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Full Episode: One-House Budgets, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Paid Family Leave Gap

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One-House Budgets, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Paid Family Leave Gap

Full transcript of One-House Budgets, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Paid Family Leave Gap

Dan Clark: We are now two weeks out from this year's state budget deadline on March 31st, and we took a step closer to a final state budget this week when both houses of the state legislature approved their one House budgets.

That's when lawmakers build their own budget plans as a sort of rebuttal to the governors. That's important because it shows us where lawmakers stand on top issues. We're going to go through a few of them and tell you where the legislature wound up.

On housing, the governor wants to build 800,000 new homes and allow developers to override local zoning laws to get there. The legislature kept that target but doesn't want to override local zoning. Instead, they want to offer financial incentives for that growth.

On the minimum wage, the governor wants to tie it to inflation moving forward. The legislature likes that idea, but also wants to raise it first, though we don't know by how much.

On income taxes the governor wants to keep those flat this year. The legislature mostly agrees, but they want to raise taxes on people earning more than $5 million to fund more services.

On cigarettes, the governor wants to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by one dollar, to $5.35 and ban menthol flavored tobacco. The legislature is fine with the tax hike but doesn't like the ban on menthol.

On new funding for the MTA, which isn't doing well financially, the governor wants to raise payroll tax downstate and use casino gambling revenue. The legislature is fine with using the casino money but wants to raise corporate taxes instead of a payroll tax.

Finally on the topic of charter schools, Hochul wanted to allow more in New York City by lifting a regional cap, but the legislature is against that idea.

It's a lot to work out in two weeks, but Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins thinks they can get there.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins: I think we all looked at the issues and yes, there are again different approaches, but what I always say is that we're all rowing in the same direction for the most part, and so that's always easier.

DC: On the other side of the aisle, Senate Republican leader Rob Ortt said the Democrats budget plan fell short for struggling New Yorkers.

Rob Ortt: We've seen that people said affordability is an issue. This budget does nothing to help New Yorkers who are facing affordability challenges. It spends more money, it grows the budget.

DC: Democrats say their budget plans are targeted toward some of the state's most vulnerable residents, like tenants facing eviction or people who can't afford food.

So to get a closer look on where Democrats stand on these top issues, at least in the assembly, we spoke this week with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Speaker Hastie, thanks for coming back. We appreciate it.

Carl Heastie: My pleasure Dan. Good to see you.

DC: Let's start with housing. Governor Hochul has a big housing proposal in this her proposed budget. She wants to build 800,000 new housing units in New York over the next decade, but the way that she wants to do it is different than what's in your one house budget proposal. She wants to set these targets for every locality and then kind of force them into building this housing over a number of years each year.

Your proposal is different because it doesn't require that this housing get built and it provides incentives for these localities to build that housing instead. Tell me why you went with that approach.

CH: Well, for the (assembly) members, when we have our conferences, we listen to the members and, you know, overriding local zoning is a very serious issue and one that members are not too enthusiastic about doing. So what we wanted to do was, agree with the governor's goals, but we just felt like giving the localities an incentive to do it, you know, funding is important, so we tried to find ways to be assisting.

They can spend the money any way which they feel, which is rightfully important to them in their local government lives. We know that there's infrastructure issues. We'll deal with those as well. So, we just tried put it in the best interests that we could and for the locals to say, yeah, this is a good idea, and look, the state is even giving us incentives to help get us there.

DC: You also have a different part of your housing proposal in your one house budget, and I don't know if I'm reading it right, but I believe that you're endorsing what's called good cause eviction, which would require landlords to have a so-called “good cause” to evict someone. It would also kind of set a cap on rent increases in some cases. Am I reading that correctly?

Tell me about how you would negotiate that with the governor's office? I know she hasn't really been that willing to discuss it publicly.

CH: Well I mean, the governor has put things in her budget that that she wants, and so we put things in our resolution that we support. That's how the three legs of the stool between us (the assembly), the governor and Senate, we have to figure those things out. The governor has touched on some, we in this proposal, amongst others, are trying to get us to the capacity of housing we need, but also to make sure that people's lives just are not disrupted by having huge increases in their rent that really aren't set to anything other than the lease is up and the landlord has the ability to raise the rent.

Then also the disruption that if you've been a good tenant and, let's say you've been living in a place and you set your life up in that place, at the end of the lease, you know, you may have to have a life changing move. So, we just want to kind of give some stability.

You know New York City, and this isn't just a city issue, but I'm using the city as an example, that New York City is the number one renter city in the nation. So we have to do something to help stabilize tenants when it comes to the concerns about their living conditions as well.

