56th Senate District
 
Joseph E. Robach
 
Joseph E. Robach
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SUMMARY OF 2007 SENATE LEGISLATIVE ACTION

2007-08 NEW YORK STATE BUDGET
     The New York State Senate passed a balanced budget that achieved the Senate’s goals and included a fair distribution of record school aid, bigger property tax rebate checks, restoration of cuts to hospitals and nursing homes and business tax cuts to create jobs.  The Senate helped deliver a very good budget that provides real results for the people of this State.


     Important highlights of the 2007-08 State budget include the following:

Property Tax Relief  
     Property taxpayers will benefit from the Senate Majority’s efforts to expand property tax relief.  As a result of our efforts, most homeowners will see tax rebate checks that are double what they received last year.  A total of $1.3 billion in additional direct property tax relief checks will be sent out this year and that will increase over the next two years. Also, senior citizens will continue to receive enhanced property tax rebate checks.

Record School Aid
     The budget delivers results for parents, students, teachers and school districts who will see the largest school aid increase in the history of the State, $1.8 billion.  The Senate Majority fought to ensure that school aid was distributed fairly throughout the State so districts were not shortchanged. The education budget meets the mandate of the Court of Appeals’ decision in the CFE case and reflects the needs of students and taxpayers.

> Charter Schools   --  the budget authorizes 100 new charter schools and adds $21 million to assist districts impacted financially by charter schools. The newly authorized charter schools include 50 schools for New York City and 50 schools for the rest of the State.

Restoration of Health Care Cuts
     The Senate Majority fought hard to restore devastating health care cuts that jeopardized patient care. The budget restores more than $400 million in State funds that, when combined with federal funds, restores about two-thirds of the Governor’s proposed health care cuts to hospitals and nursing homes.  

> Combating Medicaid Fraud --  the budget includes important health care reforms to fight Medicaid fraud and make our health care system more efficient and effective.  

> Child Health Plus --  this program will be expanded to cover 400,000 uninsured children and simplifies the enrollment process to help more uninsured adults and children get health care coverage they need and deserve.

> Stem Cell Research --  $600 million included in the budget for stem cell research, including $100 million annually over six years.
    
Business Tax Cuts
     The Senate fought hard for business tax cuts and we were successful in getting $150 million in business tax reductions, growing to $300 million, included in the budget.  The tax relief will target manufacturers, especially important to the Upstate economy.  The budget also rejects about $700 million in new and increased taxes and fees proposed by the Governor. The Senate originally proposed a much broader package of tax cuts and assistance that would have targeted small businesses, but could not win the support of the Governor and Assembly.

> Tax Rate Cut --  the Senate was successful in getting $75 million across-the-board tax rate cut for all corporations.

> Manufacturing Business Tax Cuts -- the budget includes $75 million in targeted tax cuts for manufacturing businesses which is critically important to the Upstate economy.

> Economic Development --  the budget includes $300 million for a nanotechnology initiative to attract cutting-edge economic development. The budget also provides $100 million for emerging technologies and stem cell research, and a $5 million plan to expand broadband Internet access.

Dairy Assistance Program
     To help offset devastating losses to farms because of 25 year-low milk prices, the Senate Majority fought hard to deliver a $30 million Dairy Assistance Program that provided relief to nearly 5,100 strapped dairy farmers across New York State, issuing checks averaging $5,000 each.     

Flood Relief
     The budget secured $5 million in additional relief for flood victims in the Southern Tier, Central New York and the Mohawk Valley.



AGRICULTURE

Permanent Farm Buildings Exempt From New Inspections
     The Senate passed a bill that would provide relief to farmers from potential high costs and red tape imposed by a new State regulation. The bill would exempt permanent farm buildings on working farms from the State's property maintenance code, which would subject barns and other farm structures to various new and unprecedented inspections.  Agricultural buildings are already exempt from the State's building code, and this bill simply extends that existing exemption to other agriculture-related buildings. (PBH, S.3022, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)

Greater Insurance Access for Farmers
     The Senate passed legislation that would offer self-employed farmers greater access to the Family Health Plus insurance program by removing depreciation of farm business assets from eligibility requirements. A farm family of four may be living on approximately $22,000 in actual farm income, making them eligible for Family Health Plus.  However, when depreciation of farm equipment is included in the gross family income, the same family could appear to be earning $90,000 a year preventing them from accessing Family Health Plus. (PBH, S.1108, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)

Adjusting Agriculture Property Tax Assessment Values
     The Senate passed a bill that would adjust the way the Agriculture Property Tax Assessment values are determined to prevent major fluctuations between years. This bill would assure that the assessment value will never fluctuate more than ten percent in a given year and would save farmers thousands of dollars as the assessment value was expected to go up over 30 percent this year. (Chapter 68, S.3253A, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)

Dairy Assistance Program
     To help offset devastating losses to farms because of 25 year-low milk prices, the Senate Majority fought hard to deliver a $30 million Dairy Assistance Program that provided relief to nearly 5,100 strapped dairy farmers across New York State, issuing checks averaging $5,000 each. The amount of the checks issued was based on pounds of milk produced during the 2006 calendar year. The funding will provide direct and immediate financial relief to New York's beleaguered dairy industry.  Originally, the proposals advanced by Governor Spitzer and the State Assembly provided no financial assistance package for dairy farmers.

Prohibiting Horse Slaughtering  
     The Senate passed legislation to prohibit the slaughter of horses for human consumption. The measure would make it a misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in a prison, for those who purchase, trade, offer, import or export a horse or horse flesh with the intent to slaughter it for human consumption.  

     The bill would protect all members of the equine family from slaughter for human consumption, including horses and ponies, along with donkeys, mules and burros.      Many of the horses protected under this bill arrive at the slaughterhouse after being purchased at a livestock auction by middlemen working for slaughter plants.      Additionally, the improper use of stunning equipment often results in repeated blows and prolonged suffering of the animals.

     While the offense is subject to up to one year in prison, a civil penalty of up to $1,000 may be imposed on an individual and $5,000 on a corporation for the first violation in lieu of criminal prosecution.  Subsequent violations would be punishable by fines of up to $25,000.

     According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 49,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States in 2003, a 16 percent increase over the previous year.  The dramatic increase is primarily the result of European and Japanese efforts to find “safer” sources of meat following concerns regarding Mad Cow disease. (S.1462, Senator Frank Padavan (Queens)



CHILDREN AND FAMILIES

Domestic Violence Legislation Package
     The Senate passed a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence.

> Endangering the Welfare of a Child  --  would strengthen the existing law and establish the crime of endangering the welfare of a child when an act of domestic violence is committed in the presence of a child. (S.2034, Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn) & S.1755, Senator Mary Lou Rath (R-C-I, Williamsville)
    
> Orders of Protection for Witnesses Testifying In Court --   would authorize family courts to issue orders of protection for witnesses called to testify in family court. Very often witnesses are fearful of testifying because it may put them in danger. Providing an order of protection will help ensure the safety of witnesses. (S.3646, Senator Vincent Leibell (R-C-I, Patterson)
    
> Extending Orders of Protection -- would allow courts to issue orders of protection for a period of time beyond that currently authorized or a permanent order of protection. Other states have enacted similar provisions to provide increased and continued protection for both domestic violence and stalking victims. (S.894, Senator Dale M. Volker (R-C-I, Depew)

> GPS Monitoring --  would require GPS monitoring on persons who have an order of protection issued against them. (S.4796, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island)
    
> Suspending Firearm Licenses -- would require a court, when issuing a temporary order of protection, to suspend a firearm license, and order the immediate surrender of all firearms if the individual has been previously convicted of violating an order of protection by inflicting physical injury upon someone. (PBH, S.4066, Senator Robach, (R-C-I-WF, Rochester)

> Closed Circuit Television for Witnesses In Court -- would permit the use of closed-circuit television for the victims of alleged domestic violence to testify in court. (S.4875, Senator Young (R-C-I, Olean)
    
> Electronic Filing --  would allow electronic filing of orders of protection. (PBH, S.4704-C, Senator Volker (R-C-I, Depew)
         
> Stalking By Technological Means --  would include illegal wiretapping, cell phones, caller ID, the Internet, GPS, and any other type of tracking device as an element of the current crimes of stalking in the first, second, and third degrees. (S.884, Senator Caesar Trunzo (R, Brentwood)

> Employment Non-Discrimination Lists --  would add victims of domestic violence to the list of protected classes who shall not be discriminated against by an employer in terms of hiring or employment practices. (S.3052, Senator Joseph Robach (R-C-I-WF, Rochester)
    
Crack Down On Violent Video Games
     The Senate passed legislation that would take steps to crack down on video game violence, and combat and reduce children’s exposure to violent and inappropriate materials within these games.

