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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Introduces Parental Choice in Education Act

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo introduced the Parental Choice in Education Act, which will support and protect alternative school options for parents and students across New York State. The Act provides for $150 million in education tax credits annually that will provide:

  • Tax credits to low-income families who send their children to nonpublic schools;
  • Scholarships to low- and middle-income students to attend either a public school outside of their district or a nonpublic school;
  • Incentives to public schools for enhanced educational programming (like after school programs); and
  • Tax credits to public school teachers for the purchase of supplies.

400,000 students, or approximately 15 percent of all students in New York State attend nonpublic schools, providing an important educational alternative in virtually every corner of New York State – and especially so in communities where the existing public schools are failing. There are currently 178 failing public schools in New York State – many of which have been failing for ten years or more.

Despite their importance as alternative options for parents and students in failing districts, many parochial schools in New York State are experiencing financial hardship, and parents can face steep costs to enroll their children in such schools. Statewide, more than 75 parochial schools have closed in just the last five years, and average tuition can reach as high as $8,500 per student annually.

Therefore, the Parental Choice in Education Act will support important alternatives for parents across the state – especially important for low-income families and families living in overcrowded or failing districts.

Family Choice Education Credit
This $70 million portion of the Parental Choice in Education Act will provide credits to families of nonpublic school students. Families with incomes below $60,000 per year would qualify for up to $500 per student for tuition expenses to nonpublic and out-of-district public schools. This will benefit approximately 140,000 children and approximately 82,000 families across the state.

Education Scholarship and Program Tax Credit
This portion of the Parental Choice in Education Act includes two components. The first provides $50 million in credits to support scholarships for low-income and other students in grades P-12 who attend nonpublic schools. The second provides $20 million in credits to fund educational programs at public schools and supporting not-for-profit organizations.

$67 Million in Scholarships for Low-Income Students Attending Private Schools in Grades P-12: This tax credit totaling $50 million will expand access to nonpublic schools for families who may not be able to afford tuition by funding $67 million in scholarships to help low-income and other students attend private or out-of-district public schools. Individuals and businesses can receive a tax credit for up to 75 percent of their donations made to not-for-profit organizations that award scholarships to students in grades P-12. Those organizations will award scholarships to private and out-of-district public schools based on financial need of the students’ families.

$27 Million for Public School Programs: Under this portion of the Education Scholarship and Program Tax Credit, public school students and educators will benefit from $27 million in new funds for education improvement programs. Individuals and businesses will be able to receive a total of $20 million in tax credits for up to 75 percent of their donations made to public schools and not-for-profits that support public schools’ educational programs, including Pre-Kindergarten and extended-day programs.

Instructional Materials and Supplies Credit
This $10 million component of the Parental Choice in Education Act provides a tax credit of up to $200 per public school educator to support the purchase of instructional materials and supplies for use in teachers’ classrooms. This credit will benefit educators and students throughout the state, and will be administered on a first come, first served basis.

Governor Cuomo Announces $141.3 Million to Build and Preserve Affordable Housing Across the State

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced more than $141 million in awards for affordable housing developments across the state. The low-interest loans, grants and tax credits will build or preserve 2,160 affordable apartments and are expected to leverage more than $469 million in grants, loans, and private resources.

“Providing greater access to safe and affordable housing is a top priority of our administration and with this investment, we are helping more New Yorkers find a place to call home,” Governor Cuomo said. “This is not only an investment in affordable housing projects, but a critical step towards developing safer communities, stronger local economies and brighter futures for all New Yorkers.”

Funds were available through New York State Homes & Community Renewal (HCR)’s Unified Funding Application, a single-source process to access a variety of resources for affordable, multifamily development. The funds are part of the Governor’s unprecedented commitment to affordable housing and community revitalization, which includes the $1 billion House NY program, the state’s largest affordable housing investment in nearly two decades. House NY is making progress creating and preserving more than 14,300 affordable homes over five years. In total, HCR is making awards to 38 projects. There are projects in each of the state’s ten economic development regions.

