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Friday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- New insights about National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden are hard to come by these days, but in today's top story, Reuters reveals that the contractor that hired him despite concerns about Snowden's resume.

Meanwhile, Politico gives us compelling takes on two big issues on Capitol Hill. First, it illustrates the key role Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y, played in the deal that may save immigration reform.

And Politico also takes us inside the dysfunctional House as its Farm Bill collapses.

Finally, The New York Times tells us the recent spike in mortgage interest rates may be ending.

Thursday's non-shocker: Assembly passes abortion rights bill

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The Assembly just passed a 10-point bill dubbed the "women's equality agenda,'' which includes a controversial abortion rights provision.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver decided to pass a bill containing all 10 points that forced some abortion opponent lawmakers to vote no even though they supported nine of the points, such as stronger sexual harassment provisions.

The real fight remains in the Senate, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo and women's organizations are attempting to push four breakaway Democrats who control the Senate with the Republicans to push the abortion bill to the floor. It will all come to a head Friday when the abortion bill has been lawfully aged for three days before it can be acted on. Senate co-leader Dean Skelos on Thursday afternoon repeated his pledge that the bill will not make it to the floor.

The Assembly vote on the 10-point package was 97 to 47. The debate lasted nearly four hours.

Thursday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- Today's top read is NPR's take on a question all drivers are asking: why are gasoline prices still so high?

Meanwhile, The Hill notes that Democrats are cozying up to Hillary Clinton, three years before the next presidential election.

And The New York Times profiles Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee chairman who's now fighting for gay marriage.

Puppy mill industry is in the house

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -– Turns out there’s even a puppy mill lobby.

Legislation allowing localities to enact stronger rules regulating puppy mills is stalled in the State Senate as the 2013 session crawls to an end in the next couple days.

The measure, fought by some pet dealer companies, would let local governments enact their own, stricter laws aimed at curbing what the bill’s backers say are abuses in the puppy mill pet dealer industry. Animal welfare groups say many puppy mills offer substandard care for dogs and churn out poorly bred animals that end up having health problems that lead owners to eventually turn their dogs over to resource-drained animal shelters.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat, has already passed the Assembly. But it has become stuck in the Senate, where the bill is sponsored by Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican.

“A few senators with puppy mills in their areas have a problem with it,’’ Grisanti said today as an explanation for the bill being stuck in the Senate Rules Committee. “It’s one of my huge priorities,’’ Grisanti said of the bill.

The bill would lift restrictions that now keep local governments from enacting regulations stronger than state laws that regulate pet dealers. The bill would let localities address such puppy mill issues as source of animals being offered for sale by pet dealers, whether spaying or neutering should be required before a sale and the health conditions of the facilities housing the dogs.

The measure is backed by associations representing counties and towns, as well as animal welfare groups.

The SPCA of Erie County raised concerns about conditions at some dog breeding operations and that the state agriculture department, which regulates pet dealers, has had its funding cut in recent years and does not have the resources to adequately monitor all the state’s puppy mills.

“The SPCA serving Erie County frequently responds to cruelty cases involving licensed breeders who could be regulated by localities if local governments’ ability to do so were not preempted by state law,’’ the group wrote in a memo supporting the bill.

The bill is not an unfunded mandate on localities, sponsors say, because the measure leaves it up to local governments whether to adopt new pet deal regulations.

Cuomo not sure if he will campaign for his casino plan

By Tom Precious

ALBANY --Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hailing his new deal for new casino development as a major benefit for upstate New York.

But when asked by a reporter this afternoon if he will personally campaign to try to convince voters this fall to pass the casino referendum, the governor was less enthusiastic.

"I haven't even thought it through yet,'' Cuomo said.

But the administration has been working hard in recent weeks to move possible casino referendum opponents into at least the neutral column. Three Indian tribes, including the Seneca Nation, have cut various agreements with Cuomo in recent weeks that will keep them on the sidelines in the November ballot campaign; indeed, the Oneida Indian tribe signed a deal agreeing that it will do nothing to oppose the ballot measure. And enough casino companies from around the country are interested in making a play for casino developments in New York that even the most inside of insiders in the industry really can't pinpoint where a major rush of funds will be coming from this fall to oppose the referendum.

Today in City Hall: Fire contract

By Jill Terreri

Good morning,

Today, the details of a tentative 15-year contract for firefighters, which has already been approved by the union's membership and the Brown administration, will be analyzed by the city's control board. 

The control board doesn't have any authority to approve the contract, as it is in advisory status, but members are expected to give an analysis of the document's true costs to city taxpayers when it meets at 1 p.m. today in the first-floor conference room of the Market Arcade. 

Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder also analyzed the contract, and found that it will cost the city $23 million, which is available in city reserves, though it could end up costing more as firefighters retire, induced by incentives in the contract. Approximately half of the department will be eligible to retire by June 30, 2015, and the city could face costs of "several million dollars," as it pays out for accumulated sick and vacation time, Schroeder wrote. 

The Common Council was prepared to vote on the contract last week, but the city wanted to give the control board time to review it. 

A Council vote is expected next week. 

