Assemblymember James F. Brennan
Assemblymember
James F.
Brennan

Reports to the People

Fall 2007

Inside

•  Mass Transit Financial Crisis

•  Get Health Insurance Now!

•  2007 Legislation

•  Seniors Take Notice

•  Consumer Finance



Brennan Bills to Strengthen Regulation of Construction and Development Become Law

Governor Spitzer has signed two bills into law from a package of bills I authored as a way to assure that construction and development occur safely and comply with the building code and the zoning resolution.

These laws expand the Department of Buildings’(DOB) arsenal to protect public safety. They give DOB new power to crack down on the small minority of architects who file illegal building plans and they give DOB a way to ensure new buildings don’t go up at the expense of existing neighboring homes and properties.

The first bill, now known as Chapter 542, authorizes the Buildings Commissioner to refuse to accept plans from an architect who in the past was proven to have knowingly made false filings with the Buildings Department. The second bill, Chapter 664, requires contractors doing excavating of any sort to provide protection for adjacent properties. In addition, it requires contractors to carry insurance for damage caused by construction, demolition and excavation.

The two bills are part of my comprehensive legislative package to protect public safety by giving DOB more tools for enforcement and regulation of construction. The legislation has won wide support from community advocates, civic groups, community boards and borough presidents. The package grew out of lengthy citywide hearings I held in the fall of 2006 on the subject of the regulation of construction and development in NYC.

A third bill in this package was vetoed by Governor Spitzer. This bill required re-inspection and correction of hazardous violations if a developer failed to answer a summons. In spite of my disappointment, I am optimistic that we can work together with the Governor and the Mayor to achieve what we all want: safe construction, solid development, without harm to people or property. I expect to introduce a similar bill that will address concerns listed in the veto message in the coming session.




Local Rezoning and Historical
Landmarking Efforts Progress

Landmarks Preservation Commission Considers Fiske Terrace-Midwood Park Proposal

On October 16th, I testified on behalf of the proposal to designate Fiske Terrace and Midwood Park as an historic district. These “sister” neighborhoods have been actively pursuing historic district status for several years. Paula Paterniti, Barbara Parisi, Joel Berson, Nancy Beranbaum, Peter Bazeley, Kathy Titakis, Lois Jackson, William & Wendy Hall Maloney, Fred Baer, and many others have been instrumental in bringing this proposal to the fore. As the southern anchor of Victorian Flatbush, Fiske Terrace – Midwood Park is an area of beautiful historic homes on East 17th, 18th and 19th Streets and the Courts, bounded by Foster and Ocean Avenues, Avenue H and the subway tracks. In 2004, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Avenue H subway station house as a New York City Landmark and followed that action by putting the Fiske Terrace – Midwood Park proposal on the calendar. The hearing on October 16th was well attended and the presentation by the neighborhood leaders was compelling. Currently the Landmarks Preservation Commission is working on the requisite designation report for the area, which entails building by building research. It is our hope that the Commission will vote to designate Fiske Terrace – Midwood Park an historic district by the spring of 2008.

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Jim gave CB 14 District Manager Terry Rodie an award upon her retirement.

City Planning Commission Considers Flatbush Rezoning

Rezoning efforts for the greater Flatbush area are also under way. Community Board 14 expects to have New York City Planning’s proposal for zoning changes from Coney Island Avenue to Bedford Avenue sometime in early winter. Once Community Board 14 has City Planning’s proposal, a public hearing will be scheduled. I join Doris Ortiz, District Manager of CB14, in urging all Flatbush residents to attend this hearing and voice your concerns and interests regarding development in our area. Many community residents have worked closely with Flatbush Development Corporation to downzone Stratford Road and streets adjacent to Coney Island Avenue. Susan Siegel, Executive Director of FDC, along with many active residents including Glen Wolin, Richard Silverman, Petr & Jeanne Salidar, Henry Pinsker, Robert Gochfeld and other community residents such as Morris Sachs and Gary Sucher from Ditmas Park West, have worked to address many zoning concerns in the area. Currently, many of those blocks share Coney Island Avenue’s R6 zoning rather than the interior block’s R2 and R3 zoning. Downzoning these areas would prohibit additional six-story, multi-family dwellings and would protect the neighborhood from too many curb cuts and the paving over of front yards. While zoning changes will provide some contextual protection, landmarking will truly protect the historic value of this area. That is why I am supportive of the proposal to also give Ditmas Park West historic district status.