Governor Cuomo Announces Fast Food Wage Board Initial Meeting and Tentative Schedule of Public Hearings

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that Wage Board Chair Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown has set a tentative schedule for the Fast Food Wage Board. The Wage Board, which was impaneled by Acting State Labor Commissioner Mario J. Musolino at the direction of Governor Andrew Cuomo, will investigate and make recommendations on an increase in the minimum wage in the fast food industry. The Wage Board will hold four public hearings and additional administrative meetings – all open to the public – over the course of the next three months.

The Wage Board will hold four public hearings, where testimony will be taken, and additional administrative meetings. All meetings are open to the public and will be archived on the Department of Labor’s website.

The Wage Board will hold its first administrative meeting on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, at 11 a.m. at 75 Varick Street, 7th floor, New York City and connected by videoconference to 290 Main Street, Buffalo, Regional Office Conference Room. The purpose of the meeting is for Wage Board members to hear the Commissioner’s Charge and to finalize a calendar of public hearings. The meeting is open to members of the public; however, no public testimony will be taken at this meeting.

Governor Cuomo Announces Multi-Agency Enforcement Task Force to Tackle Abuse in the Nail Salon Industry

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the launch of a multi-agency Enforcement Task Force that will move immediately to prevent unlawful practices and unsafe working conditions in the nail salon industry. The Task Force will also recover unpaid wages and shut down unlicensed businesses and businesses out of compliance with state law.

“New York State has a long history of confronting wage theft and unfair labor practices head on and today, with the formation of this new Enforcement Task Force, we are aggressively following in that tradition,” Governor Cuomo said. “We will not stand idly by as workers are deprived of their hard-earned wages and robbed of their most basic rights. This Task Force will crack down on these kinds of abuses in the nail salon industry, enforce all of New York’s health and safety regulations, and help ensure that no one – regardless of their citizenship status or what language they speak – is illegally victimized by their employer.”

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Limit Tax Increase for Properties Rebuilt After Superstorm Sandy

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation that will continue to provide tax relief to New York City home-owners or business owners whose property was severely damaged during Superstorm Sandy. The bill builds on the one-year city tax abatement signed by the Governor last year, and extends the period of time that taxpayers would be eligible for the reprieve through 2020.

Some homeowners who restored or rebuilt their homes damaged by Superstorm Sandy saw an increase in the assessed value of their homes and are now subject to higher property tax bills – even if the homeowners only restored their buildings to the condition existing prior to the storm.

Under the new law signed by Governor Cuomo (A.5620/S.3688), New York City property owners affected by the storm may qualify for the tax relief if their properties meet the following criteria:

  • The Department of Finance reduced the assessed value of the building on the property on the assessment roll completed in 2013, from the assessed value on the assessment roll completed in 2012 as a result of damage caused by Superstorm Sandy.
  • The Department of Finance increased or will increase the assessed value of the building on the property as a result of the repair or reconstruction of damage caused by Superstorm Sandy on any assessment roll completed from 2014 through 2020.

Mayor de Blasio signed corresponding city legislation last month.

Governor Cuomo Announces Program to Protect High-Risk Individuals from HIV

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a new program that will expand access to vital support services for individuals taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). PrEP is an HIV prevention method in which HIV-negative individuals take a daily pill to reduce their risk of becoming infected. The launch of this new PrEP Assistance Program is the latest step toward Governor Cuomo’s pledge to end the HIV-AIDS epidemic in New York State by the end of 2020.

The PrEP Assistance Program is part of the Governor’s three-point plan to end the HIV-AIDS epidemic in New York State. That plan involves:

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 PrEP for high-risk people to keep them HIV negative.

While PrEP is covered under most private insurance options as well as Medicaid and the Gilead patient assistance program, necessary testing and other monitoring and support services are often not covered. Therefore, the state’s new PrEP Assistance Program will reimburse eligible providers for the package of care and support services required for eligible high-risk individuals receiving PrEP. This includes regular HIV testing, adherence counseling, STI/STD testing and treatment, and supportive primary care services to ensure individuals continuously adhere to PrEP interventions and medication. The PrEP medication itself will be provided to uninsured and underinsured individuals through the manufacturer patient assistance program, and a hotline will be available to assist participants with this process, as necessary.

The PrEP regimen includes taking one pill once a day to prevent an uninfected person from becoming infected with HIV. Clinical trials have shown that when an uninfected person takes the medication consistently, his or her chance of becoming infected with HIV is greatly reduced. The PrEP medication, Truvada, must be prescribed by a physician and people interested in PrEP should only take the medication under the guidance of a qualified medical provider.