> Advisory Council on Interactive Media and Youth Violence  -- would establish a new Advisory Council on Media, Entertainment Software and Youth Violence, which will review and make recommendations on the effectiveness of the current Entertainment Software Ratings Boards (ESRB) ratings system in keeping violent video games out of the hands of youth. The panel, which will include parents, educators, experts in child psychology, child welfare advocates, concerned citizens and industry representatives, will also develop policies relating to public education and advocacy against youth violence, examine efforts being undertaken in other states, and develop recommendations for additional ways of regulating the exposure of youth to these games.

> Rating System Labeling Requirement -- under current State law, there is no requirement that retailers place labels on video games sold in New York.  To address this shortcoming, would establish a new requirement that every video game sold in New York by a retailer or over the Internet, whether new or for resale, must have a clearly displayed rating indication on the game cover or elsewhere (such as on a website).  Individuals who violate these provisions will face fines and penalties.  

> Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program -- would also establish a new Parent-Teacher Anti-Violence Awareness Program, which will empower parents and teachers to work with students and children on issues related to violence in video games. The program will also seek to increase awareness of the ratings system on games, and the importance of appropriate parental supervision.  The Anti-Violence Program would be funded through fines on retailers who violate the new labeling law.  

(S.5888, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island)
Healthy Schools Meal Program
     The Senate passed legislation to establish nutrition guidelines for school districts to follow in order to provide students with healthy food choices.  The Childhood Healthy Access to Meals Program (CHAMP) will provide children with more nutritious foods at school in an effort to reduce the growing crisis of childhood obesity and other children’s health issues.
         
     This legislation would allow school districts to purchase fresh produce and dairy products from local producers by increasing a spending cap allowed for such purchases.  The bill also encourages the Department of Education to review both the nutritional and physical education curriculum to encourage additional physical activity and healthier habits for children inside and outside of school.

     Specifically, the bill does the following:

> Directs the Commissioner of the State Education Department (SED) in collaboration with the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Agriculture and Markets and others, to develop statewide nutritional standards for elementary and secondary schools by December 31, 2007.

> Directs SED to periodically gather data related to the impact of nutritional standards on New York State's students.

> Requires SED to report to the Legislature and Governor on the data collected by December 15, 2010.

> Requires school districts to implement and abide by the SED nutritional standards beginning with the 2008-09 school year.

> Provides an additional ten cents per meal for Federally reimbursable breakfasts and lunches (compared to the 2007-08 school year) beginning in the 2008-09 school year and thereafter.

> Allows for the continuation of existing vending, food and beverage service contracts but mandates that such contracts, as needed, be changed to reflect the requirement of the SED nutritional standards on the day following the expiration of the current contract term.

> Raises the spending cap on school districts' purchase of farm and dairy products.

> Directs the SED Commissioner to conduct an assessment of the physical education standards and instruction provided to students in grades kindergarten through 12.

> Directs DOH and SED to assist school districts in coordinating with existing state administered school nutritional programs and programs operated by the Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders.

(S.5892, Senator Stephen Saland   (R-C, Poughkeepsie)

Reporting Cases of Child Abuse / Xctasy’s Law

     The Senate passed a bill that would require Social services workers to report cases of child abuse to the New York State Child Abuse Hotline when becoming aware of the abuse through a third-party.

     The legislation is named for Xctasy Garcia, a four-year old who was a victim of a horrendous case of child abuse.  A call to a Social Services worker was made by a motel manager who had heard about the abuse from one of his tenants. However, the Social Services worker did not report the concern to the New York State Child Abuse Hotline.

     Under current law, local Social Services workers are "mandated reporters" and must formally report and investigate child abuse cases they observe firsthand, or learn about from contact with a child's parents or guardians. In Xctasy Garcia’s case, the Social Services worker only heard the report secondhand and the worker did not investigate because they were not legally required. (PBH, S.849-A, Senator Hugh Farley (R-C, Schenectady)

Children’s Residential Care Bill of Rights

     The Senate passed legislation to establish a bill of rights for children living in residential care facilities operated by State agencies. The bill would assure that all children would receive appropriate care and treatment including the right to be free from abuse, have an individualized treatment plan, receive safe medication and communication with family members, recreation, religious freedom and an appropriate education.

     The Commissioners of State agencies OMH, OMRDD, SED and Office of Children and Family Services would be required to issue a set of rules and regulations to ensure the rights of children in their respective residential care facilities.

     Specifically, the bill of rights would have to include:

> the right to a safe environment;

> the right to an individualized service plan, designed when possible with the participation of the child and parents;

> the right to be free from physical restraint and seclusion except in certain circumstances;

> the right to safe, informed medication practices in applicable service environments;

> the right to communicate through letters, phone calls and visits with family and other significant individuals, absent documented legal or clinical impediments;

> the right to meaningful recreational activities, unless there are documented legal or clinical impediments;

> the right to express grievances, concerns, and suggestions without fear of retribution;

> the right to participate in religious activities;

> the right to receive an appropriate education in the least restrictive environment; and

> that the child's rights shall not be limited as punishment, for convenience or made contingent as a part of the service plan.

(S.924, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)

Child Advisory Board to Prevent Eating Disorders

     The Senate passed legislation that would establish the Child Performer Advisory Board to Prevent Eating Disorders. The Advisory Board would develop guidelines for the employment of child models and performers and educational programs to help treat and prevent eating disorders.


     The Advisory Board would be appointed by the Commissioner of Labor, along with the Commissioners of Health and Mental Health, and would be comprised of 16-20 members. Members would include representatives of unions, professional organizations or employers who represent child performers and models, physicians, nutritionists, mental health professionals, a representative from each of New York’s three Comprehensive Care Centers for Eating Disorders, and advocacy organizations working to prevent and treat eating disorders.                    
                             
     The Advisory Board would develop guidelines for the employment of child performers and models for the purpose of preventing eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. In addition, the Board would develop recommendations for educational materials regarding awareness, recognition, referral and treatment options. (PBH, S.6158, Senator Serphin Maltese (Queens)

Combating Teacher-Student Sexual Misconduct
     The Senate passed legislation to help combat the sexual abuse of students in schools across the State.  The bill would require the immediate decertification of teachers following a conviction for a serious crime against a child, and also includes a provision that will require schools to contact both the parents of an alleged child victim, as well as law enforcement, whenever a report of abuse is made.

In addition to the immediate decertification of teachers upon conviction of a serious crime against a child, and the provision requiring schools to contact parents and law enforcement when a report of abuse is made, the bill would also require better training concerning the issue of child abuse in a school setting. (S.6296, Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn)

Earlier in the Legislative Session, the Senate voted to approve legislation to address a number of concerns about sexual misconduct involving school employees.  These include the following:
                             
> Possession of Certain Child Sexual Performance Materials -- would require the suspension of pay for tenured teachers upon the conviction of a felony for possessing certain child sexual performance materials or promotion thereof.  (S.189, Senator William Larkin (R-C, Cornwall-on-Hudson)
    
> Consent to Sexual Conduct -- would provide that an elementary or secondary student shall not have capacity to consent to sexual conduct with a school employee, regardless of the student's age. (S.1116-B, Senator Elizabeth Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)



CONSUMER PROTECTION

Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation to provide passengers stranded on airplanes at New York airports with certain basic amenities to make their wait more tolerable.  The bill also creates a new Airline Consumer Advocate Office to help airline passengers in New York report air travel service problems.  While federal law places restrictions on what individual states can do when it comes to legislation relating to air travel, federal courts have held that the provision of “amenities” for air travelers is one area that states can legitimately address.  

> Provisions for Passengers During Delays -- would require all airlines at New York airports to provide snacks and water, fresh air and power, and working rest rooms to passengers on any plane that has left the gate and been on the tarmac for more than three hours.

> Creation of the Office of Airline Consumer Advocate --  would be created within the New York State Consumer Protection Board to provide the public with a New York State-based consumer advocate and contact person who can help to coordinate with the appropriate airline industry officials, federal agencies and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the event an incident occurs.
         
