Monday, November 16, 2009

IMPORTANT: New Blog Location

The Legislative Gazette would like to have all of our blog readers continue reading at our new blog on our official Web site. The new blog will replace this one, so make sure to bookmark the new blog.

You also can always easily access our new blog from our homepage buy clicking on the "Blogs" button.

Bruno trial enters third week

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno struck an optimistic tone as he addressed the media this morning. Today marks the beginning of the third week of Bruno's corruption trial. "I'm looking forward to a great week," Bruno said.

He insisted he's broken no laws and emphasized his record saying "I think I did a lot of good." He defended his work outside of the Legislature as legitimate. The former Senate leader has not said if he plans to take the witness stand.

Bruno made the same points during today's lunch break. "I had a perfect right to conduct business," he told the media. He again said the federal honest services law is "vague."

Check back later for details about today's testimony.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bruno's afternoon statement

Former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno admitted this afternoon he was surprised by U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe's reaction to comments he made to his attorney. "It wasn't my intent to be disrespectful," Bruno said. "All I want is to be treated fairly."

According to The Associated Press, Sharpe lashed out at Bruno yesterday after he turned to his attorney to question why Sharpe let Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe ask an additional question of the day’s last witness. The judge had insisted Bruno's lawyer be brief in his questioning. Sharpe this morning said he heard Bruno say, “See, I told you his rulings were unfair.”

Sharpe said Bruno's comment was “clearly audible to me” and could’ve been within earshot of the jury.

The trial resumes Monday at 9 a.m.

Judge denies Bruno's request for mistrial

A motion seeking a mistrial in the corruption case of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was denied this morning by U.S. District Judge Gary Sharpe. The motion, delivered by one of Bruno’s attorneys, William Dreyer, came a day after the presiding judge lashed out against the former senator. Bruno addressed yesterday's events in his morning statement to the media.

According to The Associated Press, Bruno on Thursday turned to his attorney to question why Sharpe let Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe ask an additional question of the day’s last witness following the judge’s insistence that the defense attorney be brief in his questioning. Sharpe this morning said he heard Bruno say, “See, I told you his rulings were unfair.”

Bruno insisted the comment was made solely to his attorney. But Sharpe said it was “clearly audible to me” and could’ve been within earshot of the jury. Dreyer said the motion was filed because of an “appearance of impropriety” on behalf of the court.

As jurors took their seats today, Sharpe instructed them to ignore any exchanges between him and the attorneys. He insisted they base their judgments solely on the evidence and testimony.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

DMV unveils new license plates

The Department of Motor Vehicles unveiled its recently redesigned license plate which drivers will be forced to purchase beginning in April 2010.

The “Empire Gold” license plate, which may remind some drivers of the plates from the early seventies to mid eighties, has a gold background with dark-blue lettering and numbers that are make up the central part of the plate. Similar to the current license plates, the new ones sport a dark-blue state symbol that separates the letters and the numbers. The top of the plate is bordered by a thick, dark-blue banner which contains boldfaced, gold letters boasting our state’s name. The bottom depicts dark-blue letters reading “Empire State.”

“The bold colors of the new license plate reflect New York’s force and its resilience,” said DMV Commissioner David J. Swarts. “These new plates, in the official colors of the state of New York, will help maintain highway safety, reduce the number of unregistered and uninsured vehicles on our roads and generate $129 million in general fund revenue over two years, which will help address the state’s financial crisis.”

Raising funds for the state budget by issuing new license plates have some residents concerned. On top of a renewal fee, the new plates will cost an extra $25 per set. Additionally, if individuals wish to keep their current plate number, an extra payment of $20 will be required.

Some county clerks are encouraging New Yorkers to sign an online petition to protest the new fees.

“License plates are a fundamental tool of law enforcement that has been enhanced in recent years through a variety of technologies that improve their readability, especially under low light conditions,” said State Police Superintendent Harry J. Corbitt in a statement. “The State Police has worked cooperatively with DMV to ensure that the new plates will continue to serve the law enforcement community effectively.”

