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Albany Times/Union

Judge stays Trump threat to cut 'sanctuary city' funds

30 min 51 sec ago

San Francisco

A federal judge on Tuesday blocked President Donald Trump's attempt to withhold funding from "sanctuary cities" that do not cooperate with U.S. immigration officials, saying the president has no authority to attach new conditions to federal spending.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick issued the preliminary injunction in two lawsuits — one brought by the city of San Francisco, the other by Santa Clara County — against an executive order targeting communities that protect immigrants from deportation. The injunction will stay in place while the lawsuits work their way through court.

The judge rejected the administration's argument that the executive order applies only to a relatively small pot of money and said Trump cannot set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.

"Federal funding that bears no meaningful relationship to immigration enforcement cannot be threatened merely because a jurisdiction chooses an immigration enforcement strategy of which the president disapproves," the judge said.

It was the third major setback for the administration on immigration policy. The Justice Department had no immediate comment.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera praised the ruling Tuesday and said the president was "forced to back down."

"This is why we have courts — to halt the overreach of a president and an attorney general who either don't understand the Constitution or chose to ignore it," Herrera said in a statement.

Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said the ruling will allow cities and counties across the country to prepare budgets without the "unconstitutional threat of federal defunding hanging over our heads."

A Justice Department attorney, Chad Readler, previously defended the president's executive order as an attempt to use his "bully pulpit" to "encourage communities and states to comply with the law." Readler also said the order applied to only three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants that would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara County and possibly no money for San Francisco. But the judge said the executive order was written broadly to reach all federal grants and potentially jeopardized hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to San Francisco and Santa Clara.

He cited comments by the president and Attorney General Jeff Sessions as evidence of the order's scope and said the president himself had called it a "weapon" to use against recalcitrant cities.

Categories: State/Local

Legislators seek overhaul of surrogacy laws

30 min 51 sec ago

Albany

Juan and Heather Cruz battled infertility for seven years.

There were changes in doctors. There were surgeries and other medical procedures.

A year and a half ago, their son Jaxson was born.

But the difficulties weren't over.

Heather Cruz's sister was the couple's in-state surrogate. Yet when Jaxson was born, the hospital was prepared to hold the baby indefinitely — unless the Cruzes received a court order declaring that they were in fact the child's parents.

"Why does it have to take after the child is born to make that announcement?" Juan Cruz said. The legal hassles turned "a very beautiful and celebratory time into a very stressful and anxious time because we couldn't leave with our own biological child after spending seven years trying to have the child."

The Long Island couple was in Albany on Tuesday to push for legislation that has stalled in recent years that would overhaul the state's laws on third-party reproduction.

Surrogacy is legal in New York, but statutory boundaries are strict. Under the law, surrogacy contracts between the intended parents and the woman who will give birth are unenforceable, and it is illegal to compensate a surrogate.

In plain terms, surrogacy in New York means finding someone who a couple can trust to not keep the child after birth and navigating an onerous legal process to obtain custody of the child.

That leaves some couples — such as bill sponsor Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and his husband, David Sigal — with few options other than to seek a surrogate in another state where the law is more open or, at the very least, is silent on surrogacy. (Some other states have procedures by which both parents can be named on a birth certificate without needing to take action in their home state)

State lawmakers here cracked down on surrogacy in 1992, after the "Baby M" case in New Jersey, in which a surrogate mother refused to give up custody of the child she carried, attracted significant national attention.

The Child-Parent Security Act — which is being pushed by Hoylman and Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Westchester County, and was first introduced in 2012 — would provide for both surrogacy agreements and compensation in New York and would establish a pathway for intended parents to obtain an "order of parentage" from a court prior to the child's birth.

The bill would bring New York in line with 34 other states and the District of Columbia that Creative Family Connections, a Maryland surrogacy agency and law firm, points to as permitting surrogacy. Should the New York bill pass, the Empire State would become one of nine states where pre-birth orders are granted and both intended parents are named on the birth certificate.

The legislation, the sponsors noted, would open surrogacy up for heterosexual and same-sex couples in New York.

"We have marriage equality in New York, but we don't have equality for those same couples to have a family," Paulin said.

The Westchester County Democrat said fellow lawmakers have received the legislation positively, though there is a sentiment that any changes should wait for the release of a report from a state task force on the current state of the law to provide additional information.

Erin Silk, a spokesperson for the state Department of Health, said its Task Force on Life and the Law — which drafted the post-Baby M legislation — is finalizing its report.

In the meantime, some couples will continue to look to other states for a surrogate.

That includes Hoylman and Sigal. The senator said Tuesday that the couple has gone back to California to work with another surrogate who will give birth to their second daughter.

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

Categories: State/Local

State lawyers protest filing mandate

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

When should an attorney for a state agency be considered a policy maker?

That's a question that lawyers and their bosses at the state Office of Medicaid Inspector General are hashing out after the agency's head, Dennis Rosen, calls for its 22 senior attorneys to file financial disclosure forms with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

Such disclosures to the state's ethics watchdogs are required of elected officials and bureaucrats who are deemed to be in policy-making roles. Those who earn more than $91,821 also are required to file.

The lawyers, represented by the Public Employees Federation union, are protesting the demand, which would make public some of their and their spouses's financial details — such as the value of stock holdings, rental income or money earned from outside jobs.

The lawyers who are protesting make less than the mandated cutoff of $91,821, and say they don't make policy.

PEF is fighting the request and could seek a court order to halt it, according to an email obtained by the Times Union. "We are reviewing our options," said union spokeswoman Jane Briggs.

OMIG officials noted that other state agencies have made similar demands of their attorneys.

