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Catching trailer thieves with bait

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

Willington, Conn.

Somewhere in America, a tractor-trailer loaded with hidden surveillance equipment is parked at a truck stop or warehouse while authorities wait for thieves to steal it.

No one is sure when, or even if, crooks will take it. But such "sting trailers" have been successful in busting up crime rings and recovering pilfered merchandise.

"It's like fishing," said D.Z. Patterson, an investigator for Travelers insurance. "You've got your worm in the water, but there are hundreds of other worms out there. They have to pick yours."

Cargo theft has become a huge problem that the FBI says causes $15 billion to $30 billion in losses each year in the U.S. Law enforcement and the insurance industry are fighting back by tempting thieves with "sting trailers" laden with cameras and GPS tracking devices, hidden within both the trailers and the inventory they contain.

The prevention efforts aren't new, but the reason for them is acute during the holiday season, when such thefts tend to increase as crooks look to score from retailers loading up on merchandise. Over time, the sting trailers have given authorities a glimpse into how this breed of thief operates and helped truck owners improve security.

Thieves prefer nondescript trailers that would be hard to identify after being stolen, so it's best if a brand name or distinctive markings are emblazoned on the sides. Hidden cameras have recorded which locks are tough for crooks, leading anti-fraud specialists to recommend truck owners install the highest-tech locks.

And, officials have learned, it's better to hide GPS tracking systems as best you can, because the criminals know what they look like and how to disable them.

New York-based Travelers Cos., which has a large office in Hartford, believes it is the only insurance company using a sting trailer, though a handful of others are used by law enforcement agencies and retail and trucking companies.

Categories: State/Local

NY man arrested for accidentially shooting, killing baby

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

ROME — Authorities say an 18-year-old central New York man who tried to stand up while holding a loaded shotgun has been arrested in connection with the death of a 7-month-old boy who was killed when the weapon went off.

Rome police say Henry Bartle faces a charge of criminally negligent homicide. He was arrested early Sunday.

Authorities say he was in his apartment on Saturday with his girlfriend, who is the baby's mother, and another man, and was cleaning the 12-gauge shotgun in the living room. Police say he then loaded the gun and had it in his lap pointing in the direction of the child.

When the gun went off, the baby was hit in the upper body and died.

It was unclear if Bartle has an attorney.

Categories: State/Local

Police react with force to reality of extremism

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

New York

After the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 and the Mumbai attack in 2008, police departments across the United States adopted a new mindset on how to deal with what they call "active shooter" incidents in which people are trapped in restaurants, theaters or other soft targets.

Long gone are the days of establishing a perimeter and waiting for SWAT teams and hostage negotiators to save the day. The new formula for preserving lives calls for ordinary police officers to go on offense and take the attackers' lives, with an emphasis on speed and force.

It's an approach reinforced by the recent multipronged attacks in Paris and the hotel siege in Mali. After those attacks, authorities have been hammering home the dangers of responding to mass homicides in progress, even suggesting that hostages should fight for themselves as a last resort.

With the horrors of Paris still fresh, Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier said in a recent television interview that she's worried about a creeping "numbness to what potentially is a reality" on U.S. soil, adding, "Just ignoring it and not preparing yourself — that's not an option anymore."

Said New York Police Commissioner William Bratton: "It's a new world we're living in; it's a very troubling world," he said. He added that it's the police's job to worry about the threat but for "the population to be aware."

Here's a look at some of the hard realities:

The hostage-taking in Paris by heavily armed attackers linked to the Islamic State group at the Bataclan concert hall had nothing to do with using victims as bargaining chips. It was, in the words of New York Police Department officials, "a media event" intended to buy time for more killing.

"It's not 'Dog Day Afternoon,'" said security expert Scott Stewart, of the Stratfor strategic intelligence firm, of Austin, Texas, referring to the Al Pacino film about a prolonged hostage standoff. With that in mind, police are making the calculation that, "if we move swiftly, there still will be casualties, but it will be fewer casualties," said Maki Haberfeld, a professor at New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Under the new normal, police departments nationwide have increasingly armed ordinary patrol officers with high-powered rifles to match extremists' firepower in a domestic brand of urban warfare. The NYPD has taken the extra step of forming a quick-strike force of 500 officers specially trained to combat terrorism and has run tactical drills to improve response times to multiple locations, especially soft targets such as theaters and restaurants.

The approach puts ordinary cops at greater risk, "something that police officers accept on a daily basis. ... They live with this possibility of losing their lives on any given day, whether a benign traffic stop or a terrorist attack," Haberfeld said.

When it comes to neutralizing terrorists armed with suicide vests, there are no clear answers. Experts say police are trained to keep their distance, yet shoot to kill.

The good news in Paris was the suicide bombers — as opposed to the shooters — proved the lesser evil. It was further proof that the new brand of grassroots jihadists "have struggled to make vests and bombs" that could cause even worse casualties, Stewart said.

Authorities have long said that running and hiding could help people survive a mass-shooting siege. Those who die often are shot at close range in the first few minutes after they freeze in fear. The shooters typically "are not good marksmen, so the more distance you can put between yourself and them, the better," Stewart said.

Categories: State/Local

Ski Areas of New York is player in climate change debate

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

Eight years after it was started by a group of professional skiers and snowboarders concerned about sparse snowfall, Protect Our Winters is steadily gaining support among members of the snow sports industry.

This year, Ski Areas of New York, a trade group for the state's snow resorts, is among the more than a dozen organizations that has signed on to a letter from Protect Our Winters, or POW, urging the Obama administration to keep pushing for lower carbon emissions and a transition to clean energy at the United Nations Climate Change conference beginning Monday in Paris.

"There's been a lot of forward progress, which is good,'' said Chris Steinkamp, POW's executive director.

Affiliated with the Surfrider Foundation, which was formed in the 1980s by surfers worried about the degrading of coastal ecology, POW advocates for policies to stop global warming, which the group believes pose a threat to the snow sports world.

The group in 2012 also joined forces with the Natural Resources Defense Council on a report about the economic impact of snow sports. They concluded that winter recreation added an estimated $67 billion to the national economy, and supported more than 600,000 jobs. They also found snow sports had an approximately $846 million impact on New York State's economy.

More recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo echoed those findings, saying skiing and snowboarding contributes $1 billion to the state's economy each year.

In announcing the opening of the state-owned Gore and Whiteface ski centers, Cuomo also noted New York, with more than four dozen, has more ski areas than any other state.

Steinkamp said the warm, drought winters that have hit the West Coast during the past several years have driven home the need to act. Ski area operators in places like the Sierra Nevada mountains of California struggled to keep their slopes covered in snow last season.

"It definitely illustrated what we've been talking about,'' said Steinkamp.

While the 2014-15 winter was cold in the Northeast, 2015 is on track to set yet another record as the warmest year on record globally.

Records from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed that 2014 was the warmest year since 1880.

Also joining POW in their letter urging action on climate change were state associations from California, Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, Utah and Maine as well as the National Ski Areas Association. Instructors groups such as the Professional Ski Instructors Association also joined in as well as a raft of equipment and winter apparel makers.

Note: The author of this story is a member of the Ski Instructors Association. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo hits de Blasio on homeless

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

New York

The feud between Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo is not taking a break for the holidays.

The latest squabble in the ongoing dispute between the state's most powerful Democrats — who long ago abandoned any pretense of a friendship — is a rise in New York City's homeless population. The two men and their staffs have traded barbs Thanksgiving week, culminating in Cuomo suggesting that the city's failure to handle its homelessness crisis would require an unprecedented level of state intervention.

"It's clear that the mayor can't manage the homeless crisis and the state does intend to step in with both management expertise and resources," the governor's spokeswoman, Dani Lever, said Friday.

There were nearly 58,000 people living in the city's shelters Tuesday night, down from last year's record of about 59,000 but up from when de Blasio took office in January 2014. (An additional 3,000 to 4,000 are estimated to live on the city's streets.) The increase in homelessness threatens to undermine the effectiveness of the de Blasio's administration's central promise to fight income inequality.

In the same week that his own police commissioner criticized City Hall's homelessness response, de Blasio announced a sweeping $2.6 billion plan to create 15,000 units of supportive housing — and called on the state to do more.

"The city of New York just did something extraordinary. We need to hear from the state of New York," de Blasio said Wednesday.

De Blasio aides have pointed to 2011 decisions by Cuomo and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg to eliminate a rental subsidy program named Advantage that some experts believe kept vulnerable populations out of shelters.

Cuomo staffers in return touted that the state spends $825 million a year in homelessness services and rental subsidies.

Categories: State/Local

Mute swan bill is vetoed

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago


Gov. Andrew Cuomo earlier this week vetoed a bill that supporters say would have protected mute swans, which have been in the crosshairs of state wildlife officials who view them as a nuisance.

But the governor in his veto message said the state Department of Environmental Conservation has taken heed of public concerns and is not going to simply eradicate the white feathered waterfowl.

"The circumstances that necessitated my disapproval have not changed,'' Cuomo said in the veto message. He vetoed a similar bill last year.

Sponsored by New York City Democratic Sen. Tony Avella and Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz, the measure would have placed a moratorium on DEC's plans to declare the birds a "prohibited invasive species.''

It also would have given priority to non-lethal methods of controlling the creatures as well as hold at least two public hearings before taking action.

The veto message noted that DEC last spring already had a 45-day comment period for its draft mute swan management plan. That drew more than 8,000 comments.

The swans are viewed as troublesome because they eat copious amounts of underwater vegetation and chase other waterfowl from their nests.

But some also contend they are viewed as competitors to waterfowl that hunters go after.

"We oppose managing the environment for hunting,'' said Anne Muller, president of the New Paltz-based Wildlife Watch, which is one of several groups working to keep the swans from being eradicated.

Sportsmen's groups, however, said the Avella-Cymbrowitz measure would have set a bad precedent in which wildlife experts buckle under to groups that want to protect even non-native or invasive species.

The Eurasian birds were brought to the U.S. in the 1880s because they were considered ornamental and pleasant to look at although they can be aggressive toward other animals, including humans.

The DEC initially offered a decade-long plan that called for shooting and sterilizing the birds as well as destroying their eggs.

The new approach doesn't aim to kill them all and is supposed to take regional considerations into account when dealing with the birds.


Categories: State/Local

Balloons, bands, heavy security

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

New York

Giant balloons took to the clear, sunny sky over midtown Manhattan on Thursday for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, with spectators lining up along the parade route and a heavy police presence keeping a watchful eye.

The parade, in its 89th year, included marching bands and floats to go along with Hello Kitty, Snoopy, Paddington and other giant balloons.

City officials have said there are no known, credible threats against New York following the recent attacks in Paris and a video purportedly produced by the Islamic State group that contained video clips of Times Square. But Police Commissioner William Bratton said more than 2,500 officers would be stationed along the parade route for the Thanksgiving Day festivities — the largest number of officers the department has ever assigned to the event.

As the parade made its way through midtown Manhattan, helicopters flew overhead and officers stood on top of mobile command center vans to watch the crowds. Police even stood on top of the marquee at Radio City Music Hall.

Pamela and Tom Popp of Ridgefield, N.J., said they've come to the city every year for the parade for at least 20 years.

"It's just a very special part of our holiday," Pamela Popp said. "We're very proud of New York City and this wonderful tradition."

Her husband said security was heavier than in past years. "I see the cops on top of Radio City," Tom Popp said. "Never saw that before."

Kim Miller, of Boston, also said she noticed the heavy security. "It's a little scary but at least it's keeping us safe. We're having fun."

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday night, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, "I think people are coming here from all over the city, all over the metropolitan region, all over the country to be a part of this parade."

He added, "We cannot let the terrorists succeed at psychological warfare. ... They're doing what they do to try and create fear, to try and change us."

Terrorism fears didn't change plans for Jerry Noack of Wilmington, Del., who surveyed the police presence.

"There's a lot of security here," he said. "I feel pretty safe."

Categories: State/Local

Upper crust to break bread with homeless at church

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

New York

Some Manhattan residents will leave luxury dwellings behind to dine shoulder to shoulder with the homeless on Friday in a holiday event that seemed like an experiment when it was first held last year.

