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Attorney general could get more investigatory powers

New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James. Credit: Getty Images/Joshua Rashaad McFadden

Daily Point

Cuomo probe has legislature seeking to give James more power

The harassment allegations against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo brought a perennial wonky Albany legal issue to the public forefront this weekend: Why should the state attorney general need approval from the governor to investigate a matter of public interest, particularly if that matter pertains to the governor?

That’s how things stand under Section 63 of the state’s executive law, leading to the back and forth over the weekend that had Cuomo trying other options before granting a "referral" to Attorney General Tish James enabling her to oversee an investigation into the claims.

Fixing this peculiarity of state law prompted State Sen. Todd Kaminsky to introduce legislation that would expand the attorney general’s authority to investigate "the alleged commission of any crimes and offenses cognizable by the courts of this state" providing that doesn't interfere with district attorneys’ work, according to a draft bill.

The Long Beach Democrat’s measure, introduced Monday, also would nix the need for gubernatorial approval for inquiring into "matters concerning the public peace, public safety and public justice," and eliminate aspects of the law like requiring that the governor get weekly updates, which Cuomo’s lawyer said "will not be approved by or transmitted to the Executive" in granting the referral.

The restraints currently limiting the attorney general’s capacity to investigate are "really problematic," Kaminsky told The Point Monday.

Also being floated is Brooklyn State Sen. Andrew Gounardes’ proposal to tweak the executive law and allow for the State Legislature to make a direct referral to the attorney general for investigations like this through a concurrent resolution — majority votes in both chambers, not requiring support from the governor.

Gounardes told The Point that he and his staff had been working on the bill "on the fly" over the weekend given the Cuomo news. But the attorney general’s ability to investigate the governor and other state officials is a longstanding issue in New York.

James herself was often asked about it during her 2018 campaign, given her support from Cuomo and the untimely end of the Moreland Commission.

"We're going to continue to push the Legislature — both the (Assembly) speaker and the Senate majority leader — to grant and to pass a law that would give the attorney general independent jurisdiction and not have to rely upon any referrals from the governor," she told the Times Union at the time, pointedly citing the legislature, which has been none too eager to embolden a crusading attorney general, either.

Will the current crisis be what finally prompts Albany to clean up this issue?

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Data suggest rise in LI properties at risk of flooding

With the federal government set to announce new premiums for its National Flood Insurance Program on April 1, new data suggest that those premiums will need to be hiked significantly — around the country and in New York — to match the risks properties face now and in the future. And those risks might be particularly acute on Long Island; the data show the region dominates the list of communities in the state where risk is increasing the most.

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit research and technology group First Street Foundation calculated risk data for every home in the 48 contiguous states and found that annual losses from flooding faced by 4 million homes are 4.5 times their current NFIP premiums. By 2050, losses project to 6.2 times the premiums.

The data quantify another problem: In New York, 615,500 properties currently carry a substantial risk of flooding — a figure 2.6 times the number of such properties identified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And First Street projects that by 2050 the number of at-risk properties will rise by 11.9% to 688,800. While the group notes several upstate areas face risk from lakes and rivers, the largest numbers of at-risk properties are in New York City and on Long Island, where rising sea levels are already a problem.

The Long Island data are especially interesting. Fire Island places second behind upstate Hornell with 68% of its properties currently at risk and Long Beach is ninth at 47%. And both communities face projection spikes by 2050 — to 76% for Fire Island and a whopping 99% for Long Beach, the highest in the state. Nearly every property in Long Beach, in other words, will face substantial risk within 30 years.

What’s more, Long Island claims the top 10 spots on what First Street calls "relative growing risk." That’s the percentage change in risk from now to 2050, a measure of how bad it could get around here.

Merrick tops that list with a 172% increase in at-risk properties over the next 30 years, followed by Baldwin Harbor (162%), Inwood (122%), East Rockaway (118%), Oceanside (112%), Long Beach (110%), Bellmore (102%), Woodmere (87%), Sag Harbor (78%), and Massapequa (75%).

It’s all food for thought for those trying to keep flood insurance rates artificially low, and for those who think our future flooding problems are still a long way away.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie

Pencil Point

A different kind of wall

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Quick Points

  • Some of the Jan. 6 Capitol attackers are defending themselves by saying they were following orders from then-President Donald Trump. Law enforcement officials say the rioters came to D.C. already prepared to create havoc. Both, you know, could be true.
  • The cast in the drama of Neera Tanden’s sinking chances of being confirmed by the Senate as director of the Office of Management and Budget: Tanden, a prolific user of Twitter, pretending she feels badly about her many past controversial tweets; Republicans senators, after four years of winking at Donald Trump’s false and incendiary tweets, pretending to be outraged by Tanden’s; President Joe Biden, trying to reset the button on political comity, still sticking by Tanden; and the American public, left asking: Who is Neera Tanden?
  • Former President Donald Trump attacked Democrats during his CPAC speech saying, "I may even decide to beat them for a third time," a remarkable failure of elementary mathematics. He also drew only 55% of a straw poll of CPAC attendees on a 2024 GOP presidential nominee, a whole different kind of math failure.
  • Attorney General Letitia James kept holding out until Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, on this third attempt, finally gave a referral to James alone to name an independent investigator into accusations of sexual harassment against Cuomo. Interesting shift in state power dynamics.
  • Former President Donald Trump in his CPAC speech called for unity in the Republican Party, while also excoriating Rep. Liz Cheney, RINOs, "establishment political hacks," and every Republican who voted to impeach or convict him. Surely, you knew his definition of unity would be very particular.
  • The late Chadwick Boseman won a Golden Globes award for his role in "Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom." His widow, Taylor Simone Ledward, delivered the evening’s most powerful and poignant acceptance speech in his stead. Thank you, Taylor, and RIP, Chadwick.

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie