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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Unveils $100 Million Upstate Distressed Schools Fund

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled the Upstate Distressed Schools Fund, a new initiative designed to provide additional state support to New York’s neediest school districts – particularly those in Upstate with a high concentration of schools designated as “failing” by the State Education Department. The Fund complements the $75 million included in the 2015-16 State Budget to help turn around the state’s worst 27 failing schools, and will meet the outstanding needs of the City of Yonkers for the Board of Education to avoid laying off as many as 200 staff including 60 teachers and eliminating sports programs.

The Governor unveiled the Upstate Distressed School Fund at Yonkers City Hall following a meeting with state lawmakers and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano. Yonkers, which has a large deficit due to a recent local accounting error, is one of the largest school districts in New York and includes multiple failing schools, making the district eligible for a portion of the Fund. If Yonkers were not to receive the funding, it could be forced to lay off as many as 200 teachers, administrators and support staff next year. Of the 200 layoffs, 60 teachers would be cut from various programs district-wide and the district would no longer offer sports programs.

The Upstate Distressed School Fund will provide grants for capital and operating expenses that will enable districts to dedicate more resources to improve students’ test scores and graduation rates and builds on the groundbreaking education reforms contained in the Education Transformation Act of 2015. The $100 million Fund complements the landmark increase in public school funding included in this year’s budget, which brought total education spending to its highest level ever, at $23.5 billion this fiscal year. The Fund will be available to school districts that demonstrate acute financial need and preference for funds will be given to districts with high concentrations of schools designated as “failing” by the State Education Department. Funds can be used to improve failing and other under-performing schools and will help the estimated 60,000 students enrolled in 87 failing schools across the state.

Districts will develop and submit spending plans for approval by the Division of Budget.

Governor Cuomo Announces $16.7 Million in Americorps Funding

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State has received more than $10.7 million in competitive AmeriCorps funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service, to support organizations that promote children’s health and education, disaster preparedness, and other key initiatives. An additional $6 million will be awarded later this year, bringing the total amount of funding to $16.7 million.

The New York State Commission on National & Community Service – New Yorkers Volunteer, a Governor-appointed commission, uses the power of AmeriCorps to address some of the States most challenging issues, and encourages citizens to make a difference in the lives of others. The State’s AmeriCorps members improve schools and increase educational opportunities, fight poverty, come to the aid of the sick, prepare communities for disasters and rebuild following severe weather events, preserve the environment and support veterans and military families.

Awarded through a Request for Proposal process, the funding will enable 14 non-profit organizations to recruit 1,440 people to serve as AmeriCorps members. Each organization has crafted a program to address specific needs in its community. The New York State Commission on National & Community Service – New Yorkers Volunteer will administer the funding.

Governor Cuomo Announces $1.57 Million For Post-Adoption Services

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State has awarded $1.57 million to eight programs to provide post-adoption services to families and children across the State. The funding, administered by the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, represents a $570,000 increase over 2014-15

The funding will enable programs to provide clinical mental health and family counseling, parent education and training, youth development, and other important resources to adoptive families in all five boroughs of New York City, and parts of the Capital Region, Central New York, Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley, North Country, and Western New York.

The funding was allocated in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families portion of the enacted 2015-16 State Budget, and was awarded through a competitive Request for Proposals process. Families whose income is at or below 200 percent of the poverty line will be eligible for post-adoption services.

Governor Cuomo Announces Over $291,000 Returned to 462 Bus Workers

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that $291,734.34 in wages has been returned to 462 workers at Durham Bus locations throughout New York State as the result of an investigation by the New York State Department of Labor Division of Worker Protection.

Service Employees International Union Local 200 officials notified the State Labor Department of possible violations at the Durham Bus location in Syracuse. Labor Department investigators audited the location and discovered numerous instances of worker underpayment and violations of the Wage Theft Prevention Act. The business was judged to owe $12,680.70 in wages and was assessed an additional $3,170 in liquidated damages.

The Department then worked with Durham Bus to investigate additional locations throughout the state to see if other wage violations had occurred, ultimately determining that more than $290,000 in underpayments for minimum wage were owed to 462 workers located in Albany, Poughkeepsie, Watervliet, Rochester, Canandaigua, Schenectady and Minetto (Oswego County).

The New York State Department of Labor’s Worker Protection Division, which investigates wage theft, is processing cases more expeditiously than ever before– meaning more workers receive money owed to them faster. These improvements are due, in part, to policy and operational improvements, such as referring more cases to compliance conferences to expedite a resolution.

More than 80 percent of all investigations are now completed within six months. In 2014, $30.2 million was disbursed to nearly 27,000 workers – more than any previous year and a 35 percent increase in recovered funds over 2013.

Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie Announce Agreement on Legislation to Protect and Support Nail Salon Workers

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced that a three-way agreement has been reached on legislation that protects and supports workers in nail salons. The legislation authorizes the Department of State to shut down businesses that violate the law and establishes new opportunities for individuals to work while studying for their licensing exam.

Authority to Shut Down Businesses that Violate the Law: The legislation authorizes the Department of State to take immediate actions against a business that is not following the law. The Department may shut down a business by ordering the cessation of unlicensed or uninsured activities, and increases financial penalties for violations.

Traineeship for Workers: The legislation establishes new opportunities for unlicensed nail practitioners to register with the State as trainees, instead of relying on often prohibitively high cost education programs, so they may continue to work while studying for their licensing exam. With this tool, workers can more effectively obtain relevant training and explore opportunities in the industry without being held hostage to any employer. Further, all nail salon workers are given access to the full range of resources available through the Department of Labor to find a job.

