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Government Affairs Albany Update
June 10, 2011

There are six days left on the “official” legislative agenda, but we expect the legislature to go at least a day or two past the June 20th scheduled adjournment date.

This week, Governor Cuomo has introduced several major new proposals, including new ethics legislation (see item below), which has the support of both the Senate and Assembly; legislation creating a new Tier VI public retirement plan; and a new version of the SUNY 2020 legislation. These issues, along with final action on a property tax cap and extension of rent control, will dominate the next two weeks of session.

The following provides a discussion of the new ethics legislation, as well as a handful of other issues that we will be working on for the end of session.

New Ethics Legislation

The Administration has released their draft “public integrity reform act,” available online here. As of this writing, it has yet to be introduced in either house, but it is expected that both houses will move this bill early next week.

As has been widely reported, this bill creates a new “joint commission on public ethics” with responsibility for investigating violations of the Public Officers Law and Lobbying Act. The legislation also contains several provisions of direct impact or particular interest to lobbyists and clients required to register and or report under the Lobbying Act, including a new provision that would require trade associations and similar organizations to disclose major members or contributors. The following provides an overview of such provisions.

Part A (page 3)

  • For services provided on or after 7/1/2012, a public official subject to financial disclosure requirements that provides services - or works for a partnership or corporation that provides services - related to a legislative bill or resolution, a state contract of $50,000 or more, a state grant of $25,000 or more, a legislative grant, or a non-ministerial case, proceeding or application before a state agency, must include in their disclosure forms those customers to whom the public official personally provided such services, or who the public official referred to the firm, where the official or their firm earned fees in excess of $10,000 during the financial disclosure reporting period (see page 22). “Services” excludes medical, dental, mental health, residential real estate brokering and insurance brokering services, and legal representation related to investigations and prosecutions, bankruptcy, and domestic relations.
  • Requires a vote of at least 8 commission members to commence a “substantial basis” investigation against a lobbyist; upon such vote, the individual subject to the investigation will receive a notice from the commissioner of the decision and notice of the right to a hearing before the commission within 30 days of the written notice  (see page 59). If upon investigation, the commission finds a substantial basis to conclude that a lobbyist has violated the Lobbying Act, is will issue a “substantial basis investigation report” containing its finding of facts and conclusions of law to the lobbyist, and shall make the report public within 45 days of issuance (see page 65).
  • Requires all registered lobbyists to complete a Commission provided on-line ethics training course at least once in any three year period in which the lobbyist is registered (see page 69).
  • Defines “reportable business relationship” as one where a public official - or an entity where a public official is a proprietor, partner, director, officer, manager or owner of ten percent or more of an entities stock (or one percent or more of the stock of a business whose stock is traded on an established exchange) - is paid more than $1,000 annually by a lobbyist or a lobbyist’s client for goods, services or anything else of value; requires client semi-annual reports to identify state elected officials and officers and legislative members and employees with whom the client has a reportable business relationship, a description of such transactions, and the compensation paid and/or to be paid. (see page 70).

Part B (page 93)

  • “Any lobbyist…whose lobbying activity is performed on its on behalf and not pursuant to retention by a client” [e.g., a charity or trade association who registers the organization as its lobbyist], and who in any twelve month period has at least $50,000 in reportable lobbying expenses and whose lobbying expenses are at least three percent of their total expenditures, is required, in their bimonthly lobbyist reports and semi-annual client reports, to disclose each source of lobbying funds over $5,000 and the amount of funding received from each.
    • Disclosure is not required if the commission determines it “may cause harm, threats, harassment or reprisals” to the source.
    • State-registered charitable organizations that are 501(c)(3) exempt under the IRC are exempt from this disclosure requirement.
    • State-registered charitable organizations that are 501(c)(4) exempt under the IRC may be exempt from this disclosure requirement if the commission determines that there is a “substantial likelihood” that disclosure would lead to harm, threats, harassment or reprisals to a funding source.

