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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces 26 Properties Nominated to State and National Registers of Historic Places

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the New York State Board for Historic Preservation has recommended the addition of 26 properties, resources and districts to the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The nominations reflect the breadth of New York’s history, ranging from one of the last amusement park rides left at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair in Queens, to the site of a 1943 school segregation fight in Rockland County.

State and National Register listing can assist property owners in revitalizing buildings, making them eligible for various public preservation programs and services, such as matching state grants and state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits. Spurred by the state and federal historic rehabilitation commercial tax credits administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, developers invested $500 million statewide in 2014 to revitalize properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Homeowners using the state historic homeowner rehabilitation tax credit invested more than $9.8 million statewide on home improvements to help revitalize historic neighborhoods.

The State and National Registers are the official lists of buildings, structures, districts, landscapes, objects and sites significant in the history, architecture, archeology and culture of New York State and the nation. There are more than 120,000 historic buildings, structures and sites throughout the state listed on the National Register of Historic Places, individually or as components of historic districts. Property owners, municipalities and organizations from communities throughout the state sponsored the nominations.

Once the recommendations are approved by the state historic preservation officer, the properties are listed on the New York State Register of Historic Places and then nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, where they are reviewed and, once approved, entered on the National Register. More information and photos of the nominations is available on the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website.

Governor Cuomo Announces Unemployment Trust Fund Has Achieved Positive Balance For The First Time Since 2009

Governor Cuomo announced that the New York State Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund has achieved a positive balance for the first time since January 2009. Reforms to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund signed into law by the Governor in 2013, along with improved economic conditions over past years have led to a positive trust fund balance.

For seven years, the State’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund did not have enough funds to pay for claims filed by unemployed workers. As a result, New York was forced to borrow funds from the Federal government to cover the difference and employers had to pay back a $3.5 billion debt plus interest.

In March 2013, Governor Cuomo signed into law a major reform to the state’s Unemployment Insurance System. These measures included increasing benefits for workers, decreasing costs to employers, and modernizing the UI system to make it sustainable and self-correcting. Included in the law was a mechanism to accelerate the payment of federal loans to stabilize the trust fund, making it more sustainable and predictable. Much like paying off the balance of a credit card early to avoid escalating interest costs, the reform law was designed to repay the trust fund loan sooner, saving New York businesses an estimated $200 million in interest.

Improved economic conditions over the past years have also led to a positive trust fund balance. Since the Governor has taken office in 2011, the New York State unemployment rate has decreased from 8.3 percent to 5.7 percent. During the Governor’s tenure the state’s economy has added 626,100 private sector jobs and experienced employment growth in 45 of the past 52 months.

Governor Cuomo Announces Nearly $2 Million in Funding For the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that nearly $2 million in Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks will be distributed across the state. For the first time, additional funding has been provided in the New York State Budget to expand the United States Department of Agriculture’s $1.5 million program and reach more seniors. The program provides checkbooks to low-income New Yorkers age 60 and older to purchase $20 worth of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from local farmers’ markets.

In upstate communities, checks will be available for eligible seniors starting June 17 at county Area Agencies on Aging. They will also be available at Commodity Supplemental Food Programs in Kings County and Wyandanch. In New York City, checks will be available for pick up at congregate meal sites designated by the NYC Department for the Aging starting in July. Approximately 20,000 more booklets will be distributed this year than last year for a total of 120,000. The booklets consisting of five $4.00 checks will allow for the purchase of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables from 950 farmers vending at 600 community farmers markets and farm stands across the state. A pocket folder with instructions on how and where to use the checks to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers at the market will be included with each checkbook.

The program is administered by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, in cooperation with the New York State Office for the Aging, the New York City Department for the Aging and the New York State Department of Health. Nutrition education is provided by Cornell Cooperative Extension. Checks can be used at participating farmers markets through November 30 of this year. Eligible recipients must be age 60 or older and meet the income eligibility requirement—$1,815 or less per month for a single or $2,456 per month for a couple— or affirm that they are currently receiving or eligible to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or public assistance or Section 8 housing subsidy. Recipients cannot have received Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program checks from any other location.

