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Full Episode: Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, State Capitol Update, What's Kyra's Law?

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Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, State Capitol Update, What's Kyra's Law?

Full transcript of Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay, State Capitol Update, What's Kyra's Law?

Dan Clark: The legislature had the week off with lawmakers taking a short break from this year's legislative session, but they're back next week for a final round of hearings on the state budget. In the meantime, this week, we've got a few updates from the Capitol. An interview with Assembly Republican leader Will Barkley and more.

Last week we told you about the latest with Governor Hochul’s nominee for Chief Judge. The nominee, Hector LaSalle, was rejected last week by the Senate. A lawsuit over how Democrats initially tried to do that appears to be moving forward, but Governor Hochul said this week that she doesn't expect to pick a new nominee until after the state budget deadline at the end of March.

Kathy Hochul: I knew that if my nominee was not successful, that this was going to set us back, and the Senate seems to be okay with that. So, yes, we have some catch up to do, because in the meantime, we have a divided court and it's a 6-6 court. I'm anxious to get that filled, but it's going to take the time required, so the budget will be done before then I suspect.

DC: More on that when it happens.

Dan Clark: Staying at the state capitol. Members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic, and Asian Legislative Caucus held their annual winter conference in Albany last weekend. For those who don't know, the caucus has a lot of political power in Albany. They led the charge on criminal justice issues in recent years, but their legislative agenda is a lot more than that.

This year it includes a push for more funding for safety net hospitals in the state budget. Those are hospitals that primarily serve low-income communities where many residents are either on Medicaid or uninsured altogether. In New York City, they serve about half the city's population, according to lawmakers. Most patients, they say, are from communities of color.

When those hospitals don't have enough resources, funding or staff, that can have a disproportionate impact on the state's most marginalized communities. Caucus members say Governor Hochul’s proposed budget plan is at least $700 million short on funding for those hospitals and they want to see a deeper investment from the state.

Assembly Member Karines Reyes, who's actually a registered nurse herself, had this to say.

Karines Reyes: The money is not there to continue to serve the community and we need to start ensuring that our safety net hospitals survive. If they close, if the hospitals in our communities close, the impact on the health of our communities is going to be so detrimental that there won't be enough resources in our state to compensate for it.

DC: Some lawmakers say that safety net hospitals should get a boost of at least $1 billion in the budget.

Dan Clark: Introducing a new segment, we're calling New York by the Numbers. It's a segment we're going to use to tell you about something at the Capitol using a number this week. That number is 8.5.

You might remember last year when human service workers were seeking more funding from the state. Those are workers spread across a bunch of fields, including care for people with disabilities, certain mental health care workers and more. In last year's state budget, they got a funding bump of 5.4%, which was about half of what they asked for. That brings us to 8.5.

That's how much more and funding those workers want to see in this year's state budget to raise wages higher for staff to combat turnover and keep up with inflation. Senator John Mannion, a Democrat, chairs the Senate Committee on Disabilities.

John Mannion: They should not have to make decisions about providing for their family and providing care that’s based on trust, that's based on respect, that's based on relationships. It is a vocation for our DSPs, and we have left them behind.

DC: Governor Hochul’s budget plan includes a 2.5% increase, which workers say is not enough.

Dan Clark: Sticking with health, advocates are asking Governor Hochul and the legislature to undo a Cuomo era Medicaid change that they say will end critical services for underserved communities. It's a bit wonky and in the weeds, but three years ago, the state was trying to find ways to cut costs in Medicaid.

One change that was approved would affect community health care providers under a federal program called 340B. That program allows those providers to get prescription drugs at a discount as long as they use those savings to provide more services to their communities.

The state wants to make a change in Medicaid that would end that and then try to fill that gap some other way. They say it will save the state money and make the Medicaid program more efficient and easier to navigate for beneficiaries. The thought is that if it saves the state money, some of it could be reinvested in those communities, but that's not guaranteed. The change is set to take effect on April 1st. Senate Health Chair Gustavo Rivera says he wants to stop that from happening.