Now, the Rev. Edward Sunderland says there is momentum aiding the effort at St. Bartholomew's Church on Park Avenue in midtown. This year, The Four Seasons restaurant is joining The New York Palace and The Waldorf-Astoria hotels in serving a gourmet meal to provide some relief and conversation for more than 250 homeless people.

He said the dinner was aimed in part at helping society's more well-to-do residents look differently at the homeless population, or look at it at all.

"Many times people who are uncomfortable with the homeless look right past them," Sunderland said. "We want to help those people sit down with the people they're afraid of."

Last year's gathering included a healthy supply of civic-minded individuals employed as law firm partners, investment professionals, executives, teachers, social workers, writers, musicians and retirees. A host at each table managed the atmosphere as the event was serenaded by a piano and saxophone. Much the same is planned this year.

Sunderland draws the homeless participants from those attending soup kitchen meals at the church. They will sit at large tables, eating a traditional turkey dinner with some gourmet touches.

Heather Mitchell, an Upper East Side resident who is among the paying guests, said she will attend again this year. She said she understands some people prefer to write a check rather than be with homeless people in a more direct way.

"But when you sit down and share a meal, you recognize there but for the grace of God go I," Mitchell said. "We're all just a series of bad decisions away from being in the same place."

She said her table last year included one homeless man in his late 30s who had been to Europe and hoped to find a job someday in the music industry. She said he "was one of the most interesting guys I've met at a dinner party, bar none."

"He had impeccable manners. He was more of a gentleman than many dinner mates I've had," Mitchell said. "He was interesting. I was stunned, absolutely stunned."

Another homeless man, though, was "not very communicative and certainly not as comfortable," she said.

Sunderland said some focus groups he had conducted since the last dinner "almost made me cry" as homeless people described the positive effect the dinner had on them.

"It was a civilized environment where we were respected," he said one told him.

"We get a sense that we are worthy of excellence and capable of excellence," he recalled another saying.

Categories: State/Local

West Point bans cadet pillow fight after 30 injured

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

West Point

Cadet pillow fights like the bloody one that left 30 injured this summer will be banned and actions are being pursued against many of those involved, U.S. Military Academy officials said Wednesday.

First-year students, known as "plebes," organize the annual pillow fight as a way to build camaraderie after a grueling summer of training. But the pillow fight on Aug. 20 escalated into a free-for-all with plebes being hit from behind and knocked to the ground. Injuries included a broken nose, a fractured cheek and 24 diagnosed concussions. One cadet was found unconscious, according to a report on the pillow fight released Wednesday.

"While never officially sanctioned, it is now officially banned, and we will take appropriate action to ensure that all faculty, staff, leaders, the Corps of Cadets and everyone at West Point knows that it will not be tolerated," West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen said in a statement.

One cadet was identified by military police as striking another cadet with a hard object in a pillow case. Many injuries were caused by elbows and falls to the ground.

Categories: State/Local

No ruling on fantasy sports

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago


A state Supreme Court justice declined on Wednesday to issue a ruling on an injunction that would bar the two major daily fantasy sports websites from taking bets from New York customers, as is being sought by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

Judge Manuel Mendez decided to hold off in issuing a decision after lawyers from Schneiderman's office and from daily fantasy sports giants DraftKings and FanDuel presented their arguments in court for the first time Wednesday afternoon. The predominant issue in this case is whether daily fantasy sports, in which players draft rosters on a daily basis and place bets on the games they play, are games of chance or games of skill. Schneiderman alleges they are games of chance, therefore daily fantasy sports constitute illegal gambling under state law. But the companies contend they are games of skill, with some players relying heavily on statistics and projections to win.

"We were glad to have the opportunity to make our case to the court that DraftKings and FanDuel are operating illegal gambling operations in clear violation of the law, and we await the judge's decision," Schneiderman spokesman Damien LaVera said.

Schneiderman ordered both companies to stop taking bets from New York customers earlier this month. DraftKings and FanDuel have responded with lawsuits attempting to stop Schneiderman's action.

"Today, we presented compelling evidence that Daily Fantasy Sports competitions are as legal now as they have been for the past seven years that New Yorkers have been playing them," DraftKings said in a statement Wednesday. "We look forward to Justice Mendez's ruling."

FanDuel did not immediately comment.

Whichever way the case eventually plays out has the potential to set a precedent for the increasingly popular daily fantasy sports industry. But it's not as if Schneiderman is the only one to take steps toward cracking down on the industry. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey proposed a series of regulations last week that were met seemingly with open arms from DraftKings and FanDuel. Those regulations include raising the minimum age to play from 18 to 21, limiting the amount of money players can deposit per month and requiring prominent disclaimers and advertisements to list sources of help for problem gambling.

Regardless of what happens in the New York case, lawmakers have pitched legislation that would declare daily fantasy sports to be games of skill and are not illegal gambling. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Property tax rebate checks are going out

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago


It might come in time for the Christmas shopping season, or it might not. But either way, more than 2 million homeowners will in the coming weeks receive their property tax rebates — and they should be considerably larger than last year's.

The checks are being mailed starting this week. But there's no set schedule for who or which community will receive them first, and the process could take several months to complete.

The rebates represent the second year of a three-year property tax "freeze" pushed through by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last year.

While the 2014 checks were rebates for school tax levy increases, this year's will also include rebates for municipalities, counties and any other qualifying taxing districts which managed to stay under the state tax cap.

Checks should average about $200 upstate, or more in the greater New York City area where taxes are higher.

There's a catch: If you live within one of the few school districts or municipalities that exceeded the tax cap, you won't get a rebate for that portion of your tax bill. Additionally, schools and localities had to file "efficiency plans" that would lay out how they will save money going forward.

"The program is about actually reimbursing people for the amount of increase in their property taxes as long as the municipality (and school district) complied with the tax cap," said Geoffrey Gloak, spokesman for the state Department of Taxation and Finance, which administers the program.

Additionally, homeowners must have a taxable income of $500,000 or less to qualify.

The freeze program represents a classic carrot/stick approach to reducing spending by New York's vast array of taxing entities.

