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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo, Joined by Vice President Biden, Announces Push to Raise New York’s Minimum Wage to $15

Governor Cuomo, joined by Vice President Joseph Biden, rallied for fair pay for New York’s workers and announced a push to make New York the first state in the nation to adopt a $15.00 per hour minimum wage. This announcement comes on the same day that Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino signed an order designating a $15.00 per hour statewide minimum wage for fast food workers – the level recommended by a State Department of Labor wage board earlier this summer. The Governor’s proposed all-industry minimum wage increase should be phased in to mirror the fast food wage order, taking full effect by December 31, 2018 in New York City and July 1, 2021 for the rest of New York State.

The Governor and Vice President were joined by more than 1,200 workers, community members and advocates at the Javits Center in New York City to celebrate the success of the fast food wage board and continue that momentum. In the coming months, the Governor’s administration, with elected officials, business leaders and community members, will bring the push for a $15 minimum wage across the state to build support for a bill to be introduced in the next legislation session.

Governor Cuomo has consistently fought to increase the minimum wage in New York State. In 2013, the Governor signed legislation that raised the minimum wage from $7.25 to its current level of $8.75. That legislation included another incremental increase to $9.00 that will take effect by the end of 2015. Additionally, the State Department of Labor empaneled a wage board last July, which led to an increase in wages for tipped workers from $4.90, $5.00 and $5.65 to $7.50 per hour on December 31, 2015.

Governor Cuomo Announces New SUNY Diversity Policy

Governor Cuomo announced a sweeping new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion policy for the State University of New York. Adopted by the SUNY Board of Trustees, the plan includes a Chief Diversity Officer for every SUNY campus as well as strategic plans to increase diversity among students, faculty, and staff. In addition, there will be a new tool to provide students with an opportunity to voluntarily self-identify their sexual orientation and gender identity.

The new policy broadly defines diversity to include race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, age, socioeconomic status, status as a veteran, status as a student with a disability, first-generation students, and international students or those transferring between colleges. The policy aims to improve services and support for these students, ensure that SUNY’s student, faculty, and staff populations mirror that of New York State, as well as ensure that SUNY’s commitment to being welcoming and inclusive to all diverse populations is clear.

A SUNY Diversity Task Force convened by Chancellor Zimpher developed the new policy based on input from leaders and experts throughout SUNY and nationally, analysis of data and ongoing efforts to increase diversity within SUNY, and best practices seeing results in higher education across the country.

Highlights of the policy include:

  • A Chief Diversity Officer for every campus. This individual is a member of the senior administration and works with all campus offices to elevate inclusiveness and implement best practices. All Chief Diversity Officers will collaborate as a system-wide network to inform, support, and implement system initiatives.
  • Comprehensive strategic diversity plans for campuses and SUNY’s administrative headquarters. Campus plans will address student recruitment, retention, and completion strategies; administrative, faculty, and staff recruitment and retention strategies; and an evaluation/assessment component.
  • Added emphasis on using leadership search firms that have demonstrated that they value diversity. In addition, SUNY will address the challenges associated with hiring couples who both work in higher education.
  • Customized cultural competency training for SUNY and campus staff.
  • Annual reporting on policy progress that is tied to the leadership evaluation process.
  • Dedicated faculty researchers in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion will support the SUNY Chief Diversity Officer network and evaluate the policy for effectiveness and continuous improvement.

In addition to the policy, the Trustees approved a new data collection tool that will provide every student who registers at a SUNY campus with an opportunity to voluntarily self-identify:

  • Sexual orientation. Students will be able to select one of seven options (straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, queer, questioning or unsure) or write-in an orientation not identified;
  • Gender identity. Within the same tool, students will be able to select one of seven options (man, woman, trans man, trans woman, genderqueer/gender-fluid, questioning or unsure) or write-in an identity; and
  • Additional status, such as being a first-generation college student, active military or veteran, whether they will work on and/or off campus, and if they have requested services from the campus office of disabilities.

Key to SUNY’s efforts to be inclusive, students will have the opportunity to update this data each semester; and SUNY will be able to review retention and completion patterns for students who self-identify by campus, by sector, and across SUNY to inform student support services.

Governor Cuomo Announces Additional Transit Service for Pope Francis’ Visit to New York

Governor Cuomo announced there will be an increased number of trains and buses to support the expected amount of travelers during Pope Francis’ visit to New York later this month. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the Port Authority will add extra service and will have additional crew on hand to coincide with the papal events.