Gustavo Rivera: The impact that it would have on the providers who use this program as a way to save money and more importantly, invest those savings into the lives of vulnerable populations. It made all the difference. It is the reason why, for the entirety of this, since this was proposed, I have opposed it and I will continue to oppose it.

DC: We'll let you know if anything changes there.

Dan Clark: As you probably know, Republicans are currently in the minority in both the state Senate and the Assembly. That makes it more difficult to get legislation through that they support unless it's a bipartisan issue.

In the last three years in particular, New York's Republican Party has flipped the script using public events and hot button issues to sway public opinion, usually focusing on crime and the state's rising cost of living. One Republican at the forefront of that strategy is Assembly Minority Leader, Will Barclay from Central New York. We spoke this week about this year's legislative session, top issues facing New Yorkers and more.

Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay, thank you so much.

Will Barclay: Thank you for having me on.

DC: Let's start with your priorities. You have had a very big presence at the Capitol over the past couple of years, talking about issues like affordability and criminal justice reform in particular. What do you see for this year? It's a strange year because it's the first year that we're kind of not out of COVID, but I think everything's back to normal at the Capitol for the most part.

Where's your conference right now?

WB: Well, that's nice. Certainly, crime, criminal justice, we’ve polling recently out with 90% of New Yorkers are concerned about crime. We saw the results of the election. Lee Zeldin almost won the governorship running on crime. So certainly crime. We’d like to see bail back to judge’s discretion, raise the age, but we certainly can't go any farther.

The progressive seemed to want to go farther. They want to do elderly parole, they want to do more with bail. So, I'm happy that the Governor, Mayor Adams, the D.A. in Albany County, all of them, talking about and looking at criminal justice.

DC: Is it frustrating sometimes when you're talking about these issues because you are the assembly Republican leader, you're in the minority. So, it would be very rare for a bill from your conference to come to the floor on something like criminal justice reform, but I would argue that your conference and the Senate Republican Conference are the two most outspoken conferences on rolling back bail reform, making changes to it as we move forward.

Is it frustrating being in that position to kind of not be able to do it legislatively but to do it publicly?

WB: Well, I have a high tolerance for frustration, obviously, working in Albany as long as I have, but no we do feel like we're making a difference. I would remind you that especially on bail, it has been revisited twice under the former administration, and we do feel like we have the bully pulpit. We have a voice out there, and clearly, it's not just us.

I mean, it is New Yorkers and I think the Democrats… we picked up five seats, by the way, in our conference this year, mostly in New York City and Long Island, where crime really was a central issue. So, obviously would love to be able to pass legislation right away and get it done, but I do think we are having an effect on it, and it's working.

So, we'll see where it goes. With the way this legislature is set up with the progressives, these are always very tough hurdles to do, but I do feel optimistic that we can get something done with it.

DC: Let me talk to you about the governor's budget, because bail reform is kind of in there. She wants to make a change on it to eliminate something called the least restrictive means. The judges have to follow that standard in terms of what they're going to do with somebody when they are arrested and brought into court. They have to decide what happens to that person based on the least restrictive means.

It's been argued that that influences a judge to go more lenient than they may have without that in the law. So, the governor is trying to make that change in the budget. Do you think that goes far enough?

WB: It doesn't, but we're happy with that change, at least it’s addressing some of the problems. We'd like to see discretion for judges, particularly when it comes to dangerousness to the community. Other states that have done bail reform, think New Jersey has that. Why we can't do that? You know, I remember back in the Rockefeller drug law days, everybody wanted to give judges more discretion and sentencing. Now for some reason we don't trust the judges and we don't want to give them any discretion when it comes to bail.

I think there's needs to be a middle ground. I've always said we're open to doing some reform with bail. But unfortunately, what again the progressives and the liberals have done in the legislature is taking it way too far, and as a result, we're seeing the crime rate spike.

DC: I want to move on to affordability because I feel like as much as crime is a top issue for New Yorkers, affordability. I would say, most New Yorkers don't experience the criminal justice system in the sense that most New Yorkers are not arrested and go to jail, but every New Yorker has an issue with affordability unless they have a lot of money. Good for them, that's not me.

