Archive for the tag 'bills'

IMG_0075

Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

New York State Department of Conservation “wildlife specialists” opened fire on a pair of mute swans in upstate New York last Tuesday, orphaning their four baby swans and defying a two-year moratorium on lethal population management techniques that had just passed the Senate and Assembly.

The incident took place in Black River Bay, when residents spotted an unmarked boat approaching a group of swans. Moments later, gunshots rang through the air and two of the swans were dead. Residents, thinking the gunmen poachers, chased them down to discover that they worked for the environmental agency.

“DEC was carrying out a long-standing protocol to manage this invasive species that threatens other species in this sensitive habitat,” the DEC said in a prepared statement to the local television station.

The news riled up two New York City legislators who led the fight to protect the swans.

“This is an outrage,” said Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in a press release. “We’re doing everything we can do [to] safeguard the swan population in my own Sheepshead Bay community and elsewhere, but clearly DEC did not get the memo.”

“I am absolutely outraged at these horrific turn of events, which occurred almost simultaneously as the State Senate passed a two-year moratorium on your agency’s careless and controversial plan to eradicate all wild mute swans in the state by 2025,” State Senator Tony Avella of Queens. “What is even more troubling is that the shootings happened in broad daylight, in front of passerbys enjoying their day near the Bay.”

Cymbrowitz and Avella introduced the legislation creating the moratorium in the Assembly and Senate, respectively. Although it passed both houses, Cuomo has not yet signed it into law.

The moratorium came after the DEC revealed a draft plan in January to eliminate entirely the mute swan population across New York State. The plan was sharply criticized by animal advocates and those who see the swans – which have populated some areas in the state including Sheepshead Bay for more than a century – as a welcome part of the community. The agency announced in March that it would hold off using any lethal population management techniques until a new plan was made that was more sensitive to the community’s wishes.

The agency appears to have reversed course yet again, spurring criticism from the pols.

“Even without the moratorium being signed into law, the implication was that DEC would stand by its good-faith promise and keep the swans off death row until further notice,” said Cymbrowitz. “Instead, we’re getting a clear indication that DEC can’t be trusted and still plans to engage in the sanctioned killing of mute swans.”

Both pols have sent letters expressing their outrage to Joseph Martens, the commissioner of the DEC.

Source: formulanone/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio won a victory in Albany early this morning when both houses of the state legislature gave the green light to lowering the New York City speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour.

After concerns earlier this week that Senate Republicans could prevent the bill from coming to a vote, it passed overwhelmingly in both houses and has been sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature.

The measure is a key item of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, which seeks to make streets safer and eliminate traffic deaths citywide. Several of the initiative’s proposals require approval from state lawmakers, including speed limits and the installation of speed cameras.

The idea was first floated by the mayor earlier this year, but received a tepid response from lawmakers. It became increasingly politicized, with Senate Republicans threatening to block it from coming to a vote as retribution for de Blasio’s calls for returning that legislative body to Democratic control. Senator Andrew Lanza, a Republican representing Staten Island, suggested as recently as yesterday afternoon that he would oppose the measure if it did not fold in his proposal to require stop signs be installed around all city schools.

Ultimately, de Blasio and traffic safety advocates won out in a down-to-the-wire vote during the season’s final legislative session in the capital. The bill was passed 106-13 by the Assembly in a late night session, while the Senate took it up early in the morning, passing it 58-2.

An earlier version of the bill called for the speed limit to be reduced to 20 miles per hour, but was quickly squashed by legislative leaders.

IMG_0075

Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

The following is a press release issued yesterday by the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

New York’s mute swans may at last have a voice in their future.

The Assembly today passed a bill introduced by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) that would effectively save the state’s 2,200 mute swans from a state-mandated death sentence.

The legislation (A.8790A) establishes a moratorium on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan to declare the graceful bird – as iconic to Sheepshead Bay as the fishing boats and the Emmons Avenue promenade — a “prohibited invasive species” and eliminate the state’s entire population by 2025.

The bill requires DEC to hold at least two public hearings and to respond to all public comments before finalizing any management plan for mute swans. In addition, DEC would be required to prioritize non-lethal management techniques and include scientific evidence of projected and current environmental damage caused by the mute swan population.

In late January, Assemblyman Cymbrowitz launched a well-publicized outcry when DEC announced that it would kill the swans because of the damage they purportedly cause to the environment and other species such as ducks and geese. But experts remain conflicted about whether the birds inflict much damage at all, the lawmaker said, making it imperative to examine the issue further.