For homeowners, the carrot is the rebate. The stick of public disapproval is waved at the taxing district's elected leaders, including school board members as well as county and town supervisors and village trustees.

If their municipalities don't stay under the cap, they could face angry voters who are wondering why they aren't getting a rebate, even as those in neighboring districts or municipalities might be enjoying the extra cash.

Perhaps with that in mind, the majority of schools as well as localities stayed within the tax cap this year.

They also developed efficiency plans designed to realize tax levy savings of at least 1 percent. Many of those plans entail sharing services, although several counties expect to hit savings targets by selling off their public nursing homes.

Just 3 percent of school districts statewide failed to stay under the cap.

All sorts of taxing districts are covered by the rebate program. A number of fire districts in the Capital Region exceeded the cap, although their tax levies tend to be a fraction of those for schools and municipalities. Among those that didn't qualify for the rebates were the Slingerlands, Guilderland and Coeymans fire districts, according to state records.

Several library districts also exceeded the cap, although their costs similarly represent a minute share of most homeowners' tax burdens.

In some instances, districts put forth budgets that were just above the cap, which came in at 1.56 percent last year. The cap is set at 2 percent or the rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index — whichever is less.

The approximately $1.06 million budget for Troy's library district exceeded the cap. "It's not significantly over," Troy Library Director Paul Hicok said of the budget, which represented a 1.9 percent increase.

Like many public sector organizations, the increases were driven by items such as higher health care costs and modest pay increases, Hicok said.

Turnout for the district vote was not particularly high — it passed by a 334-98-vote-margin.

To see a list of Capital Region districts that were in compliance with the cap go to Capitol Confidential.


Categories: State/Local

Pastor among 8 indicted in fatal Utica-area church beating

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

UTICA (AP) — The pastor of an upstate New York church where a young man was beaten to death and his younger brother seriously injured has been indicted on murder charges.

Pastor Tiffanie Irwin's mother, Traci Irwin, also was charged Tuesday, as were Tiffanie Irwin's two brothers, the victims' father and half-sister and two other church members.

The indictment charges all but one of the Irwin brothers with second-degree murder. All eight face charges of manslaughter, kidnapping, assault and gang assault. They were in court Tuesday.

Plea information wasn't initially available. Messages left for defense attorneys weren't immediately returned.

Authorities have said "spiritual counseling" spiraled into a gang attack on 19-year-old Lucas Leonard and his 17-year-old brother, Christopher. The older brother died from injuries suffered at the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford on Oct. 12.

Categories: State/Local

Around Ny

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago

Schneiderman, daily fantasy sports websites go to court

ALBANY — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and daily fantasy sports behemoths DraftKings and FanDuel are scheduled to go to court Wednesday over Schneiderman's attempt to bar the companies from taking bets in New York.

Schneiderman ordered both companies to stop taking bets from New York customers earlier this month, claiming that daily fantasy sports constitutes illegal gambling. Schneiderman contends that the contests are games of chance, not skill.

DraftKings and FanDuel have responded with lawsuits attempting to stop Schneiderman's action.

Both sides have submitted a trove of legal documents pleading their cases ahead of the Wednesday hearing in state Supreme Court in Manhattan.

DraftKings filed a brief on Tuesday stating that not only has daily fantasy sports been legal for years in New York, it requires more skill and less chance than seasonal fantasy sports. Therefore, daily fantasy sports is a game of skill and does not violate New York's gambling statutes.

On Monday, Schneiderman's office filed memos in support of a motion for a preliminary injunction against the two companies.

— Matthew Hamilton

Categories: State/Local

Libous will serve six months house arrest

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago


Former state Sen. Tom Libous was sentenced Tuesday to serve six months of house arrest and pay a $50,000 fine for lying to federal investigators about his role in securing a legal job and perks for his son Matthew.

The Binghamton Republican, who is battling terminal cancer, also received two years of probation.

The sentence is in line with what federal prosecutors had previously requested. Libous, who until his felony conviction in July served as the chamber's deputy leader, faced a maximum sentence of five years.

Libous, 62, was convicted of lying repeatedly when questioned about his role in securing a job for his son at a Westchester law firm in exchange for a promise to refer business to the firm. To underwrite his son's employment — and the lease on a Range Rover — the senator had arranged for an Albany lobbying firm to pay the law office $50,000 per year.

Libous served as chairman of the Senate's Transportation Committee, giving him considerable sway over issues that the lobbying firm specialized in.

Judge Vincent Briccetti called Libous' actions "disgraceful," and said the former lawmaker showed a "total lack of remorse."

Outside the courtroom, Libous insisted he would continue his appeal on the conviction, according to video posted by Gannett News Service.

"I feel good," said Libous, who thanked his family and friends for support.

His attorney, Paul DerOhannesian of Albany, said the appeal would contest federal prosecutors' increasing use of the statute against lying to federal investigators, which he said gives federal prosecutors power to "manufacture crimes."

Matthew Libous was separately convicted of tax fraud; he was sentenced to six months in federal prison, which he began serving in August.

Delayed from October due to the lawmaker's cancer treatment, the sentencing fell as former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's federal corruption case was being considered by a jury, and the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos — who worked with Libous to plot the June 2009 coup that derailed the Senate for five weeks — continued.

Skelos' case also involves allegations of wrongdoing committed to benefit the child of an elected official: Skelos' son, Adam.

All three corruption cases were brought by office of U.S. Attorney for the Southern District Preet Bharara.


Categories: State/Local

Planet Fitness must end offer of unlimited tanning service

Albany Times/Union - 51 min 25 sec ago


State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached a settlement with one of four fitness and tanning franchises that he sought to sue in April over alleged violations related to tanning safety.

The attorney general's office is set to announce Tuesday that it has reached the agreement with Planet Fitness Holdings LLC and its subsidiaries that requires the company to stop offering unlimited tanning as part of its premier Black Card-level memberships. The agreement also requires Planet Fitness to provide adequate training to employees who oversee indoor tanning at the gym franchise's locations and to not make health-related claims to promote so-called red lamp devices, which are used for skin treatments.

The company paid $50,000 in costs and penalties under the terms of the agreement.

"This agreement is part of a continuing effort to protect consumers from the documented skin cancer risks of indoor tanning," Schneiderman said in a statement. "I am especially concerned with rising cancer rates associated with indoor tanning, particularly for young people, and businesses that offer indoor tanning should market their services truthfully."

In a statement, Planet Fitness spokeswoman McCall Gosselin said that upon being alerted of alleged violations by Schneiderman's office in 2013, the company has re-emphasized to franchisees their obligation to follow state laws and has been working to ensure "unlimited" and "free" are no longer used in local tanning advertisements.

"We will continue to strive to ensure that our clubs operate in the best interests of our members, which are, and have always been, our number one priority," Gosselin said.

Schneiderman's office first filed a notice of intent to sue Planet Fitness in late April, alleging that the company exerted little oversight over customers' tanning bed access and violated disclosure and safety requirements part of state law. That action came as a notice also was sent to Beach Bum Tanning Salons and formal claims were filed against Portofino Spas LLC and Total Tan Inc., an upstate franchise with Capital Region locations. The lawsuits against the latter two companies are pending, according to the attorney general's office.

Planet Fitness also boasts multiple Capital Region locations.

The allegations against the franchise were leveled after investigators found that numerous Planet Fitness locations statewide did not provide required warnings and acknowledgment forms, nor did they offer protective eyewear at no additional cost.

The company previously stopped using LED or red light Beauty Angel treatments after the attorney general's office first notified the franchise of potentially false and misleading advertising of those services. 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Top Ten Corruption Quotes from Silver, Skelos Trials

Gotham Gazette - 11 hours 58 min ago

Happier times: Silver, Cuomo, Skelos in 2011 (l-r) photo via Governor's Office on flickr 

Two former leaders of their respective houses of the New York state legislature are on trial concurrently. In separate cases brought by the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, each is accused of using his office for private gain, among other charges. While the case against former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sent to jury deliberation on Tuesday, Nov. 24; the case against former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and his son, Adam, continues on.

No matter the outcome of the two cases, the underbelly of New York state politics has been further exposed through the two trials.

As good government groups and fellow reformers call for sweeping changes to the way business is done in Albany and around the state, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and others throw their hands up and say you can't legislate morality, that there will always be bad actors.

The Silver and Skelos trials have provided significant insight into the ways in which legislators use their power and influence for personal gain - and, especially in Skelos' case, the ways in which scheming politicians talk about their "work." While one or both may be found not guilty, there have been a number of comments made or heard during the trials that relate to corruption, whether of the legal or illegal kind.

We bring you top moments of the two trials thus far:

1. "It makes some people uncomfortable, but that is the system New York State has chosen, and it is not a crime," Silver's defense attorney Steven Molo said on Nov. 3 during opening statements. "The prosecutors are trying to make it a crime, but it's not." Molo insisting that prosecutors are trying to criminalize a part-time legislature and lawmakers holding outside employment.

Reform Issues: lawyers as legislators, full-time legislature, quid pro quo

2. "It's OK to be motivated by the money," Steven Molo, defense attorney for Sheldon Silver said during closing arguments on November 23. "Our legislators in the state of New York are part-time. They're able to work and have other jobs."

Issues: part-time legislature, lawyer legislators, conflicts of interest

3. "At the beginning of our relationship, I asked Mr. Silver if he would convince his company to donate funds to [cancer research] and he asked for referrals. That was the pattern," Dr. Robert Taub told jurors on Nov. 4.

Issues: Lawyers legislators, public officers law/self-dealing

4. "You have my cellphone number. It's a privilege to have that number. Now, if you want to utilize my f–king reach and business opportunity, then you call me and I'll set up a meeting," Adam Skelos told a member of a diner association, exploiting the sense of power he felt as his father's son, as captured through federal wiretap Dec. 22nd, 2014.

Issue: public officers law

5. "Let's stop pretending. Guys like you aren't fit to shine my shoes. And if you talk to me like that again, I'll smash your [expletive] head in," Adam Skelos said to his "boss," the head of a medical malpractice insurance firm. Prosecutors contend Skelos was only hired by the firm as a favor to his father.

Issue: public officers law

6. "I was uncomfortable with the arraignment," Richard Runes, lobbyist for Glenwood Management - a real estate firm that is also the state's largest donor to political campaigns (including the governor's) and is involved in the corruption cases against Silver and Skelos - speaking about removing Silver's name from what would have been a publicly disclosed document revealing a fee-sharing arrangement between Silver and a law firm employed by Glenwood. Runes further testified he "did not want to sign a retainer that listed Mr. Silver as one of the attorneys."

Issues: disclosure of outside income, lawyers as legislators, LLC loophole, public officers law

7. "You've been nodding your head up and down and back and forth in what looks like a signal to the witness," Judge Kimba Wood scolded a Senate staffer on Nov. 23 during testimony by an ex-councilman from North Hempstead who testified he gave Adam Skelos a $20,000 referral fee on behalf of Glenwood Management. Wood was addressing Senate staffer Welquis Lopez, a friend of Dean Skelos who remains on the Senate payroll.

"If you nod your head one more time, I'm going to have court security escort you out of the courtroom," Wood added.

Issue: corruption

8."Keep them separate and fighting and hating each other," Dean Skelos said, explaining why he empowered state Senator Jeff Klein, head of the Independent Democratic Conference, during a wiretapped phone call captured Dec. 22, 2014. "It's worked for six years...Keeping them at each other's throat."

The younger Skelos protested giving Klein any role at all. "I can't afford [Sen.] Bill Larkin having a heart attack," Dean Skelos said, referring to an elderly Republican senator and the slim Republican margin in the Senate.

"When your enemy is in a weak state, you don't back off. You destroy them," Adam Skelos said, referring to Klein. "It's going to be co-coalition leader. It means nothing," Dean Skelos responded.

