reports to
the people

Fall 2004

Agreement on terrorism law brings New Yorkers added safety New rules to aid in preparedness, response, recovery

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney has announced that the Assembly, Senate, governor and attorney general have reached agreement on a historic bill designed to improve New York’s response to terrorism-and fend off attacks before they can be carried out.

“Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there are people out there only interested in spreading death and destruction. In this state, though, we know too well that those people exist-and they’re aiming for us,” Sweeney said. “We have to be on our toes. This law beefs up preparedness, gives law enforcement tools they need to hunt these murderers down, and helps us be prepared for the worst.”

The bill, which the governor has said he will sign, takes a complete view of disaster readiness. Whether in response to a terrorist act, a natural disaster, or some other sort of mass-emergency, the bill gives New York’s front line defenders the training and skills they need to effectively and efficiently respond. Just as important, it improves security in some of the most vulnerable areas.

The bill:

  • establishes the State Office of Homeland Security to coordinate anti-terrorism efforts;
  • expands the availability of hazardous material training to first responders;
  • requires a review of security in and around chemical plants; and
  • makes public-and private-use airports more secure.

“It’s simple: in an emergency, the more prepared you are in advance, the more you can help,” Sweeney said. “We already know we’ve been targeted once. We have to assume we’ll be targeted again. Knowing that, we have to be as ready as possible.”

The bill also deals severely with captured terrorists, toughening sentences to ensure that those convicted of terrorism-related crimes will not be free to target us again. The bill:

  • creates the crimes of criminal possession and criminal use of a chemical or biological weapon, including sentences of mandatory life imprisonment without parole for class A-1 offenders;
  • eliminates the statute of limitations on dangerous terrorism crimes;
  • dramatically increases the penalties for terrorism-related money laundering; and
  • amends the state’s wiretapping and eavesdropping laws to give law enforcement authority to listen in on terrorism suspects-and interrupt their plots.

“I’d much rather be prepared for an attack that doesn’t happen than unprepared for one that does,” Sweeney said. “We have to be ready-and that means giving defenders and responders alike the tools they need to get the job done. That’s exactly what this bill does.”

Suffolk Community College
Championship Teams Visit Albany

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney welcomed two championship teams from Suffolk County Community College to the State Capitol, where they were introduced and honored on the floor of the State Assembly and Senate. The teams offer a unique blend of outstanding academics and athletics.

The Suffolk Community College West Speech and Debate team was victorious at the 2004 State Championship in Speech and Debate. This marks the second straight year that Suffolk West has won this prestigious title. They are the first two-year school to be honored as champions of the tournament and are the very first community college to win for two consecutive years during the tournament’s 59 consecutive years of operation. Local residents on the team included Elizabeth Arcuri and Megan Gilroy of Lindenhurst, and Nancy Hernandez of Copiague.

The basketball Clippers of Suffolk County Community College were victorious in the NJCAA Division III national men’s basketball championship for the second year in a row. The Clippers have the longest winning basketball streak in the nation and will enter next season with 52 straight wins, the fourth longest streak in junior college basketball history. This year the team’s record was 34-0. Justin Hubbard of Wheatley Heights and Marcell Bryant of Deer Park were both members of the team.

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney participated in the 11th annual “Stamp Out Parkinson’s Disease” walk at Belmont Lake State Park, sponsored by the Suffolk Chapter of the American Parkinson’s Disease Association.

Pictured (left to right) are Monsignor Tom Hartman, Babylon Town Councilman Wayne Horsley, APDA Suffolk President Virginia Cravotta, Assemblyman Sweeney and Rabbi Cy Lowenheim. To contact the APDA Suffolk chapter call 862-3560.

In a ceremony at the Santapogue School in West Babylon Assemblyman Bob Sweeney presented the President’s Volunteer Service Award to twenty three students who had completed a minimum of fifty hours of community service and volunteer work in the past year. The students also received a certificate from Volunteers for Babylon. Pictured are the students with Assemblyman Sweeney, teacher JoAnn Saladino, Santapogue Principal Eleanor Levy, and West Babylon School Superintendent Mel Noble.