DC: You know, property owners have pushed back on the good cause proposal, basically saying that they can't afford it. They want to be able to raise the rent as much as they want to, hopefully at reasonable rates and they don't agree with the language in terms of what is a good cause eviction. What would you say to them?

CH: Well I like I said, I always believe that there's always a way to compromise. Often a compromise is when both sides don't get exactly what they want. But also, I know there's been different ideas thrown around, and that's one of the reasons why we didn't put necessarily put in a bill. It's really around the concept of protecting tenants, but also, you know, understanding and respecting property owners as well.

But there has to be a way to not have tenants worry about rents doubling and you know, in the middle of winter your leases up and all of the sudden now you have to scramble to find housing. So it's just trying to give stability to people's lives.

You know, people are suggesting that if there's a cap that, a landlord can still find ways to go around the cap. Maybe you have it be mediated or have the courts say, yeah, there's extenuating circumstances. I think there’s a path if people are willing.

DC: I want to stick in New York City for a second. I know good cause eviction and housing is obviously a statewide issue, but in New York City, we have this really important conversation happening right now around the MTA and funding for the MTA.

The governor had proposed basically using a payroll tax in the MTA service area to fund it. I know that you have rejected that and you've also rejected a proposed fare hike for the MTA. It’s $2.75 now, it was going to go up, may still go up. You don't want that to happen, obviously. You also want to start a pilot program for free busses in each borough, which would be exciting for a lot of commuters, I think.

Tell me how you came to that instead of the governor's plan.

CH: First off, we wanted to make sure that the MTA is fully funded. Everybody knows the MTA is often described as the artery system for the body of the economy of the state of New York. So, starting there, we knew it had to be fully funded, but we just had different ideas on how to get there. We agreed with the governor on the revenue for casinos, and so we just differed on payroll mobility.

We still have one of the most competitive corporate tax rates here in New York. So, we just felt like the MTA is primarily how people get to work. So, you know, some of the corporations, particularly ones who had gotten, a tremendous break during the Trump years to just contribute a little bit more to helping to make sure that the artery system of the New York's economy is fully funded.

DC: I wanted to mention the corporate tax, but I asked you the MTA question first, because you also have a proposal in there and the Senate does as well to raise income taxes on high income earners.

We're not talking about anybody below $5 million a year, which is quite a bit of money for people. So, will the aim be for that revenue raised from those taxes to go partly to the MTA as well, or is that just to kind of generally raise money to pay for things that the state does?

CH: I'd say a little bit of both, because when the assembly put together our one house, we do try to put a financial plan. We don't just put a spending wish list out there without telling the public how we plan on paying. As much as people talk about the outflow of people from New York, we did increase number of millionaires in New York by almost 15,000.

So, just asking those who are doing well to contribute a little more to the overall good. I think it's very helpful, and that's what we are asking, those who are doing really well to help uplift the rest in society.

And I'm sorry, Dan, you did ask me one other thing about the pilot program.

DC: Oh right, free buses.

CH: It was something that members had brought up, and we know that other cities are doing this. I'd say, the closest city that's in Boston is exploring this, but we wanted to be fair and say, let's have two in each borough. One based on like poverty and things like that, and the other one will be based on economic factors, and we would leave that to the MTA to figure those out.

DC: Before I let you go, as you and I both know, time moves differently here in Albany.

You and the Senate are apart from the governor on some of these controversial issues, and as you pass your one house budget proposals, you have about two weeks left before the budget deadline. Do you think that's enough time to come together on these issues or would you rather see you go right into April and kind of have some more time to work these things out?

CH: Well, you know, in Albany two weeks is a lifetime.

DC: Could feel like two years.

CH: So, two weeks can seem like 2 minutes, but it could also seem like two years.

I'd never go into a budget negotiating session expecting doom and gloom. We're going to work hard, we want to have an on-time budget, but as I've said since the time even before I was speaker, when I was just even a brand-new member, the right budget is more important than an on-time budget.

So I would hope that we have an on-time budget, I work hard to get there, but I'm not going to accept, a budget less than what we can fairly negotiate that highlights some of the priorities that these members want. Sorry I can't sacrifice that for the sake of timeliness.

DC: All right, we will be watching over the next two weeks. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, thank you so much.

CH: Thank you Dan, be well.

DC: We'll hear from the Republican side of the assembly next week.

Dan Clark: Republicans have picked a new party chair here in New York after the former chair, Nick Langworthy was elected to Congress. That's really important because Republicans have some momentum right now, at least in New York.

