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SAFE Act Haunts Movement on Gun Safety Legislation

Gotham Gazette - Mon, 05/18/2015 - 1:00am

Student activists in Albany (photo: @NYAGV1)

Earlier this month, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence brought 150 school children from the Bronx and Harlem to Albany to recite poetry, sing songs, and perform skits about the impact gun violence has on their daily lives.

They didn't get the warmest of welcomes. Kicked out of the space they had booked - the very public well of the legislative office building - they were forced into a hearing room. They were replaced in the well by a wine tasting.

Leah Barrett, executive director of NYAGV, told Gotham Gazette she had booked the well months ahead but at the last minute the Republican Senate Majority moved her group to a hearing room, well out of public eye.

The move would fit a theme. For the past year gun issues have been taboo in Albany, especially as they became a flashpoint during the 2014 election cycle. Gov. Andrew Cuomo felt blowback in upstate counties for advocating for and signing The SAFE Act after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, CT, as did legislators from both parties who voted for it.

In the face of this trend, gun control advocates have slowly been ramping up efforts to introduce new gun-safety measures and educate the public about what they say are the "common sense protections of the SAFE Act." As they set their sights on the last weeks of this year's legislative session and beyond, their effort became more challenging given developments last week, when the leadership vote brought up upstate-downstate divides in the Senate Republican conference.

"Contrary to what many lawmakers probably think, we're not done with guns," Barrett told Gotham Gazette, saying that NYAGV and regulation-minded legislators will not be dropping their agenda, which includes things like tougher requirements for keeping guns locked up in homes.

Gun rights groups, angry that upstate Senators backed Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island to take over as majority leader, turned up the pressure on Senate Republicans to repeal the SAFE Act. They threatened to primary upstate legislators who backed Flanagan, who voted for the act, while his opponent in the leadership race, Sen. John DeFrancisco, voted against it.

"How can we possibly support an institution that is being run by someone who voted for the SAFE Act, which was probably the most draconian piece of legislation to affect the Second Amendment in New York State in our lifetime?" Thomas King, president of the New York State Rifle and Pistol Association, said this week of the Senate and its majority conference.

Flanagan told The Buffalo News and other interviewers that he would consider bills to reform the SAFE Act, but cast doubt that the Assembly or Governor would take them up, much less a full repeal.

Gun rights advocates insisted from the start that the SAFE Act was rushed through the Legislature by Cuomo out of political expediency and that some of its measures don't make practical sense.

NYAGV's Barrett dismissed the uproar in the Senate as "just bluster," but it certainly hasn't made her job any easier.

Barrett and legislators had been pressuring new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat from the Bronx, to dedicate a session day to passing laws encouraging gun safety and combating gun violence. So far Heastie has rebuffed those efforts. And since the leadership change in the Senate, advocates appear to have backed off those efforts.

"We are less concerned about a day than just allowing bills to come to a vote - that is what is important and I believe the speaker is more inclined to do that," Barrett said.

Heastie's office did not return request for comment.

Assembly Member Amy Paulin, a Democrat from Scarsdale who has a long history of sponsoring gun safety bills, admitted that the time may not be right for major action on guns. "There is really nothing onerous about anything in the Safe Act, but that isn't how people think of it now. Any real change is hard. All the parts of the SAFE Act were bills that we fought for over years. Change doesn't happen quickly," Paulin said.

Barrett has a list of legislation her group would like to see addressed, at least by the Assembly this year - even though those votes would be largely symbolic, with advocates and legislators knowing the Senate is extremely unlikely to take any up. The laws include legislation that would require gun owners to more safely store firearms, fight interstate gun trafficking, mandate safety training for employees of gun retailers, and train employees to better recognize buyers who simply plan to resell guns on the black market.

Barrett said that some of these bills are unlikely to pass the Senate because of pressure from the gun-rights lobby. However, she does expect some gun safety laws could make it through both houses. For example, Republican Senator Kathy Marchione of Rensselaer County and Manhattan Democratic Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh are sponsors of a bill that would provide tax credits to those who purchase gun safes.

Nicholas' Law, which requires safer storage of guns, is sponsored by Paulin in the Assembly and Sen. Jeff Klein, Independent Democrat of the Bronx, in the Senate.

The bill is named after 12-year-old Nicholas Naumkin, a resident of Saratoga Springs who was shot dead by a friend who was playing with his father's pistol, which had been left loaded and unlocked.

"Nicholas' law is a gun safety bill that advocates from both sides can agree on. It's common sense," said Paulin. "So I think we can pass that as a one-house bill this year," she said of at least moving it through the Assembly.

Paulin's general hesitancy about advancing further gun regulations likely has to do with some of the pressure upstate Democrats feel from their constituents around the SAFE Act. Many continue to voice a desire to see at least tweaks to the act.