Flatbush 2030

The greater Flatbush area is one of Brooklyn’s gems. I have agreed to serve on the Advisory Board of “Imagine Flatbush 2030”, which is a demonstration project administered by the Municipal Art Society with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation. Flatbush Development Corp. is the local partner and I look forward to working along with many community stakeholders, to rise to the challenge of sustaining our city into the future while ensuring that the greater Flatbush area receives the attention needed to address problems of affordable housing, traffic and the challenges that a diverse and growing community must face.




Mass Transit Faces Financial Crisis

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My office has introduced bills to give the MTA $685 million next year to avoid a fare hike. Joining me at a press conference in support of this legislation are, from right to left, Senator Tom Duane, Borough President Marty Markowitz, Assemblymembers Hakeem Jeffries and Alec Brook-Krasny, and Senator Eric Adams.

With the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) proposing to raise fares and tolls by early next year, my office introduced two bills to give the MTA an extra $685 million from the state and city in next year’s state budget. These funds would be sufficient to block next year’s fare increase. The amounts roughly correspond to what would be needed to restore state and city support for the transit system to the level of the mid-nineties, i.e., about $700 million a year.

However, the MTA projects increasing deficits as the years continue, from $900 million in 2008, to $1.3 billion in 2009, $1.8 billion in 2010, and $2.1 billion in 2011. The MTA has said it needs an additional $600 million a year in government support by 2010 to limit its budget to just two fare hikes in the next three years. Many legislators, including myself, are calling on the MTA to postpone fare hikes until the state budget is considered this winter. The recent announcement by Governor Spitzer to hold the base fare at $2 does not adequately address the situation since most riders use the discounted fares.

The MTA’s capital budget (new projects and renovations to keep the system up) will also be considered next winter. The MTA also faces a massive shortfall in funding for major new projects (2nd Avenue subway, East-Side access), renovations to put every station in good repair, and purchases of new buses to improve the system. The cost of these projects has been estimated at $22 billion, of which current funding has been identified for only $5.5 billion. Our city and region’s mass transit and transportation problems will be on the agenda all winter.




GET HEALTH INSURANCE NOW!

How to apply for Family and Child Health Plus:

Family Health Plus offers comprehensive public health insurance – including preventive and primary care, hospitalizations and prescription drugs – for single adults, parents, and couples with children who meet the following income and resource guidelines:

Family Health Plus 2007
Income and Resource Levels
# in Family Monthly
Net Income
Resources
(not including home or car)
Single adult $851/month $12,600
Couple without children $1,141/month $16,200
Single with child $1,712/month $16,200
3 $2,147/month $19,800
4 $2,582/month $19,950

You must apply in-person for Family Health Plus at a local Medicaid office or with a facilitated enroller. For more information, call my district offices or Family Health Plus at 1-877-934-7587.

Child Health Plus provides comprehensive health insurance coverage for uninsured children whose family income is higher than allowed for Medicaid. You may apply through a facilitated enroller or directly with a local insurance provider, and “Growing Up Healthy” applications are available online at www.nyhealth.gov. For more information, call Child Health Plus at 1-800-698-4543.

photo I helped Brooklyn HealthWorks by getting the state to approve expanding this program.

New State Health Program Helps Insure Brooklyn Small Business Employees

Brooklyn HealthWorks is a low-cost health insurance plan designed for uninsured small businesses throughout Brooklyn, offered by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce in partnership with GHI and the New York State Insurance Department. It provides comprehensive health coverage to employees and family members of Brooklyn businesses that 1) have previously not provided coverage or have contributed little to premiums and 2) employ at least some lower-wage workers. The program was launched in April 2004 after many years of planning and development. For more information, contact Dean Mohs (dmohs@brooklynchamber.com) or Theresa Reyes (treyes@brooklynchamber.com) at the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce (718-875-1000).

Medicare Part D and the New York State EPIC Program

You can have EPIC as well as Medicare Part D, and EPIC will provide wrap-around coverage of deductibles, co-payments, gaps and prescription drugs not covered by your Medicare Part D plan. For a simple mail-in application or more information, call my office or EPIC at 1-800-332-3742.

Medicare Part D Open Enrollment Period

From November 15th to December 31st, 2007, seniors are allowed to change their Medicare Part D plans. This is a good time to review your current coverage and options, since Medicare Part D plans can change their formularies, costs and benefits. Check the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder at www.medicare.gov to see which plans cover the medications you use. You can enroll in a new plan online at www.medicare.gov or call 1-800-MEDICARE (800 633-4227).

