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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Support People with Disabilities

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed two pieces of legislation that strengthen the State’s support of people with disabilities. The Governor also signed a proclamation, which can be viewed here, marking the 25th anniversary of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act.

The two pieces of legislation signed into law by the Governor are:

A.136-A/S.1405 – This law codifies protections for people with disabilities who are refused access to places of public accommodation (such as hotels, restaurants, retail stores, recreation or entertainment venues and hospitals). The law clarifies that it is discriminatory for an operator – public or private – to refuse to remove certain architectural or communication barriers in these spaces. It also eliminates an exception for the barrier removal requirement for public libraries.

S.5630-A/A.7766-A – This law directs the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD) to examine state laws and regulations pertaining to military family members and suggest any necessary improvements to make those laws and regulations better serve the families of people with developmental disabilities. The law also directs OPWDD to study this issue in consultation with the Division of Military and Naval Affairs and the State Education Department.

Governor Cuomo, Attorney General Schneiderman Hold Briefing on Special Prosecutor Executive Order for 100+ Members of Clergy, Community Leaders and State Legislators

Governor Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman held a briefing onExecutive Order No. 147, which appoints the New York State Attorney General as a special prosecutor in matters relating to the deaths of unarmed civilians caused by law enforcement officers. The order also allows the special prosecutor to review cases where there is a question whether the civilian was armed and dangerous at the time of his or her death. The briefing was attended by more than 100 members of the clergy, community leaders and state legislators.

“The justice system does not work without the trust of the people, so it was imperative that New York act to address the crisis of confidence that has been plaguing communities nationwide,” said Governor Cuomo. “This executive order restores trust in the system by ensuring that cases of police-involved civilian deaths will be handled with independence and integrity. It addresses both real and perceived conflicts of interest, and is a critical step toward rebuilding confidence and making sure that the justice system works for everyone in every neighborhood across this state.”

Governor Cuomo and Vice President Biden Announce New York State to Lead Prestigious National Integrated Photonics Manufacturing Institute

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was joined by Vice President Joe Biden to announce that New York has been selected by the Department of Defense to lead a prestigious, multi-state Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation. The selection is part of a White House initiative to secure the United States’ global leadership in emerging technology research, development, and manufacturing. Photonics harnesses the power of light to move data at great speeds, and the research done at the new Institute will integrate photonics components to revolutionize computer chips, making them faster, smaller, and more reliable with a wide range of applications, including medical technology, defense, telecommunications, the Internet, and information technology.

A $110 million federal grant awarded to the SUNY Polytechnic-led “American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics” will support a high-tech consortium with business operations, a company incubator and accelerator, workforce training, and board of directors headquartered in Rochester. Total public and private investment in the Photonic Institute will exceed $600 million, including more than $250 million by New York State to equip, install, and make operational a state-of-the-art photonics prototyping operation. The institute’s work will create and support thousands of advanced research and manufacturing jobs across Upstate and the United States and lead to major advances within a wide range of practical applications.

Establishing this first-ever photonics consortium will create a New York-led national infrastructure that is widely accessible and financially self-sustaining. It is designed to scale into the future; ensuring innovation is based on new technology developed in the United States. Additional operations will be headquartered at the SUNY Polytechnic Albany NanoTech Campus in addition to the business headquarters in Rochester, leading to the attraction of thousands of high tech jobs to the Rochester area and across Upstate.

Governor Cuomo Announces New DMV Online Service Allowing Customers to Print a Temporary License

Governor Cuomo announced that New Yorkers now have the opportunity to print a temporary license from the Department of Motor Vehicles website when they renew or replace their driver licenses, learner permits, or non-driver identification card online. This service will provide a quick, convenient way to get a temporary license, without making a trip to the DMV, allowing drivers and residents to be able to prove a new license is on the way.

The printable documents are similar to, and as valid as, one from the DMV office or DMV kiosk, but with the added convenience of printing from home. The temporary license, permit or non-driver identification card is valid for 60 days. Each temporary document appears on an eight-and-a-half-by-eleven-inch page and carries a background image of the New York State coat of arms.