Issues: political control of the Senate; 'Three men in a room'

9. "Ahhh! This day sucks," Adam Skelos said during a phone call with his father, then Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos on December 17, 2014. The Cuomo administration had decided not to move ahead with hydrofracking and the prosecution in the trial where both father and son are defendants contends that the younger Skelos used his father's connections to win no-show jobs with companies that stood to benefit from his father's actions. Adam Skelos was employed with AbTech, a group that manufactures water filters that are used in the fracking process. Prosecutors say he stood to gain $1 for each barrel of waste created in the fracking process on top of his $10,000-a-month salary. Skelos and his Senate Republican majority strongly promoted fracking for the state.

Issue: public officers law/self-dealing

10. "I represent only claimants, individual claimants, in personal injury actions," Silver told a reporter during a recorded interview played during the trial. "My clients are little people. I don't represent any corporations," he told another reporter. "I don't represent any entities that are involved in the legislative process." The prosecution provided witnesses and documentation showing that Silver's income came exclusively from referrals set up through his law firm - not from working with clients - referrals he is accused of earning through quid-pro-quo relationships with real estate interests and Dr. Taub.

Issues: outside income, income disclosure, conflict of interest, lawyers as legislators

Silver jury deliberations and the Skelos trial will continue Monday, November 30. All defendents are innocent until proven guilty.

[Related: Good Government Groups Point to New Evidence of Need for Sweeping Reforms]

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Let's Be Prepared for America's Biggest Corporate Takeover

Gotham Gazette - 11 hours 58 min ago

Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, via White House archives  

Imagine taking over an enterprise with 4 million employees and an annual budget of more than $3 trillion dollars. What if on your first day as CEO, you had to operate without more than 1,000 of your top leaders, faced global emergencies requiring immediate attention and had an agenda dependent on multiple, time-consuming votes by your board of directors?

That's exactly what will happen when the next president takes office on January 20, 2017. And it is why we must prepare better for this presidential transition than we have for any prior.

The new president will inevitably need to deal with an unexpected international crisis, pressing economic issues and many controversies, while simultaneously having to make some 4,000 political appointments, including nominees for about 1,000 key management and policy positions that require Senate confirmation. The new chief executive will have to build relationships with world leaders, take immediate control of the national security and financial sectors, pursue a brand new agenda that requires congressional approval and manage a huge, complex enterprise.

There is an expectation that the nation's newly elected chief executive will hit the ground running, but the transition of power and knowledge from one president to another is often rushed, inefficient, overwhelming, and fraught with risk. Being ready to govern requires hard work and many months of preparation that must start well before Election Day. Candidates must simultaneously campaign to win and prepare to govern if they expect to be effective.

The 2008-09 Bush to Obama transition was one of the best in modern history – with both sides understanding that national security and economic conditions required them to work together in unprecedented ways. But it was only as successful as it was because of the vision and goodwill of the leaders involved; we need a system that is not at the mercy of good intentions, but one that enhances rather than diminishes the capacity of our government to function at a high level.

On December 9, the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce will team up with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service to host an event about why the presidential transition matters to the business community, and how this often incomplete and chaotic process can be fixed so that the next chief executive will be ready to govern on day one.

The Partnership for Public Service has created a Ready to Govern initiative designed to get the presidential campaigns to seriously think about standing up transition operations as early as the spring of 2016. This will require designating staff and resources to map out personnel and policy strategies, getting up to speed on the work of more than 100 agencies, developing a management agenda and coordinating with the Obama administration for the transfer of power and responsibility.

As citizens, business leaders want a competent and high-performing government. There can be disagreements about the size and role of government, but there should be absolute agreement that whatever government does, it should do well.

From the business side of the equation, executives need federal agencies to be responsive, and they want some certainty, not ambiguity, about economic policies as well as federal programs and regulations so that they can plan and make the hard decisions that will affect their bottom lines and employees.

If a new administration is unprepared or cannot get its top political appointees in place quickly, it is inevitable that critical decisions on matters small and large will be put on hold, problems will fester and businesses will lose both time and money. All too often, a new president has been in office for a year or more before a full leadership team is in place – and that dearth of leadership has contributed to government dysfunction and ineffectiveness.

If a new administration fails to pay close attention during the transition to choosing capable leaders and planning for effective management - two issues the business community knows a great deal about - policy implementation will suffer and that will affect us all.

The presidential transition cannot be left to chance. Too much is at stake. The candidates must engage in extensive planning, Congress must devote resources and confirm appointees quickly, and the private sector should contribute its expertise when possible and hold those seeking the presidency accountable for preparing to govern.

We may not agree on who should be president, but we surely can agree that better processes and mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that our new government gets set up as quickly and effectively as possible.

Ken Biberaj is the chairman of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and David Eagles is director of Presidential Transitions for the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service.

Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? E-mail editor Ben Max:

Categories: State/Local

Liberty Ridge fighting its fine in court

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 11/29/2015 - 10:07pm


The operators of a well-known agritourism farm in Schaghticoke were in court Monday appealing a 2014 fine by the state Human Rights Commission for their refusal to perform a wedding for a lesbian couple who had approached the business in 2012.

Attorney Caleb Dalton argued before the appellate division that the commission's ruling forced Robert and Cynthia Gifford, who own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm, to choose between running their business and forgoing their religious beliefs.

"It would violate the Giffords' faith to facilitate this union," said Dalton of the Alliance Defending Freedom, based in Washington.

"This is very personal to them,'' James Trainor, the Giffords' lawyer, said after the hearing. "Their own state government is telling them what to do."

"They do have to comply with the law," argued Michael Swirsky, a lawyer for the state Division of Human Rights.

He was joined in court by Mariko Hirose, a lawyer for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Hirose told the appellate panel that commerce relies on a system of laws — and human rights laws that ban discrimination against same-sex couples were no different from others in the business world.

"That's the heart of the case," she said.

Hirose said for Melissa and Jenny McCarthy, Liberty Ridge "was the wedding venue of their dreams." When asked about having a wedding at the farm, the McCarthys were told the Giffords wouldn't let the ceremony go forward due to their religious objections against same-sex marriage.

The Human Rights Commission fined Liberty Ridge $13,000 — $10,000 to the state and $1,500 each to Melissa and Jenny McCarthy.

The couple later left the Capital Region.

Since the ruling, Liberty Ridge has stopped doing weddings.

