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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces Expanded Access to Renewable Energy For Millions Of New Yorkers

Governor Cuomo announced the approval of a bold new community initiative enabling millions of New Yorkers to access clean and affordable energy for the first time. Proposed in Governor Cuomo’s 2015 State of Opportunity Agenda, Shared Renewables provides opportunities for renters, homeowners, low-income residents, schools and businesses to join together to set up shared renewable energy projects resulting in healthier and stronger communities.

Renewable resources are already providing massive economic and environmental benefits across the state, with installed solar capacity having grown 300% between 2011 and 2014. Yet, many New Yorkers are still unable to participate because they rent their home, live in an apartment building, or own properties unsuitable for installing solar panels or other clean energy technologies.

Under the Shared Renewables initiative (also referred to as community distributed generation), customers can join together to share in the benefits of local solar, wind, and other renewable energy projects. Each individual member’s production would appear as a credit on their monthly utility bill. The first phase of Shared Renewables will focus on promoting low-income customer participation and installations in areas of the power grid that can benefit most from local power production.

Governor Cuomo’s REV initiative takes a proactive approach to meet the challenges facing today’s power sector by building a regulatory framework to modernize the utility industry to create greater value for customers and support new investment in clean energy.

Governor Cuomo Proposes New Regulations to Strengthen Fight Against Synthetic Marijuana

Governor Cuomo called for stronger Health Department regulations to combat the sale of synthetic cannabinoids in New York State. These dangerous, man-made compounds have resulted in a dramatic increase in hospital visits and poison control center calls. The sale and possession of dozens of synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts were banned by the Department of Health at the urging of Governor Cuomo in August, 2012. These new regulations will expand the existing list of banned substances to include new chemical compounds that drug producers have begun to make since 2012.

Synthetic cannabinoids are marketed as legal and typically consist of plant material coated by chemicals which are supposed to mimic THC, the active chemical compound in marijuana. Since 2012, the producers of synthetic cannabinoids have been attempting to skirt New York’s strict regulations by developing new chemicals not specifically identified in regulation. The new emergency regulations add two additional classes of compounds to the banned substances list, which potentially include hundreds of different hazardous chemicals and will be in effect upon approval by the New York State Public Health and Health Planning Council and filing with the Department of State.

Over the past several months, hospitals and poison control centers have seen a dramatic increase in activity because of these drugs. From April 1 to June 30, New York State saw more than 1,900 emergency department visits and more than 680 poison control center calls due to reports of adverse health effects associated with synthetic cannabinoid use. This represents more than a tenfold increase over the same time period in 2014. Nationally, there have been 15 synthetic cannabinoid-related deaths reported to poison control centers during January through May 2015. No deaths have yet occurred in New York State. In addition to these updated regulations, DOH and OASAS have continued to issue health advisories to hospitals, emergency departments, ICUs, urgent care centers, community health clinics, medical directors, nursing directors, and primary care providers in order to keep them updated on this growing public health threat, as well as provide information and resources that can be used when dealing with patients.

The dangerous drugs are marketed as incense, herbal mixtures, or potpourri in order to mask their true purpose. Street names for substances include Spice, K2, Green Giant, Smacked, Wicked X, AK-47, Geeked Up, Ninja, Caution, Red Giant, andKeisha Kole.

Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of $3.6 Million Entry Plaza For Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park Pool

Governor Cuomo announced the grand opening of the new $3.6 million entrance plaza at Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park, which includes a completely revitalized bathhouse facility and welcome area for the park’s acre-size pool. The project is part of the Governor’s NY Parks 2020 initiative to rehabilitate and modernize the state park system.

The pool, open daily from late June through Labor Day, can hold up to 3,500 visitors at a time and is one of the major attractions of FDR State Park. The adjacent bathhouse facility, with restrooms, showers, and changing areas, had not been modernized since its construction in 1965. The renovation features:

  • Completely renovated bathhouse interior – including the addition of four new family restrooms, new epoxy finishes on floors and walls, as well as new lighting, ceiling fans, lockers and benches – provides a more comfortable experience for park visitors;
  • Newly installed heavy timber roof structure protects the bathhouse and its occupants from the elements;
  • Solar thermal hot water supply, which allows direct sunlight to heat the water stored and used in the building; water-saving plumbing fixtures and energy-efficient LED lights make the facility more environmentally sustainable; and
  • Tall masonry walls around the bathhouse complex that obstructed the park’s scenic, natural backdrops were demolished to open attractive vistas of Mohansic Lake to pool visitors.