What do you think the state should do here? I talk about this with people all the time, it's such a big issue. You could look at things like taxes, tax breaks, incentives for people to move in, where do you think we should start in that conversation?

WB: Well, when you're in a hole, they say stop digging, and that's one thing I think we ought to be doing. We have for the last decade and a half been on this tax and spend train. So, we have to change that trajectory. The governor's budget, we had a $220 billion, and now she's proposing a $228 billion budget.

When you compare us to other states like Florida, Texas and even California, which I think is $280 billion, they have twice the amount of population. This certainly is not a trajectory that we can stay on. And people are leaving. They're moving, we lost 400,000 people during COVID, over the last decade we've lost over a million people. They're not leaving because we're spending not enough in New York State.

So I think, we don't even have to cut, if we just slow the growth of spending, I think would go a long ways. And then we have to look at some of the policies that we implement. As you've talked about before, the CLCPA, the Climate Leadership Community Protection Act, which to try to get climate control, I guess is going to put onerous cost on all New Yorkers.

So those things we need to delay or really visit and make sure that the cost of living doesn't continue to climb in New York State.

DC: You're referring to not just this, but it's kind of known publicly right now is the debate over gas stoves. Whereas it affects so much more than just your gas stove, but what the state is basically saying is

if you have an existing gas stove, keep it, and when it breaks we want you to convert to an electric or if you're building like a whole house, again, not me, I don't have that kind of money, then you have to not use a gas stove based on the scoping plan from the Climate Action Council and then the governors recommending it. So, it's kind of a long process there.

Do you see a middle ground there? Do you think that it's just that we need to do this on a slower trajectory, or do you think that we shouldn't do it at all?

WB: Well, I think that's a great question. We're all for renewable energy, I don't know who's against that, but right now, when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine, we have no way to store electricity. So, that assumes somewhere we're pulling the cart in front of the horse on this. So, we definitely need to slow it down.

We're not going to be able to all of a sudden change over to completely renewable energy. So yeah, I think the deadlines are unrealistic. Also, we haven't done any cost benefit, which I was getting at before. This is going to be extremely expensive to implement and New York's only responsible if something like 0.5% of all global emissions.

So even if we spend billions and billions of dollars, were successful in implementing all these policies that they're talking about, we go completely green, completely electrified. It's not really going to have that big of an impact on you know, global emissions. So, I think definitely if we could delay it. I think there's a natural progression going towards renewables and I think that's fine, we should encourage that, but we can't do it overnight.

DC: Yeah. I see this issue from, more of an upstate perspective to be honest with you, because when I talk to people about this issue and they live in a more remote area of the state, I'm talking about places like the North Country where you live, in more of the central part of the state, their concern is that the electric grid may not be reliable enough. So, if they lose their gas stove and their power goes out, how are they going to heat their home or cook their food?

It's a big issue like that and there's just so much to think about with it.

WB: Yeah, it needs a dose of reality obviously, and again, we're all for a clean climate. You know, I'm an outdoorsman, I love the environment, I'm all for helping that. But there needs to be reality back in the situation.

DC: On affordability, it's tough to think about it in a way that regular New Yorkers, it could have this direct impact on them quickly. I think that's where we get lost in the affordability issue, because it's too expensive to live here. We know that everybody acknowledges that. The Democrats acknowledge that, Republicans acknowledge that, everybody does. I just don't know what could change here.

It seems like we've been on this trajectory for a long time. Do you think it's lower taxes? Do you think it's other incentives for people to stay?

WB: Well again, we just got to stop digging while we’re in this hole, but we can do a few things. For instance, the gas tax. We had a moratorium on the gas tax for last year. That's now put back on again. I'd love to see that rolled back. We have a bill out there that takes sales tax off of food that you get in the grocery store, that you take home to eat. So there's little things that could provide immediate relief to New Yorkers.

