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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Launches Upstate Revitalization Initiative and Round V of Regional Economic Development Council

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched two major economic development programs – the Upstate Revitalization Initiative and Round V of the Regional Economic Development Councils – officially kicking off the 2015 competitions for $1.5 billion and up to $750 million in state economic development resources, respectfully.

This year, the 10 Regional Councils will once again compete for awards from up to $750 million in state economic development resources through Round V of the REDC competition. Additionally, through the new Upstate Revitalization Initiative (URI), seven regions – Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital District, and Mid-Hudson – are eligible to compete for three $500 million awards, which will be disbursed at a rate of $100 million per year for five years.

The three Upstate winners of the URI will receive approximately $130 million each this year ($100 million in URI funding, and an estimated $30 million from Round V of the REDC competition). Aside from those regions, three regions will earn “Top Performer” distinction in the REDC competition and will receive approximately $105 million each. Finally, the remaining four regions will receive approximately $90 million each through the REDC competition – which is more than the average amount awarded to the top place finisher in prior years. This approach ensures that no region is a loser, while also maintaining the competitive nature that has worked so well to bring local business, academic, and community leaders together to develop long term, impressive economic visions for their regions.

Round V of the REDC initiative will award up to $750 million in State funding and tax incentives. To continue to motivate investment opportunities and job creation, the REDCs will compete for up to $220 million from Empire State Development ($150 million in capital funds and $70 million in Excelsior Tax Credits) for projects and activities identified by the Councils as priorities in their regions. Additionally, up to $530 million from dozens of state agency programs will be awarded through the CFA process.

The 2015 REDC competition will focus on:

  • Regional Industry Clusters;
  • Global NY;
  • Project Pipeline;
  • Strategic Plan Implementation;
  • Workforce Development;
  • Performance Measures; and
  • Ongoing state priorities and regional initiatives.

As in prior years, the REDCs will submit a Progress Report for Round V, which provides both an update on the Council’s implementation of their Strategic Plan and an outline of the projects and proposals for which the REDC is seeking funding. Each REDC will be required to identify priority projects to help advance the initiatives outlined in their Progress Report. The 2015 REDC Progress Report updates and priority project lists for all 10 regions are due on September 21, 2015.

For the seven Upstate regions eligible for the $1.5 billion Upstate Revitalization Initiative, the regions will submit a “Revitalization Plan” as an addendum to their progress report. In addition to the priorities outlined in the 2015 Progress Report update, the Upstate Revitalization Plan should provide a more detailed analysis of the region and develop ideas and strategies to transform the regional economy.

The purpose of each region’s Revitalization Plan will be to 1) provide a well-researched and credible argument that the region is ready for revitalization; and 2) to describe the transformation that will happen in the region if granted those funds. Each REDC should address in their plan concepts such as job creation, increasing net wealth in the region, private sector investment, and other key indicators.

URI designated regions will receive a total allocation of $500 million, at a rate of $100 million per year for five years. As part of the Revitalization Plan, each region will submit a list of initial projects they recommend for funding should they be selected a “Best Plan Awardee” of the competition. Each URI region will be required to identify potential projects seeking URI funds and may continue to do so after the CFA closes. URI Revitalization Plans will be due to the State on October 5, 2015.

Governor Cuomo Announces 17 Companies Join Start-Up NY to Create 343 Additional Jobs

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that 17 additional companies will create 343 new jobs in New York State through START-UP NY. These companies join the 93 businesses that already participate in this program, which creates tax-free areas associated with colleges and universities across the state.

START-UP NY launched in 2014 and offers new and expanding businesses the opportunity to operate tax-free for 10 years on or near eligible university or college campuses in New York State. The 17 businesses announced will additionally invest nearly $13.5 million into these new job creating ventures. They will be located in tax-free areas at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, SUNY Cobleskill, University of Rochester, University at Buffalo, Binghamton University, Finger Lakes Community College and New York University.

This group of companies joining STARTUP-NY brings the total number of businesses participating in the program to 110, representing commitments to create nearly 3,150 new jobs and invest more than $186 million throughout New York State.
The businesses will create jobs in a variety of industries, including data processing, research and development in physical engineering and biotechnology, construction equipment and textile manufacturing, industrial design, exam preparation and tutoring, software and internet publishing, custom computer programming and craft beverage.