Outside the bathhouse, the garden-like entrance plaza features a welcome station, complete with new site furnishings and native plants and trees. Innovative storm water management practices, which include a filtering rain garden and pervious pavers in its plaza and walkways, build on last year’s project to improve drainage and reduce storm water run-off. A 2014 partnership between State Parks and the Department of Transportation installed approximately 27,000 square feet of bio-retention basins to remove pollutants from storm water, allowing cleaner water flow into Mohansic Lake and effectively reduce phosphorous in the New York City watershed.

The project is funded with $1.8 million from Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 program and $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Land & Water Conservation Fund.

Governor Cuomo Announces Statewide Task Force to Combat Worker Exploitation and Abuse Throughout New York State

Governor Cuomo announced a first-of-its-kind statewide Task Force to root out worker exploitation issues in multiple industries in New York State. Building on the Governor’s groundbreaking initiative to protect workers in the nail salon industry, the Task Force will identify and halt illegal practices in more industries across the state. The Task Force is composed of 10 State agencies including the Department of State, Department of Labor and Department of Agriculture and Markets, and will work in partnership with an advisory committee that is charged with providing legislative, regulatory and administrative recommendations. The Governor made the announcement while in the Bronx signing legislation to protect and support nail salon workers in New York.

“If there is a state that is going to take a stand against worker exploitation, it is New York,” said Governor Cuomo. “New York offers a promise that our arms and hearts are open to those who come here to work and build a better future for themselves – and we will not tolerate worker exploitation, period. It’s not a Democratic or a Republican issue – it’s what we believe, and together we’re going to make this a reality.”

The multi-agency Task Force is a critical addition to New York’s fight against worker exploitation and builds on the Governor’s initiative protecting workers in nail salons. The Governor was joined by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to sign legislation that helps protect nail salon employees from unsafe working conditions and unfair labor practices.

Governor Cuomo Announces New Workforce Development Center on Buffalo’s East Side

Governor Cuomo unveiled plans for the Western New York Workforce Development Center, a new hub that will focus primarily on training for careers in the advanced manufacturing and energy sectors. To be located on Buffalo’s East Side, the center will inhabit a 100,000-square-foot building at 683 Northland Avenue that has sat vacant for 25 years.

As a signature initiative of the Buffalo Billion and a centerpiece of the New York Power Authority’s workforce planning strategic initiative, the Workforce Development Center will help ensure a robust and diversified workforce of highly trained, skilled workers ready to meet the challenges of the 21st-century electric utility and advanced manufacturing industries. This initiative creates two co-located training facilities: an Advanced Manufacturing Training Center and a Utility of the Future & Clean Energy Training Center.

The Western New York Workforce Development Center is expected to be funded with up to $29 million from the Buffalo Billion. Governor Cuomo has also requested that the New York Power Authority Board of Trustees affirm an investment of up to $15 million for the energy-training component of the Center, as approved in the New York Power Authority’s fiscal 2015 budget and four-year financial operating plan. This new venture on Buffalo’s East Side is just one part of an unprecedented amount of state investment spearheaded by the Governor connecting the neighborhood to the unparalleled growth experienced by the larger Western New York region over the past four years. To view a partial list of projects and details being funded by the state on the East Side, click here.

Governor Cuomo Calls For Fair and Gradual Changes to Summer Flounder Fishery

Governor Cuomo called on the Mid Atlantic Fishery Management Council to reevaluate a potential 43 percent fluke harvest reduction for New York in 2016. The potential reduction would negatively affect both commercial and recreational fisheries in New York State.

The potential reductions are based on several consecutive years of lower than average reproductive success and not as a result of overharvest in New York or elsewhere on the coast.

For more than a decade, New York’s recreational and commercial fishing community has been at a disadvantage for fluke harvest because managers used old data to establish limits. New York’s neighboring states enjoyed longer seasons, smaller size and larger bag limits in the recreational fishery and only 7 percent of the commercial coastal landings. In 2014 Governor Cuomo took action, advocating for similar limits among New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. New York’s efforts led to a pending major amendment to the Fishery Management Plan to correct the inequitable fluke allocation in the commercial fishery. The recent announcement by MAFMC could put all these advances in jeopardy.

