This Week in New York State Government
Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Protect and Further Women’s Equality in New York State
Governor Cuomo signed multiple pieces of legislation designed to protect and further women’s equality in New York State. The new laws will help achieve pay equity, strengthen human trafficking laws and protections for domestic violence victims and end pregnancy discrimination in all workplaces.
The Governor also announced that New York State has allocated a total of $6.4 million for Sexual Assault Prevention and Assistance providers across the State. This includes $4.5 million enacted as part of the Enough is Enough legislative package to support implementation of this new campus sexual assault legislation by providing prevention, as well as $1 million to be administered by the Department of Health and $900,000 to be administered by the Office of Victim Services.
As part of Governor Cuomo’s efforts to protect women’s rights, he signed a number of bills designed end discrimination and inequality based on gender.
These new laws will help to:
- Achieve Pay Equity: This bill (S. 1 / A. 6075) would strengthen New York State law to truly prohibit employers from paying women less than men for performing the same work. The bill eliminates a loophole in the current law that allows employers to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries under threat of termination or suspension. Specifically, the bill would allow employees to discuss their wages with each other. Further, the bill increases the amount of damages available to an employee if an employer willfully violates the law.
- Protect victims of sexual harassment: This bill (S. 2 / A. 5360) protects all employees from sexual harassment in the workplace regardless of the size of the employer. Currently, the definition of “employer” excludes employers with fewer than four employees, thus prohibiting individuals from filing harassment complaints with the Division of Human Rights against those employers. This new law expands the definition of “employer” to cover all employers within New York in sexual harassment cases so that an employee of any business can file a workplace sexual harassment complaint.
- Remove Barriers to Remedying Discrimination: This bill (S. 3 / A.7189) allows successful plaintiffs to recover attorneys’ fees in employment or credit discrimination cases based on sex. This law enables victims, most of whom are women, to have the opportunity to vindicate their rights and be made whole in cases where they prevail. Under existing New York State law, plaintiffs cannot recover attorney fees at trial for employment discrimination cases, making it costly to bring a case.
- End Family Status Discrimination: This bill (S. 4 / A. 7317) prohibits employment discrimination based on familial status. Currently, New York State law only prohibits discrimination based on familial status in the areas of housing and credit, however, employees often suffer from stereotypes relative to their status as parents or guardians of children under the age of eighteen. Women have been most affected by stereotyped views of parents in the work place and are less likely to be recommended for hire or promoted. This new law prohibits employment agencies, licensing agencies, or labor organizations from discriminating against workers based on their familial status.
- Protect Victims of Domestic Violence from Housing Discrimination: This bill (S. 5 / A. 6354-B) prohibits landlords from discriminating against victims of domestic violence. Currently, under New York State law an individual could be denied housing on the basis of his or her status as a victim of domestic violence. This new bill protects victims of domestic violence from discrimination when they attempt to rent or lease housing, and provide them with an affirmative defense in eviction proceedings and a private right of action. Additionally, this bill would create a Task Force to study the impact that source of income has on access to housing.
- Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws: This bill (S. 6 / A. 6262) creates a pilot program to allow domestic violence victims to seek temporary orders of protection through electronic means rather than having to appear in person. Currently domestic violence victims face significant obstacles in securing protection from their abusers. For example, some victims require immediate temporary orders of protection, but have no means to travel to the appropriate family court. To remove these obstacles and ensure these victims are able to secure much-needed orders of protection, this bill would allow the Office of Court Administration to develop a pilot program to allow victims to petition for temporary orders of protection remotely. In addition, this bill ensures that orders of protection are translated, when needed, and makes clear that a victim of domestic violence who has an order of protection against her abuser cannot be accused of violating her own order of protection.
- Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws: This bill (S. 7 / A. 506) strengthens existing law in New York State to combat human trafficking. It eliminates the requirement that coercion be proven in a sex trafficking prosecution when the victims are minors, increases penalties for the crime, and creates an affirmative defense in prostitution prosecutions if the defendant was a trafficking victim. In addition, the new law makes it easier for victims of human trafficking to receive support services, and requires training for law enforcement to adequately address human trafficking crimes.
- Protect Women from Pregnancy Discrimination: This bill (S. 8 / A. 4272) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Some pregnancies can result in medical conditions requiring certain accommodations within the workplace and current protections for pregnant women are confusing and have been misinterpreted. This new law clarifies that employers must perform a reasonable accommodation analysis for pregnant employees.
