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.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Reform Package Attempts to Close 'Bruno Gap' in Ethic Laws

Senator Daniel Squadron described how the ethics reforms package [Bill S06064 and S06157] he is sponsoring with Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson would assist in stopping the alleged corruption that placed former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno on trial.

The "Squadron/Sampson package" received support from the Citizens Union of the City of New York, Common Cause, the League of Women Voters of New York State, the New York Public Interest Research Group and various other good government and reform groups across the state.

The reform package would institute these reforms:
  • New reporting requirements for consulting services
  • Increased transparency of public officials' business dealing with lobbyists
  • Increased financial disclosure
  • Independent investigations
  • Random reviews of disclosure forms

    Former Gov. Mario Cuomo to speak at celebration of the New York State Writers Institute

    Former Governor Mario Cuomo and Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin are scheduled to speak together at a celebration of the New York state Writers Institute’s 25th anniversary.

    Cuomo signed legislation which created the Institute in 1984, mandating it to provide “a milieu for established and aspiring writers to work together … to increase the artistic imagination.” Since then the institute has hosted over 1,000 visiting writer appearances, screened over 400 films and presented dozens of writing workshops, symposia and special events. The celebration will highlight these events with a short video showing the Institute's past, present and future.

    The event will take place at 8 p.m. in Page Hall at 135 Western Ave. The event is free and open to the public.

    Lenape exhibit opens at Ellis Island

    First Lady Michelle Paige Paterson announced yesterday the opening of Lenape: Ellis Island's First Inhabitants at Ellis Island Immigration Museum in New York City.

    The exhibit, sponsored by the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial, is designed to celebrate and examine the extensive history of the Lenape people from prehistory through the 21st century.

    "Today's opening of [the exhibit] marks another exciting milestone in our commemoration of our state's people and past," Paterson said. "This exhibition provides New Yorkers with another exciting opportunity to rediscover their incredible history."

    Six galleries explore Lenape ways of life, linguistics, cultural and religious traditions. It incorporates an array of materials such as artifacts, antique books, maps, photos, clothing and numerous illustrations.

    The opening ceremony was attended by Commisioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation Pete Grannis, Dr. David M. Oestreicher, Lenape scholar and exhibition curator and John Haworth, director of the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, among others.

    "We celebrate and honor the native people who inhabited this region long before Henry Hudson sailed through the New York Harbor on the Half Moon," said Grannis. "This exhibition is a fitting tribute to the first inhabitantsof lower New York -- and it is my tremendous honor to be part of this long overdue homecoming for the Lenape people."

    Oestreicher spent more than 30 years studying Lenape and working with the remaining traditionalists and speakers of the native language.

    The exhibit was created with the help of the Lenape people and was made possible by the Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentennial Commission, other advocacy businesses and individuals.

    First witnesses testify at Bruno trial

    The first two witnesses testified this morning in the corruption trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

    James Featherstonhaugh, an attorney with the Albany-based firm Featherstonhaugh, Wiley & Clyne, LLP, was the lead witness. Featherstonhaugh, who introduced Bruno to the investment and brokerage firm McGinnSmith in 1992, admitted to knowledge of a financial relationship between Bruno and McGinnSmith. (Bruno would be elevated to the position of Senate majority leader in 1994.) Featherstonhaugh admitted to introducing Bruno to McGinn at the request of the firm's Chairman of the Board Tim McGinn.

    The firm's chairman testified that Bruno was on the payroll. A letter sent to Bruno describing his role at the firm was admitted into evidence. According to the letter, Bruno would spearhead McGinnSmith's efforts at landing investment deals with labor union pension funds. McGinn called Bruno "a significant ally in that effort." A W-2 earnings summary, which was also admitted into evidence, showed that McGinn paid Bruno $24,500 in 1994.

    McGinn said Bruno brought in investments by the hospitality workers union and the Teamsters. According to McGinn, Bruno didn't bring in funds from any entity other than labor unions.

    James Featherstonhaugh told the jury that Sen. Bruno never asked him to conceal anything about his relationship with McGinnSmith.