Pope Francis will arrive in New York on Thursday, Sept. 24, and will have a full schedule of events across the city on Friday, Sept. 25, including afternoon Mass at Madison Square Garden. Access to the Pope’s events is strictly limited to ticket-holders, and those without tickets are advised to avoid the locations the Pope is visiting. People who can avoid traveling into Manhattan on those days should do so, since many street closures near those locations will result in traffic congestion and pedestrian diversions.

Customers taking the New York City Subway, Metro-North Railroad, the Long Island Rail Road or PATH trains for papal events should buy round-trip MetroCards or train tickets in advance and expect some crowding.

The MTA Police Department and the Port Authority Police Department will increase deployments during Pope Francis’ time in New York to ensure the safety and security of all customers. They will conduct additional inspections, deploy specialized units, and work in concert with the Secret Service, the New York Police Department and other agencies to protect their transportation networks.

Governor Cuomo Announces I Love New York Partnership with Delta Air Lines

Governor Cuomo announced a co-branding partnership between Empire State Development’s Division of Tourism/ I LOVE NEW YORK and Delta Air Lines. The new co-branded logo will be unveiled outside the New York Stock Exchange, when Delta will ring the closing bell. In an interactive activation at the exchange, Delta will showcase the new partnership, network and presence, alongside New York’s Upstate tourism initiatives.

Delta will leverage the co-branded logo in a statewide, multi-faceted advertising campaign launching this week with a takeover at Grand Central Terminal, featuring ads that communicate the airline’s commitment to New York through its sponsorships of iconic cultural landmarks and destinations, partnerships with the sports teams New Yorkers love, industry-leading network and product offerings, and ongoing commitment to continually improving travel in and out of New York.

In addition to the Grand Central takeover, the campaign will reach New Yorkers through street-level placements, airport assets, radio, digital marketing and social media. The campaign will promote borough-specific partnerships in each of New York City’s five boroughs before moving upstate to Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse. Travelers from near and far will also experience the campaign at several New York airports with the co-branding at varying customer touch points, such as jetways and flight information screens, and on board flights through promotion in the annual New York edition of the Delta’s Sky magazine, available on all flights.

Governor Cuomo Announces Nearly 10-Percent Increase in Summer State Park and Campground Attendance

Governor Cuomo announced New York state parks, historic sites and campgrounds hosted another successful season, with nearly 38.6 million estimated visits from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day 2015. The state park system saw a 9.6-percent increase in attendance from the same summer period in 2014.

More than 38.6 million estimated visitors took advantage of facilities operated by State Parks beginning Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day 2015, compared to 35.2 million estimated visitors during the Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day season in 2014. The summer season finished with a strong Labor Day weekend, with 2.2 million estimated visitors for the three-day period, up from 2 million estimated visitors during Labor Day weekend 2014.

Park attendance was boosted by a variety of factors, including the return of fireworks to Jones Beach State Park after a five-year absence; national exposure for Letchworth and Watkins Glen State Parks, which were ranked first and third best state parks in the nation by USA Today; improvements to the newly designated Buffalo Harbor State Park on the city’s waterfront; favorable weather through the summer; and a late season.

The summer attendance figures underscore Governor Cuomo’s commitment to improving State Parks, expanding access to outdoor recreation, and promoting the state’s vast tourism and recreational attractions. Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State is making a historic commitment to improving and expanding access to outdoor recreation. The Governor’s NY Parks 2020 program is a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for State Parks from 2011 to 2020. The Governor’s 2015-16 Executive Budget allocates $110 million toward this initiative.

Governor Cuomo Announces Results of “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” Labor Day Crackdown

Governor Cuomo announced that New York State Police arrested 769 individuals for driving while intoxicated during the 20-day Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over national crackdown on impaired driving, which is aimed at significantly reducing deaths and injuries caused by motorists driving drunk or impaired by drugs. During this crackdown, which was coordinated by the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, State Police and local law enforcement agencies targeted not only drunk or impaired motorists, but also drivers who were distracted, speeding, not wearing seatbelts, and not abiding by the “move over” law.

“The message is clearer than ever before: New York has zero tolerance for drunk driving and reckless driving,” Governor Cuomo said. “One mistake can change a life forever, and I applaud the State Police and our law enforcement partners for getting dangerous drivers off the road and keeping New Yorkers safe.”