> Posting of Consumer Complaint Information --  would require all air carriers to clearly and conspicuously post consumer complaint information for air travel service problems at airline service desks and at various other areas throughout the airports.

(PBH, S.5050-C, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)

Banning “Universal Default” Practice
     The Senate passed legislation that would ban the practice of "universal default" in New York State. Universal default allows credit card companies to increase interest rates if a cardholder makes a late payment to another credit card company or even pays a phone or utility bill late. (PBH, S.2969-B, Senator Charles Fuschillo (R, Merrick)

Unlawful Possession of Identity Scanning Devices
     The Senate passed a bill that would establish the crime of unlawful possession of an identity scanning device, making it a class E felony for a person who illegally accesses another person’s financial services account number or other personal information. This legislation would ensure that only persons with legitimate reasons are in possession of identity scanning devices thus helping to reduce the occurrences of identity theft in New York. (S.248, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)
    


CRIME AND CORRECTIONS

Death Penalty for Killers of Police Officers
     The Senate passed legislation that would establish the death penalty for the intentional murder of a police officer, peace officer or an employee of the Department of Correctional Services.  
    
     In 2004, the Court of Appeals overturned death penalty sentences, saying that judges were improperly required to instruct jurors in capital cases that if they deadlocked and failed to reach a verdict during the penalty phase of a trial, the judge would impose a sentence that would leave the defendant eligible for parole after 20 to 25 years.


     This legislation addresses those concerns with respect to the murder of a police officer, peace officer, or correctional officer by mandating the sentence of life without parole if the jury is deadlocked and unable to agree on the death penalty sentence. (S.319, Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn)

Expansion of DNA Database
     The Senate passed legislation that would expand the State’s DNA database to include samples from every person convicted of a crime. The bill will also improve the methods for collection and preservation of DNA evidence and extend the statute of limitations for cases based on DNA evidence.
    
     Last year the Senate achieved a historic expansion of the DNA databank with the enactment of a law which for the first time included samples from criminals convicted of all felonies and the most common misdemeanors. This bill strengthens this law by mandating that authorities collect DNA from every person convicted of a crime, as well as individuals on probation, parole supervision or registered as sex offenders.

     This legislation further increases the impact of the DNA database by extending the statute of limitations for DNA cases. DNA evidence is considered the most effective technique for identifying the perpetrator of a crime. A DNA sample found at a crime scene remains incredibly accurate, regardless of how much time passes. Understanding the unique nature of DNA as evidence in an investigation makes this extension of the statute of limitations a critical way of utilizing the database.
    
     The bill includes several provisions to expand the scope and effectiveness of DNA collection:

> Expands the application for DNA collection to cover all convictions, including various misdemeanors, youthful offenders and registered sex offenders, in order to increase the utility of DNA in solving future crimes.

> Specifies the public officers responsible for collecting DNA samples from defendants to ensure that every person convicted of a crime has their DNA collected and added to the databank.

> Develops guidelines for the collection and preservation of DNA samples to establish effective and consistent practices whenever DNA is collected.

> Enhances the rights of criminal defendants by allowing them to apply for DNA testing before their trial begins and also in cases where they have previously pleaded guilty. The bill also expands the scope of a defendant‘s application to include a comparison between crime-scene evidence and DNA databanks.  

(S.5848, Senator Dean Skelos (R, Rockville Center)

Stiffening Penalties for Assaults on Elderly / Granny’s Law
     The Senate passed legislation that would impose tougher penalties for physical assaults on senior citizens.  The legislation was introduced following the vicious attacks on Rose Morat, a 101-year-old Queens woman who was mugged on her way to church, and 85-year-old Solange Elizee, who was mugged and beaten just a half hour later by the same attacker.

While the assailant in these two cases could face robbery charges, under current law he would only face a misdemeanor charge for his physical attacks on the two elderly women.  In addition, under current law, the penalties for the physical attack on the 101-year-old woman are the same penalties that would exist if the victim had been a 25-year-old football player.
    
     This legislation would make it a class D or class E violent felony to assault any senior over the age of 70.  The bill would also make it a class D or class E violent felony to assault someone age 60 or older who suffers from a disease or infirmity associated with advanced age.   A class D violent felony conviction carries a potential penalty of up to seven years in prison, while a class E felony conviction carries a potential penalty of up to four years in prison.  As violent felony offenses, these crimes carry determinate sentences and the perpetrators will not be eligible for parole. (S.3684, Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn)
    
DWI Legislation Package
     The Senate passed legislation that would create the new charge of aggravated vehicular homicide for drunk drivers who kill others. The legislation is named in the memory of seven-year-old Katie Flynn, who was killed during a head-on drunk driving accident while riding home in a limousine from a family member’s wedding on the Meadowbrook Parkway in Long Island.

     The bill would strengthen State law by creating the new crime of aggravated vehicular homicide, a class B felony with a penalty of up to 25 years in prison. This crime would apply to criminals who kill someone in a drunk or drugged driving crash and also have at least one of the following:
    
> BAC of .18 or higher;
> prior DWI conviction within the last 10 years;
> crash caused the death of more than one person;
> crash killed one person and severely injures another;
> offender was driving with a suspended or revoked license from any state.

     The legislation would create the new crime of aggravated vehicular assault, a class C felony with a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. This crime would apply to drunk or drugged drivers who cause serious physical injury to another person and also have at least one of the following:

> BAC of .18 or higher;
> prior DWI conviction within the last 10 years;
> crash caused serious injury to more than one person;
> offender was driving with a suspended or revoked license from any state.

(PBH, S.5517, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)

     In addition, the Senate today other DWI legislation that would:

> Passengers Under Age 17 -- would increase penalties for criminal convictions of drunk or drugged driving where a child, under the age of 17, is a passenger. (S.5315, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)

> Ignition Interlock -- would expand and strengthen New York State’s ignition interlock program for DWI offenders. (PBH, S.5780, Senator Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. (R, Merrick)
    
Boating While Intoxicated Legislation / Tiffany’s Law  
     The Senate passed “Tiffany’s Law” that would require all prior convictions of operating a vehicle while intoxicated, whether it be an automobile (DWI), snowmobile (SWI), or all-terrain vehicle, be considered during sentencing of a subsequent Boating While Intoxicated (BWI) conviction. In turn, any person convicted of BWI would have that charge considered during any subsequent DWI, SWI or ATV offense.

     The legislation is named after Tiffany Heitkamp, a young Syracuse-area woman who was killed in July of 2006 while riding in a boat being operated by an intoxicated driver. The driver of the boat had a record of alcohol-related automobile incidents, but because there is no link between DWIs, BWIs and SWIs, he could only be charged as if this was his first offense.

     Under current law, repeat DWI, BWI, or SWI offenders are subject to increased penalties, including license revocation, fines, and incarceration. However, because there is no current link between these offenses, it is possible to be convicted in separate cases of DWI, BWI, SWI, or operating an ATV while intoxicated and be treated as a first time offender in each instance. (S.3271, Senator John A. DeFrancisco (R-C-I-WF, Syracuse)

> Stricter Suspensions for BWI -- would provide stricter suspensions of boating privileges for individuals convicted of Boating While Intoxicated or reckless operation of a vessel. First time offenders convicted of recklessly operating a vessel could face a three to 12 month suspension of their operating privileges. Repeat offenders would receive a mandatory six to 12 month suspension of their operating privileges and a six to 12 month suspension of their vessel registration. Operators convicted of boating while their ability is impaired by alcohol would also face losing their boating privileges and their vessel registration for a period of six to 12 months.
(S.1823, Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I-WF, Syracuse)

Life Without Parole for Murder of a Child / Nixzmary’s Law
     In a continuing effort to protect New York’s innocent children from being victims of violent child abusers, the Senate passed “Nixzmary’s Law,” a bill that would require a sentence of life without parole for parents or guardians who kill a child.

     The bill is named after Nixzmary Brown, a seven-year-old Brooklyn girl who was brutally beaten and left for dead last year. Her mother and stepfather were charged with her murder. This legislation would create the crime of aggravated murder of a child and mandate a sentence of life without parole for the parent, guardian or other person in a position of trust, who abuses and tortures a child under the age of 14, causing the death of the child or intentionally causes the death of a child.

