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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces $30 Million for Summer Youth Employment

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced $30 million in funding for the Summer Youth Employment program which supports communities across the state in creating summer jobs for youth from low-income families. With this funding, approximately 18,000 young New Yorkers will gain new skills this summer, resulting in improved academic performance and increasing future job prospects.

To be eligible, young people must be ages 14 to 20 and have a family income below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or $39,850 for a family of three). Employers can use the funds to subsidize wages, support education and training activities, as well as offer counseling and employment-related services, such as transportation to and from work. Young people interested in participating can contact their local department of social services. (View contact information here.)

An additional $20 million annually is available to businesses in tax credits through the Urban Youth Jobs Program. The program, formerly called New York Youth Works, encourages businesses to hire unemployed, disadvantaged young people who are age 16 to 24, and who live in Albany, Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Schenectady, Syracuse, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle, Utica, White Plains, Yonkers and the towns of Brookhaven and Hempstead. Since 2012, the program has connected more than 18,000 at-risk young people to jobs with more than 2,000 New York businesses across the 13 target areas in New York State. The $20 million is available annually through 2018. For more information, visit: www.labor.ny.gov/youthjobs.

Governor Cuomo Launches Consumer Awareness Campaign to Further Protect Nail Salon Workers

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched a public awareness campaign to educate consumers about what they should expect when they visit a nail salon in New York State. New pocket cards listing the “Top Five Things to Ask When Entering Nail Salons” are being distributed statewide beginning in conjunction with the launch of the Governor’s new website and social media campaign.

This massive public outreach campaign is the latest step from the Governor’s multi-pronged Nail Salon Industry Enforcement Task Force. The Task Force is working to educate workers of their rights, salon owners of their responsibilities and now consumers so they can make informed decisions on how and where to spend their money. The first owner-worker education event was held last week in Manhattan. Earlier this month, the Governor introduced new legislation and enacted emergency regulations designed to protect workers from labor and health violations.

Beginning May 29, 2015, new information cards will be distributed in person and online with assistance from community and business groups. The cards will offer the top five things to ask when entering nail salons:

1. Are workers paid at least the minimum wage and overtime?
2. Is appropriate protective equipment (respirator mask, gloves, eye protection) provided to workers and used?
3. Is there adequate ventilation (no strong chemical odors)?
4. Is the salon business license posted in plain view?
5. Is the Nail Salon Workers’ Bill of Rights posted in plain view?

A smaller version of the Bill of Rights will be printed on the back of the card. This rollout is being done in collaboration with several state agencies, industry groups and worker advocates to reach as many people as possible.

Governor Cuomo Announces New Proposed Rules Concerning Businesses that Pay Workers with Debit Cards

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state Department of Labor has published draft regulations to better manage how businesses pay workers with debit cards, in order to help protect workers’ wages. The proposed regulations, which appear  in the State Register, outline the responsibilities of businesses that use debit cards to pay workers and prohibit employers from profiting from or passing along costs to the employee. An estimated 13,000 businesses in New York State pay approximately 200,000 workers through debit cards.

Until now, payroll debit cards have not been as regulated as other payment methods like cash, check and direct deposit. Under the new regulations, payment through a debit card would require advance consent, which businesses must document and keep on record for six years.

The proposed changes would require employers to notify employees about local locations where they can access their wages for free. Employers would also be required to provide unlimited free ATM withdrawals within a local network and a method to withdraw the full amount of wages each pay period.

Governor Cuomo Calls on Legislature to Raise the Age of Criminal Responsibility

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo called on the state legislature to pass the Governor’s proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York. Following a tour of Greene Correctional Facility in Coxsackie, the Governor also announced that the state will hire an additional 103 full-time correctional officers to bolster safety and security throughout the state’s network of correctional institutions.