Buffalo Democratic Senator Mark Panepinto broke with his party to challenge Flanagan to pass a series of bills that would tweak the law to make it easier for families to pass guns down through estate planning and keep private except to law enforcement all information regarding pistol permits. "We've got five weeks and I hope that Senator Flanagan will do the right thing and bring these things to the senate floor and I'm confident they'll pass," Panepinto recently told reporters.

Panepinto's seat is critical for Senate Democrats who hope to reclaim the majority in 2016. It may make strategic sense for Democrats to look the other way as Panepinto and others challenge the SAFE Act.

Sen. Jose Peralta of Queens is the Senate sponsor of a bill that would implement tougher restrictions on gun retailers like requiring them to have a security plan, ban those 18-years-old and younger from their premises, and require that guns are only sold on the premises or at gun shows. Paulin is the Assembly sponsor. Peralta said that he would be surprised to see any action on relevant issues in the Senate this year.

"I think it is really about education upstate," said Peralta. "Not only senators, but constituents because it's the constituents who move legislators. New Yorkers Against Gun Violence are working on that, but it's not easy."

While most of the consternation over the SAFE Act is based in upstate and western New York it appears its effects are being felt increasingly downstate where there is more gun violence. State records show that from March 2013 to the start of 2015 about 3,300 arrests were made under the SAFE Act. The majority of those arrests were made due to the provision making possession of an illegal firearm a felony. The majority of the total arrests were in New York City, with a large portion of those coming in the Bronx and Brooklyn.

Barrett said that NYAGV plans to continue educating legislators and the public about the impact of gun violence in cities across the state while advocating local gun safety ordinances. She notes that New York City, Buffalo, and Rochester already have an ordinance like Nicholas' Law on the books. She hopes cities like Albany will soon follow. "It takes a long time to pass any good piece of legislation, we know that," said Barrett. "We're patient."

by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette

Categories: State/Local

Rover, come on over to restaurants

Albany Times/Union - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 1:07am


If you've ever had an al fresco appetizer with an Airedale in Albany or scarfed salmon with your spaniel on a sidewalk in Syracuse, the restaurant where you and your dog were served might have been in violation of state health code.

But the Legislature has a plan to make it legal.

The state Senate on Wednesday passed legislation that gives restaurants the right to allow customers to bring their dogs to outdoor dining areas.

Sponsored by Long Island's Kemp Hannon, the bill would amend the health code, which now threatens restaurants who welcome canines with non-issuance, suspension or forfeiture of their license.

Restaurants would have to ensure that there would be no contamination of food and tainted utensils or equipment. The bill would not require a restaurant to have such a dog-friendly policy, nor would it create a right to dine with your pet.

"This legislation ... will benefit both owners and patrons, boosting revenue, and ensure safety standards are followed," Hannon said in a statement.

The bill is sponsored in the Assembly by Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan Democrat known for backing animal-friendly legislation.

The question you might be asking: Why not cats?

Hannon spokeswoman Allison Kane said the groups that called for the legislation did not advocate for cats to be included.

For what it's worth, the California bill that New York's legislation was modeled on also did not include any other companion animal.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners -— a veterinary professionals' trade group, and not an organization of practitioners who are also cats — had no comment.

"I think that's something we're not going to get in the middle of," a spokeswoman said.


Categories: State/Local

The Week Ahead in New York Politics, May 18

Gotham Gazette - Sun, 05/17/2015 - 1:00am

New York City Hall

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

EMAIL SUMMIT ANYONE? The much-anticipated, long-awaited e-mail deletion policy summit organized by the Cuomo administration is set for Friday in Albany - will it happen? Will anyone go?

WAGE BOARD: Happening on a much faster timeline is Cuomo's new Department of Labor fast-food worker wage board - the first meeting is set for Wednesday. There are high hopes that this will soon lead to a higher minimum wage for all New Yorkers, not just fast-food workers, but it is unclear exactly where the panel's work is heading, other than that it is very likely there will be executive action on fast-food worker wages. There could, of course, be a new minimum wage deal before legislative session ends...

SESSION DWINDLING: Governor Cuomo spent a large portion of his Sunday speaking at five Brooklyn events to promote the Education Income Tax Credit - four stops were churches, the fifth a Yeshiva. The EITC is one of many issues on the negotiating table in Albany as time is running low in legislative session. Legislators are due in the capital Monday through Wednesday for session (then off until Wednesday May 27 and in session for just Wednesday and Thursday next week after the Memorial Day holiday). Session is scheduled through June 17.