Governor Cuomo Announces Agreement with Erie and Cattaraugus Counties for Replacement of Bridge Along Old Route 219

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that an agreement has been reached with Erie and Cattaraugus Counties for the construction of a new bridge over Cattaraugus Creek on old Route 219, bringing an estimated 280 new well-paying jobs to the area.  Recognizing its economic and logistical importance to the surrounding communities the state has agreed to assume the cost of the project to replace the bridge, even though it is a local responsibility.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said, “Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we have worked diligently with our local partners to reach resolution on the maintenance and ownership of the South Cascade-Miller Road Bridge over Cattaraugus Creek, which serves as a vital transportation link between Cattaraugus and Erie counties. Maintaining this important bridge crossing helps preserve the identities of the surrounding communities and protect their economic future. The South Cascade Drive-Miller Road Bridge will continue to serve as an important transportation link and conduit for the local economy, creating jobs, enhancing mobility and providing safe and reliable travel for years to come.”

The new bridge is expected to have a lifespan of approximately 75 years. Upon completion of the bridge, the state will transfer maintenance responsibility to Erie and Cattaraugus Counties. Maintenance is expected to be minimal, and the state has secured $300,000 in funding as part of the 2015-16 Enacted Budget for a county-run maintenance fund. This funding is separate from the estimated $20 million in construction costs that the state is assuming. Additionally, the state will be assuming the cost for construction of cable conduits along the bridge at an estimated cost of up to $50,000 and the state will also pay for the first 10 years of washing the bridge.

Governor Cuomo Announces Major Deegan Expressway Construction Time to be Shortened By Two Years

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the rehabilitation timeline of the Major Deegan Expressway (Interstate 87) in the Bronx will be shortened by approximately two years, enabling the $133 million project to be completed in 2017.

Work on the expedited schedule will begin June 15, and the plan calls for using precast concrete deck panels for the elevated portion of the highway, running from East 138th Street to the Macombs Dam Bridge. This is instead of pouring and curing concrete on site, which will provide many benefits. Since the panels are manufactured off-site in a controlled environment, the concrete can cure without exposure to weather and vibrations from adjacent traffic, providing a superior product and extending the bridge deck’s lifespan.

The process also allows the number of joints to be reduced, decreasing the chances of leaking and thus reducing long-term maintenance costs and improving durability. Additionally, fewer activities on site will reduce overall noise and construction traffic in and around the project area.

Governor Cuomo Announces New Online Training for Law Enforcement to Enhance Investigation of Child Abuse Cases

Governor Cuomo announced the launch of an online training course for law enforcement officials designed to improve the initial response to child abuse allegations. The training is aimed to help officers better identity, understand and investigate child abuse causes to enhance prosecution and reduce trauma to victims. The free online training is developed by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services in conjunction with the New York State Children’s Alliance, and is being offered to reach as many officers as possible across the state.

In 2013, more than 150,000 child maltreatment investigations were launched during the same year. And last year, the state’s 40 Child Advocacy Centers provided services to more than 18,500 children. The vast majority of those children – 95 percent – were victimized by someone they knew.

The Children’s Alliance is a statewide organization representing 40 Child Advocacy Centers across New York State. Child Advocacy Centers are child-friendly settings where multidisciplinary teams composed of law enforcement and child protective services professionals, prosecutors, medical and mental health providers and victim advocates work in partnership with center staff to respond to allegations of child abuse. The collaborative approach is designed to reduce the trauma experienced by child victims.

Governor Cuomo Announces Oledworks Expanding in Rochester

Governor Cuomo announced that OLEDWorks LLC, a U.S. light engine and panel manufacturing company, will expand in Rochester, investing $73.6 million and creating 100 new jobs over the next five years. OLEDWorks, which uses organic light emitting diode technology, is nearing completion of its development phase and is entering the first phase of manufacturing where it expects to manufacture significant quantities of lighting devices.

OLEDWorks was formed in 2010 by David DeJoy and two principal scientists, Dr. John Hamer and Dr. Michael Boroson, who previously worked at the Eastman Kodak Company where organic light emitting diodes (OLED) were invented. The two partners kept together a talented technical team of 8 people from Kodak, and subsequently OLEDWorks received venture funding, added 17 jobs and has grown to the point where it is now in early production. All efforts to date have been successful and the company is poised for significant growth.