From today's Buffalo News, Mark Sommer looks at Horsefeathers Market & Residences on Connecticut Street, which is part of a renaissance on the West Side, and Brian Meyer talks to Thomas Eoannou about his purchase of the North Park Theatre.

And in North Buffalo, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen is set to open in late October


Buffalo comptroller analysis of fire contract

Wednesday's must-reads from Washington

By Jerry Zremski

WASHINGTON -- For an old auto town like Buffalo, today's top read (or listen), from National Public Radio, shows that the auto industry comeback may not be all it is cracked up to be.

More in the realm of conventional Washington news, The Washington Post looks at how National Security Agency spying is unraveling terror plots.

And Politico looks at two parties in trouble for different reasons. Democrats face a lost decade in the House, while Republicans are bedeviled by a "clueless caucus."

Judge Sedita remembered by Poloncarz, Zellner

By Robert J. McCarthy

   Two top Erie County Democrats -- County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner -- Monday offered their thoughts on the Sunday death of retired State Supreme Court Justice Frank A. Sedita Jr. 

   “Judge Sedita was the consummate judge, public servant and a devoted Democrat,” Zellner said. “He was also a wonderful family man, devoted father and a mentor to many in this business including myself.  On behalf of the entire Democratic family, we are saddened by Judge Sedita’s death and our thoughts and prayers are with the Sedita family.”

   "Judge Sedita was never afraid to take a stand, and his untiring efforts on the bench led to better communities and stronger neighborhoods,” added Poloncarz.  “His work ethic, professionalism, and commitment to the law made him well-known to many, and he will be missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Sedita family at this time.”

Is Cuomo OK with women's agenda minus abortion?

By Tom Precious

ALBANY --Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he would not support passage of his women's agenda package unless it included an abortion protection provision, is now sending signals to advocacy groups to embrace a measure without the already-doomed abortion piece, sources said Tuesday.

In his State of the State address this year, the governor made much of his 10-point women's agenda, which included ideas like strengthening sexual harassment laws and pressing for pay equity for women in the privte sector. But this week he made clear he was joining with leaders of various women's groups to proclaim that nine points of the 10-point package were not enough and that the abortion piece had to be included. Leaders of the Senate say the abortion bill, which has advocates and critics disagreeing over its real impact, is not passing this session, though Republicans and Democrats say they could be open with at least most of the nine points Cuomo proposed.

But sources say calls were made today by the Cuomo administration to women's groups with a simple message: maybe it's now time for them to call on lawmakers to at least go along with the nine points and forget the push for the abortion provision this year.

Melissa DeRosa, a Cuomo spokeswoman, said no such message was delivered to any women's groups and that the governor still supports a complete, 10-point agenda.

Tracey Brooks, president of Family Planning Advocates, which represents Planned Parenthood groups in New York, said she participated in today's strategy session with Cuomo. "We had a conversation about a lot of different things. It was a broad conversation,'' she said.

But at no time, she said, did Cuomo signal any retreat from the full, 10-point package. "The governor did not tell us to run a nine-point bill,'' Brooks said.

WNY tracks want cash incentives after Cuomo, Seneca casino deal

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – Lawmakers have introduced legislation to give a financial benefit to racetrack-based casinos in Western New York that will have to change their marketing strategies following last week’s deal by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Seneca Nation to end a $600 million dollar dispute that raged for four years.

The bill, by Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican, and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat, would lower the amount of money the three track casinos – located in Hamburg, Batavia and near Rochester – would have to pay to the state lottery division from video lottery terminal revenues.

The legislation would also provide additional funds for capital improvements at the racinos, increase the fee the facilities get from the state by 7.5 percent and increase “free play’’ allowances used as a lure to keep bettors in the parlors. The tracks also want reimbursement of the cost to “re-brand’’ themselves as called for in the Cuomo and Seneca agreement; that would presumably include the cost of at least creating new entrance signs, billboards and other marketing expenses.

The tracks were at the heart of a dispute in which the Seneca Nation said its 2002 compact with the state was breached, in part, by a 2008 decision by the state Lottery Division to let the three track racinos market themselves as “casinos’’ and say that they offered patrons “slot machines.’’ The racinos are permitted to offer video lottery terminals, which look, sound and play like slot machines, but Cuomo agreed last week to end the way the racinos had been able to market themselves the past five years.

The Seneca Nation, whose ruling Council has not yet approved the agreement signed by Cuomo and Seneca President Barry Snyder Sr., was able to keep $209 million of the $600 million in revenue sharing payments it withheld during the dispute with the state.

The Seneca Nation is awaiting to see what comes out of the final plan by Cuomo to expand casino gambling in the state. Over the weekend, a draft bill circulated that showed Cuomo, despite the deal last week, proposed letting up to two video lottery terminal facilities into Western New York – within the Seneca Nation’s gambling exclusivity zone that Cuomo re-affirmed last week in the deal – if voters this fall reject a casino expansion measure Cuomo and lawmakers are pushing. Cuomo administration officials said Saturday that draft was outdated and that the terms of the gambling exclusivity deal Cuomo signed would be “100 percent honored.’’



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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri |

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski |