Summary of 2011 Senate Legislative Action
2011-2012 NEW YORK STATE BUDGET
On March 30, 2011, the New York State Senate completed early passage of the 2011-2012 State budget. The budget achieved the goals established by Senate Republicans to reduce state spending, cut taxes, and to help businesses create new private sector jobs.
Reducing State Spending
The $132 billion spending plan reduced year-to-year spending by two percent, trimmed state operations spending by 10 percent, and forced nearly every area of State government to increase efficiency, maximize performance and do more with less. The budget also eliminated a $10 billion deficit without more borrowing or any tax or fee increases.
As a result of spending reductions in this budget, next year’s projected budget deficit has already been reduced from $15 billion to a more manageable $2 billion - - less than one percent of the overall budget.
Senate Republicans opposed the extension of the personal income tax surcharge. For thousands of businesses and many families, this means $700 million in tax relief this year and $3.4 billion in tax relief next year. That alone is one of the largest tax reductions in state history and will help businesses keep more of their revenue to reinvest, grow and create new jobs.
In addition, the budget restored the state sales tax exemption on clothing that was eliminated in 2009. By restoring it, there is now no state sales tax for clothing purchases under $55. Next April, the tax exemption increases to clothing purchases under $110
Creating Private Sector Jobs
The budget also extended the investment tax credit for the financial services industry for four more years and significantly rolled back the 2,500 percent registration fee increase that Democrats placed on mom and pop convenience stores.
The budget also created a new economic development incentive package to help communities impacted by the closing of a prison or youth facility by providing significant tax breaks to attract new businesses and jobs. The package includes an economic development incentive package to help communities impacted by the closings of prisons and youth facilities by providing tax breaks to attract new businesses and jobs. The package includes tax credits for job creation, capital investments, job training, real property taxes and a sales tax refund for businesses that locate near a closed facility.
In addition, the Excelsior Jobs tax credit program was enhanced by easing the calculation of the wage credit, increasing the research and development credit, expanding the years of eligibility, improving the real property tax credit so that it is calculated after improvements are made to the property and including the Agricultural Co-ops in the program.
The budget restored $272 million in Executive Budget cuts for school aid, including $57 million for summer school and special education, funding to maintain Schools for the Blind and Deaf and restored $3 million in funding for libraries. For higher education, $86 million was added for SUNY hospitals and community colleges.
The budget achieved regional balance in school aid and ensured that every region of the State is treated fairly and equitably. Senate Republicans fought to redirect funds to Upstate, rural school districts that were hit the hardest by the Governor’s proposed cuts. The budget also directed more money to high needs school districts than last year’s budget.
In addition, Senate Republicans fought to ease the cuts to suburban districts where residents pay some of the highest taxes in the nation and included funds to avoid $190 million in cost shifts that would have impacted property taxpayers.
The budget provides for a two-year appropriation for school aid that will enable aid to grow next year by about four percent, or $800 million.
The budget restored $22 million for the EPIC program to help ensure prescription drug coverage for seniors.
In addition, the budget included major reforms to the state’s Medicaid spending, including imposing a cap on Medicaid expenditures and restructuring Medicaid to be more cost efficient to and improve quality of care for patients.
TAX RELIEF AND MANDATE RELIEF
Property Tax Cap
The Senate passed historic property tax relief legislation that enacts a cap on the growth of local property taxes. The measure will cap school and local government taxes to less than two percent or the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is lower.
This tax levy cap would shift the focus from total spending, to the actual property taxes levied to support school district and local government expenses. The bill includes the following provisions:
- This bill limits tax levy growth to the lesser of 2 percent or the annual increase in the CPI, other than the “Big 5” school districts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Yonkers and New York City. Those are funded through city budgets.
- The only exception for a tax levy above two percent or CPI, are funds needed to support voter approved capital expenditures and an override of the cap.
- A school district would be required to submit a tax levy proposition for approval by voters at the district's annual meeting on the 3rd Tuesday in May. If the proposed tax levy is within the district's tax levy limit, then a majority vote would be required for approval. If the proposed tax levy seeks to override the cap and exceeds the district's tax levy cap, the threshold required for approval would be 60 percent of the vote.
- A school district that does not levy an amount up to the cap in any one year would be allowed to carry over unused tax levy capacity into future years. However, this carryover levy capacity cannot be used to increase its tax levy by more than an additional 1.5 percent above the cap in any single year.
- In the event a district's actual tax levy exceeds its authorized levy due to clerical or technical errors, the erroneous excess levy must be placed in reserve to offset the levy for the next school year.
The bill also provides for the same cap to apply to taxes levied by municipal governments. Local governments that do not levy an amount up to the cap in one year can rollover that amount up to 1.5 percent in the following year. When enacted, the law would take effect for the 2012-13 fiscal year. (Passed Both Houses (PBH), S.5856, Senator Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre)
MTA Payroll Tax Repeal
The Senate passed legislation to significantly reduce the MTA Payroll Tax, easing an enormous financial burden that has caused job losses and hurt businesses across the downstate region.
The phase-out would begin on January 1, 2012, by exempting small businesses of 25 employees or less, as well as public and non-public schools. The tax would be fully phased out by January 1, 2014 for the seven suburban counties outside of New York City. The bill includes several provisions to provide the MTA with $465 million in revenues by 2014 to significantly offset revenues lost due to the significant reduction and repeal of the payroll tax, leaving $375 million, or about three percent of the overall MTA budget, for the MTA to absorb. (S.5596A, Senator Lee M. Zeldin (R, C, I- Shirley)
Gas Tax Holiday
The Senate passed legislation to suspend the collection of the state’s taxes on gasoline for the Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day weekends to provide New Yorkers with much needed relief from excessively high gas prices while also spurring economic growth with increased travel and tourism. (S.4880B, Senator Greg Ball (R-Putnam)
The Senate passed a mandate relief measure that would establish a New York State Mandate Relief Council made up of 11 members nominated by the Governor and Legislature. The Council would be authorized to determine if a statute or regulation is unsound, unduly burdensome, or costly. The measure establishes procedures for repealing unfunded mandates in both statute and regulation and requires the state Comptroller to issue a detailed report on the costs and effects of unfunded mandates.
In addition, the mandate relief component would provide real cost savings in the form of $127 million in savings to local budgets. This includes:
- $70 million for all local governments and school districts through piggy-backing and centralized contracts;
- $34.6 million in savings for school districts;
- $13 million for transportation/housing/contracting/procurement/administration for all localities;
- $7.9 million in social services savings for counties; and
- $1.5 million in criminal justice savings.
(PBH, S.5856, Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre)
The Senate passed mandate relief legislation that would require any state mandated program imposed on municipalities or school districts, which created any net additional cost in excess, to be funded by the state.
Specifically, the resolution urged the mandate relief panel to:
> Focus on New York’s service delivery structure that requires school districts, local governments and other local taxing districts to administer and fund mandated programs;
> Look for ways to reduce the costs of mandated programs on schools and local governments by determining how school districts and local governments may be given greater ability to control costs;
> Examine the reason for delays in state reimbursement for mandated programs;
> Consider the practice of cost-shifting of mandated programs; and
> Identify opportunities for eliminating or reducing unfunded and underfunded mandates imposed by the New York State government on local governments and school districts. (S.2707 Senator Steve Saland (R-I-C, Poughkeepsie)
The Senate passed legislation to stop tax exempt organizations from land-banking. Land-banking occurs when tax exempt organizations purchase real property and then fail to use it for their exempt purpose. The legislation requires that the property owned by the non-profit be used for its exempt purpose by commencing any necessary improvements within five years and completing them within seven years, or else the locality is entitled to back payment of taxes. Current law does not require tax exempt groups to make improvements within a specified time to put the land to use; rather, it simply requires the tax exempt group show a good faith intent to use the land and does not provide a mechanism to enforce that. (S.2544, Senator John Bonacic R/C/I – Orange County).
The Senate passed legislation to help speed up the delivery of tax refunds owed to taxpayers by the state. The bill would help expedite refunds due to taxpayers by requiring the state to issue the payments within 30 days of filing a tax return. (S.2631, Senator Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset)
Legislation was passed to repeal a burdensome tax on local economic development agencies that hinders job growth and economic investment. The tax, first enacted in 2009, provides a direct obstacle to the ability of Industrial Development Agencies and Authorities (IDAs) to invest in new projects, support local businesses and create jobs. (S.2682, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst)
Legislation was passed that establishes the Taxpayer Refund Choice Act and affirms the right of state residents to receive personal income tax refunds by paper check in addition to other options that may be offered. It also requires the Department of Taxation and Finance to fully describe any debit card or direct deposit program. (PBH, S.5140B, Senator Hugh Farley, (R-I-C, Schenectady)
School Mandate Relief Act
The Senate passed the “School Bus Mandate Relief Act” to provide schools with budget savings by allowing boards of education to reduce the number of seats provided for student transportation if the seats aren’t being used by students. The measure is expected to save school districts millions of dollars.
The School Bus Mandate Relief Act was introduced in response to a call by school districts for relief when it comes to state mandates. The bill allows the board of education of a school district to reduce the number of seats if there is a documented history of the actual number of riders in each in each of the preceding three years, showing a consistent pattern of eligible pupils not using the transportation provided by the district. (S.4434A, Senator Jack Martins (R-C-I, Mineola)
The Senate passed legislation to allow school districts to partner with each other to share administration and transportation services. This is particularly useful for special education transportation services in smaller districts as it allows schools to partner and save taxpayer dollars. (S.4663A, Senator John Bonacic (R/C/I – Orange County)
Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
The Senate passed legislation that that would allow municipalities to apply the school portion of real property taxes - with school district approval – to pay for debt service on tax increment financing (TIF) bonds to redevelop blighted areas across New York. This legislation would update the state’s existing TIF law to be more consistent with those implemented in other states, and will improve its effectiveness for supporting private sector investment and redevelopment. (S.2446, Senator Cathy Young, (R-I-C, Olean)
“Buy from the Backyard”
The New York State Senate passed the “Buy From the Backyard Act” to promote the purchase of food grown or produced locally. The bill requires state agencies with food contracts to buy at least 20 percent of their food from New York sources. (S.2468, Senator Thomas Libous (R-C-I, Binghamton).
Wine in Desserts
The Senate passed a bill to boost New York’s grape and wine industry by allowing wines to be used in frozen desserts like sorbets. The new law allows companies to use wine up to five percent alcohol by volume in any frozen dessert. (Chapter 42, S.4054A, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
The Senate passed legislation that amends the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law making the procedure for licensing and regulation of wineries and farm wineries in New York State a more seamless process. This bill updates prohibition-era laws that remained unchanged for decades and contained convoluted, hard to understand regulations.
Under the legislation, holders of a winery license would be eligible to receive and process wine from other states, sell wine in bulk and sell wine to licensed wholesalers and/or retailers. Authorization for annual permits for participation in events sponsored by charitable or religious organizations will also be more accessible. (PBH, S.4143A, Senator Cathy Young, (R-I-C, Olean )
Automatic Ag Assessment Renewals
The Senate approved legislation to eliminate a requirement that farmers annually reapply for agricultural land exemptions, part of a series of paperwork and red-tape reducing measures. (S.5159, Senator Patty Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton)
Boosting Maple Farming
The Senate passed a pair of measures to exempt maple producers from industrial pollution and building code requirements that would add unnecessary expense to these entirely seasonal operations, and help boost maple production. (S.5499 & S.3542, Senator Patty Richie, R-C, Heuvelton)
Promoting Horse Farms
A bill passed by the Senate would encourage the continued growth of equine farming in New York. The bill cuts red tape and extends to horse farms the same benefits enjoyed by more traditional crop and livestock farmers. (PBH, S.5168, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
Reducing Costs for Farmers
The Senate passed legislation aimed at helping streamline government and reduce costs for farmers and business. The measure would enhance the powers of soil and water conservation districts, creating a one-stop shop for overseeing programs that protect soil and water quality. (PBH, S.4718, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
A bill passed the Senate to eliminate the outdated requirement that farmers carry “blue cards” that list the names of every road on which they operate their farm equipment. DMV already limits the areas in which farm vehicle may be operated, and the requirement is duplicative. (S.5262, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
Plant Nursery Regulations
The Senate approved legislation that aims to reduce paperwork on some farm operations and also improve operations of state government. The measure allows state Agriculture and Markets to accept nursery dealer registrations throughout the year, instead of on one single date, smoothing out the processing and improving government efficiency, and saving businesses time and money. (S.4144, Chapter 73, Laws of 2011, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
CHILDREN AND FAMILIES
Protections for victims of domestic or sexual abuse
The State Senate passed several bills that strengthen penalties and provide additional protections for children and families who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse.
New criminal charges and increases penalties for when a person in a position of trust commits sexual assault of a child. (S.1541, Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre)
Changing the terms of when final orders of protection can begin to ensure coverage for longer periods of time after sentencing. It also expands definitions in the law relating to familial and intimate relationships to ensure protection to more domestic violence victims. (Chapter 9, S.1428 Senator Stephen Saland (R,I,C-Poughkeepsie)
Enabling more domestic violence victims to provide testimony using live, two-way closed circuit televisions in order to prevent additional emotional or mental harm. Televised testimony is currently allowed for children aged 14 and younger, and this bill would offer additional victims the option. (S.754, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C-Olean)
Expanding the factors that courts must consider when determining recognizance or bail for those accused of domestic violence. This would prevent accused abusers from potentially causing injury or harm to victims while on release prior to trial. (S.1414A, Senator Stephen Saland (R, I, C-Poughkeepsie)
Legislation to ensure that victims of domestic violence are not arbitrarily excluded from services based on incomplete definitions relating to family or household members and victims of domestic violence. (Chapter 11, S.4222, Senator Stephen Saland (R, I, C –Poughkeepsie)
Limiting the illegal use of guns by ensuring that information about misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence is provided to the national firearm database that performs background checks. This will help determine whether a person should be disqualified from purchasing a firearm based upon conviction for certain misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence. (PBH, S.4244, Senator Stephen Saland (R, I, C –Poughkeepsie)
The Senate passed comprehensive anti-bullying legislation to help put an end to this destructive activity that often interferes with a student’s education and emotional well-being. The bill would require school employees to report incidents of bullying to principals and superintendents and adds bullying to the list of incidents for which a student can be disciplined. The bill requires school districts to create policies and guidelines to encourage awareness of and to prohibit acts of bullying, and would increase education about bullying prevention for teachers and students. (S.4921, Senator Stephen Saland (R-I-C, Poughkeepsie)
Child Abuse Protections by Camp Counselors, Directors and Operators
The State Senate passed a measure requiring camp directors to report suspected child abuse regardless of the location where abuse may have occurred. The bill would protect children by requiring camp directors to report child abuse that may be taking place outside the camp setting (PBH, S.3777A, Senator Jack Martins (R-C-I, Mineola)
The Senate passed a measure to prevent child and adult abuse and expand the authority of protective workers to enable full investigations into allegations of abuse. This stems from the murder and abuse of Laura Cummings, a mentally and physically challenged young adult from Erie County. (S.3306B, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane)
Racing in the Street
The Senate passed legislation to increase penalties for unlawful high-speed car racing which has caused numerous accidents across the state, including the deaths of a 17-year-old Staten Island girl and a 5-year-old Queens boy. Michelle and Jordan’s Law stems from tragic crashes involving suspected drag racing at excessive speeds. (S.2938A, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island)
School Bus Safety
The Senate passed legislation increasing penalties for illegally passing a stopped school bus. (S.3099, Senator Bonacic R/C/I – Orange County)
Sex Offender Legislation
The Senate passed additional restrictions for sex offenders to help protect children and families. A bill passed by the Senate increases penalties and makes it a felony for certain sex offenders who fail to register or report a change of address. (S.1542 and S.1544, Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R, Rockville Centre)
Another bill passed by the Senate expands the definitions of aggravated sexual abuse to include victims less than 13 years old when the defendant is 18 years old or more. (S.3207, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
Preventing Prostitution Near Schools
The Senate passed legislation to protect the welfare of children by creating new crimes of promoting or patronizing prostitution near school grounds. The measure would make schools safer by enabling law enforcement to charge anyone involved in the sex trade and acting within 1,000 feet of school grounds with a class E felony. (PBH, S.1313A, Senator Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx)
Access to Information for Adopted New Yorkers
The Senate passed legislation enabling people who were adopted in New York but born in other states to participate in the New York State Adoption Registry. The bill gives adoptees born in other states the same ability to access information as eligible New York-born adoptees. (S.5145, Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos (R, Rockville Centre)
Ban on Sale of Children’s Jewelry Containing Harmful Levels of Toxins
The Senate passed a measure that would prohibit the sale of children’s jewelry which may contain harmful levels of cadmium and other hazardous substances. The measure protects children from accidentally ingesting cadmium, often used in inexpensive charm bracelets, pendants and other jewelry.
Cadmium is a known carcinogen, which can hinder brain development in children and cause kidney, lung and intestinal damage. A 2009 report by the Associated Press found that Chinese manufacturers have been substituting cadmium for lead to make inexpensive jewelry which is then being sold by retailers in New York and other states.
This legislation restricts the use of cadmium and other hazardous substances in children’s jewelry, including in paint and surface coatings. (S.4055A), Senator James Alesi (R-C-I, Perinton)
Search and Rescue Teams
Volunteer Search and Rescue teams would get an official stamp of approval, with increased training, standards and credentials, under a bill passed by the Senate. The teams play a critical role in helping law enforcement and emergency responders locate missing persons in wilderness areas of the state, but also increasingly in responding to cases of missing adults in urban and suburban communities. (S.3552, Senator Patty Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton)
Juvenile “Sexting” and “Cyber-bullying” Prevention Bill
The Senate gave final legislative passage to a bill to divert youth to an education program addressing the sending of nude or obscene photographs through electronic technologies, also known as “sexting,” as well as conduct that constitutes “cyber-bullying.”
The bill, entitled the “Cyber-Crime Youth Rescue Act,” requires the development of an educational program about the numerous perils of sexting and cyber-bullying. The program provides an option other than a permanent criminal record for juveniles deemed eligible by a court.
Recent headlines have highlighted the unfortunate and significant consequences of the growing epidemics of cyber-bullying and sexting within our society, particularly among youth. The dangerous combination of teenagers behaving provocatively and impulsively is not new, but with easy accessibility to technology such as cell phone cameras, teenagers have been handed tools that are so easy to use, it is impossible for some to pass up.
While this bill does not change the penalties that may be imposed for the underlying conduct that constitutes cyber-bullying or sexting, it does create a new educational diversion program for eligible youth who are criminally charged with certain offenses. A court would be able to order youth to attend and complete this program with the goal of educating youth about the consequences of such actions with appropriate discretion provided to judicial authorities to mitigate criminal charges. (PBH, S.5253B, Senator Kemp Hannon (R-C-I, Garden City)
Banning Chemical TCEP in Children’s Products
The Senate passed a measure that prohibits the use of TCEP in children's products. TCEP is a chemical that is put into children's products to help with flame retardancy but has been studied and has been shown to possibly cause various forms of cancer. (PBH, S.4085A, Senator Mark Grisanti (R-North Buffalo).
Strengthening Protections for Families Petitioning for PINS
The Senate approved a measure that gives families and Family Courts more options for working with at-risk youth. This bill builds on the 2005-06 reforms of the Family Court Act, which successfully sought to reduce the number of Persons in Need of Supervision, or PINS, prosecutions and placements by making sure that families in crisis first received and had access to supportive social services. Experience with the reforms have identified several issues that need to be addressed; that children should be protected in emergency situations by allowing the Court to issue a Temporary Order of Protection when the respondent poses an imminent risk of harm to his or herself or other members of the household.
This measure provides Family Courts with the ability to act immediately to prevent harm or violence to the child and family, and to offer diversion services when they are most needed, rather than just at the beginning of the process. This bill would also allow law enforcement to help locate runaway or absconded children when they cannot be found by their families or lead social services agency. Introduced at the request of the Office of Court Administration. (PBH, S.4050B, Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, (R- Elma)
Oversight of LIPA Rate Hikes
The Senate passed legislation to increase accountability and reduce unregulated rate increases by the Long Island Power Authority. The bill addresses costly rate hikes of more than 30 percent since 2001 by requiring state Public Service Commission notification and review of certain rate increases of more than 2.5 percent. (PBH, S.2581, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)
CRIME AND CORRECTIONS
The Senate passed “Renee’s Law,” which would help protect staff of the state’s youth residential programs and ensure appropriate placement of youth based on their criminal history. The legislation was prompted by the brutal 2009 murder of Renee Greco committed by youth in her care at a group home in Lockport, Niagara County.
Among the key provisions in Renee’s Law is the establishment of a multi-tiered risk assessment system that requires the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) to take into account the severity of the youth’s original crime, their behavior while in an OCFS facility, and other mitigating factors prior to the youth being placed into less secure OCFS-run facilities or privately operated residential homes. (S.5565, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean) and Senator George Maziarz (R,C – Newfane)
The Senate passed a measure to create new penalties for individuals supervising another driver while also under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Abbagail’s Law is named after an eight-year-old girl who died in a car accident caused by an inexperienced driver who was supervised by a parent under the influence of alcohol. (S.164C, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane)
Bills Strengthening Penalties for Sex Offenders
The Senate passed legislation that requires registered sex offenders to assert compliance with all residency and employment laws. (S.3325, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)
Strengthening Criminal Penalties
One bill deters potential thieves and provides an appropriate level of punishment for violators. It establishes a stronger penalty for robbery of property from a bank by making the crime a Class C felony. (S.4194, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)
New legislation creates the crime of home invasion robbery in the first and second degree. (S.3205, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
The Senate passed a new piece of legislation that requires mandatory license suspensions for violations of certain restrictions by licensed drivers under the age of 18. (S.3225, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst)
Banning Synthetic Marijuana
The New York State Senate passed legislation that would ban the sale of synthetic marijuana products throughout New York State. (S.1834, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, Northport)
Expansion of Son of Sam Law
The Senate passed legislation that protects the rights of victims by prohibiting criminals from profiting from crimes, regardless of their plea or conviction. The bill closes a loophole in the original Son of Sam Law which was designed to prevent the Son of Sam, David Berkowitz, from profiting from his crime. (S.4393, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
Legislation that Toughens Laws and Penalties for Sex Offenses
The Senate passed a package of bills that would strengthen laws and toughen criminal penalties for certain sex offenses related to rape and child pornography. In addition, bills were passed to expand information on criminal background checks for individuals applying for employment in law enforcement and increasing penalties for the crime of criminally negligent homicide.