There are big public pushes being made around rent regulations and lots of discussion about mayoral control of schools, among other key issues. With little time left in session, lots of recent upheaval, and many issues on the table, who knows what will wind up being dealt with. There could easily be fairly basic extenders of items due to soon expire, such as the rent regs and mayoral control, but there is also likely to be some sort of big end-of-session deal that includes legislation on a whole host of topics all tied together. This is often referred to as a "big ugly."

CITY BUDGET: In New York City, City Council Executive Budget hearings are set to begin this week. The hearings, at which council members ask questions of mayoral administration officials about the spending plans for the coming fiscal year, will last for several weeks. A budget deal is due by June 30, with fiscal year 2016 set to begin July 1. Looking for more discussion about whether the city should hire more police officers? See Thursday morning.

Meanwhile, two city council members announced last week that they will be resigning (and the fate of a third, indicted CM Ruben Wills, is still TBD). CMs Mark Weprin and Vincent Ignizio are both leaving the Council: Weprin to serve in the Cuomo administration, Ignizio to run Catholic Charities of Staten Island. Neither has set an official date to step down, but we outline the next steps here.

May 18-21 is Internet Week New York: "Where business, technology, & culture meet." Via Digital.NYC (a de Blasio administration initiative): "Internet Week NY returns May 18-21 with 250+ events celebrating the entrepreneurial spirit and global impact of technology on business, entertainment and culture. Speakers from NYC include Minerva Tantoco (CTO, City of NY), Reshma Saujani (Founder, Girls Who Code), Paul Berry (CEO, RebelMouse), Milena Berry (CEO, PowerToFly), Sarah Chipps (Founder, Jewelbots), Jonathan Jaglom (CEO, Makerbot) and Mark O'Neill (CTO, Thrillist) and Nate Silver (Statistician, 538) and many more."

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:

According to WNYC education editor Beth Fertig, the New York Board of Regents will present its teacher evaluation plan on Monday.

At 9 a.m., elected officials including New York City Councilman Brad Lander will hold a rally against the Department of Health's failure to protect seniors at Prospect Park Residence, at Brooklyn Supreme Court, according to City & State NY. Public Advocate Letitia James is expected to participate. And in the evening, James will speak at "at Tenants' Rally for Safe and Habitable Living Conditions," 482 Nostrand Avenue, Brooklyn.

The Bronx GOP is having its annual golf outing on Monday "In Support of The Bronx Republican Party, The Bronx Veterans Welfare Fund and The Bi-Centennial Veterans Memorial Park" at St. Andrews Golf Club.

On Monday at 11 a.m., "Comptroller Scott M. Stringer will be joined by affected workers, as well as labor and immigrant rights advocates to announce a settlement with a former city subcontractor who cheated immigrant workers out of nearly $1 million dollars in prevailing wages. The Comptroller will also present checks to some of the workers."

Also Monday at 11 a.m., in the Bronx, City Council Members Andrew Cohen and Ritchie Torres "will hold a press conference at a yeshiva to advocate for the passage of Introduction 65. The legislation, introduced by Council Member David Greenfield, would require the NYPD to assign a school safety agent to any public or private school that requests one. School safety agents are unarmed, and are trained by and work for the NYPD. The legislation addresses the most basic need for all students attending school in New York City: a safe learning environment." The council members expect to be joined by "principals, teachers, concerned parents and students."

Monday's City Council schedule: the Committee on Finance meets at 10 a.m. for the initial executive budget hearing.

The state Senate is in session on Monday. From 12 to 1 p.m. the labor committee will have a meeting to discuss various amendments to labor laws, state finance laws, worker compensation laws. From 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. the insurance committee will meet to discuss amending various aspects of insurance law. The committee on children and families will meet from 1 to 2 p.m. to discuss amendments to various child protection laws regarding social service operations in relation to illegally operating day-cay providers, as well as a number of other issues regarding domestic abuse and custody in guardianship matters. From 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. the committee on civil service and pensions will meet on a variety of matters. The Senate will then be in session from 3-5 PM.

The Assembly is also in session Monday.

At noon on Monday at City Hall, "Council Members, Advocacy Groups & Business Leaders Will Urge Mayor de Blasio to Address NYC's Mounting Infrastructure Needs & Identify New Ways of Funding Critical Infrastructure Projects...Mayor's 10-Year Capital Plan is an Important Step Forward, but Greater Investment is Needed." Participants are said to include City Council Members, and reps from New York Building Congress; New Yorkers for Parks; General Contractors Association of New York; Association for a Better New York; Regional Plan Association; Natural Resource Defense Council; Center for an Urban Future; Riders Alliance; Tri-State Transportation Campaign; Transportation Alternatives; AAA; Global Gateway Alliance; New York League of Conservation Voters; American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Metropolitan Section.