Governor Cuomo Announces Events to Commemorate 50th Anniversary of the Empire State Plaza

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced a number of events and exhibits to be held commemorating the 50th anniversary of the June 21, 1965 cornerstone laying at the Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza. An exhibit at the New York State Museum, a September festival on the Plaza itself, and a series of talks on topics associated with the construction of Albany’s iconic skyline will take place.

“Fifty years after Governor Rockefeller laid its cornerstone, the Empire State Plaza stands as a place where government and community converge,” Governor Cuomo said. “The Plaza offers a number of unique opportunities for visitors to learn more about our state’s history and culture, and I encourage New Yorkers and visitors alike to attend one of the many anniversary events taking place this summer and fall.”

The commemoration will include a look at the politics that set the project in motion, the tradespeople who built it and its distinctive architectural style. Additionally, the events will examine the engineering characteristics that keep the Plaza running, the unrivaled public art collection that is housed within it, and its evolution to today’s hub of state operations and community-based events. More information can be found here.

Governor Cuomo Declares a High Fire Danger Burn Ban and Extends Brush Burning Ban Until May 21

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York State has extended the ban on residential brush burning until May 21 due to continued dry conditions across the state. Open burning of debris is the largest single cause of spring wildfires in the state. In addition, the high fire danger burn ban prohibits outdoor fires, such as campfires and recreational fires, and open fires used for cooking. View the proclamation here.

“State officials have worked hand-in-hand with local firefighters to help contain a rash of wildfires that have broken out across New York in recent weeks,” Governor Cuomo said. “With dry weather conditions persisting, I am extending this burning ban to better protect the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers who may find themselves and their property in harm’s way. I urge everyone to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves, their neighbors and the first responders.”

The eastern, central, southern and far northern regions of the state are rated as having a high risk of fire danger, according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Southern Tier, Lake Ontario, and Adirondack regions are rated as having a moderate risk of fire danger. Additionally, the red flag warning is a short-term, temporary warning, indicating the presence of a dangerous combination of temperature, wind, relative humidity, fuel or drought conditions which can contribute to new fires or rapid spread of existing fires. This year, 110 fires have burned nearly 3,600 acres.

While all wildfires in New York are now contained, numerous state agencies deployed resources over the past two weeks to help battle wildfires in the eastern New York.

Governor Cuomo Deploys State Emergency Officials to Pennsylvania to Provide Support After Fatal Amtrak Accident in Philadelphia

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that New York National Guard personnel and emergency officials from the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services are traveling to Pennsylvania to assist ongoing response efforts after the fatal Amtrak accident Tuesday evening in Philadelphia.

“New Yorkers have always come together to help others in times of crisis, and that is exactly what we are doing today,” said Governor Cuomo. “Last night’s Amtrak accident was a terrible tragedy, and this morning I called Governor Wolf to express my support and let him know that New York stands ready to help in any way possible. To that end, I am deploying personnel from New York State to assist with the ongoing recovery effort. My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have been injured as a result of the crash, as well as the loved ones of those who were lost.”

The delegation of New York officials includes DHSES Commissioner John Melville, Office of Emergency Management Director Kevin Wisely, and from the New York National Guard, General Raymond Shields and Colonel Steve Fukino. These officials, along with the Governor’s office, have been working in close coordination with the City of Philadelphia and State of Pennsylvania since the accident occurred last night.

According to recent reports, at least six people were killed and dozens injured when an Amtrak train traveling from Washington D.C. to New York City derailed in Philadelphia. ​

Comptroller:

Comptroller DiNapoli Calls on Aetna to Disclose Corporate Political Spending

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli urged Aetna Inc. to report the corporate funds it spends on political campaigns and causes. DiNapoli’s shareholder request that Aetna fully disclose its political spending will be subject to a shareholders’ vote on Friday, May 15 at the Fortune 500 company’s annual meeting. DiNapoli is trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, which holds 1,249,849 shares in Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, valued at $135.6 million.

