Governor Kathy Hochul attends a game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium on November 14, 2021. Kevin P. Coughlin / Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Asked for records related to top politicians' use of a Buffalo Bills suite, Empire State Development cited potential interference with a law enforcement investigation.
By Chris Bragg

The New York ethics watchdog agency has subpoenaed Governor Kathy Hochul’s economic development agency for records related to top Albany politicians’ use of a Buffalo Bills luxury suite, New York Focus has learned.

Hochul, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and 13 others gained exclusive access to the state-owned “I Love New York” suite for a December 17 clash between the Bills and the Dallas Cowboys. The officials brought several guests, including Hochul’s husband, a state lobbyist whom Heastie has been quietly dating, and a lobbyist who was Heastie’s college roommate.

According to state law, a public official cannot use their position “to secure unwarranted privileges,” for themselves or others, that are not available to the general public. In March, former top lobbying regulator David Grandeau filed a complaint with the state’s ethics oversight body, the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government (COELIG), arguing that several attendees had gotten premium football tickets at a bargain price because of their close relationship to a politician, and that politicians didn’t have valid governmental reasons to attend.

In a series of closed-door meetings, the Working Rules group will make many of the year's remaining decisions. NYS Senate Media Services
You haven’t heard of it, and your state senator might not have either. The Working Rules group helps determine the fate of hundreds of bills at the end of each legislative session.
By Sam Mellins, Chris Bragg and Akash Mehta

In the final two weeks of the legislative session, the New York State Senate will likely pass hundreds of bills — and let hundreds of others die without getting a vote.

Who decides the bills’ fate? On paper, it’s the Senate Rules Committee, formally one of the most powerful groups in New York’s legislature. Once the Senate’s other committees stop meeting a few weeks before the end of the session, the Rules Committee becomes the only way to get a bill to the Senate floor for a vote. But anyone who has seen the committee meet knows it’s not where decisions are really made.

Meetings are almost never more than 10 minutes long, and they can be as short as 13 seconds. Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris reads a rapid-fire list of bills, declares them approved, and adjourns the meeting. Other senators rarely speak. There’s seldom anything resembling debate or discussion.

That’s saved for when a select group of Democratic senators can meet out of public view.

Until the Senate adjourns for the year on June 6, many of the year’s remaining decisions will fall to the so-called Working Rules group, a circle of senators chosen by Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. In a series of closed-door meetings, the group reviews pending bills and tells the majority leader which ones they recommend go to the Senate floor.

It’s almost entirely unknown to the public.

Our friends at the journal Vital City — which specializes in publishing new ideas, enlightening data and civil conversation on New York City policy and politics — have a smart, concise weekly newsletter. We highly recommend it. 

JL peers out onto the streets of lower Manhattan on April 2, 2024. Chris Gelardi
Advocates charge that New York’s restrictions for sex offense registrants are “vague, expansive, and unnecessary.” On Tuesday, they filed a federal lawsuit to strike them down.
By Chris Gelardi and Sam Mellins

His cousin was running late for lunch. He walked to pass the time, as anyone might, around the East Harlem neighborhood where they’d agreed to meet up. As he turned a corner, he saw something that froze him mid-step: a school.

“I’m just stuck here like a deer in the headlights. Like where should I go?” recalled the man, who is being identified by his initials, MG. He hurried away, walked a couple of blocks, then made another turn. Another school.

“I just went into a store and hid,” he said. He sipped on a coffee until his cousin showed up.

Under New York state law, MG isn’t allowed to step — let alone live or work — within 1,000 feet of school grounds. In a dense area like New York City, where the 52-year-old has lived most of his life, it’s virtually impossible to comply with the restriction: It applies to some 85 percent of residential areas in the city. In Manhattan, it’s 95 percent.

The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal class action lawsuit on Tuesday, on behalf of MG and three other anonymous plaintiffs, seeking to overturn the law imposing what it calls the “banishment zone.” Known as the Sexual Assault Reform Act, or SARA, the law went into effect almost 25 years ago, as part of the state legislature’s response to the sex offender panic that had swept the nation.

New York prisons have banned articles from The New York Times, New York magazine, and local newspapers, often citing their potential to incite disobedience. Freelance reporter Rebecca McCray shared the story with our partners at Radio Catskill.


Copyright © New York Focus 2023, All rights reserved.
Staying Focused is compiled and written by Alex Arriaga
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