At 2:30 p.m. Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak on an Internet Week civic tech panel.

At 3 p.m., Mayor de Blasio will hold a bill-signing ceremony at City Hall: he'll sign "Intro. 419-A, in relation to a comprehensive cultural plan; Intro. 178-A, in relation to price displays for second-hand automobiles; Intro. 51-B, in relation to requiring the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to issue an annual report regarding hepatitis B and hepatitis C; and Intro. 181-A, in relation to notice requirements for hotel development plans."

From 4-8 p.m. "On Monday, Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer will host an open house and grand opening event for her new Northern Manhattan Office. The 125th Street location will be the first street-level storefront office operated by a Manhattan Borough President, and reflects Brewer's commitment to make the resources of her office accessible to all residents across the borough of Manhattan."

At 5:30 p.m., the city DOE holds a public meeting of the PEP contracts committee, at Tweed; and at 7 p.m. New York City School Chancellor Carmen Farina speaks at a schools forum hosted by the Daily News and Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, at Town and Village Synagogue in Manhattan - according to City & State NY.

"A Celebration of the Life of Herman Badillo" on Monday at 6 p.m. at Hunter College. Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to deliver remarks, plus "New York Secretary of State Cesar A. Perales, New York City Comptroller Scott M. Stringer, Gail Badillo, Geraldo Rivera, CUNYBoard Vice Chairperson Philip Alfonso Berry, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab, City College of New York President Lisa S. Coico and other selected speakers join The City University of New York in "A Celebration of the Life of Herman Badillo."" Badillo was "America's first Puerto Rican-born congressman and leader in a New York City politics for four decades."

From Council Member Jumaane Williams: "I invite you to attend my fifth annual Haitian Flag Day celebration, co-hosted by Regine M. Roumain, taking place this Monday, May 18th from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM at Brooklyn Borough Hall."

At 6:30 p.m. Monday at Mitchell Square Park, "The Uptown Community Democrats announces its official launch...UCD, is a new political club focused on serving our uptown community and inspiring voters to participate in our democratic process. Speakers will include "Johanna Garcia, Leonel de Jesus, Dana Hockenbury, Cheryl Pahaham, Robert Jackson and Frances Escano."

Monday at 7 p.m., City Council Member Laurie Cumbo invites you to "Attend an info session on how to preserve Prospect Heights."

"NYLCV's Annual Spring Gala will take place Monday, May 18th...the Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor of the State of New York will deliver our keynote address. He has exhibited true leadership in preparing our state for the next big storm, while also making investments in clean energy that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions." Honorees include "Citi, our 2015 Corporate Honoree...David Kenny, CEO and Chairman of the Weather Company, will receive our 2015 Environmental Leader Award...acclaimed landscape architect Michael Van Valkenburgh will be honored by our Education Fund."

At 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, "The Commission on Public Information and Communication (COPIC), Chaired by Public Advocate James will hold a hearing on focused on the City's compliance with Local Law 103 of 2013, which requires the webcasting of public meetings," at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

Tuesday's City Council schedule includes the executive budget hearing for the committee on general welfare, the committee on juvenile justice and the committee on women's issues, beginning at 10 a.m. At 1:00 PM, the subcommittee on planning, dispositions and concessions will meet to discuss an urban development action plan for properties located in Brooklyn's Community Board 13 and Council District 47.

There will be a "public forum on New York State's efforts to combat climate change" led by State Senator Brad Hoylman on Tuesday morning in Albany. "Forum comes as members of Senate Republican Conference openly deny the existence of man-made climate change...The forum will feature scientific experts, environmental advocates, and New York residents and business owners impacted by climate change and determine what steps need to be taken to make New York a global leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions...Dr. Radley Horton of Columbia University; Executive Director of Environmental Advocates of New York Peter Iwanowicz; Richard Schrader of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Jessica Ottney Mahar of The Nature Conservancy; other scientific experts, environmental advocates, New York residents and business owners."

Along with Sen. Hoylman's climate change forum the state Senate's Tuesday includes a 10:00 a.m. meeting of the committee on aging to discuss various issues and laws, including a campaign to raise awareness of elder abuse; a 10:30 a.m. meeting of the committee on transportation to discuss various amendments to traffic, vehicle, and highway laws; an 11 a.m. meeting of the finance committee to consider amending various laws; a noon meeting of the health committee to discuss amending various public health laws in relation to establishing some banned substances, setting nutrition standards, and more; a 12:30 p.m. meeting of the committee on investigations and government operations; a 12:30 p.m. meeting of the senate committee on cities to discuss administrative code including an act to direct New York City to conduct a storm water analysis in southeast queens, and an act that requires passengers use seatbelts in taxi-cabs, and that a sign is prominently displayed informing passengers do so; and a 1 p.m. meeting of the committee on local government. And, Senate session at 3 p.m.