Governor Cuomo Announces $47 Million in Transit Grant Funding Available to Support Mobility Services for Seniors and People

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the state has secured $47.5 million in federal transit grant funding to enhance the mobility of senior citizens and persons with disabilities. This funding is available to programs run by non-profit groups, local governments and other agencies that meet the unique needs of transit-dependent populations beyond the services provided by traditional sources of public transportation, as well as paratransit services in connection with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The funding is administered by the New York State Department of Transportation on behalf of the Federal Transit Administration’s Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities Program.

As part of the program, at least 55 percent of the funding available may be used for traditional capital projects that are planned, designed and carried out to meet the special needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities when public transportation is insufficient, inappropriate, or unavailable. Up to 45 percent of the available funds may be used to support public transportation projects that either exceed the requirements of the ADA; improve access to fixed-route service; decrease reliance by individuals with disabilities on complementary paratransit; or provide alternatives to public transportation that assist seniors and individuals with disabilities.

Funding awarded through this program requires a 20 percent match provided by the applicant for capital and mobility management projects and 50 percent applicant match for operations.

Governor Cuomo Announces $3 Million to Aid Low-Income New Yorkers with Medical Needs to Keep Cool This Summer

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that $3 million has been allocated to the Cooling Assistance Component of the Home Energy Assistance Program to help low-income New Yorkers who suffer from medical conditions aggravated by extreme heat. The program will provide air conditioning units to eligible households for the summer months. Prolonged exposure to high indoor temperatures poses health risks that disproportionately affect those already suffering from medical ailments.

Local departments of social services will accept applications to the program beginning May 1st. The Home Energy Assistance Program is overseen by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. Last summer, the program provided cooling assistance to 3,400 households.

To qualify for the subsidized air conditioning units, households must meet 2015 Home Energy Assistance Program income guidelines and have a member that suffers from a documented medical condition exacerbated by extreme heat. Acceptable written documentation can be from a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner and must clearly indicate the need for an air conditioner. The document must be dated within the last 12 months. Cooling assistance is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Contact information for local departments of social services can be found at http://otda.ny.gov/workingfamilies/dss.asp.

Governor Cuomo Announces $4 Million Federal Grant to Fight Sexual Violence in New York State

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a $4 million federal grant designating community organizations across the state as Regional Centers for Sexual Violence Prevention, an initiative overseen by the state Department of Health. The Regional Centers are located in counties which had the highest average number of reported rapes and sexual assaults between 2007 and 2011. The grant is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Rape Prevention Education Program.

The federal funding has already been allocated to the Regional Centers, which are in the process of developing and implementing primary prevention and community-level strategies geared at decreasing sexual violence in their respective regions. These strategies include community mobilization and coalition building among high school and college students, families, youth programs, employers and other community partners to address the behaviors, norms and policies that impact sexual violence.

Governor Cuomo Announces $60 Million Living Breakwaters Barrier to Protect State Island Shoreline and Habitat

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the kickoff off a $60 million “Living Breakwaters” barrier that will provide critical defenses against coastal erosion and grow the natural habitat for finfish, shellfish and crustations on the south shore of Staten Island. The water-based barrier, which includes an oyster reef to further break waves and filter sea water, complements the Staten Island NY Rising final resiliency plan to protect the area in response to the devastating effects of Superstorm Sandy. The Living Breakwaters project is funded as an awardee of the federal Rebuild by Design Competition.

Living Breakwaters will provide environmental co-benefits of improving water quality and protecting the marine habitat by reducing the force of waves in the area. A system of concrete and recycled glass composites will be installed in the Raritan Bay to dissipate destructive waves, and incorporate small pockets to serve as homes for finfish, shellfish and crustations. The structures will also be seeded with oysters, forming an oyster reef that will physically grow the breakwater over time. The oyster reef will further buffer against wave damage, flooding and erosion, while filtering pollutants from harbor waters. Once completed, Living Breakwaters will form a “necklace” of in-water structures that span Staten Island’s South Shore.

The Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery will begin gathering data to assist in construction of Living Breakwaters to ensure full consideration for the natural environment. Over the course of the next couple of weeks the firm will deploy vessels to map the underwater surface, sample the sediment and identify any obstructions. Final reporting from the studies will be compiled during the first week of June, and the results will be shared with the public through a newly formed Citizen’s Advisory Committee to encourage participation during the process. As part of the public participation process, the final project proposal will be subject to environmental impact statement review and associated federal and state regulatory permit approvals.