Reissuing license plates every so often is important for overall safety, law enforcement and the general integrity of the plate, according to a statement from DMV. License plate visibility tends to decrease as license plates lose their reflectivity and become marred and damaged from use. The current plate’s legibility and reflectivity are only guaranteed for up to five years, but they have been in use for more than 10 years.

“This project will benefit law enforcement efforts, and therefore enhance public safety, in several ways,” Denise E. O’Donnell, deputy secretary for Public Safety and commissioner of the state Division of Criminal Justice Services said. “For instance, nearly 300 police agencies in New York state are currently deploying approximately 500 computerized license plate readers that enable authorities to quickly identify vehicles that have been stolen or used in a crime. These new plates will ensure that the license plate readers are as effective as possible.”

“By helping to reduce the number of uninsured motorists, the new Empire Gold plates will help keep auto insurance costs down for all New Yorkers during these difficult economic times,” said Superintendent of Insurance James J. Wrynn.

DMV will start issuing new plates for registration renewals that expire in May 2010. Customers renewing their vehicle registrations at a DMV office, through the phone, by mail or online will receive their new plates by mail. Customers completing an original over-the-counter registration transaction will receive their plates at that time.

Additional information on the new license plates can be found here.

Bruno's morning statement to reporters

"We're looking forward to another day here," former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno said this morning to reporters. "We did absolutely nothing inappropriately and I've never ever put my buinsess ahead of any other government acts while I was in office."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Gov. Paterson adresses joint session of Leg.

Gov. David A. Paterson addressed the joint session of the Legislature by expressing his deep, abiding respect for the institution. The governor reminded the Assembly and Senate that he was once a legislator who worked to improve health care and education, and that his views had not changed but the economic view had. “Frankly, we are running out of money,” said Paterson.

Paterson then proposed a two year budget deficit reduction plan that would immediately cut $3.2 billion from the current year budget, and $5 billion over all. He warned that action must be taken quickly and cited examples such as Massachusetts, which asked for a federal loan, and Arizona, which mortgaged its capitol. “We must act now, not tomorrow, not next week, not next year,” said Paterson.

The governor’s plan involves cutting 10 percent from state agencies, which will save $500 million. Other cuts come in the form of a $686 million cut from education and $471 million from health care. Paterson reiterated the hardship this would cause the state and asked for the legislature’s support, saying “I will mortgage my political career on this plan, but I will not mortgage the fate of the state of New York.”

Paterson’s speech to the joint session also addressed the same-sex marriage bill in the Senate. He said, “I am asking members of the New York state Senate to take up and pass the marriage equity legislation this week.” The governor said if gay and lesbian couples wanted to marry, they should be allowed to do so and called them not just members of our families but members of the family of New York

Directly following the joint session Paterson, lawmakers went into conference. Paterson emerged about an hour after with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Paterson said the budget cuts could be flexible and that both conferences would work through the night to come to a decision. When asked about the chances that the budget would be passed the governor replied, “You’ve come to the wrong building. I’m not a seer, I’m not a shaman.”

Bruno's morning statement to reporters

Here's a video of Sen. Bruno's morning statement to the press. He says the federal honest services law that he's being tried under is "vague."

The former Senate majority leader continued to insist he's done nothing wrong. "I never abused my public office for personal gain."

Ex-union official says former boss thought Bruno "would do us favors in return"

Today marks the beginning of the second week of testimony in the corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

The most important testimony this morning came from Mark Congi, former president and assistant business agent at the Laborers' Union Local 91 in Niagara Falls. Congi plead guilty in 2006 to racketeering and is currently serving a 15-year prison sentence. The charges are unrelated to the Bruno case.

Congia served as trustee of the union's pension fund before his indictment in 2002. He testified his former boss Michael "Butch" Quarcini, who died in 2003, said it would "be to our benefit" to let Wright Investors Service handle part of its investments. Bruno "would do us favors in return," Congi alleged Quarcini to have said.