The Assembly is also in session on Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening, City Council Member Andy King and his staff will be hosting another in its series of constituent services nights in different NYCHA housing developments in his district: "6:30 -8:30 p.m. at the Baychester Houses Community Center...Services will include resources and solutions for housing, food stamps, immigration, Access-A-Ride and basic services."

Tuesday evening will see Capital New York TAMI Talks: The Millennial Workplace, "an in-depth look at how the TAMI sector is creating a workplace that appeals to a growing generation of Millennials who are taking over the workforce. The event will discuss how Millennials and digital disruption are creating new workflows, redrawing org charts, changing the nature of work, and driving change in the commercial real estate landscape of New York City." Welcome from Josh Benson, Co-founder, Capital New York, Sponsor One-on-One with Josh Kuriloff, Executive Vice Chairman, Cushman & Wakefield and panel conversation with Nick Denton, CEO, Gawker Media; Maria Gallione, SVP, Account Management Development Director, Grey; Tracy Kim, Chief of Staff, Shutterstock; Miguel McKelvey, Co-founder, WeWork; Amanda Ramos, Director of Innovation, Gensler.

On Wednesday, The Atlantic's fourth annual "New York Ideas" - "an event dedicated to bringing to together today and tomorrow's top leaders" - is taking place in Manhattan and will feature Success Academy CEO Eva Moskowitz, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and others. Moskowitz is due to speak around 9:15 a.m., Bratton at about 2:15 p.m., according to event organizers.

Wednesday at 8 a.m. at New York Law School: "The Conflicts of Interest Board and the Center for New York City Law at New York Law School are pleased to announce the 21st Annual Citywide Seminar on Ethics in City Government."

On Wednesday morning in Albany, City & State will host "High Anxiety: Gen X and Boomers Struggle with Stress, Savings & Security" - "AARP will release its groundbreaking statewide survey on the financial security of the Gen X and Baby Boom generations. Specifically, we will discuss retirement readiness, access to retirement savings vehicles, loans and debt, and support for a state-facilitated retirement savings option." New York State Budget Director Mary Beth Labate will keynote. "Labate is newly appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo to oversee the state's billion dollar budgetary process and replaces former director Robert Megna." A panel discussion will include Thomas Nitido, deputy comptroller to Tom DiNapoli, and Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte.

Governor Cuomo's office announced that its Department of Labor Fast Food Wage Board will hold its initial meeting on Wednesday "at 11 a.m. at 75 Varick Street, 7th floor, New York City and connected by videoconference to 290 Main Street, Buffalo, Regional Office Conference Room. The purpose of the meeting is for Wage Board members to hear the Commissioner's Charge and to finalize a calendar of public hearings. The meeting is open to members of the public; however, no public testimony will be taken at this meeting.More information about the Fast Food Wage Board, including meeting documents and videos of the meetings after they occur, is available at"

Council Members Margaret Chin and Corey Johnson will lead a town hall meeting to figure out ways to make an "age-friendly" community in New York City, 10 a.m. Wednesday: "The New York Academy of Medicine, Community Boards 1, 2, & 3, and the Age-Friendly Neighborhood Initiative will host a town hall meeting to hear about what matters most to older adults in the Lower Manhattan and Lower West Side communities."

Wednesday's City Council schedule includes the committee on mental health, developmental disability, alcoholism, substance abuse and disability service will look at two resolutions that propose increases in income thresholds for the senior citizen homeowner's exemption program at 9:30 a.m. and at 10:00 a.m. the same committee, as well as the committees on health and finance will hold an executive budget hearing; and at 1:30 PM the committee on economic development and the committee on small business will meet for an executive budget hearing.

The state Senate is in session on Wednesday at 11 a.m. Before that, at 9:30 a.m., the committee on cultural affairs, tourism, and parks and recreation will have a meeting; at 10 a.m. there will a public hearing led by both houses of the Legislature to address New York State's cyber security infrastructure, including the challenges, risks and protocols used to protect state information, hardware, software and systems; at noon there will be a public hearing by both houses for an update on the Energy Highway and Reform of the Energy Vision Initiatives; and at 1:30 p.m. the Senate will have its annual meeting of the legislative commission on rural resources.

The Assembly is also in session on Wednesday. And, at 11 a.m., the Assembly Standing Committee on Correction will meet "To examine the efficacy of sex offender residency restrictions and identify best practices to promote public safety and prevent recidivism of sex offenders."

The New York City Panel for Educational Policy meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Prospect Heights Educational Campus in Brooklyn.