Other states including Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut currently use non-lethal methods to control their mute swan populations, “which demonstrates that the precedent is there for using a humane alternative,” he said.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz’ pro-swan advocacy has attracted the attention of animal advocacy organizations like GooseWatch NYC and Save Our Swans. Locals from Sheepshead Bay and Brighton Beach, especially those well-versed in the daily struggles of non-native residents, also feel a kinship to the plight of the immigrant species.

“We know all too well the challenges that make acceptance difficult in a new and sometimes unforgiving land. For people, and for every living being, we need to extend a helping hand,” he said.

Oceana complex (Source: Google Maps)

Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz responded to anonymous allegations published today in a local newspaper, which claim he is in cahoots with Oceana condominium developers to privatize a portion of Brighton Beach, by saying it “pisses me off” and is “totally inaccurate.”

The response is to a Will Bredderman political column in Brooklyn Daily, which cites an anonymous source as saying the pol is “trying to broker a deal that would permit the swank, beachfront Oceana Condominiums to take over a section of the public shore.”

“I think it just goes to show what Will Bredderman and [Brooklyn Daily's publisher] Courier-Life print. There are inaccuracies in every part of it, and anything I sent to him, he didn’t write,” Cymbrowitz told Sheepshead Bites.

In the column, Bredderman points to the pol’s opposition to the elevated comfort stations in front of Oceana as evidence that the pol is attempting to clear the way for a privatized beach. They also note the 2013 bill introduced by Cymbrowitz, and first reported on by Sheepshead Bites, that would transfer jurisdiction of the beach from the more restrictive state Department of Environmental Conservation to the city’s Parks Department. The paper called the bill, which was cosponsored by Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny,  “a first step toward privatization.”

“I think that’s inaccurate. My response to him was simply that, by giving the jurisdiction to the Parks department, it would allow us to use the money that was received from [Brook-Krasny's predecessor] Adele Cohen years ago to build a bike path,” said Cymbrowitz. “DEC wouldn’t allow it. But if the Parks Department had jurisdiction, they would have done it. [Bredderman] didn’t write any of that.”

That bill was squashed following a Sheepshead Bites’ report, although it briefly reemerged earlier this year before being pulled again. Last year, Cymbrowitz said he killed the bill because he was disappointed with Parks’ handling of the comfort stations, although this outlet noted at the time that the bill was introduced after Cymbrowitz came out against the Oceana restrooms. Cymbrowitz said the bill’s reappearance this year was because his staff automatically reintroduced it as a matter of routine, and that he killed it after it came to his attention.

Moreover, Cymbrowitz said he doesn’t see how transferring jurisdiction from a state to a city agency helps privatize a beach, and unequivocally stated that he never had conversations with Oceana’s developers, Muss Development, or any other party about privatizing the beach.

“Absolutely not. Never. And how could… I don’t even think it’s possible to privatize a public beach. So whoever Bredderman is getting his information from is totally inaccurate. And that’s I think what pisses me off more than anything else, all the inaccuracies. Why doesn’t he name who said it, or who the conversation was with if I had a conversation? That’s not going to happen,” he said.

Muss Development has for years boasted of a “private beach” as one of the amenities at Oceana on its website. On being contacted by Brooklyn Daily, the company called it a “typo” and said they had no discussions with the assemblyman regarding the privatization of a stretch of Brighton Beach for their benefit.

That, locals say, is bunk.

“If you’re asking me what the facts are, the facts are that Oceana wanted a private beach from the beginning and marketed it that way,” said local activist and longtime Brighton Beach resident Ida Sanoff. “It is common knowledge that they claimed to be building a private beach there when they first opened. They told a number of my neighbors who looked at apartments there about a private beach. And, early on, they had security guards [on the sand in front of the development] and whoever wandered by was told it was a private beach.”

Sanoff, who is also the executive director of the Natural Resources Protective Association, and who was the first to sound the alarm about the 2013 legislation turning over jurisdiction, said she continues to have concerns about that bill.

“Of course I’m concerned,” she said. “The Parks Department does have the ability to issue franchises,” meaning allowing private concessions to operate on the beach. “So if someone, somewhere, decided this is what they wanted to do [on these beaches], once Parks has control of the beach it could be done routinely. And once it’s done here, you’ve set the precedent to do it on any beach in New York City.”

Sanoff, though, said she had no idea if that’s what Cymbrowitz’s intent is, and said she did not know of any meetings between the pol and Oceana’s developers about privatizing the beach.

“Cymbrowitz, I haven’t spoken to the man in years,” she said. “I know as much about what’s going on in his head as I do President Obama’s.”

