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Cuomo repeats stance on Ivy investigation

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

As he spent the day lauding law enforcement officers for their service to the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday did not wade deeper into the high-profile case of a mentally ill Albany man who was killed during a confrontation with city police in April.

Cuomo stuck to his administration's previous comments about the Taser-related death of 39-year-old Donald Ivy, whose case Albany County District Attorney David Soares wants to hand off to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. Although Cuomo in July signed an executive order directing Schneiderman to take over the investigation of police-related deaths of civilians, the administration has been vehement that its provisions are not retroactive.

"The way the executive order was written, it was only prospective from the date of execution," Cuomo said at the gathering of the New York City Patrolmen's Benevolent Association in Colonie. "It is not retrospective. So by definition, no matter before the date of the executive order could (Schneiderman) possibly have jurisdiction."

Asked if the case should be kept with Soares' office, Cuomo repeated that Schneiderman can't have jurisdiction over the case if Ivy's death occurred before the order was implemented.

Soares' office has declined comment on the Ivy case multiple times in recent weeks.

Cuomo said he agreed with Schneiderman's decision under the executive order to not investigate the recent death of a bystander who was killed by a stray bullet fired by an undercover police officer in Mount Vernon.

The governor's quick foray into criminal justice issues came on a day that he repeatedly thanked the state's police agencies for their service. At the PBA event, he recalled a New York City police officer who was his neighbor during his childhood as a superhero.

Thursday morning at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center, Cuomo honored the new graduating class of State Police troopers, and pointed to the hard work and heroism shown in the June search for two escaped convicts in the North Country.

"You are joining the New York State Police probably at their most proud point in modern political history," Cuomo told graduates at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center. "The New York State Police just performed an unbelievable act under tremendous pressure that was witnessed by the entire nation."

Cuomo later told reporters he is not sure when state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott's report on the escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility will be completed.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Settlement reached in 'LLC loophole' test case

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

A settlement agreement has been reached in a lawsuit filed by the state Board of Elections' independent enforcement counsel Risa Sugarman targeting the so-called "LLC loophole" in election law.

"We have reached a settlement, but I'm not able to provide details until the decision is fully executed," said Frank Carone, the attorney for former Brooklyn Assembly candidate Shirley Patterson, who was sued by Sugarman in July.

Sugarman declined to comment.

The settlement is likely to include a fine, though the exact amount was not clear.

If the fine stems from Patterson's acceptance of LLC donations, it could allow Sugarman to claim something of a victory in her test case targeting the loophole — and to target candidates who accept similar types of contributions from limited liability corporations. Some good government advocates had hoped that Patterson's case would result in a court ruling validating Sugarman's approach under state law.

Some legal experts also had questioned whether Sugarman's lawsuit would stand up in Albany Supreme Court, given that neither the Legislature nor the state Board of Elections has amended the 1996 ruling creating the LLC loophole. Patterson, a little-known candidate who lost her race in May, is just the latest in a long line of candidates to accept what appear to be coordinated campaign donations from LLCs controlled by the same person, a list that also includes Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The LLC loophole emerged from the 1996 state Board of Elections ruling that determined that any single limited liability company should be treated as if it were an individual under election law. The ruling has allowed LLCs to give $150,000 annually to New York campaigns, and enabled real estate developers — who frequently set up LLCs for individual properties they own for tax and legal purposes — to give multiple maximum donations to the same candidate.

Sugarman's lawsuit, however, initially sought to dock Patterson and her campaign treasurer tens of thousands of dollars for allegedly knowingly accepting LLC donations that exceeded limits and were not in the "true name" of donors, which would violate state election law.

Sugarman's complaint cited an allegedly illegal donation Patterson collected from a New York City developer named Kevin Maloney. On the same date in April, two limited liability companies that Maloney and his development firm, Property Markets Group, allegedly control, Carroll Street Holdings LLC and Nevins Street Holdings LLC, gave a total of $5,000 to Patterson, or $900 over the limit for an individual donor in the Assembly race.

But both LLCs have held Brooklyn property since 2012, records show, and were incorporated that year — meaning neither appears to have been set up simply for the purpose of making donations to Patterson. Under that standard, LLC donations to scores of candidates could be ripe for scrutiny from Sugarman's enforcement unit.

cbragg@timesunion.com518-454-5303 @chrisbragg1

Categories: State/Local

9/11 workers seek benefit renewal

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

New York

Dozens of 9/11 rescue and recovery workers gathered at the World Trade Center site on Thursday to demand that Congress extend programs offering money and free health care to people exposed to toxic dust after the terror attacks.

Since 2011, federal programs have offered substantial aid to people with illnesses potentially linked to the tons of pulverized concrete and glass released into the air when the twin towers collapsed.

Tens of thousands of police officers, firefighters, construction workers and others have gotten monitoring exams and free treatment for a wide variety of ailments through the World Trade Center Health Program. Several thousand have applied for payments from a $2.78 billion compensation fund.

Both of those programs are set to expire next year.

Advocates for the sick say there won't be enough money in the compensation fund to pay every ill worker.

And they say the health programs are essential for people with complicated, often incurable illnesses.

Congress initially limited the programs because of concerns about their massive cost.