Indeed in 2001, the union's pension fund trustees decided to give, according to Congi, a 20 percent share in their total investments.

Congi said his union had many interests before the state including trying to get money from the Dept. of Transportation for road projects and persuading an American Indian tribe to build a casino in Niagara Falls.

Congi testified he knew of Bruno's relationship with Wright, but that no one at the company
disclosed to him that Bruno was working for them.

During cross-examination, Abbe David Lowell tried to discredit the witness by suggesting he had an interest in saying these things while on the stand. Part of Congi's agreement with the government was if he cooperated he could face a reduced prison sentence. Congi replied "I'm here to be truthful," and "There's nothing I expect at all."

Check back tomorrow for highlights of this afternoon's testimony.

Gov. seeks action on deficit-reduction and other legislative priorities

It’s not only the governor’s two-year, $5.2 billion deficit reduction plan that lawmakers will be asked to consider tomorrow. Proposals to make same-sex marriage legal and to cap government spending are among eight other items on Gov. David A. Paterson’s agenda for the extraordinary session.

The governor is expected to address the Legislature in a joint session today at 3 in the Assembly Chamber to outline some of his proposals.

“The time to act is now,” Paterson said last week when he announced the session. “The deficit reduction plan, while painful, is necessary to keep our state afloat.”

Also on Paterson’s agendas is a proposed cap on annual government spending and a circuit breaker bill that would place a ceiling on property owners’ school tax bills based on a percentage of their incomes.

Providing property tax relief through local government efficiency is another way the governor proposes to bring about economic stability.

The governor is also hoping the Senate will take action on his bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state. The Assembly passed the legislation earlier in the year.

New York’s chief executive wants lawmakers to act on bills that would increase penalties for those found guilty of alcohol- and drug-related driving crimes, especially those involving children. In addition to beefing up punishments for those who put a child’s life at risk, the governor would like to increase the court’s ability to require those convicted of DWI to install ignition interlock devices in their vehicles.

Increasing transparency and accountability for state authorities buy establishing an independent authorities budget office is yet another measure Paterson is hoping the Legislature will act on.

Another piece of the governor’s legislative agenda is a proposal to eliminate a statutory inconsistency that allows some serious felons to be eligible for parole or medical parole earlier than intended.

The creation of a new Tier 5 in the state pension system for certain newly hired state and local government employees, and establishing a sustainable energy loan program to help property owners install renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements are among other plans the governor wants the Legislature to adopt.

Although the governor can call the Legislature into session, he cannot force them to take a vote on any piece of legislation.

A live webcast of Paterson’s 3 p.m. address to the Legislature today can be viewed by visiting:

NYSUT calls for action on social issues during special Senate session

New York State United Teachers called on the Senate to pass "socially conscious" legislation when it returns to Albany tomorrow for a special session to address the state deficit and controversial bills including marriage equality.

"While we all understand that lawmakers will be considering issues surrounding the state's economy when [the Senate] reconvenes, it would be wrong for them to miss this opportunity to take action on the social justice bills that have been languishing in the Senate for too long," said NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi.

Among the bills encouraged by Iannuzzi are marriage equality, Dignity for All Students Act and the Farmers Workers Fair Labor Practices Act.

"The economy has gotten all the media focus of late but there's other important legislation that must be addressed, and addressed now," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan Lubin. "These bills demonstrate what kind of society we are. The Senate has a chance to do the right thing and show that new Yorkers are committed to fairness and equity."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Take back the bookends, Sen. Bruno

Peter Ward, president of the New York Hotel & Motel Trades Council, said in his testimony to the jury today, that he returned a set of glass bookends sent to him by Sen. Joe Bruno. It's unclear what the purpose of the gift was. In addition to serving as the council's president, Ward is a co-chair of the union's pension fund committee.

Ward admitted to a "cordial" relationship with the former Senate majority leader, which he said dates back to around 2005. He testified Bruno spoke with him over the phone about letting Wright Investors Service handle his union's pension fund investments. Ward said Bruno described the company as "friends of his," but neglected to mention he was employed by them.