"As a result of a comprehensive review of both JCOPE's 'policy making' definition as well as the duties assigned to each of OMIG's 22 attorneys, OMIG appropriately — and within its authority as a state agency — determined to designate these attorney positions as policy-making," said an agency spokesman. "There are numerous state agencies that designate attorneys (including those with senior attorney titles) as policy-making."

OMIG also points to language in state law that says "the state has the authority, rights and responsibilities to direct, deploy and utilize the workforce and to establish specifications for each class of positions."

One complaint by the union is that the order "came out of the blue," said Serena Fallon, assistant council leader for the PEF unit that represents OMIG employees.

JCOPE spokesman Walter McClure said about 30,000 elected officials, legislative staffers and state workers are required to file the forms.

An additional 3,000 or so will be joining those ranks this year due to contractual longevity-based pay raises that will bring them above the $91,821 salary level.

People can seek exemptions from making the disclosure forms public or from filing them altogether, said McClure, although it wasn't immediately known how many people have sought them. There have been cases of veteran state workers who due to longevity are earning above the threshold but who clearly have no policy-making role; several members of that category have sought exemptions.

Disputes over disclosure have erupted from time to time over the years.

"It's something that's come up over time and there has been pushback from various segments of the state workforce," said Karl Sleight, an Albany lawyer who was executive director of the state Ethics Commission, a precursor to JCOPE.

In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed broadening the disclosure mandate by requiring local elected officials such as mayors, county supervisors or other officials earning more than $50,000 to file with JCOPE. But that idea fell off the table during state budget talks.

The deadline for filing disclosure information about 2016 income is May 15.

Assembly and Senate members, though, first file to the Legislative Ethics Commission, which then forwards the filings to JCOPE by the end of June. The watchdog group posts the forms on its website.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

NYCLU's request for donor exemption is denied

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

Commissioners of New York's lobbying and ethics watchdog agency voted on Tuesday to deny an exemption that would have allowed the New York Civil Liberties Union to shield its donors from public scrutiny.

Seven commissioners of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics voted against granting the exemption, while five voted in favor.

The NYCLU, the New York chapter of the national group that works to maintain individual rights, has argued that its donors could face retaliation if their names become public.

Under state law, issue-oriented lobbying groups that spend more than $15,000 annually on lobbying in New York must disclose donors who give more than $2,500.

George Weissman, a commissioner appointed by the state Senate Republican majority, said that the NYCLU had failed to prove that its donors faced harm if their names were disclosed.

"The application doesn't meet any evidentiary standard that we're aware of," Weissman said.

State law says that in order to gain an exemption, an organization's activities must involve an area of public concern that creates a substantial likelihood that disclosing donors "will cause harm, threats, harassment or reprisals," or that there is a "substantial likelihood" of this happening.

In its application, the NYCLU listed past instances of hostility towards it such as bomb threats, mailed threats and vandalism.

JCOPE rejected a 2014 exemption request filed by the NYCLU. But the organization appealed to Judicial Hearing Officer George Pratt, who called JCOPE's decision "clearly erroneous." The decision, however, only applied for a six-month period, and the NYCLU has to apply for the exemption every six months.

At Tuesday's meeting, JCOPE commissioner Rob Cohen, who voted in favor of granting the exemption, argued that the commission should pay attention to Pratt's ruling.

Cohen, an appointee of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, said he "vehemently" disagreed that the NYCLU had not demonstrated potential harm to its donors. He noted that because New York law only recently began requiring donor disclosure, it was difficult for groups to prove that harm had already occurred.

A NYCLU spokesman declined comment.

The same group is suing Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over a 2016 state law that requires nonprofits that lobby to disclose far more donor information, including funds given by charitable organizations. Schneiderman has agreed not to enforce the law as the federal lawsuit unfolds. The law requiring the expanded disclosure was pushed by Cuomo's administration.

Categories: State/Local

Nurse practitioners seek right to oversee end-of-life decision in N.Y.

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

Lindsey Wright, a nurse, works with a palliative care team that helps terminally ill patients and their families make decisions about their medical care at the end of life.

Wright is part of a team that includes three nurse practitioners, and she is working to become an NP, too.

Yet in cases when a patient has asked not to be resuscitated, a doctor must be called in to review that decision with the patient. That's New York law.

Nurse practitioners who were gathered in Albany on Tuesday, don't think it makes much sense.

"We really are equipped to have these conversations in a way other professionals are not," Wright said.

The Nurse Practitioner Association New York State is asking that its members be given the right to execute do not resuscitate, or DNR, orders, which allow medical staff to let patients die if their heart or breathing stops, as doctors do.

Nurse practitioners, who have master's and doctoral degrees, are allowed to diagnose illness and prescribe medication in New York. Amid a shortage of primary care providers and reforms that stress coordination of medical care, there is a national push to have NPs working to the full extent that their licenses allow. The association won a big victory three years ago with a law that allows nurse practitioners with three years' experience to work independently, without a written practice agreement with a physician.

Since then, the group has been "chipping away" at pieces of law that restrict nurse practitioners from practicing as fully as they should be able to, said Stephen Ferrara, executive director of the association. Members brought up the restriction on DNRs as an obstacle in their relationship with patients, he said.

"It would be so unfortunate for a nurse practitioner to know a patient's wishes and not be able to honor them," he said.

An earlier proposal to allow nurse practitioners to execute DNRs passed the state Legislature in 2010. But Gov. David Paterson vetoed the legislation after it was learned that it was inconsistent with a separate law with provisions pertaining to DNR orders.