     Existing law mandates the sentence of life without parole for the death of a child less than 14 years of age only in those cases when a person 18 years of age or more commits the crime while committing a felony sex crime against the child. In all other cases, a person who tortures and abuses a child, causing the child’s death, or intentionally causes the death of a child, can be paroled after serving a minimum term, no matter how horrific the crime. (S.675A, Senator Mary Lou Rath (R-C-I, Williamsville)

Human Trafficking Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation to combat the scourge of human trafficking.  The legislation includes stronger criminal penalties to deter and punish individuals who engage in human trafficking, sex tourism, and those who patronize trafficking victims for prostitution.
     The bill would establish a new felony crime of sex trafficking, punishable by three to 25 years in prison and labor trafficking, punishable by three to seven years in prison. The bill also cracks down on the growing problem of sex tourism by subjecting travel agencies involved in arranging sex tours to a D felony, punishable by three to seven years in prison.

> Organized Crime Control Act --  the crime would be added to the Organized Crime Control Act making it a separate B felony with a criminal penalty of three to 25 years imprisonment.

> Compensation for Victims --  would provide compensation from the NYS Crime Victims Board for victims of human and sex trafficking. Victims will also be provided assistance from the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) to obtain needed services such as housing, health care, mental health counseling, drug treatment, language services and job training.

> Establishment of Interagency Task Force on Human Trafficking -- would be established to collect data, coordinate with federal programs, develop new strategies to combat trafficking, protect victims and increase public awareness on the issue.

(Chapter 74, S.5902, Senator Frank Padavan (R-C, Bellerose)


Civil Commitment Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation that would provide for the civil commitment of sexually violent predators at a secure treatment facility after they’ve completed their prison sentence in order to protect the public from criminals likely to commit repeated acts of sexual violence.
    
     Under the bill, sex offenders will be referred to a case review team to determine if the offender has a mental abnormality that will make them likely to be a repeat offender. If so, the case will go to the Attorney General to file a petition for confinement in the county of incarceration. If after a trial, a jury confirms the findings of the case review team, a judge will determine the most appropriate course of action, either confinement for the most dangerous offenders or a program of strict and intensive supervision for those who pose a lesser risk.

     In addition, the legislation also does the following:

> Mandates treatment for all sex offenders, during incarceration and after their release;
> Increases periods of parole supervision for sex offenders;
> Establishes a new crime of “sexually motivated felony;”
> Creates a new Office of Sex Offender Management in the State Division of Criminal Justice Services to develop comprehensive policies and standards for the evaluation, treatment, and management of sex offenders.  

(Chapter 7, S.3318, Senator Dale M. Volker (R-C-I, Depew)     

Career Criminal Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation that would create the new crime of aggravated criminal conduct and ensure repeat criminals are properly punished. Under the bill, an offender who commits four or more misdemeanors or felonies within ten years will be punished as a class E felon and face up to four years in prison.

     Under current law, offenders who commit multiple felonies receive enhanced penalties for their repeated conduct, but offenders who commit multiple misdemeanors generally do not. (S.1600, Senator Frank Padavan (Queens)

Allowance of Cameras In the Courtroom
     The Senate passed legislation that would allow for audio-visual coverage of judicial proceedings, and make the provision allowing for cameras and audio recording equipment in the courtroom permanent.
    
     Starting in 1987 and continuing through 1997, the State Legislature authorized cameras in the courtroom.  During that period, hundreds of trials were televised and three review committees established under the legislation issued reports concluding that the audio-visual coverage of trial proceedings provided a public benefit.

     Televised coverage of court proceedings provide greater public access to the courts, which better educates the public about the judicial system.  In addition, televised coverage also enhances public scrutiny of the judicial system and the accountability of our courts.  

     This legislation would provide appropriate safeguards by giving presiding trial judges the discretion to ensure the coverage is carried out in a manner that fully protects the rights of all parties, witnesses and victims and ensures judicial accountability. (S.2067, Senator John A. DeFr,, , ancisco (R-I-C-WF, Syracuse)

1 Priority for the Wrongly Convicted / Anthony’s Law
     The Senate passed “Anthony’s Law” to give priority to claims for those who have been unjustly convicted and imprisoned. The legislation is named after Anthony Capozzi, who was wrongly convicted over two decades ago of a crime he did not commit. Due to an administrative error, DNA evidence that would have exonerated him was never examined until recently, leaving Capozzi to spend more than half of his life behind bars.
    
     It can take between one-and-a-half to four years for a case to be considered and resolved by the State Court of Claims, a wait that is too long and inexcusable for those who are unjustly imprisoned. Under “Anthony’s Law,” claims made against the State for unjust imprisonment would be given the highest priority and proper action to ensure that these claims are resolved in the shortest order.

     This legislation would ensure that unfairly imprisoned people like Anthony Capozzi are given the fastest chance to rejoin their families and rebuild their lives. Speeding up the docket time for these claims is the only thing to do to help compensate for the harm already done to them by our justice system. (PBH, S.4631, Senator Dale M. Volker (R-C-I, Depew)

Unlawfully Providing a Child With Alcoholic Beverages
     The Senate passed legislation that would increase penalties for an adult unlawfully providing a child with a large quantity of alcoholic beverages. The bill would make it a Class E felony for someone over the age of 21 to provide more than five gallons of beer, nine liters of wine, five gallons of wine product, or three liters of liquor within a 24-hour period to someone under the age of 21. Under current penal law, it is a Class A misdemeanor for a person to give, sell or make available any amount of alcohol to a person under the age of 21. (S.2146, Senator Thomas Libous (R-C-I, Binghamton)

Crimes Committed During Parole or Release
     The Senate passed a bill that would require a person on parole or release from prison to be recommitted if convicted of a new felony and forced serve the maximum sentence of their initial conviction, plus the minimum sentence of the subsequent felony. (S.122, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)

Mandatory Written Explanations for Released Inmates
     The Senate passed a bill that would require the State Division of Parole to issue a detailed written explanation detailing the factors and reasons considered in the decision to release an inmate from prison within one week of the release. (S.243, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)

Staging a Motor Vehicle Accident
     The Senate passed a bill that would establish the new crime of staging a motor vehicle accident. Faked accidents are arranged and intentionally committed by criminals who then file fraudulent insurance claims for fake crash injuries and rob insurance companies and their policyholders. The economic cost of such activity is staggering, with no-fault insurance fraud estimated to cost insurance companies and their policyholders $1 billion per year.

     The provisions of the bill would:

> make it a class D felony when a person operates or arranges for another person to operate a motor vehicle to intentionally cause a collision to defraud insurance companies;

> make it a class C felony when a person commits the offense and has been previously convicted of an insurance fraud crime within five years prior;

> make it a class B felony when a person commits the offense and causes serious personal injury or death to another person other than a participant of the offense.

(S.2634, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)




ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT


Upstate Now  Legislation Package
     The Senate passed Upstate Now , a comprehensive job creation and economic growth plan that will transform and revitalize the upstate economy, generate billions of dollars in new investment, and create thousands of new jobs for New Yorkers.  

     The ten-point plan would invest a total of more than $3.7 billion into economic development initiatives over the next three years, including new tax relief and incentives, new and existing capital investments and private sector matching funds.  More than $2 billion would be invested in the first year of the program.
    
     The Senate’s Upstate Now   plan includes more than $2.6 billion in tax cuts and incentives, when fully implemented in three years; as well as $300 million in existing venture capital funds that will generate an additional $300 million in private sector matching funds;  $300 million in capital monies originally proposed in the Executive Budget, but not included in the adopted budget; $155 million in new capital investment funds; and $58 million in new economic development program investments.

     From tax cuts, to the JOBS NOW and Pipeline for Jobs initiatives, to the Jobs 2000 Plan (J2K), Gen*NY*sis, and Centers of Excellence programs, the Senate Majority has always been the principal driving force in Albany behind efforts to promote economic growth and job creation for New Yorkers.  The Upstate Now   package would build on this legacy with a broad, comprehensive and integrated ten-point plan:

    
(S.5953, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Expansion of International Sematech
     The Senate passed legislation that will allow International SEMATECH to develop a major expansion of their existing research and development program at the Center of Excellence in Nanoelectronics and Nanotechnology at the University at Albany.
    
     The legislation provides $300 million in funding which will be made available over five years to help SEMATECH purchase advanced semiconductor process equipment. SEMATECH has made a financial commitment of $300 million in cash and in-kind contributions. The project
will support new research at the Nanotech Center in Albany as well as serve as an additional resource supporting existing operations of SEMATECH members in the Hudson Valley and the Capital Region.
    
