Assemblymember Cahill: Year of Reform in Albany

June 25, 2005

Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D – Ulster, Dutchess) announced the end of the 2005 Legislative Session. "This year, New Yorkers sent their representatives to Albany with a very clear message to reform the way Albany conducts its business," said Assemblymember Cahill. "My colleagues and I began the year determined to bring a new level of openness, efficiency and accountability to our state government. I am pleased to announce that with the close of the Legislative Session, we have made significant strides towards accomplishing those goals."

For the first time in twenty years, the Legislature agreed upon and passed an on-time State Budget. From the moment the Governor presented his Executive Budget in January, the Assembly and the Senate worked diligently, holding budget hearings and convening Joint Conference Committees to come up with a budget that protected quality health care, enhanced education funding and promoted economic development. The final budget included education spending that will provide over $848 million more in funding to public schools than last year, and about $354 million more than the Governor had initially proposed. School districts within the 101st Assembly District will see a total of $117,988,658 in school aid, an increase of $10,498,65 in funding over 2004-05. The State’s fiscal plan also contains a cap on local Medicaid costs and the acceleration of the state takeover of Family Health Plus. The takeover coupled with the Medicaid cap will save Ulster and Dutchess Counties millions of dollars in the coming years.

"The fact that we were able to come to a budget agreement by the deadline opened the door to what turned out to be a very successful year," observed Mr. Cahill. "Without the budget hanging over our heads we were finally able to buckle down and address some major issues that have been outstanding for the past number of years."

Major Issues Resolved by the Legislature:

Help America Vote Act - The State Legislature reached a compromise on legislation to implement most of the measures necessary for New York to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The agreement, the result of the work of the Joint Conference on HAVA which Mr. Cahill served on, will allow New York State to access over $200 million in Federal funds in order to modernize our elections.

Procurement Lobby Reform – This measure will expand the lobbying law to cover lobbyists attempting to influence the awarding of state and local government contracts.

Ethics Reform – The Legislature acted to close a loophole in the Public Officer’s Law allowing the State Ethics Commission to continue to pursue individuals suspected of ethics violations after they have left public service.

Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) – Enacted earlier in the session, this new provision strengthens the FOIL by providing those making requests for information and the entities that must respond to such requests, with greater support and guidance. It will require state agencies to be more responsive and accountable to the public.

Emergency Contraception – If signed by the Governor law that would allow women needing Emergency Contraception (EC) – or the morning-after pill – to access it through a pharmacist or registered nurse without a prescription.

Direct Wine Shipment – The legislation will permit the shipment of wine from statewide wineries to customers nationwide.

Public Authority Reform – An agreement between the Governor and the Legislature will increase oversight over the State’s scandal plagued public authorities and public benefit corporations. Reforms include the creation of a public authorities inspector general, an Authority Budget Office, enhanced ethic’s standards for authority board members, independent audits of authority spending and new rules governing the sale of authority property.

Budget Reform – A constitutional amendment to reform the State’s budget process will be put before voters in November. If approved, reforms would add transparency to the budget process, create an Independent Budget Office (IBO) and provide for forward funding of education.

Gavel-to-Gavel Television Coverage of the State Legislature – An agreement reach between the Assembly and the Senate will provide for gavel-to-gavel cable coverage of the Legislature’s proceedings.

School District Audits – This legislation, if approved by the Governor, will increase the oversight of school districts statewide by requiring more intensive audits by the Office of the State Comptroller.

Hospital Infection Reporting – Under the new law, hospitals will be required to report infections acquired by patients while under their care. Increased reporting will help identify medical errors and enhance patient safety, thus saving lives and bringing down the costs of health care.

Stadium Support for the Mets and Yankees - The Legislature and the Governor agreed to provide $75 million in bonds to the project that will build a new Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and $75 million in construction funds for Shea Stadium in Queens.

Internet Drug Pricing – The measure will require drug retail price lists to be posted in a database on the website of the State Board of Pharmacy to be available to the public at all times.

Erie County – The Legislature voted to create the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority, with powers and duties relating to oversight of the fiscal affairs of the county.

