The State Legislature has until April 1 to pass a budget on time. It is expected it will pass on time again this year, which is good news. There is still much to be decided, not the least of which is funding for schools. I'm in support of a more equitable school aid distribution system. We need to give our low-wealth schools the resources they need to meet state and federal education requirements and provide our kids with a sound education.
We also need to provide more state mandate relief by passing meaningful Medicaid reform. The lion’s share of our counties’ budgets goes to pay for Medicaid. In Oswego County, the cost is estimated at 66% of the total budget. In Onondaga County, costs were estimated at $100 million in 2011—the largest portion of its budget as well. It is a similar picture in other counties across the state. A number of years ago, the state did cap the local share of the growth of Medicaid. The counties should not be responsible for any more increases in Medicaid.
There are many decisions which will be made within the next couple of weeks. I have heard from many of you, and it helps me in these weeks where tough choices will need to be made. I am grateful this budget we're considering does not propose new taxes and is not expected to substantially increase spending.
DNA Expansion Signed into Law
I was pleased to support expanding the DNA databank. This was signed by the Governor on March 19. I have advocated for expanding the DNA databank for a long time. I was happy to see this finally become law. We have the technology to use DNA to identify criminals. Law enforcement should be able to use this valuable tool to do their jobs. This also will enable those wrongly accused to be exonerated.
History has proven that violent criminals don't specialize in one kind of crime and are often convicted of lesser crimes before committing other, more serious, offenses.
Anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor will need to provide a DNA sample. Current law only requires those convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors to submit a DNA sample. Some opponents have voiced concerns about this infringing on civil liberties, but law enforcement has been collecting fingerprints for years. DNA databanks just expand the current law enforcement tradition of collecting fingerprints. Since its launch in 1996, New York State's DNA databank has been a powerful tool both for preventing and solving crimes - including more than 2,900 convictions. DNA evidence has helped exonerate 27 New Yorkers who were wrongfully convicted and countless suspects cleared early-on in investigations. In addition, the new law also expands defendants' access to DNA testing and comparison--both before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, as well as after conviction where innocence is claimed.
Road Safety Reminders
There have been a number of warm weather days and record breaking temperatures this month. People are out enjoying the weather and, for some, that means getting out their motorcycle. Unfortunately, there have been a number of bad motorcycle accidents, including two fatalities and at least one serious injury involving motorcycles. I wanted to remind you to drive safely and to share the road with motorcycles to the best of your ability. Here are some basic road safety tips offered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- A motorcycle is a vehicle with all of the rights and privileges of any other motor vehicle.
- Always allow a motorcyclist the full lane width—never try to share a lane.
- Perform a visual check for motorcycles by checking mirrors and blind spots before entering or exiting a lane of traffic, and at intersections.
- Always signal your intentions before changing lanes or merging with traffic.
- Don’t be fooled by a flashing turn signal on a motorcycle – motorcycle signals are often not self-canceling and riders sometimes forget to turn them off. Wait to be sure the motorcycle is going to turn before you proceed.
- Allow more following distance - three or four seconds - when behind a motorcycle so the motorcyclist has enough time to maneuver or stop in an emergency.
- Never tailgate. In dry conditions, motorcycles can stop more quickly than cars.
Motorcyclists can increase their safety by:
- Avoiding riding in poor weather conditions;
- Wearing brightly colored protective gear and a DOT-compliant helmet;
- Using turn signals for every turn or lane change, even if the rider thinks no one will see it;
- Combining hand signals and turn signals to draw more attention to themselves;
- Using reflective tape and stickers to increase conspicuity; and
- Positioning themselves in the lane where they will be most visible to other drivers.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling (315) 598-5185.