Categories: State/Local

Coverage of abuse-resistant drugs is in dispute

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

The latest battle to pit pharmaceutical companies against the insurance industry centers on an effort to mandate coverage for so-called "abuse-resistant" opioid painkillers.

A bill passed this year by the state Legislature would mandate coverage for "non-crushable" pills that can't be ground up into powdered form that's more readily snorted by abusers.

Supporters believe these gelcap-like pills would put a dent in the widespread abuse of drugs like oxycodone and morphine — the sort of addiction the state has moved to address in recent years through the I-STOP prescription-drug monitoring system.

"We need to do everything we can where there is a new tool to fight the abuse of opioids,'' said Staten Island Democratic Assemblyman Michael Cusick, who sponsored the bill with Republican Sen. Kemp Hannon of Long Island.

The problem, as usual, is cost.

The abuse-resistant pills are in some instances 10 times more expensive than their crushable cousins.

"Mandating insurance coverage for these drugs will not solve the problem," said Deborah Fasser, spokeswoman for the state Conference of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans.

The group put out comparisons between the cost of some standard pain-killing opioids and the new non-crushable varieties, also known as abuse-deterrent formulation drugs.

For example, as of last winter, a dose of generic morphine cost $17.08. A tamper-resistant version, under the name Embeda, was listed at $516.11.

Generic oxycodone was $17.08 while the tamper-resistant version, sold as OxyContin was $171.86.

Generic hydrocodone was $12.34 while Hysingla, the abuse-deterrent brand was $207.96.

Cusick, though, believes the cost will drop as the ADF pills become more widely used.

"The cost is what it is now because it's new to the market," he said.

Hannon added that large insurers like Blue Cross and Blue Shield organizations are able to bargain with drug suppliers, which tends to drive down the price.

"It is definitely a balance — but the other part of the balance is that, if you can deter people from getting opioid drugs, you don't have to pay for them to get off the drugs," said Hannon.

Fasser noted that drug companies aren't totally convinced that all tamper-resistant drugs are successful in deterring abuse.

Earlier in the summer, the maker of the painkiller OxyContin withdrew from a meeting with federal regulators to determine if an abuse-deterrent version of their drug was actually leading to lower instances of abuse.

The federal Food and Drug Administration has been urging drug companies to make their products harder to abuse.

Since 1999, the national Centers for Disease Control estimated that deaths from popular opioids like OxyContin or Vicodin have quadrupled, leading to an estimated 16,000 deaths in 2013.

The drugs are used as painkillers for conditions like arthritis or migraines.

They are designed to provide long-lasting relief, but can also give a more intense high when snorted.

The bill will likely go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk in the coming weeks.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758 • @RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

N.Y. Gov. Cuomo will convene Common Core panel

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

Just in time for the first day of class, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday reiterated his criticism of the State Education Department's rollout of the Common Core educational standards by stating flatly that the program "is not working, and must be fixed."

"To that end, the time has come for a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Common Core standards, curriculum, guidance and tests in order to address local concerns," he said. "I am taking this action not because I don't believe in standards, but because I do."

While there is a broad consensus in support of the standards, teachers' unions and a broad swath of parents have in recent years criticized what they view as too much Common Core-related testing and too little preparation resources. Dissatisfaction over the implementation of the standards was viewed as the driving force behind the roughly 20 percent "opt-out" rate of students statewide whose parents refused to have their children take this year's round of annual math and English tests.

Cuomo said he would ask "a representative group" from his previous Education Reform Commission — including "education experts, teachers, parents, the Commissioner of Education and legislative representatives" — to offer up recommendations for him to put on the agenda for the 2016 legislative session.

That commission's last report, released at the beginning of 2014, provided that year's largest education agenda items — including the expansion of pre-kindergarten offerings and the concept for Cuomo's $2 billion classroom technology bond act. The panel included then-Education Commissioner John King and the chairs of the Assembly and Senate education committees — the latter being John Flanagan, now the chamber's majority leader.

Cuomo's statement comes as new Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has worked to tamp down anger raised by her comments about the high opt-out rates for this spring's standardized testing, and her outreach to SED attorneys to explore potential legal consequences.

Cuomo staked out a middle ground in Thursday's statement: "Recently, SED has made comments about organized efforts to have parents choose to opt out of standardized tests," the governor said. "While I understand the issue and SED's valid concern, I sympathize with the frustration of the parents."

Elia, who took office two months ago, noted in a response that she has been touring the state seeking feedback on the implementation. "I look forward to receiving input from the Governor's Education Commission as we continue this critical review of our learning standards," she said.

Cuomo's own smaller Common Core implementation panel — which also included Flanagan and Assembly Education Committee Chair Cathy Nolan, but no one from SED — released recommendations in March 2014. Most of them had already been adopted by SED or were on the cusp of being approved by the Legislature as part of that year's budget agreement.

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo says NY can help Puerto Rico on health costs

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that he had not yet formed an opinion about how exactly Puerto Rico should confront all its dire financial problems, even as the governor is set to embark on an overnight trip to the commonwealth on Monday.

"We're going to go and listen first, understand the financial situation, see what advice we have there," said Cuomo, when asked whether he favored bankruptcy for Puerto Rico or its utilities. "And also part of it is the expenses, right? There's two ends to the equation."