Legislation passed by the Senate would require consecutive prison sentences for each separate act of rape when an individual is convicted of multiple counts. (S.1826, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-C, Rockville Centre)
The Senate passed a measure that would create graduated levels of criminal charges for large scale producers and distributors of child pornography. It would permit prosecution of internet pedophiles in proportion to the scale and danger of their criminal activity. (S.1417A, Senator Steve Saland, (R-I-C, Poughkeepsie)
In addition, the Senate passed a bill to expand the unsealing of criminal histories for the purpose of investigating applicants for employment by police departments and other law enforcement agencies. Under current law, law enforcement agencies are authorized to obtain records of sealed acquittals of the applicant, but not sealed convictions. (S.1423, Senator Marty Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn)
Criminal Justice Bills
A measure would make the crime of surreptitious surveillance a class B misdemeanor. A person would be guilty of this crime if he or she intentionally observes another person dressing or undressing or intentionally observes such person's sexual or intimate parts without that person's knowledge or consent when that person has a reasonable expectation of privacy. (S.256, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane,)
A bill that establishes a person is guilty of grand larceny in the fourth degree when he or she steals property and is in possession of an anti-security item. An example would be possession of an item to remove security tags from clothing in a store. (S.527, Senator Charles Fuschillo (R, Merrick)
The Senate passed a measure that increases the penalty for the crime of criminally negligent homicide from a Class E to a Class D felony. (S.943, Senator Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset)
A bill that would require that when a sex offender is sentenced to probation, and he/she violates that probation with another sex offense, that the sentences of incarceration imposed for the probation violation and for the new sex offense run consecutively and not concurrently. (S.487, Senator Joe Robach (R-C-I, Rochester)
The Senate passed legislation designed to require judges consider the underlying criminal conduct of a defendant seeking to be sent to drug or alcohol rehabilitation as opposed to prison. In 2009, the Legislature, as part of the so-called Rockefeller Drug Law reform, substantially broadened who is sent to judicially ordered rehabilitation. In Ulster County last year, one of the individuals assigned to treatment, left the facility and killed one person and stabbed another. (S.3349, Senator John Bonacic R/C/I – Orange County).
The Senate passed Brittany’s Law, which establishes a statewide violent felony offender registry by requiring offenders to register with the New York State Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) upon release from prison. The law is intended to increase the safety of all New Yorkers by providing access to the list of convicted violent offenders. Brittany’s Law is named for 12 year-old Brittany Passalacqua, who was murdered in Geneva, N.Y. in 2009 along with her mother Helen Buchel by a violent convicted felon who had been released from prison. (S.3645C, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-IP-C, Rome) and Senator Mike Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette)
Expansion of the DNA Databank
The Senate passed a bill that significantly expands the ability of law enforcement to solve crimes by requiring those convicted of all felonies and misdemeanors to submit DNA samples. The measure would greatly enhance the DNA database to protect communities by keeping more criminals off the streets, while also reducing the financial costs and victims’ emotional strain by solving more crimes in an expeditious manner.
Since its creation in 1996, the state’s DNA databank has transformed criminal investigations and prosecutions to make them more accurate and effective, as well as helped to exonerate the innocent. However, DNA is only collected in approximately 46% of crimes because current law does not include the collection of DNA from all those convicted of crimes, such as some misdemeanors. This has reduced law enforcement’s ability to resolve investigations as quickly and enabled some criminals to remain free to commit more crimes, sometimes with devastating consequences. (S.5560, Stephen Saland (R-I-C, Poughkeepsie)
Ban on Salvia Divinorum
In an effort to protect the youth of New York State, the State Senate passed legislation to ban the sale of the legal hallucinogen salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant from the mint family that is currently available on the Internet and in stores without age restrictions. (S.1833, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
“Good Samaritan” Law
The Senate gave final legislative passage to a bill that would help reduce the potential for fatalities caused by drug overdoses. Known as a “good Samaritan” measure because it limits the use of evidence of illicit activity when an individual seeks treatment for someone experiencing an accidental drug overdose.
In New York, overdose is the number one cause of accidental death and even exceeds traffic fatalities. In 2008, over 1,350 people died from accidental drug overdoses in New York State -- an increase of more than 60 percent from 1999. Fear of prosecution can be a real obstacle to seeking medical care for someone suffering from a drug or alcohol overdose.
This legislation will limit the use of evidence relating to possession of a controlled substance, marijuana, drug paraphernalia, or alcohol where the evidence results from seeking treatment for a drug overdose, including where someone seeks treatment for someone else (PBH, S.4454B, Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse)
Banning Felons from Black Powder Firearms Possession
The Senate passed a measure whereby felons or serious offenders who are otherwise banned from owning firearms can own muzzle-loading, black powder or antique firearms. Modern muzzle-loading, or "single shot" rifles and shotguns are deadly weapons, and this oversight in the penal law has caused serious injuries to two New York State Police troopers in the last few years. (S.5658, Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, (R- Elma)
NY-SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program
In an effort to promote expansion and economic growth, the Senate passed legislation to create the NY-SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program that would give the four University Centers at Buffalo, Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany access to $140 million in capital funds from the current SUNY capital appropriation and bonding through ESDC. The four University Centers will submit their development plans to the Governor and SUNY Chancellor for approval. Each Center would receive $35 million from the program to fund their development and job creation plans.
In addition, the plan provides for a rational tuition policy to prevent unpredictable spikes in SUNY tuition that make it difficult for parents and students to plan financing for college. Under this bill, SUNY is authorized to increase tuition by up to $300 per year for five years. SUNY trustees could also increase out of state undergraduate tuition up to 10 percent as well as additional fees at the four University Centers. The plan also includes provisions for additional financial aid and tuition credits for low to middle income students. (PBH, S.5855, Senator Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre)
Foreign Trade Zones
The Senate passed a bill to expand one of New York’s 13 Foreign Trade Zones to include all of St. Lawrence County. The expansion allows the state to attract new businesses to the region by providing preferential tax treatment for companies that import components for manufacture or storage, for later sale to other regions or countries. (PBH, S.5225, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
The Senate passed legislation to clarify and streamline permitting for theaters that offer dinner and a movie. The measure specifies that for a movie theater to serve alcohol, all seating must be at tables and offer a full restaurant menu selection. A number of entertainment companies are already planning to construct new restaurant theaters around the State. (PBH, S.4772, Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R – Syosset)
NYRA Call Center Bill
The Senate gave final legislative approval to a measure that keeps jobs in New York by requiring racing and wagering call centers to be located in-state. The measure arises following a recent decision by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) to locate it’s pari-mutel wagering call centers in Oregon.
Entities which are licensed by the state to conduct pari-mutuel wagering through telephone betting currently handle these calls at call centers located in New York.(PBH, S.4876, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island)
Reform of “Last In, First Out”
The Senate passed legislation to reform the “Last In, First Out” (LIFO) law in New York City. Current law bases the layoffs of teachers and supervisors solely on seniority and without regard to their effectiveness or competence.
By reforming the LIFO system, which New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has pointed to as a major problem in keeping quality teachers in city schools, this bill will put qualifications ahead of seniority so that the best teachers are protected. (S.3501B, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
Academic Research Information Access Act
The Senate passed legislation that would enable public and private academic and research libraries in New York State to create an information infrastructure unequaled in the world to facilitate collaboration and efficiencies by providing for the voluntary pooling of assets in order to obtain access to high-end electronic, peer-reviewed, information resources such as journals, serials, and databases. (PBH, S.3736A, Senator Jim Alesi (R-C- I, Perinton)
Disabilities Awareness Education
The Senate passed a measure that would promote greater awareness and understanding of people with disabilities by requiring the New York State Education Department to make suitable curriculum on the understanding and acceptance of people with disabilities available to elementary schools. (S.2352, Senator Mark Grisanti (R, Buffalo)
Power NY Act
The Senate passed the “Power NY Act” to secure the state’s energy future by expanding the availability of affordable, clean and reliable electricity, while also creating jobs and boosting the economy.
Power NY has three main components: it reauthorizes and modernizes the licensing process for major electric generating facilities (also known as Article X), provides incentives to consumers for energy efficiency investments, and explores the potential for additional solar power generation in the state.