The legislation complements administrative and regulation changes announced by Governor Cuomo earlier this year. It supports the work of Governor Cuomo’s multi-agency task force, which has enforcement teams in the field to recover stolen wages and shut down the industry’s worst offenders, and a multilingual public outreach campaign targeted toward workers, employers and customers to ensure that all are educated on their rights, duties and responsibilities.

Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie Announce Agreement on “Enough Is Enough”

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced that a three-way agreement has been reached on the “Enough is Enough” legislation to combat sexual assault on college campuses in New York State.

This on-campus sexual assault prevention and response legislation was first proposed by Governor Cuomo in January. The package includes:

  • A statewide definition of affirmative consent, defining consent as a knowing, voluntary, and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity;
  • A statewide amnesty policy, to ensure that students reporting incidents of sexual assault or other sexual violence are granted immunity for certain campus policy violations, such as drug and alcohol use;
  • A Students’ Bill of Rights, which campuses will be required to distribute to all students in order to specifically inform sexual violence victims of their legal rights and how they may access appropriate resources. The Bill of Rights clearly states that students are given the right to know they can report sexual assaults to outside law enforcement, including the State Police;
  • Comprehensive training requirements for administrators, staff, and students, including at new student orientations.;
  • Reporting requirements for campuses to annually submit aggregate data on reported incidents of sexual violence and their adjudication and handling to the State Education Department;
  • A new unit within the State Police called the “sexual assault victims unit” specialized in advanced training in responding to sexual assaults and related crimes that shall also provide assistance to campus police or local law enforcement, as well as training to college campus communities;
  • A commitment of $10 million to help combat campus sexual assault through various partners, split in the following manner: $4.5 million to rape crisis centers to provide services and resources to students, $4.5 million to the State Police to create sexual assault victims unit, and $1 million to colleges and universities; and
  • A requirement for first responders to notify survivors of their right to contact outside law enforcement.

Governor Cuomo, Majority Leader Flanagan and Speaker Heastie Announce Agreement on Legislation to Codify

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie announced that a three-way agreement has been reached on legislation to codify reforms to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Specifically, the legislation includes the following actions:

  • Codifies a new management structure including:
    • A new Chief Executive Officer to replace the Executive Director and Deputy Executive Director; and
    • Rotating the Chairperson and Vice Chairperson between New York and New Jersey every two years, beginning with New York;
  • Prohibiting a Commissioner, including the Chairperson, from serving as the Port Authority’s Chief Executive Officer or as any other officer while serving as a Commissioner;
  • Establishes a Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer who shall enforce compliance with applicable laws and best practices, bolstering the authority of the Port Authority’s Inspector General, and establishing a whistle blower access and assistance program;
  • Requiring Commissioners to execute a statement declaring their fiduciary obligation to exercise independent judgment and act in the best interest of the Port Authority, its mission, and the public;
  • Adopting a Port Authority mission statement designed to meet the critical transportation infrastructure needs of the bi-state region by providing the highest quality and most efficient transportation and port commerce facilities and services to move people and goods within the region, provide access to the nation and the world, and to promote economic development;
  • Establishing a clear recusal policy to prevent conflicts of interest, requiring Commissioners, officers, and certain employees to file financial disclosures, and requiring all Commissioners, officers, and employees to maintain records regarding contact with lobbyists;
  • Requiring public notice of Port Authority meetings and that such meetings be open to the public;
  • Requiring the Port Authority to conduct an independent needs assessment and public hearings before raising tolls and fares; and
  • Establishing enhanced annual reports, financial audits, and public availability of the Port Authority’s capital plan, financial plans, property disposition.

Governor Cuomo Announces $3 Million GENIUS NY Business Competition

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the GENIUS NY business competition – a new business accelerator program for startups with a focus on data, cyber security, analytics and advanced data driven manufacturing, among other data-centric technologies. The competition will take place in Central New York, with CenterState CEO hosting the program at The Tech Garden, a leading business incubator in Syracuse. This new business competition – which is open to startups around the globe – will create a world-class acceleration experience in Upstate New York for high quality companies that are creating innovative, data-intensive, scalable businesses.

The GENIUS NY competition (Growing ENtrepreneurs & Innovators in UpState New York) will be the key business accelerator program at The Tech Garden. The resources and industry strengths of Central New York will be combined with cash investments and intense incubation programming over a 24-month period. There will be nine months of program development, marketing, startup company applications, judging and selections followed by 15 months of two, tiered rounds of competition.

The program will invest more than $3 million in participating companies and contribute significantly to the evolving innovation ecosystem in and around Central New York by finding, supporting and investing in some of the best startup companies in the world. Additionally, approximately $1 million in program support will be provided throughout the competition to assist with expenses such as rent for startups, entrepreneurs in residence, coding assistance, sales and marketing support, and other resources.

Governor Cuomo Announces First-Ever Pride Day at the 2015 Great New York State Fair

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the 2015 Great New York State Fair will feature a “Pride Day” in celebration of New York’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. The designation will take place on Friday, August 28 to formalize what had been for many years an informal gathering at the Fair by members of the LGBT community.

Pride Day at the Fair will begin with the raising of the Rainbow Flag at the Main Gate of the Fairgrounds followed by a day-long information fair linking fairgoers to various organizations. Pride Day will also feature a ceremony that includes speakers from the LGBT community and a prominent presence in the Fair’s daily parade. In addition, the LGBT booth, which has been staffed for 15 years by local advocacy agencies, will occupy its customary spot in the Center of Progress Building.

