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Latest News from Albany: Jan. 23, 2013

Governor, Legislature Approve Sweeping Gun Control Measure
 
The 2013 legislative session got off to a fast start this week, with the Legislature passing and the Governor signing into law the Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act.  The new law makes New York State’s gun control laws the strictest in the nation.  It also made the state the first to enact new gun control laws since the shooting in Newtown, CT and Webster, NY last month.

The newly enacted law expands the state’s ban on assault weapons, banning semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and one military-style feature, as well as semiautomatic shotguns with one military-style feature.  Owners of such weapons can keep them, but must register them with the state.

The new law also establishes a statewide gun-registration database; makes all gun permits renewable; makes the murder of a first responder a Class A-1 felony punishable by life without parole; and adds new measures that are intended to keep guns away from people with mental illnesses. Mental health professionals must report to local mental health officials when they believe that patients are likely to harm themselves or others, and law enforcement will be notified and authorized to confiscate any firearm owned by a dangerous patient. (Read the Governor’s summary of the new law here, and a list of “frequently asked questions” about the new law here.)

In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said:

“The new law will limit gun violence through common sense, reasonable reforms that include addressing the risks posed by mentally ill people who have access to guns and banning high capacity magazines and lethal assault weapons.  This legislation is not about hunters, sportsmen, or legal owners who use their guns appropriately. It is about reducing gun violence and making New York a safer place to live. I thank leadership of both the Assembly and Senate for their action on this important legislation."

The measure was approved 42-18 in the Senate and 104-43 in the Assembly.  A majority of Republicans in both houses voted against the bill, and a number of upstate Democrats did as well.

Opponents of the new law, which include the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association (the state’s affiliate of the National Rifle Association), are expected to challenge aspects of it in court.  State Senator Kathy Marchione (R- Saratoga County) has established an online petition to repeal most aspects of the new law.

The gun control bill was seen as a test of the Senate’s new governing coalition, which includes 30 Republicans and six Democrats.  According to Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx), Co-Leader of the Senate Majority Coalition, “I think we passed with flying colors.”
 
Governor Declares Flu Emergency

Last Saturday, Gov. Cuomo declared a state public health emergency in response to what some have called the worst flu season in years.  He issued an executive order that allows pharmacists to administer flu vaccinations to patients between six months and 18 years of age.

Gov. Cuomo said:

“We are experiencing the worst flu season since at least 2009, and influenza activity in New York State is widespread, with cases reported in all 57 counties and all five boroughs of New York City.  Therefore, I have directed my Administration, the State Health Department and others to marshal all needed resources to address this public health emergency and remove all barriers to ensure that all New Yorkers - children and adults alike - have access to critically needed flu vaccines.”

Additional information about influenza, including statewide surveillance, is available through the State Health Department website.
 
Governor Makes Court of Appeals Nomination

On Tuesday, Gov. Cuomo announced that he has nominated Jenny Rivera, professor at the CUNY School of Law, to serve on the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. If confirmed by the State Senate, she will fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick.

A Bronx resident, Professor Rivera worked for then-Attorney General Cuomo as his special deputy attorney general for civil rights. She previously clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who now serves on the U.S. Supreme Court, as a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of New York and as an associate counsel for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Gov. Cuomo said:

“Throughout her career, Professor Rivera has worked to defend the legal rights of all New Yorkers and make our state a fairer, more just place to live,” Cuomo said in a statement. “As a Judge on the Court of Appeals, Professor Rivera’s legal expertise and passion for social justice will serve all New Yorkers well, and I am proud to send her nomination to the Senate today.”

The nomination is Gov. Cuomo’s first to the state’s highest court.  He will soon make a second nomination to the state’s highest court to fill the vacancy created by the November 2012 death of Judge Theodore Jones.
 
House Approves Hurricane Sandy Aid Package

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives approved a $50.5 billion aid package that will help the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut region rebuild and recover from Superstorm Sandy.  The Senate is expected to approve the package next week, and President Obama has said that he will sign it.

The emergency aid measure will help homeowners whose homes were damaged or destroyed, and provide assistance to business owners who experienced losses.  It also provides funds to reinforce shorelines, repair subway and commuter rail systems, fix bridges and tunnels, and reimburse local governments for emergency expenditures.

In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said:

“New Yorkers have suffered through a disaster unlike any our nation has ever seen, and it has been regrettably matched by the most disappointing response by Congress that any state has ever seen. This has now been taken to a new level of dysfunction. In ten short days, victims of Hurricane Katrina received nearly $52 billion of much-needed aid. After Hurricane Gustav, it took 17 days for residents in the impacted region to get $20 billion of relief. These states and their residents didn’t have to wait nearly this long for the help they deserved, and neither should New Yorkers.”
 
NYS 2100 Commission Releases Preliminary Report

Late last week, the NYS 2100 Commission that Gov. Cuomo appointed after Superstorm Sandy to make recommendations to improve the resilience and strength of the state’s infrastructure in the face of natural disasters and other emergencies released its preliminary report and recommendations. The Commission in co-chaired by Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation and Felix Rohatyn, Special Advisor to the Chairman and CEO of Lazard Frères & Co. LLC.