With the creation of Power NY, Article X has been renewed and improved to facilitate the expedited, fuel diverse, and technology neutral review process for the siting of energy sources that are 25 megawatts or larger. Unlike the prior version, Power NY’s Article X provisions do not expire, and they increase the opportunity for public involvement in the review process.
In addition to increasing energy efficiency, Power NY encourages alternative energy production by including a requirement that the state explore the potential for additional solar energy generation. (PBH, S.5844 Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane)
The budget created a new, permanent program called “Recharge NY” to provide low-cost power to help businesses create and retain jobs. The program will make 910 megawatts of low cost power available to businesses and non-profits across the state while guaranteeing low electricity prices for farms in Upstate New York. The new, low cost power program could help revitalize the manufacturing sector of the state economy, where electric rates for businesses in New York are twice as high as rates in other states. New York’s high energy costs are a factor when New York-based companies decide whether to stay open or expand, and when new companies decide where to invest.
The Senate passed a bill that builds upon existing net metering laws to allow certain electricity customer-generators to receive credit for off-site energy production. The legislation enables small producers to plan for their long-term energy use and would increase participation in alternative energy investment. (S3407, Chapter 35, Laws of 2011, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane)
Protecting New York’s Water Resources
The Senate passed a bill protecting protect New York’s environmental and economic future by improving management of water supplies and preventing over-consumption by large-scale users. The measure ensures that water supplies will be protected to meet the needs of New York’s residents, industry, agriculture and environment now and into the future.
New York State is fortunate to have plentiful water resources. The preservation and protection of these resources is vital to New York's residents and businesses, who rely on these resources for drinking water supplies, and to support agriculture, manufacturing and other industries and recreation in the state. Aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals are also dependent on these critical resources to maintain healthy populations and it is critical to protect water supplies to meet New York’s long-term needs.
The bill enables the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to implement a permitting program for all water withdrawal systems with a capacity equal to or greater than 100,000 gallons per day. Applicable large-scale consumers could continue to obtain the water they need in a way that is protective of the overall quantity and quality of the water supply. The measure also relieves a regulatory burden for municipalities and some industry by removing the current permit issued for smaller water withdrawals. This focuses state monitoring on the water withdrawal projects that are most likely to have a significant impact on the state’s water resources. (PBH, S.3798, Senator Mark Grisanti (R, Buffalo)
The Senate passed the “Adopt-a-Park” bill, which allows the state and municipalities to work together to develop agreements with volunteers to beautify parklands. The measure would give local governments the ability to fully avail themselves of assistance offered by volunteer groups to make park improvements including vandalism remediation, litter removal, developing and maintaining nature trails, planting and maintaining flowerbeds, establishing and maintaining dog runs. (S.2686A, Senator Mark Grisanti (R, North Buffalo)
Hunting and Fishing “Gift Cards”
A measure passed by the Senate would direct state DEC to create “gift cards” redeemable for hunting and fishing fees. The bill is aimed at boosting outdoors sports, especially among young people and future generations, by encouraging sportsmen to give the gift of the outdoors . (S.5161, Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
Waterfront Revitalization Grant Programs for Soil and Water Conservation Districts
The Senate passed a measure to allow soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) to be eligible applicants for the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). Currently, only municipalities are eligible applicants, while the LWRP has many categories which fall within the scope of SWCDs. (S.2838, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean
Public Information and Education Program for Soil and Water Conservation Districts
This bill passed by the Senate authorizes a public information and education program for soil and water conservation districts and preventative and control measures for the spread of invasive species. (S.2839-A, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
Selectively Harvesting Timber
The Senate passed a measure to enhance the ability of farmers and other landowners to selectively harvest timber within a regulated wetland without disturbing the environmental integrity of the wetland. (S.4361, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
Environmental Protection Fund Legislation
The Senate passed a measure that increases awareness of the importance of the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) by requiring contracts disseminated under EPF funding to include provisions to maximize public awareness that funding for various community projects is from the EPF. (PBH, S.4056, Senator Mark Grisanti, (R- North Buffalo)
Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011
The Senate passed major ethics reform legislation, entitled the Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011. The measure represents a three-way agreement with the Assembly and Governor Andrew Cuomo, and is a significant step toward restoring the public’s trust in government.
The Public Integrity Reform Act of 2011 significantly expands disclosure of outside employment and income of all legislators and makes the information available to the public. It creates unprecedented transparency and creates an independent, bipartisan Commission on Public Ethics with strong enforcement powers to investigate violations of law by members of the executive and legislative branches – as well as oversee lobbyists with newly expanded disclosure rules. The bill could also result in stripping violators of their pensions if they betray the public’s trust. (PBH, S.5679, Senator Dean G. Skelos (R-Rockville Centre)
The Senate passed legislation to create a new website, ResultsNY.gov, that would enable the public to review the performance of government programs to see how effectively agencies are spending tax dollars. People visiting the site could also submit their own suggestions and recommendations on how to stop government waste and reduce State spending.
The ResultsNY.gov site would also include an interactive feature that would enable members of the public to submit suggestions and recommendations on how to save taxpayer money, help eliminate wasteful spending, and operate government more efficiently and cost effectively. (S.3657, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)
Initiative and Referendum
The Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would give New Yorkers a more direct role in the legislative process by empowering them to enact and amend laws through initiative and referendum. The bill increases the ability of New Yorkers to place an issue on a ballot for a public vote.
The proposal would amend the state Constitution to allow for direct initiative and referendum, whereby measures are placed on the ballot at the November general election for a popular vote after a certain number of signatures are collected. Under the proposal, signatures from five percent of the total voters statewide in the last gubernatorial election would be required. To ensure that a measure has a broad base of statewide support, these signatures would be required to include at least 5,000 signatures of residents from at least three-fifths of the state's congressional districts. (S.709, Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I, Rochester)
The Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would significantly reform the process by which new legislative and congressional district lines are determined.
The bill would create an independent, non-partisan, redistricting committee to draw new legislative and Congressional districts every ten years. The commission shall consist of five members, none of whom may be past or current public officials, nor past or current office holders in any political party. The Temporary President of the Senate, the Speaker of the Assembly, the Minority Leader of the Senate and the Minority Leader of the Assembly would each select one member. The four members would select, by a vote of at least three members, a fifth member to serve as chair of the panel. (S.3331, Senator John Bonacic (R-C-I, Mount Hope)
Strengthening Due Process Provision of Medicaid Law
The Senate approved legislation to ensure appropriate due process protections for providers and recipients of Medicaid who come under the scrutiny of the Office of the Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG). The legislation adds to the law which created the OMIG in 2007, to assure fairness and procedural clarity when audits are conducted.
Among the bill’s provisions, it would: allow for recovery of payments only after notice, and not less than 60 days after final agency action; prohibit the OMIG from re-auditing something audited by another agency unless for good cause; and, protect providers from penalty if they complied with agency policies or interpretations, which may not be changed retroactively.
Where a recovery is claimed for a technical or administrative error, the provider would have a chance to correct the defect and resubmit the claim within 60 days of being notified. The legislation also would require the OMIG give the provider a detailed written explanation of the extrapolation method used when calculating a Medicaid overpayment. (PBH, S.3184, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)
Local Governments Allowed to “Piggy-Back” on Procurement Contracts
The Senate approved legislation that would allow local governments to cooperatively purchase, or piggy-back, on contracts already approved for other government agencies, including those of other states or the federal government. The same terms and conditions of a contract already awarded would apply and there is a provision in the legislation to ensure that competitive bidding standards consistent with state law must have been used.
