Archive for the tag 'legislation'

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and Trade Bureau (TTB), a division of the Treasury Department, issued approval of Palcohol’s labels on April 20th but rescinded it soon after, citing technical issues with the amount of powdered alcohol contained in each package.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.

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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.

Members of a City Council committee are pushing a resolution introduced last week that calls for the city’s 59 community boards to adopt sweeping reforms, including term limits.

The council’s Committee on Governmental Operations met on March 3, drawing up the list of recommendations to improve the recruitment and function of the boards.

The local boards, each made up of 50 unpaid, volunteer members, have long drawn criticism for their appointment processes, which many say are politically motivated. Boardmembers are appointed by the borough president at the recommendation of local councilmembers, leading some to criticize their independence.

According to the Daily Eagle, the recommendations include:

  • Term limits of five consecutive two-year terms for board members.
  • Online application and technology infrastructure.
  • Conflict of interest disclosure by all applicants.
  • Requiring reappointment applications with evaluation of attendance, service and participation.
  • Ban on political appointments; specifically staffers of elected officials and executive board members of a political party.
  • Filling vacancies within 30 days.
  • Improved outreach and recruitment focusing on diversity, geography and experts.
  • Youth representation by 16- and 17-year olds as public members of youth committees and as full board members.

While the existence of the community boards are mandated by the City Charter, each board maintains its own bylaws dictating how they function. Some boards, such as Community Board 13, representing Coney Island and Brighton Beach, have term limits for its officers, while others, like Community Board 15, representing Sheepshead Bay, do not.

In Sheepshead Bay, community board recruitment and membership became an issue during the recent City Council race. At a September debate, the Democratic candidates discussed the local board’s diversity as well as term limits and the ways to depoliticize the appointment process.

Chaim Deutsch, who went on to win the election, said he hoped to strengthen and diversify the board, but didn’t offer details. He did note that he was opposed to term limits for board members.

“If you have board members that are there and following the processes and going to meetings and following up, and where you have various issues like zoning issues and they actually go down and look at the homes they’re having a hearing on – that person should stay,” Deutsch said at the time.

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.

Source: Nathan James/Flickr

Legislation aimed at reducing auto insurance fraud in New York State passed the Senate on Monday, bringing the bill which allows insurance companies to retroactively cancel the policies of fraudsters one step closer to law.

The Senate bill was sponsored by State Senator Marty Golden, who describes it in this press release:

Today the New York State Senate passed S1959A, sponsored by Senator Martin J. Golden (R-C-I, Brooklyn), which allows insurance companies to retroactively cancel policies taken out by people who commit auto fraud. These criminals often take out policies and pay for them with bad checks or stolen credit cards just before they stage accidents. Under current law, insurance companies cannot cancel the policy and policyholders wind up paying for it through higher premiums. This bill would take that burden off honest consumers and therefore lower the insurance rates.

“Auto insurance fraud is costing New Yorkers millions of dollars, and it’s time that fair and honest members of our community stop paying for the crimes of others,” stated Senator Golden. “This legislation will give insurance companies the right to revoke insurance policies for those who try to game the system.”

This measure would bring New York in line with the other large no-fault states and remove any incentives for staged accidents. In fact, only seven other states (AZ, CO, KS, ME, MD, NC and SD) do not allow for retroactive cancellation. Innocent victims of uninsured drivers would be covered under their own policy or the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation.

The bill, which you can read here, now moves onto the Democratic-led Assembly, where it has support from a number of Democrats, including local Assembly members Steven Cymbrowitz and Dov Hikind.

Previous versions of this bill – and two others passed by the Senate to combat auto fraud – died in the Assembly.

Auto fraud continues to be an ongoing issue in Southern Brooklyn. The longest-running and largest auto insurance scam ring in history ended in April 2012, when authorities busted 36 individuals – many of them Southern Brooklyn residents – using anti-Mafia RICO laws. The individuals were accused of exploiting New York’s “no-fault” insurance law, which allows drives and passengers to obtain up to $50,000 for accidents injuries regardless of fault.

Prior to that, another ring was busted in Brooklyn, leading to the arrest of 16 people for allegedly ripping off companies for $400,000 between 2009 and 2011.

Councilman Mark Treyger is pushing new legislation that would require snow plows to have flashing lights and a make beeping noises, following the plow-related deaths of two Brooklynites this winter.

The two victims were killed by plows within two weeks of each other. On February 3, an elderly man was struck and killed by a plow in Brighton Beach in front of the Oceana complex. On February 13, a pregnant 36-year-old woman was killed by a plow clearing out the parking lot of a Borough Park market.

Treyger’s bill, first reported on by the Daily News, will require plows to have lights and “a loud, distinctive noise” to let pedestrians know when a plow is approaching.