He said New York can help Puerto Rico confront its spiraling health care costs – something Cuomo's administration tackled in 2011 with its Medicaid Redesign Team.

Cuomo noted that state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker and state Medicaid Director Jason Helgerson — the key player in reining in New York's own Medicaid costs — would be going on the trip. "If you have financial problems, one of the reasons is that the revenue's not high enough, and one of the reasons is that the expenses are too high," Cuomo said. "So we're also going to talk to them about the expense side of the equation, primarily health care."

Puerto Rico is struggling with a $72 billion mountain of debt. The country's governor, Alejandro García Padilla, has declared that the territory is unable to pay its debts and is seeking to declare bankruptcy, but the U.S. Congress has balked. The country has already had to slash public services and raise its sales tax.

Also expected to accompany Cuomo are New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Brooklyn Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.

Notably absent is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was not invited and with whom Cuomo has feuded with recently.

The governor said the Puerto Rican government asked for officials to visit the commonwealth that have particular expertise, including in finance.

Cuomo is paying for his portion of the trip's cost with campaign funds, as he has on other trips, according to spokesman Rich Azzopardi.

Though many of the issues facing Puerto Rico will be decided either by the commonwealth itself or by Congress, Cuomo said he is going to the country to push politicians in Washington, D.C., into some sort of action. After the territory itself, New York is home to the largest population of Puerto Rican people in the world, according to the governor's office.

Critics of Cuomo, however, have seized on the trip.

The progressive coalition Hedge Clippers has noted that several major Cuomo campaign contributors are also holders of Puerto Rican debt. A subset of these Cuomo donors happen to be charter school supporters that have seen eye-to-eye with Cuomo on education issues, and have battled teachers' unions — labor groups that are among the supporters of the Hedge Clippers effort.

Thursday morning on the steps of City Hall in New York City, several groups allied with Hedge Clippers rallied and called on Cuomo to return nearly $1.3 million in campaign donations before he travels to Puerto Rico. According to the activists, Cuomo has taken the money from 47 donors associated with 17 "vulture" funds that have "purchased and speculated on" Puerto Rico's debt.

"All New Yorkers, especially the estimated 1 million Puerto Ricans living here, need to know their governor is working for the people, not hedge fund managers who buy off politicians," the group wrote in a letter to Cuomo first reported by the Daily News. "Debt restructuring may represent the last best hope for Puerto Rico to build a stable and sustainable future. But it would require debt holders, including many of your high-rolling hedge fund donors, to put people before profits — something they have been unwilling to do thus far."

Azzopardi, Cuomo's spokesman, responded that the "governor's commitment to the Puerto Rican government and its people speak for itself."

He added that he had no comment on the Hedge Clippers' "AstroTurf ... antics" — political slang for a phony grass-roots campaign.

cbragg@timesunion.com518-454-5303 @chrisbragg1

Categories: State/Local

State forms campus rape unit

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

New York State Police plan to assign 12 senior investigators to help campus and local police statewide deal with college date rapes under the state's new consent law.

Superintendent Joseph D'Amico said Wednesday that the new victims unit will also employ nurse examiners as consultants to ensure evidence is properly documented and collected and cases are promptly investigated. The senior investigators will provide training to local authorities about the law and investigative and interrogation methods, and interact with the colleges, he said.

"We won't tolerate police agencies or campus security that don't take it seriously," D'Amico said at New York University, part of a campaign to highlight the effort. The unit was established by the state law requiring uniform protocols meant to prevent and respond to campus sex assaults.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said that they constitute "an epidemic" that schools have been reluctant to even discuss, with crimes apparently committed by a small percentage of males, repeat predators and victims reluctant and sometimes discouraged from coming forward.

The law extends protocols established at state institutions to private schools, requiring they adopt student codes requiring affirmative consent before sex. It specifies students' right to make reports to police of domestic violence, dating violence, stalking or sexual assault.

Cuomo, who said he now has three daughters in college, noted that they have helped him become more attuned to women's issues and the disparity in the way society treats women and that this problem is part of that. "We don't want to admit that we have a problem with violence against women," he said.

"It's time to change the culture," he said. "It's not about whether the woman said no before she was attacked. It's whether the woman said yes."

The law was signed in July, with most provisions scheduled to take effect in early October. It requires colleges and universities in New York to amend their rules to include affirmative consent for sex, clarify victim rights to make a police report, and provide all students with the written rules. Schools that don't certify compliance by next July become ineligible for state aid.

According to law, its provisions apply on campus, off campus or while studying abroad.

Categories: State/Local

Filing raises new food truck argument

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

As the lawsuit brought by the Schenectady-based food truck called the Wandering Dago against the state Office of General Services approaches summary judgment in federal court, the plaintiffs' final arguments posed questions about the family-friendliness of the name of another truck that's been welcomed by the agency.

The owners of the Wandering Dago filed suit in late August 2013 against top officials at OGS and the New York Racing Association. Andrea Loguidice and Brendan Snooks claimed the truck had been rejected by OGS's summer lunch program on Empire State Plaza and banished from Saratoga Race Course due to state officials' objections to its name. Without admitting liability, NYRA settled the case in January for $68,500.

While "dago" is generally understood to be a slur on Italians, Loguidice and Snooks insist it is nothing more than a tribute to her ancestors, laborers who were paid "as the day goes."