But ultimately, we have to just stop, as I said, this tax and spend trajectory. It doesn't mean we have to make drastic cuts. I always talk about school aid formula. If we could we could update that school aid formula where we're driving money to low wealth districts instead of high wealth districts. We wouldn't have to increase school aid funding by 10% every year. There's things we could do more efficient in health care.

The other great thing is, the unemployment insurance, where we just put, it looks like $11 billion worth of fraud. So, we can do things to be more efficient in government and I don't think are going to be some draconian cuts that are going to affect everybody.

I just think we need to get off this every year we just increase spending by 5 to 10%. That's just not sustainable.

DC: I mean the budget is an interesting thing because there is an argument between do we raise spending, or do we keep spending flat and try to make it work? When you look at that kind of thing… I know that you think we spend too much money in the budget, obviously, but do you think that if we kept funding flat, that's a situation where you look at the budget to see where we find those efficiencies and we can keep spending flat, or do you think that there are areas where we could cut?

WB: Well, there’s certainly areas we could cut, areas that we could also be more efficient. So again, I say just slow the growth of spending not actually making cuts.

Again, we can't afford… we're going to have to make these decisions coming soon this year. I think we'll be right from a budget standpoint, revenue seems to be good, but we had a lot of federal aid in the last few years that's going away. And if the stock market goes down, you know, 30% of our revenues in the state comes from Wall Street. So, I think next year, whether we like it or not, we're going to have to make cuts or slow the growth of spending.

DC: The governor has, especially since the election, tried to make the case that she is the governor for all New Yorkers, Democrats, Republicans, everyone in between. She also, when she first became governor in 2021, kind of indicated that she wanted more collaboration with the minority conferences in the legislature because she's an upstater. I think that she is more familiar with that kind of viewpoint that you and Senator Rob Ortt share. She's been exposed to it more as an upstater from Buffalo.

Do you see that?

WB: Well that certainly was my hope when she first got elected and the conversations I had when she first came from lieutenant governor, became the governor. I talked about, I suggested to her, we're not going to agree on everything, but as fellow upstaters, you know, maybe we can work on some issues that we could share.

That seemed to go a little by the wayside, frankly, Dan during the election, which is not surprising, but we have had outreach with her this year, and I'm optimistic. I think we have a meeting coming up with her. So, I'm optimistic to express some of the concerns certainly upstaters, but frankly, all New Yorkers are feeling and get back to public protection.

I would love to work with the Governor, with Mayor Adams, anyone, to, you know, go back and look at whether it's bail reform, raise the age, etc. So, I'm optimistic that we can find some common ground so that we can work together.

DC: It's interesting. I mean, I don't think that you would have seen that type of outreach under Andrew Cuomo. I could be totally wrong. I don't know. Did you?

WB: No.

That is a difference, so I compliment her on that, I look forward to working with her.

DC: We will see where it lands. Assembly Republican leader Will Barclay, thank you so much.

WB: Thank you.

Dan Clark: Jacqueline Franchetti lost her daughter Kyra's, about seven years ago. Before that, she was fighting for full custody of Kyra, saying her father, who was out of the picture, was violent and dangerous. A family court judge disagreed and allowed joint custody of Kyra between Jacqueline and the father. Then in 2016, Kyra was shot and killed by the father, who then took his own life.

Now Jacqueline is pushing a bill called Kyra's Law that she says could prevent future tragedies. Alexis Young has that story.

Jacqueline Franchetti: My two-year-old daughter, Kyra is one of 23 children to be murdered by their parent while going through a custody case, divorce, or separation in New York state since 2016. This number doesn't even take into account the staggering number of children who are court ordered into the home of an abusive parent.

In every courthouse, in every county, children are being court ordered into the home of a parent who is beating them, raping them, emotionally destroying, them at staggering rates, and the results are absolutely devastating. We need a judicial system, a court system that will protect our children, that will put their life and safety first. We need Kyra's law.

I want to walk you through my custody case because like many of you, I walked into Nassau County Family Court the first day thinking that they would protect Kyra.

