Archive for the tag 'state senate'

Sampson (File photo)

State Senator John Sampson, who represents parts of Sheepshead Bay and Marine Park, racked up the fifth highest Senate travel bill, which will be paid by taxpayers.

Sampson, who served as Senate leader in 2009 when Democrats briefly controlled the body, has been charged with embezzlement, for which he has pleaded not guilty. Two other colleagues who also made headlines last year for corruption charges – Malcolm Smith and Eric Stevenson – filled out two more of the top five travel spenders in the Senate.

The local pol collected $15,449 in per diems, in addition to $9,068 for travel expenses related to gas, mileage and tolls, according to the Daily News.

Per diems are paid out by the taxpayers for each day the legislators spend in Albany rather than their district. Additional travel expenses can be reimbursed if on legislative business. The reimbursement system has come under fire for rampant abuse in the past, with some pols claiming trips to Albany – and being reimbursed the per diem, gas and tolls – when they were actually elsewhere,  including vacation.

Sampson, Smith and Stevenson also curiously put in for per-diem reimbursements all year long, even though the legislative session ends in June.

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.

State Senator Marty Golden. Photo by Erica Sherman

State Senator Marty Golden said he won’t support the New York Dream Act, legislation that would allow undocumented residents in New York to have access to tuition assistance for higher education.

Up until recently, Golden wouldn’t have even needed to address this issue because the bill seemed all but dead. The bill was first introduced three years ago by Senator Bill Perkins and had never gained much steam, according to an article by NBC New York. But with the support of New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio and several Democratic lawmakers, the bill has gained momentum.

It passed in the Democratic-led Assembly and now waits approval in the Senate – where Republicans and conservative Democrats are stalling. Golden is among those opposed to the bill.

NBC New York writes:

Advocates for the Dream Act say they hope to convince Republican Sens. Martin Golden, Lee Zeldin and Andrew Lanza to back the legislation. Golden said he doesn’t support the Dream Act, but would back a “Dream Fund” to provide scholarships through private sources. Zeldin and Lanza didn’t return calls seeking comment.

If passed, the bill would include a budget of $25 million through the Tuition Assistance Program for illegal immigrant students in public and private colleges.

It’s unclear how many students would be able to access this fund but according to a report  by state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, 8,300 such students in the CUNY and SUNY systems would qualify. Currently, New York’s laws are more lenient than many other states when dealing with such students. It is among 16 states that  allow those students to pay in-state tuition, which is significantly cheaper than paying out-of-state rates.

Source: Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons

State Senator Diane Savino (Source: Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons)

State Senator Diane Savino, who represents parts of Coney Island, Gravesend, Brighton Beach and Bensonhurst, thinks highly of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to get groovy with medical marijuana.

News came of Cuomo’s change of heart – he previously said “absolutely not” to medical marijuana advocates as recently as a year ago – on Saturday, when the New York Times reported the governor would announce an executive action allowing limited use of marijuana by those with serious illnesses.

The action is a much more modest step than other states that permit medical marijuana, limiting distribution to just 20 hospitals across a state of 19.5 million people. Prescriptions will only be given to patients with cancer, glaucoma and other diseases determined by the state Department of Health. The program is expected to be formally announced on Wednesday during Cuomo’s State of the State address.

For Savino, who has long been a proponent of medical marijuana and has repeatedly offered up legislation authorizing its distribution (to no avail), it’s a win for seriously ill patients.

“The most important thing is that it’s an acknowledgement that the benefits outweigh the risks,” told the Staten Island Advance. “Compared to where we were last year, when Cuomo said absolutely not, I’m very pleased … It’s a great first step.”

Details about the policy and program are still vague, and Savino hopes to work alongside Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who sponsored the medical marijuana bill in the Assembly, to flesh out details with the Cuomo administration.

Savino’s bill stalled in the Senate year after year due to Republican opposition. It passed the Assembly four times, and 82 percent of New York voters approve of medical marijuana. Cuomo’s action side steps the legislature altogether.

Source: Thomas Good via Wikimedia Commons

Back in June we covered State Senator Diane Savino’s effort - and the Senate’s failure – to legalize medical marijuana. At the time, she blamed the political system for stifling an issue that the public supported. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo were blamed for killing any political support for medical marijuana.

The New York State Assembly passed medical marijuana laws in the past, but the measures never pass the Senate when it was Republican led. Savino, a member of the Independent Democratic Caucus that currently shares power with the Republicans, was optimistic when it was introduced last year. It still didn’t make it to the floor, but Savino wasn’t discouraged.

To help move the effort forward, she’s working with advocacy organizations like the Drug Policy Alliance and their director Julie Netherland.