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney recently joined with the Governor, other state legislators, and hundreds of New Yorkers in dedicating the New York State Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Memorial at the Empire State Plaza in Albany. Assemblyman Sweeney sponsored the legislation to build the memorial, and secured funding for it. The memorial honors EMS members who have lost their lives in the line of duty. Pictured at the Memorial are Assemblyman Sweeney and Mike Mastrianni, President of the New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association.

Sweeney Funding Will Make Suffolk More
Energy Efficient, Save Dollars

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney has announced that he has secured funding to provide Suffolk County with an energy efficiency expert whose main function will be to ensure that the County is at the forefront of energy conservation efforts.

The energy efficiency expert’s responsibilities will include exploring emerging technology to mitigate operating budget increases; recommending energy efficient improvements in all major building renovations and preparing energy efficient designs; implementing random energy projects; performing energy audits; overseeing programs to reduce electrical and thermal energy use at County facilities; providing for continued monitoring of energy performance; promoting the purchase of U.S. E.P.A. Energy Star rated equipment and the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED); recommending a pilot Energy Benchmarking program at selected County facilities; and assisting Suffolk County in developing energy conservation measures and recommendations.

According to the County, no energy audit has been done by them for at least 15 years.

A unique feature of this program is that the energy efficiency expert will be available to local municipalities and school districts to review their energy efficiency practices and procedures and recommend ways in which they can embark upon energy efficiency projects.

“This is an exciting new project that I believe will be very productive for the County and local governments in promoting energy efficiency and saving tax dollars,” said Assemblyman Sweeney. “It has been a pleasure working with County Executive Steve Levy to develop this new initiative,” Sweeney concluded.

Increased Oversight Of Schools Announced In Response To Long Island Financial Scandals

New York State Comptroller Alan Hevesi has announced a program to increase oversight of schools statewide in response to scandals at several Long Island districts. Hevesi was joined in support by members of the State Assembly and Senate and educational organizations, including the New York State School Boards Association and the New York State Council of School Superintendents.

“Most school district officials are honest, hard-working professionals and most schools are well managed. Their job is made more difficult by the few who steal,” Hevesi said. “The initiative I’m announcing today will help ensure there is a culture of accountability and integrity in all our schools.”

Hevesi announced a four-part school oversight initiative:

  • Ensure strong internal controls. Strong internal financial controls in every school district are the primary and most effective measure for preventing and catching fraud. The ultimate responsibility for instituting and monitoring such controls rests with the local school boards. To assist them, the State Comptroller’s Office will work to develop an educational program for school officials on internal controls and fraud detection.
  • Improve the effectiveness of independent audits. The annual audits by outside CPA firms required by law for every school district should be a second level of deterrence. Going forward, OSC will randomly audit these audits to determine if they are conducted properly. OSC will also train local school board officials on how to get the most from these audits. In cooperation with the State Education Department and the State Society of CPAs, the Office will promote a review of audit regulations and standards.
  • Increase state audits. Using current staff, Hevesi has ordered five immediate Long Island school audits. The districts will be selected based on information provided by DAs, school officials and other sources. Hevesi also asked the Governor and Legislature to provide funding to increase the number of school district audits conducted by his office. Assemblyman Sweeney has announced his support of this funding.
  • Increase investigations. Hevesi ordered his recently-created Investigations Division to focus on school district activity and to utilize the relationships it has already created with law enforcement organizations to aid them in their investigations. The Division will be available to provide assistance to the Nassau and Suffolk District Attorneys in their investigations.

“There is no single measure that by itself can guarantee an end to fraud in our schools. Only having every level of government work together and by encouraging school employees and the public to report suspicious activities can we send the clear message that the few dishonest school district officials are likely to be caught and suffer the consequences,” Hevesi said.