New York State is one of only two states in the nation that automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year olds as adults. Currently in New York, youth are detained with the adult population in local jails while awaiting trial. If convicted as adults, these teenagers are then matriculated into the greater adult prison population. To address this injustice, Governor Cuomo joined advocates calling on the state legislature to pass legislation to Raise the Age, which follows final recommendations from the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice. Under the Commission’s recommendations and as outlined in the bill before the legislature, 16- and 17-year olds will be processed as juveniles for all crimes except for crimes of serious violence and all minors will have access to rehabilitation services.

This year’s Budget includes $135 million, some of which will be immediately available to local governments upon enactment of legislation to Raise the Age.

During the visit, the Governor also highlighted the importance of supporting a safe environment for inmates and correctional officers. Over the last several years, violent incidents at adult correctional facilities have increased. In an effort to reverse this trend, the state is hiring an additional 103 full-time correctional officers. Hiring for these officers will begin in the next several months and all 103 will be in place by the end of the year.

Governor Cuomo Launches First Phase of IBM Buffalo Innovation Center

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the IBM Buffalo Innovation Center has opened its first phase of operation in the Buffalo Information Technologies Innovation and Commercialization Hub in downtown Buffalo. The IT hub is funded with a $55 million investment from the Governor’s Buffalo Billion initiative and will create 500 new information technology jobs.

IBM is the Hub’s first anchor tenant, which will be housed in transitional space in the north tower of the Key Center. It is expected that IBM will this begin this late fall and early winter to move into its permanent space in the south tower of Key Center. The project will train IT professionals, educate new IT staff through partnerships with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, and develop next generation IT software needed to drive state-of-the-art discoveries in the areas of molecular research, genomics, energy efficiency development and defense.

As part of this development, IBM will locate 500 new information technology jobs in the Hub in downtown Buffalo. The Hub will function as a magnet for additional IT companies in partnership with the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, State Data Center, College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering and University at Buffalo, offering a range of analytics capabilities such as Advanced Analytics, Big Data, Watson Technology, Cloud Computing and Mobile Computing.

As announced previously by the Governor, New York State will commit $55 million through CNSE to be used at the Buffalo Information Technologies Innovation and Commercialization Hub. This includes $15 million to establish an open innovation facility and $40 million to purchase IT equipment and software. The Hub will be owned by New York State and its resources will be made available to all IT units at all state agencies.

Governor Cuomo Announces $13.3 Million to Fight Gun Violence Across New York State

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that law enforcement agencies in 17 counties participating in the state’s Gun Involved Violence Elimination initiative will receive $13.3 million to target gun violence and save lives. Now entering its second year, the initiative requires the use of proven strategies to reduce shootings and firearm-related homicides in communities served by 20 police departments in those counties.

GIVE funding targets communities served by the Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Hempstead, Jamestown, Kingston, Middletown, Mount Vernon, Nassau County, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Schenectady, Spring Valley, Suffolk County, Syracuse, Troy, Utica and Yonkers police departments. District attorneys’ offices, probation departments and sheriffs’ offices in the 17 counties, which report 87 percent of the violent crime outside of New York City, also receive funding through the initiative.

New York State created GIVE a year ago, revamping a decade-old program that provided funding to the same agencies and counties to foster the use of data analysis, intelligence and partnerships to fight crime. Under GIVE, participating agencies must build upon that framework and implement evidence-based strategies proven to reduce gun violence. Administered by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, the initiative also provides agencies with extensive training from national experts to help them effectively implement those strategies.

Governor Cuomo Announces $1.34 Million in Funding for Kinship Caregiver Programs

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State has awarded $1.34 million to 13 programs to provide Kinship Caregiver services, an important permanency option for children in foster care and others who cannot safely live with their parents. The funding will be administered by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Kinship care is a living arrangement in which children who cannot safely live with their parents live full-time with a relative or close non-relative. Research shows that children who reside with relatives achieve better outcomes than those in non-relative foster care.

The funding was awarded through a competitive Request for Proposals process. Programs will provide an array of services to kinship caregivers, including crisis intervention, family assessments, linkage to community resources, parenting education and training, support groups, and trauma screenings.