From the very first moment, I was on defense, trying to protect myself and Kyra to keep her safe. I told the judge that I was being stalked, threatened, that I was a victim of domestic violence, and everyone knew from day one that he was suicidal. The judge's response… she yelled at me to grow up.

We had Child Protective Services involved in Kyra's case. They noted that he had extreme anger and rage issues, and an inability to care for her at a young age. They labeled it low risk.

We had a forensic evaluator, actually three in Kyra's case. They heard from eyewitnesses, saw documented evidence of the abuse, and in his report, he recommended joint custody because he said, quote unquote, a father should always play a role in a child's life. In a healthy break up, I agree with that. But in an abusive one, absolutely not.

Andrew Hevesi: This would be a very easy bill for me to come up here and start yelling and screaming and pointing fingers at judges. Simple, very easy. The public would understand. You have 23 dead kids. Kyra should be alive. There are reasons for us to be able to do that. But we're not. We are now going to be amending the current bill because we've had productive conversations with the Office of Court Administration (OCA).

I don't want to cast aspersions on them, but the system is gapped.

JF: My last memory of Kyra, she had just learned to roll down a hill. She took a couple of awkward tumbles down and she got up and said, I did it, Mama, I did it. She was so proud of her latest accomplishment.

Just a few days later, she was on a court ordered visit with her abusive father. He shot her not once, but twice in the back while she slept. He then poured gasoline all over his home and he murdered her in a murder-suicide. Kyra’s murder was entirely preventable. She should never have been with him that day.

The murder of these 22 other chil

AH: There's a real chance that before the end of the session, we will have a negotiated compromise, with OCA mostly on board. The fact that even now, in 2023 we're talking about the court having to look at the best interests of the child that we actually have to write into the law that the first thing is the life and safety. It's surprising that we have to do that.

JF: Kyra’s law does three things. First, it's going to make the life and safety of the child the top priority in a custody case.

James Skoufis: If there is domestic violence in that household, if there's child abuse allegations in that household, it's a hard stop. The judge, the court must stop and contemplate what to do with that.

Not, oh well, there are a bunch of factors here, you know, as the hearings play out over the next many months will consider those allegations.

JF: Second thing that this will do is it will mandate judge training.

JS: The court system and some judges, they're raising concerns. They don't have the time, and respectfully, I would argue, if you want to be a judge in New York state these issues are so important, you can afford to spend a few more hours. That's what we're talking about here. Not hundreds of hours, a few more hours, learning how to best respond to these types of cases.

JF: The third thing that Kyra’s law will do is stop common practices that allow abusers to gain custody at these staggering epidemic rates.

JS: The court would have a risk assessment form that they would have to develop and put a custody case through, because if they're on the record saying, okay, I don't believe this domestic violence allegation, I don't believe this child abuse allegation, and then they continue with joint custody or unsupervised visitation and something happens to that child. You better believe all the fingers are going to be pointing back at that judge.

JF: Kyra It didn't stand a chance, in New York's family court system. She should be nine years old in April. I see some of her friends and, you know, Kyra’s frozen in time for me at two years old. I see how much they've grown, and I'll never know what she wants to be when she grows up. I won't know her best friends are. At Christmas, people are gathering together, I'm at a gravesite.

Kyra deserved to live. She deserves so much more, and she deserved a judicial system that would protect her, not one that failed her.

DC: In a statement, a spokesperson for the state Office of Court Administration said, “Until there is a final version of the bill for us to review, we do not have any opinion on it at this point.”

There is a version of the bill publicly available, but it would likely change after negotiations. We’ll check back in with OCA if that happens.

On This Week's Edition

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On This Week's Edition of New York NOW:

  • The Legislature had the week off, but Assembly Republican Leader Will Barclay joins us to chat about the latest out of Albany.
  • A few updates from the State Capitol around underreported health care policy and spending in the State Budget.
  • Jacqueline Franchetti lost her daughter Kyra in 2016. Now, she's pushing "Kyra's Law" in Albany in hopes of preventing another tragedy. Alexis Young has that story.