Court papers filed this week by Wandering Dago attorney George Carpinello ask why it was banned from the Plaza while a truck operated by the popular Troy restaurant Slidin' Dirty has been allowed to serve its wares there.

The question was raised in response to OGS' contention that denying the Wandering Dago a slot was part of the state agency's effort to maintain a "family-friendly" atmosphere, a supposed policy that "has appeared in this case only as a litigation position" and not a pre-existing written set of standards.

"'Slidin' Dirty' is an obvious riff using the word 'slider,' which means a small hamburger or sandwich," Carpinello writes, "and the phrase 'ridin' dirty,' defined by the Urban Dictionary as 'driving in an automobile while having at least a felony charge worth of illegal drugs and/or unregistered firearms with you.'"

Carpinello points to the 2005 hip-hop hit of the same name by Chamillionaire, "which repeats the phrase 'ridin' dirty' more than 40 times in its chorus while describing a person driving under the influence of alcohol while using drugs and carrying a handgun.

"The different treatment accorded Slidin' Dirty and Wandering Dago highlights the impossibility of determining what speech is offensive and what is not," the filing says. "The meaning of words is inevitably contextual: someone familiar with the phrase 'ridin' dirty' understands the pun being made by Slidin' Dirty and may or may not find it an offensive reference to the problems of urban crime, gun violence and drug trafficking; someone not familiar with the phrase or the song misses the meaning entirely."

Tim Taney, who owns Slidin' Dirty with his wife, Brooke, said that its name "has nothing to do with the pop song. ... The 'dirty' part of it was our way of paying homage to our roots as a food truck."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo likes idea of Biden candidacy

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

The current Republican field for president is 17 candidates deep. The Democratic field is a comparatively paltry five-candidate roster.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says another Democrat wouldn't be a bad thing.

Asked on Wednesday whether a run by Vice President Joe Biden would put Cuomo, a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton who has also forged a bond with Biden, in a tough spot, the governor said he wouldn't be alone.

"All Democrats would be in a bind because they'd have a choice of a number of good candidates — but that's a good situation to be in," Cuomo said.

Cuomo endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton the day she officially announced her White House run. The governor served as President Bill Clinton's secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

The governor and Biden have appeared alongside each other multiple times in the past year, most recently for the announcement of a photonics manufacturing hub in Rochester. Cuomo said Wednesday that Biden will return in the coming weeks.

Still, their friendliness is not leading the governor to try to sway Biden one way or the other — at least not in public.

"There's a certain natural logic to him considering it, but then he has to decide," Cuomo said of the question that frequently faces those in secondary positions. "It's up to him. That's a decision that no one else can really advise you on."

The governor noted that his father, former Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, flirted with runs for the presidency.

"Even as his son, we could talk about it — but it is a personal decision because you have to want to do this with all your heart and soul," Cuomo said. "And you have to believe that you bring a value added to the debate or to the job."

Biden was in Florida on Wednesday for a speech at Miami Dade College, followed by a fundraiser and a planned Thursday meeting on the Iran security deal at a Jewish community center. The trip fueled wide speculation that it could double as a way to put out feelers for a potential presidential campaign.

Cuomo was the subject of speculation that he harbored presidential ambitions after he took office and led the legalization of same-sex marriage. That chatter has subsided considerably in the years since.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Third parties present opportunities, hassles

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

Two custom-tailored political parties created by last year's principal gubernatorial rivals are raising interest from some and causing headaches for others — a common outcome of New York's often circus-like fusion voting system.

The state Board of Elections on Tuesday failed to rule on a dispute over who controls the Women's Equality Party, an entity created last year as a spinoff to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's successful re-election effort. At the same time, it was revealed that the Reform Party, set up by failed 2014 GOP gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino, is backing a whopping 1,800 local candidates in the upcoming off-year elections.

The question of control of the Women's Equality Party provided the first act of what turned out to be a heated meeting of the state Board of Elections, which in the past week has received two competing proposals to establish the party's rules and leadership committee.

One proposal was submitted last week by former state Sen. Cecilia Tkaczyk, a Duanesberg Democrat who was defeated last fall by Republican George Amedore. Tkaczyk was offered a chance to run on the WEP line last fall, though the nominating petitions submitted on her behalf by Cuomo operatives were badly botched to the point of including signatures from residents of Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Another set of alternative WEP rules was submitted to the board on Monday by two Republican Niagara County clerks whose recent lawsuit seeking to take control of the party was tossed last month by a judge who concluded they lacked standing.

The lawsuit claimed Cuomo's own rules submitted to the board were insufficient because they arrived with the signatures of only two of the four statewide candidates (Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul) who ran on the WEP line.

The dispute has proven to be embarrassing for Cuomo, who has faced criticism that the WEP was a thinly veiled effort to dilute the power of the progressive Working Families Party, which has been harshly critical of many of Cuomo's strategies.

If the questionable status of the WEP was causing the governor discomfort, it was a condition that the Republican members of the Board of Elections didn't appear to be in any kind of hurry to relieve at Tuesday's meeting.

After Democratic Commissioner Andy Spano, a Cuomo appointee, asked the board to reject two proposed challenges to the control of the WEP, Republican Co-Chair Peter Kosinski — appointed by former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos just two weeks before his arrest on federal corruption charges — and GOP Commissioner Greg Peterson protested that the item hadn't been placed on the agenda.

