Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that Jeff Belt, President of SolEpoxy Inc. in Olean, has been appointed as the new Co-Chair of the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council. Belt has served on the Council as a member since 2011. He has represented manufacturers and Cattaraugus County, and has taken an active role in the smart growth and Global-NY workgroups, among other regional council initiatives, to foster entrepreneurship and the development of small businesses.
Belt will lead the Regional Council in collaboration with Council Co-Chair Satish K. Tripathi, President of University at Buffalo. He replaces Howard Zemsky, who was recently nominated by the Governor to head Empire State Development as President, CEO and Commissioner.
Governor Cuomo issued the following proclamation, setting a May 5th special election date for the 11th Congressional District and the 43rd Assembly District. The proclamation can be viewed here.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved more than $28 million in competitive Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds to help LaGuardia Airport meet post-Superstorm Sandy flood mitigation and resiliency initiatives and further safeguard the airport from future major storms.
LaGuardia Airport’s airfield suffered severe flooding from the rising waters of adjacent Flushing Bay as Superstorm Sandy struck the region. Damage to key electrical airfield infrastructure forced the airport to close for three days, which inconvenienced thousands of fliers and cost the region millions in lost economic activity.
Various initiatives to protect the airfield runways, electrical systems and vital aeronautical equipment already have been implemented since the October 2012 storm. The new FEMA grant of $28,148,625 is an addition to FEMA’s previous award of $2,325,000 in grants for the program’s first phase, bringing the total federal outlay for the program to nearly $30.5 million.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that 28 district attorneys’ offices will receive more than $14.7 million in grants to enhance their investigation of state tax evasion and welfare fraud cases. Prosecutors in five counties will receive grants for the first time, while 23 others will receive funding to continue their work to crack down on individuals and businesses who fail to pay taxes or commit fraud.
District attorneys’ offices will receive the grants through the state’s Crimes Against Revenue Program, which is funded by the proceeds from investigations that result in tax revenues, fines and restitution being returned to the state. More than $165 million has been returned to the state since the program began in 2004, which is an 81 percent increase over the $91 million in grants provided to district attorneys’ offices during the past decade.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Mayor Bill de Blasio are announcing the launch of a joint enforcement task force, titled the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force, to investigate and bring enforcement actions – including criminal charges – against landlords who harass tenants. Tenant harassment complaints in Housing Court have nearly doubled since 2011. The task force will confront the rise in complaints that landlords are using a variety of tactics, including disruptive and dangerous renovation and construction projects, to force tenants into vacating rent-regulated apartments.
Previously, when owners have neglected their buildings and allowed them to fall into extreme disrepair, the NYC Department of Buildings and Department of Housing Preservation and Development have used their enforcement powers to ensure compliance with housing and building codes, while cases involving harassment and rent regulation have been handled by New York State’s Division of Homes & Community Renewal Tenant Protection Unit (TPU), which was created by Governor Cuomo in 2012 to investigate landlord patterns and practices of harassment and illegal profiteering. The new task force will conduct joint cellar-to-roof inspections, coordinate enforcement actions, and when necessary speed the prosecution of predatory landlords who purposefully distress properties as a form of harassment in order to displace tenants and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments.
Since its inception, the New York State TPU has recaptured more than 37,000 unlawfully deregulated apartments, returning them to rent regulation. The TPU’s successes led to the mobilization of the Tenant Harassment Prevention Task Force to coordinate those prosecutions, to bring maximum pressure on predatory landlords trying to displace tenants to raise rents and deregulate rent-stabilized apartments.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the launch of a greatly-expanded network of free tax filing assistance sites across New York. The State is offering 942 free sessions to New Yorkers – a 400 percent increase over last year – at 80 locations statewide. Each site is staffed by State Department of Taxation and Finance tax experts who are available to assist low-income New Yorkers with electronically filing their 2014 taxes.
The free tax preparation service is available to New York individuals and families who earned less than $60,000 in 2014. Appointments are recommended, but walk-ins are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Select sites offer staff who can speak foreign languages including Chinese, Spanish or Russian. The list of tax sites including those with foreign language assistance and session dates can be viewed here.