Governor Cuomo Announces the Return of July 4th Fireworks to Jones Beach

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the return of the July 4th Fireworks Spectacular to Jones Beach, bringing back the Long Island patriotic tradition last held in the park in 2009. The show, sponsored by Astoria Bank, is a 30-minute dazzling display that will feature a variety of colors and sights illuminating the sky at the highly visited and favored park.

The colorful display, performed by Garden State Fireworks, will take place on Saturday, July 4 beginning at 9:30 p.m. This year, WALK 97.5 FM and WHLI AM will simulcast music during the fireworks presentation. The fireworks are included in the regular price of park admission.

The Astoria Bank July 4th Fireworks Spectacular has traditionally drawn an average of more than 100,000 spectators in prior years. Its return is part of Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020plan, a multi-year commitment to leverage a broad range of private and public funding to invest approximately $900 million in State Parks from 2011 to 2020. The 2015-16 State Budget includes $110 million toward this initiative.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases State Audits

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the following audits have been issued:

Department of Agriculture and Markets: Annual Assessment of Market Orders for 2012, 2013, and 2014 (2014-S-58)
The department has adequate procedures in place to ensure that it accurately reports its assessable expenses in all material aspects. However, the department needs to improve its oversight of its Market Order Program, particularly its Apple Market Order, which is administered pursuant to a contract with the New York Apple Association.

Department of Health: Medicaid Claims Processing Activity October 1, 2013 Through March 31, 2014 (2013-S-50)
For the period October 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Auditors identified about $3.3 million in inappropriate Medicaid payments, including $1,335,151 in overpayments for hospital claims for which eMedNY did not properly factor Medicare coverage or a lower level of care into the payment; $682,022 in overpayments for pharmacy claims that were not in compliance with various regulations and policies; and $416,314 in improper payments for claims that were not subjected to the appropriate claims processing logic in eMedNY. By the end of the audit fieldwork, auditors recovered about $2 million of the overpayments identified.

Department of Labor (DOL): Wage Theft Investigations (Follow-Up) (2015-F-9)
In an initial report, issued in June 2014, auditors determined DOL was not completing wage theft investigations in a timely manner. As of August 2013, DOL had a caseload of 17,191 cases, including 9,331 active investigations and 7,860 cases pending payment. Of these, 12,938 cases (75 percent) had been open more than one year since the initial claim was received. In a follow-up report, auditors found DOL has made substantial progress in addressing the issues identified in the initial report. For example, DOL is now completing 80 percent of its wage investigations within six months. At the time of this follow up, DOL only had 305 cases that were open for more than one year.

Office of Mental Health (OMH): Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) Program (2014-S-25)
OMH is not effectively overseeing the ACT program to ensure that provider teams are complying with certain important program requirements. Provider teams are not recertified in a timely manner; program data in the CAIRS system is not complete or accurate; some program staff do not receive required training; and program recipients’ treatment plans are not completed on time, with required team leaders’ approvals. As a result, program recipients’ service needs may not be adequately addressed. The office has also not established methods to assess the extent to which it is achieving overall program goals.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority: Selected Aspects of Travel Expenses (2013-S-79)
Auditors found the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s New York City Transit, MTA Bus Company, and MTA Bridges and Tunnels units should strengthen certain controls over travel to help reduce costs. For trips booked by MTA’s travel agent, auditors projected that 753 hotel stays exceeded the government lodging rates established by the General Services Administration (GSA) and the U.S. Department of State by at least $127,963. Transit paid more than the GSA maximum lodging rate for 12 of 15 rooms booked by a total of $3,962.