A bill introduced last year gained little traction in the Legislature's higher education committees, Ferrara said. It was assigned there because nurse practitioners are professionals overseen by the state Education Department, not the Department of Health. This year, the DNR bill passed the health committees on Tuesday and will move on to a vote by the full state Senate and Assembly, Ferrara said.

chughes@timesunion.com518-454-5417@hughesclaire

Categories: State/Local

Engineer-educator takes on SUNY's challenges

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

The next leader of the state's sprawling public university system is an engineer and inventor who, in addition to serving as and undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, helped develop technology that aided the 3-D glasses used in films like "Avatar."

"Kristina Johnson is the right leader to keep SUNY at the top of its game," said outgoing Chancellor Nancy Zimpher as she introduced her replacement during a Monday meeting of the system's Board of Trustees.

Johnson holds 118 U.S. and international patents, and also invented a camera that can detect pre-cancerous cells on a cervical smear.

She has served as dean of Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering, where she helped bring in a $35 million gift. She has also worked as provost of Johns Hopkins University in a teaching career that started in 1985 at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

At SUNY, she will oversee a 64-campus system with 463,000 students and a $12 billion budget.

Johnson, in a brief press conference after the announcement, said she sees herself as both an engineer by training and an entrepreneur, a combination she believes will help create programs that cross the various academic disciplines.

Johnson's appointment was greeted warmly on Monday, with unions, lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo — who nominated current Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall — offering a chorus of praise.

Johnson "has a proven track record of leadership and innovation," Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

''She seems to a have a lot of energy and drive in terms of the various things she's done in her career, and that's the kind of leadership we are going to need in times that are financially tough," said Frederick Kowal, president of United University Professions, the union representing SUNY faculty and other professionals.

In an interview, Kowal said he was especially encouraged by Johnson's background in the energy field with the Obama administration, explaining that it fits in with the call by UUP and others to prepare students for jobs in the developing clean energy field. Johnson is currently the chief founder and CEO of Cube Hydro Partners LLC, which develops hydroelectric power.

In addition to the perennial fight for state funding, Johnson comes to SUNY as the challenges facing the system have evolved since Zimpher arrived in 2009.

Back then, SUNY was one of the long list of state operations dealing with the financial fallout of the recession that followed the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

Zimpher also led an ongoing effort to try and coordinate higher education with the K-12 system and to exploit SUNY's resources as an engine of job creation.

One of Johnson's first challenges will likely be implementing the Excelsior Scholarship program that Cuomo pushed through during the just-completed state budget negotiation. The program, which will offer free SUNY tuition to students whose families earn up to $125,000 per year, is expected to increase applications to the system's schools, and it could lead to the need for expanded offerings as well as more instructors to meet the demand.

"That will be a major component," said UUP's Kowal. "It's going to take very nimble administrative decision-making to hire where the needs are."

He pointed out that SUNY has lost full-time SUNY faculty jobs, going from 10,800 before the recession to 8,500 currently. The gap has been filled by adjunct professors and non-tenured faculty, but he believes the school needs a larger permanent core.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, the Manhattan Democrat who heads the Higher Education Committee, agreed that Johnson will be dealing with budget issues.

"I look forward to meeting her," said Glick. "It's terrific that we've been able to attract someone of her caliber despite the vagaries of the state's support for higher education."

Johnson said she viewed the free tuition plan as a reason to come to SUNY.

"It's one of the things that really attracted me to the position, the ability to work toward making higher education more affordable," she said. "We've got to get more students into the system and more students to get that education and training."

Johnson is one of several top officials from the Obama administration who have landed in New York in recent months.

Cuomo in March hired eight former Obama staffers and three former Hillary Clinton campaign advisors. Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has hired two former Clinton campaign aides, while Attorney General Eric Schneiderman hired a senior lawyer from Obama's Justice Department.

Johnson received her bachelor's, master's and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University.

She also serves on the boards of Cisco Systems and Boston Scientific.

Johnson will take over as chancellor on Sept. 5 at an annual salary of $560,000. She'll have use of the SUNY's chancellor's residence on State Street in Albany as well as an $8,000 monthly allowance for housing in New York City.

She'll have the use of a vehicle or an $800 monthly vehicle allowance along with a driver when needed.

Zimpher is stepping down at the end of June, a move she announced last year. SUNY trustees will choose an interim leader during their June 21 meeting.

Johnson, who grew up in Denver, Colo., will be SUNY's first openly gay chancellor. She's married to Veronica Meinhard, an administrator at the University of Maryland.

"SUNY has been successful because it has been diverse," McCall said when asked about that element of the appointment.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Senators plan bill to force SUNY, CUNY divestment from fossil fuels

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

A pair of Democratic state senators from Manhattan plan to introduce legislation that would require SUNY, CUNY and their affiliated organizations and foundations to divest from publicly traded fossil fuel companies.

The legislation, which is being pushed by Sens. Brad Hoylman and Liz Krueger, would require both university systems' boards of trustees to cease all new investments in the worlds' 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies by July 1, 2018, and fully divest from stocks, debt or other securities by Jan. 1, 2022. The same rules would apply to university-affiliated nonprofit organizations, such as the SUNY and CUNY Research Foundations.

"States have an obligation to ensure public dollars are divested from fossil fuels, especially given the collective impact they can make to address climate change," Hoylman said in a statement. "This is even more important in the face of the Trump administration's disastrous energy and environmental policies that will increase fossil fuel production."

A SUNY spokesperson did not immediately comment.

Such calls for divestment are not new in the Empire State. The SUNY Student Assembly's Executive Committee passed a resolution in 2015 calling on SUNY to divest from companies and interests that manufacture fossil fuels.