I was "uncomfortable" about it, Ward said. I was "unclear why the senator was asking me to do it," he added. Wright would never land the investment deal, a fact which Bruno's defense emphasized.

Earlier in the morning, the jury also heard from John Cordo, who from 1996-2000 served as assistant counsel to Bruno in charge of labor issues. He testified he had no knowledge of a financial relationship between the majority leader and Wright.

The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Monday.

Bruno's morning statement to reporters

As former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno entered the Courthouse this morning, he told reporters that no one so far has said he did anything wrong. "That ought to be what is reported," he said. "I was a part-time legislator ... I obeyed the law."

Owens to be sworn in

Newly elected Congressman Bill Owens is scheduled to be sworn in around noon today on the House floor in Washington. He will later attend a ceremonial swearing in around 12:30.

Owens beat out Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman on Tuesday for the hotly contested NY-23 Congressional District seat. He is the first Democrat to hold the position since the Civil War.

Paterson campaign hits the airwaves

Gov. David A. Paterson’s 2010 campaign announced today it would begin airing its first campaign television ads statewide. The ads, both of which last about 30 seconds, are titled “Some Say” and “When.”

“Some say” is directed toward Paterson’s critics who believe he should not run for governor. Paterson specifically mentions the Legislature, union leaders and big corporations, all of which the governor says, told him he shouldn’t run after he forced them to make difficult choices. The governor then says that it would have been easier had he just been trying to get re-elected.

“When” features biographical information about Paterson, and uses examples from his life, such as his blindness, early graduation from high school and degrees from Columbia University and Hofstra Law School to show positive character traits.

Both of the governor’s campaign ads end with the phrase “To do what’s right for the people of New York,” and work to illustrate that Paterson has New Yorker’s best interests in mind and will continue to do so.

Paterson’s ad “When” even goes as far as to admit he’s made mistakes in office, but adds: “In the depths of a historic recession, you take what you have learned and have strength to do what’s right for the people of New York”

Paterson, who ascended from lieutenant governor to become the state’s chief executive as a result of Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s scandal-induced resignation, has seen consistently low polling numbers since the beginning of 2009.

Paterson announced in September his selection of Richard Fife as his campaign manager. Fife was a senior New York adviser to President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Senate majority will snub Paterson

AP - New York officials say the Senate's Democratic majority won't attend Democratic Gov. David Paterson's joint address to the Legislature Monday on trying to create a coalition to address the state's latest fiscal crisis.

A senior Democratic official close to the majority's leaders said the senators won't return to Albany for what the official termed "a photo opp" for Paterson, who is languishing in the polls as he seeks election in 2010.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak for the senators.

The Senate's Republican minority and the Assembly's Democratic majority and Republican minority plan to attend the rare midyear address to a joint session of the Legislature called by Paterson.

UPDATE: According to the Daily Politics, the Senate Democratic majority will be present on Monday.

Sens. Duane and Parker call for marriage equality bill during Senate special session

Sens. Thomas Duane, D--Manhattan, and Kevin Parker, D--Brooklyn, are supporting equality for same-sex marriage and urging the Senate Majority Conference to bring the marriage equality bill (S. 4401) to the Senate floor during a special session scheduled for Nov. 10 in response to Maine's repeal of its gay marriage law.

With 53 percent of voters in opposition, Maine's marriage equality law was repealed.

In response, Duane said, "Yesterday's referendum to repeal Maine's marriage equality law was a blow to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community, and indeed all those who believe in fairness and equality under the law. As in every struggle for civil rights, defeats are temporary -- and so shall be this repeal in Maine."

Parker said in a statement that he believes same-sex couples should be afforded the same opportunities and privileges offered to traditional couples.

"The reality is that there are still many people in new York who don't agree with us on this issue," said Parker. "But there have also been people who wouldn't accept interracial marriage, and that didn't meant hat banning it would b right for society either. It's rarely easy or quick to put an end to any kind of discrimination and that is why I cal for this bill to come to the floor for a vote."