Pride Day at the Fair will conclude with a free Chevy Court concert at 8 p.m. from Melissa Etheridge, the Grammy-award winning rock star who has campaigned for LGBT equality since coming out in 1993.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli Announces State Contract and Payment Actions

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office approved 1,606 contracts valued at $94.3 billion and approved nearly 1.4 million payments worth approximately $10.4 billion in May. His office also rejected 178 contracts and related transactions valued at $309 million and nearly 2,700 payments valued at nearly $14.3 million due to fraud, waste or other improprieties.

Cumulatively through May for calendar year 2015, DiNapoli’s office has approved 8,351 contracts valued at $122.6 billion and approved more than 9.3 million payments worth nearly $54.3 billion. His office has also rejected 901 contracts and related transactions valued at $2.5 billion and approximately 20,000 payments valued at more than $49.5 million.

As the state’s chief financial officer, DiNapoli’s office reviews contracts for all state agencies and certain contracts for state public authorities and audits all state payments. This independent review ensures that costs are reasonable, the playing field is level and taxpayers get the best value for their money. These independent audits also help ensure payments are free from fraud, waste and improprieties. The Comptroller’s office averaged six days for contract reviews in May and two days to audit payments.

DiNapoli releases this monthly notice to provide current information about the number and types of contracts and payments by the state. This builds on his commitment to added transparency via his Open Book New York website.

To view a full list of contract agreements and payment action, please click here.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Cash Report

Tax revenues of $3.9 billion in May were stronger than projected, with collections for the fiscal year now $142.3 million higher than projections from the Enacted Budget, according to the monthly state cash report issued by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli. The General Fund balance totaled $9.6 billion at the end of May, up more than 31 percent since March 31.

May tax receipts were $166 million higher than projections for the month, but were 4.6 percent lower than a year ago, primarily due to corporate franchise tax refunds.

Combined tax receipts for April and May were $1.3 billion higher than the same period last year, an increase of 12 percent. This increase was primarily due to stronger personal income tax (PIT) collections received in April with the filing of annual returns for the 2014 tax year, as was the case in many states.

Other findings from the May cash report include:

  • Consumption and use tax collections totaled $2.4 billion through May 31, an increase of 1.7 percent from the previous year and $33.1 million lower than projections. Business tax collections through May totaled $375.4 million, representing a decline of $412.9 million from last year, and $59.6 million lower than projections.
  • All Funds receipts totaled $23.9 billion through May, $292.1 million higher than projections. Miscellaneous receipts were $353.4 million above anticipated levels, primarily representing a $485 million monetary settlement received in May that was not included in the Enacted Budget Financial Plan. Federal receipts totaling $6.4 billion were $203.6 million below projections, primarily in special revenue funds.
  • All Funds spending of $20 billion through the first two months was $573 million lower than projections from the Enacted Budget. Spending for local assistance programs totaled $14.4 billion and was 2.1 percent, or $296.6 million, higher than last year and $409.5 million less than projections. State operations totaled $3.1 billion through May 31, which was $63.2 million less than planned. Debt service totaled $420.5 million and was $30.5 million higher than last year, but $8.5 million below projections.
  • The General Fund ended May with a balance of nearly $9.6 billion, which was over $1 billion higher than projections, and more than $5 billion higher than last year at the same time.

See the May cash report or go to: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/finance/cbr.htm

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases School Audits

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

Cheektowaga-Maryvale Union Free School District – Financial Condition (Erie County)
The board and administrative staff have taken appropriate action to manage the district’s financial condition, including ongoing evaluation of spending trends and projected future balances, developing reasonable budgets and managing fund balance in a responsible manner.

Corinth Central School District – Financial Condition (Saratoga County)
General fund budgets from 2012-13 through 2014-15 were not structurally balanced because the district routinely relied on significant amounts of appropriated fund balance to finance operations. District officials did not develop a multiyear financial plan to address the use of restricted and unrestricted fund balance.

Millbrook Central School District – Claims Processing (Dutchess County)
The district’s claims auditor did not properly review claims to ensure that they were accurate, properly supported and for valid district purposes. Auditors discovered purchase orders were issued after goods were received and a lack of adequate supporting documentation for purchases.

Mount Morris Central School District – Financial Condition (Livingston County)
The district has not consistently generated sufficient revenues to finance recurring expenditures. District officials have instead relied on the use of fund balance and reserves to close budget gaps, which has negatively affected the district’s financial positon.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

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

Village of Brookville – Board Oversight (Nassau County)
The board accumulated unexpended surplus funds totaling $2.4 million without a long-term plan for its use. The board did not audit claims prior to payment and did not annually audit the records maintained by the clerk-treasurer and the town justice.

Village of Canajoharie – Procurement (Montgomery County)
Village officials made nine purchases totaling $647,522 without seeking competitive bids and 11 purchases totaling $19,338 without obtaining quotes. The village could have saved nearly $60,000 if they had utilized state contracts or sought competition through competitive bids or quotes.

Fairport Public Library – Financial Management (Monroe County)
The board did not take an active role in overseeing the library’s financial operations and monitoring the treasurer’s work. The board did not establish policies and internal controls over investments and certain other key financial areas. Library officials do not review or approve financial transactions before they occur, and instead, rely on Fairport Central School District employees to both process and approve all financial activity.

Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk Community Library – Claims Processing (Albany County)
Internal controls over the claims process were not appropriately designed. Claims were reviewed and approved by a trustee serving as treasurer but none were audited and approved by the board.

Rockland County Department of Social Services – Service Contracts (2014M-368)
Department personnel need to improve their monitoring of service contracts. Contract agencies did not always submit performance and financial reports and records that indicated how they met their performance targets and whether they adhered to the program budget. In addition, the department paid agencies a total of $1,191,319 without receiving the required financial reports and/or supporting documentation.

