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Good night for Speaker Silver: Sabres lose, Democrats get money

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver quietly slipped into Buffalo Thursday night to catch his New York Rangers defeat the Buffalo Sabres after holding a pre-game fundraiser to add to the surplus in the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee account.
An invite list wasn't available but a Democrat said "the usual suspects'' turned out for "Hockey Night in Buffalo,'' as the evening was billed.
Silver, a serious hockey fan who has had season tickets to the Rangers, typically travels once a year to watch a Rangers and Sabres game in Buffalo - while mixing it in with a chance to raise funds from lobbyists and Western New York companies that do business with the state.
An invitation sent to lobbyists this week offered a 90-minute reception and buffet dinner at the First Niagara Pinnacle Club and 300-level seating for $500 per ticket.
DAAC, the Democratic Assembly committee, has $1.4 million in the bank as of its most recent filing earlier this week with the state elections board.

Silver to Kearns: Don't let the door hit you

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The response by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to the news that Buffalo Assemblyman Michael Kearns is quitting the Democratic conference in protest because Silver will not resign over his handling of the Vito Lopez matter has gone up a notch from this afternoon's initial "not surprising'' reaction.

Tonight comes this from Michael Whyland, Silver's spokesman: "Two members left the Democratic conference today, Vito Lopez and Mickey Kearns. One was a closet harasser, one a closet Republican. Neither one will be missed.''

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Silver to push new system for handling allegations of wrongdoing

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Assembly will investigate moving to a new policy to have sexual harassment and other complaints against lawmakers handled by an outside, private investigator and not through internal channels, according to a Democratic Buffalo lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said she believes the new system will be recommended later this afternoon by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the wake of how he and his top staff secretly handled sexual harassment claims against former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. She said a task force that Silver appointed her to three weeks ago has already been looking into the idea.

Peoples-Stokes said officials are also examining a new policy to require mandatory reporting of suspected abuse cases.

"If my staff saw me doing something wrong, they'd be required to report it,'' she said of the policy being drafted.

The lawmaker joined other Democrats emerging from a closed-door session with Silver this afternoon giving the longtime Assembly leader a vote of confidence. Silver, she said, recognized he mishandled the Lopez case.

"And he apologized for it. A lot of people when they make mistakes are not going to apologize for it,'' she said.

She said a leadership change this late in the session would create "total chaos.''

Assembly wants to expand bottle bill

By Tom Precious

ALBANY -- The Assembly will pass a measure Monday expanding the state's bottle bill to include the millions of containers sold in New York each year holding sports drinks, energy drinks, some fruit juices and teas.

The provision is buried within the one-house Assembly Democratic budget plan introduced over the weekend that will be ready for passage on Monday. [The two houses are pushing their own budget alternatives this week as fiscal talks at the Capitol wind down, all sides hope, in the next couple weeks.]

The bottle bill expansion would raise $5 million annually, Assembly Democrats project. They want the money to go into the state's Environmental Protection Fund and to flow to various projects: $500,000 for invasive species control, $500,000 for recycling projects, $1.5 million for non-agriculure, non-point source pollution abatement, $1 million for zoos and botanical gardens, $500,000 for municipal parks and $1 million for downstate land acquistion efforts.

The expansion to sports and energy drinks and teas, as well as fruit drinks that contain less than 70 percent natural juice, comes after lawmakers in 2009 added water bottles to the list of those containers on which consumers must pay an additional 5 cents deposit per container at the time of purchase. The bottle bill became law in 1982 under then-Gov. Hugh Carey. The law currently covers beer, carbonated soft drinks, mineral water, carbonated energy and most carbonated fruit juices.

Advocates say the bottle bill expansions are needed to raise money and to help reduce pollution by people who toss their empty beverage containers on sidewalks and and along roadways. Critics say it is a backdoor tax on commerce that drives up prices. The state makes money under the bottle law from getting a portion of the unclaimed deposits from consumers who do not redemn their containers to get their nickels back.

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Assembly Democrats press for new fracking ban

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The Assembly today passed legislation to place a two-year moratorium on the controversial fracking drilling process for natural gas, a move its Democratic leaders say is necessary to give time for a comprehensive study of the issue by a state university of New York college.

The delay would push the matter beyond the 2014 statewide campaign and state legislative campaign season, but was getting push-back from the politically powerless Assembly Republican conference whose members were arguing on the chamber floor this afternoon that the moratorium will eat into upstate job creation.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said his conference is “profoundly sympathetic" to the need to improve the upstate economy, but said hydro-fracking has not been properly studied to ensure it is a safe drilling process.

Continue reading "Assembly Democrats press for new fracking ban" »

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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.

rmccarthy@buffnews.com


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.

tprecious@buffnews.com


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 | jterreri@buffnews.com


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 | jzremski@buffnews.com

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