With help from Shawn Ness
What would you say is the “defining challenge of our time?”
Climate change? A worsening housing shortage? The threat of another pandemic?
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s answer: mental health.
“Make no mistake, this is the defining challenge of our time,” she said while boasting her recent mental health proposals during Tuesday’s State of the State.
At Tuesday’s address, the governor presented a slate of mental health policy proposals: She vowed to tighten regulations on social media’s algorithms which she says prey on young teens; she wants to mandate higher insurance reimbursement rates for mental health care; and she spoke bluntly about the link between mental illness, homelessness and crime.
And this morning, ahead of next week’s budget announcement, the governor announced $50 million is available for community-based hospitals to increase their psychiatric capacity. The funds can be used to cover construction costs for facility expansions.
“We can say we want more beds, (but) if you don’t make the buildings bigger or add more capacity it’s not going to happen,” she said during a speech in the Bronx.
The comments were the latest example of Hochul putting heightened attention on an issue often stigmatized and seldom prioritized. (Mental health is one of the three focal points in her “commonsense agenda,” along with “fighting crime” and “protecting New Yorkers’ hard earned money.”)
In the last two years, Hochul said mental health funding has increased by 33 percent and that over 3,500 housing units were created for those dealing with mental illness.
The State of the State also included 10 mental health initiatives which she presented as efforts to fight crime and homelessness. Those include creating a new Law Enforcement and Mental Health Coordination Team, increasing the number of mental health courts and heightening parole supervision for people with mental illness.
When it comes to mental health, “past leaders have failed too long,” the governor said.
WELCOME BACK TO NEW YORK PLAYBOOK PM! We are returning Playbook PM year-round, while also putting its focus on Albany — from the Legislature to the governor to the power brokers shaping the Capitol agenda.
AI IN THE COURTS: Chief Judge Hector LaSalle and state judiciary leaders announced a task force to study the impacts of artificial intelligence on the courts.
The task force will meet with AI experts to propose recommendations on how the system can best utilize AI to “better serve their courts and communities,” according to a news release from the Appellate Division.
The task force will be co-chaired by Justices Angela Lannacci and Deborah Dowling.
“The legal profession is not immune to the rapid evolution that is taking place in the field of artificial intelligence. As artificial intelligence technology rapidly advances, it is imperative for the courts to be prepared,” LaSalle said in a statement.
The task force was created after a court symposium in early November. — Shawn Ness
WAR ON RETAIL THEFT: Hochul wants increased penalties for assaulting retail workers as a way to dissuade shoplifters.
But she will have to convince Democrats in the state Legislature to back the proposal, a key plank in her plan to address organized retail theft in New York.
“I hope they are [supportive] because these bodegas, these little shops are in their districts,” Hochul told reporters today.
Hochul’s push to address shoplifting also includes a law enforcement task force and help for businesses to bolster security and monitoring in their stores.
But expanding penalties could be a heavier lift for the governor, who is aware of the political punch that crime can pack in recent elections.
Hochul pointed to stronger penalties that have been put in place to protect transit workers.
“The same should follow through for retail workers who we believe are on the frontline of this war,” she said. “They deserve our protection while we get through this crisis.” — Nick Reisman
COURT OF REPEALS: The mayor announced yet another rollback of his unpopular budget cuts today. And this time he seemed to have a specific audience in mind: a politically powerful union who sued the administration over the spending reductions, which were unveiled in November.
DC37, the city’s largest public sector union, filed a lawsuit last month alleging the city circumvented protocol when it sought to eliminate thousands of positions represented by the labor organization. Today, Adams announced that the particular budget cut has been reversed.
“I sat down and I spoke with [DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido] and he explained the history of the program, how it came about, how it targeted low-income New Yorkers,” the mayor said during a press briefing, just a day after unveiling similar restorations to the NYPD and FDNY.
The mayor also reversed a cut to litter basket pickup that was set to hit the Department of Sanitation next year. But it was the attempt to neutralize a lawsuit from DC37 that will provide the most immediate political boost.
“This decision is a positive step in a budget cycle that’s presented immense challenges for our members and the Administration, and we look forward to collaborating on additional solutions,” Garrido said in a statement. — Joe Anuta
WISHFUL THINKING: Rep. Jerry Nadler overstated his case this morning, while defending New York City migrants at a Republican-led House Judiciary committee hearing on “The Impact of Illegal Immigration on Social Services.”
“I was pleased to see Mayor Adams announced just yesterday he’s reversing all anticipated budget cuts for the NYPD, the FDNY and likely the library, school and other social services programs as well, which he had originally said were needed due to the arrival of migrants to New York,” Nadler said, implicitly arguing that migrants weren’t causing the city’s fiscal problems.
But Adams did not announce that. Only a portion of the NYPD and FDNY cuts announced in November have been reversed, and there was no mention of the other areas.
Mere hours later though, Adams announced more restorations, of litter basket service and a job training program keeping parks clean. (See above.)