"Legislators in a representative democracy are not simply beholden to a fearful majority, but have a duty to lead and educate their constituents on the importance of enacting civil rights for all of its citizens," Duane added. "Civil rights, which sometimes seem slow to be granted, can never be denied and we must never give up the fight."

Federal and state health professionals speak about H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines

New York Congressman Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, hosted a teleconference for health care professionals yesterday who addressed the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines, and discussed precautions schools, offices and individuals should take to prevent exposure of the virus.

Since manufacturers of the seasonal flu vaccine are now also producing the H1N1 flu vaccine, supply for the seasonal flu vaccine may not be readily available. However, health professionals are confident anyone who chooses to be immunized this year for H1N1 will be able to do so.

Acting Regional Director for the U.S. Health and Human Services Dennis Gonzalez announced federal efforts to protect Americans from the flu.

"From the onset of the outbreak back in April, we have [developed] four goals," Gonzalez said during the teleconference. "One is make sure that we get antiviral medicines out to all states for those who unfortunately come down with the virus; two is to keep the public informed and understand how they can protect themselves and their families; three is to develop a vaccine and now we are in the [distribution stage]."

The HHS purchased $2 million of vaccinations this year, according to Gonzalez. Since Nov. 2 of this year, more than 30 million doses have been allocated through the U.S. THe H1N1 vaccine is shipped as it becomes available and is expected that there will be enough H1N1 flu vaccines.

According to Gonzalez, the federal government has obtained 250 million doses of this year's H1N1 flu vaccine. This amount is based off the National Institute of Health clinic trial data that showed children six months to nine years old will require two doses, and individuals 10 years or old will require one dose.

Dr. Debra Blog, director of the Bureau of Immunization for the state Department of Health, said the federal government is providing the H1N1 vaccine at no cost for the actual injection or for the supplies necessary to receive the vaccination.

The demand for the seasonal flu vaccine has been dramatic and may not be available to individuals in the near future, and "more can't be produced because the same producers are making H1N1 vaccine," Blog added.

"We know that the amount that's being produced [for the seasonal flu vaccine] is about the same that was distributed and used last season," said Blog. "Therefore, if there is increased demand, we know there will not be enough for everybody to get a vaccine. What came out early was used."

Vaccine safety has been an issue for many forthcoming individuals wary of potential side effects the immunization may have, but Blog assured the vaccine is safe since it is created the same the seasonal flu vaccine is, also has a very similar safety profile. There have been no recent studies showing unusual results after the vaccination is administered, Blog said.

Dr. Douglas Ball, director of Public Health Emergency Epidemiology Program for the state DOH, said they are providing guidance for parents and students from kindergarten through grade 12 by community mitigation and non-pharmaceutical intervention.

"Having students and staff stay home, separating ill students and staff, emphasizing importance of hand hygiene and routine cleaning... are the only school dismissals we've recommended for public health assistance," said Ball.

Minimizing exposure to the virus is the most important method, according to Dr. Eileen Franko, director of the Bureau of Occupational Health for the state DOH.

"What we really want to do is minimize exposure of everyone [who is sick] to other people," Franko said. "If you're sick, you have to stay home and not come to work. The first thing you want to do is eliminate the source of exposure."

More information and statistical facts about seasonal flu and H1N1 flu vaccines, click here for federal government info and here for New York info.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Day three of Bruno trial

It's day three in the federal corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

Francis Collins, Bruno's former counsel, and currently a state Court of Claims judge, wrapped up his testimony this morning. He repeatedly stated he wasn't responsible for advising Bruno about financial disclosure forms.

The trial's fourth witness, Helen George, then took the stand. George, who worked as internal legal counsel at Wright Investors' Service, a Connecticut-based investment advisor that employed Bruno for a dozen years starting in 1994, was granted immunity for her testimony. Being granted immunity means the witness can't be prosecuted for their testimony. Only if charged with perjury would the immunity privilege be waived.

