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This Week in New York State Government

Governor:

Governor Cuomo Announces $376,000 for Plans to Protect Agriculture and Farmlands

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that more than $376,000 in State Environmental Protection Fund grants will be given to seven counties and six towns to help them develop local agricultural and farmland protection plans. To date, New York State has helped fund agricultural and farmland protection plans in 82 towns and 20 counties.

“Agriculture is a part of New York’s rich heritage and remains a vital sector of this state’s economy,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will help preserve this great legacy by ensuring that land in these communities remain suitable for farming and continue to produce great New York fruits, vegetables and products for years to come.”

The six towns receiving grants will use them to develop local farmland protection plans. The towns are required to fund at least 25 percent of the cost of development of their respective plans. Funding for the seven counties will be used either to update an existing plan or develop a new one. Existing plans must be at least 10 years old in order to be eligible for funding. The counties are required to fund at least 50 percent of the cost of their respective plans’ development.

Governor Cuomo Announces $5.4 Million Available to Help Businesses Train and Hire Formerly Unemployed Individuals

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that $5.4 million is available to help businesses grow by training and hiring formerly unemployed individuals. Overseen by the Governor’s successful Unemployment Strikeforce, the funding is available to businesses in amounts of up to $100,000 to support a variety of essential worker training programs.

This $5.4 million is available to businesses looking to expand their workforce and can be used for On-the-Job, Apprenticeship or Customized training, depending on the individual needs of the employer. The Governor’s Unemployment Strikeforce has staff who will work with all interested parties to develop programs best suited to their business and secure all funding and other incentives for which that business is eligible.

As part of his Opportunity Agenda address last month, Governor Cuomo announced that the successful Unemployment Strikeforce will be expanded into the ten areas in the state with the highest unemployment rates. The expanded Unemployment Strikeforce will bring the same kind of targeted job recruitment, career and business services used to great effect in the Bronx to Jefferson, Lewis, Kings, St. Lawrence, Oswego, Orleans, Montgomery, Franklin and Steuben Counties.

The Governor’s Unemployment Strikeforce was piloted in the Bronx in May 2014 and charged with two goals:

1. Find a way to reduce the unemployment rates in the counties with the persistently highest levels (12-month average) of unemployment.
2. Ensure that we are investing our workforce development funding wisely. A real job must be waiting at the end of the training the State is investing in.

Since then, more than 7,000 people from the Bronx have been placed in jobs through the initiative. An additional 1,300 individuals were connected to work in Jefferson and Lewis counties under the Strikeforce.

Governor Cuomo Announces NY State of Health Hits Benchmark of Two Million Enrollees

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the New York State of Health (NYSOH) Marketplace has enrolled more than two million New Yorkers in affordable health insurance coverage. This is the latest record enrollment for New York’s health exchange, and 89 percent of enrollees have reported that they had no coverage at the time they joined the Marketplace. New Yorkers who have enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace have overwhelmingly reported that they are satisfied with their health insurance (92 percent) and are using their coverage to access care (84 percent).

This year’s open enrollment began on November 15, 2014 and runs through February 15. Individuals who do not enroll on or before February 15 will have to wait until 2016 for coverage to begin unless they meet very limited requirements. Under federal law, individuals who are uninsured may be required to pay a federal tax penalty which will increase in 2015.

Governor Cuomo Announces $30 Million in Recovered Wages

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the New York State of Health (NYSOH) Marketplace has enrolled more than two million New Yorkers in affordable health insurance coverage. This is the latest record enrollment for New York’s health exchange, and 89 percent of enrollees have reported that they had no coverage at the time they joined the Marketplace. New Yorkers who have enrolled in coverage through the Marketplace have overwhelmingly reported that they are satisfied with their health insurance (92 percent) and are using their coverage to access care (84 percent).

This year’s open enrollment began on November 15, 2014 and runs through February 15. Individuals who do not enroll on or before February 15 will have to wait until 2016 for coverage to begin unless they meet very limited requirements. Under federal law, individuals who are uninsured may be required to pay a federal tax penalty which will increase in 2015.

New tools that were developed to make it easier for customers to understand their health insurance options and the enrollment process continue to be well received by consumers. The NYSOH’s website plan preview, or anonymous shopping tool, which allows individuals to shop for a health plan before starting an application, was used more than 2.6 million times during this period. Additionally, the NYSOH Customer Service Center has answered more than 945,134 calls since the start of open enrollment.