"I don't know the facts ... I haven't seen these documents," said Kosinski.

The motion failed 2-2, although the GOP members (who asked to be recorded as abstaining on the matter) promised to reconsider it soon.

The Women's Equality Party's current leaders said last week that some 300 to 400 candidates statewide want its line. The Reform Party, which began its existence as Astorino's effort to tap into opposition to the implementation of the Common Core educational standards, says a far larger number of candidates are being nominated for its line on local ballots.

"After months of thoughtful consideration and diligence, the Reform Party is proud to nominate roughly 1,800 candidates for local offices across New York state," party

Chair Marie Smith said in a statement. "As we head towards the November elections, we look forward to the Reform Party playing a role in electing high quality candidates across the state to push for the end of Common Core and instituting term limits in New York."

New York's fusion voting system allows candidates to hold multiple lines. It's often the case that Democratic and Republican candidates will hold down extra ballot positions in an attempt to attract voters who either are registered with a third party or may be turned off by the major parties.

More than 30 different minor parties — not including the more established Independence, Green, Working Families and Libertarian parties — have appeared on the ballot in the past five state election cycles.

It's unclear just how many Capital Region candidates are seeking the Women's Equality and Reform party lines. The Schenectady County Board of Elections did not respond to a request for a list of candidates nominated to run on those lines. The Rensselaer County Board of Elections required an in-person viewing of the Reform Party's nominees, though a board staffer said numerous candidates had signed up; the Women's Equality Party hadn't yet submitted its nominees to the Rensselaer County board.

In Albany County, Republican Elections Commissioner Rachel Bledi said paperwork hadn't been filed for Women's Equality Party candidates yet. However, the county did have a list of Reform Party candidates, including Republican Colonie town supervisor hopeful Christine Benedict, Republican county executive candidate Francis Vitollo and 23 candidates for the county Legislature. Incumbent Republican legislators Brian Hogan, Peter Crouse, Patrice Lockhart, Travis Stevens, Richard Mendick and Deborah Busch are all hoping to run on the Reform line.

Categories: State/Local

Funds sought for retired horses

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

Experts on thoroughbred racing and retired horses said Tuesday that the last few years have seen progress but more funding and homes are needed to save many aging racehorses from eventual neglect or slaughter.

The New York State Gaming Commission, at a forum held near Saratoga Race Course, reviewed measures available for horses that can live for 30 years after careers that in many cases last only three or four years. The review followed 2011 state task force recommendations that included doing a better job tracking retired horses and dedicating 0.5 percent of New York purses and a fraction of video lottery revenues to retirement efforts.

Legislation has been introduced to do that but hasn't been enacted.

Meanwhile, the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, established three years ago, last year accredited 42 aftercare organizations and granted $2.4 million in funds collected from industry participants. It's collected as a small percentage from stud fees, public auction consignment and purchase, Jockey Club registration, race winnings, racetracks, veterinarians and jockeys.

The Kentucky-based national nonprofit expects to accredit 45 to 50 groups this year, she said.

The task force estimated New York had about 50,000 racehorses in 2005 and more than 1,800 were retired in 2007 by more than 1,000 owners.

Of the charitable groups that take them, the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation is among the largest. It currently cares for more than 900 at 24 farms in 13 states, said Diana Pikulski.

Representatives of several groups said leaving the fate of retired racehorses up to charity won't adequately ensure their care. Another problem is keeping horses racing until they're injured. They need veterinary care and rehabilitation before they can be retrained for second careers as jumpers, polo ponies, fox hunting or pleasure riding.

Categories: State/Local

N.Y. vaccine schedule changes for start of school

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

Quick, parents: Check your kindergartners' vaccination records.

A new state-mandated vaccine schedule, which went into effect Tuesday, requires children to have a full series of certain immunizations by the time kindergarten starts. Previous schedules gave parents more time to get a complete set of vaccine doses for certain diseases, typically until they were in first grade or 6 years old.

Kindergarteners must now have had the full series of vaccines for certain diseases by the start of school, or have an appointment scheduled to get them. Parents must be able to show proof of the appointments with the first two weeks of school.

For most kindergartners, the vaccine series that must be complete by kindergarten are:

Two doses of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine;

Five doses of diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP) vaccine;

Four doses of polio vaccine.

There are exceptions to the schedules for DTaP and polio, based on the age at which doses are received.

The schedule makes state requirements consistent with federal recommendations.

New York lawmakers this year passed a bill mandating meningitis vaccine for students entering seventh and 12th grades, but the measure, if signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would not go into effect until next year.

chughes@timesunion.com518-454-5417@hughesclaire

Categories: State/Local

Instructor resigns after calling out legal scholars

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

West Point

A West Point professor criticized for writing an article calling some legal scholars treasonous and "lawful targets" for the U.S. military in its war on terrorism has resigned a month after he was hired to teach a law course.

A spokesman at the U.S. Military Academy said William C. Bradford resigned Sunday.

In an article published this spring in the National Security Law Journal, Bradford said legal scholars who criticize U.S. tactics in the war on terror are helping the Islamic State group undermine America. He argued that these academics should be considered enemy combatants and charged with treason and supporting terrorism.