Office of the Nassau County Public Administrator (NCPA): Selected Financial Management and Administrative Practices (2013-S-37)
Among several issues noted by auditors, the NCPA did not have documentation to support the hiring and compensation of employees who are paid through the suspense account. The average monthly balance in the NCPA’s suspense account dropped from $241,214 in 2010, to $74,442. Although the NCPA publicly advertised for vendors annually, it did not prepare the required list of preferred vendors until 2013. Additionally, several vendors did not complete the required “Application to Provide Services.” The NCPA also did not maintain written documentation justifying the selection of particular vendors as required and certain estate assets were put up for sale without the documented formal prior approval of the Surrogate’s Court pursuant to statute. Additionally, the NCPA’s annual reports to the State Comptroller did not list non-cash estate assets as required by law.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed the following audits:

Town of Hume – Financial Management (Allegany County)
The board relied on fund balance to finance part of the town’s operations, reducing unexpended surplus funds in the general fund from more than $304,500 as of Jan. 1, 2009 to less than $40,500 as of Dec. 31, 2013. The supervisor and the board did not use prior years’ budget-versus-actual operating results when preparing and adopting budgets.

Town of Marilla – Town Supervisor’s Activities (Erie County)
The supervisor relied on a certified public accounting firm to maintain town accounting records without oversight, resulting in inaccurate records. In addition, the accounting firm erroneously commingled debt and grant proceeds for capital projects with the town’s operating funds.

Village of Round Lake – Budgeting Practices and Financial Condition (Saratoga County)
The board’s practice of appropriating fund balance to finance recurring annual operations, along with significant unplanned costs to repair the village’s water tower, have caused substantial financial decline in both the water and sewer funds. The board also adopted budgets that appropriated more fund balance than was actually available in the water fund to finance operations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 fiscal years.

Village of Shortsville – Board Oversight (Ontario County)
The board did not conduct an annual audit of the clerk-treasurer’s books and reports. Village officials adopted budgets that underestimated revenues and overestimated appropriations. Further, the board has not developed a comprehensive long-term financial plan.

Village of Suffern – Budget Review (Rockland County)
The significant revenue and expenditure projections in the adopted budget are reasonable. The board has also adopted rate increases of approximately 5 percent in water and sewer rents because the revenues generated have not been sufficient to finance yearly appropriations. The adopted budget relies on a 16 percent property tax increase to finance the general fund. The board passed a local law which allows the village to override the tax levy cap.

Comptroller DiNapoli: State Needs to Ensure Timely Execution of Contracts with Not-For-Profits

State agencies were late more than 77 percent of the time in approving contracts with not-for-profit providers (NFPs) in 2014, according to a report released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The late approvals prompted interest payments, mandated under the Prompt Contracting Law, that cost the state $195,663 last year, the report found. Despite the modest improvement from 2013 when contracts were late 87 percent of the time, a review of the trend for more than two decades indicates that late contracting remains as serious a problem for NFPs today as when the Prompt Contracting Law was enacted in 1991. Over that time, the majority of contracts have been late every year, averaging nearly 70% late for more than twenty years. The number of contracts varies year to year. Click here for a breakdown of not-for-profit contracts by organization, region and length of days for approval.

In 2014, 3,568 of 4,630 contracts were approved late. The bulk of the interest was paid by three agencies:

Agency
Amount
Percent of NYS Interest Paid
Department of Health
$136,076
70%
Office of Children and Family Services
$30,648
16%
State Education Department
$23,746
12%

 

The state’s Prompt Contracting Law was enacted in 1991 to prevent payment delays that could impair services to New York’s most vulnerable citizens. The law requires agencies to process contracts within 150 to 180 days. A 2007 amendment requires the Comptroller to report annually on whether agencies meet the time frame, reasons for delay, with recommendations to improve timely contracting.

The Comptroller’s report recommends:

  • Quarterly reports using the new Grants Gateway data on the timeliness of prompt contracting and interest paid on late contracts.
  • Automatic calculation and assessment of interest.
  • Broader use of multiyear contracting timeframes, early renewal of existing contracts where appropriate, and early release of grant information and solicitation documents to potential providers.
  • Development of bridge funding mechanisms to help NFPs who face cash flow issues as a result of any delayed contracting process.
  • Enforcement of consistent standards and best practices across state agencies for grant contracting, particularly timely renewals.