Governor Cuomo Commits $42 Million to Fight Violent Crime at NYCHA Developments
Governor Cuomo announced that nearly $42 million in state funding will be committed to bolstering safety and security at New York City Housing Authority developments. The allocation will pay for security cameras, interior and exterior lighting and gunfire detection technology, among other enhancements.
New York Police Department data for the period from January 1 through October 11 show that shootings and robberies at NYCHA developments have increased this year compared to last. Some developments have seen especially sharp increases in violent crime, including several of those that will be receiving funding for safety and security hardware and technology. The $41.7 million of safety and security upgrades announced today were developed by the New York State Homes and Community Renewal in consultation with local stakeholders, including NYCHA tenants, who identified developments that have seen spikes in violence, or have had ongoing, longer-term problems with crime.
The 2015-16 enacted State Budget invests $477 million for a multitude of housing programs, including $248 million from the JP Morgan settlement proceeds to support various affordable housing and community development programs, such as the $100 million for upgrades to NYCHA facilities. The $100 million allocation was intended to enable NYCHA to make needed, short-term, quality-of-life improvements to its developments.
A list of the developments and the enhancements they will receive is available here. A plan for investing the balance of the $100 million will be announced soon.
Governor Cuomo Announces Approval of Over $39 Million to Fund 34 Projects that will Create Over 200 Jobs and Retain More than 1500
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that $39.2 million in economic development funding has been approved for 34 projects that are spurring growth and opportunity across the state. The funding, approved by Empire State Development’s Board of Directors, supports projects that are creating 233 new jobs and retaining 1,589 existing New York State jobs – many of which have already been created or retained. This funding will also leverage $338.6 million in private assets and other public funding to support local businesses and projects that are building a strong foundation for future economic growth and job creation.
“With this funding, we are supporting regionally-significant initiatives and growing local economies across New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “This investment is another example of our commitment to developing key industries and creating new opportunities for companies and workers to thrive in every region of this state.”
Governor Cuomo Announces $7 Million for Improvements to Airport Infrastructure
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced $7 million in funding is available for airport improvement projects across New York State. These grants, coming from the Governor’s Aviation Capital Grants Program, will go toward supporting airport infrastructure and economic development projects across the state.
“For many, our airports are the gateways to New York and a significant part of economic growth and job creation,” Governor Cuomo said. “This funding will help ensure that our airports remain more accessible and convenient for travelers and remain key economic drivers for years to come.”
Funding will be made available through a competitive process aimed at enhancing safety as well as the operational and economic health of the State’s commercial and general aviation airports. This investment will also leverage additional federal, state and local funding and will be used for projects that improve terminals and hangars, address safety conditions, and provide income-generating opportunities. The 2015 Airport Capital Grant Program is open to public-use airports that are part of the State Airport System Plan. All grants are subject to availability of program funds at the time of grant award.
This announcement comes on the heels of Governor Cuomo’s plan to transform LaGuardia Airport in New York City. The airport will be modernized into a single, structurally unified main terminal with expanded transportation access, significantly increased taxiway space and best-in-class passenger amenities. Construction on the first half of the new unified terminal is expected to be a $4 billion project. Applications for this new funding must be submitted by email by 8 p.m. on November 3 to email@example.com. Applications and instruction materials are available on Department of Transportation’s website at https://www.dot.ny.gov/aviationgrants.
Governor Cuomo Announces Over $39 Million for Vehicles to Assist New York’s Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities
Governor Cuomo announced the Federal Transit Administration has approved $39.4 million in funding for public and non-profit organizations in New York State to purchase 415 accessible vehicles and other equipment used to assist in the transportation of seniors and people with disabilities.
Since the New York State Department of Transportation began administering the federal Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program in 1974, more than $210 million in grant funding has been secured to help purchase approximately 4,500 accessible vehicles. The program was significantly expanded in 2015 from solely funding vehicle purchases to now including capital projects, operating assistance and mobility management services which build coordination among transportation providers in order to expand the availability of service.
A total of 152 non-profit and public organizations received awards in 2015. These organizations provide over 1.8 million passenger trips annually for seniors and individuals with disabilities in New York State. To view the full list of awards, click here.
