Legislative Session Wraps Up
The Legislature is entering
On Saturday, June 18 the 2016 Legislative Session came to a close. The Session ended with the State legislators working through the night Friday, June 17 finishing up the 2016 session of the New York State Legislature shortly after 5 a.m. Saturday. The final hours included: ethics reform; mandated testing of school drinking water supplies for lead; money for SUNY and CUNY; $570 million for "supportive housing" for the homeless; and continued state control of the New York Racing Association.
Between January 1, 2016, and June 17, 2016, the Legislature passed a total of 2175 bills. The Senate has passed 1752 and the Assembly passed 1041. Of these bills, 718 were approved by both houses.
Highlights of the end of session include the following.
Combatting Heroin Epidemic
Governor Cuomo and Legislative Leaders have made fighting the Heroin and Opioid crisis in New York State a top priority this legislative session. After much negotiation, the Governor and Legislature agreed on and progressed a package of three bills. The three bills are:
1) Sponsored by Sen. Terrence Murphy and Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, and would require health insurers to provide inpatient coverage, without prior authorization, for those suffering from addiction.
2) Sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Steck and Sen. Rob Ortt, and would require insurers to cover a five-day supply of prescribed medications for substance abuse disorders without prior authorization. This bill also allows patients who are deemed a risk to themselves or others to be involuntarily held for 72 hours.
3) Sponsored by Assemblyman Cusick and Sen. George Amedore would 1) provide a limited exemption from professional misconduct in the event that an individual has to administer an opioid antagonist, such as naloxone, in the event of an emergency and empower professionals to administer emergency assistance to individuals, 2) require enhanced data collection and reporting on heroin and opioid overdoses and 3) require hospitals to educate individuals about available treatment services.
For more information please see Governor Cuomo's Press Release here.
Indigent Defense Reforms
On June 18th the State legislature passed legislation that reforms the state's indigent legal services program bringing true mandate relief to counties. The bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy (D-Albany) and Senator John DeFrancisco (R-Onondaga and Cayuga), provides a full state fiscal takeover of indigent defense services while at the same time increasing the quality of legal services for the poor.
NYSAC President William E. Cherry thanked the lawmakers for their diligent work in getting this mandate relief bill passed in both houses of the legislature.
"This bill accomplishes three objectives. It provides real and meaningful mandate relief for counties and property taxpayers. It protects taxpayers from costly and unnecessary lawsuits against New York's public defense program. And it improves legal defense services for the poor in all counties in the state," President Cherry said.
Specifically this bill expands indigent defense by providing first arraignment counsel and by placing a case-cap workload on public defenders so that they can spend more time on any given case. This bill also provides for a multi-year state assumption of the county costs of providing indigent defense services, so that, by 2023, counties will be fully reimbursed by the state for all indigent defense costs.
Repeal of MTA "Transportation Purposes" from 2016-17 State Budget
The Legislature passed a bill that repeals the newly expanded definition of "transportation purposes" included in the 2016-17 enacted State Budget. The expanded definition would allow the MTA to undertake almost any type of development project or lease arrangement regardless of whether it has anything to do with the transportation of people or goods at all.
The new definition would also allow the MTA to override local zoning laws without regard to the potential impact on public safety, density, traffic patterns, neighborhood character and other community concerns. The expanded definition of "transportation purpose" would also allow the MTA to usurp the taxing authority of local governments on new construction and potentially remove existing structures through purchases and leases from the property tax rolls completely for the revenue generating purposes of the MTA. In regard to situations where local taxing authority would be overridden it creates an unfunded mandate on local governments that will still be required to provide essential public safety, health and other services to these MTA facilities without critical revenues to support these efforts.
The new authority granted to the MTA under the recently adopted new definition of "transportation purpose" is overly expansive and infringes on the rights of locally elected officials and the citizens they represent in New York City and the seven counties where the MTA operates including Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester.
Bill Designates Courts to Handle First Arraignment Matters
On June 17th the Senate and the Assembly passed a bill that will determine how indigent defense services will be conducted on a local level. The measure, S7209 (Bonacic)/A10360 (Lentol), requires the NYS Office of Court Administration (OCA) to designate a specific court or courts to handle all off-hour first arraignment duties within any given county.
First arraignment is the process by which an individual who has been arrested and charged with a crime is brought before the court for an initial plea and, if necessary, to have the court set bail. In New York State an individual who is and accused of a crime is to be brought before a court for a first arraignment within approximately 24 hours of his/her arrest.
Court proceedings at night or over the weekend are considered "off-hours" and can add to court staffing costs. Currently off-hour first arraignment can occur in all city and town courts.
Under the terms of this legislation, OCA will designate the number and location of active "off-hour" courts, which could reduce the staff and costs associated with performing first arraignments. The bill calls for local input for the best possible system prior to OCA making such court designation.
Comptroller Releases State Pension Fund Returns
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli last week announced that the New York State Common Retirement Fund (Fund) earned a 0.19 percent return on investments in the state fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2016, and has an estimated value of $178.1 billion
The investment returns and other actuarial assumptions determine annual contribution rates for employers in New York State and Local Retirement System (NYSLRS). The .19 percent return is below the fund's target return of 7 percent, in part because of a 2016 drop in the stock market.
The local contribution rates for next year will be released in early September and we do not expect those rates to decline based on the latest investment performance. However, we do not expect them to increase dramatically either as the Comptroller uses a five-year weighted average of returns to determine contribution rates in the coming year. This, combined with updated actuarial assumptions and increases in the number of Tier 6 employees, should help to minimize any increases.
More details can be found athttp://osc.state.ny.us/press/releases/june16/061316.htm