From "NYC Let Em Play" about the PEP meeting: "Please come testify about the state of high school sports at your high school. Chancellor Farina has put this on the agenda for this month's Panel for Educational Policy. This is rare opportunity for students, staff, and parents to let the Chancellor know if the Public Schools Athletic League is doing a good job meeting the sports needs of your school."

On Wednesday, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will host "a Neighborhood Planning & Rezoning Forum in East Harlem."

Thursday will see a de Blasio administration "day of action" led by the Department of Consumer Affairs and seeking "to educate New Yorkers about their rights and responsibilities" regarding the nail salon industry. This comes as part of the response to the damning New York Times investigative report on the nail salon industry, which is state-regulated (Gov. Cuomo announced his administration's response last week as well).

Thursday morning: Crain's Business Breakfast Forum: Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor New York Board of Regents, 8 a.m. at The Yale Club of New York City: Tisch will discus "standardized testing, teacher evaluations and charter schools. She will also address mayoral control of city schools and the state of education in New York" with moderator Erik Engquist, Assistant Managing Editor, Crain's New York Business.

There will be a Manhattan Borough Board Meeting led by BP Brewer on Thursday morning.

On Thursday at the City Council, the committee on public safety and the committee on finance will meet at 10:00 a.m. for an executive budget hearing. There will also be a land use committee hearing on Thursday.

And, the Assembly will hold a 10 a.m. public hearing regarding fishery management which will discuss the effects that fisheries have on the local/state economies, and to solicit comments regarding fishery management as a whole.

Thursday evening, the Four Freedoms Democratic Club is hosting "Is Albany About to Raise Your Rent?" Featuring: Assembly Member Keith Wright, Housing Committee Chair; Ilana Maier, Metropolitan Council on Housing; and Delsenia Glover, Tenants and Neighbors. "Learn about the fight to save rent regulation in our city, and how you can help. We'll have a panel of distinguished guests, as well as several attorneys who will be able to answer any specific housing questions you might have."

Friday and the weekend
Albany e-mail summit, anyone? Anyone?

*Have a good Memorial Day weekend! We'll be back with a new Week Ahead on the night of Monday, May 25 (probably). Send us things to include - whether it's issues to keep an eye on or specific events. And please do tweet and share the Week Ahead! We're @GothamGazette*

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 Bernard Agrest and Ben Max

Categories: State/Local

State grant allows free Mental Health First Aid courses

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 5:07pm


During a medical emergency, people know to act.

There are even catchy reminders of what to do.

An initialism sometimes used in CPR training, for instance, is "ABC," to prompt responders to check someone's airways, breathing and circulation.

But during a crisis involving mental health?

Many people aren't even sure what they're witnessing, said John Richter, director of public policy for the Mental Health Association of New York State.

MHANYS is offering a course in Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid to change that. A grant from the state this year allows them to offer it for free.

A key goal of the course, Richter said, is to puncture the stigma associated with mental illness that exists because people don't know how to recognize it or what to do about it.

"This can help demystify some of that by talking about mental health the same way we talk about physical illness," Richter said. "Our hope one day is that this will be as common as first aid or CPR."

Another important goal of offering the course, he said, is to speed the time it takes to get help to mentally ill people. The median age of time between experiencing the first symptoms of mental illness and seeking treatment is 10 years, Richter said.

The group offered a training in Youth Mental Health First Aid on Tuesday and Wednesday morning at the Beltrone Living Center off Wolf Road. Eighteen people who work with youth in a professional capacity, including at schools, attended. The training is also meant for parents and any other adults who interact with young people.

Trainer Marsha Lazarus of MHANYS talked about the special challenges in recognizing a mental health crisis in adolescents, whose normal developmental changes can mask problems. Expected changes in weight might mask an eating disorder, for instance; emotional turmoil could mask depression or anxiety.

A disorder, she said, is characterized by disrupting a person's life, whether at work, school or in relationships. One in five teens age 13-18 report having anxiety, behavioral or mood disorders that severely impact their lives, Lazarus said.

The number does not take into account teens with substance use disorders.

The eight-hour course does not train participants to diagnose a mental health condition, Richter stressed, just to recognize that mental illness may be an issue and respond to it.

Participants learned a Mental Health First Aid mnemonic, ALGEE, to help them respond appropriately in situations where mental health may be an issue:

Assess for risk of suicide or harm.

Listen nonjudgmentally.

Give reassurance and information

Encourage appropriate professional help.

Encourage self-help and support strategies.

Categories: State/Local

Gov. Andrew Cuomo seeks $150 million education tax credit

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 1:07am


As students begin preparing to cram for end-of-the-year tests, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is making a legislative crunch-time push to get an education investment tax credit through the Legislature.