She’s also teamed up with Manhattan’s Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried. The Star-Gazette reported this morning that Gottfried held a hearing last Wednesday on Long Island to drum up support as Savino prepares to reintroduce legislation for medical marijuana.

“New York is a progressive state on a lot of issues, but drug policy is not one of them,” Savino told the paper. “We have some of the most draconian laws in the country.”

Source: Senator Golden's offices

State Senator Marty Golden (Source: Senator Golden’s offices)

New York Times columnist Michael Powell took State Senator Marty Golden and Sheepshead Bay’s State Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz to task for sponsoring legislation that would have directed millions of dollars to the tobacco industry, and came, Powell writes, at the behest of a campaign contributor.

The legislation in question is a bill to reform the security tax stamp placed on cigarettes that proponents said would help combat cigarette bootlegging and raise $6 million for enforcement.

But in reality, Powell writes, it would have authorized an increase in payments for cigarette wholesalers who place the stamps, raising the take from two cents per pack to five cents per pack.

When Golden was questioned during a hearing on the bill by State Senator Liz Krueger about the increase, he chalked it up to rising costs.

Mr. Golden began to mutter of higher costs for wholesalers: Con Ed, health benefits, gasoline, rent, trucks, whatever. “That’s all increased much more than the dollars that we are asking for here,” he said, a touch plaintively.

This was not true, at least percentagewise. A 1996 dollar, adjusted for inflation, is worth $1.49 today. The bill backed by Mr. Golden and Mr. [Jeff] Klein, who intently watched this debate from his desk, would more than double the revenue of the wholesale firms.

Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with the Republican party in the State Senate after forming an unusual alliance that shut Democrats out of leadership, co-authored the bill with Golden.

It was introduced in the State Assembly by Cymbrowitz.

According to the Times report, the bill was put forward at the behest of Leonard Schwartz, a Manhattan Beach resident and chairman of Global Wholesale Tobacco. Schwartz has been a generous contributor to the campaign coffers of Klein, Golden and, less so, Cymbrowitz.

Of course, none of this is illegal, and the bill eventually died. But Powell opines that it’s deeply symptomatic of the pay-to-play culture that pervades Albany, wherein politicians can legally except funds from corporate interests, and then push legislation that steers large sums of money into their pockets.

Neither Golden nor Cymbrowitz commented on the bill to the New York Times. But a Klein ally, Senator Diane Savino, who represents Coney Island, went on the attack when asked about it by Politicker yesterday:

“I think people should take a step back and stop pretending to be outraged because it’s absolute nonsense,” Ms. Savino told Politicker at a Hurricane Sandy press conference in Coney Island. “You can take any issue and you can find a way to twist it to make it seem like something nefarious. In every one of these articles you see is a caveat there: ‘There’s nothing illegal about this.’ Well if that’s the case, why are you writing it?”

It’s worth noting that Savino, too, has benefited from Schwartz’s largesse. He donated $500 to her campaign in 2012, according to state campaign filings.

Powell, though, responded by pointing out that it’s his duty as a reporter to point out transactions of questionable ethics, even if it’s not against the law – especially when the subjects are those who make the law.

“If all we wrote about was the illegality in Albany without looking at all the shades of moral and ethical murk that encompass it, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs as journalists,” Powell told Politicker. “If a politician does hack work, the politician can’t really complain.”

For the Republican senator, the news comes on the heels of another alleged pay-to-play scheme, in which Golden introduced legislation that would grant large tax breaks to five luxury developments in Manhattan, saving them tens of millions of dollars. The tax breaks were intended to spur residential construction and affordable housing, but the luxury properties were included under an exception proposed by Golden in the Senate, and Keith Wright in the Assembly.

The developers had contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to leadership in both parties, including Golden.

When asked, Golden could not explain who added the giveaway to the legislation, or what justified it. The Moreland Commission, charged with investigating corruption in Albany, subpoenaed the developers in August.

Source: Dank Depot via Flickr

In the 1980s, New York was one of the first states in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, running the program for nearly a decade before it was shut down. State Senator Diane Savino, of Staten Island and Coney Island, plans to introduce a bill to make medical marijuana accessible again for glaucoma and cancer patients, according to a report by Medical Jane.

Sensing a shift in the national mood towards relaxing marijuana laws (its basically been decriminalized in Washington and Colorado) Savino hopes to introduce the bill next week. It’s at least the third year in a row that she has proposed such legislation, as you can see here and here.

Its passage relies on the Governor Cuomo’s willingness to buck traditional convention:

In order for this bill to get passed, it will take the convincing of New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo. The Governor has announced that while he does not favor the idea of a medical marijuana program, he is open to the idea of it. The legal director for the New York branch of NORML said that Cuomo’s disinclination has nothing to do with the science behind medicinal marijuana. “This is purely political… Nobody wants to be the drug governor,” he goes on to say.