Nadler’s not a soothsayer, but the liberal Democrat knows politics, and there’s some truth to his comments — unexpected spending on migrants only makes up a fraction of the multi-billion budget gap Adams has to close. And while more budget cuts are expected next week, history suggests that Adams may reverse some more of the visible cuts. Keep an eye on Sunday services at libraries. — Jeff Coltin
GAS BATTLE BEGINS: Labor unions and gas utilities are ramping up efforts to oppose ways to restrict subsidies for new hookups to the system.
New Yorkers for Affordable Energy, a pleasantly named industry and labor-supported group, issued a statement in opposition of Hochul’s proposal to end the “obligation to serve” that requires gas utilities to connect new customers and the “100 foot rule” that subsidizes a portion of the costs of new hookups by charging other customers.
Environmental advocates have pushed to address these policies for years, arguing the state’s utility law needs to be aligned with the climate law.
But upstate and suburban Assembly Democrats are leery of the impacts. Arguments about higher costs for rehabbing old homes in upstate cities, more expenses for homeowners and potential backlash from voters if a transition is not well managed appear to be resonating.
Daniel Ortega, executive director for New Yorkers for Affordable Energy and head of community affairs for Engineers Labor-Employee Cooperative (ELEC 825), said in a statement the group applauds Hochul for not including a key plank of the legislative proposal on this issue: a 6 percent of income cap on utility bills for low- and moderate-income New York residents.
The governor wisely chose to “buck extremists” in leaving out the “wealth distribution scheme,” he said.
Advocacy groups are gearing up to push for including the mandate, which could be paid for by higher costs for other utility customers, in the final budget.
Ending the 100-foot rule “threatens good paying union jobs at a time when our state can ill afford such losses,” Ortega added. “In many areas, natural gas is the most affordable option for an average family. This proposal would move this choice out of reach for all but the most affluent families.”
NYSERDA’s analysis shows new construction with all-electric equipment is nearing parity with gas for single-family homes. Retrofits can be more costly, but switching from oil to heat pumps ultimately provides savings.
New Yorkers for Affordable Energy’s current steering committee members include ELEC 825, National Fuel Gas, Enbridg, Millennium Pipeline Co., and utility contractor Power and Construction Group Inc, according to a spokesman. The group is now launching its 2024 membership drive. It no longer lists members and funders of the group on its website.
Ortega is scheduled to hold a press availability on the group’s agenda on Tuesday. — Marie J. French
ANTI-VAPING PUSH: The state Department of Health is working on a campaign to reduce vaping among young people. Across the state, 18.7 percent of high schoolers were vapers, and the DOH is developing “quit vaping” materials for middle and high schoolers.
“Exposure to nicotine during adolescence can cause addiction and damage to the developing adolescent brain, lungs, and overall health,” state health commissioner James McDonald said in a statement.. “The department remains committed to decreasing vaping among young people and providing them with the resources that will help keep them informed, healthy, and safe.”
The department said today that it has produced posters, palm cards and rack cards to go in middle and high schools to promote the “Drop The Vape” campaign. – Shawn Ness
THE COST OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: A coalition of reform groups is asking Hochul to include $59.5 million for the state’s new public campaign financing system in next week’s budget plan.
That’s a bit more than the amount that was requested by the new board that oversees the program, which asked for $39.5 million in a budget request letter. That’s the same amount that was allocated last year, and agencies were told to keep their requests flat.
But Reinvent Albany’s Rachel Fauss pointed to the growing number of legislative candidates who have expressed interest in participating in the system – currently 175 of them – as a reason to expect budget needs might increase.
“We want to encourage as many candidates to run as possible, so having a robust level of funding is going to give more confidence to candidates that funding is there for them,” she said.
If the program runs out of money this fall, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has the authority to shift some additional money into it. “But it’s better to proactively address the issue rather than having to scramble for the funding,” Fauss said. –Bill Mahoney
CHILD WELFARE: The city Administration for Children’s Services is looking to inform more New York City families about their rights from the beginning of a child welfare investigation.
As part of an initial pilot program in parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx, child protective specialists gave out more than 400 notifications to parents who were the subject of an allegation of child abuse or neglect. The agency plans to expand the pilot citywide by July.
“In doing so, we are taking an important step towards the mayor’s vision of safety, equity and justice,” ACS commissioner Jess Dannhauser said in a statement.
In October, the agency announced a new approach to address racial disparities among families that come to the attention of the child welfare system.
Officials said the objective was to educate mandated reporters — individuals required by state law to report suspected child neglect — on ways to assist families without contacting the state’s child abuse hotline, and to reserve calls for when a child’s safety is at risk. — Madina Touré
— Trump lashed out at the judge in closing arguments of civil fraud trial in Manhattan. (POLITICO)
— Parental consent may soon be needed for social media companies to collect data from users under the age of 18. (State of Politics)
— Rep. Jamaal Bowman is beefing with Westchester County Executive George Latimer over who can best represent the district ahead of the Democratic primary in June.. (LoHud)