Governor Cuomo Announces $20 Million Funding for 76West in Southern Tier

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced additional details for funding of the 76West initiative, announced in this year’s Opportunity Agenda, which includes a $10 million clean energy business competition and $10 million for business support services to the local clean energy market.

76West was modeled after the successful 43North business idea competition in Western New York, which named its winners last October. 43North garnered thousands of applications from companies who would locate their company to Buffalo.

Centered on a $10 million business model competition, 76West will be open to any early-stage clean energy technology business that builds on the indigenous strengths and assets of the Southern Tier. Individual prizes will range from $100,000 to $1 million. Eligible categories will focus on business development.

The initiative, expected to launch this fall, supports the Reforming the Energy Vision plan, which is designed to enable self-sustaining, clean energy markets to build a clean, resilient, and affordable energy system for New York.

Governor Cuomo Announces Regional MWBE Expo Workshops

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprises Opportunities EXPO events, which will take place in Western New York, Central New York, the Finger Lakes, and Mid-Hudson regions. These workshops will connect MWBEs with New York State agencies and expert resources to increase those businesses’ consumer-base, expand their footprint within their respective industries and communities, and spur job creation.

Business Mentor NY, the State’s first large-scale, hands-on business mentoring program, will join the Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development at the EXPO. Business Mentor NY connects volunteers working in the private sector to small businesses and MWBEs to help them address specific challenges and obstacles to success. Information will also be available for the Bridge to Success Program, which expands access to short-term loans for MWBEs and state contractors, providing qualified MWBEs with the short-term resources needed to access the up to $1 billion in contracting opportunities with New York State.

Since taking office in 2011, Governor Cuomo has held more than 500 workshops and events to support MWBEs in communities across the state. In the last four years, MWBE utilization has more than doubled, increasing in FY 2013 – 2014 to 25 percent and exceeding the Governor’s goal of 20 percent for the first time in the State’s history. The Governor raised the bar even higher in 2014, setting the goal to 30 percent, the highest such target for any state government in the nation.

Governor Cuomo Receives Final Blueprint to End the HIV/ AIDS Epidemic in New York State by End of 2020

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo received the final Blueprint to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New York State by the end of 2020. The Blueprint was produced by members of the State’s Ending the Epidemic Task Force, and includes recommendations that support the Governor’s goal to reduce the annual number of new HIV infections to just 750 (from an estimated 3,000) by the end of 2020 and achieve New York’s first ever decrease in HIV prevalence. This would mark the first time there is a reduction in the pervasiveness of AIDS due to a drop in new cases. An epidemic is a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time. The Governor’s goal puts New York State in a leadership position in the national and global effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

The Blueprint – which can be found here – includes recommendations to address the three-point plan announced by the Governor in June 2014 to decrease new HIV infections by:

1. Identifying people with HIV who remain undiagnosed and linking them to health care;
2. Linking and retaining people diagnosed with HIV to health care and getting them on anti-HIV therapy to maximize HIV virus suppression so they remain healthy and prevent further transmission; and
3. Providing access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for high-risk people to keep them HIV negative.

The Task Force met on five occasions starting in October. In order to gather recommendations for consideration from across the state, a series of listening forums were held and an online recommendation form was made publicly available. A total of 294 recommendations were generated and reviewed by the Task Force. The Task Force’s four committees – Data, Care, Prevention, and Housing and Supportive Services – used this information to develop the final Blueprint document.

Governor Cuomo Announces New Regulations to Crack Down on Kickbacks and Improper Expenses in the Title Insurance Industry

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced new regulations to crack down on kickbacks and other improper expenditures (such as excessive meal and entertainment expenses) in the title insurance industry, which a Department of Financial Services investigation uncovered are significantly inflating title insurance premiums for consumers. These new regulations, together with broader reform measures, are expected to reduce title insurance closing costs by up to 20 percent for new home purchases and up to 60 percent for refinancing transactions.

The regulation outlines categories of expenditures which, when provided as an inducement for title insurance business, are improper and violative of the New York Insurance Law. These expenditures include meals, entertainment, vacations and gifts that are provided to attorneys, real estate professionals, and others, who represent consumers and order title insurance on their behalf.