The publication apologized in an editorial last week in response to a barrage of criticism from readers. Editor-in-chief Rick Myers repudiated the article and said the publication is reviewing its selection process.

Bradford's article argues that liberals dominate legal academia and use their position to undermine support of U.S. military efforts. He advocates a number of measures to counter "Islamist sympathizers and propagandists" in academia, including firing them, requiring loyalty oaths and charging them with treason.

Categories: State/Local

Top court refuses to hear appeals in chimp rights cases

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

ALBANY (AP) — An animal rights group seeking "legal personhood" for chimpanzees to ensure them better treatment won't get a hearing in New York's highest court.

The Court of Appeals, without comment Tuesday, denied leave to appeal by The Nonhuman Rights Project on behalf of Kiko and Tommy.

Lower courts rejected the organization's argument that scientific evidence of emotional and cognitive abilities in chimps should qualify them for basic rights, including freedom from imprisonment.

In December, a midlevel court unanimously denied human legal rights to Tommy, which lives alone in a cage.

The three justices said the chimp "cannot bear any legal duties, submit to societal responsibilities or be held legally accountable for their actions."

Tommy's owner said he's cared for under strict state and federal license rules and inspections.

Categories: State/Local

Elia says her opt-out strategy 'not a threat'

Albany Times/Union - 22 min 5 sec ago

Albany

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia worked Monday to downplay fears prompted by her recent comments about this year's surge in standardized testing opt-outs.

Roughly 20 percent of students statewide opted out of this spring's tests, though the rates in many districts were far higher.

At a recent forum, Elia called the phenomenon of parents who remove their children from the annual round of testing "something that is not reasonable," but was being done out of an effort to make a political statement. She has also requested that State Education Department attorneys explore legal avenues to work against the testing boycotts.

Republican Assemblyman Jim Tedisco shot back last week that Elia seemed to be taking a "goon squad" approach.

In an interview Monday with Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio, Elia insisted she was merely responding to requests from local school leaders.

"Superintendents have asked me, 'Is it the law?' 'Exactly what does this mean for us?' 'What are the ramifications of (a high opt-out rate) in terms of the federal law?'" Elia said. "So it would seem to me the logical thing for me to do as the commissioner in the state is to find out the answers to those questions, and tell my colleagues that. That's what I said.

"This is not a threat — I'm just trying to get information out there so people understand it," she said.

In the same interview — which will air in full on Friday's episode of WMHT's "New York Now" — Elia discussed the "toolbox" SED is assembling to address a range of issues concerning the tests.

"Parents have a right to have their child test or not," Elia said. "... But I think we haven't done enough communication so that parents — if they understand it and they still want their child to opt out, that certainly is their right — but I think a lot of parents feel like the tests had problems with them, from their perspective."

Elia then proceeded to list a number of the reasons why parents might want their children to opt out — and seemed to agree with at least one of them.

"I've had teachers tell me the tests are too long. I've had them say they don't think they're matched to the standards. We've done a lot of work in matching and looking to see that that's done," she said. "But I would tell you, I think that they are long."

cseiler@timesunion.com518-454-5619@CaseySeiler

Categories: State/Local

A call for troopers in inner cities

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 22 min ago

Albany

State Sen. Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon, called Monday for a reallocation of police resources to combat gun violence in inner cities near her home district downstate and elsewhere upstate — including in Albany.

"Inner-city communities are drowning in taxes and cannot afford the financial commitment to stamp out gang and gun violence," Hassell-Thompson said in a Monday release. "I have no wish to create a 'police state.' However, the temporary deployment of state troopers from low-crime areas to high-crime areas could be managed without raising local taxes."

Most of Hassell-Thompson's comments focused on Mount Vernon and recent shootings in that Westchester County city, where she lives and is currently running for mayor. But she also called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo as well as U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to increase police support to cities including Yonkers, Rochester, Albany and Syracuse "to help in the fight to eliminate gang and gun violence in our streets."

"It is clear that despite the committed efforts of the local police, they do not have the resources and manpower to effectively control the possession and use of illegal firearms," Hassell-Thompson said.

The state has used the Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative to provide funding for local departments to target gun crimes. Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties received about $2.2 million from the program in 2014.

State Police spokesman Beau Duffy said troopers patrol high-crime neighborhoods in cities including Albany and Schenectady, and offer help with other targeted initiatives such as drug investigations.

Gun violence has struck different parts of upstate recently. Three people were killed and four wounded in shooting outside a Boys & Girls Club in Rochester less than two weeks ago. That incident prompted the governor to say that gun violence is a plague across the country, especially in cities.

Just days later, a man was killed and two police officers wounded in a shootout in Troy that followed the report of a carjacking. The second of the two officers wounded in that shooting was released from the hospital Monday.

Hassell-Thompson's comments follow the accidental shooting death of a man in Mount Vernon by an undercover police officer. The lawmaker requested that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office assess that case under his special prosecutorial powers for cases involving police-involved deaths of unarmed civilians.

mhamilton@timesunion.com • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Travers dining table scalpers end up empty-handed

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 22 min ago

Albany

The days leading up to last Saturday's Travers Stakes at Saratoga were filled with anticipation and media frenzy once it was revealed that Triple Crown winner American Pharoah would run.