In the past, Aetna has made significant payments to tax-exempt, partisan organizations. In 2012, Aetna inadvertently disclosed that the previous year it had donated more than $7 million to organizations that conducted advocacy campaigns both in support of, and in opposition to, candidates for political office. Aetna’s accidental disclosure resulted in subsequent attention in the press.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, DiNapoli has made it a priority to engage the Fund’s portfolio companies to disclose their political spending. His proposal asks companies for a comprehensive and public report that lists their spending on candidates, political parties, ballot measures, any direct or indirect state and federal lobbying, payments to any trade associations used for political purposes, and payments made to any organization that writes and endorses model legislation.

In addition to Aetna, the Fund’s proposal is currently pending at four other portfolio companies: NextEra Energy Inc., Raytheon Company, The Travelers Companies Inc. and Western Union.

Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits

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

Carthage – West Carthage Water Pollution Control Facility – Cash Disbursements (Jefferson County)
Both the clerk-treasurer and her deputy were able to perform all cash disbursement functions and have full access rights to record financial transactions in the accounting system with no oversight. Facility officials did not review bank reconciliations and bank statements and a comparison of canceled check images and online payments with approved abstracts.

City of Long Beach – Budget Review (Nassau County)
The significant revenue and expenditure projections in the proposed budget appear reasonable. The proposed budget, however, includes revenue related to the sale of real property and federal aid which may not be realized. In addition, appropriations for overtime may not be sufficient. Finally, metered water sales and sewer rents include a 2 percent rate increase which has not yet been adopted by the city council. The city’s proposed budget complies with the property tax levy limit.

Oneida Public Library – Cash Disbursements (Oneida County)
The board did not audit each claim before payment or provide oversight of disbursements related to the district’s line of credit, payroll or petty cash. Additionally, no district official reviewed the processed payroll reports before disbursing payroll checks.

Village of Quogue – Justice Court (Suffolk County)
The justices did not ensure that court moneys were accounted for. The court did not properly prepare bank reconciliations or prepare an accountability analysis, resulting in excess funds in bail and fee accounts which could not be accounted for.

Shelby Volunteer Fire Company – Controls Over Financial Activities (Orleans County)
The board does not ensure that all financial activity is properly recorded and reported and that money is properly accounted for. In addition, between April and November 2013, the fire company paid $10,714 to a vendor that was owned by the company president.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Financial Settlements and Federal Aid Boosted State Revenue to $149 Billion in 2014-15

New York collected $149.1 billion in revenue in fiscal year 2014-15, an increase of $11.4 billion, or 8.3 percent, from the prior year, largely because of one-time financial settlements and a boost in federal aid, according to a report on the state’s year-end finances issued by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Overall, the state collected more than $71 billion in taxes, up 1.9 percent from a year earlier. Business tax collections of $8.5 billion were $831.7 million higher than originally projected. Net Personal Income Tax (PIT) receipts of $43.7 billion ended the year close to initial projections, although withholding collections were lower and current year estimated payments higher than expected.

The state received $48.6 billion in federal grants, which were used primarily for Medicaid (including new costs related to the Affordable Care Act), homeland security (including costs associated with Superstorm Sandy), public welfare and education.Total state spending reached $143.9 billion for the fiscal year ended March 31, an increase of $6.4 billion or 4.6 percent from SFY 2013-14. Spending was $888.5 million higher than anticipated in February 2015 and $1.9 billion higher than initially projected when the budget was enacted.

The increase largely reflected higher spending from federal funds, while General Fund spending was lower than anticipated. The state also made a number of prepayments, including $953 million for debt service that had originally been planned for SFY 2015-16. Such prepayments change the level of reported year-over-year growth in spending but do not reduce interest costs.

Comptroller DiNapoli: Audit of ESDC Finds Few Measurable Results for $211 Million State Advertising Contract

The Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC) spent $211 million on an advertising contract to promote economic development and tourism in New York state with no tangible results, according to an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

In December 2011, ESDC awarded a contract to BBDO USA LLC, an advertising and marketing agency, for up to $50 million. ESDC amended and increased the contract four times, bringing the total of the contract to $211.5 million. Of this, $36.5 million was targeted to promote tourism and business in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. The remaining $175 million could be spent at the authority’s discretion, which ESDC allocated to promoting Start-Up NY, tourism, Taste NY and Masterbrand.