We were wondering what our readers think about legalizing medical marijuana again in New York. Would it bother you if medical pot becomes available? Do you want New York to follow in the steps of Colorado and Washington and decriminalize it altogether? Share your thoughts.

Source: barryt83 / Flickr

In a 43-to-18 vote, the New York Senate voted to enact sweeping new gun control laws for the state, according to an article in the New York Post.

State Senator Marty Golden supported the measure spearheaded by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Democratic caucus, despite outcry from a handful of Republican colleagues in the upstate area who voted against the bill.

“This legislation that we’re passing will save lives,” Golden told the New York Post.

The centerpiece of the new legislation focuses on the ban of assault weapons in the state, as well as broadening the definition of what constitutes an assault weapon. The new definition extends to any gun having a detachable magazine and having one military-style feature. The old definition allowed for two military-style features.

Dubbed the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act (NYSAFE), the legislation also bans all magazines that hold more than seven rounds and bans all direct internet ammunition sales.

The bill, which Governor Cuomo declared is “the most comprehensive response to this crisis,” requires universal background checks for all gun sales. It will also allow state police to monitor high volume ammunition purchases in real time.

Individuals who currently own assault weapons will have to register them within a year and be recertified every five years.

Also included in the sweeping legislation is what’s known as the “Webster Provision” a life-without-parole sentence for anyone who kills a first responder. The “Webster Provision” came about after firefighters were gunned down after responding to a fire this past Christmas Eve in the upstate Webster community.

Under the proposed law, which still requires a vote by the Democratic-led Assembly, also requires mental-health professionals to report dangerous patients. If the patient happens to own a gun, they might be forced to surrender them. New provisions are also extended to mentally ill prisoners who must now undergo an extensive review before being released from prison.

While the majority of legislation puts the hammer to gun rights activists, there is a provision in the bill that would limit the exposure of people that carry gun permits. According to Capital Tonight, the statewide database of pistol permits would not be subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). This language was included to prevent the incident that occurred this past month when the White Plains Journal News published a map of all the homes that housed gun permit holders, an action that left gun owners feeling vulnerable.

If the bill becomes law, the state will also create an electronic database to identify individuals disqualified from owning guns. Background checks will also be necessary for private gun sales.

Photo by Erica Sherman

Earlier this week, we ran a summary of a New York Post story claiming that State Senator David Storobin doled out salary hikes to staffers just after losing his election bid for the Super Jewish district. Storobin, who came to office in June only to see his district drawn out of existence by redistricting, will be out of a job come January 1, and the story alleges that the local pol was rewarding his supporters after the electoral defeat. Storobin sent the following unsolicited letter to Sheepshead Bites:

On December 16, Candice Giove of the New York Post ran a story that your blog picked up which claimed that I “lavish raises on staffers.” The journalist purposely ran an article with false information after it was explained to her because she did not want to allow facts to get in the way of her doing a story.

Pinny Ringel got a pay raise because he was promoted to the position of the Chief of Staff after the previous one was fired. Since I only took office on June 4, I did not know who was good and who was bad. As a result, several people got fired and several others promoted. But the net result for the taxpayer was the payroll actually going down!

If you look at the amount of money spent by the New York State Senators since the day I took office, I spent a smaller percentage of the staffing budget I was allotted than anyone else, saving taxpayer money.

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Photo by Erica Sherman

State Senator David Storobin came to office with a narrow victory in a special election against City Councilman Lew Fidler, which was ultimately decided in court. His district was then eliminated when the lines were redrawn, and he set his eyes on the so-called Super Jewish district, encompassing Borough Park and Midwood. He lost that bid Tuesday, suggesting his days as an elected official are numbered.

But come the 2013 City Council elections, Storobin may end up on the ballot yet again.

Crain’s New York is reporting that Storobin is mulling a run for Councilman Michael Nelson’s seat, who is term-limited out next year.

Crain’s reports:

Mr. Storobin, who lost to Democrat Simcha Felder by a 2-to-1 margin, said he would most likely run in the district currently represented by term-limited Councilman Michael Nelson, D-Brooklyn. It has a substantial Russian-American population, which represents his base of support and is fairly Republican-friendly. (The district will be redrawn to an unknown extent for the 2013 election.)

“I’ve had a million dollars spent on me this year by my campaigns, the Senate Republicans and PACs, so I have a lot of name recognition,” Mr. Storobin added.

… Another likely candidate for Mr. Nelson’s council seat is Ari Kagan, a former Assembly candidate and Democrat. Mr. Kagan is likewise Russian-American. Mr. Storobin, however, said he hoped that multiple Russian-American candidates would not run in the same race, and said that as a Democrat, Mr. Kagan has multiple districts from which to choose.

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