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."