State Police report that of the 769 DWI arrests between the August 21 to September 7 enforcement period, more than 219 occurred during Labor Day weekend alone. During the same period last year, 663 people were arrested for DWI. During the “Drive Sober” campaign, Troopers also issued 47,359 tickets, up from more than 46,500 in 2014: 18,660 for speeding, 1,613 for distracted driving, 2,522 for child restraint and seatbelt violations, and 556 for failing to “move over.” Additionally, Troopers investigated a total of 2,973 crashes during the 20-day period, compared to 2,940 last year. Of these crashes, 857 people were injured, and 25 people were killed.

Governor Cuomo Announces Groundbreaking for High Tech Rochester Business Accelerator in the Historic Sibley Building

Governor Cuomo announced that work has begun on High Tech Rochester’s Finger Lakes Business Accelerator Cooperative, a facility aimed at driving regional growth in entrepreneurship and innovation. The 6th floor of the former Sibley’s department store at 250 East Main Street in downtown Rochester will undergo $24 million in renovations necessary for making it suitable for high-tech startups, including those that require “wet lab” facilities for biotech innovation and development. As the cornerstone of the city’s Downtown Innovation Zone, it is estimated that the Business Accelerator will create more than 1,000 new jobs—in the forms of new business creation or expansion—in the first five years of operation.

“This is an important step for creating a hub of entrepreneurial activity and job growth in downtown Rochester,” said Governor Cuomo. “The historic Sibley Building will soon have a high-tech space on its top floor, designed to attract the types of startups that will contribute to Rochester’s economic transformation. I applaud the Regional Economic Council for making this important project a reality. ”

High Tech Rochester’s Business Accelerator, which received $10 million in Regional Council funding, will serve a broad range of businesses from small service enterprises to technology-based start-ups and seek to accelerate the growth of local small businesses by moving clients through the formation, incubation and accelerated phase of growth. It will bring streamlined programs and services to entrepreneurs and small businesses throughout the region, including outreach to underrepresented groups, such as minority- and woman-owned businesses and young entrepreneurs.

Governor Cuomo Announces New Yorkers Have Scheduled 700,000 DMV Online Reservations Since 2013

Governor Cuomo announced that New Yorkers have scheduled more than 700,000 reservations to visit state-operated Department of Motor Vehicles offices since introducing the service on its website in 2013. Customers who make reservations onlineahead of office visits, reserving a day and time convenient for them, are able to avoid wait times. Those wait times have decreased dramatically since the launch of DMV’s Customer Service Initiative, which the agency began at Governor Cuomo’s direction in 2012 to increase efficiency and streamline services. As part of the Customer Service Initiative, DMV made improvements to its offices, its website, and its call centers, where new technology expedites the 4.5 million calls the agency receives each year. At most state-run offices, employees with tablets greet customers upon arriving to ensure they can efficiently navigate the office with the correct documents in hand, and self-serve kiosks allow customers to complete transactions and bypass lines, saving them time. DMV averages more than 300,000 transactions at kiosks per year.

The number of reservations DMV customers make has steadily increased at state-run offices, a trend that is a testament to the ease and convenience of the service. Reservations made at the following offices are examples of this upward trend:

  • Syracuse Office: 144 in February 2014, 809 in August 2015 – a 462 percent increase
  • Albany Office: 296 in February 2014, 1,186 in August 2015 – a 301 percent increase
  • Massapequa Office: 686 in February 2014, 1,820 in August 2015 – a 165 percent increase
  • Lower Manhattan District Office: 1,249 in February 2014, 2,937 in August 2015 – a 135 percent increase
  • Herald Square/Midtown Manhattan Office: 4,856 reservations in February 2014, 8,662 in August 2015 – a 78 percent increase

The agency’s site, dmv.ny.gov, was redesigned in February 2014 and named one of the nation’s best DMV websites by DMV.com, a portal for driver and motor vehicle information. The site gained the ranking due to its design, ease of use, and scope of available services, which include ordering replacement driver licenses, renewing registrations on mobile devices, and carrying out more than 30 other transactions. Customers completed more than 5.5 million transactions on the website last year, up from about 5 million in 2013 and 3.4 million in 2010. Use of the website has also helped decrease average wait times in local DMV offices statewide.

Governor Cuomo Announces Action Plan to Assist Puerto Rico’s Government During Time of Crisis

Governor Cuomo announced an aggressive action plan to assist the government of Puerto Rico during a time of crisis related to its health care system and economy. The Governor and members of a solidarity delegation, which includes more than a dozen elected and industry representatives from New York, discussed the plan at the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus in San Juan in front of an audience of roughly 400 medical students and local residents. The plan was announced during the final hours the delegation’s trip to Puerto Rico at the invitation of Puerto Rico’s Governor, Alejandro García Padilla.