    UPDATE: 8:02 P.M.
    Tim McGinn also said in his testimony that his firm offered Bruno an office, which he used about a dozen times. One interesting moment came when the chairman said his firm and Bruno intended to send our simultaneous press releases announcing the senator's job with McGinn. Bruno wasn't interested in making it public, according to McGinn.

    Tim McGinn admitted having two conversations with Bruno about the ethics of working for the investment firm. According to McGinn, Bruno acknowledged the moral implications of his work, but told him it was okay. McGinn said he chose Bruno to work for the firm because he was a respected member of the community. He emphasized Bruno's life story and his success in the Legislature.

    McGinn said Bruno requested payments be sent to his consulting company, Capital Business Consultants, Inc., rather than to him personally. He didn't give a reason, according to McGinn.
    During questioning form Bruno's attorney Abbe David Lowell, McGinn said "it was well known" that Bruno worked for his firm and he made no effort to conceal it.

    The prosecution pointed out that Bruno's compensation from the firm increased to $72,000 in 1995 from $24,500 the year before. Sen. Bruno became majority leader of the state Senate in November 1994.

    The third witness of the day was Francis Collins, a New York state Court of Claims judge who served as Sen. Bruno's counsel.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Visit a real Destroyer Escort

    For the next month, people touring Albany will have the chance to tour the USS Slater, a World War II destroyer escort and the only one to remain afloat in America presently.

    A Destroyer escort is a small warship that was used in World War II to protect against aircraft and small boat attacks.

    During World War II, 563 destroyer escorts fought Nazi U-boats in the North Atlantic and they protected against Kamikaze attacks in the Pacific.

    The USS Slater, located on the Hudson River in downtown Albany, will remain open to the public Wednesday through Sunday till Nov. 29 with hour-long guided tours. Admission is $7 for adults and $5 for children.

    Jury selected, attorneys give opening statements on first day of Bruno trial

    Earlier this hour, seven women and five men were chosen as members of the jury that will determine the fate of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. Bruno is on trial facing charges that he abused his office and defrauded the government in failing to disclose his financial relationship with businesses and individuals. He has pleaded not guilty.

    Five members of the potential jury pool were excused for various reasons. Prospective jurors can ask to be excused if they feel they wouldn't be able to judge the facts of the case objectively. Attorneys for either side can also request a juror be excused, sometimes without having to give a reason.

    U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe said he will not sequester the jury, meaning they can return home after each day. He reminded the potential jury pool to not discuss the trial with anyone or follow news coverage.

    The trial is being held U.S. District Court in Albany, and may last into December.

    UPDATE: 5:28 P.M.
    Attorneys for the prosecution and defense delivered their opening statements this afternoon. Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Coombe spoke on behalf of the prosecution.

    She said the government plans to prove that Sen. Bruno violated federal statute that entitled the public to the "honest services" of its elected officials. They plan to show that Bruno failed to disclose, and intended to keep secret, his financial relationships with investment firms and individuals. The government alleges Bruno was granted over $3 million over more than 10 years by various groups and individuals. He did this "for his own personal enrichment," Coombe said today. He "concealed and disguised" his actions.

    Abbe David Lowell, a top white-collar lawyer from Washington, D.C., delivered the defense's opening statement. He does not deny many of the facts of the case, but denies what the prosecution says the facts amount to. He characterized Sen. Bruno as a "hard-working, honest public servant." He asserted Bruno never pressured anyone to take a certain action. He says witnesses will testify that the former Senate majority leader didn't violate financial disclosure forms nor hide any of his financial relationships. Lowell countered the prosecution's claim that Bruno's actions rise to the level of a "scheme" to defraud the public.

    Biden stumps for Owens

    Vice President Joe Biden joined Democratic candidate for the 23rd, Bill Owens, today at a rally in Watertown.
    In his prepared opening statement, Owens thanked his supporters, including Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, who dropped out of the race on Saturday.