Governor Cuomo Announces Opening of Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site
Governor Cuomo announced the opening of the new $15 million Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan State Historic Site. The 17,300-square-foot Center tells the story of Iroquois contributions to art, culture and society for more than 2,000 years through specially designed interactive exhibits and historical artifacts. A collaborative venture between New York State, the Seneca Nation, Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and many private donors made the opening of the year-round interpretive facility possible.
The educational, recreational and tourism destination will guide visitors inside the living culture, natural world and art of the Seneca located at their original homeland at Ganondagan. Once inside, approximately 300 historical artifacts will be featured in permanent and rotating exhibits that highlight five centuries of Seneca life. In the Orientation Theater, visitors will enjoy the first-ever live action and animated film of “The Iroquois Creation Story”—a collaborative project among Ganondagan, Rochester Institute of Technology, Iroquois Social Dancers and Garth Fagan Dancers. Two classrooms, a multi-purpose auditorium, a catering kitchen, and a gift shop will also be on site.
Through the Governor’s NY Parks 2020 plan, New York State committed $3.9 million to the construction of the new center. In addition, two grants totaling $900,000 were awarded through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. The remaining portion of the $15 million facility was made possible through private donations involving the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Rock Foundation, Thaw Charitable Trust, Davenport-Hatch Foundation and the Ithaca-based Ongweoweh Corporation.
Located on 500+ acres, Ganondagan State Historic Site was declared a National Landmark in 1964 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. The site remains as the only developed and interpreted ancient Seneca town in the United States.
Governor Cuomo Grants Clemency to Four Individuals and Launches Pro Bono Clemency Program
Governor Cuomo granted two sentence commutations and two pardons to four individuals who have demonstrated rehabilitation and made positive strides in their lives since their criminal convictions. These individuals, selected after a review of all applicants for clemency, were granted sentence commutations in the interests of justice and rehabilitation and issued pardons to address the immigration and reentry consequences of their convictions.
Governor Cuomo issued the following sentence commutations:
Lydia Ortiz, 70, of Rochester, is currently serving an aggregate sentence of 20 to 25 years in prison with five years of post-release supervision after being convicted in 1989 of Conspiracy, First-degree Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, and Third-degree Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in Monroe County. Ms. Ortiz has severe mobility issues and is unable to walk without assistance. Ms. Ortiz has an excellent prison disciplinary history and, despite her physical limitations and difficulty moving about the facility, has completed several programs to prepare her for re-entry, including the Alternative to Violence Program. She has maintained ties with family and friends during her incarceration and plans to reside with her family upon release.
Michael Correa, 43, of the Bronx, was convicted in 2010 of two counts of Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the First Degree and Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree in New York County. Mr. Correa was battling substance abuse and sold drugs to an undercover officer to further support his addiction. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to eight years in prison and five years post-release supervision. Over the past five years in custody, Mr. Correa successfully achieved his high school equivalency and completed a program to prepare him for re-entry. Since 2014, he has participated in the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision’s temporary work release program and gained employment as a messenger for a New York City-based company. He is the father of three children and grandfather of three grandchildren.
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision officials are expeditiously processing both inmates for an actual release date of Oct. 27, 2015.
Governor Cuomo issued the following pardons:
Joseph Wilson, 66, of New York City, was convicted after a jury trial in 2006 in New York County of Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the Seventh Degree, Attempted Tampering with Physical Evidence, Resisting Arrest, and Obstructing Governmental Administration in the Second Degree. He successfully completed four days of community service and one year of conditional discharge, and received a Certificate of Relief from Disabilities on December 15, 2009. Mr. Wilson is a native of Liberia who has resided in New York City for over 40 years and these convictions have hampered his efforts to regain his legal residency and obtain viable employment. Mr. Wilson has two grown sons and four grandchildren. He has no other criminal history.
Patrick Olivier, 43, of Jersey City, NJ, was convicted in 1993 of Third-degree Attempted Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in Suffolk County. Olivier was sentenced to 60 days in the Suffolk County Jail and five years of probation after pleading guilty. This was Mr. Olivier’s first and only criminal offense. Mr. Olivier has since obtained his general equivalency diploma, obtained his security guard’s license, and completed legal assistant training. Mr. Olivier is a lawful permanent resident from Haiti and seeks to become a U.S. citizen.