In a related development, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) has announced that New Yorkers can now use the Internet to report allegations of waste, corruption, mismanagement or abuse in State or local governments.

The Investigations Division of the Office of State Comptroller, which Comptroller Alan Hevesi created when he took office in January 2003, will evaluate and where appropriate investigate allegations, whether they relate to State agencies, public authorities, local governments or vendors doing business with the State. The Division may also refer allegations to law enforcement agencies, State auditors, or other authorities.

Citizens can send in referrals by clicking on the “Stop Fraud” icon at the Comptroller’s website: The website includes the e-mail and contact numbers for key Investigation Division personnel, as well as an online complaint form.

New Criminal Justice Measures Approved

The New York State Assembly and Senate have passed a series of new bills that will strengthen New York’s criminal justice system, according to Assemblyman Bob Sweeney. The bills include:

  • Expansion of New York State’s DNA database to include all persons convicted of sex-related crimes covered by Megan’s Law and approximately 50 other violent or threatening crimes.

    “Modern technology and DNA have enabled police to solve crimes that once would have gone unsolved. The agreement to expand New York’s DNA database will help solve more crimes and put dangerous criminals behind bars,” Sweeney said.

    nder the new agreement, any person convicted of a felony or misdemeanor offense or sexual assault offenses under Megan’s Law and a range of other crimes must provide a DNA sample for inclusion in the state’s databank.

    And to protect the rights and lives of people who have been charged or even convicted-but may be innocent-the legislation would assist those wrongly convicted to use DNA evidence to prove their innocence.

    “DNA has revolutionized criminal investigations around the world. DNA evidence at crime scenes can be quickly matched to our state’s genetic databank to identify-or eliminate-suspects in criminal enforcement,” Sweeney said. “Expanding New York’s DNA database will assist law enforcement to identify and prosecute criminals.”

  • Putting murderers of children behind bars for life. This bill imposes mandatory life sentences without parole for people convicted of murdering a child in the course of committing a sex crime.

    "We must protect our communities and punish those who prey on innocent children,” Sweeney said. “This legislation ensures that those criminals who commit the most heinous crimes against children never have the opportunity to live outside prison walls again.”

    The Assembly’s legislation changes current law. Current law allows those convicted of murder during a sex crime to be released after finishing their prison sentence. The bill also expands the punishment to include those convicted of inflicting the crime on a child under the age of 14. While the new guidelines would require mandatory life without parole for these offenders, they do not rule out the possibility of more severe penalties.

  • Toughening penalties for public lewdness. Assembly passage of this bill is designed to combat public lewdness, a class B misdemeanor, and help deter more serious crimes from developing. The bill extends the probation period from one year to up to three years for offenders.

    ‘Public lewdness is a serious offense and should be punished accordingly,” Sweeney said. “By extending the probation period, courts can decide the proper punishments for offenders-especially repeat offenders.”

    Courts often require treatment as part of the probation process to reduce repeat offenses and deter more serious offenses. Assemblyman Sweeney noted that a significant number of sex offenders admit to having committed acts of public lewdness earlier in their lives. With the probation period extended, offenders can be required to undergo a far more extensive treatment program.

    “Requiring an extended period of probation is the best way to ensure that treatment is successful and more serious crimes are avoided in the future,” Sweeney said. “It will help to make our communities safer.”

  • Protecting more children from courtroom trauma. This legislation would increase from 12 to 14 the age at which certain child witnesses can testify by live, two-way closed circuit television in sexual offense or incest proceedings.

    “For a child witness testifying in sex offense cases, the experience can be psychologically damaging,” Assemblyman Sweeney said. “Testifying outside of the courtroom can make it easier on children because they don’t have to face the defendant. The Assembly’s legislation would make it so 13-and 14-year olds could testify by television in certain cases.”

