “isn’t prepared to back a full rollout of recreational marijuana.” The article has since added clarification that Lifton was slow to come to a decision and still has reservations about the idea but does indeed support the legalization and of marijuana.