Fighting to Reduce Mercury Exposure: Assemblymember Kavanagh and two of his colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, chaired by Assemblymember Sweeney, held a public hearing in Albany on October 13th to examine measures to reduce mercury exposure in New York State. The hearing focused on the nature and extent of mercury pollution in New York’s environment as well as other sources of exposure, such as certain fish consumed as food and household and commercial products. Witnesses testified about steps that could be taken to reduce mercury’s adverse effects on human health and natural habitats around the State. Kavanagh had previously introduced legislation, bill A.00707, that aims to lessen the public’s exposure to mercury by prohibiting the use of mercury-containing gauges and the sale of mercury-containing thermometers in New York. Based on testimony received at the hearing, Kavanagh will continue to work with his legislative colleagues, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and various interested parties and advocates to pass legislation to reduce mercury exposure to the greatest reasonable extent.
Kavanagh Examines Accessible Voting Devices: On September 11th, Assemblymember Kavanagh, who chairs the Assembly’s Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement, visited the New York City Board of Elections for a demonstration of the ballot marking devices (BMDs) that the Board is deploying to improve access to the polls for voters with disabilities. The deployment of BMDs is part of a larger effort to bring New York into compliance with the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). The devices feature a wide variety of accessibility options intended to maximize the number of voters who will be able to vote in privacy and with confidence. Voters with disabilities can review the ballot on a video screen or by audio via headphones, and can cast their votes using buttons to scroll through the choices, a single toggle switch, or a breath control device, ultimately producing a paper ballot just as if it had been read and marked by hand. Over the next year, HAVA implementation is expected to be completed statewide, as election administrators replace old lever machines currently in use at most poll sites with optical scanning machines to electronically tabulate election results (paper ballots will be retained to verify the results when necessary).
East Side Officials Call for Tougher DHCR Oversight of Rent Increases Based on Major Capital Improvements: In a September 10th letter, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined with City Council Member Garodnick, Congress Member Maloney, State Senator Duane, and Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association (ST/PCV-TA) President Al Doyle to urge the Department of Housing and Community Renewal’s (DHCR) Commissioner Deborah VanAmerongen to scrutinize both new and pending applications for Major Capital Improvement (MCI) rent increases. From Met Life, who first owned the large East Side bastion of middle-class housing, to the current owners, Tishman Speyer, management has long levied rent increases upon its tenants for renovations to the complex that the ST/PCV-TA has frequently considered questionable. The letter requests that DHCR grant a meeting with the elected officials, and review all former and pending MCI applications, including those most recently delivered to tenants that reference walkways and roadbeds, water tanks, and carriage doors. Kavanagh will continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the tenants are treated fairly and directly, and that any unnecessary rent increases are prevented.
Kavanagh Calls for Close of “Personal Use” Loophole in Rent Laws: Assemblymember Kavanagh joined State Senators Duane and Squadron, Assemblymember Glick, tenants, and housing advocates on September 9th to call for the Senate to pass a bill that would close a major loophole in the State’s rent regulation laws. The bill, A.1685A/S.2642A, would limit a landlord’s ability to evict tenants for the purpose of using multiple tenants’ apartments to create a residence for the landlord. Specifically, the bill would restrict such evictions to cases of immediate and compelling necessity, permit the landlord to take only one apartment, and restrict evictions if the tenant has occupied the apartment for twenty years or more. Kavanagh is a prime sponsor of the bill, introduced in the Assembly by Housing Committee Chair Vito Lopez. The bill passed the Assembly on June 17th.
Kavanagh Joins Senate Colleagues to Hear Testimony on Voter Suppression Legislation and New Voting Machines: On the morning of October 5th, Assemblymember Kavanagh traveled to Yonkers to attend a hearing of the State Senate Elections Committee, chaired by Senator Addabbo, on voter suppression, the new voting machines currently being implemented across the State, and other election law topics. State Senator Stewart-Cousins, lawyers from the Democratic Lawyers Council (DLC), an organization that regularly monitors and fights voter suppression, and several witnesses testified about potential legislation and their experiences regarding voter suppression.
Kavanagh Celebrates Labor: On September 12th, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined thousands of working men and women for the Labor Day Parade. This year’s Grand Marshal was Lillian Roberts, Executive Director of District Council 37, and Gary La Barbera, President of New York Building & Construction Trades of Greater New York, served as Parade Chairman. The events were organized by the New York City Central Labor Council. Kavanagh began the day with the New York Catholic Archdiocese’s annual Labor Mass, celebrated by Archbishop Timothy Dolan at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral and attended by numerous labor leaders, rank and file workers, and elected officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Comptroller Bill Thompson, and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. The march up Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 72nd Street featured over 50,000 proud union card-carrying working men and women from 400 local unions, leading dignitaries and elected leaders, spirited marching bands, and patriotic floats. A moment of silence was observed to honor those killed in the September 11, 2001 attacks from the parade grandstand at 69th Street.