Bredderman declined to comment on this article without approval from his editors. We will update this post if we receive a statement.

Source: smokershighlife/Flickr

The bill legalizing medical marijuana passed the State Senate Health Committee on Tuesday, bringing it a step closer to law.

While advocates, including the bill’s sponsor, Senator Diane Savino, celebrated, Capital New York turned to one of the bill’s main opponents, Senator Marty Golden, for his thoughts. What followed was a pretty interesting exchange, in which Republican Golden argues for federal oversight, while Democrat Savino portrays it as a states’ rights issue in which New York must lead the way:

Golden said he believed medical marijuana would be legal at some point in New York, but “I don’t believe it should be now.” He said he would be inclined to support medical marijuana when the Food and Drug Administration supports it at the federal level.

Savino delivered an impassioned response.

“I wish, I really wish that the F.D.A. would move, but as it’s been noted in the past, the F.D.A takes its own sweet time,” Savino said. “In the meantime, people suffer. Children suffer. People die.

“Why is it so important for us to act before the F.D.A finally decides to do it? Because in so many ways, Senator Golden, New York is the watershed state,” she said. “As New York goes, so goes the nation. And we, if we are successful in establishing the tightest most regulated program in the country, we will become the model and the F.D.A. will finally acknowledge that they have been sticking their head in the sand about this issue for far too long.”

I’m not quite sure when, in the course of recent history, Democrats became the party of states’ rights and Republicans became the party of broader federal powers, but medical marijuana is hardly the only issue to exhibit the new paradigm (DOMA, anybody?).

Regardless, it’s not yet clear whether the bill will come to a floor for a full vote during the current session. Although it’s garnered some Republican support, and Savino said she has enough votes to pass it, Republican leadership remains cold to the idea and introduced a competing bill last week that does not allow any smokeable forms of the drug to be used for any reason.

Palcohol's creator enjoys one of his refreshing beverages in front of the world's ugliest painting. "It's perfect. It's so much fun!" he says in the video defending the product.

Palcohol’s creator enjoys one of his beverages in front of the world’s ugliest painting. “It’s perfect. It’s so much fun!” he says in the video defending the product.

The following is a press release from the offices of Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

If the federal government decides to approve the sale of “Palcohol” again, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) wants to make sure you won’t be able to buy it here.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, Chairman of the Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Committee, introduced legislation this week (A.9615) to prohibit the sale of powdered alcohol in New York State. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the Treasury Department, issued approval of Palcohol’s labels on April 20th but rescinded it soon after, citing technical issues with the amount of powdered alcohol contained in each package.

State Senator Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) has introduced the bill in the Senate.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz believes that Palcohol never should have reached the stage of label approval in the first place. On its website, Palcohol’s parent company Lipsmark touts its many uses, calling it “a boon to outdoors enthusiasts such as campers, hikers and others who wanted to enjoy adult beverages responsibly without having the undue burden of carrying heavy bottles of liquid.”

The company claims the product would make an excellent antiseptic for hikers and said a manufacturer contacted them wanting to use the item to make “adult” ice cream. Other manufacturers are interested in using Palcohol as a livestock supplement and in windshield washer fluid, the website notes.

Assemblyman Cymbrowitz says this is a load of nonsense.

“These marketing ploys are downright laughable, but it’s not funny to think about all the kids who’ll be able to stash powdered alcohol away under their parents’ noses and then engage in dangerous and potentially addictive behavior,” he said. He noted that the concentrated nature of powdered alcohol presents a greater likelihood of overdose due to improper mixing. The beverage can also easily be concealed and brought to venues where alcohol is prohibited, he said.

The legislation will ban this product in New York State should the TTB decide to change its decision again to allow for the product to be marketed in the United States. Alaska has already banned the sale of powdered alcohol and similar legislation is pending in Minnesota and Vermont.

Earlier this month, citing public health concerns, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to supersede the TTB by banning Palcohol before it reaches store shelves.

Palcohol’s creator Mark Phillips has created a website and video defending his product.

IMG_0075

Swans on Webers Court. Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Legislation that would require more community input in the state’s plan to manage the population of mute swans across New York was given a stamp of approval by the state Assembly’s Environmental Conservation Committee, bringing it one step closer to becoming law.

The bill was introduced by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in February, following the release of a plan the month before by the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation to eradicate the species’ presence statewide, including the dozens of iconic swans that live in Sheepshead Bay. The plan called for capturing and killing 2,200 swans, as well as the destruction of their eggs and nests. It also proposed limiting their sale in the state, release in the wild, and a public education campaign urging residents not to feed the fowl, which they claim destroy habitat for native species. Mute swans are not native to the area, and are considered an invasive species.