    "Your support is what got us to this point and will put us over the top tomorrow," said Owens to supporters. "I can’t thank you enough for all the hard work you’ve put in – the hours you’ve spent making phone calls, knocking on doors, and talking to your friends about our campaign to bring jobs to Upstate New York and get our economy back on track."

    He also addressed his opponent, Doug Hoffman's campaign, saying that Hoffman is only embracing the special interests groups financing his campaign.

    "They want to go back to the George Bush days of tax cuts for the wealthy, tax cuts for companies that send our jobs overseas, and privatizing Social Security. They’re going to let their partisan agenda get in the way of keeping Fort Drum strong," said Owens.
    "I know many of you are tired. This has been a grueling campaign. But I need you to press forward for just one more day. I need your help tomorrow so we can stand up for our priorities and our shared commitment to turn the page on partisan ideology."
    On a seperate note, Owens was endorsed by Laborers Local 322 today. Laborors' International Union of North America is dedicated to helping construction workers recieve good pay, benefits and opportunity for advancement.

    New York state granted funding for broadband activites

    New York state will receive approximately $2.5 million in federal stimulus funding for broadband mapping and planning activities.

    The funding, which is available through the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will enable the mapping of New York’s un-served and underserved areas to provide high speed Internet access across the state.

    Of the $2.5 million, $2 million will be used for broadband data collection and mapping activities over a two year period and $500,000 for broadband planning activities over a five year period.

    "We are very pleased with the $2.5 million federal award that will help advance New York's broadband data collection and mapping activities," said New York state CIO and director of the office for technology, Dr. Melodie Mayberry-Stewart. "The mapping activities will help ensure broadband networks are widely deployed, affordable and accessible to all New Yorkers."

    Street Finder's Bill Becomes Law Just in Time for Tuesday's Elections

    A week before Election Day, Gov. David A. Paterson signed a bill into law that will help voters find their correct voting locations if they are mistaken on Tuesday and go to the wrong polling site.

    On Oct. 28 Assemblywoman Amy Paulin’s bill (A1002C), which requires election sites in New York state to supply information and maps regarding the location of voting sites, became a law.

    “The essence is, you want to enable people to vote and this is a bill that will help accomplish that,” said Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, in an interview with the Legislative Gazette.

    According to a prepared statement from the governor’s office, the new law will ensure that workers at polling sites supply voters with the information they need about their correct polling sites, “including countywide maps that delineate voting districts.”

    “It is fairly common for voters to end up at the wrong polling place. Now, election workers will have the proper tools to assist these individuals and ensure their votes are counted,” Governor Paterson said in a prepared statement. “I am proud to be working with the legislature on passing laws that increase access and ease for New Yorkers to vote; just last month, I signed a bill requiring New York City to translate all voting materials into Russian.”

    Often if a voter shows up to the incorrect polling site, he or she could be informed of their correct voting site, but that it does not always happen. Paulin’s bill is aimed to assist voters who are unsure of or have mistaken their correct polling location.

    “It’s to make sure that when voters come into their polling site and their names aren’t found, the poll workers can check their address and send them to the right place or let them vote in the place they’re at if they’re truly in the district,” Paulin said. “We’re franchising people instead of disenfranchising people.

    According to a statement released by Allison Esposito, Paulin’s communications director, if an individual in New York goes to the wrong polling site, they may be provided a provisional ballot, and it will not count if submitted in the voter’s incorrect polling place.

    Paulin spoke about the law’s effect on elections and voters, saying It will have a great impact on individual people — people want to be able to exercise their right to vote.”

    “Mistakes can be made, which can’t be helped unless we dramatically change the system,” Paulin said. “This is a bill that will help people who have moved and who have not voted in a while. 

    She added, “This will enable them to get the correct information so that they can exercise their right to vote.”

    NOW-NYS Critiques Republican Party, Supports Scozzafava in Future

    After Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava announced on Oct. 31 that she was suspending her campaign for New York’s 23rd District, a women’s rights group critiqued her move, calling it a “setback for women” this weekend.

    The National Organization for Women-New York State issued a prepared statement which illustrated their disappointment with the Republican Party.