To view the full report, please click here.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Local Governments Should Improve Enforcement of State Fire Code Regulations

A sampling of municipalities from across New York reveals gaps in the review of fire safety plans or evacuation procedures for public buildings such as adult care facilities, hospitals, hotels, preschools, libraries and shopping malls, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The audit reviewed enforcement of the state’s Uniform Fire Code in seven cities and three villages.

The state’s fire code requires every city, county, town and village to maintain a system of records that supports its code enforcement activities. Buildings that contain an area of public assembly must be inspected each year, while all other buildings requiring a fire safety and evacuation plan must have a fire safety inspection at least every three years.

The code outlines the minimum requirements needed to establish good practices for protecting people and property from the hazards of fire, explosion and dangerous conditions in new and existing buildings. It also provides for safety to firefighters and other first responders during emergency operations.

DiNapoli’s auditors visited 96 buildings and found 73, or 76 percent of those reviewed, did not have a fire safety plan on file that met the minimum fire code requirements. Of those, 44 (46 percent) did not have an evacuation plan on file that complied with the fire code. In addition, 54 buildings (56 percent) did not conduct the required number of evacuation drills.

The audit revealed that officials from five municipalities in the sample do not review or approve fire plans or evacuation plans. Seven municipalities do not confirm that building evacuation drills are performed.

DiNapoli made several recommendations to each municipality. They included:

  • Identify which buildings must have a fire plan and evacuation plan, as well as those that must conduct evacuation drills;
  • Review and approve all fire plans and evacuation plans in accordance with the fire code;
  • Keep documented evidence detailing when fire plans and evacuation plans were reviewed and approved;
  • Ensure that buildings requiring a fire plan and evacuation plan have plans that meet the minimum fire code requirements; and
  • Determine whether the required number of drills are conducted in accordance with the fire code and maintain documented evidence of these reviews.

The municipalities included in the audit sample were the cities of Ithaca, North Tonawanda, Plattsburgh, Poughkeepsie, Rome, Saratoga Springs and White Plains, and the villages of Lindenhurst, Hempstead and Patchogue.

To read the complete audit, including details for each municipality examined, please click here.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Canal Corp. Must Address Gaps in Inspection Performance

The New York State Canal Corporation has not performed inspections as required on a significant number of critical structures along the system’s 524 miles of waterways, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The Canal Corp., a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority, was created in 1992 to operate and maintain the state canal system. State law requires the corporation to maintain the system in good condition, and the corporation has established inspection requirements and frequency standards, including in-depth inspections of structural safety and integrity on a two-year cycle. Of the 2,065 structures the corporation is required to inspect, 747, including dams and locks, are deemed “critical.” By the corporation’s own definition, failure of these structures could risk serious injury and property damage.

DiNapoli’s auditors found the Canal Corp. performs routine operational and reliability checks of its system’s structures, but has not conducted more in-depth inspections of a significant number of these structures. In total, 792, or 38 percent, of the system’s structures did not have an above-water inspection within the last five years, and 163 of these (8 percent) have never had one. Auditors found 430 high- and intermediate-importance structures (58 percent) have not had an inspection within the last two years, as required, including 55 (7 percent) that have not had an inspection in 10 years and 27 (4 percent) that have never had one.

Auditors also found that of the 1,068 structures requiring below-water inspections, 832 (78 percent) have not received them within five years. As of August 2014, only 11 percent (114) of all structures requiring below-water inspections had received them within the past 2 years, while 692 structures have never had their required below-water inspection. According to the minutes from the June 6, 2014 meeting between the Thruway Authority and Canal Corp. boards, only about 55 percent of the canal system’s critical structures were in good condition in recent years due to funding constraints.

Auditors also noted that while the corporation has developed several tools to prioritize its capital and maintenance repair needs, in many cases, these tools do not use data that is accurate or current and are unreliable.

