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.

Leaders meeting

Legislative leaders, meeting with Gov. David A. Paterson and Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch this morning in the Capitol, recommitted themselves to working together to cut the state's budget deficit. The leaders used the meeting to air concerns over last Thursday's proposal by the governor to cut $5 billion from the budget over the next two years.

Senate Democratic Conference Leader John L. Sampson, D—Brooklyn, said his colleagues agree with many of the proposed cuts, but fear how the $500 million cut to state agencies will impact SUNY and CUNY. The $500 million cut amounts to a 10 percent reduction in agency budgets. SUNY itself would face a $90 million cut.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos, R—Rockville Centre, said that Republicans are concerned that the mid-year cuts in school aid are geographically disproportional. Skelos expressed his opposition to any new taxes, jumping on yesterday's interview on WNYC in which the governor floated the idea of a soda tax.

The governor backed away from the soda tax at today's meeting, saying the state wouldn't collect the taxes in time to meet payments in mid-December to schools, municipalities and others.

Paterson also shot down a recommendation from Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R—Canandaigua, that the state dip into its rainy day fund.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Sampson to discuss Monserrate's fate

New York state Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson will hold a press conference at 3 p.m. today in New York City to discuss the a 9-member Senate committee that will decide the fate of Sen. Hiram Monserrate.

Monserrate was recently found guilty of misdemeanor assault against his girlfriend. Several state Democrats and U.S. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer have asked him to step down.

You can watch live footage of the press conference here:

UPDATE 3:50 P.M.
Sen. Eric Schneiderman will chair a committee to decide the fate of Sen. Hiram Monserrate who was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of assaulting his girlfriend. The other Democratic members will be: Sens. Diane Savino, Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Toby Ann Stavisky and Andrea Stewart Cousins.

The Republican Senate conference has not named its four members.

Monserrate said he would comply with the committee's decision.

EPL/Environmental Advocates release 2009 Voters' Guide

EPL/Environmental Advocates, a New York state advocacy group, has released its 2009 Voters' Guide, which grades state legislators on their support for environmental legislation.

The group recognized Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D—Manhattan, as its "Legislator of the Year." Its "Oil Slick" award, meant for the legislator who most opposed environmental bills, went to Sen. Craig Johnson, D—Port Washington.

Watch a clip of EPL/Environmental Advocates Executive Director Robert Moore announcing the results of the yearly guide during today's press conference.

Paterson’s approval ratings haven’t improved

The Siena Research Institute just released a poll showing that 27 percent of those surveyed in a recent poll have a favorable opinion of Gov. David A. Paterson, which is a small decline from last month’s approval rating at 29 percent.

Paterson’s job performance rating is even lower, at 19 percent.

Also, 72 percent of those surveyed would prefer “someone else” to be elected over Paterson. Those surveyed indicate a large preference of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo over Paterson in a hypothetical Democratic primary, respectively at 70 percent to 20 percent.

“By every measure, voters continue to keep Governor Paterson in the electoral cellar, and by every measure, Paterson’s numbers are within a handful of points or less of his all- time record lows,” said Siena New York pollster Steven Greenberg in a prepared statement. “It is now nine consecutive months of a favorable rating below 40 percent and eight consecutive months of a job approval rating below 25 percent."

Blame for the budget deficit from those surveyed went mostly to Democrats in the Legislature, with 19 percent blaming Democrats who control the Senate, 14 percent blaming Democrats who control the Assembly and 8 percent said it was both houses of the Legislature.

Although, 20 percent of those surveyed blamed the Legislature and Paterson.

"Clearly, there's blame for everyone involved," said Greenberg.

The poll was conducted Oct. 14 to 18 through phone calls to 624 registered voters and has a 3.9 percentage point margin of error.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Lawmakers Address Mercury Exposure

Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney, D-Lindenhurst, lead a public hearing on mercury exposure in New York state, with Assembly members Ellen C. Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Brian P. Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, attending.

Better managing of mercury related hazardous waste and trying to phase out the use of mercury where possible are two goals of those who testified. Another key point was mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants and incinerators that release mercury into the atmosphere. Once mercury enters the atmosphere it can accumulate in large bodies of water and soil.

One factor is mercury emissions from other states’ industrial facilities travel downwind and account for a large amount of mercury pollution in New York state, said Hydrologist for United States Geological Survey Douglas Burns. Mercury emissions generated in New York account for about 20 percent of the total emissions in the state.

Elyse Kunz, director of Community Advocates for Safe Emissions, is concerned about the toxic substances coming out of the Lafarge cement facility in Ravena, Albany. She stated that the EPA in 2007 ranked Lafarge the fourth dirtiest cement kiln in the nation.

“I ask you today, please protect our community,” pleaded Kunz. “Protect the common good from avoidable health hazards and ensure that we have clear air to breath. Enact regulations to significantly reduce the hazardous pollutants from cement plants and other like it in the most stringent manner possible.”

A call to Lafarge North America was not returned at the time of this post.

UPDATE 10/21/09:
John Regan, environmental manager from Lafarge's Ravena plant said, "Our plant is strictly regulated by New York state DEC and we comply to all their laws and regulations.

“We tend to rely on the experts about issues like this," continued Regan. "We comply with the regulations, which are among the most stringent regulations in the world."

Regan cited the United States Environmental Protection Agency's nationwide data from 2007 that ranks Lafarge's Ravena plant 404th, and not the fourth as some critics have said, out of the 1,607 industrial facilities in pounds of mercury released.