To assist individuals in applying for clemency, Governor Cuomo is partnering with several organizations from the legal community including, the New York County Lawyers Association, the New York City Bar Association, the New York State Bar Association, the Legal Aid Society and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to provide pro bono clemency petition services to individuals incarcerated by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
Although individuals may apply for clemency without the assistance of an attorney, assistance from a pro bono attorney will enhance the quality of an inmate’s application and present his or her best case to the Governor. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers has agreed to assist in the implementation of the program by providing technical assistance and training of the pro bono attorneys. The Bronx Defenders will provide post-petition legal services with respect to benefits, housing, and employment, for successful petitioners.
Governor Cuomo Announces Three NY Green Bank Transactions to Improve Access to Clean Energy and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Governor Cuomo announced three new NY Green Bank deals which will allow private sector partners to provide and improve access to cleaner and more affordable energy for their residential, commercial and agricultural customers. NY Green Bank, a core initiative of the Governor’s Reforming the Energy Vision plan, is providing a total of $49 million for the three transactions and leveraging up to $178 million in additional private capital from private sector partners and financial institutions.
NY Green Bank is a $1 billion state-sponsored financial entity designed to accelerate clean energy growth in New York State through private sector partnerships that help create a self-sustaining marketplace and reduce the need for future government support. To date, NY Green Bank has received proposals for more than $850 million of NY Green Bank capital which would result in approximately $3.5 billion in total investments in New York’s clean energy markets.
The three deals announced not only help improve consumers’ access to clean energy, but also address market barriers that have prevented these deals from being completed in the past.
The $49 million in NY Green Bank funding will be distributed as follows:
- $25 million will support a new warehouse facility for Level Solar – a New York-based solar provider that designs and installs systems for residential homes at no cost to the consumer. With funding from NY Green Bank and U.S. Bank, Level Solar will be able to provide solar installations for up to 6,000 New Yorkers.
- $4 million in revolving construction loans and a partnership with U.S. Bank will support New York-based United Wind’s installation of over 160 distributed wind energy projects for residential, commercial and agricultural customers throughout Central and Western New York.
- $20 million along with a $50 million warehouse facility provided by Citi for Renew Financial to expand its consumer lending program to New York State for the first time. This program, ReHome New York, is an innovative public-private partnership that will offer up to 12,000 New York homeowners as much as $20,000 in low-cost financing for clean energy and energy efficiency improvements to their homes.
These transactions are expected to reduce lifetime greenhouse gas emissions in New York State by up to 886,000 metric tons, which is equivalent to taking more than 14,000 cars off the road annually for at least 10 years.
Governor Cuomo Announces Roadway Complete on $93 Million Newburgh-Beacon Bridge Project
Governor Cuomo announced that roadway construction on the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge is complete and all lanes have reopened. As part of the Governor’s New York Works program, the project is part of a state-wide effort to rebuild aging infrastructure to make it better and more resilient than before.
In addition to the new deck panels, structural steel supporting the deck was strengthened and a polyester concrete overlay was added to protect the bridge deck. As part of Governor Cuomo’s Drivers First Initiative, the impact of construction was minimized by avoiding construction during holidays and doing the most disruptive work overnight. Removal of the under-bridge safety system and replacement of the overhead gantries will also be completed with minimal disruption over the next few weeks.
With a payroll of approximately $50 million, the project created several hundred jobs over the past two and a half years. During full construction, approximately 90 workers were on site at the bridge with a number of others at the steel fabrication facility and the concrete panel plant.
The Newburgh-Beacon Bridge carries Interstate 84 across the Hudson River. Approximately 67,000 vehicles cross both spans of the bridge each day amounting to about 25 million vehicles annually.
Governor Cuomo Launches Newest Phase of Statewide Campaign to Combat Synthetic Drugs and Prescription Drug Abuse
Governor Cuomo announced that two new public service announcements are now airing on television stations and music streaming services across the state in an effort to warn residents about the dangers of synthetic drugs and prescription opioid abuse. This is the latest in New York’s multi-pronged effort to combat drug and prescription opioid abuse.
The first new PSA features young people who describe the serious health dangers of synthetics and advises others to stay away from synthetics.
The second PSA features a young athlete explaining how a sports injury led to his addiction to pain pills with the message, “Don’t let addiction sideline your dreams.” Both PSAs are airing this month on stations across the state.