But amid the hoopla, a cat-and-mouse game played out between New York Racing Association officials and scalpers who thought they had hit a different kind of winner.

While NYRA wasn't concerned about those who were reselling admission tickets — attendance on race day was capped at 50,000 — the organization took a hard line against the secondary market for another limited commodity: dining room reservations.

"I know they were trolling Craigslist," said one Capital Region resident and a track regular, who said he tried to sell his reservations for a table of eight at the Turf Terrace restaurant.

One of several dining areas at the track, the open-air eatery on the third and fourth floors of the clubhouse is considered to be one of the more posh establishments at the track — no jeans, sneakers or flip-flops are allowed, according to its website.

The regular, who spoke on condition of anonymity, made the reservations in March for $280, weeks before American Pharoah kicked off his historic Triple Crown run.

As Travers Day drew near, he decided to sell the reservations, joking that he would likely be able to use the proceeds to let his guests eat and drink on his tab for the entire day.

He listed the reservations for what he considered to be an astronomical $10,000, figuring it would be a jumping-off point for bargaining.

When an interested party emailed him, he responded with his phone number but received no immediate response.

Instead, he heard from a NYRA employee who told him he had forfeited the table because it was against the rules to sell the reservation at a profit.

Also forfeited: his $280.

When he complained to NYRA officials, he was told the decision was final.

NYRA spokesman John Durso acknowledged that the organization found "a number" of instances in which people tried to resell their dining reservations at a markup.

"There is a no-refund policy, and it's clearly stated on the website,'' he said. "Rules are rules, and this patron failed to follow the clearly-established rules.''

The would-be table seller noted that third-party ticket seller StubHub had more than 1,000 general admission tickets listed.

But that's different from a table reservation, Durso noted. While NYRA discourages scalping, tickets are out of its control once they are sold.

"What a fan chooses to do with their own tickets is their choice," Durso explained.

The interest in Saturday's Travers Stake was reflected by the day's handle, or amount wagered.

Durso said NYRA "shattered" the two-year-old Travers Day record ($41.4 million in 2013) with a total handle of $49.7 million.

In 2014, the handle dipped to just under $40 million.

Attendance at Saratoga Race Course from the opening of the meet on July 24 through Sunday was 908,637 tickets sold, with average sales of 27,534. The last day of the meet will be Monday.

As for the would-be reservation merchant, he kept his tickets for the Travers and attended the races — but without a dining room visit.

And while he lost a bet on his bid to profit from reservations, he claims to have broken even on his horse wagering that day.

rkarlin@timesunion.com • 518-454-5758

Categories: State/Local

Upstate groups rally for secession

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 22 min ago

Albany

Somewhere around Dutchess County — or maybe it's Orange County, or perhaps even Westchester County — there is an imaginary yet almost tangible line.

Those on each side of this "border" have fought for decades over many issues. And for as long as there has been this upstate-downstate debate, there has been a solution pushed by a vocal minority: secession.

Secession of upstate is the idea that brought together an estimated 100-plus New Yorkers Sunday in Chenango County for a meeting on the subject.

Yet for its numerous iterations, the idea of splitting the state has never gained real widespread traction.

And it's not only an upstate-downstate issue. Secession of New York City was Norman Mailer's idea when he ran for mayor of the Big Apple in 1969. Secession of Long Island was an idea lampooned by Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" in 2009.

In theory, it's simple. If a region wanted to become the 51st state in the union, it would need state legislative and U.S. congressional approval. If part of New York wanted to be absorbed by another state (some Southern Tier towns are seeking to become part of Pennsylvania), both state legislatures would have to agree to the plan and Congress would have to ratify the decision.

Then there is what John Bergener Jr. wants to do: Separate the state into two autonomous regions under a statewide legislature with, as his Divide New York Caucus says, about as much governmental power as the queen of England.

"Many people have various reasons for wanting it. Everybody has a slightly different reason," Bergener said by phone Thursday. This secession plan is to break the state into New Amsterdam (upstate) and New York (downstate) at the northern borders of Westchester and Rockland counties. "About two-thirds of the people want it to provide good-paying jobs upstate. Then there are other reasons for various groups that want it, too."

Sunday's rally was in part organized by the Shooters Committee on Political Education (SCOPE), a pro-gun rights group that feels burdened by the controversial SAFE Act. Pro-frackers, who felt burned by the state's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the Southern Tier, were also represented.

The Divide New York Caucus idea for secession (to be clear, it's not secession in the traditional sense of the word) presents an opportunity for real results. Bergener's group and the others with which it has a handshake agreement want to use a possible constitutional convention in 2017 to bring to voters the proposal to create the two autonomous regions through a constitutional amendment, bypassing the state Legislature and Congress altogether.

If ratified by voters, the regions would have a weighted vote system. There would be regional governors, and the local lawmakers would serve as state lawmakers so there wouldn't be excess political jobs. Starting a business (over-regulation is one of the groups' main rallying cries) would be simplified by funneling the permitting and taxation processes through a single state agency rather than multiple, as with the current system, Bergener said.

"All the regulation would be local to the region," Bergener said. "All unfunded mandates would expire ... 15 months after the region is organized, unless reapproved by a three-fifths vote of the regional legislature. So that would force them the first year to review everything."