DiNapoli recommended the Canal Corp.:

  • Improve the clarity and effectiveness of the inspection scheduling process for high- and intermediate-importance structures;
  • Promptly conduct inspections of any high- and intermediate-importance structures that have never had inspections or where significant time has elapsed since the last inspection;
  •    Determine the canal system’s true inspection program needs and incorporate them into budget requests;
  •   Enter into a formal agreement, as allowed by law, with the state Department of Transportation to cover inspection responsibilities for all state-owned canal system bridges, and adhere by its provisions;
  •   Improve the process for prioritizing infrastructure maintenance;
  •   Ensure all high- and intermediate-importance structures, and all inspection results, are considered when deciding on maintenance priorities and capital plans;
  •   Routinely re-evaluate whether the canal system’s current maintenance and capital plans target funding toward its most pressing needs, and redirect funding when necessary; and
  •    Work with the Thruway Authority to develop a realistic long-term detailed strategic and financing plan aimed at improving the overall condition of the canal system’s infrastructure.

Canal Corp. officials agreed with the recommendations and have started taking actions to implement them.

For copy of the full report, including corporation’s response, please click here.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Proposes Sweeping Legislation To Reform New York State Government

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he would send a comprehensive ethics bill to the legislature in order to reform New York State government before the end of this year’s legislative session—a session in which the two highest-ranking leaders of the legislature were arrested on federal corruption charges. Attorney General Schneiderman’s bill includes the boldest systemic reforms backed by leading good government groups; measures to strengthen the hands of prosecutors, as proposed by the State’s District Attorneys; and new ideas on how to depoliticize and professionalize the legislature.

Among more than a dozen other changes to State law, the omnibus legislation would give the attorney general’s office permanent jurisdiction to investigate and criminally prosecute public corruption—an authority that consecutive attorneys general have asked to be granted by the governor. The bill would also ban legislators from earning outside income; ban per diem payments for lawmakers for days they spend in Albany, while increasing legislative salaries; and extend legislators’ terms from two years to four. In the area of campaign finance, the Attorney General’s bill would lower contribution limits, close the LLC loophole, restrict contributions by lobbyists, and create a public financing system with a 6:1 match ratio.

“The corruption we’re seeing in New York State government takes power from the hands of regular New Yorkers and taints the honorable work being done by the lion’s share of public officials. New Yorkers have had enough of so-called ethics reform that tinkers around the edges—what we need now is bold reform that gets to the root of corruption, equips law enforcement with the tools needed to fight it, and professionalizes our state legislature,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s time to end the parade of prosecutions and restore people’s faith in their government.”

Attorney General Schneiderman Joined by Local Officials and Activists Calling for the Passage of his Sweeping Ethics Reform Legislation on Long Island

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman spoke at the Nassau County Supreme Court calling on the state legislature to pass his “End New York Corruption Now Act.” The bill, which was sent to Albany on Wednesday, will be sponsored by Assemblymembers Joseph Lentol, Daniel O’Donnell, and Todd Kaminsky. Attorney General Schneiderman called for action before the end of the legislative session, a session in which both legislative leaders, including the former Senator Majority leader from Nassau County, were arrested on federal corruption charges. This comprehensive legislation includes the boldest systemic reforms backed by leading good government groups; measures to strengthen the hands of prosecutors, as proposed by the State’s District Attorneys; and new ideas on how to depoliticize and professionalize the legislature. Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, Assemblymember Todd Kaminsky, Lisa Tyson of the Long Island Progressive Coalition, and Susan Lerner of Common Cause all joined Attorney General Schneiderman in calling for reform.

Among more than a dozen other changes to State law, the omnibus legislation would give the attorney general’s office permanent jurisdiction to investigate and criminally prosecute public corruption—an authority that consecutive attorneys general have asked to be granted by the governor. The bill would also ban legislators from earning outside income; ban per diem payments for lawmakers for days they spend in Albany, while increasing legislative salaries; and extend legislators’ terms from two years to four. In the area of campaign finance, the Attorney General’s bill would lower contribution limits, close the LLC loophole, restrict contributions by lobbyists, and create a public financing system with a 6:1 match ratio.