Town of Saugerties – Justice Court Operations (Ulster County)
Justices did not ensure that court funds were properly recorded, deposited and reported. Court clerks performed incompatible duties related to cash receipts and the justices did not provide effective oversight of their work. Also, bail records were inaccurate and cash receipts were not always deposited within 72 hours as required by law.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Joint Settlement with LYFT

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman  announced that his office and the New York State Department of Financial Services have agreed to the terms of a consent order and judgment with Lyft, a company that provides for-hire livery services where the company, among other things, dispatches cars through a phone app. The consent order, which resolves an action filed against Lyft in July 2014, requires Lyft to pay $300,000 in penalties for alleged violations of New York state and municipal laws—one of the largest penalties enacted against a ‘sharing economy’ company to dateLyft has agreed that it will comply with the relevant provisions of the New York Insurance Law.

As part of the consent order, Lyft drivers will be required to have auto insurance issued by New York-authorized insurers. The insurance must cover drivers while they have the Lyft app turned on to receive requests to pick up passengers through the end of any rides they provide. Additionally, the consent order prohibits Lyft from offering, selling or providing insurance policies that do not comply with the New York Insurance Law.

The consent order also requires Lyft to comply with all other state as well as municipal laws applicable to vehicles-for-hire. Lyft must also inform the Superintendent, the Attorney General, and the counsel of any municipality or other jurisdiction in the state where it intends to launch its service at least three weeks before such a launch.

Attorney General Schneiderman: New York Officials Announce First Arrest Of NYC Landlord Resulting From Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, joined by Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Homes and Community Renewal Commissioner James Rubin, announced the arrest and indictment of landlord Daniel Melamed by the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force (“Task Force”), on charges that Melamed endangered the health and safety of rent regulated tenants, including a six year old child, during demolition and construction that began in February 2014 at his 14-unit building at 1578 Union Street in Brooklyn. Pirooz Soltanizadeh, an engineer hired by Melamed to oversee construction at the building, was also indicted. The arrests are the first to result from an investigation led by the multi-agency task force, which was announced by A.G. Schneiderman, Mayor de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo in February.

Prosecutors from the A.G.’s office allege that Melamed presided over a disturbing pattern of dangerous and unlawful construction that jeopardized the health and safety of building tenants and forced at least one rent regulated tenant to move out. Investigators allegedly found that Melamed (1) illegally shut off heat to rent regulated tenants, even when temperatures dropped below freezing, (2) repeatedly exposed tenants to lead dust that exceeded acceptable levels by as much as eighty-eight times the permissible threshold, and (3) unlawfully destroyed interior walls and common spaces. Melamed is also accused of filing a false document with the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB). In an apparent attempt to mislead city officials and avoid stricter oversight of the construction project and elude tenant protection measures, Melamed allegedly stated in DOB filings that his Crown Heights building was vacant, when in fact some of the units were occupied—many by rent regulated tenants.

Melamed, age 37, of Great Neck, owns and manages six rental buildings in New York City, and purchased the Crown Heights building in November 2012. Soltanizadeh, age 39, of New Hyde Park, is a physical engineer licensed by New York State. Melamed was arraigned in Brooklyn Criminal Court on three counts of unlawful eviction, one count of endangering the welfare of a child, and one count of offering a false instrument for filing. If convicted, Melamed and Soltanizadeh face up to 1 1/3 – 4 years in prison. The arrests are the result of a joint investigation by the Task Force and a resulting referral of the criminal case to the Attorney General’s Office from the New York State Division of Homes and Community Renewal, via its Tenant Protection Unit (“TPU”). New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development identified the buildings as potential targets for the task force following a review of filings with the Department of Buildings, as well as an examination of active complaints by both current and former tenants. The Department of Buildings and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene also participated in the inspections.The Task Force’s investigation into Melamed is ongoing.

Speaker:

Assemblymember Bichotte’s Bill bolstering MWBEs passes Assembly with Bipartisan Support

Below is the press release:

ALBANY, NY (June 19, 2015):  Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte (D-Brooklyn),Chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs), announced that legislation she sponsored to enhance opportunities for emerging businesses passed the Assembly (A.8044-A). Senator James Sanders Jr. (D-Queens) is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate (S5924A).

  “By encouraging minorities and women to grow their businesses, we are promoting job opportunities in our communities and building a sustainable economic future,” said Assemblymember Bichotte. “MWBEs have a lot to offer, and increasing their participation in government contracts is one way we can help these job-creating small businesses prosper.”

Assemblymember Bichotte’s bill increases the city’s MWBE discretionary spending of the small-purchase threshold from $100,000 to $200,000, allows MWBE status to be a factor in “best value” awards, establishes capacity building programs for the benefit of state or local MWBE-certified firms doing business in New York City and permits pre-qualified lists for purchase contracts in addition to public works contracts.

Assemblymember Bichotte noted the next step is to expand the program statewide and ensure businesses’ past labor practices include prevailing wage standards when awarding contracts.

Chairwoman Bichotte also introduced MWBE legislation to:

  • authorize state agencies to use discretionary purchasing authority for procurements from service-disabled veteran-owned businesses (A.7580);
  • waive deposits on certain plans and specifications for contracts for public works (A.7582); and
  • allow businesses to use funds received from the MWBE development and lending program for the purpose of refinancing existing debt (A.7719).

“This is a huge step forward for New York City’s MWBEs, but just the beginning of a move to support MWBEs across the state,” said Assemblymember Bichotte.

Click here to watch video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLgj0N–IT0&feature=youtu.be

Assembly Passes Legislation to Promote Independent Living and Enhance Quality of Life for Individuals with Disabilities

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Mental Health Committee Aileen Gunther announced the passage of legislation (A.7767B, Gunther) that would allow individuals and families of people with disabilities to set aside dedicated private funds for costs associated with their health and well-being.