New York does not have statutory language in place that authorizes cooperative purchasing between New York's local governments and the federal, state or local governments elsewhere in the United States. This bill would amend the General Municipal Law to allow for such cooperative purchasing. (S.5525B, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)
Increasing Flexibility for Local Government Procurement
The Senate approved a measure that provides localities with unprecedented flexibility and cost savings in all taxpayer-funded purchases and contracts. Under the measure, contract bids can be submitted electronically, allowing for faster, transparent and more efficient communication between vendors and public officials. It also allows a local government to work with other localities, state governments and the federal governments to gain better prices for any goods or services. While maintaining existing competitive bid and wage requirements, this legislation provides increased transparency and economies-of-scale savings to government procurement. (S. 4133A, Senator Patrick M. Gallivan, (R- Elma)
Concussion Management Awareness Act
The Senate passed the Concussion Management Awareness Act. The measure would direct the State Health and Education Departments to adopt rules and regulations for the treatment and monitoring of students with mild traumatic brain injuries. The bill establishes minimum guidelines regarding removal from play, physician clearance, and “return to play” protocols.
The legislation allows for a concussion management team in each school district that would be comprised of health professionals, sports staff, and appropriate personnel. The concussion management team would be responsible for overseeing staff training, educating parents and students about concussions, and helping transition students who have sustained a concussion back into school and sports within specified guidelines. (PBH, S.3953, Senator Kemp Hannon (R, C, I, - Garden City)
Landmark Autism Insurance Reform
The Senate approved legislation to enable individuals with autism spectrum disorders to receive insurance coverage for screening, diagnosis and treatment. The measure would save tens of thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses spent by families caring for individuals with autism and address insurance companies’ refusal to cover costs for autism treatments and therapies.
Autism Spectrum Disorders affect individuals of all ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic groups. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 1 in 110 children, including 1 in 70 boys, are currently affected with autism.
The legislation requires insurance companies to provide coverage for the screening, diagnosis, and treatment of autism spectrum disorders, including behavioral health treatments, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy. Insurance companies would be prohibited from terminating coverage or refusing to renew, adjust, amend, issue, or execute a policy solely because the individual has been diagnosed with or received treatment for autism spectrum disorders. (PBH, S.4005A, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
Adult Autism Task Force
The Senate passed legislation to establish a task force on adult autism. While substantial attention has been focused on juvenile autism, as the population of adults with autism continues to grow, the state will have to become more proactive in addressing the special needs of adults living with autism. (S.2135a, Senator John Bonacic R/C/I – Orange County)
Automated External Defibrillators
The Senate passed potentially lifesaving legislation that would allow emergency medical technicians (EMTs) to carry an automated external defibrillator (AED) in their personal vehicles. (S.2387, Senator James Seward (R, C, I-Oneonta)
The New York State Senate passed life saving legislation to significantly increase organ and tissue donation. Lauren’s Law would increase the number of eligible and willing organ donors by requiring driver’s license applicants to specifically indicate their donation decision by checking a box stating “yes,” or “no” or “not at this time.” (S.3885A, Senator David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Orange)
Breast Cancer Screening Legislation
The Senate passed legislation to provide stronger preventative health care for women. The legislation requires insurance companies to cover the cost of supplemental screening for women who have dense breast tissue or who are at greater risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to leading medical studies, breast cancer is five times more likely in the 40 percent of women who have dense breast tissue but mammograms alone miss up to 40 percent of tumors that are present in women with dense breast tissue. A recent study found that 95 percent of women do not know their breast density, even though it is a risk factor, and only one in 10 women find out about breast density from their physician.
The legislation would also require that every report a radiologist issues to a patient following a mammogram include information on breast density and information on the availability and usefulness of further screenings. This information will empower women to be more informed about their own medical situation so that they are better equipped to speak with their physicians and make decisions about their own health care. (S.1883A, Senator John Flanagan (R-C-I, East Northport)
Critical Access Hospitals
This Senate-passed measure provides that outpatient services for the state’s 13 rural critical access hospitals are reimbursed by Medicaid in the same manner that Medicare reimburses for these services, on the basis of reasonable cost. (PBH, S.5431, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
Health Occupation and Workplace Demonstration Program
The Senate passed a bill that extends eligibility for the Demonstration Program to licensed home care services agencies and allows providers to apply to the Health Department to obtain regulatory and administrative waivers to develop, implement and evaluate programs to test innovative methods for the organization and delivery of services. (PBH, S.5447, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
Private Air Ambulance Services to Offer Memberships
The Senate passed legislation that would allow private air ambulance services to offer membership subscriptions. This measure would help ensure the continuation of air ambulance services in rural areas of New York State.
Lawmakers say that low call volume and the expense of running a full-time air ambulance service, has made it difficult to attract companies to New York's rural regions. Allowing air ambulance companies to solicit membership subscriptions would mediate the high cost of doing business in New York. Under current law, soliciting of membership subscriptions for air ambulance services is considered a form of medical insurance. This bill amends the Insurance Law which includes a host of instances when certain parties are exempt from licensing and other requirements adds any private air ambulance service that solicits membership subscriptions, accepts membership applications, charges membership fees, and provides air ambulance services to the list. (S.4712, Senator Patricia Ritchie (R-C, Heuvelton)
Medicaid Fraud Legislation
The Senate passed legislation that implements a recommendation of the Senate Republican Task Force on Medicaid Fraud and increases the prosecution of Medicaid waste and abuse while also bringing significant savings to the state and counties. Medicaid fraud is a significant cost to the state and this helps increase cost recoveries by allowing the state’s Office of Medicaid Inspector General (OMIG) to assist local district attorneys in prosecutions of Medicaid provider fraud.
While Medicaid recipient fraud is currently investigated by the local Department of Social Services and prosecuted by the local district attorney, cases of Medicaid provider fraud must be referred by OMIG to the State Attorney General. The new legislation allows OMIG to provide referrals to local district attorneys which then can prosecute provider fraud in exchange for a percentage of the recoveries. This would result in a reduction in the amount of time it takes to prosecute perpetrators, decrease the amount of state resources necessary to prosecute cases from Albany, and increase recovery amounts to the state. (S.594, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy
The Senate passed a bill to potentially save chemotherapy patients thousands of dollars in pharmaceutical costs by ensuring that chemotherapy treatment, no matter how administered, is covered equally by insurance companies. This measure would help patients by enabling oral chemotherapy – a treatment in pill form - to be covered by insurance as a chemotherapy treatment.
Many of the emerging cancer therapies are available only in pill form. Patients are able to undergo chemotherapy by taking a pill in the comfort of their own homes instead of traveling to a hospital for the traditional intravenous or injectable form of chemotherapy that is most commonly thought of when chemotherapy is discussed.
Currently, many oral drugs are defined by insurance companies as a prescription drug treatment, leaving patients unable to get the treatment covered as a traditional chemotherapy treatment. This often results in patients paying thousands of dollars out of pocket because it is listed in the highest drug price category. If they are unable to pay for the drug, the oral chemotherapy option and its benefits are not accessible to the patient. This bill ends the cost discrepancy by requiring oral chemotherapies to be covered by insurance at a cost equal to intravenously-delivered chemotherapies. (PBH, S.3988, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-C, Staten Island)
The Senate passed a bill that would help prevent insurance fraud by making it a felony to intentionally cause a vehicle collision. The legislation targets criminals who capitalize on vulnerable motorists in attempts to profit from insurance claims.
This bill would establish tough penalties by creating a new crime of staging a motor vehicle accident. A person could be convicted of a class B, C, or D felony depending on prior criminal history, specifics of the staged incident, or if injury or death occurred. The bill would take effect on the first November after enactment. (S.1685, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)
Land Use Mediation
This bill authorizes municipalities to utilize mediation as an alternative procedure in reaching certain land use regulation decisions. Under the legislation, such mediation is voluntary and non binding. (S.4358, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
The Senate passed a measure to allow the governing bodies of two or more municipalities, as well as the residents or property owners of a municipality, to jointly initiate the municipal annexation process. Specifically, this bill clarifies that land use considerations are included in the annexation process. (S.4359, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
The Senate passed a bill which authorizes municipalities to utilize contracts for public works services which have already been let out to bid by the county in which the political subdivision or district is located, or through any county within the State. (PBH, S.4360, Senator Catharine Young (R,I,C – Olean)
Lowering Counties’ Public Defense Costs
The Senate gave final legislative passage to a measure to help counties save money in providing public defense services to individuals who cannot afford an attorney.