They picked up three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives in last year's elections, and that might not sound like a lot, but it helped put Republican’s in control of the U.S. House this year.

Republicans gathered in Albany this week to pick a new chair that they hope will drive that momentum forward and bring new wins over the next few years. That was Ed Cox, who was actually already the chair for about a decade before Langworthy, and he's got big plans for the party's future.

Here's what he told reporters this week.

Ed Cox: We need to build the party to a place where we can challenge the Democrats who have supermajority in both houses of the legislature and elect the officials that we need so we are a strong second party here standing up for the things that we believe in. You heard me talk about that. That's safe streets, good jobs and good schools. These are the basics the people of New York want and they're not getting it now from the Democratic Party.

DC: A fun fact about Ed Cox is that he's actually the son in law of former President Richard Nixon. He's been married to Tricia Nixon Cox for more than 50 years.

Dan Clark: Returning now to a new edition of On the Bill, where we tell you about a bill out of Albany that you might not hear about otherwise.

This week, we're talking about S.5365, which would remove the tax on medical cannabis.

Right now, New York is really focused on the state's rollout of adult use cannabis, and while that industry is just now beginning, the medical cannabis industry has been around since 2016, and there's a worry among some medical cannabis providers that their industry will be left in the dust as the adult use market expands.

That brings us to S.5365. Right now, the tax on medical cannabis in New York is 7%, and while that tax is paid by the dispensary and not at the point of sale, it can still drive up the cost for patients. To combat that and help bolster the industry, Democrats want to repeal the tax on medical cannabis.

State Senator Jeremy Cooney carries that bill in the Senate.

Jeremy Cooney: The excise tax on medical cannabis product is a regressive tax that drives up the cost to patients. The same patients who can least afford the product that they need to get through their day. You don't tax Tylenol because it's to help you. It's what a patient needs to feel better, to find healing. Why are we taxing medical cannabis?

DC: That bill could pass as part of the state budget or at any point really. More on that in the next few weeks.

Dan Clark: This week we take a look at New York's paid family leave law. When New York first passed paid family leave in 2016, the program was considered among the most generous in the country, but some lawmakers say it still doesn't go far enough for parents grieving the loss of their child.

Alexis Young reports.

Alexis Young: New York State paid family leave allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks off within one year at 67% of their pay.

Martin Patrick: For three different items, one is for bonding with a newborn or adopted child, the second one is taking being the main caregiver for a family member with a serious health condition, and the third item is what's called military exigencies. That’s where a military member of the employee's family asked to serve or asked to go on tour, and the employee can spend time with them before they go out on service.

AY: Martin Patrick is the senior consultant manager at GTM Payroll & HR.

An HR (human resources) department is frequently involved when an eligible employee applies for paid family leave.

Paid family leave was passed in New York in 2016. The program was among the most generous in the country at the time, and it was even strengthened in November 2021 to include siblings, whether that be half-siblings, step-siblings, biological or adopted.

Still, lawmakers say the language in workers compensation law, specifically paid family leave, has left some New Yorkers in vulnerable positions.

MP: The pay leaves is administered by the insurance company that the employer contracts with. So if the insurance company received notice that a child has passed away or a relative has passed away that the employees taken care of, they're going to revoke the leave. It's up to the insurance company to do that.

AY: This can be particularly trying for pregnant people and families who experience stillbirths.

PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy is a stillbirth awareness and prevention organization. Their main goal is eradicating preventable stillbirths. PUSH supports the bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar and Senator Timothy Kennedy that would change the workers compensation law to provide paid family leave following a stillbirth.

Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn openly supported the bill at a press conference. She has a personal connection to the issue.

Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn: When you think of the definition of family paid leave, you will notice that in the language it says bonding. Bonding with a child, bonding with a loved one, and I think that people's perspective perception is that, well, if you just went through a stillbirth experience, you do not have a child to bond with.

AY: The assemblywoman had her son, Jonah, in 2016, the same year paid family leave was passed, but events after her delivery made her question continuing on as a member of the legislature.

RBH: He came out living for an hour or two and then he passed, and after that whole experience, I had nothing, no resources, nothing. In fact, people had just expected me to get up and work. I didn't even have a chance to mourn my son.

There were a number of people, some were advocates on different issues who felt that they didn't understand, why I needed to take time off because I didn't have a child. But I felt that it was inhumane, and I had questioned whether I wanted to do this anymore.