“The corruption we’re seeing in New York State government takes power from the hands of regular New Yorkers and taints the honorable work being done by the lion’s share of public officials. New Yorkers have had enough of so-called ethics reform that tinkers around the edges—what we need now is bold reform that gets to the root of corruption, equips law enforcement with the tools needed to fight it, and professionalizes our state legislature,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “It’s time to end the parade of prosecutions and restore people’s faith in their government.”

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Settlement With Walmart Over Alleged Violations Of NYS Water Protection Law

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement with Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. over alleged violations of a 2010 state law designed to reduce water pollution caused by excess phosphorus that runs off of  lawns  into New York waters. The Nutrient Runoff Law requires stores to display phosphorous-containing lawn fertilizers separately from those that are phosphorus-free, and post signs notifying consumers about the legal restrictions on using phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer. An investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman’s Environmental Protection Bureau found that 90% of Walmart stores – 16 of 18 – inspected in New York displayed phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers without the separation or signage required by the law.

According to Walmart’s company websites, there are over 200 Walmart and Sam’s Club stores (which are owned by Walmart) operating in New York. In July and August of 2014, the Attorney General’s Office inspected 18 Walmart stores across New York that sell fertilizer. At 16 of these stores, the office found that, in violation of the Nutrient Runoff Law, phosphorous-containing fertilizers were commingled with phosphorus-free fertilizers or displayed without the required signage, or both. Follow-up inspections at four Walmart stores, in September 2014, found additional alleged violations.

The 18 stores AG investigators visited were in Albany (2), Chautauqua (2), Erie (6), Nassau (3), Niagara (2), Rensselaer (1), Rockland (1), and Westchester (1) counties.

The settlement agreement requires Walmart to comply fully with the Nutrient Runoff Law and pay $98,000 in penalties to New York State for the alleged violations. The company has decided to comply with the law by halting sales of phosphorus-containing fertilizers intended for use on lawn or non-agricultural turf at Walmart stores and Sam’s Club stores in the state. Additionally, Walmart has decided not to sell phosphorous-containing fertilizers intended for use on lawn or agricultural turf over the internet (at Walmart.com) to consumers in New York.

Senate:

Senate Passes the “Protect Our Children Act” and Other Measures to Prevent Child Abuse

The New York State Senate passed crucial measures to help protect the most vulnerable children from abuse, maltreatment, and exploitation. The three bills create new crimes and strengthen penalties to stop future abuse, address the use of the Internet in promoting child sexual abuse, and build upon existing laws preventing female genital mutilation.

The Protect Our Children Act (S2964A), sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda), would help ensure appropriate punishment for cruel and repeated maltreatment. This bill creates the offenses of aggravated murder of a child; aggravated abuse of a child in the third degree; aggravated abuse of a child in the second degree; aggravated abuse of a child in the first degree; aggravated manslaughter of a child; aggravated endangering the welfare of a child; aggravated murder of a child; obstructing the location of a missing child; and concealment of a death.

Many existing statutes make prosecuting child abuse very difficult or carry such disproportionately low punishments as to permit serious child abuse to have essentially no meaningful consequences. Under current law, unless physical injury results, the infliction of sadistic, painful, or dangerous punishments on children can typically be charged only as misdemeanors. Other low-level charges with probationary sentences are not seen as sufficient to protect the most vulnerable children.

The Senate also passed a bill to help New York State combat the child sexual abuse, particularly when predators use technology to promote their sexual crimes against children. The legislation (S3212), sponsored by Senator Catharine Young (R-C-I, Olean) creates a new crime of promoting a sex offense against a child, making the offense a Class B violent felony, and possessing a sex offense against a child, making it a Class C violent felony. By establishing these new crimes to directly address the solicitation and/or participation in acts by other Internet users (i.e. instant message, e-mail, blog, etc.), this bill accurately reflects the full scope of injury inflicted by Internet sex crimes against children.