Krueger also carries legislation that would require the state comptroller to divest the state pension fund from fossil fuel companies.

A number of universities in the United States, including some public schools, have committed to divest from fossil fuels.

Whether the SUNY/CUNY divestment legislation gains traction remains to be seen: Krueger's pension fund divestment legislation and an Assembly same-as bill did not make it out of the committee stage in 2015 and 2016.

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

Categories: State/Local

Poll: Down on the budget, but happy with its contents

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

A new Siena Research Institute poll finds that while less than a quarter of New Yorkers (22 percent) think the new state budget is either excellent or good for the people of the state, at least 71 percent think its marquee elements — a $2.5 billion clean water infrastructure fund, a $1.1 billion boost for schools, the expansion of ride-hailing services, and the "free tuition" plan — will make New York better.

"Although Republicans are closely divided, 82 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and at least 63 percent of voters from every region think free tuition at SUNY and CUNY for families making less than $125,000 will make New York better," said Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg in a statement.

The Cuomo administration noted that those high scores came after respondents were told about the residency requirement for students who take advantage of the tuition plan, which expands aid for students from households making $125,000 or less.

Also, roughly two-thirds of Democrats and New York City voters think raising the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 will make New York better; Republicans disagree with the change by a 10-point margin (53-43 percent).

Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and President Donald Trump experienced an uptick in their respective favorability ratings in the poll, though Trump remains in the basement with New Yorkers. The Republican has a negative 34-61 percent favorability rating and a negative 28-69 percent job performance rating.

Categories: State/Local

Adirondack Museum becomes 'Experience'

30 min 52 sec ago

Blue Mountain Lake

Adirondack Museum will open for the season next month with a new name and brand identity designed to lure more visitors to its sprawling 121-acre indoor-outdoor campus.

The new name is The Adirondack Experience, The Museum on Blue Mountain Lake.

Executive Director David Kahn says consumer research shows travelers and tourists want "rich interactive experiences that immerse them in their environment."

He says the museum provides that and the new name also reflects it.

The museum, which is open seven days a week from May 26 through Oct. 9, is spread throughout 25 buildings.

Categories: State/Local

Booze at the movies gets a bump as lawmakers return to Albany

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

If you want to wash down your popcorn with a cold beer at the movies in New York, the home theater might be your best destination.

State lawmakers, who are set to return to the Capitol on Monday for eight more weeks of legislative session, could change that by taking up legislation that fell out of the budget negotiation earlier this month after being touted earlier in the year by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Some theater groups and alcohol producers are voicing support for the bill, which would relax statewide regulations on alcohol sales at movie theaters.

Last week, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, D-Brooklyn, introduced legislation similar to what Cuomo proposed, though a Senate sponsor has not yet signed on. (Sen. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island, has proposed such a bill before.) The Lentol legislation would permit the sale of alcoholic beverages , to patrons of legal age with tickets for films rated PG-13, R or NC-17.

State law currently permits theaters with licensed restaurants on site and tables at each seat to serve booze, restrictions that allow fewer than 10 movie houses statewide to sell alcohol, said Joe Masher, president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Theatre Owners and chief operating officer of Bow Tie Cinemas, which operates throughout the Capital Region.

Technically, that makes New York one of 35 states nationwide that permit alcohol service at certain theaters, Masher said, though other jurisdictions actually allow sales in the larger traditional auditoriums.

On the business end, alcohol may not be a panacea for theaters, with admissions remaining relatively flat in recent years, according to Motion Picture Association of American statistics. Masher said booze accounts for a small percentage of Bow Tie's revenues, and Regal Entertainment Group, which like Bow Tie operates Capital Region cinemas, reported small quarterly increases in 2016 in per capita concession revenues that it attributed in part to new menu items and alcoholic beverage offerings.

But adult beverages have been a trendy amenity to offer as theaters try to boost attendance and, in turn, concession sales.

Lentol said expanding alcohol sales in theaters also could be an economic development tool, particularly in upstate communities where smaller movie houses struggle to attract patrons.

"That would be a shot in the arm to a lot of communities to have that type of a movie theater," said Lentol, who added that booze at the movies is "an idea not only whose time has come, but has really passed us — because we do this kind of thing in (other types of) theaters already."

Alcohol producers, a class that has benefited from state attention in recent years, see a business opportunity here as well.

"It's another outlet for our locally-made New York agriculturally based craft ciders, and I think that anywhere that gives that opportunity we're in favor of," said Alejandro Del Peral, founder of Albany-based Nine Pin Cider. "Just on a personal level, when I watch a movie at home on the couch I'm always drinking a cider, so I would love to have that same opportunity when I go to the theaters."

But with the Assembly and Senate both thumbing their noses at Cuomo's proposal during the budget talks, it's unclear if political will power exists to actually get legislation passed before lawmakers bug out for the year in late June.

Broadly, Cuomo, who has made a point of overhauling alcohol laws, admitted last weekend that the major priorities he outlined in January that were not agreed to in the budget may not be feasible in the final months of session.

A Cuomo spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment on whether that statement also applies to alcohol in movie theaters.

Lentol said some fellow lawmakers recoil at the idea because children also are theater patrons who would be exposed to drinking, a concern that is not unique to New York.

Masher bristled.

"It happens at Chuck E. Cheese, it happens at performing arts centers, (it happens) certainly during concerts in the dark," he said.

"People don't go to movie theaters ... to go get drunk," Masher added. "People are going, and they might want to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer or a cocktail with their movie. But the reality is people aren't getting up to go out and get a second drink. People don't even like to get up in the middle of the movie to use the restroom if they don't have to."