Customers can access this service on the DMV’s website or with a MyDMV account. When using the DMV website, a download link on their confirmation page will appear to download the temporary document. Customers renewing or replacing a license through their MyDMV account can log into their account and re-download their document for up to five days after completing their transaction.

The ability to download a temporary document is also offered to customers renewing or replacing their registrations. Additionally, the DMV website allows customers who are renewing late, or who have lost their documents, to obtain a temporary document immediately and avoid a trip to a DMV office.

Governor Cuomo Announces Low Cost Power Awarded to 15 Businesses

Governor Cuomo announced that the New York Power Authority Board of Trustees has approved low-cost power allocations under the ReCharge NY program. The power awards approved by the board today will help 15 businesses retain 1,637 jobs while creating 735 new jobs.

The 10.4 megawatts of low-cost power will be distributed among 15 business operations and are expected to leverage more than $340 million in capital investments. Amazon LLC in New York City, Bausch & Lomb in Rochester and RUI Management Services on Long Island were among the recipients in this round of allocations. Enterprises in the Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and Western New York also received ReCharge NY power. A full list can be viewed here.

ReChargeNY is a program proposed and signed by Governor Cuomo in 2011 that allows businesses to purchase low cost power, and spend that savings on retaining and creating jobs. It is administered by the New York Power Authority. Including today’s allocations, the Governor’s program has provided more than 778 megawatts to 679 business operations and 72 nonprofit organizations over the last two-and-a-half years. (One megawatt is enough power to meet the needs of 800 to 1,000 typical homes.)

In addition to jobs and capital investment commitments, other evaluation criteria for ReCharge NY include the significance of the cost of electricity to the overall cost of doing business, the applicant’s risk of closure or curtailing operations, how important the facility is to the local economy and its commitment to energy efficiency.

ReCharge NY offers up to seven-year power contracts. Half of the power under the program—455 megawatts—is from the Niagara and St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt hydroelectric power plants, which provide some of the lowest-cost electricity in the state. The remaining 455 megawatts is economical power bought by the New York Power Authority on the wholesale market.

Governor Cuomo Unveils Vision for Transformative Redesign of LaGuardia Airport

Governor Cuomo was joined by Vice President Joe Biden to unveil the vision for the comprehensive redesign of LaGuardia Airport. The airport will be transformed into a single, structurally unified main terminal with expanded transportation access, significantly increased taxiway space and best-in-class passenger amenities. Construction on the first half of the new unified terminal, expected to be a $4 billion project that creates 8,000 direct jobs and 10,000 indirect jobs, will be managed by LaGuardia Gateway Partners, a new public private partnership chosen by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to build the project.

Construction on the first half will begin upon final approval from the Board of Directors of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. That approval is expected in the first part of 2016; the majority of this first half of the project is expected to open to passengers in 2019, with full completion scheduled for approximately 18 months later. The second half of the new unified terminal is expected to be redeveloped by Delta Air Lines, which has indicated strong support for the new vision, and anticipates beginning the redevelopment of its terminals on a parallel track with the LaGuardia Gateway Partners project to complete the new unified airport.

Governor Cuomo Announces $56 Million in Improvements Along Route 347 on Long Island

Governor Cuomo announced completion of two projects worth $56.1 million to help transform State Route 347 on Long Island from a high-volume corridor into a safe, multi-modal, environmentally sustainable boulevard for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users. The improvements are part of a series of projects planned to enhance safety and reduce travel delays on the Route 347 corridor by transforming the busy road into a modified boulevard and suburban greenway for 15 miles through Smithtown, Islip and Brookhaven, in Suffolk County.

Paving for a $25.6 million project to reconstruct State Route 347 at its intersection with Route 112 in the town of Brookhaven, Suffolk County was completed July 29, with landscaping and finishing work scheduled for completion this fall. A separate $30.5 million project to reconstruct State Route 347 between State Route 111 and Mount Pleasant Road in the town of Smithtown, Suffolk County was completed earlier in July.