From 1994 to 1998, Bruno worked for Wright as a independent consultant. From 1998 until 2006, he was a part-time employee. For those dozen years, said George, Bruno functioned as an introducer – someone who met with potential clients, in this case union pension funds, and recommended they give Wright the power to invest their money.

A 1994 letter from the company to Bruno laid out his duties as well as disclosure requirements. Each potential client was to be informed of Bruno's affiliation with Wright. Before an investment contract was signed, a disclosure letter had to be sent to the client. According to George, she looked for but didn't find completed disclosure forms in Wright's files.

George admitted some pension fund trustees raised objections to signing the disclosure form because they didn't like working with referral agents in general. To the best of her knowledge, it was nothing to do with Joe Bruno specifically.

UPDATE: 7:08 P.M.
George acknowledged learning in a conversation with Francis Collins that the Legislative Ethics Committee had approved Bruno's job with Wright Investors' Service. However, she never received a written letter confirming such. She said she was "surprised" there was no letter. George testified that Frank Gluchowski, a lawyer for the Legislative Ethics Committee and later the legislative counsel to the Senate majority, recommended not issuing a letter because he thought it would "raise more questions than it answered."

Wednesday's other witnesses included former New York Sun reporter Bill Hammond and former Bruno press secretary Marsha White, among others. For details of their testimony, be sure to check out the next edition of The Legislative Gazette on Nov. 10.

Owens wins 23rd

The contentious race for the 23rd Congressional District seat is over. On the night of Tuesday, Nov. 3, the Democratic candidate Bill Owens defeated Conservative candidate Doug Hoffman and took the district that has been a Republican party stronghold for a century.

According to the AP, Owens defeated Hoffman 49 percent to 45 percent. Meanwhile, Republican Dierdre Scozzafava who dropped out of the race on Saturday, Oct. 31, still received 6 percent of the vote. Hoffman congratulated Owens on election night.

In a statement to supporters in Plattsburgh, Owens vowed to continue to create jobs, repair the economy, protect dairy farmers and fight for health care and Fort Drum.

“When we began this journey, a lot of people didn’t give us much of a chance,” said Owens. “And tonight, with the entire country watching, Upstate New Yorkers sent a message. We came together tonight as Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to seek solutions – to create jobs for our workers, to bring economic development back to our communities, to fight for Fort Drum and to give all middle class families in Upstate New York a fair shake from Washington.”

Via a post on his website,, Hoffman writes, “I congratulate Bill Owens on a hard won victory. In our tradition of free elections, our country continues,” said Hoffman. “And although Bill Owens has won, I believe America is turning the page to a new dawn … I would like to thank all of you who placed your faith in me, who worked tirelessly and shared your enthusiasm with those around you.”

Owens also thanked Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, R-Governeur, for her support after dropping out of the race.

“I must give special thanks to Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava,” said Owens. “I was honored to earn the support of a great leader like her. She has always put the people of Upstate New York before any partisan agenda. I share her commitment and I look forward to working with her to help the people of this district.”

Chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chris Van Hollen released a statement acknowledging and congratulating Owens on his unexpected victory while bashing Republicans for their extremist views.

“Congratulations to Congressman-elect Bill Owens on his remarkable victory,” said Van Hollen. “…after losing a seat that was held by Republicans for nearly 120 years, [National Republicans] have to deal with an emboldened and well-funded far right-wing that refuses to tolerate moderate Republicans with differing opinions.”

Likewise, Chairman of the New York state Democratic Committee, Jay S. Jacobs, congratulated Owens on the success of his campaign.

“We send our congratulations to Owens for a race well run,” said Jacobs. “He will be an honorable representative for the people of the 23rd District of New York.”

In his speech Owens said that America should not be separated by political parties in solving the challenges that lay ahead.

“Our challenges aren’t Democratic or Republican,” said Owens. “They’re not liberal or conservative. They are American challenges that we will overcome with American resolve.”

The seat that Owens now occupies has been represented by the GOP since the Civil War. The special election to fill the seat began when former Congressman John McHugh became secretary of the army under the Obama administration.