As required by law, the State Attorney General’s office and the State Comptroller’s office reviewed the contract and amendments and found the state’s procurement and legal process was followed.

The purpose of DiNapoli’s audit, which covered December 2011 to November 2014, was to determine if ESDC received the services it paid for and whether its advertising effort achieved sufficient outcomes. Although auditors found that ESDC got the advertising services it paid for, at a fair price, they found ESDC was not able to effectively quantify and assess tangible outcomes from the initiatives.

ESDC officials told auditors they do not believe that the advertising program should be formally measured against outcome targets established for the various programs, and that the advertising was not intended to directly produce positive economic benefits. Instead officials stressed that the primary expectation for the contract was to improve perception of the state as a good place to visit and to do business.

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Proposes Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman introduced “The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act of 2015” (CCCA), legislation aimed at protecting and enhancing New Yorkers’ access to cost-free contraception under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The CCCA would codify the ACA’s requirement that contraception be made available to New Yorkers cost-free, and would enhance relevant provisions of the Affordable Care Act in several important ways: First, the bill would statutorily require state-governed health insurance policies to cover all FDA-approved methods of birth control, including emergency contraception. Second, the legislation would prohibit insurance companies from “medical management” review restrictions that can limit or delay contraceptive coverage. Third, the CCCA would cover men’s contraceptive methods and bring their insurance coverage in line with the benefits enjoyed by women, a protection that is not included in the ACA’s coverage requirements. Finally, the bill would allow for the provision of a year’s worth of a contraceptive at a time, which is not included in the provisions of the ACA.

Despite legal reforms enacted in New York State and Congress, both women and men in New York continue to face barriers in accessing contraceptive care.  In 2002, the New York State Legislature passed the Women’s Health and Wellness Act, an important first step toward contraceptive equity that required insurance plans that cover prescriptions to include contraception.  Eight years later, the U.S. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), which includes a contraceptive coverage guarantee as part of a broader requirement for health insurance plans to cover key preventive care services without out-of-pocket costs for patients. However, despite the ACA’s broad contraceptive coverage requirements, Attorney General Schneiderman’s office has received reports that certain health plans have been imposing co-pays as well as denying full coverage of certain contraceptive methods through “medical management” (utilization review).

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $158 Million Mobile Cramming Settlements with Sprint and Verizon

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced multi-state settlements with Sprint Corporation (“Sprint”) and Cellco Partnership d/b/a Verizon Wireless (“Verizon”) that include $158 million in payments to resolve charges that the companies engaged in mobile cramming. Mobile cramming is a practice in which cell phone providers place unauthorized third-party charges on consumers’ bills. One common cramming charge is a $9.99-per-month premium text messaging subscription service (also known as PSMS) for horoscopes, trivia, sports scores or other information that consumers often never requested.

The State Attorneys General and federal regulators allege that cramming occurred when Sprint and Verizon placed charges from third parties on consumers’ mobile telephone bills without the consumers’ knowledge or consent. Sprint and Verizon are the third and fourth mobile telephone providers to enter into a nationwide settlement to resolve allegations regarding cramming. Attorney General Schneiderman announced similar settlements with AT&T in October of 2014 ($105 million) and T-Mobile in December of 2014 ($90 million). All four mobile carriers announced that they would cease billing customers for commercial PSMS in the fall of 2013.

Under the terms of the settlements, Sprint will pay $68 million and Verizon will pay $90 million. Of these amounts, Sprint and Verizon are required to provide $50 million and $70 million, respectively, to consumers who were victims of cramming. Sprint and Verizon will each distribute refunds to harmed consumers through redress programs that will be conducted under the supervision of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is estimated that more than 2 million New Yorkers are entitled to refunds.

Speaker:

Assembly Passes Second Wave of Child Care Legislation

he New York State Assembly passed the second wave of legislation aimed at making quality child care more accessible and affordable. The package of bills reflects the recommendations of the Child Care Workgroup and demonstrates the Assembly Majority’s continued commitment to put New York families first.