Empire State Development will provide up to $2.5 million in performance-based Excelsior Jobs Program tax credits in return for job creation and investment commitments. If OLEDWorks did not receive financial support from New York State, it would have been difficult for the company’s management team to continue its’ commitment to increase the manufacturing base in New York State.

Governor Cuomo Announces New York’s Smoking Rates Reduced to Lowest Levels in Recorded State History

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that statewide smoking levels have been reduced to the lowest rate in recorded history as a result of the state’s wide-ranging tobacco cessation efforts. Data shows that in the last four years, the smoking rate among high school students has dropped 42 percent and now remains at 7.3 percent, while the adult smoking rate has dropped to 14.5 percent and remains below the national average of 17.8 percent.

The reduction in smoking rates can be attributed to the efforts of New York’s Tobacco Control Program, the New York State Prevention Agenda 2013-17 (New York’s official health blueprint) and the state’s Comprehensive Cancer Control Plan. These programs focused on evidence-based strategies to promote tobacco cessation through launching aggressive public awareness campaigns, promoting policy solutions to make tobacco less accessible to youth, and widening the availability of resources for individuals looking to break this addiction.

The Department of Health will continue to strengthen its efforts to achieve a tobacco-free New York, with the funding of two new grants totaling more than $10 million from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The first award of $9.29 million over five years will support the Tobacco Control Program’s three-pronged, evidence based approach to tobacco cessation. This approach includes local contractors who educate community and local leaders about the continuing burden of tobacco and potential policy solutions, health systems contractors who work across the state to increase and improve the delivery of evidence-based tobacco dependence treatment and paid media that motivates smokers to quit and changes social norms.

Additionally, New York State was one of only five states to be awarded $1 million dollars over two years for an innovative project to implement and evaluate a media campaign aimed directly at health care providers who work with people with poor mental health, low incomes or low educational attainment, and who smoke at higher rates than the general public. The campaign will encourage providers to treat tobacco use for their patients, use evidence-based methods such as counseling and approved medications, and increase provider confidence in delivering this necessary treatment.

Governor Cuomo Announces More Than 7,500 Dangerous Drivers Kept Off New York’s Roads Due to Tougher Regulations

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State has kept 7,521 dangerous drivers off the road since implementing tougher DWI regulations nearly three years ago. In September 2012, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Motor Vehicles to implement some of the strongest protections in the nation against drivers who persistently drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Since the implementation of the tougher regulations, the DMV has reviewed 8,450 applications for relicensing from individuals with three or more alcohol or drug-related driving offenses on their record. Based on the application review, the DMV denied 7,521 individuals from receiving a license either permanently or for an additional five years.

The DMV permanently denied relicensing for 3,942 individuals because they have either:

Five or more alcohol or drug-related driving convictions in their lifetime, or
Three or four alcohol or drug-related driving convictions in the last 25 years, plus at least one other serious driving offense during that period.

A serious driving offense includes a fatal crash; a driving related penal law conviction; an accumulation of 20 or more points worth of driving violations within the last 25 years, or having two or more driving convictions worth five points or higher.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli: NYC Projects $3 Billion Surplus for 2015, Balanced Budget Next Year

New York City is projecting a surplus of $3 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2015 and a balanced budget for FY 2016 with relatively small gaps in the following three years, according to a review of the city’s updated financial plan released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Higher than expected tax collections account for most of the current year’s surplus. Tax collections are now expected to exceed the city’s original forecast by $2.4 billion to reach $51 billion, 32 percent higher than before the recession. Tax revenues have been driven by strong job growth, tourism and a robust real estate market. Since the end of 2009, the city has added 503,000 jobs, and employment now totals a record 4.2 million.

The securities industry, one of the city’s most powerful economic engines and a major source of tax revenue, added 2,300 jobs in 2014 (the first job gains since 2011) and is on pace to add nearly 4,000 jobs during 2015. Industry profits were strong during the first quarter of 2015 (totaling $6.5 billion) and are on pace to exceed the city’s annual forecast. Over the past year, the city has identified new agency needs averaging nearly $1.3 billion annually beginning in FY 2016. To its credit, the city has resumed the process of identifying agency cost-saving initiatives after a two-year hiatus, which funded some of these requests. During the past 12 months, the city has also reached new labor agreements with nearly 80 percent of its workforce, providing a level of cost predictability through 2018. The city has yet to reach new agreements with the unions that represent the city’s police officers, firefighters and correction officers