MAFMC’s Science and Statistical Committee will meet on July 22 in Baltimore, MD to review the recent stock assessment and provide recommendations. A joint meeting of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and MAFMC will then occur on August 12 in New York City to decide on management measures based upon the recent assessment. New York will be represented by four Council members to the MAFMC and three Commissioners to ASMFC who will further advocate for less drastic reductions.

Governor Cuomo Announces National Neurotechnology Center Established at New York’s Wadsworth Center

Governor Cuomo announced that the Wadsworth Center in Albany is now home to the new National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies. The Center, a first-in-the-nation facility focused entirely on adaptive neurotechnologies, is a rapidly growing research area that works toward improving the diagnoses and treatment of stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, ALS, chronic pain, and many other devastating conditions. The move was made possible under a 5-year, $6.5 million grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health.

As the hub of a multifaceted research and development program, the National Center for Adaptive Neurotechnologies works closely with collaborators at major biomedical research institutions throughout the United States and beyond. New technologies are already contributing to patient care in hospitals and clinics, such as a new non-invasive rehabilitation therapy that can improve walking in people with spinal cord injuries or other disorders, by restoring more normal spinal reflexes through an interactive computer-based training procedure.

Additionally, the Center and its partners have designed a non-invasive brain-computer interface system that is now enabling people who are paralyzed by ALS to use brain signals to communicate with others, made possible by translating brain waves into text through computer software. They have invented a new method for using recorded signals to map brain functions that reduces the duration and increases the safety of neurosurgical procedures. These important advances are also generating intellectual property in the form of patents and licensing agreements.

Governor Cuomo Announces Accreditation for New Medical School at CUNY

Governor Cuomo announced the accreditation for the CUNY School of Medicine, located on the City College campus in Harlem. The new medical school will increase access to an academically intensive medical education and train physicians for underserved communities across the state.

The CUNY School of Medicine will launch its inaugural class in 2016 in partnership with St. Barnabas Health System in the South Bronx.

The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, a U.S. Department of Education recognized accreditor of medical education programs leading to the MD degree, has approved the new school following an extensive review of its academic program, teaching facilities and clinical partnership.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, New York State and the nation face a critical shortage of doctors. By 2025, it is estimated that the demand for physicians will exceed supply by a range of 46,000 to 90,000. For primary care physicians, the shortfall is expected to be between 12,500 and 31,000 doctors. According to a 2013 Kaiser Family Foundation study, New York State is meeting only 40 percent of its primary care needs, one of the lowest rates in the country.

Governor Cuomo Announces Expanded Learn-to-Swim Programs to Serve An Additional 1,000 Children at State Parks This Summer

Governor Cuomo announced that New York State will provide free Learn-to-Swim programs to 1,000 additional children this summer at State Parks across New York. The program is offered through a partnership among the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; the American Red Cross; the National Swimming Pool Foundation; the Northeast Spa and Pool Association Foundation and the New York State Department of Health.

The National Swimming Pool Foundation and the Northeast Spa & Pool Association (NESPA) Foundation donated $15,000 to offset staff and program costs to enable State Parks to offer the free swim classes. The American Red Cross provides training to NYS Park lifeguards to obtain Water Safety Instructor (WSI) certification. This support has allowed for the certification of approximately 22 additional Water Safety Instructors. Lifeguard staff who currently possess WSI certification will also help provide more opportunities for swim lessons. The 2015 season will see programs varying from swim lessons to water safety presentations at the 15 locations, and build on the instruction offered at state park facilities as part of programs arranged by summer camps, municipalities and other partner organizations.

Enrollment for the Learn-to-Swim program for children is open at all participating New York State parks. Participants’ parents are asked to sign up ahead of time as space is limited and expected to fill up quickly. Each swim program is 40 to 45 minutes in duration and participants who enroll in these lessons will receive a Red Cross Learn-to-Swim Achievement Booklet and a State Parks Learn-to-Swim kit that includes a knapsack, tee-shirt and water bottle at the conclusion of the program. Most programs are intended for children age 5-10, but this year’s schedule also includes programs for toddlers at two parks, and basic water safety presentations at three camping parks.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees 180 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 62 million people annually. A recent study found that New York State Parks generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually and supports 20,000 jobs.

