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Republicans rip NY's top court picks

3 weeks ago 19



With help from Shawn Ness

DRINKS ON US — Come celebrate the end of session with POLITICO. We’re hosting a happy hour on Wednesday, May 29, at the Albany War Room Tavern. Join fellow New York insiders for drinks and hors d'oeuvres, meet our editorial team and learn more about our coverage of politics, policy and power in Albany. You can RSVP here.

New from New York

Happening now:

  • Republicans are targeting the makeup of the state’s highest court after its Harvey Weinstein decision.
  • Senate Democrats are passing a package of bills today around the safety standards for lithium-ion batteries.
  • The City Council said there is more money to restore budget cuts.
  • A new bill would take further steps to cut down on lead paint in homes.
State Republicans said the overturning of Harvey Weinstein's conviction was indirectly caused by Democrats who opposed Gov. Kathy Hochul's initial pick for top judge last year.

COURT FIGHT: Gov. Kathy Hochul was embarrassed last year as her nomination to appoint Judge Hector LaSalle as the state’s chief judge was rejected by the Democratic-controlled state Senate.

Republicans are still capitalizing on the spectacle, and they’re blaming the governor and Democrats for indirectly giving convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein a second chance in New York’s courts.

“Without question,” Weinstein’s case wouldn’t have been overturned if Hochul’s nomination for chief judge played out differently, Long Island Senate Republican Anthony Palumbo said today.

His GOP colleague, state Sen. Steven Rhoads, agreed: “Instead of letting the evidence and the facts lead the court in a particular direction, you now literally have a court and a chief judge that has decided in advance how he wants the case to come out.”

The two were joined by colleagues on the second floor of the Capitol, where they argued the overturning of Weinstein’s conviction was “courtesy of State Senate Democrats.”

Republicans like Rhoads are arguing that Senate Democrats — after rejecting LaSalle as Hochul’s more moderate pick for top judge — have forced the court into a perilously partisan direction.

They claim the Weinstein ruling is part and parcel with the left’s approach to criminal justice: a soft on crime position that frees criminals from accountability. Democrats say that’s rich.

“The Republicans have opposed the Child Victims Act and the Adult Survivors Act for decades in Albany,” Democratic state Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who heads the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said.

“So it is the height of hypocrisy that they're now calling for sexual predators to be held accountable when they missed the opportunity during my entire tenure here in the minority and years previous to allow survivors to seek justice.”

There is a reason for Republicans’ angst.

Chief Judge Rowan Wilson and the court’s majority sided with Democrats in ruling in favor of new congressional maps this year, providing Democrats with a slight boost in some key House races this year. Republicans charged that the focus on redistricting left the court too liberal and a danger to New Yorkers.

“It is more important to the Democratic majorities to have a favorable decision at the Court of Appeals on the redistricting case — which is what this was all about — and we'll deal with the sexual violence, the sexual abuse, being soft on crime, the other issues that we've seen coming out of court of appeals now,” Rhoads said.

The argument is being raised as the issue of court packing takes hold nationally, with Biden dodging Democrats who continue to press him to expand the number of justices on the nation’s highest court and fill those spots with left-leaning judges.

Democrats control the state Legislature, and thus all but one of the seven-member court is a Democrat, the exception being Michael Garcia, who was appointed by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“The Court of Appeals has been stacked with political henchmen of the governor and Senate Democrats who have no issue letting monsters back into our communities,” Minority Leader Rob Ortt said in a statement.

The GOP uproar also comes during a month when New York’s court system has doled out a trio of disappointing rulings for many Democrats.

The first 10 days of May saw the Equal Rights Amendment blocked from the November ballot, a ruling against expediting absentee ballot tallying and a decision that New York’s ethics enforcement commission is unconstitutional (a big win for Cuomo).

Still, Weinstein won’t be set free. He was also convicted by a California jury in 2022 of raping a woman at a hotel in Beverly Hills in a separate case.

The GOP press conference today also occurred at the same time Democrats saw a win in the Court of Appeals. The judges ruled today that companies in the state will still be required to provide medically necessary abortions in health insurance plans. Jason Beeferman

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Senate Democrats are passing a collection of bills aimed at increasing safety standards for lithium-ion batteries.

BATTERY BIOPSY: Senate Democrats are passing a nine-bill package today aimed at increasing safety standards for lithium-ion batteries.

Many of the bills aim to clearly label devices that use the batteries like electric bikes or scooters, others aim to study the effects of the fires and measures to prevent them. It’s unclear whether they will also pass in the Assembly.

“Our priority is the safety and well-being of all New Yorkers. This legislation is a significant step forward in addressing the dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries and ensuring our communities are better protected,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in a statement.

One of the bills aims to not regulate the batteries, but the devices that use them. The “E–bike Operations Notice Act” would require that retailers put notices on the e-bikes that state they can’t be used on sidewalks or highways with a posted speed limit 30 miles per hour or faster.

“The dangers posed by lithium-ion batteries have gone unchecked long enough and have led to too many fires across New York City and in the communities I represent,” state Sen. Iwen Chu, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “I know many rely on E-bikes to commute and perform their jobs, and this legislation prioritizes the well-being of both riders and residents alike.” — Shawn Ness

CAMPING SEASON: As camping weather approaches, Gov. Kathy Hochul noted that the state budget includes $53 million to improve public safety at state parks and campgrounds.