The city’s revised ten-year capital strategy totals $83.8 billion through 2025, which is $30 billion (56 percent) larger than the prior strategy released in May 2013. The last time the city proposed a capital strategy of this size was 2008, but that program (which totaled $83.7 billion unadjusted for inflation) was sharply curtailed in response to the Great Recession. The updated financial plan, released in May, projects budget gaps of $1.6 billion in FY 2017 and $2 billion in FY 2018. While these gaps are larger than those projected in February 2015, they are smaller than the gaps projected one year ago, despite higher agency and capital spending. For FY 2019, the city projects a budget gap of $2.9 billion. The projected gaps, ranging from 2.7 percent to 4.6 percent of city fund revenue, would be smaller if not for a budgeted general reserve of $1 billion annually.

The city has taken a number of steps to increase its reserves. It has increased the annual general reserve to $1 billion beginning in FY 2016, ten times larger than the statutory minimum and the largest ever. The city has also set aside $500 million in FY 2016 to fund a Capital Stabilization Reserve to insulate the capital program from budget cuts or to help balance its operating budget. In addition, the city plans to add $280 million to the Retiree Health Benefits Trust, raising the balance to $2.6 billion. The city has used the trust as a rainy-day fund in the past, but the balance is now approaching its prerecession peak.

To see the full report, please click here.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

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

Town of Berlin – Internal Controls Over Water District No. 2 Operations (Rensselaer County)
The board did not approve water billings or customer account adjustments or perform an annual audit of the clerk’s records and reports. In addition, the duties related to billings, collections and record keeping were not adequately segregated.

Dunham Public Library – Claims Processing (Oneida County)
The board did not audit and approve any claims during the audit period. In addition, the clerk did not provide the board with an abstract listing each sequentially numbered claim, documenting the vendor or claim amount.

Town of Galen – Financial Management (Wayne County)
The board does not provide adequate oversight and management of the town’s finances. The board has not established a budgeting policy and did not create a comprehensive, multiyear financial or capital plan.

Town of Huron – Financial Management (Wayne County)
Town officials have not developed multiyear financial plans, policies or procedures to establish financial goals and govern budgeting practices and the level of unrestricted unappropriated fund balance to maintain. The board has routinely adopted budgets with unrealistic estimates, which resulted in the accumulation of surplus funds and higher tax levies than necessary.

Town of Inlet – Capital Project Accounting and Internal Controls Over Cottage Rental Receipts (Hamilton County)
The town has not maintained separate accounting records for a $4.1 million capital project to construct a waste water treatment plant and sewer district. The board did not establish an adequate receipt process to ensure that the town clerk recorded and deposited money collected for cottage rentals in an accurate and timely manner

Village of Johnson City – Oversight of Justice Court Operations (Broome County)
The board and justices did not provide adequate oversight of court operations to ensure that cash receipts were properly collected, accounted for and deposited, and disbursements were for proper court purposes. As a result, there were 819 unpaid parking tickets, totaling $27,301 for the audit period. The court also had up to $1.1 million of unpaid parking tickets dating back to 1986.

Lake Ronkonkoma Fire District – Bidding and Treasurer’s Office (Suffolk County)
District officials did not consistently adhere to bidding or competitive offering requirements when purchases exceeded the statutory bidding threshold. The board did not ensure that the treasurer properly accounted for cash collected. Also, the board did not ensure that the duties within the treasurer’s office were adequately segregated and did not implement compensating controls.

Town of Louisville – Water User Charges (St. Lawrence County)
The board did not adequately segregate financial duties or provide sufficient oversight of billing, collecting and recording of water payments and adjustments to customer accounts.

Town of Princetown – Claims Auditing (Schenectady County)
Auditors found the town’s payment vouchers contained adequate supporting documentation and evidence that the goods or services were received and the vouchers were for legitimate town purposes.