The legislation, a similar version of which is being pushed by Queens State Senator Tony Avella in the Senate, would require that the state agency hold at least two public hearings and respond to concerns before finalizing any population management plans regarding mute swans. It also puts a two-year moratorium on allowing the agency to declare the mute swan a “prohibited invasive species,” a label that marks it for death.

Additionally, the agency would be required to not only prioritize non-lethal management techniques, and back up their arguments with scientific evidence. According to the sponsors, scientists remain conflicted about whether or not the mute swan population poses a significant threat to the habitat or people.

“Wildlife experts and environmentalists are not unanimous in their belief that exterminating the mute swan population is justified, and there’s plenty of debate over whether eradicating mute swans will be even minimally beneficial to the ecosystem or our environment,” Cymbrowitz said in a press release. “It is incumbent on the Department of Environmental Conservation to illustrate the necessity of eradicating this non-native species by demonstrating the actual damage to the environment or other species caused by mute swans,” he said. “It is also critical that the people of our community have a say in what happens to our feathered neighbors.”

In Sheepshead Bay, residents of Webers Court off Emmons Avenue told Sheepshead Bites they’ve lived alongside the birds for decades and can’t recall a single instance of an attack, as the DEC claims could happen.

“I don’t see them destroying anything,” said Cliff Bruckenstein, who has lived on Webers Court for 25 years. Bruckenstein went on to challenge the DEC’s claim that the mute swan can be bellicose. “They’re really not an aggressive species. They only get protective around their nests.”

The bill may come for an Assembly vote soon, followed by the Senate.

However, the agency has already turned tail on the issue, announcing in late February that they would seek non-lethal methods of population management in regards to the swan. The reversal came after they received more than 1,500 comments from individuals and organizations, as well as 16,000 form letters and 30,000 petition signatures.

A new plan is being drawn up, and will be followed by a public comment period.

Guys. Hey, guys. Chill out. Light some incense, man. Maybe put on some Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Groove for a minute in that beanbag chair.

Then pick up the phone and call your state lawmaker and tell them that their opposition to the Compassionate Care Act legalizing medical marijuana is just, like, their opinion, man. And they should get over it. And vote yes.

If your state Senator is Diane Savino, that’s one less phone call you’ll have to make, because she’s the one telling you to do this. Savino released a video this week making her case for the legislation, which she sponsored and continues to spearhead.

NYStateOfPolitics reports:

[Savino] and the Assembly sponsor, Manhattan Democrat Richard Gottfried, have amended [the act] in hopes of appealing to their on-the-fence colleagues who tend to be more conservative on this issue.

Changes include a ban on people under 21 from smoking pot and changes to the medical conditions that would be covered by the new law – for example, glaucoma is out, but rheumatoid arthritis is in. The amended act also creates an advisory panel that includes medical experts to guide the implementation of the law and prevent a free-for-all from occurring.

Savino, who represents Coney Island, Gravesend, Brighton Beach, Bath Beach and Staten Island, told the outlet she has 39 “yes” votes, enough to pass the act in the Senate. It could come to the floor soon.

You can watch the video in full above, but here’s the gist of it:

“This bill will will ensure that those suffering with the most debilitating illnesses have access to the safe and responsible use of medical marijuana. Right now, 21 states have already adopted their own medical marijuana laws, and others are following their lead. It’s time New York gets with the program.”

… “We shouldn’t handcuff our doctors from making the best decision on how to treat their patients. We may have the facts on our side – but we still need your support. That’s why I’m asking you to contact your legislator and urge them to vote for the Compassionate Care Act. It’s the right thing to do. Together — with your help — I know we’ll make this a reality. Thank you.”

A home in Seagate after Sandy. (Photo by Erica Sherman)

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer announced the formation of a Sandy Oversight Unit this morning, with its first task slated to be an audit of the Build it Back recovery program.

Stringer is targeting the program in the wake of headlines earlier this year that noted money has been distributed and construction started in only a handful of cases nearly a year after Build it Back’s launch, despite nearly 20,000 homeowners on the wait-list.

The unit will be looking to see if the Housing Recovery Office – the program that oversees Build it Back – has set goals and timetables for the delivery of services and established procedures to reduce the backlog of applications. It will also look at the quality of the service and review fraud prevention procedures, with a focus on the Single Family Program.

The Oversight Unit will draw from the Comptroller’s Audit, Contracts, Budget and Policy Units, with an overall goal of reviewing how federal aid has been spent, making recommendations to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, monitoring the progress of Sandy projects and proposing policy recommendations for managing the financial tracking in future emergencies.

