Senator Stewart-Cousins on Upcoming Session Priorities | New York NOW

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(light music) – Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins,
Senate Majority Leader. Thanks for joining us
again on “New York Now.” – It’s always good to be with you, Karen. And thank you and welcome to my district. – We’re talking on the off session earlier this year that was pretty busy. – Yes. – Up in Albany, the 2019 session. Really remarkable how
many things that were done by the Senate Democrats
and the legislature. In fact, I was looking through them and it’s almost too many to name. But a couple of them,
the Child Victims Act, codifying the abortion rights
and Roe V. Wade into law. Early voting, plastic bag
ban, property tax cap. So what we’re wondering, is 2020 going to be as energetic or have you done a lot of the things
that you need to do now? – Well, I’ll tell you
we were really clearing a backlog, you know. Some of these things that you mentioned had been lingering for years. Some as many as 10 years. And I could not see any
reason to delay any more. We’ve had every discussion we could on reproductive health. We’ve had every discussion we could on Child Victims Act. In fact, Child Victims
Act was extraordinary because when we actually
brought it to the floor not one person voted against it. So we saw this time and time again. Early voting, why not? So we will continue to just try and make this the best New York for
everyone, that it can be. – So one big issue that’s
on the radar screen is legalizing adult
recreational use of marijuana. That’s been complicated
somewhat by the vaping illness that’s happening. Are you rethinking, you supported that bill last year, it didn’t pass. Are you rethinking how
to do legalized marijuana in light of what’s going
on with the vaping? – Well you know first of
all in terms of vaping, I know we’re gonna be doing a lot of things around that, clearly. The governor had done an executive order. We always believe that
codifying certain things. – That’s right, banning
flavored e-cigarettes because teenagers are
too attracted to them. That’s something that you
think might become law? – I do, I do, I do. You know, I think it’s extremely important that we do whatever we can. Especially now, I mean
the signs are so clear that this is a real problem,
it’s a health hazard and like I said, unfortunately so many of our young people have been targeted and are now hooked. In terms of the marijuana
we did decriminalize because we could not get to that place with legalization of adult use. We are gonna continue to
try and figure it out. I mean one of the big sticking points was again, what to do
with these communities that have been so badly damaged by the unequal, you know
the unequal enforcement of these laws. – And some of the bills. Yeah, want some kind of reparation. – You know it’s some thing that rights so many of the wrongs, obviously a lot of people are talking about the money that is involved in this industry. – Yep, tax revenue. – And how do we make sure
that the communities again, black and latino
communities that have been so targeted, frankly, will be able to have a role in the economy that’s going to grow around this industry. And of course, people are
concerned about the education. We wanna make sure that we
continue to educate everyone about the use, abuse,
and this kind of thing. – Using it safely? – [Andrea] Yeah. – So what’s your prediction? Do you think it’s going to pass this year? – You know, I think that
there is a path forward but again we wanna see that
the revenue, again is targeted into some of the communities, again, that have been disproportionately,
negatively impacted. We wanna make sure that
there’s opportunities. – That has to be included
is what you’re saying, in order for it to pass? – It’s gotta be an entire package. – And speaking of money
the state looks like it might have a budget deficit. The Medicaid budget is three
to four billion dollar deficit. Cuomo’s budget office is
talking about delaying a payment for the second year in a row, into the next fiscal year
and making cuts to providers. Do you think that the budget
office should just do that? Do you think the legislature should be involved in this? – I would love, you know as I’ve said, over and over again this is, these are big, big dollars and it obviously is impacting
the healthcare system. I do believe that we should have some involvement in it. It’s preferential, clearly, to be able to go over the numbers, the expectations, and obviously when you’re
talking about cutting you’re talking about
cutting into various aspects of our healthcare delivery system. And this is extremely
important and then so much of this is matching. So it’s not necessarily just that amount of money but if it’s money that’s matched on a federal level then
we are talking about extremely large impacts potentially. And yes, I would wanna be involved. – Well the reason we kind of have this so called deficit is the
governor has restrained himself to a 2% per year spending cap. You think that’s okay
to continue with that? – Well, I think that
this is an opportunity to take a look in terms of some of these self imposed caps. And again, I think everybody understands the importance of being
prudent with taxpayer dollars. I mean it’s not something
that we take lightly. – So as you know, the public finance, campaign finance commission is meeting. It’s supposed to set up a
small donor matching program so that we’ll have public campaign finance in New York State. Now you’re appointees
have, in some cases been at odds with the appointees
of Governor Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Heastie, in a polite way. There hasn’t been fighting
but they have different ideas of how to do this. The commission is going
to issue its report by Thanksgiving, do