The investigation revealed that these types of expenditures are routinely made by title insurance corporations and agents in an effort to secure title insurance business. These improper expenditures have been included in the calculation of title insurance rates and have saddled New York consumers with excessive title insurance premiums for years. The regulation mandates that these improper expenditures, which violate the anti-inducement provision of the Insurance Law, be eliminated from the rates, thereby resulting in lower title insurance premiums.

Governor Cuomo Announces Low-Interest Loans Available to Residents and Businesses Affected by the East Village Explosion in Manhattan

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the U.S. Small Business Administration has granted his request for a Physical Disaster Declaration for New York County and the contiguous counties of Bronx, Kings, and Queens following the March 26, 2015 explosion and subsequent fire at 121 Second Avenue in Manhattan’s East Village. The blast killed two people and injured several others. As a result, individuals and businesses affected by the fire may be eligible for low-interest small business loans to replace real estate, personal property, and other losses. Governor Cuomo requested that these loans be made available in a letter to the SBA on April 22.

SBA loans are often helpful when eligible homeowners, renters, businesses, and others need financial support following emergencies or weather-related disasters. A damage assessment performed by the SBA and New York City Emergency Management found that 20 homes and five businesses sustained major damage, in addition to nine homes and 16 businesses affected by minor damage. In the case of the East Village explosion and fire, the following groups may be eligible for help from SBA loans for the following:

  • Homeowners: up to $200,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate
  • Homeowners and renters: up to $40,000 to repair or replace damaged or destroyed personal property
  • Business owners: up to $2 million for the replacement of real estate, inventories, machinery, equipment, and other physical losses
  • Businesses and non-profits: Economic Injury Disaster Loans of up to $2 million to provide necessary working capital until normal operations resume after a disaster

Governor Cuomo Announces Launch of First in the Nation Pilot Program Providing immigrants Free English Training Via Mobile Phones

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo at the Daily News Citizenship NOW! phone bank event hosted at CUNY Stella and Charles Guttman Community College announced the launch of a pilot program to provide free English-language training via mobile phones to hundreds of immigrant in New York State who may lack regular access to a classroom, a computer or the Internet. Learners will gain access to self-paced audio and text lessons through their personal cell phones. The program will initially reach farm workers in three areas: the “dairy belt” in both the Finger Lakes and North Country regions, and downstate in the Hudson Valley and New York City where immigrants face transportation challenges. This is the first state program of its kind in the country.

The New York State Office for New Americans (ONA) has partnered with social impact venture Cell-ED to provide customized mobile English-language training. The training combines voice tutorials and messaging services that allows for two-way interactivity and instant feedback. A learner simply calls a Cell-ED number from his or her cell phone, listens to a lesson, reviews the lesson received via text and texts back responses. The learner receives additional support and moves on to the next lesson. The program is free to the learner (excluding minutes and texts billed at the rate of the users cell phone plan) and available at any time of the day.

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli: State Financial Condition Improving

New York state’s short-term financial condition continues to improve and the state has built on its reserves, but the 2015-16 Enacted State Budget contains broad statutory authority on some spending, according to an analysis released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Preliminary spending estimates by the Assembly indicate that All Funds spending in the Enacted Budget will total $150.3 billion, an increase of $7.3 billion, or 5.1 percent, over state fiscal year 2014-15. The Division of the Budget (DOB) is expected to release an Enacted Budget Financial Plan shortly.

Since the start of SFY 2014-15, the state has received or expects to receive more than $6 billion from more than a dozen legal settlements. The Enacted Budget makes some of the settlement dollars available for infrastructure projects, including the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement and improved access to Penn Station. A new fund, the Dedicated Infrastructure Investment Fund (DIIF), was created with the expressed intent of using the settlement dollars for capital investments or other one-time purposes, as DiNapoli has stressed is appropriate for one-time resources.

To see the full report, please click here.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Some NYC School Failing to Report Violent, Disruptive Incidents

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced that an audit of the New York City Department of Education (DoE) found it did not report hundreds of violent and disruptive incidents to the State Education Department (SED) as required under the Safe Schools Against Violence in Education (SAVE) Act. SED uses local districts’ reports of disruptive behavior to create School Violence Indexes (SVI) that can determine if a school needs to develop safety and emergency response plans.