New Career and Technical Education Opportunities: Assemblymember Kavanagh would like to applaud the September 21st Department of Education (DOE) announcement regarding the creation of four demonstration site schools to model innovative practices in Career and Technical Education (CTE) throughout New York City. The demonstration site schools are also part of the NYC21C initiative, a research and development project dedicated to preparing secondary school students more effectively for higher education and career success. Kavanagh visited the Westinghouse Career and Technical Education High School campus in downtown Brooklyn, where the announcement occurred, on the 21st, along with Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, newly elected President of the United Federation of Teachers Michael Mulgrew, and other officials.
Kavanagh appreciates the DOE’s devel-opment of new opportunities for career and technical education as an important step toward providing excellent education to all of the City’s students. One of the new sites, Quest to Learn, resides in the 74th Assembly District on 225 East 23rd Street. Quest to Learn partners with the Institute for Play to use “game-like missions to frame learning for students in grades 6-12.” Kavanagh strongly supports the DOE’s CTE initiative and looks forward to working with Quest to Learn to make this program a success.
A Roundtable with Public Housing Residents and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: On October 10th, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined State Senator Squadron, Councilmember Mendez, public housing residents (including tenants of Straus Houses and 344 East 28th Street), advocates, and other government officials for a roundtable discussion. The group met to share community concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary Deborah Hernandez of the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and to discuss the direction of federal public housing policy.
Kavanagh Addresses Domestic Workers United Membership Meeting: On October 10th, Assemblymember Kavanagh spoke before an enthusiastic crowd gathered for a membership meeting of Domestic Workers United (DWU), an organization of nannies, housekeepers, and elderly caregivers working to promote fair labor standards and to end exploitation of such workers in New York. Kavanagh noted his long-standing commitment to promoting justice and equitable working conditions for domestic workers, including his work as a staff member with City Councilmember Brewer on a successful effort to enact the City’s Domestic Worker Protection Act in 2003. Kavanagh also discussed the fight in Albany to pass Assembly bill A1470A, introduced by Assemblymember Wright and co-prime sponsored by Kavanagh, which would include domestic workers in the State’s minimum wage, overtime, and anti-discrimination laws, require at least one day of rest each week, grant disability insurance to part-time domestic workers, and grant collective bargaining rights to domestic workers. Kavanagh congratulated DWU members on their advocacy for the bill, which passed the Assembly in June. The State Senate has not yet voted on the measure.
Community Mourns Loss of Repertorio Español Founder Gilberto Zaldívar: Gilberto Zaldívar, Founding President and Producer Emeritus of Murray Hill’s Spanish-language theater company, Repertorio Español, passed away on Tuesday, October 6th. Assemblymember Kavanagh expressed condolences to Robert Weber Federico, Zaldívar’s life partner and Repertorio’s Executive Director, and other family members and friends who gathered on October 9th at the theater to celebrate Zaldívar’s life and achievements and to mourn his passing. You can learn more about Zaldívar and the Repertorio Español at http://www.repertorio.org.
Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Goes Into Effect: On October 7th, legislative reform of New York State’s draconian Rockefeller drug laws went into effect. Under the new law, passed by the Assembly and the Senate and signed into law by Governor Paterson in April 2009, judges will have discretion to sentence certain lower-level, first-time felony drug offenders and lower-level, second-time, non-violent drug felons to probation, local jail time, or both – rather than long mandatory sentences in State prison required under the old law. The new law also includes provisions to strengthen drug-treatment programs as alternatives to prison; such alternatives will not be available for offenders who have committed a violent felony or sold drugs to minors.
The reforms, which have long been supported by Assemblymember Kavanagh, are intended to create a more humane, more effective, and far less costly system for addressing drug crimes, without compromising public safety. The Rockefeller-era laws have long increased the destructive force of drug addiction in our communities with high rates of incarceration and recidivism among non-violent offenders. The State, which spends about $45,000 per year incarcerating each drug offender in State prison, has identified 1,100 such offenders currently serving prison terms under mandatory sentencing who now will be eligible for judicial reconsideration of their sentences.
Governor Signs Bill to Improve Energy Efficiency and Create Green Jobs: In a significant victory for New York State residents, small business owners, and non-profit organizations – and everyone who cares about conserving energy and protecting our environment – the Governor signed the Green Jobs/Green New York Act of 2009 into law on October 13th. Assemblymember Kavanagh supported the measure when it passed the Assembly in mid-June and applauds the Governor’s decision yesterday to make the bill law. The bill is intended to promote widespread dissemination of energy conservation and clean energy technologies as a cost-effective way for communities to curtail emissions of greenhouse gases and harmful air contaminants, reduce dependence on fossil fuels, lower housing costs, support community development, and create green jobs to sustain and enhance our economy.
Installation of energy efficiency improvements to reduce energy waste and loss is a proven method that can pay for itself over reasonable time periods. However, lack of affordable and accessible financing for many property owners has hindered progress in fully realizing the promise of these technologies. Thanks to the Governor’s approval, this bill will authorize energy-efficient retrofits at no initial cost to property owners, with the capital cost to be repaid over time through the resulting energy savings, with an ultimate goal of improving the efficiency of at least one million residential units over the next five years.