There was no timetable for the appellate division to rule, although such decisions can take several months.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU. Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Categories: State/Local

Gaming Commission moves to toughen thorougbhred racing rules on drug use

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 11/29/2015 - 2:07pm


The state Gaming Commission is proposing a set of sweeping new rules aimed at combating what the group's executive director described as the "entrenched drug culture in horse racing.''

The proposals would essentially ban drugs given to horses except for medical reasons. They also would require trainers keep logs of drugs given to their horses and instruct veterinarians to prescribe medication solely on medical grounds.

The recommended rules, announced during the Gaming Commission's meeting on Monday, stemmed from their own review of an undercover investigation that the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, conducted in 2013 at Saratoga Race Course.

The commission concluded that 10 of the 14 allegations lodged by PETA weren't founded, but four of them were.

Much of PETA's inquiry focused on a well-known trainer, Steven Asmussen, whose stable, PETA charged, was allowing a number of abuses.

Some of the allegations, such as accusations that a jockey working for Asmussen used a special whip that administered electric shocks, were dismissed as untrue, according to the commission. It also dismissed charges that Asmussen's team used pain-masking drugs.

But it did determine that PETA accurately found Asmussen had, in violation of the rules, given a horse thyroxine within 48 hours of a race.

Thyroxine is a hormone that regulates metabolism.

The commission also concluded that one of Asmussen's veterinarians, Joseph Migliacci, allowed the filling out by a third party of incomplete forms for the use of furosemide, also known as Lasix.

Used to prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, or ruptured bloods vessels in the lungs, Lasix has been controversial. It is a diuretic, meaning it causes the horses to lose fluids, which can lower their blood pressure.

One of the new rules proposed would call for horses exhibiting pulmonary hemorrhages to be pulled from competition. Such ruptures are often signaled by nosebleeds.

Asmussen was fined $10,000 for the violations.

PETA welcomed news of the proposed tougher rules.

"The New York State Gaming Commission has taken significant and crucial steps to eliminate the suffering we documented, not only in Steve Asmussen's barn, but also for all horses used in New York racing. We applaud this progress." Kathy Guillermo, PETA's senior vice president, said in a prepared statement.

"Horses shouldn't be fed thyroid hormones with their evening meals, and they shouldn't be anywhere near a track if they're in pain,'' Guillermo said. "We support the proposed new rules and urge the industry nationwide to back them as well.''

Adopting the rules nationally though, could be a long shot, given the state-by-state nature of racing regulations.

PETA conducted a similar undercover investigation at Kentucky's Churchill Downs, but that state's Horse Racing Commission found no wrongdoing by Asmussen.

The commission in New York is seeking input from the racing world before it puts the proposed regulations into the state register, which brings on its own comment period.

"Several of these recommendations may be controversial," the gaming commission's executive director, Rob Williams, said. • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 30

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 11/29/2015 - 12:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

After a quiet Thanksgiving weekend, New York politics springs back into action Monday. As the week gets going we're watching as discussions continue around the mayor's rezoning policies, which have been seeing some significant pushback from community and borough boards. The mayor has acknowledged that pushback, saying it has not been unexpected and that tweaks will be made to the plans before they head to the City Council early in 2016. The Manhattan Borough Board votes Monday, the Brooklyn Borough Board, Tuesday (Queens and the Bronx have both voted against the plans, Staten Island has not scheduled a vote yet). Community and borough board votes are advisory.

We're also watching for the latest fallout in the de Blasio-Cuomo feud, which has continued to escalate recently. It's just over a month until Governor Cuomo delivers his January 6 State of the State speech, which will outline his priorities and policy plans for 2016. After de Blasio said he couldn't wait for the state any longer and announced his own supportive housing plan, Cuomo and his team have criticized the mayor's management of the city's homelessness crisis and indicated Cuomo will include related plans in his State of the State. For his part, de Blasio has pointed to the state and the city, then under Mayor Mike Bloomberg, cutting rental subsidy programs in 2011 as integral to the increase in homelessness seen since.

We're awaiting word from the trial of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, which is in jury deliberations, and the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, which continues to see the prosecution present its case against Skelos and his son, Adam. [Read our new look at the top moments from the two trials thus far]

At 11 a.m. Monday, Mayor de Blasio will host a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall (details below). At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks at the Department of Transportation Recognition Ceremony for FDR re-paving crews, who are completing the first full resurfacing of the FDR since it was first built." On Tuesday, de Blasio will participate in a tele-town hall around climate change, which coincides with the Paris climate conference, at which de Blasio's recovery and resiliency director, Daniel Zarrilli, is participating.

Also, Thursday is the one-year anniversary of the grand jury decision not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. Black Lives Matter activists plan a series of events, "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island," according to a Facebook event page.

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max:***

The run of the week in detail:

On Monday at 9 a.m., Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer will host a Manhattan Borough Board vote on the de Blasio administration's proposed zoning changes: Zoning for Quality & Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing.

Read about those zoning changes and the controversy around them through our coverage:
Mayor & Speaker: Rezoning Plans Will Change Before Council Vote
East Harlem Tenants Group Rejects De Blasio Housing Plan, Offers Its Own
De Blasio Housing Chief Looks to Allay Fears, Build Support for Rezonings
Rezoning Discussion Shifts to Food Access

At 11 a.m. at City Hall, "Mayor de Blasio will hold public hearings for and sign Intros 898-A, 890-A, 900-A, 914-A, and 915-A, which strengthen and modify existing requirements related to open government data; Intro. 743-A, creating an Office of Labor Standards; Intro. 783-A, related to interest rates on emergency repair bills for residential buildings; Intro. 956-A, extending the Biotechnology Tax Credit; and Intro. 982-A, extending the current rate of hotel room taxes. The Mayor will also hold a public hearing for Intro. 314-A, related to establishing the Department of Veterans Services." Then, at 12:30 p.m., the Mayor will speak at the aforementioned FDR repaving ceremony.

At 10 a.m. Monday, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, the Reverend Al Sharpton, Congressional Reps. Jeffries and Rangel, and Assembly Member Wright will hold a press conference announcing anti-gun violence initiatives.

Monday at 10:30 a.m. at Applebee's in Times Square, city Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett will make a "sodium warning label announcement."