The bill would create the “New York Achieving a Better Life Experience (NY ABLE) Act” in New York State for the benefit of qualified individuals with disabilities. Under the program, individuals can save monies to be used for health and medical expenses in a tax-deferred financial vehicle while maintaining eligibility for Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

In December 2014, President Barack Obama signed into law the federal ABLE Act which allows states to establish dedicated savings accounts to offset the costs of living for individuals with disabilities. The monies saved in these accounts are exempt from the personal asset limits for Medicaid and SSI benefits thereby preserving the financial health of individuals and families.

This measure was also passed by the Senate and will be delivered to the Governor for consideration.

Assembly Passes Legislation Granting Adoptees Certain Rights

The New York State Assembly yesterday passed legislation to establish a procedure for adoptees over the age of 18 to obtain a copy of their original birth certificates and identifying information about their biological parents, including medical history information (A.2901-A, Weprin).

The bill would allow an adopted person who is at least eighteen years of age to apply to the court from which the order of adoption was made, or to the Supreme Court, to request an order releasing a non-certified copy of his or her original birth certificate and a medical history form, if available.

Upon such application, the Department of Health would make reasonable and good faith efforts to notify the birth parent or parents who may choose to consent to the release of identifying information or request to maintain confidentiality.

The birth parent will also have the opportunity to complete a contact preference form that would notify the adoptee of the parent’s choice to be contacted by the adoptee, be contacted only through an intermediary or to not be contacted at all. If the biological parent cannot be found or does not respond, the court would be empowered to release a copy of the birth certificate to the adoptee unless there is sufficient evidence establishing that the birth parent wishes for his or her identifying information to be kept confidential.

Assembly Passes Legislation Extending Health Insurance Enrollment Period for Pregnant Women

The New York State Assembly announced the passage of legislation that would establish eligibility for a special enrollment period allowing pregnant women to enroll in health insurance policies in this state at any time (A6780-B, Simotas). Coverage would be effective the first of the month in which pregnancy is established.

Health insurance can make a substantial difference over the course of a woman’s pregnancy both physically and financially. From routine checkups to dealing with complications, health care without insurance is outrageously expensive and completely unmanageable for many women. Providing access to coverage would allow women to choose what is best for themselves and their families.

Assembly Passes Legislation Adding E-Cigarettes To the Clean Indoor Air Act

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and bill sponsor Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal announced the passage of a bill that would ban the use of electronic cigarettes in certain indoor areas (A5955-B, Rosenthal).

Passed legislation would change the definition of smoking in current health law to include the use of e-cigarettes. The addition would make restrictions relating to smoking in public areas applicable to e-cigarettes, banning the use of e-cigarettes under the Clean Indoor Air Act and certain outdoor areas.

Assembly Legislation Fights Employment Discrimination

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Labor Committee Chair Michele Titus and bill sponsor Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee yesterday announced the passage of legislation that would prohibit employers from discriminating or taking any retaliatory personnel action based on employees’ or their dependents’ reproductive health decisions (A.1142-A, Jaffee).

The legislation would ensure that employees and their dependents are able to make their own reproductive health care decisions without discrimination or incurring any retaliatory personnel action at the hands of an employer. The bill prohibits an employer from accession of an employee’s personal information regarding reproductive health care without the employee’s informed, written consent and bars discrimination or retaliatory action against an employee on the basis of the employee’s or their dependent’s reproductive health decision making, regardless of how the employer learned of the decisions. The bill also requires any employer who provides an employee handbook to include a notice of employee rights and remedies in the handbook.

Additionally, the legislation provides that in a civil action that alleges a violation of this law, the court may award damages that include back pay, benefits, and reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The court may also order reinstatement or afford injunctive relief against an employer who violates this law, as well as award the plaintiff liquidated damages equal to one-hundred percent of the award for damages unless an employer proves a good faith basis to believe that its actions were in compliance with the law. Moreover, an employer who violates the law will be subject to separate civil penalties.

Assembly Passes Legislation to Strip Pensions from Corrupt Public Officials

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblyman David Buchwald announced the passage of legislation to continue the Assembly’s push for ethics reforms by ensuring public officers convicted of corruption do not receive taxpayer-funded pensions (A.7704, Buchwald).

The proposed constitutional amendment would apply to all elected officials at the state and local level, judges, executive appointees, policymakers and certain members of public boards and government bodies. To protect innocent family members, a judge would be required to set aside a portion of the pension for a spouse and dependent children. Passage of the measure builds on the Assembly’s ongoing commitment to increasing transparency and accountability in government, including a series of ethics reforms in this year’s state budget which increased disclosure of legislators’ outside income, improved transparency for travel reimbursements and strengthened campaign finance laws.

The Assembly’s amendment now moves to the Senate. Should the amendment pass the Senate, it would need to pass again during the next legislative term to appear on the ballot as a public referendum to change the New York State Constitution.

Senate:

Senate Passes Bill to Set April 19, 2016, as Date of the Presidential Primary in New York

The New York State Senate passed legislation designating the date of April 19th for the 2016 presidential primary in New York. The bill (S5958) is sponsored by Senator Rich Funke (R-C-I, Fairport), Chairman of the Senate’s Election Committee, and protects the rights of military and overseas voters by giving them adequate time to receive ballots and vote in the election, while also preventing the election from taking place during the observance of Passover.

The Democratic National Committee has proposed an alternative presidential primary date of April 26, 2016, which would result in the election being held in the middle of Passover week. The bill passed by the Senate eliminates any potential conflict for voters who observe Passover. The bill will be sent to the Assembly.