Governor Cuomo Announces This Year’s Unemployment Insurance Interest Assessment Surcharge to Employers to Decrease to Lowest Amount in Five Years

Governor Cuomo announced that the 2015 Unemployment Insurance Interest Assessment Surcharge will decrease to the lowest level in five years and is scheduled to be phased out by 2016.

This year, the average business will be assessed less than one dollar per employee ($0.93). In addition, more than 123,000 employers that have an amount due of less than $1.00 will not receive an Interest Assessment Surcharge (IAS) bill at all. Unemployment Insurance reforms, along with improved economic conditions, have led to the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund achieving a positive balance for the first time since 2009 and an Interest Assessment Surcharge rate that has dropped from $21.25 per employee in 2011 to just $0.93 per employee for 2015.

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, as required by law, employers were assessed a temporary IAS to pay the interest on the $3.5 billion debt.
In March 2013, Governor Cuomo signed into law a major reform to the State’s Unemployment Insurance System. Included in the law was a mechanism to pay back the federal loan faster as well as add fund stability and, therefore, predictability for employers. 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.

Governor Cuomo Announces More Than $350,000 Available to Help Low-Income Families and Veterans Access Healthy Foods

Governor Cuomo announced that more than $350,000 is available to help low-income families and veterans participate in the FreshConnect Checks Program, which increases the purchasing power of food stamps used at participating farmers markets. More than 84,000 checks have already been issued to 152 sites across the state to help eligible New Yorkers access healthy foods, including fruits and vegetables. As the season progresses, additional checks will be issued reaching even more consumers than last year and providing a boost to the agriculture industry.

The program has also been extended to operate year-round at participating farmers’ markets, providing the opportunity to use checks 12 months a year. A full list and map of participating venues can be found at http://freshconnect.ny.gov.

The FreshConnect Checks program encourages recipients to use their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at participating farmers’ markets. The checks provide $2 incentive checks for every $5 in food stamps spent, increasing the purchasing power of SNAP consumers by 40 percent. In 2014, more than $3.2 million in SNAP sales occurred at farmers’ markets throughout the state.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli Audit Identifies $800,000 in Ineligible Costs Submitted by NYC Special Education Provider

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced that his latest audit of expenses submitted by publicly-funded special education preschool program providers found a Brooklyn school that claimed $800,000 in costs that were not eligible for reimbursement.

The Milestone School for Child Development is a for-profit preschool that offers special education services to children aged three to five years old.  During 2012-2013 Milestone provided services to about 110 students from Brooklyn and neighboring boroughs.

The New York City Department of Education (DoE) refers students to Milestone and pays the school’s expenses based on rates set by the State Department of Education (SED). The school must submit its annual expenses to SED, which reimburses DoE for a portion of its payments to Milestone. For the fiscal year ended June 30, 2013, Milestone reported approximately $3.8 million in reimbursable costs for its SED programs. DiNapoli’s audit focused on fiscal year 2012-13, but was expanded to include certain costs Milestone claimed for fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12.

DiNapoli’s audit identified $801,859 in reported costs that were not eligible for reimbursement. The audit recommended SED adjust reimbursements to recover the money.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

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

Alton Fire District – Internal Controls Over Financial Operations (Wayne County)
The district has adopted a code of ethics and a procurement policy, as required, but not an investment policy. The board did not complete an annual audit of the treasurer’s books and records.

Village of Tivoli – Procurement (Dutchess County)
Village officials did not always use competitive methods for purchasing goods and consumable products. For example, the village paid $4,126 more for fuel than necessary.

Village of Tuckahoe – Financial Condition (Westchester County)
The village general fund balance decreased from approximately $564,000 at the end of 2011-12 to less than $156,000 at the end of 2013-14 due to operating deficits primarily caused by underestimated budget appropriations.

City of Yonkers – Budget Review (Westchester County)
The 2015-16 budget relies on nonrecurring funding of $14 million to finance operating expenditures which will not be available in future years. In addition, the city plans to borrow up to $13 million for tax certiorari settlements in the 2015-16 fiscal year. The city’s outstanding debt has grown almost 12 percent over the last 10 years. The city’s proposed 2015-16 budget complies with the property tax levy limit.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Names Ted O’Brien Head of Rochester Regional Office

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that he has named veteran attorney and former New York State Senator Ted O’Brien to be the new Assistant Attorney General-In-Charge of his Rochester Regional Office. In this new role, Assistant Attorney General-in-Charge O’Brien will oversee an office that serves the Greater Rochester Region, including on matters related to consumer frauds and public advocacy litigation.