In addition to the State Department of Health assisting the government of Puerto Rico, the Greater New York Hospital Association and 1199 SEIIU’s healthcare Education Project will form a joint task force with the Puerto Rico Hospital Association and health officials in Puerto Rico to provide technical assistance on financing issues and develop best practices within hospitals that could help address the health care crisis in Puerto Rico, as well as join the effort to secure parity in federal healthcare funding for the Island.

In addition to efforts to aid Puerto Rico in its health care crisis, the Governor also announced a number of initiatives designed to help Puerto Rico strengthen and expand its economy.

  • Energy and Infrastructure: A team of senior officials from Governor Cuomo’s administration will help the Puerto Rican government decrease dependence on off-island energy sources, as well as transition to renewable power as a way to help the government reduce costs. New York has reduced its own cost of energy to government by aggressively implementing energy efficiency retrofits and deploying more renewable energy, and the Governor’s team will provide advice and guidance based on New York’s experience growing the clean energy economy.
  • Agriculture: The Governor’s office will send an agriculture team, including representatives from the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets as well as Cornell University, to provide Puerto Rico with compliance assistance to meet the federal Food Safety Modernization Act and grow the agricultural sector in Puerto Rico. Additionally, New York will work toward a bilateral trade agreement to help Puerto Rico market products not grown in New York – and in turn, Puerto Rico will purchase New York-grown products not grown on the island.
  • Tourism: New York State, through the I LOVE NY campaign, has invested $130 million in tourism over the last 4.5 years. As a result, revenue has surged by $8.5 billion to a record total of $62.5 billion – twice the rate of growth of the other states in the U.S. New York will propose broadening this effort with a $5 million joint I LOVE NY tourism campaign to promote travel between New York and Puerto Rico.
  • Business and Technology Development: New York State will hold a Commercialization Summit connecting promising early-stage Puerto Rican businesses, entrepreneurial student and institutions of higher education to New York seed funds in order to foster commercialization and greater economic activity in Puerto Rico.

Governor Cuomo Announces $500,000 Available to Increase College Enrollment Among Low-Income Students

Governor Cuomo announced up to $500,000 in state grants to increase college access for 2016 high school graduates. New York State’s College Action Grants will award up to $5,000 to eligible high schools and community organizations that promote activities aimed at increasing the rate of low-income New York State high school seniors who apply to college, complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and ultimately enroll in a college.

“Increasing access to higher education is essential to strengthening this state’s economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will help more low income and at risk students get access to a college education and unlock the potential that comes with it.”

Eligible high schools are those in which 50 percent or more of the students are eligible to participate in the federal free and reduced-price lunch program. Qualified not-for-profit organizations serving low-income students from such high schools are also eligible to apply for this grant opportunity.

The College Action Grants are administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation and financed through a $6.5 million College Access Challenge Grant awarded to the State in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Education to support college access services and activities.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli: Statewide Agency Overtime Tops $337 Million Halfway into 2015

State agencies spent more than $337 million on overtime in the first six months of 2015, a jump of $21 million over the same period in 2014, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced.  State employees worked more than 8.2 million overtime hours, up 5 percent over the same period in 2014. If overtime continues to rise at this pace, total costs for 2015 would exceed $700 million, an all-time record. The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Division of State Police overtime costs for June and July 2015 jumped by more than $22 million over last year. But the mid-year totals reflect only a small portion of overtime costs incurred in the statewide search for the two escapees from the Clinton Correctional Facility.  Most of the overtime for the prisoner search was paid in July, which is not included in the mid-year analysis.

Overtime costs have been rising since 2010. For the five-year period ending in 2014, overtime earnings were up nearly 50 percent.  During that same period, the number of state agency employees declined by more than eight percent to 251,829.

Three agencies that operate institutional facilities – the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and the Office of Mental Health – accounted for 63 percent of total overtime spending in the first six months of 2015.

DiNapoli’s office routinely issues reports on ways to improve the efficiency of state operations, including periodic reports on how overtime is managed by state agencies.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman and U.S. Eeoc Announce $3.8 Million Settlement with Con Edison Over Allegations of Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Against Female Employees

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced a joint settlement with Consolidated Edison Company of New York, Inc. (Con Edison), to resolve allegations of ongoing sexual harassment and discrimination against women in field positions. The agreement requires Con Edison to reserve up to $3.8 million to be distributed among eligible settlement group members – over 300 female workers employed in field jobs – through a claims process to be administered by the Attorney General’s Office and the EEOC.