     The agreement will significantly expand the consortium's New York operations.  As part of the partnership with the UAlbany NanoCollege, International SEMATECH will increase its workforce by 450 jobs over three years and provide $25 million to fund research at colleges and universities at five centers around the state, including the Nanoscale Metrology and Imaging Center in Albany.  The State funding approved by the Legislature will be used to both build state-of-the-art infrastructure and acquire advanced semiconductor tooling. (PBH, S.6017, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)



EDUCATION

Making Higher Education More Affordable
     The Senate passed a comprehensive higher education package that would make obtaining a college education more affordable for New York’s students, help families with soaring tuition expenses, provide new incentives to college students to keep them living and working in New York when they graduate, and recognize the sacrifices and service of our military personnel by making it easier for New York veterans of all wars to attend college.

     The bill includes expanding the eligibility for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), enhancing the tuition tax credit for families, establishing a student loan debt relief program, providing assistance to help our veterans afford college tuition and creating a math, science and engineering technology retention initiative for New York’s students.  
    
     The changing economic circumstances in New York and throughout the nation, particularly in relation to the costs of a college education, require that these programs be upgraded to alleviate the financial burden being placed on New York’s hardworking families.

> Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Enhancement --   Expanding TAP will help New York families keep pace with the rising cost of higher education and extend TAP benefits to 21,000 more New York State families.  These changes will require a state investment of $103.4 million in SFY 2007-08 with a full annual investment of $147.7 million.

     The 2007 TAP expansion/enhancement legislation would:

> Increase dependent students  household income eligibility cap for TAP from $80,000 to $100,000 net taxable income (NTI);
> Increase nondependent students  income eligibility for TAP from $10,000 to $12,500 net taxable income (NTI);
> Raise the minimum  TAP award under the TAP award schedule for families with dependent students from $500 to $1,000;  
> Change the TAP award schedule to enhance awards to middle-income New Yorkers.

> Expanding Tuition Tax Credits --   would help families keep pace with the rising cost of higher education, the Senate Majority proposes an increase in the amount of deductible tuition expenses for New York families to $14,000 from $10,000.  The tax credit will increase from 4 percent to 5 percent of eligible tuition expenses, or a maximum of $700, instead of the current maximum of $400, benefiting all New Yorkers with college expenses.  This measure will require approximately $5 million in new state investment in SFY 2007-08 and $65 million in SFY 2008-09 and future years.  (S.6289, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

> Student Loan Debt Relief Program -- would assist students with college loans, and to give them an incentive to stay in New York State, this proposal establishes the New York State Student Loan Debt Relief Program to provide a tax credit of up to 50 percent for college graduates (maximum of $1,000) toward student loan payments per year for those earning $50,000 or less.  The tax credit is available for five years, beginning in the 2007 tax year.  To be eligible, tax filers are required to remain an employed resident of New York State during the period they claim the tax credit and must also have received a degree from an approved higher education institution in New York.
 
     The loan program will substantially reduce the default rate while providing incentives for college graduates to remain in New York State after graduation.  It will pay up to $1,000 to each qualified graduate at a cost of $30 million in SFY 2007-08, with a full annual cost of $275 million.
> Math, Science and Engineering Technology -- Enhancing New York’s competitiveness in a technology-driven global economy is a critical component to higher education.  This proposal establishes the New York State Math, Science and Engineering Technology Retention Program to increase the pool of science, engineering and technology professionals in the State, and to keep these graduates in New York.

     The Math, Science and Engineering Technology Retention Program would:

> provide $1,000 in state grant money in the first year to 1,000 undergraduate or graduate students living in New York State with a degree in math, science or engineering technology for each year of employment in any science, engineering or technology field, other than teaching, in New York State for up to five years (beginning with 2008 tax year) for degrees awarded in the 2007-08 academic year and beyond.  

> 1,000 new undergraduate and graduate grants will be awarded each year for five years, for a total of 5,000 grants.  The program is fiscally neutral in SFY 2007-08 with state funding rising to $1 million for SFY 2008-09, and $5 million when fully phased in by SFY 2012-13.
    
> increase the number of annual awards under the New York State Math and Science Teaching Incentive Program to 750 from 500.  This existing program was designed to increase the number of certified middle and high school math and science teachers, by providing students enrolled in an approved teachers' certification program with tuition reimbursement up to the amount of SUNY tuition for each year they complete in that program.  

> make recipients agree to teach in the classroom on a full-time basis for five years in the field of math or science in a school located within New York State.  The expansion would be fiscally neutral in SFY 2007-08 and require state investment of $1.1 million in SFY 2008-09.  

> Veterans Tuition Award Program -- Currently, veterans who serve in harm’s way are provided only $2,000 in state grants if they enroll in an approved vocational, undergraduate or graduate program.  This measure would increase the maximum tuition assistance grant to veterans of all wars from $2,000 to $4,350 or equivalent tuition rate at SUNY schools, with an estimated state investment of approximately $2 million in SFY 2007-08.   (S.6288, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Student Lending Accountability
     The Senate passed legislation to protect students and their families from exploitation by conflicts of interest in the student-loan industry. The bill would make New York the first state to offer a solution to the student-loan scandal that has affected millions.

     The Student Lending Accountability, Transparency and Enforcement (SLATE) Act of 2007 would address problems exposed as a result of the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation into the widespread conflicts of interest throughout the $85 billion-per-year student loan industry.
    
     The Student Lending, Accountability, Transparency and Enforcement Act would:

> prohibit lenders from making gifts – including the practice of revenue sharing – to colleges and universities or their employees in exchange for any advantage in loan activities;

> ban colleges and universities from soliciting, accepting or receiving any gifts whatsoever – including those construed as part of a revenue sharing practice – from lenders in exchange for advantageous loan consideration;

> bar college and university employees from receiving any advantage, reimbursement or benefit from serving as a member of a lender’s advisory board;

> prohibit lender employees and agents from posing as college or university employees, including staffing the school’s financial aid offices with lender employees;

> ban lenders and schools from agreeing to certain quid-pro-quo high-risk loans that prejudice other borrowers or potential borrowers;

> prohibit schools from linking or directing potential borrowers to any electronic master promissory notes or other loan agreements that do not allow students to enter a lender code or name for any lender offering the relevant loan at that guarantee agency.

(Chapter 41, S.5734, Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)

College Campus Security Plan

     The Senate passed a bill that would allow college campus security officers more enforcement authority and expand on existing campus security laws and regulations. The bill would increase the number of mental health counselors on SUNY, CUNY and private sector campuses. The recommendations result from hearings held by the Senate Higher Education Committee in the wake of the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. (S.6264, Senator Kenneth LaValle (R-C-I, Port Jefferson)



ENERGY

Article X / Power Plant Siting
     The Senate approved legislation that would reauthorize the state’s Article X law that applies to the siting of major electric generating facilities to help meet the demand for power by residents and businesses in New York State.  The law expired on January 1, 2003.
         
     Article X of the Public Service Law and its regulations establish a framework for the application, review, and approval process for any entity that seeks to construct and operate an electric generating facility with a capacity of 80 megawatts (mw) or more in New York State.
                        
     The article sets forth certain requirements that an applicant must meet in order to obtain a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, which is required before construction of such a facility may begin.
    
     Construction of new power plants, in addition to enhancing the overall reliability of the State's electric system, may also have a net positive effect on the environment.  (S.5908, Senator James Wright (R-C-I, Watertown)

Power for Jobs Extender
     The Senate passed legislation that would provide a one year extension of the Power for Jobs and Energy Cost Savings Benefits programs that are critical providers of low-cost energy, serving as important economic development and job creation tools for upstate businesses. (PBH, S.5826-A, Senator James Wright (R-C-I, Watertown)
              

    
ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION

Increasing the Environmental Protection Fund
     The Senate passed legislation that would increase total funding for the New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to $300 million by 2009.

     The EPF was created in 1993 and is responsible for many environmental programs such as, Open Space, Municipal Recycling, Pollution Prevention, Farmland protection, and Non-point Water Pollution Control. This bill permanently strengthens the EPF by balancing future land development with increased fiscal support for these and many other important environmental programs.