DiNapoli’s audit examined 10 schools (two in each borough), several of which have struggled with high rates of disruptive and violent incidents, and found:

  • DoE failed to include more than 400 reportable incidents in its report submitted to the state that is used to calculate the Schools Violence Index. 126 of these incidents were in categories defined as violent, including assaults, sexual offenses and weapons possession;
  • As a result of misreporting, some schools may have received incorrect school violence ratings which can determine whether a school needs a special safety plan; and
  • On 184 occasions, students apparently left nine of the schools without permission. In 177 of those instances there was no documentation that staff looked for them or brought them back to their classrooms or that the students returned to their classrooms on their own.

In its response, DoE asserted that the audit made mistaken assumptions about the reporting process, however auditors maintain that DoE’s assertions are incorrect, as detailed in the full audit which can be viewed online at http://www.osc.state.ny.us/audits/allaudits/093015/14n1.pdf.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman, Senate Coalition Co-Leader Klein, and Assemblywoman Weinstein Introduce New Legislation to Combat Rise of “Zombie Homes” Across New York City

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeffrey D. Klein, and Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein announced the introduction of a newly-expanded Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, legislation aimed at stemming the rising tide of abandoned foreclosed homes (“zombie homes”) across New York. The bill (A.6932/S.4781) requires that banks and mortgage servicers maintain vacant and abandoned residential properties throughout the foreclosure process, a responsibility that banks often neglect. Banks that fail to maintain the properties will be forced to pay stiff penalties that can then be used by localities to enhance their enforcement efforts under the Act.

The bill, sponsored in the Assembly by Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn), comes amid new data showing a troubling increase in the number of zombie properties across New York State. According to RealtyTrac data analyzed by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG), zombie property foreclosures increased by almost 50% from 2013 to 2014, bringing the total number of zombie properties in NYS to 16,701. As a result, almost 1 in 5 residential foreclosures is now a zombie property. In New York City, the problem continues to grow, with the number of zombie homes increasing by 38% between 2013 and 2014, bringing the total number to 3,525.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $375K Settlement with KFC Franchise for Underpaying More than 700 Workers in NYC

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a $375,000 settlement with KFC Corporation franchisee Divine Investors, LLC, which operates 13 stores in Brooklyn, Queens and Upper Manhattan. Under this settlement, the company and its owner Hiren Patel have agreed to pay restitution for several labor law violations, including requiring employees to continue to work after they clocked out, not paying all required overtime, failing to cover the cost of laundering employees’ uniforms and more. More than 700 current and former employees are eligible for restitution under this settlement.

During the course of its investigation, the Attorney General’s Office found that Divine and Mr. Patel:

  • Regularly failed to pay proper overtime to employees who worked at more than one location and whose combined hours exceeded 40 per week;
  • On occasion required employees to continue working after clocking out;
  • Treated certain managers as exempt from the overtime pay requirement, while paying those managers less than the salary amount required for doing so;
  • Failed to pay employees “uniform maintenance allowance,” required under the Labor Law when employers require employees to wear uniforms at work, and failed to provide laundry service or sufficient numbers of uniforms;
  • Never paid employees “spread of hours” pay, an additional hour of pay required by the Labor Law for shifts in which the interval between the start and end time was longer than 10 hours;
  • Failed to compensate workers for “call-in pay,” or compensation for being called in to work and then being sent home before clocking in or being sent home early; and
  • Required cashiers to pay cash register shortages out of their pocket in order to keep their jobs.

More than 700 current and former Divine employees are eligible to receive restitution from the $375,000 settlement fund, which covers the period of November 2011 to September 2014.

Attorney General Schneiderman and Inspector General Leahy-Scott Announces Felony Guilty Plea of State Employee Charged with Running Online Trademark Counterfeiting Stores and Stealing State Payroll

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Inspector General Catherine Leahy-Scott announced the felony guilty plea of Wajahat A. Abbasi, an employee of the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, for stealing over $38,000 from the state by charging time for which he was not present at work. Abbasi was accused of not being present for significant periods of time on fifty-three separate occasions for which he collected pay from January 2013 to December 2014. Abbasi pleaded guilty to offering for sale over $100,000 in counterfeit cell phone cases.

