Report to Community Board 3

October 27, 2009

Fighting to Reduce Mercury Exposure: Assemblymember Kavanagh and two of his colleagues on the Assembly Committee on Environmental Conservation, 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 has 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 Joins Senate Colleagues to Hear Testimony on Voter Suppression Legislation and New Voting Machines: On October 5th, Assemblymember Kavanagh traveled to Yonkers to attend a hearing of the State Senate Elections Committee, on voter suppression, the new voting machines currently being implemented across the State, and other election topics. 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.

Roundtable with Public Housing Residents and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: On October 10th, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined Senator Squadron, Councilmember Mendez, public housing residents advocates, and other government officials for a roundtable discussion organized by GOLES / PHROLES. The group met to share community concerns with Deputy Assistant Secretary Deborah Hernandez of the United States Department and Urban Development (HUD) and to discuss the direction of federal public housing policy. Kavanagh and the group visited Baruch Houses and Campos Plaza, discussed living conditions and community issues with residents, and examined serious maintenance problems in some apartments, including severe mold in the interior of apartments in Campos Plaza.

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: On October 13th, Governor Paterson signed into law the Green Jobs/Green New York Act, which Assemblymember Kavanagh strongly supported when it passed the Assembly in June. The Act will create green jobs and increase investment in green technology, such as energy efficiency improvements in residential and commercial buildings. Furthermore, the Act will diminish greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy costs. Kavanagh congratulates Governor Paterson on signing this important bill into law, as it will greatly benefit New Yorkers throughout the State and enable us to do our part to reduce our adverse impact on the global environment.

Kavanagh Addresses Domestic Workers United Membership Meeting: On October 10th, 2009, 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.

Kavanagh Meets with Erie County Election Commissioners: On October 1st, Assemblymember Kavanagh met with Erie County’s election commissioners in Buffalo for a discussion of Erie’s new paper ballot and optical scanner voting system. Under the new system, voters cast their votes on paper ballots similar to the answer sheets often used for standardized testing in schools. The ballots are then scanned immediately at the poll site so the votes can be tabulated when the polls close. The scanning machines also store all ballots cast, to maintain a verifiable “paper trail” that can later be used for recounts or audits of election results. Erie County has implemented the system, as a pilot program, in this past September’s primary elections, and will test it further in next month’s general elections. Paper ballot and optical scanner voting systems are currently scheduled to be deployed throughout New York State in time for the 2010 elections.

Congratulations to Father Arthur Wendel of Most Holy Redeemer Church on 50 Years of Service: On October 11th, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined parishioners of Most Holy Redeemer Church on East 3rd Street and friends and family of Father Arthur Wendel, C.Ss.R., celebrating his 50 years of service as a Roman Catholic priest. At a garden party that followed an English-Spanish bilingual mass in Father Wendel’s honor, Kavanagh made brief remarks and presented a proclamation of the New York State Assembly, also signed by Assembly Speaker Silver whose district also includes the parish.

Father Wendel’s family has been in Most Holy Redeemer parish continuously since 1888, when his grandmother emigrated to the Lower East Side from Germany. Born in 1933, Father Wendel graduated from Most Holy Redeemer elementary school and the Lower East Side’s LaSalle High School, and later earned degrees from Saint John’s University, Catholic University in Washington, and Manhattanville College. He has taught both high school and college and served for many years as a parish priest, including six years as pastor of Most Holy Redeemer, where he has lived and worked since 1996. He has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to social justice, especially through his work on behalf of homeless men and women, those addicted to drugs, and community residents living with HIV/AIDS.

Kavanagh Sponsors 2009 Teen Read Week: Assemblymember Kavanagh is proud to sponsor 2009 Teen Read Week, celebrated from October 18th through the 24th, an initiative of the Young Adult Library Association that encourages teens to read for enjoyment and enlightenment. This year’s theme is “Read Beyond Reality” and Kavanagh’s office is distributing brochures with reading suggestions for science fiction and fantasy books to local schools throughout the 74th Assembly District. Kavanagh, a strong supporter of education and literacy, urges all teens to take part in Teen Read Week 2009 and to read regularly throughout the year. For more information, please visit the Young Adult Literary Association’s website.

New Lower East Side Home for Community Access Clubhouse: On September 23rd, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined the leadership of not-for-profit mental health service provider, Community Access, and other community leaders for a ground-breaking ceremony for Club Access, the organization’s clubhouse program on the Lower East Side. Club Access serves individuals with mental disabilities, allowing them to feel welcome in the community. The new clubhouse at 242 East 2nd Street is expected to open its doors in February 2010 and will provide educational workshops, skills and job training programs, transitional employment opportunities, intramural sports, access to health services, and movie, theater, and museum visits.