The governor appeared with Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Long Island and in Buffalo on Tuesday to call on lawmakers to approve the controversial measure, which has a new family-friendly name: the Parental Choice in Education Act.

Cuomo's plan for the EITC, as it's known at the Capitol, is to provide tax credits of up to 75 percent for individual and business donations to public schools and non-profits that support public educational programs, and credits for up to 75 percent of donations to non-profit organizations that award scholarships to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.

He also wants $70 million in credits for families with incomes less than $60,000 per year that could be used for up to $500 in tuition expenses per student to send kids to non-public and out-of-district public schools.

Another $10 million in credits would be used for up to $200 per public school teacher to help them buy instructional materials and school supplies.

In total, Cuomo's plan is valued at $150 million.

The governor said during his Long Island visit that the plan is about giving parents the option of where to send their children by helping keep schools funded.

The EITC has been a thorny issue in Albany. Legislation approving the tax credit passed the state Republican-controlled Senate this year, albeit on the same day Cuomo proposed the linkage of a modified version of the credit and the DREAM Act, which would make higher education funding available to undocumented immigrants.

Assembly Democrats support the DREAM Act but generally oppose the EITC, inverting the Senate GOP's stances. Both items fell off the table during budget negotiations.

Sen. John Flanagan, the new Senate majority leader, and the former chair of the Senate Education Committee, said he spoke briefly with the governor about his latest proposal.

"It would be foolish of me to suggest it's going to be our way or the highway," Flanagan said. "The governor, to the best of my knowledge, added a component that would allow for a parental deduction for tuition. I think that will engender considerable support. ... This will make a lot of other people find it more appealing."

That's not to say passage of the credit is a sure bet. It's thought that other policies, including New York City rent regulations, the 421-a tax break program for real estate developers and mayoral control of New York City schools, are the higher on lawmakers's priority list with the session set to end June 17.

In his Long Island remarks, Cuomo once again rebuked the education "bureaucracy" — usually read as shorthand for teachers unions and their allies — for blocking the EITC.

A group of public education advocates quickly released a statement calling the measure a scheme to divert millions of dollars from public education.

"Even with a substantial school aid increase this year, nearly one-third of the state's school districts will have less state aid in 2015-16 than six years ago," New York State United Teachers union Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta said in the statement. "Investing adequately and equitably in public education, not providing more tax giveaways to the wealthy who prefer private education, should be the state's top priority."

Political theater aside, most of the Long Island event at least did not address Albany politics.

"Students, we love you, we're doing this for you," said Dolan, an advocate for both the EITC and the DREAM Act, said. " ... You're given an excellent education, and you know when something is logical or not. This bill, this initiative ... this issue is so logical and so compelling." • 518-454-5449 • @matt_hamilton10

Categories: State/Local

Bill limits State Liquor Authority on out-of-state sales penalties

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 1:07am


A bipartisan quartet of lawmakers pushed for passage of a bill on Tuesday that would constrain the State Liquor Authority from taking action against a state licensee based on alleged violations of the laws of other states until the charges have been adjudicated in those jurisdictions.

The measure was prompted by the SLA's ongoing enforcement action against Empire Wine, a Colonie retailer cited last August under a New York regulation that says the state can revoke, cancel or suspend a liquor license due to "improper conduct by the licensee" — including Empire's shipments to consumers in 16 state where such direct shipping is banned.

Empire sued the state, claiming the statute was unconstitutionally vague and SLA's actions violated the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. That suit was sidetracked last fall by a state Supreme Court justice's decision that said the retailer first had to exhaust its administrative options. That grinding process is bogged down as Empire attempts to call a wide range of witnesses.

At Tuesday's news conference, Empire owner Bradley Junco said the case was currently "on hold" as his lawyers and SLA hammer out the next steps.

The bill is co-sponsored by Assembly Democrat Phil Steck of Colonie and Republican Sen. Phil Boyle of Bay Shore, Nassau County, who said too many businesses in New York state view regulation as a "money grab" instead of reasonable enforcement.

The legislation wouldn't prevent SLA from sanctioning a licensee for its illegal out-of-state trade, but would predicate New York's action on a determination from another state that a business was in violation there.

Junco has said Empire ceases to ship to any state after it has received a cease-and-desist letter from its regulator. Other states, including California, have kept their laws against out-of-state shipments on the books, but have said they have no interest in prosecuting violations.

Also on hand at the news conference were Capital Region lawmakers Sen. George Amedore a Rotterdam Republican and Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy, an Albany Democrat.


Categories: State/Local

LLC donations loophole bill stalls in New York Senate committee

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 1:07am


Brooklyn Democratic state Sen. Daniel Squadron's goal of getting a committee vote on a bill to close the controversial "LLC loophole" was quashed Tuesday – and is quite possibly finished for the year.