    President of NOW-NYS, Marcia Pappas, called former Republican candidate Scozzafava’s withdrawal a “setback for women, especially Republican women and moderates in general” in the statement.

    Pappas said the Republican Party is “clearly going so ultra-conservative that many highly qualified women are completely excluded.”

    NOW commended Scozzafava for being pro-choice, pro-gay rights, and for being in favor of president Barack Obama’s stimulus package. Now also called her “more progressive than any of the other candidates.”

    The group critiqued former Republican Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for endorsing the Conservative Party’s candidate, Doug Hoffman, “rather than a qualified woman from her own party.”

    The group expressed hopes for Scozzafava’s return.

    “NOW-NYS salutes Scozzafava, and hopes that as some time in the future she will find the wherewith to rejoin the fray. She is indeed a breath of fresh air in the present-day anti-woman, anti-choice Republican Party,” according to the statement.

    Hoffman continues to recieve endorsements

    The race for the 23rd Congressional District has taken an interesting turn, as Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava announced that she was suspending her campaign on Saturday, Oct. 31.

    Since that time endorsements have continued to stream in for Doug Hoffman, the Conservative candidate in the race, including Senate Republican leader Dean G. Skelos, former Congressman Rick Lazio and New York state Republican Chairman Ed Cox.

    “Dede Scozzafava’s endorsement today represents a betrayal of the people of the North Country and the people of her party,” said Cox. “The citizens of that district deserve a fiscal conservative like Doug Hoffman who will help turn the North Country economy around.”
    Meanwhile, a poll conducted by the Siena Research Institute today shows Hoffman with a five point lead over Bill Owens, the Democratic candidate. Hoffman received 41 percent of the vote, Owens, 36 percent and Scozzafava still recieved 6 percent of the vote.

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    Scozzafava drops out of 23rd race

    The Associated Press reports today that Republican state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava has announced she is dropping out of the race to fill the seat in the 23rd Congressional district.

    Her name will remain on the ballot on Nov. 3, according to her campaign spokesman Matt Burns.

    The New York Times also reported on this.

    Friday, October 30, 2009

    Pataki endorses Hoffman

    Former New York Gov. George Pataki endorsed Doug Hoffman last night, Conservative candidate for the 23rd Congressional District seat.

    "As a businessman, and as a life-long resident of the North Country Doug Hoffman understands the need to lower taxes on working families, the need to stand tall against terror and he won’t back phony stimulus programs that fail to create the jobs we need and leaves a mountain of debt to our children," said Pataki.

    The election will take place on Nov. 3, and the other candidates are Republican Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava and Democratic candidate Bill Owens.

    Joe Bruno trial

    Just to let you'll know, I'll be reporting next week on the trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who's accused of establishing financial relationships with entities that had an interest in legislation. He's been charged on eight counts of mail and wire fraud. The trial starts Monday.

    Here's a story from Capital News 9 about the upcoming trial.

    NYC leaders meeting

    Here is a story from Capital News 9 about yesterday's leaders meeting in New York City.

    Thursday, October 29, 2009

    Police Get Training to Protect Abortion Providers

    More than 80 law enforcement officials, reproductive health care providers and advocates from across New York came together yesterday to discuss how to better protect reproductive clinics and providers, and actions to take against anti-abortion terrorism.

    Gov. David A. Paterson signed bill A.8924/S. 6112 into law yesterday that establishes the crime of aggravated interference with health care services in the first and second degrees. Sponsored by Sen. Kevin Parker, D--Brooklyn, and Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D--Grand Island, the law calls for new felony classifications to further penalize someone who causes physical injury to any reproductive health care provider. The law will protect doctors and staff workers in clinics.

    Julie Murphy, investigator with the New York state Police Counter Terrorism Intelligence Unit for Troop G, helped plan the training for yesterday's event and gave a presentation on Operation Safeguard, an outreach program developed by the state Office of Homeland Security that incorporates all law enforcement.