The Assembly’s legislative package includes a measure that would limit the co-pay payment for child care subsidies to 20 percent of the household income above the poverty level. Currently, families receiving child care subsidies are subject to a co-pay payment determined by the local social services district that can be as high as 35 percent of household income above the federal poverty level, making it even more difficult for working families to afford quality child care. (A.6174, Russell). Common child care challenges that families face are addressed in the legislation with measures that would:

  • Require online listing and map of publicly funded or registered afterschool and school age child care programs (A.1869, Mayer);
  • Direct local districts to utilize the simplified application for persons applying only for child care assistance (A.4469, Barrett);
  • Allow providers the ability to post their completed training and credentialing achievements on the New York State Office of Children and Family Services website, which will enhance the current database, helping to bolster the credibility of providers and aid parents in their search for quality child care. (A.1864, Mayer)/

Assembly Observes Annual Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day With Comprehensive Package of Legislation

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb announced the passage of an extensive package of bills that would increase access to services and improve the quality of life for New Yorkers with disabilities.

The Assembly’s Legislative Package includes a measure that would amend the state’s Human Rights Law to clarify the definition of a place of public accommodation, resort or amusement to include state-and locally-owned government facilities in order to further protect the rights of individuals with disabilities (A.136-A, Paulin). The bill clarifies that as long as it is determined that a proposed accommodation poses no undue burden on state or local governments, the state or municipal government would be required to remove certain barriers currently limiting access to transportation or government services and buildings for individuals with disabilities. The package helps ensure the elimination of discriminatory practices against people with disabilities, including measures that would:

  • Require that sign language interpreters be made available upon the request of individuals with hearing impairments at public hearings and meetings and would establish provisions for assistive listening systems to be required in rooms used for public hearings that accommodate over 100 people (A.1669-A, Wright);
  • Waive the state’s sovereign immunity in regards to application of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 as they apply to the protection of state employees (A.5388, Lifton);
  • Provide factors to be considered when the health care practitioner utilized by the local social services district examines an applicant for or recipient of public assistance with regards to a possible work limitation or exemption due to a disability and require such health care practitioner utilized by the local social services district to provide an explicit written determination and to present evidence when their diagnosis differs from that of the treating health care practitioner (A.3450, Wright).

The Assembly’s Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day agenda also includes several pieces of legislation intended to better ensure that all New Yorkers with disabilities are kept safe in the event of an emergency or natural disaster and have accessible housing and transportation options. They would:

  • Require every high-rise building owner to establish and maintain an emergency evacuation plan for occupants and visitors with disabilities (A.2200, Weprin);
  • Aid localities in preparing for and responding to disasters by requiring counties to maintain a confidential registry of people of all ages with disabilities who may require evacuation assistance and shelter during a disaster. People would be provided with the option to be included in the registry (A.2658-A, Weprin);
  • Require counties and cities with a population of one million or more to establish comprehensive emergency management plans, which would include provisions for access of home health care and hospice personnel to patients during local emergencies (A.5125-B, Cusick);
  • Allow tenants with physically disabling conditions that affect their mobility a preference in occupying a vacant dwelling unit on a lower floor in the same project operated by the New York City Housing Authority (A.4232, Titus);
  • Create the MTA Riders’ Council for People with Disabilities to study, investigate, monitor and make recommendations with respect to accommodating the needs and providing conveniences to riders with disabilities (A.5267, Weprin).

Assembly Announces Revisions to Travel Policy

Continuing his push for ethics reform and greater transparency, Speaker Carl Heastie  announced revisions to the travel policy which will bring greater accountability to the New York State Assembly.

Revisions to the travel policy will require dated verification of presence in Albany for members of Assembly during the days for which they claim a per diem. Acceptable forms of verification include:

  • Electronic systems, including voting in committee, inclusion in the database that records members’ presence in session, and a swipe machine in the Assembly’s Legislative Office Building;
  • Recorded presence at an Assembly-sponsored hearing or roundtable;
  • Travel documentation, such as E-Z Pass records or toll records;
  • Dated receipts from hotels, restaurants, or other vendors indicating presence in the Albany region.

The new revisions to the existing Assembly travel policy will allow for better enforcement and verification of travel reimbursement and per diem claims, building upon Speaker Heastie’s continued commitment to making state government more open and accountable to New Yorkers.

