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The Year in Albany: Minimum wage, more scandal

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – It was a year that saw New York raise the minimum wage, legalize mixed martial arts and open its first state-regulated casino while state officials once again grappled with Albany’s long tradition of political corruption and insider dealing.

State lawmakers also marked the year by regulating daily fantasy sports, repealing a sales tax on tampons and voting to extend paid family leave to workers caring for a loved one.

Here’s a guide to the highlights of the year in state government:

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MINIMUM WAGE, PAID FAMILY LEAVE

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his fellow Democrats scored a big victory when they pushed through a series of minimum wage increases from $ 9 to $ 15 over several years.

The Legislature also passed a paid family leave program which will allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child or sick loved one. The benefit, which will be phased in beginning in 2018, will be funded by worker payroll contributions.

“This is history in the making,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said when the program was approved. She estimated that 6.4 million workers in the state are currently without an employee-sponsored paid family leave benefit.

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TAMPON TAX, SUNDAY BRUNCH

Several other laws passed in 2016 will impact daily life for many New Yorkers.

Lawmakers approved a plan to address heroin addiction by expanding recovery services, requiring insurers to cover more treatment and limiting new opioid drug prescriptions to seven days.

New Yorkers will save an estimated $ 10 million a year now that the state has repealed a tax on tampons and other feminine hygiene products that many female lawmakers argued was sexist and unfair.

Another initiative will expand access to breast cancer screening.

Finally, the so-called “brunch bill” allows restaurants and bars to begin serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sundays. But if you live upstate and want to take an Uber home from brunch, you’re out of luck: despite an aggressive campaign from the app-based ride-hailing company, lawmakers again balked at allowing Uber to expand outside of the New York City area.

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CORRUPTION, AGAIN

Cuomo’s administration was rocked by a federal investigation into alleged extortion and bribery connected to some of his most prized economic development initiatives.

Among those ensnared: Joe Percoco, a former aide so close to Cuomo and his family that the governor likened him to a brother, as well as SUNY Polytechnic Institute President Alain Kaloyeros, who before he resigned led many of Cuomo’s efforts to attract high-tech jobs.

Federal authorities accuse Percoco of soliciting bribes from companies hoping to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts. Kaloyeros is alleged to have manipulated the bidding process to ensure certain companies won lucrative state contracts. Executives at two politically connected development firms were also charged.

Cuomo has said he was shocked and disappointed by the charges. All of those charged have pleaded not guilty. Percoco was an especially close aide, whose service to the Cuomo family dates back to his years working for Cuomo’s father, the late Gov. Mario Cuomo.

“I hold my administration to the highest level of integrity,” Cuomo said following Percoco’s arrest in September. “I have zero tolerance for abuse of the public trust from anyone. If anything, a friend should be held to an even higher standard.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s earlier investigations into Albany corruption led to the convictions of former Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver and ex-Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos in 2015.

Meanwhile, efforts to address Albany’s wicked ways fell flat again, with lawmakers passing only modest ethics reforms. More than 30 lawmakers have left office facing criminal or ethical allegations since 2000.

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GAMES, SPORTS AND GAMBLING

Lawmakers enacted regulations allowing daily fantasy sports operators to resume operations in the state following a legal fight with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

FanDuel and DraftKings briefly halted operations in New York earlier this year after Schneiderman said their business amounted to illegal gambling.

The state also lifted its longtime prohibition on professional mixed-martial arts after years of effort by MMA supporters. Promoters wasted little time, organizing a high-profile event at Madison Square Garden only a few months after the ban was lifted.

“It should have been legal in New York 15 years ago,” said Scott Coker, president of promoter Bellator MMA.

The first of four state-regulated casinos planned for upstate opened in December in the state’s Southern Tier. Local officials say they hope Tioga Downs, located outside of Binghamton, leads to jobs and greater tourism in a region that’s long struggled economically.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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