More than 70 percent of New York taxpayers hire tax preparers, often costing hundreds of dollars per filing. This is cost prohibitive to low-income residents filing taxes and attempting to maximize their refund. By offering this service free of charge, more New Yorkers can effectively fulfill their tax responsibilities while maximizing their household’s possible tax refund.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced the next phase of the statewide #CombatHeroin and Prescription Drug Abuse awareness campaign to address the opioid epidemic in New York. The campaign includes messages on billboards, posters, online advertisements, social media and commercials that will be aired across the state for four weeks. The messaging warns that alcohol overuse and abuse of prescription opioid medications are often a gateway to heroin use, and refers those who need help to New York State’s 24-hour addiction HOPEline.
The Combat Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse campaign is launching online advertisements that will appear on social media and select websites, and includes commercials underscoring the message, “addiction can happen to anyone, at any time – however, there is help available” to run on network and cable television stations. The videos used in online and broadcast commercials can be viewed HERE.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced funding for a new energy competition that will award up to $20 million for the most forward-thinking, advanced energy projects in Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers. First proposed by the Governor in 2014, the projects aim to reduce energy costs by as much as $400 million annually, lower carbon emissions, and support clean energy technologies and jobs.
“This competition will allow regions to develop their best possible plan to bring their energy infrastructure into the 21st century,” Governor Cuomo said. “It will not only save costs and reduce harmful carbon emissions, but create jobs and help our cities move toward a more sustainable future.”
The total comprehensive effort, of which the competition is a part, is spearheaded by the New York Power Authority and designed to spur broader participation by the private sector in the State’s clean-energy economy.
Some of the anticipated outcomes include:
- Revitalizing urban centers to attract new businesses and residents
- Retrofitting city and community buildings
- Improving the energy efficiency of outdoor lighting with light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures
- Modifying zoning to promote alternate modes of transportation
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that Santander Bank, N.A. has agreed to adopt new policies governing its use of ChexSystems, a consumer-reporting agency that screens people seeking to open checking or savings accounts. Santander’s new policies are expected to allow thousands of additional New Yorkers and consumers nationwide to open bank accounts by September 30, 2015. The change comes amid concerns that screenings by ChexSystems and other consumer-reporting agencies, which are used by most of the nation’s banks, adversely affect lower-income applicants and force them to turn to high-cost alternative financial services like check-cashing outlets.
With this agreement, Santander now joins Capital One and Citibank as the third bank to commit to overhaul its use of ChexSystems. The three banks operate a combined 613 branches across New York State and 2,822 branches nationwide.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced agreements with twenty school districts to ensure educational access for students regardless of their immigration status or that of their parents or guardians. The districts agreed to remove inquiries into citizenship/immigration status from their enrollment materials, as well as to develop new enrollment procedures and provide training to responsible personnel to ensure that students do not face such barriers when seeking to enroll. The districts, which span fourteen different counties across the state, include the Amherst, Carthage, Cheektowaga, Cuba Rushford, Dryden, Gates Chili, Greenville, Hilton, Homer, Lyme, Manchester-Shortsville, Penfield, Pittsford, Spencerport, Sullivan West, Vestal, and Williamson Central School Districts; and the Oneida, Port Jervis, and Watertown City School Districts.
“Schoolhouse doors must be open to all students in our diverse state, regardless of their immigration status,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “More than 30 years after the Supreme Court guaranteed a free public education for undocumented children, we must do everything we can to uphold the law and ensure equal access for all our students.”
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced that in the next two weeks he will resubmit to the legislature an expanded version of a bill he proposed last year to address the growing statewide problem of so-called “zombie properties” – vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding. The Attorney General’s program bill, the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, aims to reduce the number of vacant and abandoned properties falling into disrepair across the state by informing homeowners of their right to stay in their home until a court orders the homeowner to leave, requiring mortgage lenders and servicers to identify, secure and maintain vacant and abandoned properties much earlier in the foreclosure process, and creating a registry of such properties to assist municipalities with enforcement of laws regarding property maintenance. In a new provision, any fines levied against banks and other lenders for noncompliance with the law would be directed to a fund for local governments to hire additional code enforcement officers. Independent Democratic Conference Leader and Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeffrey D. Klein and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein are expected to sponsor the legislation. Attorney General Schneiderman announced the bill in a speech before the New York State Association of Towns’ 2015 Training School and Annual Meeting.