Sadly, the fight against gender discrimination and harassment in the workplace is ongoing, and we will use every tool we can to make it a thing of the past,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This case should send a clear message to employers across New York State: All women, especially those working in male-dominated workplaces, deserve respect and equal treatment—as the law, basic decency, and the success of our economy require.”

“These women signed up for strenuous work when they took these important jobs – they did not sign up for demeaning job assignments, denied promotional opportunities, and harassment,” said EEOC District Director Kevin Berry. “The EEOC will fight to ensure equality in all workplaces.”

Con Edison provides electric, gas, and steam service to approximately 3.4 million customers in New York City and Westchester County. Both the EEOC and Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau launched an investigation into complaints made by women working in field positions at Con Edison about ongoing sexual harassment and gender discrimination.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Hotline for Voters to Ensure Ballot Access During Statewide Primary Elections

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman will operate a statewide Election Day Hotline during the primary election this Thursday, September 10. Voters encountering barriers to access at their polling sites can report those issues to the Attorney General’s Office by calling the hotline at 800-771-7755, or by emailing the office at civil.rights@ag.ny.gov.  The Hotline will be available from 6:00 A.M. until 9:00 P.M. on Election Day.

“The right to vote stands at the cornerstone of our democracy, and my office is committed to protecting the right of all eligible voters to participate fully and meaningfully in our electoral process,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This hotline is part of our effort to ensure that all eligible New Yorkers have the ability to cast an effective ballot during Thursday’s election.”

In New York City and the counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Erie, polls open at 6:00 A.M. and close at 9:00 P.M. In all other counties, polls open at 12:00 P.M. and close at 9:00 P.M.

The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau has operated the statewide Election Day Hotline since November 2012.  In that time the Bureau has fielded hundreds of calls and worked with dozens of Boards of Elections across the state to address barriers at polling sites throughout New York state, including reports pertaining to polling site accessibility for voters with disabilities, language accessibility for non-English speaking voters, voter intimidation and other ballot access issues.

Attorney General Schneiderman Issues Cease-and-Desist Letters To 13 Makers of Devil’s Claw Supplements Marketed to Arthritis Sufferers

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office issuedletters demanding that 13 dietary supplement manufacturers cease and desist from the sale, distribution, or marketing of adulterated or misbranded “devil’s claw” supplements. The letters, sent Wednesday, are based on a study from the New York Botanical Garden that used an advanced DNA barcoding technique to conclude that the devil’s claw supplements from these manufacturers contained a cheaper related species that is considered less desirable. Attorney General Schneiderman requested that the companies furnish proposals, where appropriate, for recalling any adulterated devil’s claw supplements, compensating consumers who purchased the mislabeled products, and reforming their approach to quality control.

Attorney General Schneiderman also announced that his office has reached an accord with a 14th manufacturer, Nature’s Way, to improve the manufacturing and marketing of its devil’s claw supplements. Nature’s Way committed to ensure that its devil claw’s supplements solely contain the proper plant species and are labeled accordingly. As more fully explained below, Nature’s Way will also refund New York consumers who purchased devil’s claw supplements and continue to extend DNA barcode testing across its herbal product lines with one or two ingredients—one of the first companies in the supplements industry to do so.

“When a scientific study tests numerous herbal supplements manufactured by more than a dozen companies and finds the wrong plant in just about every one, it raises more troubling questions about whether people who buy dietary supplements are getting what they pay for,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This is yet another sign that weaknesses in the supplements industry’s approach to quality control are having real-world consequences for consumers. The manufacturers receiving letters from my office should follow the lead of Nature’s Way and address these gaps immediately.”

Devil’s claw is the commercial name in the United States for the plant Harpagophytumprocumbens, which is marketed by the dietary supplement industry as a treatment for arthritis and other forms of joint pain. The purported therapeutic benefits of devil’s claw are not generally accepted in the medical community or approved by the FDA. Native to the Kalahari Desert, there have long been reports of suppliers mixing or substituting devil’s claw with a related plant,Harpagophytum zeyheri, which contains some—but not all—of the same chemicals. Some of the most sought-after chemicals tend to naturally occur in different ratios and in lower concentrations in zeyheri, which is the cheaper of the two plants.

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