Senate Gives Final Passage to Legislation Now Headed to the Governor’s Desk

The New York State Senate this week gave final passage to a variety of legislation that has already passed in the Assembly and will be sent to the Governor for review. The legislation would help prevent forcible touching on public transit, stop the spread of meningococcal disease, provide high-quality after-school programs to youth, enhance access to healthy foods in lower-income areas, and make certain synthetic drugs illegal.

Among the bills receiving final passage are:

– S3203A, sponsored by Senator Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn): redefines the crime of forcible touching to include when one subjects another person to sexual contact for the purpose of gratifying the actor’s sexual desire and with the intent to degrade or abuse a passenger on a public bus, train, or subway car.

– S4324A, sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon (R, Nassau): adds vaccination against meningococcal disease to the list of vaccines children must have prior to entering school. Specifically, the bill would require parents to ensure that their children entering, repeating, or transferring into seventh and twelfth grades are vaccinated against the disease (beginning September 1, 2016).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the two most severe and common illnesses caused by the Neisseria meningitidis bacteria are meningitis (infections of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord) and bacteremia or septicemia (bloodstream infections). Each year, roughly 1,000 – 1,200 people contract meningococcal disease in the United States. Of these cases, 10 to 15 percent are fatal and 11 to 19 percent of those who survive will suffer from permanent hearing loss, developmental delays, loss of limbs, or other serious conditions, the CDC reports.

– S5627, sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder (D, Brooklyn): helps ensure that all youth have access to high-quality after-school programs. It eliminates inconsistent requirements in the child care regulations to make them consistent with current public school building regulations, thereby allowing third parties to continue offering school-aged children much needed after-school programming within school buildings across New York.

– S5806, sponsored by Senator Kathleen Marchione (R-C, Halfmoon): creates a state Task Force for Retail Food Stores in Underserved Areas. The Task Force would identify and evaluate barriers that limit access to healthy, nutritional, and affordable food for lower-income residents in underserved communities and find ways to assist local food retail businesses. By assisting these businesses, this bill would help underserved communities gain access to more affordable and nutritious foods, which would not only improve their quality of life, but also limit negative impacts on public health and associated medical costs. Potential opportunities for farmers to expand market opportunities by selling locally-grown or -produced food products would also be identified.

– S738A, sponsored by Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C-I, Rome): makes certain synthetic drugs illegal. The bill would include the drug known as “N-Bomb,” which mimics the effects of LSD as a hallucinogen. These drugs have harrowing effects and in many cases, individuals have overdosed from these chemically-made drugs, which vary widely in potency.

State Senate Passes Legislation on Automobile Recall Notices

The New York State Senate approved legislation (S4296B), sponsored by Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury), that would require registered automobile owners to be notified of any manufacturer recalls during their annual motor vehicle inspection. The legislation would also require the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to promote and provide notice to consumers of the availability of information on motor vehicle safety recalls.

The bill has been sent to the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (A6247).

Senate Passes Bill to Protect Art Authenticators

The New York State Senate approved legislation (S1229A) sponsored by Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury) Chair of the Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee, that provides better legal protection for art authenticators who have increasingly been the victims of frivolous and costly lawsuits. The definition also includes authors of catalogues raisonné or other scholarly texts in which an opinion as to the authenticity, attribution or authorship of a work of fine art or visual art multiple is expressed or implied.   It also expressly excludes anyone with a financial interest in the work of fine art or visual art multiple that is being evaluated, other than to be compensated for services in providing an opinion of authenticity.

The bill includes provisions that would ensure that only valid, verifiable claims against authenticators are allowed to proceed in court and addresses the recovery of attorneys’ fees and expenses.
Little said, due to litigation, the well-known Pollock-Kranser Foundation and Andy Warhol Foundation art authentication boards have stopped providing certificates or opinions on authenticity. The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), Guggenheim, International Society of Appraisers, New York City Bar Association and the “Entertainment, Arts and Sports Law Section” of the New York State Bar Association support passage of the legislation.

The bill was forwarded to the State Assembly where companion legislation is sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.

Senate Passes Legislation to Protect Senior Citizens from Abuse and Exploitation

The New York State Senate passed a sweeping package of 10 bills to protect vulnerable senior citizens from predatory financial schemes and physical and emotional abuse. The legislation would create a statewide elder abuse reporting system and increase public awareness of elder mistreatment, facilitate the prosecution of individuals who endanger the welfare of seniors, and help ensure adequate care for the elderly in long-term care facilities.

By 2050, people age 65 years or older are projected to comprise 20 percent of the United States’ population. Data from Adult Protective Services agencies indicate a national increase in reports of elder abuse. However, a New York State study on the prevalence of elder abuse found that for every case known to programs and agencies, 24 were unreported. The legislation  would:

Expand Protections Against Elder Abuse
The Senate gave final passage to legislation (S5905), sponsored by Senator Sue Serino (R-C-I, Hyde Park), which would broaden the focus of the New York State Committee for the Coordination of Police Services to Elderly Persons. This committee studies and evaluates Triad Programs, which are partnerships between senior citizens, senior providers, and law enforcement to reduce criminal victimization of the elderly and enable greater community involvement in implementing solutions. Today’s legislation would authorize the committee to examine approaches to improving the quality of life for seniors in addition to the Triad Program to further protect elderly citizens from physical, emotional, and financial abuse.

Bill S639, sponsored by Senator David J. Valesky (D, Oneida), authorizes banks to refuse to carry out a monetary transaction if there is reason to believe that it involves the financial exploitation of an elderly adult. The banking institution may also provide relevant records to law enforcement and social service officials investigating these crimes. By allowing a banking organization to refuse to conduct a monetary transaction if there is evidence of financial exploitation, this bill would provide protection for all vulnerable adults who are 18 years of age or older.