The $25.6 million Brookhaven project included construction of a third travel lane in each direction on Route 347 near the intersection with Route 112. In an effort to reduce crashes at the intersection, left turns are no longer allowed from Route 347 onto Route 112. The construction contractor for the project was Scalamandre and Sons, Inc. of Freeport, Nassau County.

The $30.5 million road reconstruction in Smithtown included construction of a third travel lane in each direction. Travel lanes were narrowed and the speed limit was lowered to 45 mph. The construction contractor for the project is Posillico Civil, Inc. of Farmingdale, Nassau County.

Both projects included building new bus shelters and installing new traffic signals and pedestrian signals, and adding high visibility crosswalks and pedestrian crossing countdown timers. An off-road shared-use path also was built at both locations. New landscaping and tree plantings along with solar and LED lighting beautify the areas and increase their environmental sustainability. New drainage will improve storm water runoff.

Governor Cuomo Announces the Introduction of Free State Capitol Tours on the Second Saturday of Each Month

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the free Capitol Tours Program is being expanded to include tours on the second Saturday of each month, beginning on August 8. The tours, which last from 45 minutes to an hour, will start at the Empire State Plaza visitor center and gift shop located on the concourse at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on the second Saturday of each month.

Saturday tours will be limited to 25 people, and visitors must make online reservations in advance at www.empirestateplaza.org. If space allows, walk-in visitors will be accepted on the tours.

Also beginning on August 8, all weekday tours of the Capitol and Empire State Plaza will begin at the visitor center and gift shop, located on the concourse level at the north end of the Plaza closest to the Capitol. The visitor center and gift shop is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and will be open from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the Saturdays that tours are being offered.

Traditional Capitol tours are offered Monday through Friday at 10 a.m., 12 p.m, 2 p.m., and 3 p.m. There are no public tours on Sundays, or holidays. Reservations are required for groups of 10 or more and can be made online at www.empirestateplaza.org or by calling (518) 474-2418. In addition, visitors may download a self-guided audio tour to use while visiting the state Capitol.

Governor Cuomo Announces Solar Energy to Power Belleayre, Gore and Whiteface Ski Centers

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the three state operated ski resorts at Belleayre, Gore and Whiteface Mountain have committed to using solar power to operate their ski lift and snowmaking operations.

The 25-year power purchase agreement with Borrego Solar is the most recent environmental initiative the state and ORDA have undertaken to run its business units with increased sustainability and efficiency. It is also in keeping with Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision’s NY-Sun initiative, a $1-billion initiative to advance the scale-up of solar and move the state closer to having a sustainable, self-sufficient solar industry as New York builds a clean, resilient and affordable energy system.

Gore Mountain is home to the most skiable terrain and largest lift infrastructure in New York State, and its massive snowmaking system, lift operations, and other electrical equipment use about 13-million kilowatt hours of power and cost approximately $1-million in utility costs each year. The solar energy for Gore, produced at a location in Washington County, is expected to reduce Gore’s energy bill by over $213,000 during the first year. Borrego’s projections indicate that the three ski resorts could save as much $14-million over the 25-year period, utilizing more than 10 megawatts of solar power.

The solar projects received support from NY-Sun through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which administers the initiative.

Governor Cuomo Announces Completion of the Greenbelt Public Pathway Extension

Governor Cuomo announced the completion of the Greenbelt Public Pathway extension along the Outer Harbor in the city of Buffalo, Erie County. The $145,000 project, funded by the New York Power Authority, included the construction of a new, multi-use trail adjacent to the Michigan slip that connects the Greenbelt Public Pathway with the trail along Fuhrman Boulevard. The pathway creates a safe avenue for pedestrians and bicyclists alike, as well as points of access for fishermen and potential commercial watercraft.

Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, Regional DOT Director Darrell Kaminski and ECHDC Chairman Robert Gioia cut a ribbon to celebrate the opening of the new portion of the trail which will provide pedestrians and bicyclists access to the stunning views along the Buffalo River.