Town of Virgil – Board Oversight (Cortland County)
The board did not provide adequate oversight of the town’s financial operations and officials did not ensure adequate controls were in place over the billing and collecting of water and sewer rents. In addition, the town did not properly account for 6,600 gallons of purchased fuel.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Arrest Of Albany Broker For Allegedly Running Ponzi Scheme Of More Than $1 Million

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the arrest of Frederick E. Monroe, Jr., 59, of Queensbury, New York, charging him with stealing over $1 million from investors by fraudulently soliciting them to reinvest their retirement monies. Monroe is accused of luring clients with whom he had established relationships over his 20-year career as a financial planner, and then diverting their monies for his own personal use, as well as to pay back earlier investors he had defrauded. If convicted, the defendant faces up to 25 years in prison. Monroe was arraigned before the Honorable Judge Denise Randall in Guilderland Town Court where he pleaded not guilty. He is currently being held on $300,000 cash or bond bail.

While the current charges pertain to three victims, according to statements made by the prosecutor at arraignment, the Attorney General’s investigation to date has identified at least a dozen individuals who Monroe allegedly defrauded. Prosecutors allege that based on Monroe’s false representations, just three of these investors gave over $1.26 million to Monroe, which Monroe then diverted for his personal use and to perpetuate his scheme.

Also according to the Attorney General’s felony complaint and statements made by the prosecutor at arraignment, Monroe instructed investors write checks to him personally and then deposited them into his personal Operating Account.  Monroe then allegedly used new investor monies to pay older investors and to maintain a lavish lifestyle.   Monroe advertised his services on the Capital Financial Planning, LLC website to “clients who have amassed a significant level of assets and seek to take advantage of advance advisory programs.”

In furtherance of his fraudulent scheme, Monroe allegedly created false financial statements that he gave to clients when they inquired as to the status of their investments. Monroe, when asked by clients, would allegedly tell them that their money was being invested in bonds. Instead of investing as promised, Monroe allegedly diverted investor monies for his own personal use, including for hotels, airline tickets, mortgage payments and credit card payments, as well as transferring funds from his Operating Account to other personal accounts in Monroe’s name.

Speaker:

Assembly Passes Legislation to Provide Assistance to Veterans Suffering from Military Sexual Trauma

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Subcommittee on Women Veterans Chair Addie Russell announced the passage of legislation aimed at assisting New York’s men and women veterans who are suffering from military sexual trauma (MST) (A7260, Russell). The Assembly also passed a resolution declaring Friday, June 12 as Women Veterans Recognition Day in New York State (K00664, Russell). June 12 marks the 67th anniversary of President Harry S.Truman signing into law the Women’s Armed Services Act of 1948, insuring that women would have a permanent place in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

“Service men and women put their lives on the line to protect our country. It is our duty to do as much as we can to ensure that these courageous people do not face undue hardships such as military sexual trauma,” said Speaker Heastie. “This legislation would provide the veterans who have sacrificed so much with the help they need to heal from traumatic MST experiences.”

This legislation would require the New York State Division of Veterans’ Affairs to develop and encourage plans for assistance and benefits for veterans who suffered military sexual trauma. MST covers any sexual activity where someone is involved against his or her will, including unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, unwelcome sexual advances and sexual harassment. The bill, which has passed the Assembly annually since 2012, would also require veterans’ service agencies to provide information on military sexual trauma.

Assembly Passes Legislation Bringing More Clarity and Transparency to Current Election Law

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Election Law Committee Michael Cusick announced the passage of two bills aimed at bringing more clarity and transparency to current election law. They would provide clear definitions of independent expenditure and political action committees for the purposes of election law (A7397-A, Cusick) and prevent contributions made to party “housekeeping” accounts from being used for unintended purposes (A07392, Simon).

Political action committees (PACs) and independent expenditure committees (IE committees), and other such committees are currently undefined in New York election law. This legislation would clarify the law by adding definitions for PACs and IE committees and would state the allowable contributions and expenditures for both. The bill would also establish penalties for violating the law.

Currently, election law allows unlimited contributions to “housekeeping” accounts, which are campaign accounts established for the maintenance of a permanent headquarters, staff, and ordinary activities. The law specifies that these funds cannot be used to promote a candidate. However, the law does not specify whether funds can be transferred to other “housekeeping” accounts, or used for other purposes, such as opposing a candidate. This bill would clarify that any transferred funds must be kept in a segregated account for “housekeeping” purposes only and not utilized for unintended activities.

Assembly Establishes Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to Voice Ratepayer Concerns

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Consumer Affairs Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz announced yesterday the passage of legislation that would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) to represent consumers’ utility interests at both the state and federal level and give a voice to residential utility ratepayers (A.180, Dinowitz).