you have concerns about the direction it’s going in right now? – Well you know I, again, we setup the commission because we understood the out sized influence
that these campaign, that interests have in our elections. And our conference has
always been extremely clear that we want public financing. We want campaign finance reform so that’s what we’ve always wanted. – But do you think that they’re coming up with something that’s
going to be workable, that people will wanna use? Because the advocates are
saying they have doubts. – Well, I understand people have doubts but again as you said,
there’s a commission and I’m more than happy to see what the commission comes up with. I know that my appointees
are very, very clear on what it is that they see as a viable campaign finance
reform for New York State. And have been very articulate
and vocal about it. And so I’m gonna see what they come with. I mean, obviously I
believe that everyone knows that it is time to make extreme changes in this aspect of our lives. So I’m hopeful. – And what about fusion voting? – Fusion. – There is proposals,
I should just lay out, to limit fusion voting
which is allowing candidates to run on multiple party lines. So it might be harder for
some of these third parties to cross endorse to qualify and to qualify for the ballot. That’s some of the proposals out there. – Well, I mean I think it’s important to note that our focus has always been on the campaign finance reform. This fusion sort of infused
itself into the conversation. – Should they be discussing fusion? – Personally, I would prefer that it be a separate conversation,
you know if there was gonna be a conversation at all. However, there it is
and again I will await the findings, I think
it’s been pretty clear that we are focused on
campaign finance reform and I’m not trying to destroy parties or make it impossible. I definitely know, however,
that we must reform our campaign financing. – The legislature does have a chance to come back and change
the commission report. – [Andrea] Yes. – If you’re not happy with it. Do you see that happening? – Well again, it would be premature to, like I said, we do but of course we have an opportunity
to come back in January and February. So I mean, I guess I don’t. – I see what you mean. So even if the commission
as it goes becomes– – [Andrea] Yes, I mean– – But if the recommendations become law at the end of the year
you still could come back January, February, March and change that? – Absolutely, April, you know
I mean that’s the whole thing. – So you’re not seeing
that as a real deadline? – I don’t see that as any deal breaker. And again, I think it’s important that we note this in every area. You know, we’re not
people who are like, okay, we did plastic bag bans
and we’ll never look at the environment again. Or we did, I mean that’s why we were able to do the sensible gun laws, or whatever. We are people who are just
trying to get it right. And I know all of my
colleagues in legislature are just trying to get it right. So it’s going to be the same thing in terms of campaign finance reform, and ethics reform, and everything else. We will just work until we get it right. – And finally, everybody’s
favorite question or at least my favorite question. The politics of 2020. You have 40 members, right? – Yes. – [Karen] Very solid majority. – Yes. – Do you expect to pickup seats this year? There’s a couple of Republican districts that one of ’em doesn’t
have a senator anymore the other one of ’em is
gonna run for Congress. Are those competitive
districts, Buffalo, Syracuse? – Yes. – [Karen] That you think you might pickup? – Absolutely, anybody who’s. So, people laughed at me when I told, this was our last
election when I told them I wanted 40 Democrats in the chamber. They laughed, but it turns
out that I was right. So now I am predicting 43
and I do believe, again, we have an incredible majority now. I will keep everybody who’s there and add because at the end. And I always say 43 is actually the floor. It’s not the ceiling. So I’m open to 50, I’m
open to making sure that, and as I’ve always said to
my Republican counterparts all we’re looking for is parity. They had the majority in the Senate for the better part of a 100 years. I’m just looking for that. – Yeah, okay but to that there’s the so called Long Island Six Democrats who replaced the Long
Island Nine Republicans. They’re in a more conservative districts. They’ve already been threatened
with primary challenges from some pretty far left groups saying that they’re not to the left enough and there’s worries that could harm them in the general election, the Republicans could get the seat back. So how do you navigate
that in the session? Giving them things that
they could come home with so that they could look
good to their voters but without offending your New York City and some other members? – Well, you know again I think that what we’ve done and
what we will continue to do is really reflective
of what New Yorkers want and I’m a Westchester Senator
and know very, very well suburban areas, and my Long Island Six have been able to do
some incredible things with the environment there. Again, the property tax cap was there. We are trying to do as much as we can in terms of education and funding. And I know that we have done a great deal of very important things
that are extremely helpful, not only to them but to the
voters that I represent. We will continue to do that and I think it’s also important to note that there are a lot of progressive groups that have actually come out and supported the Long Island Six as well. – Well, 2020 is gonna be very exciting, very interesting year and we’ll be talking to you again about that. Thanks very much for joining us. – Thank you so much. (light music)

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