On Monday at the City Council:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Youth Services will hold a hearing on Introduction 554-2014, in relation to training for certain employees of the city of New York on runaway and homeless youth and sexually exploited children, and Introduction 993-2015, in relation to changing the date of an annual report related to sexually exploited children.
  • At 10 a.m. at Johnson Community Center in Manhattan, "The Committee on Public Housing will hold an oversight hearing examining the Mayor's plan to address violent crime in public housing." City Council Speaker Mark-Viverito is set to participate.
  • At 10 a.m., "The Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations and the Subcommittee on Libraries will hold a joint oversight hearing on six day service at public libraries." [Read our preview of the hearing with a lot of key info: Assessing City Library Expansion After Budget Boost]
  • At 1 p.m., "The Committee on Recovery and Resiliency will hold an oversight hearing on the resiliency of New York City's electricity transmission and distribution systems."

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, Whoopi Goldberg, George Takei, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Corey Johnson, and the Council's LGBT Caucus will acknowledge this year's World AIDS Day by "flipping the switch" to light the Empire State Building in red in honor of World AIDS Day.

At 6 p.m. Monday Queens Borough President Melinda Katz will host a workshop at the Queens Borough Parents Advisory Meeting about how to be more supportive of schools.

On Tuesday the Brooklyn Borough Board, led by Borough President Eric Adams, will vote on the de Blasio administration's two rezoning proposals.

On Tuesday at noon, Joe Domanick of John Jay College will speak about his new book Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, which details NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton's work transforming "the police department of America's second largest city—a period which saw Los Angeles's violent crime rate, including homicides, drop by double-digits" 2002-2009. The event is hosted by the Manhattan Institute.

At the City Council on Tuesday: at 1 p.m. the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Council will host a Diwali celebration - Diwali is the Indian festival of light.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio, City Hall representatives, and activists on climate change will take part in a tele-town hall on sustainability. Participants will include Nilda Mesa, Director, Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Bill Lipton, State Director, New York Working Families Party; and Eddie Bautista, Executive Director, NYC Environmental Justice Alliance.

At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday: "Bail Reform - Federal and State Courts Wrestle with Options for Change" will be hosted by the New York City Bar's Criminal Advocacy Committee. Panelists include: Karen Friedman Agnifilo, Chief Assistant District Attorney, New York County District Attorney's Office; Elizabeth Glazer, Director, Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice; Scott Hechinger, Staff Attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services; Joan Loughnane, Chief Counsel to the United States Attorney, Southern District of New York; Jerold McElroy, Executive Director, New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc.; Marika Meis, Legal Director, Criminal Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Riders Alliance will host "Discount Fares for Low-Income NYers: A Conversation."

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Economic Development will meet on "Community planning boards receive an annual report submitted to the mayor with regard to projected and actual jobs created and retained in connection with projects undertaken by a certain contracted entity."
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a number of bills regarding bicycle safety in the city, including founding a bicycle safety task force, seizure of abandoned vehicles, and a number of bills on walking away from and not reporting incidents and accidents.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management will meet to discuss a bill that would exempt licensed plumbers from registering with the business integrity commission.

At the State Legislature on Wednesday: an 11 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Correction for "Oversight and Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision."

On Wednesday at 8 a.m., City & State NY will host an event on the impact of raising the minimum wage. Speakers will include state Senator Jack M. Martins, Chair of the Labor Committee; E.J. McMahon, President at the Empire Center for Public Policy; and Hector Figueroa, President of 32BJ.

At 4 p.m. Wednesday the Center for Bronx Non-Profits and South Bronx Rising Together will host "Voter Engagement in the South Bronx," a panel discussion on non-partisan attempts to increase civic participation, a discussion of tools and ways to involve the populace in shaping policies that they feel are important.

On Wednesday at 6 p.m., Open Society Foundations and Vera Institute of Justice will hold "Policing and Public Health: Advancing Harm Reduction Strategies in Law Enforcement Practices," bringing together health specialists and law enforcement representatives for a discussion on how to "protect the rights and foster the health of the most vulnerable members of society."

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, the Cannabis and Hemp Association will host "Open for Business," a panel discussion on the subject of medical marijuana in New York City. State Senator Diane Savino and Dr. Julie Netherland, Deputy State Director for Drug Policy, are among those who will speak.

At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Consumer Affairs will meet.
  • At 11 a.m. the Committee on Land Use will meet.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse and Disability Services will meet for an oversight hearing on alcohol abuse in New York City.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Community Development will meet to discuss establishing an urban agriculture advisory board.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Parks and Recreation will meet: "Oversight - An Examination of the City's Parks Without Borders Initiative."

At the State Legislature on Thursday: a 10 a.m. meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee on Transportation to discuss the Department of Transportation two year capital program.

On Thursday the New York Justice League and Black Lives Matter will hold "#ChokeHoldOnTheCity," remembering the one-year anniversary of the decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner and continuing the push for policing reform and accountability. "Actions will take place in Manhattan & Staten Island."

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer will host a town hall event for New Yorkers to discuss concerns and learn about what the Comptroller's Office can do to help.

Friday and the weekend
At the City Council on Friday: the Committee on Courts and Legal Services will meet at 1 p.m. on "Client satisfaction surveys for city-funded indigent legal services."

At the State Legislature on Friday: a 10:30 a.m. hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions jointly with the Assembly Standing Committee on Energy and the Assembly Subcommittee on Infrastructure to evaluate natural gas safety efforts by utilities.

At noon Friday, Crain's New York Business will hold its annual "Best Places to Work in New York City Awards" luncheon.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, BetaNYC will hold "Hack for Heat" in response to the fact that 230,000 heating complaints were filed by New Yorkers because their landlords would not turn on the heat.

At 9 a.m. Saturday, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson is hosting another "Begin Again" event, allowing New Yorkers with outstanding summons warrants to resolve them without being arrested. [Read our look at the efforts by DAs, led by Thompson, to hold such events, including pledges from two incoming DAs, elected in early November, to hold them and the declaration by Queens DA Richard Brown's office that he does not intend to join the movement]

Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

by Konstantine Beridze and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local
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