Ted O’Brien formerly represented the 55thState Senate District, which stretches from Irondequoit on the shores of Lake Ontario to Naples in the heart of the Finger Lakes country, including significant parts of the City of Rochester. While in the State Senate, O’Brien was the ranking member on the Senate Banks and Environmental Conservation Committees.

Prior to serving in the New York State Senate, O’Brien was a founding partner of a law firm, Haris, Chesworth, O’Brien, Johnston and Welch LLP, founded in 1993. O’Brien was also a member of the Monroe County Legislature from 2004-2012, rising to become the Minority Leader.

Attorney General Schneiderman Highlights Success Of Programs Aimed At Revitalizing Communities Across New York State

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman highlighted the success of several programs created by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) during the past five years to help New York families keep their homes. These three programs – the Homeowner Protection Program, New York State Mortgage Assistance Program, and AGScamHelp.com – have helped tens of thousands of homeowners in the North Country and across New York State avoid foreclosure.

Homeowner Protection Program
The Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which was launched in June 2012, is a network of almost 90 housing counseling and legal services agencies that provide free, high quality assistance to at-risk families across New York to help them avoid foreclosure. HOPP is supported by $100 million from the multibillion-dollar bank settlements that Attorney General Schneiderman helped negotiate in the wake of the financial crisis. In less than three years, HOPP has served more than 43,000 homeowners statewide.

New York State Mortgage Assistance Program
The New York State Mortgage Assistance Program (NYS MAP), which began processing applications in September 2014, provides families at risk of immediately losing their homes with small loans to pay off debts that are a barrier to mortgage modification.

NYS MAP loans, which may be as much as $40,000, help families who are struggling to avoid foreclosure to pay off mortgage arrears, delinquent second or third mortgage liens, or unpaid property tax bills. The program is funded with money from the bank settlements. The program is modeled after a New York City-funded pilot program administered through the Center for New York City Neighborhoods (CNYCN). The Attorney General’s Program is working with CNYCN, as well as the Empire Justice Center, to assist in the operations of NYS MAP. Both agencies are contracted by the Office of the Attorney General to assist with the administration of HOPP. In less than a year, NYS MAP has approved 212 loans across the state totaling more than $6 million in funding. The average loan amount is $24,555.

AGScamHelp.com
AGScamHelp.com, launched in December 2014, is a web-based app that helps homeowners determine whether a mortgage assistance company has been vetted by a government agency. The Attorney General’s office urges homeowners at risk of foreclosure to work with a free, qualified housing counseling agency within HOPP. The app is supported by funds from the bank settlements. OAG launched AGScamHelp.com in direct response to an observed increase in mortgage rescue scams in New York and across the country. According to a December 2014 report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, more than 42,000 homeowners have been conned out of $100 million nationwide.

AGScamHelp.com has several informational features:

  • Search Government-Vetted Companies;
  • Locate Nearby Counseling Partners;
  • Report Scams;
  • Get Tips.

Attorney General Schneiderman And U.S. Department Of Labor Announce Criminal Charges Against, And Civil Settlement With, Papa John’s Franchisee For Wage Theft

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Administrator for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division Dr. David Weil  announced charges against Abdul Jamil Khokhar and BMY Foods, Inc., which together owned and operated nine Papa John’s franchises throughout the Bronx.  According to court documents, the owner and company allegedly failed to pay minimum wage and overtime to approximately 300 current and former employees, created fictitious identities to conceal overtime worked by employees, and filed fraudulent quarterly tax returns with New York State in order to cover up their alleged wage theft.

Charges filed by the Attorney General’s Office seek jail time and $230,000 in back wages to Khokar’s current and former employees.  Administrator Weil announced the filing of a consent judgment whereby Khokhar would pay an additional $230,000 in liquidated damages to employees and $50,000 in civil monetary penalties.

Both New York and federal law require employers to pay workers at least the minimum wage for all hours worked and overtime at one-and-one-half times their regular rate of pay for hours worked in excess of forty in any given workweek.  New York’s current minimum wage is $8.75 per hour, and the federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour; employers in New York must pay the higher rate. In addition, employers must report all wages paid to employees on tax returns on a quarterly basis and must make contributions to the State Unemployment Insurance Fund based upon the reported wages.

 

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