The legislation would create the New York State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate to provide residential utility consumers with an independent representative during state and federal regulatory proceedings involving utility companies that offer electric, natural gas, internet, cable television, telephone and wireless communication services. The UCA would be appointed by the governor, subject to the approval of the state Senate, to serve a six-year term.

The office of the UCA would have the authority to initiate, intervene and participate in any proceedings before the Public Service Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, state and local administrative and regulatory agencies, and state and federal courts in any matter or proceeding that may substantially affect the interests of residential utility customers.

The bill would also require an annual report from the office of the UCA to the governor and legislature, which would be made available to the public free of charge, and would include information on all proceedings that the UCA participated in throughout the year and the outcomes of all of these proceedings. The report would also include the estimated savings to residential utility customers that resulted from intervention by the UCA, and any policy recommendations and suggested statutory amendments that the UCA would deem necessary.

Senate:

Senate Passes Bill to Help Support Alzheimer’s and Dementia Patients and Their Caregivers

The New York State Senate passed legislation to help assist and support individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The bill (S3968), sponsored by Senator Sue Serino (R-C-I, Hyde Park), Chair of the Senate Committee on Aging, would create a dementia and Alzheimer’s disease program database to help coordinate resources available to patients and caregivers. There are many programs across the state that are designed to assist and support individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Innovative ideas are implemented at the local level, but it can be difficult for groups in other areas of the state to find out about them.

This bill would create a program database on the State Office for the Aging website with up-to-date information on program, methodologies, and services provided statewide for persons suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This would help facilitate the sharing of information about innovative and successful programs that could be replicated in other areas of the state. As part of the 2015-16 state budget, the Senate approved $50 million in funding for services to support people with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia – comprised of $25 million this year and another $25 million next year.

Senate Passes Bill to Ban Sale of Powdered Alcohol

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S1757A), sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C-I, Rome), that would prohibit the sale of any powdered or crystalline alcohol product in the state. Powdered alcohol, which will be marketed and sold as “Palcohol,” is a powder that when mixed six ounces of liquid, creates the equivalent of a standard mixed drink.

In 2014, the manufacturer of Palcohol sought federal approval to market their product. In 2015, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) approved revised labels allowing the product to legally be sold in the United States, unless otherwise prohibited. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)concluded that the use of ingredients in Palcohol was in compliance with their regulations, and they do not, at this time, have legal basis to block this item from being sold.

A potential danger with powdered alcohol is that multiple packets could be misused to form one single, possibly lethal drink. It could also increase the chances of underage drinking and substance abuse. Several states including Alaska, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia have already passed similar legislation.

Senate Passes Bills to Combat Heroin Crisis and Enhance Treatment Options for Opioid Abuse

The New York State Senate passed a package of bills to help decrease heroin deaths and put more drug dealers behind bars for peddling dangerous opioids. The measures are being put forth by the Senate’s Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction, co-chaired by Senators Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda), George A. Amedore, Jr. (R-C-I, Rotterdam), and Terrence Murphy (R-C-I, Yorktown), as part of their continuing examination of the issues created by increased heroin abuse that is causing hundreds of deaths in communities across the state.

Over the past several weeks, the Task Force has held forums in Yorktown, Rochester, Lewiston, and Albany. Additional forums will be planned for more New York communities in the fall. The Task Force will then issue a report with recommendations for further legislative action to address concerns raised by law enforcement, health and mental health experts, victims’ advocates, and other stakeholders who participated in the forums.

The preliminary package of 13 bills builds on the Senate legislation successfully enacted last year as a result of the Task Force’s efforts. In addition, the 2015-16 State Budget provided significant funding for programs targeting the heroin crisis, including: $7.8 million in funding for statewide prevention, treatment and recovery services; $450,000 to purchase Narcan kits given out for free to individuals who participate in a Narcan training class; and $140,000 to finance the cost of Narcan kits for staff and nurses authorized to administer Narcan in the event of a heroin or opioid overdose at school.

To view the list of legislation, please click here.

Senate Passes Measures to Support and Help Volunteer Firefighters and Other Emergency Responders

The New York State Senate passed four bills that recognize the daily sacrifice and courage of volunteer firefighters and other emergency responders by offering them additional tax credits and education benefits.

