Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders inched ever closer to finalizing a deal for the state budget this week, but the news that caught the attention of Albany observers – and even CNN – was the arrest of a veteran reporter, Daily News Albany Bureau Chief Ken Lovett.
Lovett was hauled away to the capitol lockup in handcuffs after he was caught speaking on his cell phone in the Senate chamber lobby.
The Daily News’s Ken Lovett has been detained by State Police. One witness says it was for talking on a cellphone in the state Senate lobby. Bizarre and egregious. Never seen something like this. pic.twitter.com/C284pPLZV1— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) March 28, 2018
The Senate declined to press charges, and Cuomo personally went to the Capitol lockup to #freekenlovett.
Free!!!! For the record, state police were very professional.— ken lovett (@klnynews) March 28, 2018
.@klnynews back at his desk safe and sound after spending about a half hour in detention by @NyStatePolice he was arrested for talking on a cell phone in Senate lobby while Senate was not even in session. Lovett was visited by @NYGovCuomo and no charges will be filed. pic.twitter.com/w6hRAG5jBA— Zack Fink (@ZackFinkNews) March 28, 2018
After Cuomo joked that he was serving as Lovett’s counsel, he held an impromptu press availability with Capitol reporters, which is rare during budget week. He spoke on several sticking points in budget negotiations, including continuing his effort to reframe a scaled back proposal on congestion pricing as simply a first phase.
Cuomo says ride-hailing fees are a “first step” toward congestion pricing.— Jimmy Vielkind (@JimmyVielkind) March 28, 2018
Cuomo said that he was not interested in “bailing out” casinos, after the del Lago casino in the Finger Lakes requested state assistance because it did not meet projected revenues in its first year of business. The governor also confirmed that a pay commission, which would examine legislators’ salaries and possibly recommend an increase, was under consideration in the budget. State lawmakers have not had a pay increase since 1999. In 2016, a similar panel dismissed a recommended pay raise, with the backing of Cuomo’s appointees to the commission.
Cuomo also called for more money to be allocated to the New York City Housing Authority, and once again pressed New York City to offer more money to fund the subway system, both fronts in his ongoing political war against city Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Meanwhile, several contentious issues continued to create drama. The Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases, seemed to have dropped off the negotiating table, despite a last-minute push by advocates.
It’s official. Final budget bill fails to include the Child Victims Act. pic.twitter.com/I8BClkuqpD— NYpassCVA (@NYpassCVA) March 28, 2018
Cuomo’s office is reportedly trying to expand the powers of the state to redevelop the area around Penn Station. The plan faced immediate pushback from state legislators who represent Manhattan who said it was wrong to insert such language without community input.
The governor also continued to face criticism for not including state Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in discussions over sexual harassment measures in the state budget. Cuomo said that a “working group” of women and legislative staffers were working on the measures, including the secretary to the governor, Melissa DeRosa. He also indicated that Shontell Smith, counsel to the Democratic conference in the state Senate, was in the working group. However, a spokesman for the conference said Smith is not part of the discussions. Assembly Majority Leader Carl Heastie said in a statement that senior staff of state Senate Democrats had been included in the talks.
Speaker Carl Heastie statement on working group involved in sexual harassment reform negotiations says Senate Dems are involved in talks pic.twitter.com/VmIKwN6xcB— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) March 28, 2018
Other issues still under consideration include a proposal to remove firearms from people convicted of domestic violence, expanded school safety and a proposal to require school districts to publicly disclose funding details for each school.
The dramatic day in Albany wrapped up with some hints of consensus. Assembly Democrats indicated that the budget would pass on Thursday. Although the deadline for the budget to be finalized in April 1, legislators were hoping to hold the vote before the Jewish and Christian holidays this weekend.
Assembly Democrats are done for now this evening. The budget is scheduled to pass tomorrow.— Nick Reisman (@NickReisman) March 28, 2018
Meanwhile, the wild coyote which so entranced Albany observers on Tuesday, after it was found sleeping on the roof of the nearby State Museum, was released by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
Here's video of the coyote release today. It’s estimated NY has approx 14,500 breeding pairs of coyotes in New York, & not uncommon to see them in suburban and urban areas. Please enjoy viewing wildlife from a distance and never approach a coyote. https://t.co/UgzzK4twft pic.twitter.com/5kS8KYv7c9— NYSDEC (@NYSDEC) March 28, 2018
If there was one lesson from Albany today, it is that coyotes and reporters can’t be imprisoned for too long.