“Leaving zombie properties to rot is unfair to municipalities and unfair to neighbors, who pay their taxes and maintain their homes,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In the next two weeks, my office will resubmit to the Legislature our bill that would require banks to take responsibility for maintaining properties much earlier in the foreclosure process, take that burden off of towns and cities, and allow local governments to more easily identify the mortgagees of these properties to make sure they maintain them. And as my office enforces the requirement that banks take responsibility for these properties, any fines we levy will go into a fund to help towns and cities hire more code enforcement officers.”
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie announced the formation of a bipartisan working group to implement an electronic assembly chamber.
Speaker Heastie appointed Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Morelle to lead the Working Group on the Electronic Assembly Chamber Project that will oversee the historic transition to the use of electronic bills in the Assembly. The working group also will be comprised of Speaker Pro Tempore Jeffrion Aubry, Governmental Operations Committee Chair Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Minority Leader Pro Tempore Jane Corwin and Janet Duprey, ranking minority member, Governmental Operations Committee.
“In November, New Yorkers overwhelming approved a constitutional amendment that would allow the use of electronic documents to age bills in our chamber,” Heastie said. “We advanced this amendment so we could improve and modernize the operations of the house in order to save paper and money. This will bring us into the 21st century and will allow members to have easier access to the tools they need to be effective legislators.”
Speaker Carl Heastie announced the formation of a new Climate Change Work Group to explore policy initiatives on both state and federal levels to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat the effects of climate change.
“There is no longer a question of whether or not our planet is changing. With each passing year that efforts are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions we increase our vulnerability to the extreme weather events and natural disasters that have continued to claim lives and which have wrought billions of dollars in economic losses over the last ten years alone.” said Heastie. “With the creation of this new work group on climate change, we will help to ensure that our choices moving forward are informed, responsible and in the best interests of our environment and our citizens.”
The work group will examine policy initiatives that may be helpful in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, a known cause of climate change, as well as recommend potential modifications to existing laws and regulations that will help to minimize damage from future extreme weather events.
The work group will be led by Assemblymember Steve Englebright, chair of the Environmental Conservation Committee.
The following Assemblymembers have also been appointed to serve on the Climate Change Work Group:
- William Colton;
- Kevin A. Cahill;
- Fred W. Thiele, Jr.;
- Barbara S. Lifton;
- Steven Otis;
- Robert J. Rodriguez;
- James Skoufis;
- Kimberly Jean-Pierre; and
- Roxanne J. Persaud
Calling for bold steps to increase access to higher education for low and middle income New Yorkers, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie outlined a multi-faceted Higher Education Road to Success initiative at the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislator’s 44th annual conference. The program, which will be included in the Assembly’s budget proposal, will fund innovative new and existing programs and help pave the way for citizens to climb the ladder of economic opportunity.
“In communities across the state, there are young men and women who live each day with the knowledge that the education they need to make their dreams a reality is beyond their reach. It is unfortunate that in one of the most progressive states in the nation, an individual’s path to success is still decided by how much education they can afford, if any at all,” said Heastie.
It is widely recognized that students from low income communities face greater hurdles to successfully completing their K-12 education, with the high school years often proving to be the most challenging. Data shows that high school graduation rates for black and Hispanic students continue to lag behind the national average at just 63%. Minority students are disproportionately affected by higher suspension and disciplinary records, overrepresentation in special education settings and other systemic challenges that further stunts the number of college-ready high school seniors in our communities. This is why dedicated investment in opportunity expansion programs that build bridges from secondary to higher education are so critical to increasing success among our youth.
New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos named Senator Sue Serino (R-C-I, Hyde Park) as the new chair of the Senate Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases. The Task Force will continue the Senate’s focus on improved prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of these diseases to better protect the health of New York residents.
“Senator Serino not only represents a region that has some of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the country, but her family has also been directly affected,” Senator Skelos said. “She will provide the leadership to continue the Senate’s efforts to prevent the disease from affecting others and help those already afflicted. I would also like to thank the previous Task Force co-chairs – Senators Hannon, Carlucci, LaValle, and Little – for their successful work in advocating for additional resources for Lyme initiatives and passing a new law that will help increase access to treatments for those who suffer from ongoing symptoms.”
Senator Serino said, “As the mother of a son who has suffered the aggressive symptoms of Lyme and a lifelong resident of the area hardest hit by the disease, I understand first-hand the urgency that we need to put behind this initiative. I made a promise to my constituents that I would be relentless in the fight to eradicate Lyme and I fully intend to fulfill that pledge. I am honored to have the opportunity to chair this critical Task Force.”