In addition, legislation (S641) sponsored by Senator Valesky would expand the definition of a caregiver in the penal law in order to protect seniors from individuals who endanger their welfare. Currently, a caregiver is defined as a person who assumes responsibility of care of a vulnerable elderly, incompetent, or physically disabled person under court order, or who receive monetary or other compensation for providing such care. Law enforcement officers have been frustrated by the limitations of this description, which does not extend to unpaid individuals. Today’s bill would broaden that definition to include someone who assumes responsibility of a vulnerable person without a court order, such as a volunteer caregiver, appointed guardian, or power of attorney, eliminating a crucial barrier to the prosecution of elder abuse.

Monitor and Increase Public Awareness of Elderly Mistreatment
The Senate approved a bill (S852), sponsored by Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein (D, Bronx/Westchester), to better identify and prevent incidences of elder abuse throughout New York State. Under this legislation, the state Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), along with the state Office for the Aging, would be required to collect and analyze data on the mistreatment and neglect of seniors from state and local agencies, create an interagency elder abuse reporting system, and produce a report with recommendations to prevent these offenses from occurring. Requiring OCFS to clarify the definition of elder abuse and examine incidences of senior mistreatment would help establish accurate figures to assist state and local agencies in prosecuting these crimes.

Final legislative passage was given to S5328A, sponsored by Senator Serino, that would increase awareness of the financial exploitation and neglect of senior citizens statewide. The legislation would authorize the state Office for the Aging to conduct a public relations campaign on preventing elder abuse, including its signs and symptoms, potential causes, resources available to assist in its prevention, and assistance with arranging personal care and shelter for the elderly.

Change the Courts to Protect Seniors
New York is one of five states that account for more than one-third of all elder abuse cases in the nation. The Senate passed legislation to help ensure the successful prosecution of individuals who abuse or exploit senior citizens. A bill (S394) sponsored by Senator Patrick M. Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma) would allow recorded testimony from certain elderly witnesses to be used as evidence at a later date in a criminal proceeding. Under current law, victims can only be examined conditionally – or record their testimony before a trial begins – if they suffer from a demonstrable physical illness or incapacity. Unfortunately, some victims who appear healthy at the outset of an investigation pass away before the trial begins.

The Senate also approved legislation to better protect mentally impaired victims from financial exploitation. Bill (S624), sponsored by Senator Valesky, would allow prosecutors to obtain patient medical records with a subpoena upon showing that the patient suffers from a mental disability and that the patient has been the victim of a crime. Some health care providers currently refuse to produce these records in response to grand jury subpoenas on the grounds that doing so would violate the physician-patient confidentiality privilege. Mentally impaired individuals are usually unable to waive this confidentiality privilege for prosecutors and, as a result, law enforcement efforts against elder fraud have suffered. By allowing prosecutors to obtain medical records of mentally impaired patients with a subpoena, this legislation would facilitate the prosecution of individuals who have preyed on vulnerable seniors.

Two bills would also clarify the authority of adult guardians of senior citizens. Recently, there have been high-profile cases in which adult children from a previous marriage have been denied the right to visit their incapacitated elderly parent by the current spouse. In two situations in California involving the late Peter Falk and the late Casey Casem, the respective spouses cut off the adult children from their fathers, failed to notify the children of major changes in their fathers’ medical conditions, and excluded them from funeral arrangements after their fathers’ deaths. Current New York State law does not provide an avenue for children in these situations to petition the courts for reasonable visitation rights.

The Senate passed “Peter Falk’s Law” (S5154A), sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse), to safeguard against the isolation of the elderly from family and friends. This bill would require guardians to notify adult children and other close relatives if the elderly individual enters the hospital, if he or she dies, and of burial and funeral information. Adult children would also be able to petition the court for visitation rights if the parent is unreasonably isolated from his or her relatives.

The Senate gave final passage to S5482, sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon (R, Nassau), that would improve the ability of out-of-state guardians to best represent the interests of an elderly person, and further simplify the process for determining jurisdiction among multiple states in adult guardianship cases. The legislation clarifies that an adult guardian appointed in another state can appear in New York courts, if authorized to do so by the appointing court. The guardian would also be allowed to sell real estate using the same process as guardians appointed in New York, and without having to go through a duplicative state guardianship process.

Senate: Following Historic $1.4 Billion Aid Increase, Senate Republicans Act to Further Protect Students and Schools

Following a $1.4 billion school aid increase that was the centerpiece of the 2015-16 state budget approved in March, Senate Republicans acted to further protect students and their schools by passing common-sense education reforms that will empower parents and teachers, restore local control, and aggressively address the problems caused by an overemphasis on standardized testing. By taking decisive action, Senate Republicans have provided the leadership necessary to put in place a simpler, fairer Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system that will improve outcomes for parents, teachers and kids, while easing the anxiety that now exists in classrooms across this state.

The legislation (S5954), sponsored by Senator Flanagan, directs the State Education Department (SED) to release test questions and the corresponding correct answers to teachers by June 1st of the same school year.  Doing so will encourage greater transparency and accountability, and ensure that the standardized tests are a learning tool, not just a data collection device. The bill helps students by enacting measures to ensure that state exams in grades 3-8 are grade-appropriate and time-appropriate. Meanwhile, the bill requires an additional 45-day public comment period following the release of the new draft regulations now being put together by the State Education Department – – allowing students, teachers, parents, grandparents and others to make their voices heard on this important statewide education issue.

This legislation also requires the State Education Department (SED) to consider student characteristics, such as English language learners, students with disabilities, students in poverty and a student’s prior academic history, as factors in the calculation of a teacher’s student growth scores. In addition, the reform measures passed require a comprehensive SED review – with education stakeholders – of the effectiveness and appropriateness of Common Core standards.