AY: When Samantha Palermo and her partner became pregnant after a long bout of fertility issues, they were excited to bring their son Archer into their world, but Palermo says Archer stopped moving near the end of her pregnancy, and during an impromptu hospital visit, Archer was stillborn.

Samantha Palermo: When I finally got home, took a couple of days, but I go to call work and they said, we need a certificate of live birth, and I lost it…. I lost it.

I said, Archer's not with us, he passed away, and she took a moment and then she says, I'm sorry, but we're no longer going to be able to approve your paid family leave.

AY: Black mothers are twice as likely to experience a stillbirth as white mothers. Age also plays a factor with mothers under age 20 or over age 40 at higher risk.

Obstetrician & Gynecologist Dr. Patty Yuen, affiliated with PUSH for Empowered Pregnancy, feels moms should have time to grieve the loss of their child and physically heal from their pregnancy.

Patty Yuen: I think a woman with the stillbirths should definitely still be entitled to those full paid family leave after stillbirth experience. A woman still needs the same amount of time healing physically from the delivery and the pregnancy. Now, in addition to that, emotional support is extremely important for these women, for obvious reasons.

AY: Without paid family leave, senior HR consultant manager Martin Patrick suggests parents who lose a child can look to other benefits.

MP: After someone has tragically passed away, that's more of a bereavement procedures situation because the family leave concept is you're either bonding or taking care of a person with a serious health condition, and once that serious health condition or the child is no longer there, I think that really stretches into bereavement more than it does paid family leave.

An employee whose distress could apply for disability if they can't work because of the situation.

AY: Cassidy Perrone is a lawyer and New York native who now lives in Connecticut but practices in New York State. When she became pregnant and gave birth to her daughter Olivia, she says her only choice after her daughter's passing was taking short term disability, which is $170 a week for up to 26 weeks, far less than her previously approved amount of $1100 through paid family leave.

Cassidy Perrone: I was 36 weeks pregnant. I was right at the finish line, only to be told, I'm sorry, there is no heartbeat. My husband and I walked out of that hospital empty handed, brokenhearted, and unsure how we were going to carry on without her.

Seven days later, we buried our daughter, and the very next day I receive a call indicating to my employer that they are revoking my previously approved paid family leave because my daughter had died.

AY: Perrone is expecting again, but after her experience was paid family leave in New York State, she began practicing law in Connecticut, where she says leave policies are less likely to cause financial hardship in the event of a stillbirth.

Taking the time she needed almost depleted her and her husband's savings. Perrone said going back to work too quickly after her daughter's passing could have exposed her to legal malpractice.

CP: So many women nowadays that are educated and are the primary breadwinners in their family being forced to choose between following the advice of their doctors or going back to work to pay their bills, it's unacceptable.

Going back to work to practice law after two weeks postpartum would have put me in a situation of malpractice, but that is what New York put me in. That is the position that New York put me in.

AY: Patrick said supplemental disability could yield funds comparable to paid family leave, greater than $170 per week through temporary disability.

MP: Usually, it's paid by the employee, and it's usually a percentage of their salary, and depending on the waiting period for it to start, they can certainly make up the difference of their regular pay by supplemental insurance.

AY: Supplemental insurance could be the quicker solution for mothers, birthing partners and families in New York, but lawmakers are still working to amend worker's compensation law and have been since the 2019-2020 legislative session.

For New York Now, inside the state capitol, Alexis Young.

DC: The Senate has now passed a bill on that, but nothing just yet in the assembly.

Dan Clark: Yet another state lawmaker has been accused of sexual assault.

Two women say assembly member Juan Ardila tried to sexually assault them at a party in 2015.

Ardila has not denied the allegations and several lawmakers, including Governor Kathy Hochul, have called on him to resign.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie stopped short of doing the same, at least as of Friday morning, and said that's between Ardila and his district.

Carl Heastie: The allegations that were made, you know, serious and the behavior that was described is totally unacceptable, but I think that's a decision that Juan and his constituents are going to have to think about.

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

On This Week's Edition

Catch this week's show on your local PBS station, or watch on YouTube, Facebook, or using the free PBS app anytime after Friday.

On This Week's Edition of New York NOW:

  • The State Senate and Assembly approved their one-house budget proposals this week in a statutory rebuttal to Gov. Hochul's spending plan.
  • Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie joins us to discuss that chamber's budget, and what's ahead in negotiations.
  • New York's paid family leave law was considered among the country's most generous when it became law in 2016. But parents who've lost their children at birth say there's a glaring gap in coverage. Alexis Young reports.