     This legislation will increase the funds from the Real Estate Transfer Tax that are deposited into the EPF from the current level of $212 million to $237 million, raising the total amount of EPF fiscal resources to $250 million. This deposit from the Real Estate Transfer Tax will continue to increase each fiscal year so that by 2009-10 the EPF will have a total of $300 million. (PBH, S.5304, Senator Carl L. Marcellino (R, Syosset)

Establishing Climate Change Task Force
     The Senate passed legislation to create the New York State Climate Change Task Force to research the projected impacts of climate change in the State and create a comprehensive climate action plan. The task force would be created within the Department of Environmental Conservation and would develop recommendations for actions that can be taken to mitigate the impact of climate change on New York and minimize disruption to the State's economy, infrastructure and environment due to climate change. The task force would be required to submit a draft within one year and hold public hearings throughout the State on the plan. (PBH, S.5427-A, Senator Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset)

Global Warming Index Label on Automobiles
     The Senate passed a bill that would require automobile manufacturers to place a global warming index on labels already placed on new automobiles sold after July 1, 2009. The bill would require the Department of Environmental Conservation to create and design the new label after seeking input from automobile consumers, graphic design professionals and persons with expertise in environmental labeling. Along with the automobiles’ fuel efficiency label, the new global warming index would inform consumers of automobiles’ carbon emissions. (PBH, S.4833-A, Senator Carl Marcellino (R, Syosset)  



GOVERNMENT REFORM

Budget Reform Legislation
     The Senate passed budget reform legislation to require even greater itemization of State spending and make additional reforms to the budget process. The bills would include greater reforms to further increase accountability, openness, and transparency in the State budget process and help ensure passage of on-time budgets.

     The Senate passed its original budget reform initiative that would line out in the budget every dollar to be spent by the Governor, Legislature, Judiciary and all State agencies and appropriated spending for authorities. The Senate also gave second passage to a constitutional amendment, passed by both houses in 2005, to ensure that the Executive Budget addresses only fiscal matters, rather than trying to make new laws and policy in the context of the budget language.  (S.2 & S.3, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Ethics Reform Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation that would create new ethics and lobbying reforms in State government.  The legislation would implement higher ethical standards for public officials, significantly strengthens penalties for ethics violations and establishes an independent public integrity panel to enforce ethics and lobbying laws.

     The legislation would significantly reform current lobbying and ethics laws, including:
    
>  prohibiting all gifts from lobbyists and their clients of more than nominal value, including travel, lodging and other expenses, and broadens the types of lobbying activities that lobbyists must disclose;

>  prohibiting all gifts of more than “nominal value” from non-lobbyists to public officials where such gifts might appear designed to influence the official;

> banning virtually all honoraria for statewide elected officials, agency heads and legislators;

> prohibiting state employees from participating in any personnel decision or contracting matter concerning a relative;

> barring non-legislative employees from asking about the political affiliation, contributions or voting records of prospective employees;

>  prohibiting non-legislative employees from using their authority or influence to “compel or induce” any other employee to make political contributions;

> preventing agency heads from becoming a candidate for any compensated elective office unless they resign or take an unpaid leave of absence;

> prohibiting elected government officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements; and

> closing the “revolving door” loophole by prohibiting former legislative employees from directly lobbying the Legislature for two years, and expands the revolving door restrictions for Executive Chamber employees to preclude appearances before any state agency.

     The bill would also strengthen penalties for violations of the State Public Officers Law and State Lobbying Law. The maximum civil penalty for public officers who commit ethics violations will be increased from $10,000 to $40,000 plus the value of any associated gain. Lobbyists who repeatedly flout lobbying laws will be subject to suspension.

(Chapter 14, S.2876, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Placing Term Limits on Statewide Offices
     The Senate passed legislation and a State Constitutional Amendment that would impose term limits on statewide elected officials and limit the tenure of legislative leaders and committee chairs.  The legislation would place a limit of two terms on statewide elected officials, including the Governor, Comptroller and Attorney General, and limit the tenure of all legislative leaders to eight years and the tenure of committee chairs to six years.

     Under the proposed amendment to the State Constitution a Governor could not be elected more than twice. The amendment, which is modeled after the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, also provides that a person who serves as Governor for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected may not be elected more than once. The Attorney General and State Comptroller would also be limited to two elective terms for their respective offices. The constitutional amendment would not apply to statewide officials currently in office.  The amendment requires passage by two consecutively elected legislatures and the earliest the proposal could be placed on the ballot for voter approval would be November 2009.  (S.4736, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)

     The Senate also passed legislation making the statutory changes necessary to impose term limits on the Temporary President and Minority Leader of the Senate, and Speaker and Minority Leader of the Assembly, as well as on the Chairs of the Legislature’s Standing Committees.  Under this legislation, the Temporary President and Speaker will not be able to serve in these leadership posts beyond eight years.  A separate provision in the bill will limit the tenure for chairmanship of any one committee to six years. (S.4737, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)

Changing State’s Primary Election Dates
     The Senate passed legislation that would move New York State’s presidential primary vote up one month from March 4, 2008 to February 5, 2008.  The change in the date of the primary would also result in a change in the timeframe for circulating and filing presidential petitions.  Potential candidates could circulate petitions from October 30 to December 6, 2007 and would be required to file them with the Board of Elections December 3 through December 6, 2007. (Chapter 17, S.3544, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

     The Senate also passed legislation that would move New York State’s primary by one week from September 11, 2007 to September 18, 2007.  The State election law traditionally dictates that primary elections be held on the first Tuesday after the second Monday in September. In the 2007 primary election cycle, this Tuesday happened to fall on September 11th. This bill only applies to the 2007 primary. (Chapter 49, S.5755, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Special Elections to Fill Vacancies in Statewide Offices
     The Senate passed legislation that would require a statewide special election be held to fill vacancies in the offices of State Comptroller and Attorney General. The State Constitution currently requires a vacancy in the office of the State Comptroller or the Attorney General be filled by a majority vote of both Houses of the Legislature if the Legislature is in session when the vacancy occurs. This Constitutional Amendment would reform the process by requiring a special election to replace a Comptroller or Attorney General who resigns or is removed from office. (S.2724, Senator Joseph Griffo (R-C, Rome)

Initiative and Referendum
     The Senate passed a constitutional amendment that would give New Yorkers a more direct role in the legislative process by empowering them to enact and amend laws through initiative and referendum. Under the proposal, the State Constitution could also be amended through initiative and referendum, but measures to amend the State Constitution could only be voted on during a general election in which State legislators are on the ballot meaning every two years and the measure would also have to be approved by the voters at two such elections.

     The bill also allows for initiative and referendum at the county, city, town or village level. To propose any measure at the local level, signatures from at least five percent of the residents in the municipality who voted in the last gubernatorial election would be required. A measure would become law if it receives the approval of the majority of voters within the municipality.

     Any amendment to the State Constitution, such as this proposal, must be approved by two separately elected Legislatures and thereafter by a majority of the voters of the State, so if passed again by the next Legislature, it would go before voters in November 2009. (S.6020, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Greater Accountability & Transparency In Agencies & Judiciary
     The Senate passed legislation that would ensure greater openness and responsiveness in State government by requiring biannual expenditure reports from State agencies, public authorities, and the Judiciary.

     The proposal builds upon new laws that the State Senate successfully enacted in 2005 and 2006 to strengthen the State's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Since 1996, the Senate has also taken the lead in providing public information about its operations and expenditures through public expenditure reports. In addition, the Senate Majority has consistently advanced proposals calling for greater transparency in the State budget process, including line-by-line itemization of all items in the State budget. And last year, the Senate began posting information on member initiative spending on its website.

Specific elements of the bill approved by the Senate today include:


> Each State agency, covered authority, the judiciary and any 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation affiliated with the State University of New York must compile and make public an expenditure report within 45 days following the end of March and September beginning with March, 2008.

> The salary of each employee classified as noncompetitive under Civil Service Law, each employee of a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit corporation affiliated with the State University of New York and each judge or justice will be listed, along with their name, service dates, job title, payroll type and total amount paid.  Any additional compensation paid during the reporting period will be listed separately.  The salaries of employees classified as competitive under Civil Service Law will be listed by category of title.  

> Non-salary expenses for supplies and materials, equipment and contractual services cash disbursements, for all entities covered by this legislation will be listed separately by check date, voucher number, payee name, description and amount paid.  

> Travel expenditures of each employee classified as noncompetitive under Civil Service Law and each judge or justice will be listed by name of employee along with dates and description of travel, and the amount paid.  The travel expenditures of employees classified as competitive under Civil Service Law will be listed in an aggregate amount.