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

Categories: State/Local

Report: North Colonie has corrected most special needs problems found by investigators

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

The North Colonie school district has corrected problems with treatment of special needs students found by an advocacy group during the 2013-14 school year.

But the group that brought the district to court over the affair will continue to monitor the district's Blue Creek Elementary School going forward, according to a report released last week.

"North Colonie has taken substantial steps to remedy the more egregious issues,'' Timothy Clune, executive director of Disability Rights New York, a federally authorized organization that advocates for those with disabilities, said in a prepared statement that accompanied release of a report outlining the changes.

"The report confirms that North Colonie has taken multiple steps to resolve concerns first identified during the 2013-14 school year, and that our current policies and practices meet state and federal law and regulations,'' North Colonie Superintendent Joe Corr said in a statement on the school's website.

The affair began when DRNY in June 2014, responding to complaints they had received, began investigating whether students in Blue Creek's special "Academic Skills" class had been inappropriately isolated in time-out rooms and improperly restrained.

Making those determinations proved difficult at first as the school initially rebuffed DRNY's request to review internal notes between teachers and administrators regarding students in the special classes. DRNY went to federal court and that issue hasn't been fully resolved, according to the report.

But DRNY investigators got a temporary order giving them access to information, and they focused on five students.

North Colonie Report 2017 Drny by rkarlin on Scribd

They came up with a list of a problems or instances in which the school wasn't following guidelines for teaching special needs students.

Those included improperly restraining students when they should have tried other approaches to change or control the kids' behavior. School personnel also failed to properly document some instances when kids were restrained.

Nor had they developed plans to prevent ''elopement,'' or incidents in which youngsters left the school building and grounds and headed for an area with a lot of traffic.

Additionally, untrained personnel had conducted restraints on students.

In other instances, investigators found that Blue Creek had designated a bathroom as a ''quiet room'' which also was sometimes used for instruction. Students also ate snacks in the bathroom.

One time, three students had "significant aggressive meltdowns,'' forcing their classroom to be cleared and the bathrooms to be utilized as a makeshift classroom.

Other findings included the case of a fifth grader, classified as "Emotionally Disturbed," who was physically restrained at least 13 times during the 2013-2014 school year. Some of the restraints resulted in injuries to staff and the student including rug burns.

These problems have since been corrected, according to the report. Additionally, the district has instituted more training and better documentation of restraint incidents.

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

Categories: State/Local

Regents Fellows have faded, but not disappeared

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

They were alternately praised as a breath of fresh air for a broken, hidebound system or condemned as an unaccountable shadow government. But either way, two dozen Regents Fellows, consisting of young Ivy Leaguers and education thinkers, made their share of headlines four years ago when they were installed in the state Education Department.

Today, this cadre of privately funded scholars, academics and testing experts has shrunk significantly as the private grants that brought them to New York have largely run out. And, notably, the groundswell of education reform that roiled the state over the past few years has subsided as well.

Down from about two dozen at their height, there are now two in New York City and three in Albany, according to the state Education Department.

And the key players who helped bring them here and those who battled them are gone.

The downsized Regents Fellows program represents a final chapter in what had been a series of high-profile reform attempts, which, facing ferocious union opposition and public mistrust, have faded from the scene.

Depending on one's point of view, the whole affair, spearheaded by former Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and former Education Commissioner John King, was either beaten back by a powerful teachers union clinging to the status quo or were victims of their own bad ideas.

"Is there any place in the nation where education reform has left the rails as quickly and completely as New York?'' Robert Pondiscio, a former Bronx teacher and education reformer, asked in a recent post on Flypaper, a blog of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Foundation education think tank.

"Once a bright spot on the national reform landscape and a magnet for talent and innovation, New York has, with bewildering and humbling speed, become nearly the opposite,'' Pondiscio said.

Not so, said Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers. He's happy to see the Regents Fellows being downsized.

"Much of the mess that resulted from the botched implementation of Common Core and the incessant testing can be laid at the feet of the Regents fellows," Korn said.

"They rode in on the backs of billionaires' paychecks and tried to impose their ideology on the public. Once the public fully understood what they were selling, nobody bought it."

The program dates to 2010 when Tisch helped create what was to be a $19 million Regents Research Fund. A member of the Tisch real estate and business family, she pledged $1 million. Other philanthropies joined in including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the Carnegie Corp.

The idea was to bring in the best and brightest thought leaders in education reform to help oversee the state's $700 million Race to the Top federal grant.

Fellows included psychometricians who can analyze and design academic achievement tests, charter school developers and educators who devised "turnarounds" to improve failing schools.

They included Ivy Leaguers, researchers and lawyers who reported to King and the Regents. While described as adjuncts to the Education Department's existing staff, their six-figure salaries, access to the commissioner and Regents and their pedigrees set them apart.

That created friction with the permanent bureaucracy in the department. Some longtime employees retired and there were stories about things like a special Fellows Room reserved for this new group of leaders from outside the Civil Service system.

Supporters saw the Fellows as a step toward progress.

"It was like a think tank. Here are smart people that are trying to drive the process forward,'' said Jim Malatras, a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo who now heads the Rockefeller Institute.

He was asked to head the Fellows initiative but ended up working at the State University of New York system at the time.

The Fellows helped develop a number of initiatives ranging from teacher evaluation and testing plans to curriculum guides.

Almost a decade later, the verdict is mixed.

The Fellows were instrumental in starting a push to closely link teacher tenure to their students' scores on standardized tests.

But following a fiery backlash from unions and parents who felt their kids were being overtested, much of that plan is halted for the forseeable future.

"Tying tests to (teacher) accountability is on hold,'' said Jay Worona, deputy executive director and general counsel for the state School Boards Association.