Also as part of the new campaign, a 33-foot billboard stating, “Synthetic marijuana can kill!” is now posted on 167th Street and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx (view here), and similar posters will be posted in subways, bus shelters and other locations in the New York City area. Billboards also will be posted at select malls around the state.
The campaign aims to inform New Yorkers and push back against the following trends:
- New York State has seen a more than an eightfold increase this year in emergency department visits (4,700 between April 1 and Sept. 3) related to adverse health effects due to synthetic drug use, including psychiatric emergencies, rapid heart rate and death.
- 45 percent of people who used heroin were also addicted to opioid painkillers.
- Prescription opioid admissions have risen 41 percent statewide between 2005 and 2014.
Comptroller DiNapoli Releases School Audits
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed the following audits:
Capital Region Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) – Claims Auditing (Albany County)
BOCES officials have established adequate controls over the claims processing function that allow claims to be audited in a timely manner and in accordance with BOCES policy and state law.
Skaneateles Central School District – Records and Reports (Cayuga County)
Adequate records and reports were not maintained to enable the board to appropriately manage the district’s finances. The treasurer did not provide the board with accurately completed bank reconciliations, monthly cash reports, up-to-date quarterly budget status reports and balance sheets in a timely manner.
Tuckahoe Union Free School District – Financial Condition and Information Technology (Westchester County)
Over the last five fiscal years, budgets presented to district residents were not transparent because they did not include estimated amounts for tax certiorari judgment or the district’s plan for funding them. In addition, the board has not developed IT policies such as a breach notification policy or online banking policy.
Comptroller DiNapoli Releases Municipal Audits
New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced his office completed the following audits:
Forestburgh Fire District – Financial Activities (Sullivan County)
The accounting records were not adequate and there were numerous errors in the financial reports. Also, the district’s required annual financial report has not been filed with the Comptroller’s office since 2012.
City of Glen Cove – Budget Review (Nassau County)
City officials are projecting operating surpluses for the 2015 fiscal year totaling $469,078 in the general fund and $150,449 in the water fund. The city continues to finance operating expenditures with debt when it should be funding such expenditures with operating revenues. City officials did not fully implement the recommendations in last year’s budget review. The proposed budget complies with the property tax levy limit.
Spencer Volunteer Fire Company – Apparent Misappropriation of Funds (Tioga County)
The board did not review the treasurer’s records or bank statements for the majority of the audit period. The treasurer misappropriated county funds over a nine-year period, pleaded guilty to grand larceny in the fourth degree, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and five years of probation and was ordered to pay restitution.
Watervliet Housing Authority – Timekeeping and Leave Records (Albany County)
All time sheets we reviewed were approved by the executive director and leave time was properly approved and recorded.
Speaker Heastie: New Women’s Equality Laws an Important Step, But More Needs to be Done
Earlier this year, my Assembly colleagues and I renewed our long-standing commitment to putting the needs of working families first. Here in New York State, women make up approximately half the workforce and are an integral part of our communities. That is why the fight for women’s rights is not just a women’s issue: discrimination in the workplace, domestic violence and unfair pay practices are problems that hurt our economy and affect us all.
For too many years, we have heard testimony from women across the state struggling to secure the full and equal rights they deserve. Now, with the passage of several new laws designed to prevent workplace discrimination, strengthen protections for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, and ensure reasonable accommodation for pregnant women, I’m proud to say we’re one step closer to truly achieving women’s equality and, in turn, bolstering our state’s success.
While New York has taken important steps on the path to securing full and equal rights, there’s still more work to be done. The Assembly has long championed issues important to New York’s families, including ensuring equal pay for all, a higher minimum wage, and access to safe and affordable childcare. We will also continue to lead the way in ensuring women are able to control their reproductive health – a fundamental component in the fight for women’s equality. I assure you we in the Assembly will never stop fighting to make this a reality.
Attorney General Schneiderman Announces Guilty Plea by Ringleader of Major Capital Region Drug Ring
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a guilty plea by Daquan Murray, a/k/a “Benji Got The Juice,” 21, of Troy, the ringleader of a major Capital Region drug ring. The drug ring, busted by law enforcement in August of this year, operated out of Troy, New York and trafficked drugs from New York City throughout the Capital Region.