(S.6358, Senator John DeFrancisco (R-C-I-WF, Syracuse) & Senator Joseph A. Griffo (R-C, Rome)



HEALTH CARE & INSURANCE  

Workers’ Compensation Reform Legislation
     The Senate passed legislation to significantly reform the State’s workers’ compensation system. The bill would reduce employer costs, which are among the highest in the nation, by ten to 15 percent and increase benefits for injured workers for the first time in more than a decade.

     The legislation would do the following:

> Reduce employer costs for workers’ comp insurance premiums by ten to 15 percent, an estimated savings of nearly $1 billion.

> The maximum weekly benefit for injured workers will be increased from $400 to $500 in the first year, $550 in the second year, $600 in the third year, and to two-thirds of the average weekly wage in New York in the fourth year. Once the maximum benefit reaches two-thirds of the average weekly wage, the maximum benefit will be indexed annually.

> The minimum weekly benefit will be increased from $40 to $100.

> A safety net will be created for disabled workers to help them get back to work and more assistance will be available for people classified as more than 80 percent disabled.

> Penalties and sanctions will be increased to crack down on workers’ compensation fraud committed by businesses and by employees.

> A costly loophole (the Second Injury Fund) that allows some insurance carriers to avoid paying claims will be closed,   resulting in further reduction in special assessment costs to employers in New York State.

> Innovative programs will be established to get workers prompt medical treatment and help them return to work, in addition to premium credits for employers who create one or all of the following programs: a program to get injured employees back to work, a worker safety program, or a drug and alcohol program.

> A legislative task force will work with the Superintendent of Insurance, the Department of Labor and the Workers’ Compensation Board to pursue additional reforms and make recommendations about additional legislation.

(Chapter 6, S.3322, Senator Joseph L. Bruno   (R-I, Brunswick)

Increasing Access to Family Health Plus
     The Senate passed legislation to increase access to the State’s Family Health Plus program by assisting employers in providing health care coverage to its employees.      The bill would allow employers to provide comprehensive health coverage for their workers through creation of a new Family Health Plus buy-in initiative.
    
     Under the legislation, the State would pay a portion of the required premium for those who are eligible for Medicaid, Child Health Plus or Family Health Plus .  The legislation would allow those who receive Family Health Plus coverage under the Family Health Plus Buy-In program to receive the same benefits as those currently enrolled in Family Health Plus, while enabling children under 21 to be eligible for benefits offered under the Child Health Plus program.

     The bill would create a Family Health Plus Employer Partnership account to subsidize the annual State costs of the Family Health Plus program.  The buy-in program is expected to result in State savings by helping to encourage employers to provide health insurance.

     Family Health Plus is a public health insurance program for adults age 19 to 64 who do not have health insurance on their own or through their employers but have income or resources to qualify for Medicaid.  The program is available to single adults, couples without children, and parents with limited income who are New York State and United States citizens.  Family Health Plus provides comprehensive coverage, including prevention, primary care, hospitalization, prescriptions and other services. There are minimal co-payments for a number of Family Health Plus services.   (PBH, S.6344, Senator Kemp Hannon (R-C-I, Garden City)

Group Identity Theft Insurance
     The Senate passed legislation that would allow insurance companies to sell group identity theft insurance to an employer or association and offer coverage at a reasonable cost to employees or members, making it more widely available and affordable.

     Given the recent publicity regarding the national problem of identity theft, offering group identity insurance would be a popular and worthwhile policy for consumers. This legislation would allow insurers to sell this protection as part of a general employee benefits package and making such coverage available to a large portion of the State's workforce, while making jobs in the State more attractive to prospective employees. (S.2397, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)
         


LOCAL ASSISTANCE

Flood Relief Act
     The Senate passed legislation that would allow municipalities the option to participate in the Flood Assessment Relief Act of 2007 to give its property owners the opportunity to have their property reassessed if it was catastrophically damaged by the flood of 2006.

     Many counties throughout New York State were designated as both Federal and State disaster areas as a result of the floods of 2006. Thousands of New Yorkers were victims of record flooding and damage and found themselves homeless or with property with extensive damage. As a result of the damage, these properties are now valued at much less than the tax records reflect. This legislation would allow people to have their properties reassessed and be taxed at the most current value of their home. This would help offset some of the costs of rebuilding by ensuring that homeowners aren't paying more than their fair share of the property taxes. (Chapter 15, S.1584-A, Senator Thomas Libous (R-C-I, Binghamton)

Increasing Aid to Merging School Library Systems
     The Senate passed a bill that would increase the amount of State aid provided to school library systems associated with BOCES mergers from $50,000 to $90,000 annually. Under the current school library system formula aid, each school library system receives a population driven base grant currently ranging from $83,000 to $123,000. If two systems merge, one base grant is completely lost, however the State offers a $50,000 merger grant. The merger grants began in 1986 at a time when State aid for libraries totaled $70.4 million. Today State aid for libraries totals $102.2 million. An increase in the merger grant level is needed to provide an incentive for school library systems to merge in the future. (PBH, S.4476-B, Senator Hugh Farley (R-C, Schenectady)



MENTAL HEALTH

Parental Access to Mental Health Records / Jonathan’s Law
     The Senate passed “Jonathan’s Law” to ensure that parents and guardians have access to records pertaining to allegations and investigations of mistreatment of children in residential care facilities. The legislation was introduced after the tragic death in February of 13-year-old Jonathan Carey, an autistic teen who lived at the state-run O.D. Heck Development Center in Niskayuna.

> Parental Access to Records --  would ensure parents and guardians have access concerning alleged abuse or investigations of abuse when it concerns their children. Upon written request, records must be released within 21 days of the conclusion of an investigation;

> Telephone Notification -- would mandate telephone notification to the parent or guardian of a patient when an incident occurs involving that patient, and upon request, a written incident report must be provided to the parent or guardian;

> Right to Access Records Pamphlet --  would direct the Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities (CQCAPD) to prepare and disseminate a pamphlet on the right to access records relating to patient care and treatment;

> Notification of Evidence --  would require the Commission on Quality Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities to notify the parents or guardians when there is credible evidence of alleged abuse or mistreatment;

> Establishes a Task Force on Mental Hygiene Records --   task force would study and make recommendations on additional legislation regarding access to patient records and reports.

(Chapter 24, S.3105-A, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)

Children’s Residential Care Bill of Rights
     The Senate passed legislation to establish a bill of rights for children living in residential care facilities operated by State agencies. The bill would assure that all children would receive appropriate care and treatment including the right to be free from abuse, have an individualized treatment plan, receive safe medication and communication with family members, recreation, religious freedom and an appropriate education. (S.924, Senator Tom Morahan (R-C, New City)

Prohibiting Solitary Confinement for Mentally Ill Inmates
     The Senate passed legislation that would prohibit mentally ill inmates from being placed in solitary confinement “special housing units” and would establish residential treatment programs for these inmates.
    
     Under the provisions of the bill, inmates who meet the criteria for serious mental illness will be removed and placed in a residential mental health treatment program or any other clinically appropriate program. In addition, the superintendent is required to report to the Commissioner on the mental health treatment or confinement of such inmates.

     In addition to excluding inmates with serious mental illness from isolated confinement, the bill would require that residential mental health treatment programs be established by the Commissioner of Corrections. These programs will provide clinically appropriate treatment for inmates while maintaining the safety and security of the facility. (PBH, S.333-A, Senator Michael F. Nozzolio (R-C, Fayette)

Counseling Cost Reimbursement for 9/11 Victims
     The Senate passed a bill that would allow victims traumatized by the events of September 11th, including family members of those who died in the attacks, to receive reimbursement for counseling expenses.  

     In the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Governor Pataki issued a series of Executive Orders which allowed the Crime Victims Board (CVB) to pay for the counseling costs of injured victims and their families. As these Executive Orders have now expired, the Senate has legislated that the CVB continue to reimburse critical counseling costs for those who still suffer from the traumatic events of that day.

     Specifically, this legislation will:     

> Reimburse counseling expenses for victims’ family members, relief workers and witnesses traumatized by the events of 9/11. In addition this legislation will reimburse medical and counseling expenses for victims injured in the World Trade Center Attacks;

> Permanently eliminate the payment of filing fees relating to the estates of the victims of the World Trade Center Attacks

> Cover burial expenses for family members who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center Attacks.