Another proposal never even got off the ground: a plan to use Big Data to track student achievement and factors including home life, health status and criminal records and link it to academic success.

The idea was to ferret out clues or commonalities that would provide insights into why some students thrive and others fail or why some schools are more successful than others.

While such quantitative approaches are used in financial markets and to evaluate health care trends, the idea was quickly rebuffed by New York's lawmakers and parents, who feared a loss of privacy despite assurances that individual student information would be protected.

Other proposals have fallen by the wayside. The most recent reversal came in March when the Regents dropped a literacy test for prospective teachers.

While Regents members said it was duplicative and hurt minority candidates, supporters of the exam said it would ultimately shortchange students.

Pondiscio views abandonment of the literacy test as a sign the current Regents have no desire to rock the boat.

"Would they want a teacher who could not pass that literacy test in front of their child?" he asked, referring to Regents.

There were some lasting successes, though.

"I certainly think that my work had an impact,'' said Monica George Fields, who as a Regents Fellow set up a diagnostic tool, or program to help educators turn around troubled schools.

She later served as a monitor for the conflict-plagued East Ramapo school district and continues to work on turnarounds, implementing the practices she developed.

The Fellows also helped create the Engage NY curriculum guide available free online to teachers in New York and other states.

Education Week recently cited it as the best curriculum resource nationally. Some of the remaining Fellows continue to work on that project.

In hindsight, the Regents Fellows may have been thrust onto the education scene at a time when there was simply too much happening at once.

Along with the push for teacher evaluation, schools four years ago were grappling with the federally mandated Common Core curriculum, which local districts said was being implemented too quickly.

"You got a lot of reform very quickly but you also saw an awful lot of pushback very quickly," Pondiscio said. "It was an overload."

Teacher accountability became a political football, especially after Cuomo pushed through legislation that placed even more importance on the student test scores.

That inflamed the pushback and helped fuel the opt-out movement in which parents kept their kids home during test days. That movement was especially marked in politically important suburban swing districts on Long Island and other New York City suburbs such as Westchester County.

By 2015, the Education Department, with Cuomo's tacit support, moved to decouple testing and teacher evaluations.

Worona agrees the entire education field may have been grappling with too much all at once.

Part of the blame, in retrospect, came from the federal government, through Race to the Top grants. Coming on the heels of the 2008 Recession and subsequent school aid cuts, New York was determined to get the $700 million grant, which required a number of changes including the institution of a teacher evaluation program that used some student tests.

"That's what got us into this whole nightmare,'' Worona said.

Since then, federal policy has evolved. The Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act was followed by the Every Child Succeeds Act, giving more control to the states.

Tisch is no longer on the Board of Regents and King went on to serve as Education Secretary in the Obama Administration. He has since been tapped to head The Education Trust, a leading nonprofit group focused on higher academic achievement for low-income and minority students.

Karen Magee, who led NYSUT's fight against the testing, has left as well.

The education community is waiting for the next wave of change.

"There's no such thing as a status quo here,'' Worona said.

rkarlin@timesunion.com518-454-5758@RickKarlinTU

Categories: State/Local

Returning lawmakers face budget hangover

30 min 52 sec ago

State lawmakers return to Albany this week to finish up their annual legislative session.

A look at the big issues:

Budget hangover

Lawmakers have been on a two-week break following the late passage of the state's new $153 million state budget.

Negotiations over the spending plan exposed cracks in the relationship between Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature and it's possible those complications could prevent much from getting done for the rest of the year.

Ethics reforms

It's a perennial topic in Albany, where more than 30 lawmakers have left office facing allegations of criminal or ethical misconduct since 2000.

But yet again, proposals to rein in campaign finance limits, impose term limits or restrict the income lawmakers can make from outside jobs are facing long odds of passage.

Child marriage

There's greater consensus on proposals to outlaw child marriage in the state.

Current law allows New York children as young as 14 to marry with parental and judicial consent.

Critics of the policy say the law subjects young brides to forced marriages, sexual abuse, domestic violence and psychological harm.

Proposals would raise the minimum marriage age to 17.

Election changes

The year began with broad agreement among many lawmakers on the need to reform some of the state's antiquated voting laws that prompted confusion and complaints at the polls last year.

Early voting and looser voting registration deadlines are the two priorities for many good government groups.

New York is one of a minority of states that doesn't allow early voting, and the state has some of the nation's most restrictive registration rules.

Categories: State/Local

East Greenbush man hospitalized after mixing drain cleaners

30 min 52 sec ago

An East Greenbush man was hospitalized Saturday night after mixing drain cleaners and accidentally inhaling the fumes. A number of rescue services including state Fire officers and the Clinton Heights Fire Department responded to the Hillview Avenue home where the accident occurred.

Categories: State/Local

Emma Willard victims might offer minority report

30 min 52 sec ago

Albany

Victims of sexual misconduct at Troy's Emma Willard School may offer an alternative report to fill in what they see as missing pieces of the school's own recent probe into decades of abuse.

"We've got our own report — it's being formulated," said Kat Sullivan, whose claim that she was raped in 1998 help precipitate the school's self-examination. She said members of a private Facebook group of alumnae who were victims of sexual abuse were working on the project.

Officials at the exclusive girls school, though, say the explosive "Report of Historical Allegations of Sexual Abuse & Misconduct" that was released earlier in this week won't be its last look at the issue.

"We fully anticipate that this process will continue,'' said Emma Willard spokeswoman Erin Pihlaja.

The school wants alumnae or other interested parties who feel the report is incomplete to contact the school, which has set up a website to field reports.