Abbasi pleaded guilty to 4th degree Grand Larceny for the time and attendance theft, and 2nd degree Trademark Counterfeiting, with an agreed upon sentence of five years’ probation. As part of the deal he will also resign from his job and forfeit $120,000, including $38,000 in restitution to the state for lost wages.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $1.025 Million Settlement with Trustees of Nonprofit that Squandered Assets Intended for Underprivileged Children

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has reached a $1.025 million settlement with the trustees and former trustees of the Victor E. Perley Fund (the Perley Fund), a private foundation established by Victor E. Perley in 1959 for the benefit of underprivileged children. An investigation by the Attorney General’s Office found that, beginning in 2009, the Perley Fund’s board allowed the foundation’s new leader, Richard A. Basini, to shift the nonprofit’s focus to fund his own interests and those of a fellow trustee, James J. Cahill, resulting in the Perley Fund’s purchase of a million-dollar Southampton home that Basini used as his private residence, and, ultimately, the waste of the nonprofit’s entire investment portfolio. Under this settlement, the Perley Fund’s board will also be completely reconstituted, with the approval of the Attorney General’s Office.

The Attorney General’s investigation, which began in 2012, found that the Perley Fund’s operations changed dramatically in 2009 after Basini, a long-time trustee, took control, with all other existing trustees resigning. Basini recruited Cahill, an investment banker, to join the new board. As required by Mr. Perley’s will, three clergy trustees were also added: Rabbi Jill Hausman, Monsignor Michael Crimmins and Reverend Peter Larsen. Following this reconstitution, the trustees met only rarely, and when they did, failed to observe basic principles of sound governance, such as reviewing budgets, monitoring investments, and circulating and approving minutes.

Speaker:

Assembly Passes Legislation to Combat Domestic Violence and Protect Victims

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Judiciary Committee Chair Helene Weinstein and Codes Committee Chair Joseph Lentol announced the passage of a legislative package that would strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and empower survivors to reclaim their lives.

According to the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, police outside of New York City responded to 187,710 domestic incidents in 2013 alone. In the same year, New York’s two domestic abuse and sexual assault hotlines received a total of 108,599 calls.

The legislative package includes a bill that would make it illegal for individuals convicted of certain family offenses to possess firearms by adding such offenses to the list of “serious offenses” for which purchasing or possessing a license for a firearm, rifle or shotgun would constitute a class A misdemeanor. (A.6340, O’Donnell). The package also includes a measure that would require the surrender of weapons following a conviction in certain misdemeanor cases (A.5257, Paulin).

Additionally, the package includes a measure that would permit victims of domestic violence to recover non-economic damages from defendants who fail to obey or enforce domestic violence orders of protection or temporary orders of protection (A.260, Weinstein). The bill would exempt these defendants from limited liability provisions and give victims expanded rights of recovery in order to strengthen the enforcement of orders of protection.

The legislative package also includes measures that would:

  • Prohibit employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence (A.272, Weinstein);
  • Prevent housing discrimination against domestic violence victims (A.6354-A, Peoples-Stokes);
  • Require hospitals to establish and maintain policies to aid victims of domestic violence (A.1232, Lavine);
  • Require police to translate domestic violence incident reports filled out in a language other than English promptly and provide the notification of victims’ rights in the victim’s native language (A.4347, Davila);
  • Provide that orders of protection and temporary orders of protection be translated by an interpreter into the native language of the parties involved (A.162, Weinstein); and
  • Require wireless telephone providers to allow victims of domestic violence to be released from shared or family plans without penalty (A.326, Rozic).

Moreover, the series of bills includes a measure that would establish a pilot program to allow victims to file petitions for temporary orders of protection electronically and allow for issuance of those orders by audio-visual means to facilitate the process for victims (A.6262, Joyner).

Assembly Moves to Eliminate Income Inequality by Passing Pay Equity Bills

With the goal of leveling the playing field in the workplace, Speaker Carl Heastie and Labor Committee Chair Michelle Titus  announced the Assembly’s intent to pass a series of bills that will eliminate obstacles to pay equity for women and minorities throughout the state of New York.

When the National Equal Pay Act was passed in 1963, women earned 59 cents to every dollar earned by men. More than 50 years later, the gap has closed only slightly. While New York fares better than the national average, women here are still paid less than men for equivalent work. The gap for women of color is even larger -African American women make an average of 66 cents and Latina women just 55 cents for every dollar that their male counterparts earn.