The legislation would exempt legal aid societies from having to pay a fee to search DMV records in public defense cases. This exemption would provide savings to the counties who fund the services provided by legal aid societies.
Counties have the option of using a public defender’s office or legal aid society to provide free legal defenses to individuals who cannot afford an attorney. In both cases, counties subsidize the costs of these services. Current law exempts public defenders’ offices from paying a fee to search DMV records in a public defense case. However, legal aid societies, which perform the exact same function as a public defender’s office, must pay the search fee. (PBH, S5474, sponsored by Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick)
Mental Health Facilities
The Senate passed legislation that will help protect the residents of state-run mental health facilities. The bill requires the creation of rules to prevent commingling of adults and youth to offer additional protection among residents and better address age-specific needs while in the facilities.
The bill mandates the Commissioner of the state Office of Mental Health to create rules and regulations requiring age-appropriate separation of patients in residential facilities operated by the state and in hospitals licensed by the Office, except in extraordinary circumstances. (PBH, S.3745, Senator Andrew Lanza (R, Staten Island)
SENIORS AND RETIREES
The 2011-2012 budget restored $22 million for the EPIC program to help ensure prescription drug coverage for seniors.
The Senate passed legislation that will help make it easier for property owners to claim STAR benefits if they missed the March 1 filing deadlines. This is particularly important to senior citizens, who must remember to file for the enhanced STAR exemption each year. Missing the deadline, and therefore the exemption, could result in a homeowner facing an unexpected and significantly increased tax bill. This bill instead authorizes municipalities to accept STAR applications after the locality’s taxable status date and before January 10 of the following year. (S.3576, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)
Fixed School Tax Rate for Seniors
The Senate passed legislation that would establish a fixed real property school tax rate for seniors who are eligible for the enhanced STAR exemption, providing much needed tax relief to hundreds of thousands of seniors throughout New York State.
Under the measure, homeowners aged 70 or older and meet the eligibility requirements for the enhanced STAR exemption would be eligible to apply annually for the fixed real property school tax rate at local option. The state would reimburse school districts for lost revenue caused by freezing the tax rates for seniors. (S.2998, Senator Kenneth P. LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)
The Senate gave final passage of legislation that expands an existing alert system to help locate missing vulnerable adults. The “Gold Alert” creates a system to help authorities get proper notifications, coordinate resources, and investigate incidents where individuals, such as those with illnesses or disabilities, go missing.
If signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, the bill would use the “Amber Alert” infrastructure, which is already in place, to disseminate information about missing vulnerable adults through a statewide system, using a variety of resources, including television and radio stations, posters, highway message signs, New York State Thruway Authority services areas, e-mail alerts, and the Internet, in hopes of engaging the public in finding leads to locate the missing individual.
By enacting this law, New York would join several other states, including Illinois, West Virginia, North Carolina, and Texas, in taking steps to assist families of cognitively impaired adults with locating their missing loved ones. (PBH, S.3293B, Senator John A/ DeFrancisco (R-I-C, Syracuse)
Criminal Background Checks for Bus Drivers
The New York State Senate passed legislation that would help ensure bus safety and crack down on so-called “terror” bus drivers. The bill requires bus drivers to submit to a criminal history check. The legislation aims to improve safety for bus passengers following a string of bus crashes caused by dangerous bus drivers with a history of criminal driving convictions.
The legislation would require all new bus drivers to submit to a criminal background check when they are hired. Drivers would be subjected to a 90 day conditional period while the background check is being undertaken. All current bus drivers would submit to a criminal background check the next time they renew their commercial driver's license. Currently, this requirement applies only to school bus drivers. (S.5171A, Senator Charles Fuschillo (R, Merrick)
The Senate also passed legislation expanding the list of crimes which bars a person from becoming a school bus driver. The expanded list includes crimes such as sexual misconduct and forcible touching. (S.3100, Senator Bonacic R/C/I – Orange County).
Special Convex Mirrors for Trucks
The Senate passed legislation that will require all trucks, tractors, and tractor-trailers or semi-trailer combinations registered in New York State with a maximum gross weight of 26,000 pounds or more and a conventional cab configuration, to be equipped with crossover mirrors when operating in New York City. (PBH, S.3151, Senator Martin Golden (R,C,I-Brooklyn)
Texting While Driving
The Senate passed a bill that will make it easier for law enforcement to crack down on texting-while-driving offenses and prevent tragic accidents caused by drivers distracted by texting.
The bill would make text messaging while driving a primary violation rather than a secondary violation. Under the current law, a driver can only be cited for texting-while-driving if another violation, such as speeding, is also being cited. (PBH, S.5643, Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R-Syosset)
Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) Bill
The New York State Senate passed a bill that requires all individuals, regardless of age, who have been found guilty of operating a boat after consuming alcohol to take a boating safety course before they can operate a boat again. This measure helps prevent accidents stemming from individuals who are guilty of boating while intoxicated. (S.2903B, Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse)
Incarceration for Multiple DWI Offenders
The Senate passed a measure that would impose mandatory jail time for individuals who chose to drive again under the influence of drugs or alcohol after having been previously convicted of such a crime. The legislation is intended to increase the penalties for multiple DWI offenders.
Under the measure, drivers convicted of two DWI crimes within ten years face up to four years in jail and/or a fine between $1,000-$5,000, and receive a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 30 days; drivers with three or more DWI convictions within ten years would face up to seven years in jail and/or a fine between $2,000-$10,000, and receive a mandatory minimum 90 day jail sentence; drivers convicted of two aggravated DWI crimes (.18 BAC or higher or DWI with a child in the car) within ten years face up to four years in jail and/or a fine between $1,000-$5,000, and receive a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 180 days; drivers convicted of three or more aggravated DWI crimes (.18 BAC or higher or DWI with a child in the car) within ten years face up to seven years in jail and/or a fine between $2,000-$10,000, and receive a mandatory minimum 1 year jail sentence. (S.2597, Senator Charles Fuschillo (R- Merrick)
Requiring DWI Offenders to Take DMV Course
The Senate passed a measure that requires mandatory participation in a motor vehicle accident prevention course approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles for persons who are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Persons that are subject to the driver responsibility assessment represent the most dangerous segment of traffic violators. While fines, fees, penalties and surcharges serve as a deterrent, the current program lacks a treatment component to affect behavior modification. Programs approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles have demonstrated to be effective in reducing collisions and violations, thus having a positive effect on recidivism. (S4740C, Senator Owen Johnson (R-C-IP, Babylon)
The Senate passed a bill to help make roads safer by strengthening penalties for reckless driving and creating a new crime of aggravated reckless driving. The legislation would prevent car accidents and enhance prosecution of individuals charged with dangerous driving behavior, especially when incidents involve people who are drunk or high and drive on roads in the wrong direction. (S.3452, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
Dangerous Driving Legislation
The Senate passed legislation that would make roads safer and give law enforcement important tools to prosecute those who are impaired while driving by clearly defining “intoxication” and “impairment” as a state of mind, notwithstanding the intoxicant. Currently, individuals can be charged with a DWI offense only if they are intoxicated or impaired by alcohol or by one of the drugs listed in the public health law. This allows those who ingest substances not listed in the law (such as inhaling an aerosol can) to escape being charged with DWI. This would ensure that all intoxicated drivers can be charged with DWI, regardless of the substance they use. (S.600A, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
The Senate passed legislation that would require the court's consent to do a case-by-case examination of the issuance of a conditional license following a DWI charge. On February 22, 2009, Suffolk County Police Officer Glen Ciano was killed after being hit by a vehicle driven by Jose Borbon, who had been charged with Driving While Intoxicated and had a conditional license issued just 30 days after the charge. (S.526A, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
Smoking Ban on MTA Train Platforms and in Boarding Areas
The Senate today gave final legislative passage to a to help protect MTA passengers from harmful second-hand smoke exposure. The legislation would ban smoking in outdoor spaces for ticketing, boarding or platforms of train stations operated by the MTA or its subsidiaries, such as Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North. Both the City of New York and the State of New Jersey have already enacted similar laws banning smoking on outdoor train platforms.