    The safeguard plan provides information education and suspicious indicators to reproductive health care centers to help them understand what necessary steps to take if they witness conspicuous behavior in their work place. If wary behavior by any individual is apparent, clincs can call the toll-free tip line 1-800-SAFENYS.

    Anti-abortion terrorism hit New York in 1998 when abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian was murdered in his home near Buffalo by anti-abortion activist James Kopp.

    "The important part is that we recognize that despite anyone's beliefs or feelings about this emotionally charged issues is that it is a law enforcement issue," said Denise E. O'Donnell, deputy secretary for public safety. "We do have an obligation to protect individuals who are providing reproduction services."

    The most recent incident occurred this year when Dr. George Tiller was shot and killed in a church in Wichita, Kan. Yesterday's event was developed in response to this murder and is used as a case example to show what law enforcement can do to better ensure our state is safe, according to Murphy.

    Cuomo endorses Owens

    Attorney General Andrew Cuomo endorsed Democratic candidate Bill Owens today in the race for the 23rd Congressional district seat.

    “Bill Owens understands the needs of our working families and he’s worked hard to improve our local economy by creating jobs in upstate New York,” Cuomo said.

    The special election will take place Nov. 3. The other candidates in the race are state Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, who's the Republican Party's nominee, and Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman.

    The seat was vacated by Republican Congressman John McHugh, who left to become President Obama's secretary of the Army.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Calhoun Stiffens Drunk Driving Legislation

    Assemblywoman Nancy Calhoun, R-Blooming Grove, announced today she has introduced legislation (A.9179) in the Assembly that would increase penalties for driving under the influence with a passenger who is developmentally disabled.

    "Nine times out of 10, the person who is driving is in an employment situation and the people who are driving with them may not have the opportunity to [speak out]," said Calhoun. "We think this is an appropriate way to discourage the person [driving] to know they are going to get in trouble."

    The consequences under the amended law would punish first time offenders with a fine between $250 and $500 including a possible 48 hour jail sentence; second time offers with a fine between $500 and $1,000 and 10 days in jail, and for each following offense after that, a fine between $1,000 and $5,000 and the possibility of a 30 to 90 day jail sentence would be given.

    Calhoun said a constituent brought this legislation to her attention. "We're hoping to work hard to try and get it passed this year."

    Sen. Krueger's Call for Monserrate's Resignation Catalyzes a Movement

    Following the recent outcome of Sen. Hiram Monserrate’s trial, senators and women’s rights groups are again speaking out — this time for his resignation.

    Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, was one of the first to speak out for the resignation of Monserrate — the Queens senator who was recently found guilty of misdemeanor assault against his partner and was acquitted of felony charges, ones that would have torn him out of the state Senate — hours after the outcome of his trial.

    “I believe that if he was indeed found guilty of a violent crime he should not remain in the state senate,” Krueger said.

    “Literally within 12 hours of his being found guilty I put out a statement calling out for Mr. Monserrate to resign on the grounds that a person convicted of a violent crime should not be a sitting legislature in New York state,” Krueger said. “I urged colleagues, organizations, citizens to call for him to resign on the belief that, that was the best and the simple and quick solution to the problem.”

    “And many elected, many civic organizations, many women’s organizations have in fact taken up that call and put out a statement calling for him to resign — both U.S. senators [for New York] Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have called for him to resign.”

    The New Agenda is one of the women’s rights groups that has taken up Krueger’s call for Monserrate’s resignation. “The fact of the matter is that he was still found guilty of a charge and at this point, and even prior to this trial really, he does not have the moral authority to be governing in our state,” Amy Siskind, president of the New Agenda, said.

    “We are working now with NOW-NYS [National Organization of Women-New York State] and the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee,” Siskind said. “To collectively speak out about what’s happened here and to urge the members of the committee that’s been formed to call for his immediate resignation.”

    NOW-NYS, a women’s rights group, and ERLC, an organization that is “dedicated to building a new generation of pro-choice Democratic women leaders in New York State,” are working with New Agenda to publicly call for Monserrate’s resignation, according to Siskind.