Assembly Legislation Closes Loophole for Political Contributions

Speaker Carl Heastie, Chair of the Election Law Committee Michael Cusick and Chair of the Commission on Government Administration Brian Kavanagh announced Assembly passage of legislation (A.6975-B) to strengthen rules on political contributions by closing the so-called LLC loophole and bring much-needed campaign finance reform to New York State. The bill passed the People’s House with bipartisan support (120 to 8 unofficial).

“Limits on political contributions exist for a reason,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “With this legislation, we’ve closed a loophole that excluded limited liability corporations, otherwise known as LLCs, from the limits imposed on corporations. By treating LLCs the same way we treat corporations, we can create greater transparency and put an end to the use of multiple LLCs as a means of working around campaign finance laws.”

This legislation would clarify election law and impose on LLCs the same spending limits that currently exist for corporations. The existing law treats each LLC as an individual person, with corresponding contribution limits that may easily be avoided where one person or corporation owns multiple LLCs through which contributions are funneled, thereby creating a loophole to spend more than the legal limit on a single candidate or committee. Today’s legislation would close this loophole and create a uniform law that subjects LLCs to the same $5000 aggregate contribution limit as corporations.

Assembly Speaker Heastie Announces Appointments of Assembly members Thiele and Weprin to Leadership Positions

Speaker Carl Heastie announced the appointment of Assemblymember Fred W. Thiele, Jr. to chair the Small Business Committee and Assemblymember David I. Weprin to serve as Secretary to the Assembly Majority Conference.

Assemblymember Thiele (1st A.D.), a lifetime resident of Sag Harbor, has served in many leadership roles at the local government level, including as the supervisor of the Town of Southhampton, the Suffolk County Legislature and town attorney. Thiele attended Cornell University and is a graduate of Southhampton College of Long Island University and Albany Law School.

Assemblymember Weprin (24th A.D.) has extensive government experience. It includes an appointment by former Governor Mario Cuomo to serve as Deputy Superintendent of Banks and Secretary of the Banking Board as well as eight years as a member of the New York City Council where he was chosen by his colleagues to chair the Finance Committee. Weprin is a graduate of SUNY Albany and earned a law degree from Hofstra University. He was elected to the Assembly from the same district in Queens that also was represented by his late father, former Speaker Saul Weprin, and brother, Mark Weprin.

Assembly Initiates Search for Executive Director of New Office of Ethics and Compliance

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced that the New York State Assembly has initiated a nationwide search for an attorney with extensive experience in legislative ethics to head the Assembly’s newly created Office of Ethics and Compliance.

Continuing Speaker Heastie’s efforts to strengthen ethics and introduce greater transparency and accountability in the Assembly, the Office of Ethics and Compliance will educate and assist members of the Assembly and staff in order to ensure adherence to laws and regulations, as well as provide recommendations to strengthen legislative ethics within the Assembly.

The director will be responsible for reaching out to members and informing each member of available services, streamlining and operating ethics training for all members and staff, responding to questions and providing assistance with financial disclosure forms, reviewing best practices in legislative ethics to make recommendations for improvements and working with the Ethics Counsel of both the Majority and Minority conferences to identify areas for review.

Senate:

Senate Passes Bills to Strengthen Laws for Reckless and Irresponsible Driving

The New York State Senate passed four measures that would keep our roads safe by holding drivers accountable for reckless and irresponsible actions. The legislation would increase or create new penalties for repeat DWI offenders, those who drive at high speeds, and individuals who cause a death while driving without a valid license.

A bill (S4220) sponsored by Senator Flanagan would require mandatory jail sentences for repeat DWI offenders. Current law does not require drivers previously convicted of a DWI to spend any time in jail. Individuals convicted of two or more DWI offenses within a five or 10 year period face jail time or a fine. However, since jail time is not mandatory, judges have the discretion to sentence these offenders to only a fine or a fine and community service.

The Senate also passed legislation to strengthen penalties against unlicensed drivers involved in car accidents resulting in someone’s death. The bill (S1600), sponsored by Senator John Bonacic (R-C-I, Mount Hope), would give prosecutors broader discretion to seek a prison term by making it a class E felony to negligently cause the death of another person while operating a vehicle with a suspended or revoked license.