To aid the review, Stringer is holding Town Hall meetings across Sandy-stricken neighborhoods to hear from residents about the problems they face. The following locations and dates have been set:

  • April 30 in Breezy Point from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Bay House, 500 Bayside Drive, Breezy Point, NY
  • May 6 in Coney Island from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Coney Island Hospital, 2601 Ocean Parkway, Brooklyn, NY
  • May 20 in the Rockaways from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, 348 Beach 71st Street, Arverne, NY
  • May 28 in Staten Island from 6 to 8 p.m.
    Olympia Activity Center (OAC), 1126 Olympia Blvd., Staten Island, NY

Mayor Bill de Blasio is already seeking to increase the efficiency of the program, announcing today that his office has completed a report that will kickstart the process, getting money out to homeowners faster. Details of those reforms will be made public later today.

Meanwhile, the mayor is also seeking to slash the property tax bills of 1,500 city residents who have rebuilt or repaired their homes since Superstorm Sandy. He announced yesterday that his office is pushing for support in Albany to provide a property tax credit for Sandy victims.

Construction and renovations to a home can trigger a higher assessment value, even if it’s solely for Sandy recovery. The bill would allow the city to grant partial property-tax abatement to nullify the higher assessed value from those repairs.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

To be eligible, homeowners would have to meet three criteria. First, the city had to reduce the valuation of the homeowner’s property in fiscal year 2014 from the value in 2013 because of Sandy damage. Second, the city would have had to increase the assessed value of the property for fiscal year 2015 compared with 2014. And, lastly, the 2015 assessed value of the building must exceed 2013′s.

While the city controls its property-tax rate, the Legislature and governor must approve special abatements like this.

The mayor has six weeks to gather support and pass the reforms before city property tax bills are delivered.

Source: sincerelyhiten via flickr

Source: sincerelyhiten/Flickr

The following is a press release from the offices of State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz:

A bill introduced by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn) to commission a comprehensive study on the social impact of problem gambling has gained a valuable sponsor in the Senate and was cited during expert testimony at a New York State Gaming Commission Forum today in Albany.

The legislation (A.7836), which authorizes and directs the commissioner of mental health to commission a statewide evaluation regarding the extent of legal and illegal gambling by New York state residents, has attracted the sponsorship of Senator Marty Golden and on April 1 was reported to the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

James Maney, Executive Director of the New York Council on Problem Gambling, gave the bill a positive mention this morning during the forum on “Addressing Problem Gambling in the Era of Expanded Gaming.”

According to Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, who is Chairman of the Committee on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the purpose of this bill is to mitigate the social costs related to problem gambling.

A survey conducted by the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) found that five percent of adults, or 668,000 individuals, exhibited problem gambling behaviors within the past year. Another survey of seventh through 12th grade students revealed that 10 percent, or 140,000 students, showed signs of problem gambling in the past 12 months and another 10 percent of those students were in need of treatment for problem gambling. Of those students in the survey who were identified as in need of chemical dependency treatment, 45 percent were at risk or in need of treatment for problem gambling.

Research has found that proximity to casinos increases the rate of problem gambling among the local population, said Assemblyman Cymbrowitz. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission showed that casinos within a 50-mile radius of an individual’s home can double the prevalence of problem gambling.

The Buffalo Research Institute on Addiction, in its own study, claimed that having a casino within 10 miles of a home has a significant effect on problem gambling. Currently, New York State has five casinos operated by Native Americans and nine independently operated racinos; combined they operate approximately 29,000 electronic gambling machines, which is more than any state in the Northeast or Midwest. New York continues to expand its existing gaming market and if non-tribal casino gaming is legalized, permitting up to seven new casinos to be established, the risk of more individuals developing a gambling problem could increase significantly.

“While it is important that New York State continue to conduct surveys that determine the prevalence of problem gambling and illustrate the need for prevention and treatment services, additional research that measures the social impact of problem gambling is sorely needed,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. Directing such research would allow the state to pinpoint which social costs associated with problem gambling are most predominant among New York’s identified problem gamblers and have also been detected in communities impacted by the presence of a casino, he noted.

“By having this information, New York State and its public officials will be able to develop a comprehensive plan comprising precise policies and regulations that aim to mitigate the social costs related to problem gambling,” Assemblyman Cymbrowitz said. The information would also enable the problem gambling service providers and the casino industry to implement strategies and interventions that target the specific problem gambling needs of each local community and its citizens, he said.

Next »