    “We’re currently working on an open letter,” Siskind said, adding that the groups plan to get signatures for their open letter “from a number of the women’s organizations and then we plan to send those to the folks that are going to be serving on the panel just to let them know how important this is — what kind of signal we’re sending if we continue to let this man serve in our state government.”

    The groups plan to send their open letter to the special committee of inquiry on Monserrate that was created by Senate Democratic Conference Leader John L. Sampson, D-Manhattan, on Oct. 20 and is made up of eight other individuals: Andrew J. Lanza, R-Staten Island, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; John J. Flanagan, R-East Northport, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; James S. Alesi, R-Perinton, a former chair of the Senate Ethics Committee; Sen. Cathy Young, R-Olean; Ruth Hassell-Thompson, D-Mount Vernon; Diane J. Savino, D-Staten Island; Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers; and Toby A. Stavisky, D-Queens, as reported by the Legislative Gazette last week.

    Siskind said that the trial outcome wasn’t what she or her group expected. “We were very surprised that he got away with it,” Siskind said. “He deserves to be in jail plain and simple — this is a text book, gender-based, violence-type case where the girlfriend is abused and initially speaks out and then is intimidated into silence.”

    Although disappointed with the outcome of Monserrate’s trial, Siskind said she and the New Agenda won’t stop working until the senator resigns. “We are going to continue to work and to galvanize as a coalition of organizations,” Siskind said. “That’s our next step and we’ll just continue to keep the heat on until he resigns,” Siskind said. “However long that takes we’ll keep going.”

    Krueger spoke of her future hope. “I hope Mr. Monserrate wakes up tomorrow morning and says, ‘I don’t have any future in the senate, my colleagues have started a committee to figure out how to sanction me. I can’t win reelection next year in my district and the people who are calling me to resign are right,’ and that he will resign, that’s what I’m hoping for.”

    Siskind passionately agreed. “The fact of the matter is that he was found guilty of a charge related to domestic violence and he needs to resign. Period. End of sentence.”

    Senate Committe Seeks Answers on Cigarette Tax Sales

    The Senate Standing Committee on Investigations and Government Operations is holding a hearing today at 10:30 a.m. at Borough of Manhattan Community College to discuss New York state's failure in collecting taxes on cigarettes sold to Non-Native Americans on Indian reservations, announced Committee Chairman Senator Craig M. Johnson.

    Last year a law was passed that required these taxes to be collected, but the state Department of Taxation and Finance has been obstructed in their collection efforts.

    Witnesses confirmed to appear include the Governor's Counsel Peter Kiernan, Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Taxation and Finance William Comiskey, representatives from the Seneca, St. Regis Mohawk, Onondaga and Poospatuck nations, as well as representatives from New York City, local governments and the tobacco and convenience store industries, and others.

    UPDATE 11:35 A.M.
    “The failure to secure this badly needed revenue continues as other states – most recently Florida – have been able to reach tax collection agreements with their local Native American nations,” said Sen. Johnson in a prepared statement. “This committee wants to be helpful in crafting a solution to this problem, but first we – and the public – need to be apprised of where the state and the nations stand.”

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Electric car manufacturing company will move to Syracuse

    Gov. David A. Paterson announced Oct. 23 that an electric car manufacturing company will be opening a facility in Onondaga County, where Syracuse is located.

    Bannon Automotive LLC will be investing $26.6 million for this move.

    Paul Wimer, the company’s CEO said that Syracuse’s proximity to the rest of New York and other states; Central New York’s persistent initiative to promote green technology, as well as the support of economic development agencies and local leaders, made the company decide to set up this manufacturing base.

    This move will create about 250 new full-time jobs for New Yorkers.

    “By locating in Central New York, Bannon Automotive is helping to establish our state as the global leader in the clean energy economy and is building on my initiative to accelerate innovation in electric vehicle technology through the New York Battery and Energy Storage Consortium,” Paterson said. “The market for both electric cars and new battery technologies is expected to grow significantly in the coming years and that means jobs for New Yorkers.”