Reducing exposure to harmful second-hand smoke will go a long way towards improving public health. The New York State Department of Health estimates that second-hand smoke exposure kills 2,500 New Yorkers every year. Exposure to second-hand smoke causes approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths among non-smokers every year, according to the American Lung Association. (PBH, S3461C, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick)
The Senate passed “Complete Streets” legislation which would help make roadways safer for all who use them. requires state, county, and local transportation agencies to consider roadway design features that increase the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists.
“Complete Streets” design principles are roadway design features that accommodate and facilitate safe travel by pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists of all ages and abilities. These features include sidewalks, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, bicycle lanes, “share the road” signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signalization, bus pull outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps, and traffic calming measures designed to allow pedestrian and motor traffic to easily coexist.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 300 pedestrians were killed on New York’s roadways in 2009. Twenty-six percent of all traffic fatalities in New York State in 2009 involved pedestrians, which is more than double the national average.
The legislation would require all state, county, and local transportation agencies to consider Complete Streets design principles on all projects which receive both federal and state funding. (PBH, S.5411A, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R-Merrick)
Legislation Allowing Towns to Set Speed Limits
The Senate passed legislation to allow towns throughout New York State to establish their own speed limits.
Currently, towns are required to seek permission from the New York State Department of Transportation to change a speed limit, a sometimes long and arduous process. However, villages, towns with populations greater than 50,000 residents, suburban class towns and all cities are not required to seek the same approval. The measure would require towns wanting to set maximum speed limits do so in accordance with standards already set forth by New York State. Changes would have to be certified by a licensed professional engineer specializing in traffic operations. Towns not wanting to set their own speed limits could continue to retain the Department of Transportation’s oversight and approval. (S.547, Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)
The Senate passed legislation that permits the registration of UTVs, or all-terrain vehicles that are designed to be ridden side-by-side by two persons. These vehicles are used by farmers, seniors, and families in a way that has minimal impact on the environment, but current law does not allow them to be lawfully registered in New York, causing owners to go to Pennsylvania and other states to obtain registrations. (S.3318, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton).
VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY ASSISTANCE
Legislation to Limit Protests at Military Funerals
The Senate gave final legislative approval to a measure that requires the development and implementation of a permit process for demonstrations at veteran and veteran family member funerals, and authorizes the imposition of fines for failure to comply with the permit provisions. The measure is intended to balance the constitutional right to free speech with the ability of families to respectfully mourn the individuals who gave their lives in service. (PBH, S.3901A, Senator Lee Zeldin (R-C-I, Shirley)
The Senate also passed a measure that triples the buffer zone distance for protests around a religious service, funeral, burial or memorial service to 100 feet to 300 feet. The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that military families reeling from grief are not faced with protests as they mourn. (PBH, S.5605, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)
Strengthen Voting Process for Military Voters
The Senate approved legislation to ensure that special elections in New York State provide more time for military absentee ballots to be mailed and counted. (S.3500, Chapter 4, Laws of 2011, Senator Tom O’Mara (R-C, Big Flats)
Purple Heart “Forever” Stamp
An effort to honor military heroes that began in the New York State Senate 11 years ago has resulted in the U.S. Postal Service announcing that the Purple Heart postage stamp has been classified as a “Forever” stamp, ensuring that it will continue in circulation. The new classification as a “Forever” stamp, means that Purple Heart postage stamp will continue in circulation and supporters will no longer need to advocate to maintain it each time the price of stamps increases.
Additional Veteran and Active Military Legislation
The Senate passed legislation to prevent the courts from considering the potential for a military service deployment as a detrimental factor when determining parental custody of a child. (S.3228, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst)
The Senate passed legislation which establishes a crime for the commercial use of the name, image, or likeness of any current or former member of the armed forces or the state militia. (S.5337, sponsored by Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse).
Lifetime Sportsman License
The Senate passed a bill that allows certain disabled veterans to purchase a lifetime sportsman license for hunting and fishing at a reduced rate. (S.193, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane).
The Senate passed a bill that gives disabled veterans access to certain restricted bodies of water through the use of float planes and with the creation of a permit system. (S.824, Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I Queensbury).
Tax Exemption Measures
The Senate passed a bill which provides for additional veteran real property owner exemptions when veterans are otherwise eligible, but not discharged from a current combat duty status. (S.3222, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst)
Legislation was also passed by the Senate would create a list of suitable documents which support a veteran’s eligibility for real property tax exemptions. (S.2497, Senator Roy McDonald (R-C-I, Saratoga)
The Senate passed a bill that allows local governments to provide the same property tax exemption to reservists as is currently available to active duty military. Currently, career reservists are not eligible for the benefit if they did not also serve active duty. (S.5231, Senator Patty Ritchie, R-C, Heuvelton)
The Senate passed legislation that would ensure that all funds paid as rent for non-military use of an armory would continue to be paid into a special account that is used to pay operating costs for New York Army National Guard armories statewide. (S.4569, Senator Greg Ball (R-C, Pawling)
Veteran Advisory Committee
The state Senate also approved legislation to help older veterans by creating an advisory committee that specifically assists state officials in addressing important veterans issues. (S.3337, Senator Michael Ranzenhofer (R-C-I, Amherst)
Medal for Service
The Senate passed a measure to create the Campaign Medal for Service to recognize New Yorkers who defended our country and our state during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Afghanistan War, and the first and second Persian Gulf Wars. (S.2900, Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I, Syracuse)
“Honor and Remember” Flag
Legislation passed by the Senate would allow New York State to participate in the national veterans’ movement, and designates the “Honor and Remember” flag for fallen members of the armed forces. (S.3957, Senator Greg Ball (R-C, Pawling)
Services and Benefits
The Senate also gave final legislative passage to a measure which enhances the ability of localities to provide information to veterans about services and benefits available to them. (S.205, Chapter 16, Laws of 2011, Senator George Maziarz (R-C, Newfane)
Counting Military Ballots
A measure which would require that absentee or military ballots of any active duty service member be counted even if such service member dies before the date of the election for which it was cast. (S.2421 Senator Greg Ball (R-C, Pawling)
A bill which establishes the New York State Veterans Cemetery Act and provides the mechanism for the establishment of a New York State Veterans Cemetery Program (S.2424A, Senator Greg Ball(R-C, Pawling)
Another bill extends provisions establishing a recruitment incentive and retention program in the form of a tuition reimbursement for certain active members of the New York Army National Guard, Air National Guard and Naval Militia. (S.3484, Senator Greg Ball (R-C, Pawling)
Cemetery Desecration Measures
Another piece of legislation would create the crime of “Cemetery Desecration of a Veteran” and also allows community service to be provided for desecrated cemeteries as a condition for probation or conditional release. (S.1728, Senator William Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson)
A measure that would prohibit the unauthorized sale of veterans’ commemorative property, including artifacts, statues or other physical memorabilia from a cemetery, in order to preserve history and provide for the continued reverence of those who faithfully served our country. (S.1504, Senator William Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson)
United States Flag
A bill directs the Adjutant General to present a United States flag to the person disposing of the body of a member of the National Guard, Air National Guard or Naval Militia who dies in the service of their state and nation. (S.1431, Senator Stephen Saland (R-I-C, Poughkeepsie)