(Chapter 21, S.3039, Senator Serphin R. Maltese (Queens)

SENIORS & RETIREES

Senior Citizen Property Tax Relief Legislation
     The Senate passed a bill to double the size of direct property tax rebate checks for senior citizen homeowners. The bill would return about $200 million to our State’s senior citizens.  Funds for the increased senior rebate checks would come from higher-than-projected State revenues realized at end of the 2006-07 State fiscal year. (S.5742, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Stiffening Penalties for Assaults on Elderly / Granny’s Law
     The Senate passed legislation that would impose tougher penalties for physical assaults on senior citizens.  The legislation was introduced following the vicious attacks on Rose Morat, a 101-year-old Queens woman who was mugged on her way to church, and 85-year-old Solange Elizee, who was mugged and beaten just a half hour later by the same attacker.

While the assailant in these two cases could face robbery charges, under current law he would only face a misdemeanor charge for his physical attacks on the two elderly women.  In addition, under current law, the penalties for the physical attack on the 101-year-old woman are the same penalties that would exist if the victim had been a 25-year-old football player.
    
     This legislation would make it a class D or class E violent felony to assault any senior over the age of 70.  The bill would also make it a class D or class E violent felony to assault someone age 60 or older who suffers from a disease or infirmity associated with advanced age.   A class D violent felony conviction carries a potential penalty of up to seven years in prison, while a class E felony conviction carries a potential penalty of up to four years in prison.  As violent felony offenses, these crimes carry determinate sentences and the perpetrators will not be eligible for parole. (S.3684, Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn)

Protecting Health Care for Retirees
     The Senate passed a legislative package that would protect health insurance coverage for retired teachers, retired State and local government workers, retired police officers and firefighters.  Although health coverage has been promised to retirees, court cases have held that past practice does not ensure continued protection unless provided in a union contract at the time the worker retired. These package of bills would protect current retirees by continuing retiree coverage for one year through May 15, 2008. (Chapter 22, S.1513, Senator Hugh Farley (R-C, Schenectady); PBH, S.6030, Senator Farley; PBH, S.6031-A, Senator Farley)



TAX RELIEF

Property Tax Overhaul  
     The Senate passed major property tax reform legislation that could result in the complete elimination of residential school property taxes in school districts that vote to phase out property taxes over five years, with revenue replaced with additional State funding.  

     The New York “Stop Taxing Our Property” Reform Plan (NY-STOP) would:
    
> Eliminate Residential Property Taxes  -- under the provisions of the bill, every school district would be authorized to take a public vote to determine if real property taxes on primary residences (STAR eligible properties only) would be phased out over five years and be replaced with additional State funding.  
    
> Property Tax Freeze for Senior Citizens -- school districts would be authorized to freeze the school tax rate for seniors over the age of 65.  The Senate’s proposal would provide immediate tax relief to hundreds of thousands of seniors across the State by freezing the real property assessed value of their homes at a fixed rate, while also providing state reimbursement to municipalities for lost real property tax revenue.

> Mandate Relief Plan  -- would help reduce costs to school districts, municipalities and local taxpayers. The measure would require the State to pick up the cost of any state mandated program imposed on municipalities or school districts.  

(S.6119, Senator Joseph L. Bruno (R-I, Brunswick)

Blue Ribbon Property Tax Reform Commission
     The Senate passed legislation that would create a Blue Ribbon Property Tax Reform Commission.  The commission would examine the property tax system and offer reforms to relieve homeowners and other property owners of their increasing tax burdens. The eleven-member Blue Ribbon Property Tax Reform Commission would examine and make recommendations on specific areas of reforms for local governments and school systems with the goal of reducing the property tax burden in New York State.  The Governor would appoint three members as would the Temporary Leader of the Senate and Speaker of the Assembly.  The Minority Leaders of the Assembly and Senate would each make one appointment.  (S.1052, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)

Elimination of Sales Tax on Clothing
     The Senate passed legislation that would eliminate the New York City portion of the sales tax on all clothing and footwear purchases in the City of New York. The Senate also passed a bill that would allow localities to eliminate the sales tax on all clothing and footwear purchases.
    
     Under current law, clothing and footwear costing less than $110 per article is exempt from the City’s sales tax. Senator Padavan’s bill expands the NYC sales tax exemption to all clothing and footwear purchases regardless of cost. With the elimination of the sales tax on clothing and footwear in New York City taxpayers will save an estimated $110 million in 2008 increasing annually to an estimated $122 million in 2011.

     In 1998, New York State provided a sales tax exemption for clothing and footwear under $110 per item. Senator Skelos’ legislation would remove the $110 limit, helping to ensure New York’s competitiveness with neighboring states that don’t impose sales tax on clothing and footwear.   (PBH, S.5864, Senator Frank Padavan (Queens) & S.6327 Senator Dean Skelos (R, Rockville Centre)

Tax Exemption for Military Personnel
     The Senate passed a bill that would make military personnel serving in a combat zone exempt from New York State Income Tax. America’s military personnel serve in combat zones in foreign lands for extended periods of time away from their families and make enormous sacrifices to preserve our peace and prosperity on the home front. This bill would show our State’s gratitude for the sacrifices they make putting their lives on the line to protect this country every day. (S.3574, Senator Andrew Lanza (R-I, Staten Island)

Tax Credit Protection for Voluntary Emergency Service Personnel
     The Senate passed legislation that would protect voluntary firefighters or ambulance workers who receive a local property tax break from a one-time disqualification for the State income tax credit. The bill would ensure that those who had previously received a real property tax exemption for their voluntary fire/EMS service are not prevented from receiving the income tax credit for 2007.  

     A 2006 law only allows the income tax credit if the eligible volunteers were not receiving a real property tax credit.  Because the real property tax cycle and the income tax cycle are different, volunteers must be given additional time to alert their assessors that they wish to discontinue the real property tax exemption and should not be prevented from receiving the income tax credit for 2007 as a result of their previous application for the real property tax exemption.  The bill would provide a one-year transition period to provide volunteers with a reasonable opportunity to choose which tax benefit they wish to receive. (PBH, S.3944, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)




TRANSPORTATION


Improving Public Boating Safety
     The Senate passed legislation that would strengthen New York’s navigation laws to improve public boating safety.     

> Required Number of Exits --  would require that public vessels certified to carry more than twenty passengers be equipped with a minimum of two functional, unobstructed means of egress on each deck;

> Required Number of Crew Members --  would prohibit operation of a public vessel with less than the required number of crew as specified by the vessel’s certificate of inspection;

> Notification of Repairs and Modifications -- would require owners of a public vessel to notify a marine inspector of any proposed repairs of modifications, or any repairs or modifications of which the owner becomes aware, that may affect the vessel’s stability, sea worthiness or safe operation (a reinspection may be required following repair or modification);

> Carry Means of Communication On Board --  would require public vessels certified to carry more than ten passengers be equipped with a very high frequency (VHF) marine radio or operational cellular phone capable of effective communication in the vessel’s service area; those  certified to carry more than 65 passengers would be required to be equipped with radar .

> Stiffen Navigation Law Penalties --  would also increase penalties for violating the State’s navigation law and provide that anyone who causes the loss of life due to misconduct, negligence or inattention to their duties while employed on a public vessel, or as an owner or charterer, be guilty of a class E felony.

(PBH, S.4242, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)
    
Mandatory Chemical Tests for Public Vessel Operators
     The Senate passed legislation that would mandate chemical tests for operators of public vessels to determine if alcohol or drugs are a factor in accidents where serious injury, death or disappearance occurs, or when serious damage to the vessel or another vessel occurs.  

     Failure to submit to a chemical test would result in the immediate suspension of the operator's boating privileges and the revocation of any public license issued by New York State for the operation of a public vessel.  Under provisions of the proposed law, operators would also face fines ranging between $2,500 and $5,000 for refusing to submit to a chemical test.

     Failure to submit to a chemical test could be used as evidence at any subsequent criminal or administrative hearing.   (S.4241, Senator Betty Little (R-C-I, Queensbury)

Removing Drivers’ License Impediments for Voluntary Emergency Personnel
     The Senate passed a bill that would allow junior drivers’ license holders who serve with volunteer fire and ambulance departments to drive at night to respond to emergencies. Under current law, junior license holders may not drive at night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 p.m. except when traveling to school, a job, or with a parent. By removing this impediment to service, this bill would encourage more young people to participate in emergency volunteer services and ensure they are able to participate fully, especially in rural areas where young volunteers play an important role in their communities. (S.5775, Senator James L. Seward (R-C-I, Oneonta)

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