“You’re dealing with low visibility,” he told the paper. “If we can buy a few seconds for these pedestrians to give them time to react, this could save a life.”

The new regulations, however, would not have prevented the two deaths cited. Both were killed by private CAT-style vehicles repurposed for snow removal. Treyger’s bill only affects Department of Sanitation snow plows, and other plows contracted by the city.

The new rules might have helped the man who was knocked off his feet by a tsunami of snow created by a speeding Sanitation truck in February. The man, walking on Coney Island Avenue, was knocked down and injured by a wave of snow that also broke the windows of a nearby storefront, and he is now mulling a lawsuit against the city. He said he never saw the truck coming.

UPDATE (March 28, 2014): Councilman Treyger’s office got in touch to note an error int he Daily News version. In actuality, there are two bills on the table, extending this new regulation to privately-operated plows as well. See the statement below:

Councilman Mark Treyger (D – Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Seagate, Gravesend) announces new legislation to require all vehicles engaged in the removal of snow on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, and pedestrian walkways to be outfitted with flashing lights and audible warning systems. This legislation, which follows the recent deaths of three pedestrians who were stuck and killed by snowplows in Brooklyn, would apply to plows operated by the City of New York and privately owned plows.

“Snowplows are vehicles we deploy during times of emergency” asserts Treyger. “We should be treating them like emergency vehicles. Furthermore, during a snowstorm, you’re dealing with low visibility and it is easy for pedestrians to be blindsided. This is precisely what happened to Min Lin, a pregnant mother, who was killed in Sunset Park this past winter. Anything we can do to buy a few seconds forpedestrians and give them time to react could save lives. The state of Ohio has already passed a similar bill and it’s high time New York City caught up on this important issue.”

A smart chip-equipped credit card. (Source: DennisSylvesterHurd/Flickr)

State Senator Marty Golden, citing a rise in credit card fraud in his district and beyond, is touting legislation he co-sponsored last month that would require credit card companies to install smart chip technology in every card issued to a New York State resident.

Golden held a press conference in Bay Ridge on Friday to advocate for the legislation, saying that merchants in his district have reported a spate of credit and debit card fraud, as well as “hackers” who have stolen data from local businesses. He was joined by Third Avenue Merchants Association President Robert Howe as well as Dimitri Akhrin, president of the Bank Associates Merchant Services.

“This legislation would require smart chip technology to be incorporated in our debit and credit cards to help protect against identity theft. Over the past few weeks, my district has been targeted by hackers who have been able to break through the security walls of some local stores. The false charges reported to my office have been made in Brooklyn, Long Island, Connecticut and event [sic] Puerto Rico,” said Senator Golden in a press release.

The senator cited Bureau of Justice Statistics reports estimating that 16.6 million people have suffered from identity theft in 2012 to 2013, 15.3 million of whom had an incident involving a debit or credit card.

According to tech site NerdWallet, manufacturers and advocates say smart chips are a safer alternative to magnetic stripe cards. Smart chips store encrypted account information and cannot be read by swiping. Instead they’re scanned into a terminal that reads the chip and can require a pin number to decrypt the chip’s information. They are not susceptible to common data scamming techniques as are magnetic strips, such as swiping, which allows fraudsters doubling as waiters or cashiers to discreetly pass your card through a handheld device that stores the card’s data.

Smart chips do have their own vulnerabilities, but the website notes that implementation in Europe has seen dramatic decreases in fraud.

The bill, which can be read here, was introduced on February 14 by upstate Senator Joseph Griffo with Golden as a co-sponsor. The Assembly version was co-sponsored by Assemblyman Alec Brook-Krasny.

American companies have been slow to adopt the technology because of the cost of replacing existing systems, including in-store point-of-sale systems and ATMs. The legislation does not address who will foot the bill, suggesting the business-owners will have to invest in new hardware if the law passes.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would scale down scheduled hikes in flood insurance rates that could have seen some homeowners paying 10 times the amount they do now. The bill, the Homeowners Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014, will now go to the Senate, where it’s expected to pass.

Reuters reports:

With homeowners and businesses facing premiums hikes of up to 10-fold or more as result of a 2-year-old law, the bill would limit annual increases of any individual policy under the National Flood Insurance Program to no more than 18 percent.

The legislation also instructs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to have “an affordability target” that would seek to limit the cost of a flood insurance policy to 1 percent of a home’s total coverage amount.

… The legislation was drafted in response to the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012, which was designed to allow premiums to rise to reflect the true risk of living in high-flood areas.

The law was passed to address a $24 billion deficit in the NFIP, which serves about 5 million people and had mounting losses, largely from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

… That law did not stipulate that rates would soar by more than 10 times, but that is what happened to the surprise of lawmakers and consternation of homeowners and small businesses.

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