    Paterson announced the New York Battery and Energy Storage Consortium or NY-BEST on Oct. 5 to develop energy storage technology and create jobs for New Yorkers. It includes manufacturing of batteries to be used in hybrid cars.

    Support grows for Cuomo's pension fund reform

    Support is rolling in from around the state for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's proposal to create a new 13-member board to oversee the state pension fund.

    On Saturday, Cuomo attended a fundraiser in Binghamton for Broome County Executive Barbara Fiala. In a statement from the AG's office, Fiala said, "It is a pleasure to join Attorney General Cuomo and my colleagues from the state Legislature to announce this proposal, which I believe can help restore trust in our government. The state pension system and all New Yorkers will certainly benefit from Attorney General Cuomo's measure, and I thank him for coming to our region today."

    This push for reform comes after former state Liberal Party Chair Ray Harding and co-founder of Aldus Equity Saul Mayer pled guilty to fraud in a scheme involving kickbacks for political favors and attempts to secure the fund's investments.

    "Ending corruption in the pension system transcends political parties," Cuomo said in Saturday's statement. "Abuse of our pension system has run wild for far too long as politically connected individuals have lined their pockets with taxpayer money.

    Cuomo recently received bipartisan support from 22 members of the Legislature's Long Island delegation.

    Sen. Brian X. Foley, a Blue Point Democrat and chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, is the legislation's chief sponsor. On Oct. 8, Foley joined with Cuomo, Senate Democratic Conference Leader John L. Sampson and Republican Sen. John Flanagan in introducing the bill.

    Currently, state Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is the pension fund's sole trustee. Cuomo's proposal would break up the comptroller's monopoly, establishing a 13-member board to oversee investments.

    The governor, attorney general, temp. Senate president, Assembly speaker, and Senate and Assembly Minority Leader would each select a member of the board. The state comptroller would serve as the board's chair. Pension fund beneficiaries would have say in choosing the six remaining members.

    1) an active member of the retirement system will be chosen from among active members
    2) a retired member of the retirement system will be chosen from among retired members
    3) a county employee will be chosen from among county employees
    4) a local government employee will be chosen from among local gov't employees
    5) a police or fire member will be chosen by the state police and fire retirement system
    6) a police or fire member will be chosen by the local police and fire retirement system

    According the Cuomo's office, "all members of the board must have investment expertise and shall not have been employees of the retirement system for three years."

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Paterson confident Senate will pass gay marriage bill

    The Associated Press reported Friday that Gov. David A. Paterson, speaking at Empire State Pride Agenda's fall dinner in Manhattan, said a same-sex marriage bill stalled in the Senate will pass "in the next few weeks."

    The state Assembly has already passed its version of the bill. Paterson has yet to name a date for a special session.

    GOP civil war over 23rd race?

    Prominent national Republicans are split over support for their party's candidate to fill the 23rd Congressional district in upstate New York.

    Some, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, have endorsed the Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman.

    Former House Majority Leader Newt Gingrich meanwhile has thrown his support behind the GOP's nominee, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.

    Check out some of the Legislative Gazette's coverage of the 23rd race:

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Peter Facinelli Tweets for I Love NY

    Actor Peter Facinelli has joined I Love New York to help the Empire State's tourism promotion agency launch its own Twitter.

    Facinelli started tweeting for I Love New York on Oct. 16 and will be expressing his love for his home state between shooting for Showtime's series "Nurse Jackie" and filming for the latest saga of Twilight: New Moon.

    Facinelli shares his thoughts to over one million followers on his Twitter site. His tweets are also posted on his official Web site.

    Empire state officials are encouraging all New York fans to follow its @I_LOVE_NY Twitter. The state will also be using Twitter to promote the latest happenings, events, special offers and getaway opportunities.

    Paterson reverses mandatory H1N1 vaccines for health care workers as supplies run short

    Gov. David. A. Paterson has announced that state Health Commissioner Richard Daines has suspended the mandatory seasonal and swine flu vaccination requirements for New York state health care workers.

    In his announcement, Paterson said, “Over the last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that New York would only receive approximately 23 percent of its anticipated vaccine supply by the end of the month.”