Governor Cuomo Announces Implementation of Tougher Laws to Protect New Yorkers from Immigration Assistance Fraud

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that, starting today, individuals and entities who defraud New Yorkers seeking immigration-related assistance will now be subject to felony and/or misdemeanor charges. Previously, there was no law specifically protecting newcomers from fraud, scams and exploitation. With the implementation of this law, immigrants will now benefit from additional requirements for those providing them with assistance as well as stronger consumer disclosures.

Each year, New Yorkers are victimized by con artists posing as immigration attorneys or authorized immigration representatives by charging fees for services that are never provided. Commonly recognized forms of immigration scams include: false promises of permanent U.S. residency and citizenship; preparation of applications for immigration benefits either by unqualified individuals or those engaged in the unauthorized practice of law; sale of immigration forms that are available for free; false impersonation of immigration officials; and unwarranted threats of deportation. Oftentimes, victims are so negatively impacted by these scammers that they permanently miss important immigration opportunities that would otherwise help them.

Governor Cuomo Announces Administration Appointments

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced two new appointments to his administration, building on a growing team for his administration’s second term.

Danielle Lenzi has been appointed Director of Risk Management, leading an effort to help address and mitigate rapidly growing costs related to insurable risks such as workers compensation and general liability claims and settlements as well as other broad risk management concerns for the State. She will also work closely with the Bureau of Risk and Insurance Management, a unit within the Office of General Services. Previously, Ms. Lenzi was Vice President, Department Head of Risk Management and OEM Product Compliance in the private sector with a Fortune 600 public company. Prior to that, she was also the department head and Director of Risk Management at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Ms. Lenzi has a B.A. and B.S. from Michigan State University and a J.D. and LL.M. from the University of Connecticut.

Sharif Kabir has been appointed Assistant Secretary for Transportation. Mr. Kabir previously worked in the Office of Counsel and Program for the New York State Senate as Parliamentarian, Assistant Counsel and Richard A. Wiebe Public Service Fellow. He also worked in the Office of Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. as the Senator’s counsel and as counsel to the Senate Committee on Transportation. He has a B.A. from Florida Atlantic University and a J.D. from American University, Washington College of Law.

Speaker:

Speaker Heastie Announces Leadership Positions and Committee Chairs for 2015-2016 Legislative Session

Speaker
Carl E. Heastie
Majority Leader
Joseph D. Morelle
Chair, Ways & Means
Herman D. Farrell, Jr.
Deputy Speaker
Earlene Hooper
Assistant Speaker
Félix Ortiz
Speaker Pro Tempore
Jeffrion L. Aubry
Chair, Committee on Committees
Vivian E. Cook
Assistant Speaker Pro Tempore
N. Nick Perry
Deputy Majority Leader
Phil Ramos
Assistant Majority Leader
Dov Hikind
Majority Whip
William Colton
Deputy Majority Whip
Barbara M. Clark
Assistant Majority Whip
José Rivera
Chair, Majority Conference
Michelle Schimel
Vice Chair, Majority Conference
Aravella Simotas
Secretary, Majority Conference
Fred W. Thiele, Jr.
Chair, Majority Program
Carmen E. Arroyo
Chair, Majority Steering
Barbara Lifton
Vice Chair, Majority Steering
Alec Brook-Krasny
Chair, House Operations
Michael Miller
Chair, Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force
Marcos A. Crespo

Attorney General:

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Agreement To Cut And Cap The Price Of Heroin Overdose Antidote For All Agencies In New York State

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced an agreement with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to cut and cap the price of naloxone, a highly effective antidote that can quickly reverse an opioid overdose, for all agencies in New York State for the next year. The contract stipulates that Amphastar will offer a $6 rebate per dose, which will also automatically increase, dollar-for-dollar, to match any future growth in the wholesale price. As part of the agreement, this rebate is available not only to the Office of the Attorney General, but also all public entities, including but not limited to the State Department of Health, the City of New York, the governments of individual New York counties, and the drug treatment centers and harm reduction programs they fund.

After Amphastar raised the price of its naloxone products last fall, the Attorney General’s office sent a letter expressing concern that the higher cost could jeopardize access to the antidote in New York State. As a result, Amphastar agreed to provide a rebate that will discount the wholesale price of naloxone by nearly 20 percent. This rebate applies even if the purchasing agency separately negotiated a discount below the published wholesale rate, and regardless of whether the agency buys from Amphastar or a third party.

Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Prison Sentence For Lawyer Charged with Stealing Almost $2 Million From Staten Island Nonprofit

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the guilty plea of Westchester attorney Timothy Griffin, former acting president of United Hebrew Cemetery, on the charge of Grand Larceny in the First Degree. Griffin admitted to embezzling nearly $2 million from the not-for-profit, and he will be sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison.

“This defendant not only stole from the clients of his law practice, but then stole millions from his charity in an attempt to disguise that theft,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office has zero tolerance for anyone who abuses the public trust by taking advantage of a position at a nonprofit. If you use a charity as your own personal piggy bank, you will face serious consequences, including jail time.”

The Attorney General’s investigation revealed that Griffin, a Bronxville real estate attorney, stole nearly $2 million from United Hebrew Cemetery in Staten Island. In late 2012, Griffin was asked to serve as Acting President of the Cemetery after the previous president and his wife were found guilty of embezzling approximately $850,000, as the result of a prior investigation conducted by the Attorney General’s office. In his capacity as Acting President, Griffin made six unauthorized wire transfers from the Cemetery’s account to his own attorney escrow account, totaling $1.9 million.

Attorney General Schneiderman & Comptroller DiNapoli Announce Indictment of NYC Council Member Ruben Wills

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced the indictment of New York City Council Member Ruben Wills for allegedly filing false documents with the New York City Conflicts of Interest Board. The case is the latest joint investigation under the Operation Integrity partnership of the Attorney General and Comptroller which has resulted in dozens of convictions and more than $6 million in restitution.

Mr. Wills was indicted by a New York County Grand Jury after an investigation revealed Mr. Wills’ failure to truthfully disclose information as required by New York City law. Under New York City law, elected officials are required to file annual financial disclosure reports in order to provide accountability by public servants and to help ensure that no prohibited conflicts exist between the filer’s official duties and private interests.

Attorney General Schneiderman Obtains Judgments of Nearly $800,000 Against Papa John’s Franchisee For Underpaying Employees

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that his office has obtained two separate judgments against Emstar Pizza, a Papa John’s franchisee, and its owner and operator for underpaying employees. The violations include shaving workers’ pay by under-reporting hours and rounding down hours worked to the nearest whole hour increment (and paying nothing for fractions of hours), as well as nonpayment of overtime premiums—all in violation of New York State Labor Law.

Kings County Supreme Court Justice Johnny Lee Baynes issued a judgment against Emstar Pizza Inc. operator Emmanuel Onuaguluchi for $789,507.06 in owed wages, uniform maintenance, liquidated damages, and interest to hundreds of employees who have worked for him over the past six years. In a separate consent order and judgment, Justice Baynes approved a settlement agreement that holds Emstar Pizza Inc. and its owner Uchenna Onuaguluchi jointly responsible for $541,337.61 of this amount in owed wages, liquidated damages, and interest. Both orders permanently enjoin Emstar Pizza Inc. and its owners and operators from selling any stores unless proceeds from the sale are held in escrow by the Attorney General, which the Attorney General may use to distribute as restitution to underpaid employees.

Senate:

Senate Holds First Hearing on Policy Safety and Public Protection in New York City

The New York State Senate held the first in a series of public hearings to provide a thorough review of issues affecting the safety of law enforcement and the public in New York City. The hearing was jointly convened by four Senate committees to address serious concerns raised by the shooting deaths of two NYPD Officers, Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, in addition to other recent attacks and hostility directed at law enforcement.

The Senate Standing Committees include: Codes, chaired by Senator Michael Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette); Crime Victims, Crime and Corrections, chaired by Senator Pat Gallivan (R-C-I, Elma); Investigations and Government Operations, chaired by Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R, Syosset); and Civil Service and Pensions, chaired by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn).

Senate Passes the Criminal Street Gang Act

The New York State Senate today passed legislation to reduce gang violence and protect communities throughout the state. The New York State Criminal Street Gang Act (S1701), sponsored by Senator Martin Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), would prosecute and prevent criminal gang activity by creating tough new penalties for gang-related crimes, as well as develop gang prevention programs for schools, at-risk youth, and prison inmates.

According to the Department of Justice, the number of gang-related homicides nationally increased 20 percent from 1,824 in 2011 to 2,363 in 2012. Gang-related violence accounted for 16 percent of all homicides in the United States in 2012.

Gang recruitment often targets children, with most gang members ranging in age from eight to 22 years old. The bill creates new crimes to prevent recruitment of children by making it a class C felony, punishable up to 15 years in prison, to solicit minors under 18 years old on school property to participate in a criminal street gang. Solicitation of a minor outside of school property would be a class D felony, punishable up to seven years in prison.