Senate Gives Final Passage to Legislation Now Headed to the Governor’s Desk

The New York State Senate gave final passage to a variety of legislation that has already passed in the Assembly and will be sent to the Governor for review. The legislation would help new mothers, benefit hard-working families, provide assistance to the elderly, protect children, and enhance local communities.

To see the full list of legislation, please click here.

Senate Passes Legislation to Fight Lyme Disease and Other Tick-Borne Illnesses

The New York State Senate passed legislation to help stop the spread of Lyme disease across the state. The three bills are sponsored by Senator Sue Serino (R-C-I, Hyde Park), Chair of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases, and are part of the Task Force’s continuing efforts to promote best practices for reducing public exposure to ticks, as well as identifying and responding to Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

Bill S5802 would help provide homeowners with a reliable source of information on how to protect their properties from ticks. The legislation would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to develop and annually update guidelines for treating residential properties based on integrated pest management, an approach that uses a variety of pest control techniques to monitor insects while minimizing risks to human health and the environment.

Early education and prevention are critical to controlling the rise in tick-borne infections. Bill S5803 would authorize the state Department of Health to design a Lyme and tick-borne disease prevention program that explains how to safely use insect repellents, strategies for tick removal, recommendations for reducing exposure to ticks, and an appropriate course of action for individuals to take once a tick has been removed. Bill S5804 would authorize the state Department of Education to collaborate with the state Department of Health to develop instructional materials on tick-borne infections for children. These resources would provide visual guides and other age-appropriate materials to teach children how to safely protect themselves from ticks, as well as identify and react to a tick bite.

Senate Passes Measure to Protect Businesses from Job-Killing Regulations

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S4319), sponsored by Senator Terrence Murphy (R-C-I, Yorktown), to protect businesses from over-zealous state regulations that could hurt the continued growth of the economy. The bill would require the state to conduct a more thorough examination of the impact proposed regulations may have on jobs and employment opportunities. The legislation would ensure that the potential impacts of rules and regulations developed for businesses by state agencies are fully examined. Currently, the State Administrative Procedure Act (SAPA) only requires agencies to analyze whether a proposed rule will affect jobs and issue a job impact statement. This current approach does not fully consider many of the potentially critical factors that would negatively affect business performance or result in job losses.

The legislation passed would improve the evaluations performed by the state when assessing the potential impact regulations may have on jobs and employment opportunities by requiring:
– The Commissioners of Labor and Economic Development to review any statement issued by a state agency that finds that a proposed regulation may have a substantial and adverse impact on jobs;
– Agencies to perform additional analysis if they are unable to determine the potential impact of a proposed regulation, and would prevent the state from enacting the regulation until they have performed more analysis;
– Agencies to make methodology, data, and resources available for public review; and
– Job impact reports to include whether or not a significant change in employment is necessary. It would also include whether a new regulation will have an affect on average wage levels, hours, and/or duration of employment, as well as other factors that could represent a substantial adverse impact on workers’ incomes and economic security.

The Senate also passed a bill (S5353A) sponsored by Senator Murphy that would promote mandate relief and flexibility for local governments by tailoring regulatory requirements to meet the specific needs and capabilities of municipalities. These improvements to the regulatory process would promote efficiency and save money for local governments.  The bills have been sent to the Assembly.

Senate Passes Bill Protecting Students From Sexual Assault On College and University Campuses

The New York State Senate passed crucial legislation in the fight against sexual violence on college campuses. The bill (S5965) is sponsored by Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson), Chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee, and takes a comprehensive approach to help make every college and university campus throughout New York State more safe and secure.

The legislation was developed while working closely with victim’s rights advocates, law enforcement professionals, legal experts, and higher education professionals. It would help prevent sexual assaults and provide more support to victims by improving the ability of educational institutions to appropriately respond if a crime occurs. The bill also provides $10 million in state funding to help implement these new measures by creating a new Sexual Assault Victims Unit within the Division of State Police ($4.5 million); supporting prevention, education, and victim services provided on campuses by rape crisis centers ($4.5 million); and by supporting on-campus training, among other related expenses ($1 million).

Senate Passes Legislation to Protect Nail Salon Workers and Consumers

 The New York State Senate passed legislation (S5966), sponsored by Senator Michael Venditto (R-C-I, Massapequa), that would foster a safe and healthy environment for both nail salon workers and consumers. This bill provides the necessary tools to close down unlicensed or uninsured nail salon activities, creates a formalized trainee program for those employed in nail salons, and requires nail salon owners to provide health and safety protections for their employees.

Significant concerns voiced by nail salon employees and advocates, and a recent investigation by the New York Times detailed the harsh working conditions of some nail salon workers. These nail salon employees endure unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices, including inadequate ventilation, wage theft, and a lack of personal protective equipment, workers’ compensation insurance coverage, or business liability insurance. To protect nail salon employees and patrons from unscrupulous practices, this measure would give the state the authority to shut down nail salons that do not comply with enacted state regulations. Nail salon workers would also be given new opportunities to master their trade and affordably obtain their working licenses by registering with the state as a “trainee.” This training program would give employees the ability to continue their career path while getting paid to learn about the position and the sanitary measures that protect consumers.

The Senate also passed legislation (S1982A), sponsored by Senator Catharine Young (R-C-I, Olean), that would require the state Department of Health to review the safety of ultraviolet (UV) nail dryers and would authorize the state to regulate the use of these devices. A recent article in JAMA Dermatology found UV lamps to be a contributing factor for two women who developed skin cancer on their hands – stemming from use of these lamps in nail salons. The bills have been sent to the Assembly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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