Murray pleaded guilty before The Honorable Debra J. Young in Rensselaer County Court to Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the Second Degree, an A-II felony and faces 12 years in state prison.
“The guilty plea by the ringleader of this major Capital Region drug ring makes it clear that if you deal drugs you will be brought to justice,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “This criminal enterprise was poisoning streets throughout the region and I am pleased that one of the lead defendants has been brought to justice.”
Attorney General Schneiderman Announces $550 Million Settlement with Big Tobacco that Ensures Billions in Future Compensation to New York State, Counties, and NYC Arising out of Landmark 1998 Agreement
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced a settlement agreement releasing $550 million belonging to New Yorkers that has been trapped in an escrow account during a decade-long dispute between the state and the major tobacco companies. The agreement leverages the Attorney General’s recent victory in a related arbitration to unlock these stranded funds, and to permanently address serious issues that have prevented disbursement of funds owed to New Yorkers following the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which requires the companies to compensate the 52 states and territories – including New York – for the public-health costs of smoking-related illnesses. Roughly half of these funds will go to New York State, one-quarter to New York City, and one-quarter to counties outside the city.
“Big Tobacco must pay for the damage it has done and continues to inflict on communities across New York State,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “My office will continue to hold these companies accountable for the burden their addictive, deadly products impose on the taxpayers of this state, and we will act to ensure that the people of New York are compensated for the enormous harms they have suffered. The announcement is long overdue, but sure to be welcomed by communities and municipalities across our state.”
Attorney General Schneiderman, Mayor Dyster and Niagara Falls Officials Join Forces to Fight Synthetic Marijuana and Other Designer Drugs
Building on his office’s cutting edge work to stop the sale of so-called designer drugs, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman convened a roundtable meeting with Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster, Niagara Falls Police Superintendent Bryan DalPorto and local health professionals to tackle the growing scourge of designer drugs. Attorney General Schneiderman and Mayor Dyster also asked the public for help in stopping the spread of designer drugs—urging residents to report stores that sell the drugs to authorities, and urging responsible business owners not to offer the drugs for sale.
The roundtable meeting followed an announcement last week that the Attorney General’s office had filed lawsuits against Erie County-based Surrealistic Sensations, and Rockland County-based Liquid Shop a/k/a Liquid Glass Shop, for allegedly selling hallucinogenic and psychotropic drugs and street drug alternatives. These substances, known as “designer drugs,” promote auditory and visual hallucinations, sedation, euphoria, and other street drug effects, but can lead to addiction, psychosis, acute arrhythmia, asphyxiation and even death. In response to the AG’s lawsuit, a Bronx County Supreme judge issued a restraining order and demanded Surrealistic Sensations appear in court.
The case against Surrealistic Sensations in Lackawanna grew out of collaboration between the Attorney General’s office and the Niagara Falls Police Department. Community complaints to the Niagara Falls Police Department about the local proliferation of designer drugs were referred to Attorney General’s office. The A.G.’s resulting investigation zeroed in on Surrealistic Sensations, an online retailer and wholesaler of designer drugs. Undercover investigators from the Attorney General’s office contacted Surrealistic Sensations posing as prospective business people intending to set up a head shop in Niagara Falls and purchased a variety of designer drugs.
Designer drugs have psychoactive effects similar to those of more commonly known street drugs, but they are typically packaged with innocuous labels and graphics to give the misleading impression that they are harmless. Designer drugs have contributed to a public health crisis in New York State and across the nation. During the summer of 2015, New York State experienced a tenfold increase in emergency room visits and poison control center calls over the same period last year as a result of adverse health effects caused by synthetic marijuana. Attempts to stop the spread of designer drugs by outlawing specific chemicals have had limited success.
Attorney General Schneiderman’s office has taken a different approach, stopping the sale of designer drugs by enforcing consumer protection and labeling laws. The initiative, which began in 2012, has successfully removed street drug alternatives and designer drugs from the shelves of numerous head shops across New York. The Attorney General’s office has filed dozens of lawsuits against head shops that sold designer drugs, which resulted in judges across the state issuing permanent injunctions barring 22 stores from selling these products. The rulings came after the office showed the products were illegal because their contents were not properly labeled, thus violating state and federal laws. Erie County-based Surrealistic Sensations, and Rockland County-based Liquid Shop a/k/a Liquid Glass Shop are subject to temporary restraining order while the case is pending.