Legislation to strengthen current laws addressing female genital mutilation that takes place outside of New York also passed the Senate. The bill (S3484), sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island), would allow the state to charge a person with female genital mutilation (FGM) if they knowingly removed or caused the removal of a child from New York for the purpose of circumcising, excising, or infibulating the whole or any part of the female genitalia.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 1997 that 150,000 to 200,000 girls and women in the United States were at risk of being forced to undergo FGM. In 2000, New York had an estimated 7,675 girls under the age of 18 at risk of FGM — the state with the second highest number of girls. After FGM was criminalized in New York in 1997, testimony of survivors provided information about families who are increasingly engaging in a practice known as “vacation cutting.” Family members send their female children overseas to undergo FGM during school vacations as part of a trip organized to expose the girls to the customs of their ancestral homelands, and thereby avoid criminal prosecution in New York. The bills have been sent to the Assembly.

Senate Passes Measure Providing Greater Property Tax Relief for Seniors

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S1074), sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), that would increase the maximum income eligibility levels for real property tax exemptions for seniors for the first time since 1994. This measure would allow more senior citizens to receive increased relief from their local real property taxes.

Under current law, local governments have the option to provide a partial real property tax exemption to senior citizens, who are at least 65 years of age, based upon their income. Starting in 2017, this bill would give local governments the option to gradually increase the income requirements for the senior citizens receiving the tax exemption. This partial exemption can range from five percent of the property’s assessed value to 45 percent of the property’s assessed value and uses a sliding scale based on the property owner’s income to determine the exemption amount. The bill has been sent to the Assembly.

Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Criminals from Evading Supervision

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S2305), sponsored by Senator Patricia Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton), to protect the public from criminals who try to evade supervision by tampering with electronic monitoring devices. This bill would make it a new crime if someone tampers, damages, or alters court-ordered electronic monitoring equipment in an attempt to interfere with any signal, impulse, or data.

The purpose of the electronic monitoring equipment is to assist in the tracking and monitoring of an individual who has been convicted of a crime or is awaiting trial when they are released into the general public. If the electronic monitoring equipment is tampered with, authorities can no longer monitor their activities.

In 2013, David Renz was awaiting trial in Onondaga County on charges of possessing child pornography. He successfully removed his ankle monitoring device to evade authorities and murdered Lori Bresnahan and raped a 10-year-old girl after abducting them in a parking lot. He reportedly tampered with the device as many as 46 times, removing and reassembling the bracelet with duct tape.

By making the tampering or damaging of electronic monitoring equipment a crime, the bill gives law enforcement a new tool to investigate and charge criminals with this behavior and would help prevent potential crimes committed once the individual evades police supervision. The bill has been sent to the Assembly.

Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Property Tax Increases Due to Costly State Mandates

The New York State Senate passed a bill to help control property tax increases by preventing large unfunded mandates from affecting municipal and school district budgets. The bill (S3144), sponsored by Senator Rich Funke (R-C-I, Fairport), would require the state to fund costly mandated programs or services, instead of placing the burden on local governments and property taxpayers.

State mandated programs place taxpayers and local officials in the position of paying for services that they do not control. When the state sets local priorities and forces municipal taxing decisions by mandating services, programs, and standards, many local governments and school districts are put in acutely difficult fiscal situations.

The Senate has been working to address these unfunded local burdens and since January 1, 2011, has adopted a wide range of mandate relief proposals, of which over 63 have become law. Mandate relief initiatives allow localities to pass on savings to taxpayers through reduced property taxes. These measures include taking over certain local expenses such as Medicaid growth caps and eliminating state requirements.

This bill would prevent future unfunded mandates from affecting local finances and driving up property taxes. It requires any state mandated program imposed on municipalities or school districts that creates an annual net additional cost in excess of $10,000 or an aggregate annual net additional cost in excess of $1 million to be funded by the state. This would make it easier for local governments to stay within the property tax cap and provide further relief to taxpayers. The bill has been sent to the Assembly.