Major Legislation Passed by the Assembly:

Bottle Bill - This legislation would expand the current bottle bill to include a 5 cent deposit on non-carbonated beverages such as sports drinks, teas and bottled water. It would also turn over unclaimed deposits, which are currently kept by distributors and bottlers, to the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.

Timothy’s Law – If acted upon in the Senate, the bill would ensure that mental health and chemical dependency coverage is provided by insurers and health maintenance organizations and is provided on terms comparable to other health care and medical services.

Rules Reform – At the onset of the Legislative Session a series of internal rules changes were adopted that dramatically improved the operations of the New York State Assembly.

Campaign Finance Reform – This comprehensive reform legislation proposes to create a voluntary system of public campaign financing for primary, general and special elections for statewide and legislative offices.

Legislation Passed by Assemblymember Cahill:

Flood Assessment Relief Act - The impact of the April floods brought about a level of devastation never before experienced for many residents throughout the affected regions. This law was passed in order to provide our communities with the opportunity to offer immediate relief to the victims of this natural disaster. The unprecedented amount of damage caused by the April floods led to the declaration of a Federal Disaster Area for numerous counties and forced hundreds of people from their homes. In most counties, a homeowner's property taxes are based upon the assessed value of their home as of a March 1st "taxable status" date. This relief measure gives counties the opportunity to allow for the valuation of property to reflect the actual value as it stands today for residents whose homes were severely impacted by the floods.

Public Utility Call Centers – If acted upon in the Senate, this legislation would direct public utilities to provide call center service assistance from centers located within the State and the service area. The measure would not only ensure that public utility customers receive assistance from individuals familiar with the service are, it will also help to keep jobs in New York State.

Pharmacist Citizenship - As the pharmacy profession moves toward an increased role in providing clinical services to patients, one of the greatest challenges facing the profession is a work-force shortage. The events of September 11, 2001 have made the process of applying for United States citizenship more difficult and time consuming. This legislation, if signed by the Governor, would give foreign born pharmacists the opportunity to continue practicing in New York State for one additional year while they attempt to attain citizenship status, as it is necessary to fulfill licensure requirements.

Poll Site Access - The Assembly has passed legislation that requires every polling place to be accessible to voters with physical disabilities and provides guidelines which shall be in accordance with the accessibility requirements mandated pursuant to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. The bill has unanimously passed the Assembly in each of the last three years. The Senate has thus far failed to consider it. "Our efforts to implement the Help America Vote Act in New York are intended to protect the voting rights of all citizens. It is unconscionable that fifteen years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, some polling sites in New York are still inaccessible to citizens with disabilities," said Mr. Cahill. "We are not only required by law, but we also have a moral obligation to ensure access for all voters. By closing down this session without an agreement we have failed to complete our obligation."

Americans with Disabilities Act Enforcement – If enacted, this law would clarify the scope of protections against discrimination on the basis of disability under the New York State Human Rights Law in the area of government services to be consistent with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the current policies and practices of the Division of Human Rights. The Senate has not yet passed this legislation.

Aroma Thyme Bistro – Already approved by the Governor, this measure will assist the Aroma Thyme Bistro, located in Ellenville, with certain burdensome licensure and regulatory requirements. With the new law in place, the Aroma Thyme Bistro can continue on their path towards becoming one of the premier restaurants in the region.

Towing of Disabled Vehicles – If signed by the Governor, this legislation will amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law to exclude the current ten-mile limit allowed on a controlled access highway when towing an over-length vehicle for the purpose of repairs or removal from a highway.

Verplank Tenant Farm House – Passed by both houses, this bill would allow the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to lease the Verplank Tenant Farm House, a historic structure, on the grounds of the Department's Stony Kill Farm Environmental Education Center in Dutchess County. The leasing of the farm house will help to facilitate its restoration.

Conclusion

"The reforms of the Legislature are just a beginning. We in Albany must continue to work to earn the trust and faith of the people of New York," said Assemblymember Cahill. "Despite the progress we made this year, there are still many issues that must be addressed, especially in the area of school funding reform and the elimination of school property taxes and the creation of a universal health care system to provide for the needs of all New Yorkers," Mr. Cahill concluded.