The report, which runs nearly 100 pages, details decades of sexual abuse in which school employees carried on affairs, groped or otherwise preyed on students.

Compiled by lawyers Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, the report gathered interviews from victims as well as administrators and teachers at the school, which counts Jane Fonda and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand among the alumnae.

Sullivan went public last year with her account of allegedly being raped by her soccer coach. When she reported the attack, she was put on a bus to New Orleans where she was met by a childhood friend. Sullivan later reached an out-of-court settlement with the school.

Now living in Florida, she said she knew the lawyers' report was coming out but wasn't told precisely when. She was in the car when her phone began erupting with messages from other alums.

Sullivan believes the report has several omissions. In one case in which a student in 2003 was sexually assaulted by a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute student who was her math tutor, the report didn't note that Emma Willard had set up the tutoring program with the college in the first place.

Sullivan also said there were lapses in the narrative of her case, which like the others was related in the report with the victims' names redacted. She said, for example, that the report didn't contain a statement by her father after she was allegedly raped regarding details of her departure from Emma Willard.

Pihlaja said it wasn't clear if another separate report would be in the works or if amendments would be added. That decision is up to the school's board of trustees.

But she stressed that abuse victims should continue to step forward.

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

Categories: State/Local

Faculty vote seeks ouster of president

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:07pm

The full-time faculty at the College of Saint Rose has voted by a two-to-one margin to call for the ouster of President Carolyn Stefanco.

Following Wednesday's vote, the faculty then sent a letter asking the Saint Rose board of trustees to take action dismissing the president, charging she had created an "atmosphere filled with fear of retaliation" that had "erased any confidence left in President Stefanco's ability to lead."

But the trustees, in a letter to the faculty Friday, offered their "unwavering support" for Stefanco.

The board, including Chair Judy Calogero, praised the president for the college's largest first-year class in its history last fall, implementation of a new master's program in social work and a new bachelor's program in music performance.

"President Stefanco is leading this institution through a changing environment impacting higher education institutions throughout the nation," the trustees said. "Change is difficult, but this is the time for the administration and the faculty to get together behind the strategic plan we have charted to help our College succeed."

The dispute comes amid the backdrop of financial troubles. In December 2015, Stefanco called for cutting 23 faculty jobs and 27 academic programs, amid a $9 million deficit. The college, which said it was eliminating programs with low enrollments, faced protests and a faculty unionization effort, which did not come to fruition.

The faculty vote — held at a regularly scheduled meeting — was 63 in favor and 29 opposed for calling for Stefanco's ouster, with nine abstentions, according to Kathleen Crowley, a psychology professor who voted for Stefanco's removal.

The vote was precipitated in part by an email Stefanco had sent to college employees a day earlier. It stated the school's interim provost, Barbara Schirmer, had "concluded her service six weeks early."

Stefanco said in the email that Schirmer — who had been with the school since 2015 — "brought experience, diligence, and intellect to every aspect of her responsibilities."

But in their letter calling for Stefanco's removal, the faculty stated their belief that Schirmer was fired. The faculty also called for the Schirmer to take over Stefanco's position as president, while a successor was sought.

"Provost Schirmer has shown remarkable resilience in navigating the very difficult space between the President and the faculty and she has earned the full confidence of the majority of the faculty," the faculty wrote.

Reached by phone, Schirmer declined to comment on the circumstances of her departure. She also declined to say whether she had signed a nondisclosure agreement upon leaving the college.

"Saint Rose is a wonderful college and I have nothing but good feelings and great hopes for the future of the college," she said.

On Friday, Stefanco said she could not comment on personnel matters.

"Change is really hard and I think higher education is going through a sea change," Stefanco said in a phone interview. "We have really made a great deal of progress with the support of our community and our alumni."

Stefanco cited her successful efforts to rein in the school's annual budget, and said that after the faculty vote Wednesday, an entire department had come to her expressing disgust with the result.

Crowley said since Stefanco became president in July 2014 there had been an exodus of faculty due to cuts and attrition. The ranks have dwindled from about 213 to 163 since 2013, she said, while during her tenure the president has hired new administrators.

"Morale is low among everyone at the college," Crowley said.

In addition, three of the college's four deans (for the arts and humanities, math and science, and business) are also departing.

The faculty letter calls these departures "alarming evidence of President Stefanco's failed leadership."

Stefanco said it was normal to have turnover in higher education and that the letter is misleading. Two of the departing deans are leaving for other jobs, she said, while another left for personal reasons.

One of the departing deans is Leroy Bynum, of the School of Arts and Humanities, who was originally supposed to take over as acting provost for Schirmer.

Now that Schirmer has left the job six weeks early, Bynum is assuming the acting provost position, but only temporarily.

A month ago, he was offered what he says was a dream job at the Portland State College of the Arts, where an opera program will allow Bynum, who is an opera singer, to pursue a lifelong love.

"It appears from the letter like I'm running away from something, when I actually am running towards something wonderful," Bynum said.

bragg@timesunion.com518-454-5303

Categories: State/Local

Cuomo issues 154 budget line item vetoes

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:07pm

Albany

Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued 154 line-item vetoes of legislative additions to the state budget on Thursday night, marking a final step in the state budget process.

Cuomo's office said those vetoes include 13 reappropriations for items that had previously been fully paid out; 75 items that are more than seven years old for which no state funding has been disbursed over the most recent seven-year period; 58 appropriations related to functions the administration says already receive adequate funding within state agency operations; and eight appropriations that the administration deemed to be unconstitutional because the purpose of a reappropriation was changed.

In some instances, changes to reappropriations deemed unconstitutional included the deletion of language that gives the governor's budget director sign-off on certain spending.