This path project was progressed by NYSDOT and ECHDC and featured a combination of state employee and Western New York contractors. The companies that contributed to this project include Nova Site Company, LLC of West Seneca, Erie County; Buffalo Crushed Stone of Buffalo, Erie County; and New York State Fence of Hilton, Monroe County. NYSDOT maintenance crews removed the existing fence, relocated boulders, supplied the millings and did site preparation work. Fencing was then installed along the path with gates to allow users access to the water’s edge. Bicycle racks and trash receptacles will be installed as part of the project.

Funding for the 12-foot wide multi-use path was provided by New York Power Authority (NYPA) Re-Licensing Agreement. The pathway continues the design and feel of the current Greenbelt Pathway that has been utilized by thousands for picturesque waterfront views.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli Announces State Contract and Payment Actions for June 2015

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office approved 1,887 contracts valued at $12.3 billion and approved nearly 1.3 million payments worth approximately $11.8 billion in June. His office also rejected 170 contracts and related transactions valued at $356 million and more than 2,000 payments valued at more than $7.3 million due to fraud, waste or other improprieties.

Cumulatively through June for calendar year 2015, DiNapoli’s office has approved approximately 10,240 contracts valued at nearly $135 billion and approved more than 14.3 million payments worth more than $69.7 billion. His office has also rejected 1,071 contracts and related transactions valued at $2.9 billion and approximately 24,000 payments valued at $59.1 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 June and two days to audit payments.

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

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed audits of the Village of Fultonville, Town of Livonia and the Seymour Public Library District.

Village of Fultonville – Claims Auditing (Montgomery County)
Except for minor discrepancies, auditors found that the village board properly conducted a complete and thorough audit of the claims and that claims were adequately supported and for legitimate purposes.

Town of Livonia – Justice Court (Livingston County)
The town justices did not require the clerk to perform monthly bank reconciliations or accountabilities for their review to ensure all collections were accurately accounted for and any discrepancies were promptly identified and corrected. Auditors also found that the justices did not routinely submit monthly reports to the state Justice Court Fund.

Seymour Public Library District – Over-The-Counter Cash Receipts (Cayuga County)
Library officials did not always ensure that adequate documentation was maintained to verify that all cash collections were recorded and deposits were made timely and intact.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Settlement with Education Provider to Protect Unemployment Rights

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement with On Location Education, Inc. for penalizing a teacher after she filed for unemployment insurance benefits.  The company provides teachers to educate children on location at film, theater, television and other productions.  Under the settlement, On Location Education agreed to discontinue an arbitration claim for over $30,000 against the teacher who filed for benefits.  It also agreed to remove contract provisions requiring teachers to waive the right to file for unemployment benefits and to indemnify the company if their benefit claims were denied.

Under New York State’s Unemployment Insurance Law, agreements to waive any rights under the law are void and invalid, and cannot be enforced.  Those rights include the right to file for unemployment benefits, even if the claim is ultimately denied.

An investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman’s office revealed that since at least 2006, On Location Education has required teachers to waive their right to file for unemployment benefits.  Since 2013, its contracts have required teachers to indemnify the company if their claims for unemployment benefits were denied.  In 2014, the company filed an arbitration claim against a New York City teacher after her claim for unemployment benefits was denied. Under the settlement, On Location Education agreed to remove the waiver and indemnity provisions from its contracts.  It also agreed to discontinue the arbitration claim against the teacher and agreed not to pursue indemnity claims against any other teachers whose benefit claims are denied.  The Attorney General’s office will continue to monitor On Location Education’s employment practices to ensure ongoing compliance.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Agreement with the Boy Scouts of America to Allow Openly Gay Leaders

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to end its policy of excluding openly gay adults from serving as leaders in the organization. As part of the settlement, the BSA has agreed to eliminate the standard nationally, develop guidelines for implementing its new leadership standard, and ensure compliance with anti-discrimination laws going forward.

The BSA was founded in 1910 and chartered by Congress with the mission of preparing young people to become responsible citizens and leaders. Historically, the BSA excluded openly gay individuals from membership and leadership, but this policy changed in May 2013, when the BSA announced that youth, up to age 17, could no longer be denied membership on the basis of sexual orientation alone.  At that time, however, the BSA did not change its adult leadership standard and continued to maintain a nationwide policy that excluded openly gay individuals aged eighteen or older.