Part D (page 105)

  • Expands the Lobbying Act’s definition of lobbying to include efforts related to the “introduction or intended introduction of legislation or resolution.”
  • For purposes of the gift exemption for “widely attended” events, redefines widely attended to mean attendance by at least twenty-five persons who are not from the governmental entity the public official serves, and which is either related to thee official’s duties or responsibilities or allows the official to perform a ceremonial function. It defines “duties or responsibilities” as including but not limited to attending an event where a speaker or attendee addresses an issue of public interest, and where such action is a “significant activity at such event,” or for an elected official and their staff, where more than half of the event attendees are from the county, district or jurisdiction from which the official was elected.
  • While, for purpose of the ban of gifts to public officials by lobbyists and clients, the term gift is still defined as anything “of more than a nominal value,” the legislation provides a stand alone gift exemption for “food or beverage valued at fifteen dollars or less.”

Part E (page 109)

  • Directs the State Board of Elections to adopt regulations requiring entities to disclose independent expenditures for advocacy that “expressly identifies a political candidate or ballot proposal.”
  • Adopts new penalties for repeat violations of Election Law filing requirements, and for persons who accept an illegal contribution on behalf of a candidate or political committee.

    Staff contact: ken.pokalsky@bcnys.org

Health Insurance Exchanges

States opting to create their own health insurance exchange – and access federal funds to implement the exchange -- need to enact legislation this year which sets out the governance model for their exchange this year.  Serious negotiations among the New York State legislature and the Cuomo Administration were initiated in April, with far ranging discussions on merging markets, having the exchange act as an active purchaser of products, rate setting authority within the exchange, the role of brokers/agents/chambers of commerce, and exchange governance.  One area of common agreement is on governance; New York is likely to create its exchange as an independent public authority. The power of that authority, however, remains under intense negotiations. The Business Council believes, and will be advocating for, an approach that does not move legitimate public policy decisions from the Legislature and Executive to the board of a newly created Health Insurance Exchange.  The Senate introduced legislation this week, S.5652, that takes a minimalist approach which the Business Council believes is prudent given the limited time left in the session and our primary objective to “do no harm” in enacting a statute which may have far reaching unintended consequences.   
Staff Contact:  Lev Gingsburg

Autism Insurance Coverage Mandate

The Senate Finance Committee will consider S.4005-A (Fuschillo), the Autism Coverage Mandate bill next week. The Assembly “same as”, A.6305-A, has not been put on a committee agenda as of this writing. Amended earlier this week to include more structured language around the types of services to be provided - an improvement over the original bill - this new version still contains open ended service thresholds, does not require that service provision reflect evidence-based medicine, contains no age limitations on the provision of certain types of services and lacks meaningful coordination of service and expenditure with school-based services. Employers are not insensitive to the emotional issues surrounding the care and treatment for individuals with autism; however, this bill however reflects an unfunded mandate whose cost will be borne solely by those with coverage in the commercial market and will fall particularly hard on those in the small group market. Last year, Governor Paterson vetoed a less expansive autism coverage mandate bill which was estimated to have a cost of $70 million just for the public employee health insurance plans; this bill remains too far reaching and costly and The Business Council will continue to oppose the bill.
Staff Contact:  Lev Gingsburg

WIGS

“New Yorkers for Economic Growth,” a broad coalition of business interests including The Business Council, is again pushing for passage of legislation allowing for the sale of wine in grocery stores. Legislation is again under consideration  -  S.5358 (O’Mara)/A.7659 (Morelle) that would allow for the sale of wine in grocery stores, and provides current liquor store owners significant new flexibility in how they operate. In addition to providing a new level of convenience for consumers, this legislation will generate significant additional revenues for the state and support the creation of thousands of new jobs at wineries, vineyards, grocery stores and suppliers across New York State.   We urge members to join us in our support for S.5358/A.7659. Thirty-five other states do this; why not New York?  To let your elected official know that you stand with the majority of New Yorkers who support allowing adults to buy wine in grocery stores, please click here. 

Hotel sexual harassment training

On the heels of two recent alleged sexual assaults of hotel employees by guests in two New York City hotels, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal and Senator Betty Little have introduced A.8195/S.5606 which would require hotel and motel employers to: provide information on sexual harassment to all new hires; provide interactive sexual harassment training to all new hires within two months of their start date and once a year after than; compile and issue an annual certification report to the state labor department that the training was completed; post an “employee bill of rights” devised by the state labor department; and design and implement a “comprehensive and confidential incident reporting system.”  The Business Council is opposing this bill because of its unnecessarily burdensome compliance requirement, and also because this mandate could easily be extended to other business sectors.