In addition, the Senate passed legislation (S3732) sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island) to reduce high-speed vehicle fatalities in New York. Under “Michelle and Jordan’s Law,” a second conviction for engaging in an unlawful speed contest or race within 12 months would result in a class E felony, punishable by up to one year in prison. The bill is named after five-year-old Jordan McLean and 17-year-old Michelle Arout, both of whom were killed in a car accident while racing at high speed.

The Senate also approved a measure (S2976) sponsored by Senator Robert Ortt (R-C-I, North Tonawanda) to close a legal loophole that lets intoxicated supervising drivers escape punishment. “Abbagail’s Law” increases the penalties against individuals who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol while also supervising drivers with junior licenses or learner’s permits. Abbagail Buzard was tragically killed in a car accident when a teenager with a learner’s permit was operating the vehicle under the supervision of Abbagail’s intoxicated father.

Senate Passes Measures to Protect Children

The New York State Senate passed four bills to promote the safety and well-being of children and families. The measures would prevent felons from working in child day care programs, increase penalties for child endangerment, protect consumers by preventing unauthorized vendors from selling items like baby food, and help keep military families together by eliminating deployment as a barrier to child custody.

The Senate passed legislation (S1472A) sponsored by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn) that would help ensure that young children are not being cared for by felons with a history of serious crimes. This measure would prohibit convicted criminals from working in child day care programs. Under this legislation, if a person has been convicted of a felony because of a sex offense, crime against a child, or crime involving violence, or a conviction for a felony drug-related offense within the past five years, they would be denied an operating license and employment at a child day care facility. The bill also removes the Office of Children and Family Services’ existing discretion to permit criminals to participate in child day care programs.

In addition, the Senate passed legislation that creates a felony crime of endangering the welfare of a child. The bill (S3362), sponsored by Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C-I, Staten Island),  makes it a class D violent felony offense, punishable up to seven years in prison, if a person has been previously charged with child endangerment. Under current law, the crime is a misdemeanor offense no matter how many times an individual has been charged with that crime in the past.

The Senate passed legislation (S3297) sponsored by Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst) that would prevent a military member’s deployment or probability of deployment from being a detrimental factor when determining child custody if a suitable child care plan is presented.

The Senate also passed a bill (S3840) sponsored by Senator Michael Venditto (R-C-I, Massapequa) that would establish a new law to prevent itinerant vendors from selling baby food and other items, including nonprescription drugs, cosmetics, and batteries.

Senate Passes Legislation Allowing Customers to Bring Dogs Into Outdoor Dining Areas

The New York State Senate passed legislation (S4327), sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon (R, Nassau), that would change the state health law to allow food service establishments to offer their customers the ability to bring their pet dogs into outdoor dining areas.

This measure would permit customers to bring their pet dogs into outdoor dining areas of  restaurants that wish to provide this service, as long as the restaurant can ensure that there will be no contamination of food and tainted utensils or equipment.
According to a 2013 study, when proper sanitation measures and practices are in place, the overall public health risk from pet dogs in outdoor dining areas is very low. Similar legislation was successfully signed into California law last year.

“This legislation will allow restaurant owners the option to permit pet dogs in outdoor dining areas,” said Hannon.  “It will benefit both owners and patrons, boosting revenue, and ensure safety standards are followed.”

Senate Passes Bills to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

The New York State Senate passed two measures to strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and children at risk of abuse. The bills would create new safeguards for victims who testify against their abusers in court, as well as establish a commission to study and recommend methods of preventing child abuse in New York.

The Senate approved legislation (S3087), sponsored by Senator Catharine Young (R-C-I, Olean), allowing domestic violence victims to testify in the physical absence of their abusers by using closed-circuit television. By offering an alternate forum for victims of domestic violence to serve as witnesses, the legislation seeks to facilitate their willingness to come forward.

In addition, the Senate passed a bill (S824), sponsored by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), that would establish a temporary state commission to study child abuse prevention and make recommendations for implementing child abuse prevention programs statewide.

Despite their success, child abuse prevention programs are currently only available to a small number of eligible at-risk families. In addition, a study found that the state spends approximately $2.4 billion each year on the consequences of child abuse, including incarceration, court costs, and foster care. By examining the accessibility of prevention programs, as well as strategies for expanding these services to more families across the state, the temporary commission would more effectively protect children while saving the state considerable fiscal resources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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