    The federal government had originally projected that 120 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine would be available nationwide by the end of October, however the CDC announced this week that only 23 percent of the original estimate, or 27.7, million doses would be available by this date. Daines said the Department of Health told hospitals that if the choice had to be made between vaccinating patients or employees, patients should come first.

    The priority cases for vaccination spelled out by the CDC include pregnant women, children and young people between 6 months and 24 years old, people who care for infants under six months, because those infants cannot be vaccinated, people between the ages of 25-64 years old with medical conditions and health care workers.

    Daines urged health care workers to be vaccinated when enough vaccinations become available, but said that “New evidence is showing H1N1 can be extremely virulent to pregnant women and young people — so they should be vaccinated first.”

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Cuomo indicts ‘Man cave’ men

    Two Office of General Services night maintenance employees, who allegedly spent months in a “man cave” in Albany’s East Parking Garage rather than working, were indicted on felony and misdemeanor charges last Thursday, according to Attorney General Andrew Cuomo’s office.

    The 22-count indictment asserts that Gary A. Pivoda, 48, of Latham, and Louis Marciano, 50, of Rensselaer, used a storage space in the garage to use and deal drugs, watch television and sleep. In addition, the two men filed fraudulent time sheets.

    “Instead of working, these state employees allegedly used public property and taxpayer-funded time to nap and party in a den of illicit activities,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New Yorkers expect state employees to obey the law, act in a professional manner and carry out their assigned duties.”

    Inspector General Joseph Fisch said, “These employees allegedly committed felonies at the workplace on state time. This is outrageous behavior for anyone, much less a public servant.

    Pivoda and Marciano are scheduled to appear in Albany County Supreme Court on Oct. 29.

    Megna statement following leaders meeting

    Budget Director Robert L. Megna issued a statement following yesterday's leaders meeting in which he warned of the consequences of not acting quickly to solve the state's $3 billion budget deficit.

    "Unless action is taken to address New York's current-year budget deficit, our state government is likely to face significant cash flow difficulties beginning in December. During that month, several substantial local assistnace payments are scheudled to be made, including $2.5 billion in STAR and $1.6 billion in School Aid funding for school districts, $500 million in funding for city governments, and $500 million in funding for county governments, among others."

    Without reductions in state expenditures, he says, the state may not be able to meet these obligations. If the Legislature fails to act, "we will have to begin to make difficult choices about which payments to delay." Megna asserts this could "create a trickledown effect on local governments and service providers across the state."

    He also says New York could face a downgraded credit rating as a result of inaction. A lowered rating would make it harder for the state to borrow money.

    SUNY Albany Students Say "No More Cuts!"

    Yesterday, students and faculty flooded the bookstore lobby at SUNY Albany demonstrating an injury theme in response to Gov. David A. Paterson's $90 million proposed cut to the SUNY system.

    Students sported Band-Aids and signs that read "no more cuts" as student New York Public Interest Research Group members spoke out against the budget proposal and called upon Senator Neil Breslin and Assemblyman John McEneny to help push for a budget deficit reduction plan that will protect students from experiencing another unfair tuition hike and more slashes to their school's budget.

    "As a member of the SUNY community, I think these cuts are outrageous," said Jaqi Cohen, NYPIRG's higher education project manager. "Our university system has yet to recover from the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of cuts that were implemented last year, making this round of cuts more unbearable."

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    New report details toxins in waterways

    Environment New York released a new report today, detailing the total amount of toxic chemicals released by industrial facilities into the Hudson River and other rivers, lakes and streams in New York and across the country.

    Over 6.4 million pounds were dumped into New York’s waterways, and 230 million pounds were discharged across the country, according to the report, which used 2007 data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. That data was the most recent available, the report stated.

    “While nearly half of the rivers and lakes in the U.S. are considered too polluted for safe fishing or swimming, our report shows that polluters continue to use our waterways as dumping grounds for their toxic chemicals,” said Caitlin Seeley, field associate with Environment New York.