In December 2014, an openly gay BSA youth member, who had recently turned eighteen, submitted an application to work as a camp staffer with the Greater New York Councils. The Greater New York Councils hired the openly gay individual in February 2015. Aware that the staffer was required, as part of his employment, to register as an adult leader of the BSA, the Greater New York Councils submitted the staffer’s adult leader application to the BSA for such registration. The BSA registered the individual and took no action to interfere with his employment by the Greater New York Councils.

In response to concerns about the BSA’s adult leadership standard, the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau opened an investigation into the BSA in April 2015. As a result of the Attorney General’s investigation, the BSA took immediate steps to suspend the enforcement of its adult leadership standard in New York State. In May 2015, at its national annual meeting, BSA President Dr. Robert Gates encouraged the BSA to consider changing its leadership standard that excluded openly gay adults, and further stated that the BSA would not take any action against local councils that did not follow the BSA’s leadership standard in order to comply with state anti-discrimination laws. First by vote of its Executive Committee on July 10, and then by ratification by its National Executive Board on July 27, 2015, the BSA rescinded its leadership standard.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Sentencing of Executive Director of Westchester Not-for-Profit Company to Jail for Stealing Medicaid Funds from State Program for Seniors and the Disabled

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that Darlington Odidika, 47, of Poughkeepsie, Executive Director of Systems and Abilities, Inc., was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years’ probation, after pleading guilty to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a felony, for defrauding the Medicaid system of monies earmarked to allow the elderly and infirm to live in the community, rather than in an institutional setting. The corporation was also sentenced to pay a fine of $5,000 on its plea of guilty to Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree.

Odidika personally and on behalf of Systems and Abilities, Inc. admitted to falsifying bids to agents of the New York State Department of Health Nursing Home Transition and Diversion program, a Medicaid-funded program that provides senior citizens and those suffering from physical disabilities an alternative to institutional living. Through the program, Medicaid pays for renovations to the homes of the elderly and disabled, such as wheelchair accessibility ramps, widening of doorways and installation of grab bars, which allow for individuals to remain in their homes rather than be transferred to a nursing home or rehabilitation facility. Medicaid also pays for moving expenses and basic home furnishings for individuals transitioning from a nursing home or rehabilitation center back into their homes.

Odidika and Systems and Abilities, Inc. were required to submit bids for these projects and arrange for contractors to provide modifications to the existing homes of qualified Medicaid recipients and then bill Medicaid based upon the final costs of the projects. As set forth in documents filed in court, between August 31, 2009 and November 30, 2011, Odidika falsified bids for these modifications and submitted them to agents of the Department of Health. By falsifying those bids, Odidika was able to control the contractor that won the bid and then used the false bid to inflate the amount of payment that Systems and Abilities received as its share of the project. Odidika admitted to submitting final cost reports, which falsely stated the actual costs of the projects, and the costs of moving expenses, by significantly inflating the actual costs or including services which were never provided.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Arrest of Former Nursing Home Employee Charged with Stealing from Resident Trust Account

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the arrest and arraignment of Tequilla Miller, 28, a former finance associate at the Loretto Nursing Home, for allegedly stealing from a trust account established for residents’ funds. Miller served as the Syracuse-based nursing home’s “resident banker,” maintaining the account and handling residents’ personal funds on a daily basis. An audit of the account discovered a shortage of $21,488.10 over a period of 20 months, from November 2012 through August 2014. Miller faces up to seven years in prison on charges of grand Larceny in the third degree and falsifying business records in the first degree.

A resident trust account is maintained by at all nursing homes for the benefit of their residents. These personal funds are co-mingled into a single account, as they were held at a bank. Individual records are kept for the benefit of each resident, and a small amount of cash is kept on-hand at the facility for daily resident use.

After Miller went on maternity leave, a review of the cash available in the safe was done and a substantial alleged discrepancy was noted. The investigation revealed that on several occasions, Miller allegedly made false entries into the cash accounting sheet in order to hide theft of several thousands of dollars. Miller is charged with stealing an average of $1,000 a month, which she allegedly used for personal expenses.

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