Such executive powers were the source of friction during budget negotiations, though ultimately a deal was struck on who gets what power when it comes to making mid-year changes to the budget in the event of federal funding cuts. Under the deal, if there are federal cuts to Medicaid or other spending, the state Division of Budget — which Cuomo oversees — will propose a revision plan to the Legislature, and state lawmakers would then get 90 days to pass an alternative plan.

If lawmakers fail to agree on an alternative cost-cutting scheme, DOB's plan would take effect.

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

The full list of vetoes is below:

2017 Budget Line Item Vetoes by Matthew Hamilton on Scribd

Categories: State/Local

De Blasio backing effort to raise pack of cigarettes to $13

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 11:07pm

New York City

The minimum price for a pack of cigarettes would rise to $13 in New York City under a proposal backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

De Blasio is backing an effort to force people to quit smoking by raising the city's current legal minimum price of a pack from $10.50, further cementing New York City's claim on having among the most expensive cigarettes in the country.

The Democrat announced his support Wednesday for a series of legislative proposals that he said could reduce the number of smokers in the city by 160,000 by the year 2020. An estimated 900,000 New York City residents currently smoke.

"What we're here today talking about is saving lives," said Dr. Mary T. Bassett, the city's health commissioner, who appeared with the mayor at offices of the American Heart Association. "We want to make it easier to quit and harder to smoke."

The proposals are set for hearings later this month.

The city council also will consider legislation to gradually reduce by half the number of licenses issued to retailers to sell tobacco products. Philadelphia and San Francisco have similar licensing restrictions.

An American Cancer Society study found that 8,992 retail outlets were licensed to sell tobacco in New York as of October, and about a third of those were within 500 feet of a school.

Other proposals would set minimum prices and create taxes on smokeless tobacco and small cigars, and require sellers of electronic cigarettes to obtain licenses.

Opponents of the city's high cigarette prices have argued that it has pushed many smokers into buying untaxed, unregulated cigarettes on the black market.

Categories: State/Local

Medical marijuana company launches home deliveries

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 9:07pm

Albany

The medical marijuana company Vireo Health of New York will launch delivery service in two of the five boroughs of New York City and on Long Island on Friday, the company announced Thursday.

Vireo's delivery service will begin in Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties. The company plans to expand delivery service into the Bronx, Manhattan, Staten Island and Westchester County. It also is eyeing the Capital Region and Souther Tier as future areas for expansion, though a hard timeline has not been set.

Delivery will be available for homebound patients with life-threatening and debilitating diseases such as cancer, ALS and chronic pain, Vireo said.

Deliveries will be made by at least two employees in company-owned vehicles outfitted with GPS tracking devices.

"We're excited to make history tomorrow with New York City and Long Island's first-ever state-approved medical marijuana deliveries," said Ari Hoffnung, CEO of Vireo Health of New York, which has its manufacturing facility in Fulton County and also has an Albany dispensary on Fuller Road.

Columbia Care NY, another of the Empire State's five licensed medical marijuana producers and sellers, already has launched a delivery service in western New York.

The state began the process of expanding its tightly regulated medical marijuana program to include home delivery, among a slew of other reforms, last summer. Delivery has been seen as not only a way to get patients necessary medication, but also to boost the patient population.

As of January, roughly only half of the patients registered to use medical marijuana statewide were repeat buyers, a major issue for producers who have struggled financially since the program went live in January 2016.

As of Wednesday, 16,992 patients were certified to take part in the state program, according to the Department of Health.

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

Categories: State/Local

Around NY

Mon, 04/24/2017 - 10:07pm

Stefanik to hold town hall-style forum in May

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Essex County, will take part in a televised town hall-style forum in May.

The forum will be broadcast by Mountain Lake PBS, which broadcasts in the North Country. The question and comment session will be hosted by Thom Hallock of "Mountain Lake Journal."

The forum will be taped and livestreamed at http://mountainlake.org/stefanik at 6:30 p.m. on May 8. It will be broadcast on Mountain Lake PBS at 9 p.m. on May 9.

Space is limited and 100 attendees will be allowed in the studio for the taping, the station said. Those who wish to sign up for a lottery to receive tickets can visit http://mountainlake.org/stefanik or call (518) 324-0155. Registration is open until 10 a.m. May 1. Those selected will be notified May 1.

Stefanik represents the 21st District, which runs from Lake Ontario to Lake Champlain and from the Canadian border south into parts of the Capital Region that include part or all of Saratoga, Warren, Washington and Fulton counties.

— Matthew Hamilton

Status of session focus of 'New York Now'

This week's episode of "New York Now," the award-winning co-production of WMHT and the Times Union, features Matt Ryan's interview with Mike Pratt, the new head of the Olympic Regional Development Authority, about its role in promoting recreation upstate.

The Reporters Roundtable has Bill Mahoney of Politico New York and Karen DeWitt of New York State Public Radio joining the TU's Casey Seiler to discuss Gov. Andrew Cuomo's assessment now that the legislative session is effectively over.

"New York Now" airs at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 11:30 p.m. Sunday on WMHT Ch. 17.

— Staff report

Pair accused of leaving kids thank community

ROCHESTER — A couple accused of leaving their newborn and two young children alone in a shopping mall while they were working have pleaded not guilty to child endangerment charges.

Jean Seide and Bilaine Seint-Just of Rochester appeared in court Thursday.

The Ontario County sheriff's office said the children — ages 8, 6 and 1 month — were left unsupervised while the parents were at their maintenance jobs.

The parents say they're thankful for an outpouring of community support. Child Protective Services is working with the family.

— Associated Press

Categories: State/Local