The unfunded mandates argument is popular among upstaters, who feel imposed upon by the downstate lawmakers who make up a hefty chunk of state government. Yet, fiscal policy analysts from the left and the right agree that cutting off revenues from downstate through traditional secession would be harmful to upstate.

The Empire Center's E.J. McMahon and Fiscal Policy Institute's Ron Deutsch both pointed to a 2011 Rockefeller Institute study that showed New York City and the downstate suburbs both give New York state more in revenues than the state spends on those regions. For example, New York City contributed 45.1 percent of the state's revenues while the state spent 40 percent of its expenditures on the region. Compare that to the parts of the state outside the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's reach (upstate), which paid in 23.8 percent of the state's revenues, while accepting 35.2 percent of state expenditures.

"By no stretch of the imagination does upstate subsidize downstate, it's the exact opposite in terms of the flow of revenues and state government spending," McMahon said. "However ... as a thought experiment, if you wanted to have a separate state, you have to be committed to radically changing the policies that I assume they're complaining about in all sorts of areas that make upstate more expensive than it necessarily needs to be."

McMahon pointed to the need to repeal things like the Taylor and Scaffold labor laws in a new upstate. Deutsch took a different tack.

"We shouldn't be investing in casinos or economic development competitions with the resources that we do have," he said. "We need to make smarter strategic investments to help upstate grow. To me, that's infrastructure (and) greater investment in education."

Using secession as an economic thought experiment is one thing. But it's also seen as a general thought experiment that helps upstaters or downstaters vent.

"I think the principle point is it is an expression of discontent and anger at the state government," said Gerald Benjamin, a distinguished professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz.

SCOPE's Stephen Aldstadt agreed that the coalition of groups pushing secession largely feel frustrated and under-represented in Albany. But rallies like the one held Sunday are taking that frustration and plotting out real action.

"Of course it's caused by frustration, but we're serious," Berenger said. "We've incorporated a political action committee to fund it. We're serious. There's no doubt that we're trying to do it."

mhamilton@timesunion.com 518-454-5449 @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Trash to treatise: Finding meaning in refuse

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 22 min ago

New York

New York's sanitation department has its very own anthropologist-in-residence, a garbage guru who studies the refuse along the curbs of the nation's biggest city as a mirror into the lives of its 8.5 million residents.

"What does trash tell you about us?" asks New York University professor Robin Nagle, who frequently goes out on trucks with garbage-collection crews in search of an answer.

So, what's her take on the nearly 3.5 million-ton annual trash pile collected by New York's Department of Sanitation?

"We're a throwaway culture that's going too fast," she says. Modern Gotham, she says, tends to treat just about everything — from furniture to electronics to clothing — like paper coffee cups.

"We assume that we don't need to waste time taking care of mundane, useful objects when we can, with no responsibility, get rid of them," she says.

Factor in a city of mostly small apartments, where residents are constantly tossing out stuff to make more space, and you get what Nagle considers a gold mine for garbage pickers.

Many residents furnish their homes with other people's refuse. Some forage for food that's never been cooked. And a private wardrobe could be filled with rejected clothing, shoes and jewelry, along with sofas, beds, appliances, even paintings.

"The quantities of trash that New Yorkers throw out are dazzling," Nagle says. "And the quality of goods they put on the street because they're done with it and discardable is also very impressive."

On a micro level, Nagle says, sanitation workers get to know the rhythms of the people on their route from the refuse she calls "the physical record of our daily lives." If there's a divorce, they might find photos of the former spouse thrown out. Or if someone has had a drinking problem, it's reflected in the bottles. Or when babies arrive, disposable diapers appear.

Nagle, 54, lobbied sanitation officials for two years before being named to the unpaid position of anthropologist-in-residence in 2006. Her research has led to several books, a TED Talk, a New York University course she teaches titled "Garbage in Gotham" and a personal campaign to get manufacturers to use more recyclable materials.

But Nagle has not been merely an ivory-tower scholar. She's gotten her hands dirty, literally, by going through the training, learning to drive the trucks and working for almost a year as a regular, salaried sanitation worker.

"She's part of the family," says sanitation Assistant Chief Keith Mellis.

Her biggest contribution, as far as the city's 6,400 rank-and-file sanitation workers are concerned, is in raising morale for a job that is often overlooked.

In talks to new recruits, she spreads a message of pride that the 134-year-old department nicknamed "New York's Strongest" is "the city's most important uniformed force," clearing streets of refuse that would otherwise breed vermin and disease.

"I love sanitation," Nagle says. "I get to work with people who make a difference every single day."

Categories: State/Local

2 hurt in small-plane crash on Long Island

Albany Times/Union - 11 hours 22 min ago

SHELTER ISLAND — Police say two people have been injured after a small plane crash on the eastern end of Long Island.

It happened around 2 p.m. Sunday at a private airstrip on Shelter Island.

Detective Sgt. Jack Thilberg says the 1929 single-engine plane was found with its nose in the ground when officers arrived.

Police say the pilot, 83-year-old George DeMar, told investigators he had engine trouble before the plane went down.

DeMar and a 52-year-old passenger, Susan Klenawicus, were taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Police say they are in stable condition.

The Federal Aviation Administration is investigating.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local
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