In a statement, Gov. Cuomo said:

“I thank the Rockefeller Foundation and the extraordinary members of the Commission for their hard work in developing these preliminary recommendations on a short timeline, and applaud their comprehensiveness and the vision they lay out for the future of New York State.  We will be reviewing them as part of our efforts to harden our critical infrastructure and to make New York State a leader in creating a more resilient, more effective infrastructure.”
The Commission’s report includes short- and long-term recommendations in the areas of transportation, energy, land use, insurance, and infrastructure financing.

Assembly Introduces DREAM Act to Provide Financial Aid to Immigrant Students

The Assembly leadership announced this week the introduction of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which would make undocumented immigrant students eligible for state financial aid, and create a private scholarship fund called the DREAM Fund.

The Assembly approved the bill in 2012, but it was not taken up in the State Senate.

The bill would make New York one of four states – including Texas, New Mexico, and California – to offer state financial aid to the children of immigrants. New York has offered in-state tuition prices to immigrant youth since 2002. The bill would use the same criteria for financial aid for immigrants for its various financial-aid programs.

The Democrats introduced the bill as the immigration debate shifts to the top of the national agenda.  It is not clear whether the State Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference, will take up the proposal.
 
Comptroller Approves Tappan Zee Bridge Contract

Earlier today, State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced that he has approved the terms of a $3.14 billion contract between the state Thruway Authority and Tappan Zee Constructors to design and build the new Tappan Zee Bridge. (Read the approval letter here.)

The state has not indicated how the project will be funded.  The state has sought a federal loan of up to $2.9 billion loan to help pay for the new bridge.
 
State Court Officials Name Five New Administrative Judges

Earlier today, the state’s Office of Court Administration announced the appointment of five new administrative judges have been appointed to oversee courts in New York City, Long Island and upstate New York. Administrative judges are responsible for supervising trial judges and overseeing court operations and policies in their courts.

The appointees are Justice Douglas McKeon, 64, who will serve as administrative judge for criminal matters in the Bronx County Supreme Court; Justice Lawrence Knipel, 60, for civil matters in Kings County Supreme Court; Acting Justice Joseph Zayas, 50, for criminal matters in Queens County Supreme Court; Justice Thomas Adams, 65, for Nassau County courts; and Justice Thomas Mercure, 69, who will be acting administrative judge for the Third Judicial District in Albany.
The appointments were approved by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman in consultation with presiding justices in the respective judicial districts.  The new appointments come as state court officials continue to face a challenging state fiscal landscape.
 
Siena Poll: Governor’s Poll Ratings Remain Strong

A Siena Research Institute poll released on Thursday shows that Governor Cuomo retains his high approval ratings with New Yorkers.  Governor Cuomo has a 71-24 percent favorability rating and a 60-38 percent job performance rating among New York voters.

Voters also expressed support for the high profile initiatives the Governor discussed in his State of the State Address, including increasing the state’s minimum wage, reforming the campaign finance laws, extending the learning day in public schools, and permitting early voting.

By a 54-37 percent margin, voters think the new shared leadership in the State Senate will help the Senate conduct its business effectively and not result in a return to dysfunction.

SUNY Chancellor Delivers ‘State of the University’ Address

On Tuesday, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher delivered the 2013 State of University Address in Albany.  She presented her plans for the state’s 64-campus system, which include an expansion of online education and increased efforts to address high levels of student debt.

For the first time, SUNY students will be able to complete a bachelor’s degree online, and SUNY intends to move forward quickly with degrees in high-demand fields like information technology and health care will launch this fall, and seven more will be available in fall 2014. Students will also be able to take online courses from any other SUNY college while earning credit and paying tuition to their home campuses.  SUNY plans to enroll 100,000 degree-seeking students in Open SUNY, which would make SUNY the largest public online provider of education in the nation.

Political Update - 46th Senate District Race Resolved

With all of the votes counted, Democrat Cecelia Tkacyzk has defeated Republican Assemblyman George Amedore.  Tkaczyk will assume her seat next week.

Tkaczyk, a school board member from Duanesburg, gained enough votes to erase Amedore’s lead.  She won the race by 18 votes, making it the second closest race in the modern history of the state Senate.

Tkaczyk’s victory will not alter the Senate’s coalition leadership.  While there are 33 Democrats elected to the State Senate, six of them have joined the 30 Republican members to make up the Senate Majority Coalition. The 46th State Senate District stretches from Amsterdam to Kingston, and includes parts of Montgomery, Schenectady, Albany, Greene and Ulster counties.
 
Coming Up

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman holds his second hearing on his proposed regulations to require nonprofit groups, including 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations that are registered with the state, to report the percentage of their expenditures that go to federal, state and local electioneering.

On Wednesday, Jan. 30, the Assembly Environmental Conservation Committee holds a public hearing in Long Island on “the environmental causes and effects of extreme weather events.”