    Currently, child witnesses 12 and under can be afforded this protection. There are several factors that determine the vulnerability of a child witness, including:

    • the severity of the crime;
    • whether the defendant was an authority figure over the victim;
    • whether the victim and defendant lived in the same home;
    • whether threats were issued to the victim; and
    • whether a weapon inflicted injury on the victim.

    “For children who are sexually abused, the crime itself is enough to cause severe mental or emotional problems,” Sweeney said. “There is no reason more harm should be done by having young victims face the intense pressure of a courtroom. I strongly urge the governor to sign this bill into law so 13-and 14 year olds can be protected from this damaging situation.”

All of these bills have passed both the Assembly and Senate, and the Governor is expected to sign them all into law.

In addition, the Assembly has taken the lead on “John Doe” indictments to help prosecute rape cases. The Assembly bill provides a statutory means for prosecutors to indict rape and sexual assault suspects identified solely by DNA evidence left at crime scenes. These “John Doe” indictments stop the clock on the statute of limitations and assure full prosecution when the criminal is caught.

“John Doe” indictments are a powerful means to assure that law enforcement may solve sexual assault cases no matter how long it takes,” Assemblyman Sweeney said. “Rapists and violent criminals who commit these vicious attacks should not have a time limit on justice.”

The Assembly bill would establish a special program to assist police and prosecutors in expediting the processing of DNA evidence, and adopt statewide standards for the storage and use of DNA samples to ensure that no evidence is discarded or lost due to improper handling. The legislation is also designed to assure that those who are wrongly convicted of crimes may use DNA evidence to prove their innocence, making sure that the right person is behind bars.

“Victims of sexual assault should know that all the resources available to law enforcement will be used to solve their cases. Highly-reliable genetic evidence allows us to aggressively prosecute criminals, long after a crime is committed,” Sweeney concluded. “This legislation will help solve cases that otherwise might lay dormant for years-giving victims the assurance that justice will be served. I urge the governor and the Senate to support this important measure.”

In a ceremony held at the Babylon Town Hall Assemblyman Bob Sweeney presented the President’s Volunteer Service Award to Thomas Spinelli of North Babylon for his work with the St. Joseph’s Church youth group; Courtney Slack, Taylor Morgan Davis, Julia Beckman and Teresa McArdle of Girl Scout Troop 1114 of Amityville; and Jennifer Espada for community service with her Girl Scout Troop.

Assembly Takes Action On
Pension Reform Bill
Bill Frees Up Money
For Local Governments

The Assembly gave final legislative passage to legislation aimed at providing critical relief to local governments hit hard by dramatic pension increases and thereby also reducing the property tax burden on homeowners.

Under the provisions of the legislation, the result of a bipartisan four-way agreement among Gov. George Pataki, state Comptroller Alan Hevesi and the state Senate and Assembly, local governments across New York will witness up to $1.2 billion in much-needed savings in their current fiscal year.

Comptroller Hevesi helped devise the proposal, which will strengthen the system and keep property taxes in check.

The plan will change the due date for local governments to pay retirement contributions from December 15 to February 1 of the year after the payment statement is issued.

This would provide a one-time cash flow benefit of about $980 million to approximately 1,100 local governments.

It also modifies the annual amortization payments due for state fiscal year 2004-05 by making the first payment due on Feb. 1, 2006, instead of Dec. 15, 2004.

That will save local governments up to $172 million in 2004.

In addition, the annual loan repayment term would be changed from 5 years to 10 years and the 8 percent interest rate could be adjusted by the comptroller to a lower market rate.

Currently, that rate is approximately 5 percent.

The proposal also includes technical improvements.

It allows municipal governments to set up reserve funds for future pension contributions.

The Assembly’s proposal would also save the state money by making its first pension payment due March 31, 2006 instead of March 31, 2005.

In short, this plan provides relief to local governments hit hard by skyrocketing pension costs and reduces the property tax burden on hard-working New Yorkers.