Squadron had sent a letter Monday to the chairman of the Senate Committee on Corporations, Michael Ranzenhofer, stating a vote was required on the bill according Senate rules, as this was the committee's second meeting since the legislation had been referred from the Senate Elections Committee.

Ranzenhofer said he had received the letter Tuesday, and the deadline had passed to get the bill on the meeting's agenda.

"I just got it today, so let me take a look at it," Ranzenhofer said.

Squadron said the bill clearly was on the Republican radar and should have been on the committee's agenda, because the "rules by any other interpretation are absurd."

The hearing was held late in the afternoon in the Legislative Office Building, which Squadron construed as an attempt by Republicans to downplay it.

The Squadron bill would treat LLCs like corporations or other joint-stock entities, which have $5,000 annual donation limits.

Under a state Board of Elections ruling, each of a developer's LLCs can give up to $150,000 each annually, the same as a single individual.

The Assembly passed a bill similar to Squadron's on Tuesday.

Senate Democrats strongly support closing the loophole, but the chamber's Republicans do not appear eager to go on record with a vote.

Ranzenhofer said Tuesday's meeting had intentionally featured a "very aggressive schedule" and he had not planned to meet again before the legislative session ends in June.

Opponents of the LLC loophole see an opening because its biggest user, Long Island developer Glenwood Management, has played a role in the charges against two fallen legislative leaders, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Sen. Dean Skelos, who stepped down as Senate majority leader on Monday.

Glenwood has been a major donor to Senate Republicans, who maintain a narrow majority.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo also favors closing the loophole, although he too is a major recipient of LLC donations.

Categories: State/Local

Police search for evidence on killer

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 1:07am

Adams, Mass.

Police are searching an area of Mount Greylock in Adams for evidence connected to a Berkshire County man already serving a life sentence for killing two children.

District Attorney David Capeless says officers will concentrate their efforts on areas not searched previously at the base of the highest peak in Massachusetts.

Lewis Lent Jr., a handyman from North Adams, is serving life in prison for the 1990 abduction and murder of 12-year-old Jimmy Bernardo, of Pittsfield, and the 1993 slaying of 12-year-old Sara Ann Wood, of Frankfort, N.Y.

Lent has also confessed to killing 16-year-old James Lusher, who disappeared while riding his bike in Westfield in 1992.

The bodies of Wood and Lusher have never been found.

Categories: State/Local

Obama dealt a stinging defeat

Albany Times/Union - Sat, 05/16/2015 - 1:07am


A measure backed by Sen. Chuck Schumer to thwart Chinese currency manipulation played a central role Tuesday in Senate Democrats' successfully derailing fast track on trade legislation, a stunning defeat to President Barack Obama by his own party.

Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York's junior senator, both voted with all but one Senate Democrat — Tom Carper of Delaware — to thwart consideration of fast track, which would free Obama to negotiate a controversial trade deal and then limit Congress to an up-or-down vote on it, with no amendments. The 52-45 votes fell six short of the 60 needed to overcome the Democratic filibuster.

Schumer had said he would oppose fast track unless it was accompanied by the bipartisan Currency Exchange Rate Oversight Reform Act that would give workers and companies whose products are undercut by low prices on Chinese goods a chance to get U.S. tariffs reinstated.

China has a record of keeping its exchange rates artificially low so its products remain competitive.

Schumer told reporters last week that even if the currency-manipulation proposal were approved by the Senate, he would remain "skeptical" of fast track and the underlying trade bill, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. TPP would lower tariffs among 12 nations including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Malaysia and Chile.

Tuesday's vote put Obama in an odd alliance with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and other Republicans against Senate Democrats who usually stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the White House. During an appearance at Nike headquarters in Oregon last week, Obama said fellow Democrats concerned about detrimental effects of the trade deal were "making this stuff up."

With White House backing, McConnell refused to include the currency-manipulation language and another bill in the package on the Senate floor. That led the last few wavering Democrats to oppose fast track, sealing its fate at least for now.

Schumer was adamant that Chinese currency manipulation be addressed as part of fast track and TPP. He cited a study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute that concluded Chinese currency manipulation had cost New York 179,200 jobs between 2001 and 2013. In New York's Albany-based 20th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Paul Tonko, 7,217 jobs were lost to Chinese trade practices.

Gillibrand "had serious concerns about the proposal and about how previous trade deals have been implemented, many of which have had negative long-term impacts on upstate New York manufacturing jobs," spokesman Marc Brumer said.

Schumer is a long-time opponent of trade deals. As a House member, he voted against the North American Free Trade Agreement — NAFTA — in 1993. That deal is blamed for severe U.S. manufacturing losses.

Categories: State/Local
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