Legislation (S2727) sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C-I, Rome) would expand the tax credits available to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who play a vital role in protecting local communities. The state has sought to encourage more emergency volunteers by enacting a state income tax credit and local real property tax exemptions. However, volunteers are currently unable to receive the property tax exemption and income tax credit at the same time. This bill would remove these restrictions and allow volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to receive both the tax credit – up to $200 off their income taxes – and tax exemption, which is generally limited to a maximum $3,000 reduction in the assessed value of their homes.

In addition, a bill (S1000A) sponsored by Senator Rich Funke (R-C-I, Fairport) would help adequately compensate disabled volunteer firefighters for their service by establishing a cost-of-living adjustment to their state benefits. Under current law, volunteer firefighters who are permanently disabled in the course of their service are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits of up to $400 per week, regardless of the date of their injury. Inflation can make it difficult to subsist on a fixed income, and this legislation would annually adjust benefits by using the Consumer Price Index.

The Senate also passed two bills to broaden educational opportunities for current firefighters. Legislation (S3126) sponsored by Senator Funke would provide additional incentives for young people to enter volunteer fire service at a time when communities are facing a significant shortage of volunteer firefighters across the state.

Another measure (S1473), sponsored by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), would allow firefighters employed by the New York City Fire Department to attend two tuition-free courses at the City University of New York. Currently, New York City Police Department officers who are enrolled in a program leading to a baccalaureate or higher degree receive this benefit, but firefighters do not. By extending the tuition waiver to firefighters, this legislation would enable them to pursue an education early in their careers.

Senate Passes Legislation to Improve New York’s Agriculture Industry

The New York State Senate passed legislation to help keep the state’s agricultural industry booming. Among the seven bills passed, two were given final passage and will be sent to the Governor for consideration. The agricultural industry has a substantial impact on the overall economic health and wellbeing of the state, and these measures will help ensure that this industry will continue to thrive.

Two bills sponsored by Senator Ritchie would help increase the number of new people interested in farming by making it easier to do business in New York. The Senate gave final passage to legislation S1824 that would provide new and beginning farmers with enhanced access to viable agricultural land. It would also direct the state Commissioner of the Office of General Services to work with the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets to develop an inventory of state-owned real property that may be viable for farming and that could be of interest to farmers. Bill S1793 would establish a beginning farmer revolving loan fund to attract young people to farming and encourage them to consider a career in the agricultural industry. New York State already offers revolving loan programs for many other groups to incentivize residents of the state to take up a certain profession.

Five additional measures to help existing farmers and agricultural businesses further succeed were also acted upon. The Senate gave final passage to S3441, sponsored by Senator Cathy Young (R-C-I, Olean), to create the Urban and Regional Farmers’ Market Facilities Construction Program to help with the planning and development of urban and regional farmers’ market facilities. Farmers’ markets benefit consumers by allowing them to buy fresh produce and items directly from farmers while also helping to bring people into local businesses within the cities.

Bill S3678A sponsored by Senator Rich Funke (R-C-I, Fairport) would create a Farm Investment Fund to provide grants to farmers for the purposes of updating and improving their farm and farm practices including, but not limited to, infrastructure, equipment, and marketing of farm products. The Farm Investment Fund would issue grants of up to $50,000 and the allotment would come from the general fund allocated to the Empire State Development Corporation.

Bill S2673 sponsored by Senator Ritchie would give the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets the power to establish a Food Safety Compliance Program to assist farmers in complying with changes in federal food safety regulations. The program would provide a variety of technical assistance to farmers including information and education programs, and referrals to help farmers develop or modify farming, food processing, and manufacturing practices in compliance with the current federal law.

Bill S5199 sponsored by Senator Ritchie would establish a revolving loan program to provide farmers throughout New York State with low-interest loans so that they can upgrade their electricity to three-phase power. Three-phase power refers to three wire alternating current (AC) power circuits and upgrading to this type of power, from single or dual power, is extremely expensive. This bill would help farmers with the financial assistance they need to help cover the cost of this necessary upgrade.

Bill S1835B sponsored by Senator Ritchie would expand a tax exemption for agricultural and horticultural structures and buildings to include commercial equine operations.

The bills have been sent to the Assembly, except S1824 and S3441, which will be sent to the Governor.