The New York State Fair Pay Act (A.6937, Titus) would prohibit the payment of differential wages between employees on the basis of gender, race or national origin. This bill would also protect workers against retaliation by employers for sharing wage information with their colleagues.

Another measure (A.6075, Titus) would define the circumstances under which an employer could pay differential wages to workers who are performing the same duties. This bill would also provide for an increase in the damages for employees who are found to have been underpaid in violation of pay equity laws.

The pay equity package also includes legislation that would:

  • Ensure that the equal pay for equal work protections are provided to members of New York’s public workforce (A.1574, Jaffee);
  • Clarify New York’s policy of equal pay for equal work and promote parity in civil service job titles by directing that salaries be determined on the basis of the work performed (A.0437, Rosenthal); and
  • Direct the commissioner of civil service to produce a report identifying any wage disparities among job titles within the public workforce that are based on gender, race or national origin (A.5008, Lifton).

Assembly Legislation Bans Conversion Therapy for Minors

Speaker Carl Heastie and Assemblymember Deborah Glick announced the passage of legislation that would bar mental health professionals from participating in conversion therapy with patients under the age of 18 in an attempt to change or alter their sexual orientation (A.4958, Glick).

Conversion therapy and sexual orientation change efforts are widely regarded as unethical. A report by the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation concluded that consequences of conversion therapy included, “depression, suicidality, and anxiety.” Moreover, the American Psychiatric Association notes that the risks of conversion or reparative therapy include, “self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred.”

The legislation would not only ban conversion therapy for minors, it would also hold licensed mental health professionals who ignore the ban accountable, providing that they be cited for unprofessional conduct and subject to sanctions on their license.

Senate:

Senate: Women’s Equality Agenda – Equal Pay for Equal Work

The first piece of business taken up by the full Senate this session was legislation comprising the Women’s Equality Agenda, including equal pay for equal work. By doing so, we very clearly stated our priorities and sent an unmistakable message that these bills were far too important to let languish for another day.

It’s now been 105 days since our chamber passed equal pay and other legislation important to women. After all that time, we are pleased that the Assembly has finally decided to join us in passing this bill.

I urge the Assembly to follow our lead and immediately pass legislation approved on numerous occasions in the Senate that would also prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, remove barriers to remedying discrimination, prohibit family status discrimination, prevent housing discrimination for the victims of domestic violence, allow for electronic filing for orders of protection and end pregnancy discrimination.

Senate Passes Bill to Help Prevent Environmental Crimes

The New York State Senate passed legislation that would make it a criminal offense for those who intentionally or recklessly damage the environment while committing another crime. The bill (S834), sponsored by Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester), would help deter criminal activity and prevent environmental crimes.

In one related incident that took place in the Town of Greece, Monroe County, criminals broke into a spare electrical transformer owned by Rochester Gas and Electric, and stole copper to resell for profit. Removal of the copper resulted in 4,800 gallons of oil being drained from the transformer, causing land and water contamination of the surrounding environment with an estimated remediation cost of over $1 million.

There are currently no criminal mischief statutes that adequately address this type of environmental devastation. This bill would make crimes that result in large-scale environmental damage, either intentionally or recklessly, a class C felony.

The bill will be been sent to the Assembly.

Senate Passes Bill Targeting Professional Shoplifters and Other Organized Retail Criminals

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S3822) sponsored by Senator Michael Venditto (R-C-I, Massapequa) to crack down on criminals who try to avoid harsher penalties by committing retail thefts in multiple counties. The bill would allow any county in the state to prosecute someone who participates in a pattern of organized retail theft when at least one of the offenses occurs in a neighboring county.

According to the FBI, United States retailers lose approximately $30 billion each year due to highly organized criminals. In New York, organized retail theft costs local retailers hundreds of millions of dollars annually and endangers the health, safety, and welfare of consumers. Retailers are forced to offset these significant losses through higher prices, with honest consumers ultimately paying the cost.

Professional shoplifters and others who participate in organized retail theft are aware of jurisdictional limitations under current state law and avoid committing multiple offenses in the same county to evade harsher penalties. Today’s bill closes this loophole by expanding a county’s ability to prosecute organized retail crimes that occur in a contiguous county. To give law enforcement officials another tool to curb organized retail crime, one criminal court would be granted jurisdiction over the criminal offenses, people, and property that form a pattern of retail theft.

The bill will be sent to the Assembly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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