Assemblymember Aravella Simotas introduced legislation this summer to strengthen consumer protections for New York’s energy consumers. Currently, the law provides certain protections for consumers with medical emergencies, the elderly, blind and disabled, and to all consumers during the cold weather period. The legislation would prohibit utility companies from terminating service during the winter months until the Public Service Commission can conduct a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of these consumer protection policies. The bill comes on the heels of an AARP study finding that despite consumer protections already in place, 321,995 utility shutdowns occurred in New York in 2010, including 50,809 in December, January, February, and March.
“The number of households that had their electricity and gas shut off by New York utility companies last year is staggering,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “In this economy, people are struggling to pay their energy bills more than ever. We owe it to our residents to have the Public Service Commission thoroughly assess the quality of our consumer protection laws.”
HEAP provides heating benefits to supplement a household’s annual energy cost and provides emergency assistance for households in a heat or heat related energy emergency. HEAP also assists with furnace repairs and/or replacements for households with inoperable heating equipment. To learn more about HEAP, call the NYCHRA Department of Social Services at (800) 692-0557 or the HEAP Hotline at (800) 342-3009.
For help weatherizing your home in order to lower energy costs, contact HANAC’s Weatherization Assistance Program at (718) 626-7575.
If you have a financial problem that prevented you from paying previous utility bills, you can negotiate a deferred payment plan with your utility company to allow you to pay the overdue amount in reasonable installments. For assistance obtaining a deferred payment plan, or for any other questions, please call our office at (718) 545-3889.
To find out about home heating assistance programs you may be eligible for and other tips for keeping your energy bills low during the winter, visit the “Heat Smart, New York” section of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority at http://www.nyserda.org/homeheating.
After learning that insufficient restrictions exist on toys containing hazardous materials in New York day care centers, Assemblymember Simotas authored legislation to ban “toxic toys” from such facilities throughout the state. Defining toxic toys as products covered in lead paint, created in unsanitary conditions, made of a contaminated substance, or stuffed toys not sufficiently wrapped when purchased, the bill would require that all day care centers meet appropriate safety standards to protect children.
“The least we can do for working parents is ensure that their children will not be exposed to harmful materials when left at a day care center,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “This bill would add a measure of security for those parents and clarify the definition of ‘toxic toys’ so that day care centers know what products they can and cannot purchase.”
The legislation comes on the heels of millions of toys being recalled over the past few years, including 10 million by Fisher-Price alone in 2010. Simotas discussed her bill, among other issues, at a recent public hearing held on child product safety, where she and her Assembly colleagues agreed that more needed to be done to protect children from potentially harmful toys. “I look forward to working with the Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee towards passing this bill and other initiatives aimed at making New York’s child-care facilities safer,” Assemblymember Simotas said.
To receive the latest news, recalls and safety alerts on a range of products and safety issues affecting children and families, sign up for the School Safety Alert Program at www.ClickCheckandProtect.org.
Since taking office, Assemblymember Simotas has continued to be an active presence in the western Queens community, increasing her outreach efforts recently with monthly “Mobile District Office” events.
Assemblymember Simotas began the series in September on Steinway Street between 25th and 28th Avenues, and visited the Marine Terrace and Central Astoria apartments near Astoria Park in October. She and her staff met with dozens of residents, handing out informational brochures on programs for senior citizens and homeowners, and fielding questions about topics ranging from unemployment to quality of life issues. Assemblymember Simotas will continue to hold mobile office hours each month in different locations throughout western Queens.
“While our door is always open to constituents, not everyone has the time or the ability to travel to our office if they need assistance,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “By bringing the office to them, we’re letting the members of our community know that we’re here to help and be a resource for them.”
One of Assemblymember Simotas’ top legislative priorities this year was making New York a safer place and increasing penalties on violent criminals and sex offenders.
In a disturbing incident that recently occurred at an Astoria public library, an unidentified man made inappropriate contact with a 7-year-old child. After learning that the penalty for this crime was only a misdemeanor, Assemblymember Simotas teamed up with City Councilman Peter Vallone, Jr. and State Senator Michael Gianaris to introduce legislation making the “forcible touching of a child” a felony.
“It is disturbing to learn that a child was victimized in a public library, a place intended to be a safe, comfortable learning environment,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “Those who prey on children are the worst kinds of criminals, and our laws should treat them as such.”
In addition to the forcible touching bill, Assemblymember Simotas introduced several other pieces of legislation aimed at making more information about registered sex offenders available to the public and allowing for harsher sentences on criminals who prey on children.
Assemblymember Simotas also took measures to protect law enforcement officials, collaborating with Senator Gianaris on a bill signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo that cracks down on criminals who attempt to obstruct felony investigations through the use and installation of explosive devices. The legislation responds to a nationwide surge in felons – especially drug traffickers – “booby-trapping” compartments in vehicles to hide contraband, placing investigating officers in danger.
“Our public safety depends on law enforcement officials being able to investigate criminal activity without the risk of being harmed by rigged devices intended to prevent them from discovering illegal products or activities,” Assemblymember Simotas said. “This law holds individuals who use these devices – and those who enable them – accountable and provides the men and women who serve and protect our communities with an added measure of security.”