Senate Gives Final Passage to Measure Encouraging Women and Minorities to Pursue Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics

The New York State Senate gave final passage to legislation (S1960) sponsored by Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester) that would provide science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) grants to encourage more women and minorities to pursue careers in these fields.

While some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs involve STEM skills, there are less women and minorities in these respective fields. This bill would create a grant program for state public schools, charters, and BOCES programs to provide STEM programs for grades 6-12, and would be designed to encourage more women and minorities to pursue careers in these areas.

2010 survey by the Bayer Corporation reported that 77 percent of female and minority chemists and chemical engineers said significant numbers of women and minorities are missing from the nation’s STEM workforce because they were not identified, encouraged, or nurtured to pursue STEM studies early on. The bill would help address the concerns raised by this study and others, and would fill a critical need for workers skilled in the areas of demand in today’s economy.

The bill will be sent to the Governor for review.

Senate Passes Legislation to Protect People With Special Needs and Disabilities From Abuse and Neglect

The New York State Senate passed legislation to hold accountable individuals who abuse or neglect vulnerable New Yorkers. The bill, sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda), would improve the state’s ability to respond to the abuse or neglect of people with special needs by strengthening the state’s ability to prosecute crimes reported to the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs.

In 2012, the state created the Justice Center to protect the health, safety, and welfare of vulnerable New Yorkers. In addition to establishing the strongest standards and practices in the nation for protecting individuals with special needs, the state also sought to reduce the burden on local law enforcement by authorizing a Special Prosecutor to prosecute abuse and neglect crimes concurrently with District Attorneys. Despite this clear legislative mandate, a Lansing Town Court Justice ruled in an April 2014 criminal case, People v. Davidson, that the Justice Center’s Special Prosecutor lacked jurisdiction to prosecute offenses in a local justice court. The Justice Center recently won its appeal of this decision.

Today’s bill (S4981) would codify the appellate court’s decision and clarify the original legislation’s intent in order to avoid inconsistent determinations among different local courts. If other local courts rule as the Davidson court ruled, the Justice Center’s prosecutors could not appear in local justice courts, placing the burden on District Attorneys to either prosecute the cases on their own or withdraw charges due to a lack of resources. Without this legislation, the Justice Center would also need to present these cases before a grand jury in order to obtain jurisdiction to prosecute them. This requirement would likely delay the bringing of charges and potentially put abused and neglected individuals needing care at risk.

The Senate also passed a bill (S4973), sponsored by Senator Ortt, that would allow family members to obtain  important medical information about deceased relatives with special needs, while also protecting patient privacy.

Senate Passes Bill to Increase Vote Count Accuracy and Prevent Voter Disenfranchisement

 The New York State Senate passed legislation to prevent voter disenfranchisement by helping to ensure that votes are counted accurately by a ballot scanner. The bill (S1848A), sponsored by Senator Kathleen Marchione (R-C, Halfmoon), would prohibit stickers, labels, or pasters from being attached to a write-in ballot.

The use of stickers, labels, or pasters can negatively affect a voting system’s ability to accurately count votes. Voting systems typically only accept a specific ballot thickness, which increases when a sticker, label, or paster is attached to a ballot. In addition, when heated through the normal running of a scanner, labels or stickers can become detached, reaffixed to other ballots, or create situations in which subsequent ballots may not be accepted or read by the scanner. This legislation would prevent these scenarios from occurring, reducing inaccuracies in vote counts.

Senate Passes Measure to Protect Good Samaritans Who Rescue Children Trapped in Cars

 The New York State Senate passed legislation (S240), sponsored by Senator Jack Martins (R-C-I, Mineola), that would help prevent children from dying when trapped inside an overheated car. The bill would ensure that Good Samaritans who forcibly enter a car to rescue a child locked inside are immune from liability.

According to KidsAndCars.org, a nationally recognized not-for-profit children’s safety organization, on average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. Children’s body temperatures increase three to five times faster than an adult – making immediate attention the difference between life and death for a young child.

This legislation would allow an individual to legally break a window or forcibly enter a parked car without liability if there is a reasonable belief that these actions would help a child, under the age of eight years old, who would suffer harm if not immediately removed from the vehicle. Anyone who forcibly enters the vehicle to rescue a child must also notify 911 or first responders immediately before or immediately after entering the vehicle and remain with the child on-site until help arrives.