“This bill is the result of efforts we have been making for many months to address the issues,” said Assemblyman Sweeney, Chair of the Assembly Local Governments Committee. “The legislation will provide financial relief to about 1,100 local governments in New York State both this year and next,” Sweeney added.

The bill has been signed into law.

Eoin Daniel Morgan of Belfast, Northern Ireland, was a visitor to New York through the Project Children Foundation. Eoin spent the summer learning about America in the home of William and Tara Fries and their family. Assemblyman Bob Sweeney presented Eoin with a New York State Assembly citation, and the two exchanged national flags.

Legislature Approves Sweeney Initiative to Reduce Local Cost of Medicaid

The New York State Assembly and Senate have approved legislation to limit the rising costs of Medicaid paid by local taxpayers who are required by state law to fund a significant portion of New York’s $42 billion program.

This legislation follows the introduction by Assemblyman Sweeney earlier this year of the Local Taxpayer Relief Act of 2004 addressing this issue. Sweeney chairs the Assembly’s Committee on Local Governments.

The newly approved plan would require the State to pick up the total local cost of the Family Health Plus program, which is part of the Medicaid budget.

That action would save counties about $200 million in 2005, and double that amount in 2006.

For Suffolk County that would mean nearly $7 million next year and $14 million thereafter.

Medicaid is a joint federal-state program providing health care services to the needy. New York is one of only two states that passes on a substantial portion of its Medicaid costs to counties. Under New York law, counties are required to pay 50 percent of the non-federal share of most Medicaid services except for long-term care, for which counties contribute 20 percent. This average 34 percent of the non-federal share of the program far exceeds the 15 percent paid by counties in North Carolina, the only other state requiring a substantial contribution by local taxpayers.

“New York’s Medicaid program, as it is structured today, can no longer be supported at the local level, especially through regressive property and sales taxes,” said Assemblyman Sweeney. “As a result of the growth of Medicaid in recent years, local taxpayers are struggling every year with higher taxes and a reduced level of county services with no end in sight.”

“This agreement is a major victory for property taxpayers tired of seeing their tax bills rise year after year to cover escalating health care costs,” said Assemblyman Sweeney.

This is the first time in New York history that the State has assumed such a large portion of local Medicaid costs.

“Everyone deserves access to quality, affordable health care, and the state has an obligation to provide it,” Sweeney said. “The Assembly has always maintained that you can’t squeeze taxpayers to the point where they’re being driven away, and we will continue fighting to make sure families get the services they need without bankrupting local governments and local taxpayers in the process.”

Minimum Wage Agreement Vetoed By Governor Assembly Overrides Veto

The New York State Assembly and Senate passed legislation to raise New York’s minimum wage to $7.15/hour in 2007 from the existing $5.15/hour.

The bill would establish a state minimum wage of $6/hour on January 1, 2005, $6.75/hour on January 1, 2006, and $7.15/hour on January 1, 2007.

Food service workers who routinely collect tips when rendering services would also receive proportionate increases in the sub-minimum wage, known as the tip wage. Under the legislation, the tip minimum wage for these employees would be raised from the existing $3.30 level to $3.85/hour on January 1, 2005, $4.35/hour on January 1, 2006, and $4.60 on January 1, 2007.

Subsequently, Governor George Pataki vetoed the legislation, and his veto was overridden by the Assembly on a 129-19 vote (with 100 votes needed to override). Assemblyman Bob Sweeney voted for the override. The bill has been referred to the Senate.

Sweeney cited a recent finding by the Economic Policy Institute that 68 percent of the workers who would directly benefit from a minimum wage increase are adults; women account for 60 percent of those earning less than $7.25/hour, and of those, almost half have children to clothe and feed.

“We should reward people who work full-time every day to support their family, but struggle to survive living paycheck to paycheck,” said Assemblyman Sweeney. “It’s unacceptable that they work full-time only to collect wages that keep them in poverty,” Sweeney concluded.