The money will be used to improve fencing and the installation of security cameras and license plate recognition systems.

“The safety of New Yorkers is my number one priority. Through this safety education campaign and critical security enhancements, we will help prevent incidents from occurring and ensure we are prepared to respond to any emergency situation,” Hochul said in a statement.

The money will also be used to establish a “Junior Ranger” safety program to remind kids of three core rules of safety: using a buddy system, telling parents of exploration plans and talking to park rangers if necessary.

Park rangers will also receive additional training on visitor engagement and missing persons protocols as part of the extra money.

Extensive research has gone into the projects, she said: The state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation analyzed attendance data, service data and site conditions at parks across the state to decide how best to spend the money. — Shawn Ness

The City Council estimates there will be have enough cash to reverse unpopular budget cuts proposed by Mayor Eric Adams.

CASH CUSHION: The City Council is again projecting the city will have enough money to roll back unpopular budget cuts mandated by Mayor Eric Adams.

In a new budget analysis today, the body estimates $1.1 billion in additional revenue will flow into city coffers between the current fiscal year and the one beginning July 1, compared to predictions from the Adams administration.

The Council’s overall revenue forecast has remained largely the same since earlier in the year.

However, the city’s Office of Management and Budget has increased its tax revenue expectations dramatically since March, when its projections were $3.3 billion lower than those from the Council.

“The updated forecast … provides clarity that the City can restore cuts to protect essential services and invest in the needs of New Yorkers,” the council wrote in a news release. Joe Anuta

Former President Donald Trump will not take the witness stand in his hush money criminal trial.

NO TRUMP ON STAND: Former President Donald Trump declined to testify today in his Manhattan hush money trial, and with that, both the prosecution and the defense have rested.

The proceedings over whether Trump falsified business records and conspired to bury negative stories that could hurt his 2016 election prospects are drawing to a close, but will stretch at least into next week.

Justice Juan Merchan set the closing arguments for Tuesday, after the Memorial Day holiday, and the jury will then receive instructions and begin deliberations. (The “charging conference” to hammer out those instructions is taking place this afternoon.)

Trump surrogates, including senators, members of Congress and prospective running mates, have cycled through court in recent days to show their allegiance to the former president.

On Thursday, Trump will be among thousands of supporters in the South Bronx, where he is set to host a campaign rally. Emily Ngo

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jonathan Rivera gathered in the Capitol today to advocate for their bills that would require homes to be tested for lead before sale.

NO MORE LEAD PAINT: Advocacy groups and lawmakers gathered in the Capitol today to advocate for the passage of a bill that would require homes be lead tested before being sold.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Jonathan Rivera, would require test results to be reported to the state and to potential buyers as a means of preventing children from coming in contact with the toxic element and to develop prevention plans.

“It would give tenants and homeowners the opportunity to choose homes for themselves and their children that are free of any known lead-paint hazards, and enhance public health officials’ ability to take proactive measures to address and mitigate these risks,” Kavanagh said in a statement.

Lead exposure can lead to high blood pressure, as well as kidney, liver and reproductive health issues. It is particularly dangerous for children because it can also cause brain damage and developmental issues.

New York leads the nation in adolescent cases of lead poisoning, with roughly 12 percent of children being diagnosed with elevated levels of lead in the body, the lawmakers said.

“It’s far past time that the state took a proactive approach to protecting tenants and new homeowners from needless lead paint exposure,” Rivera said in a statement. — Shawn Ness

NEW FACES: Merideth Andreucci has been appointed by Hochul as the new senior vice president and executive director of the Governor’s Office of Semiconductor Expansion, Management, and Integration.

Andreucci in the past has worked for state Energy Research and Development Authority and was a researcher and educator at Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology.

“GO-SEMI has been a driving force behind our state’s chips success story, and under Merideth’s brilliant leadership, I am confident that the office will keep advancing our mission to transform New York into a global chipmaking hub,” Hochul said in a statement. — Shawn Ness

COUNTERING ANTISEMITISM: The American Jewish Committee met with state officials today to discuss ways to counter antisemitism on college campuses and in schools across the state.

Today marked the last day for committee hearings in the Senate, and the Assembly will have its final Higher Education Committee meeting on Wednesday, which means the clock is running short to introduce or pass legislation regarding antisemitism on campuses.

But Senate Higher Education Committee Chair Toby Stavisky said she is having conversations with her colleagues regarding potential action the Legislature can take, such as potentially hosting public hearings with campus leaders.

“This is overt. This is there and it has to stop,” Stavisky said to the group regarding antisemitism on campuses.

When asked specifically about hosting public hearings with campus leaders Stavisky said, “everything is open for discussion.” — Katelyn Cordero

— Rep. Tim Kennedy is calling for a federal investigation for an Amtrak train that hit a car and killed three people. (State of Politics)

— Mayor Eric Adams wants to conduct a review of the NYPD officers who assaulted pro-Palestinian protesters. (Daily News)

— A new ranking of proposed per pupil spending by school district in New York. (Syracuse.com)

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