Medicaid

Medicaid provides comprehensive health insurance coverage for very low-income individuals and families. If you think you qualify (under $700/month for single adult, with resources under $4200 not including house or car), you should apply at your local Medicaid office or with a facilitated enroller. For more information, call my district office or Medicaid at 1-800-541-2831.




2007 LEGISLATION

Crackdown on Human Trafficking

Human trafficking occurs when people – mostly women and children – are transported across borders and subjected to ongoing sexual exploitation or forced labor through coercion or threat. In some cases, physical force is used. In other cases, false promises are made regarding job opportunities or marriages in foreign countries. Once enslaved, victims are sometimes drugged and beaten into submission, and have their travel documents and IDs confiscated or destroyed to make it harder for victims to escape or for authorities to track them down.

A recent CIA report estimated that between 45,000 to 50,000 women and children are brought to the United States every year under false pretenses and are forced to work as prostitutes, abused laborers or servants.

This year a law was enacted to crack down on the practice of human trafficking. It included:

  • creating a new class B felony, “sex trafficking,” which imposes a mandatory prison sentence for perpetrators who profit from prostitution by engaging in sex trafficking;

  • adding a new class D felony, “labor trafficking,” to the penal code, with a penalty of up to 7 years in prison;

  • making it illegal for travel-related businesses to facilitate the patronizing of prostitution, regardless of whether it’s legal in foreign jurisdictions;

  • putting those convicted of sex trafficking on the sex offender registry;

  • directing the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance to coordinate the provision of services to sex trafficking victims, including temporary housing, health and mental health treatment and drug addiction treatment;

  • ensuring that sex trafficking victims are eligible for services from the Crime Victims Board; and

  • increasing the penalty of “patronizing a prostitute” from a class B misdemeanor to a class A misdemeanor.

Ethics Reform

A landmark ethics reform package that will curtail gifts from lobbyists to legislators and created a comprehensive watchdog agency to ensure the integrity of state government was signed into law in March. Specifically, the package:

  • bans virtually all gifts of more than a nominal value from registered lobbyists to public officials, and expands the gift ban so that lobbyists who appear before boards that include unpaid board members cannot give gifts to those unpaid board members;

  • strictly limits lobbyists from paying for or reimbursing travel and accommodation expenses of a public official;

  • strengthens the revolving door provisions that apply to legislative employees by prohibiting them from lobbying the Legislature for two years;

  • prohibits public officials from being paid for speeches;

  • prohibits elected officials and candidates for elected local, state or federal office from appearing in taxpayer-funded advertisements;

  • prohibits gifts from the spouses or children of lobbyists to the spouses or children of public officials in order to gain influence; and

  • requires lobbyists to list their actions seeking grants on their lobbying reports.

The measure also increases penalties for violations of the lobbying law and public officers law and creates a permanent watchdog on ethics issues by merging the Temporary State Commission on Lobbying and the State Ethics Commission into a new entity, the Commission on Public Integrity. This new commission has 13 members, with seven appointed by the governor, one by each legislative leader, one by the comptroller and one by the attorney general.


I joined these fire officers at the celebration of the centennial of Ladder Company 122 in Park Slope. I thanked the company for their sacrifice and service to the people of Brooklyn and the city. photo

photo I am being thanked by the Coalition of Institutionalized Aged and Disabled for winning $3.8 million to air condition adult homes in the state budget.



Seniors . . . Take Notice

SCRIE (Renters)

Senior citizens (at least 62 years of age) living in a rent-regulated apartment may be eligible to participate in the Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption Program (SCRIE). As a New York City resident, you are eligible for this program if your combined household income is no greater than $27,000 and your rent is at least one-third of your income. My office can help you determine your eligibility and assist you in the paperwork necessary to apply for this benefit.

SCHE (Homeowners and Cooperators)

For seniors (65 and older) who own their home (1-, 2- or 3-family house, condominium or cooperative), SCHE is a program to provide a partial property tax exemption of up to 50% depending upon your adjusted gross income. Those whose income is no greater than $27,000 can get the full 50%; eligible households of up to $35,400 may qualify for a lesser amount. Homeowners who receive SCHE automatically receive Enhanced STAR, which provides an additional exemption above that of SCHE. My office has the forms necessary to apply for these programs, too.




Consumer Finance

Everyone should be aware of tax cuts that the Legislature passed a year ago to lower the burden New York families face. As New Yorkers head to file their 2007 taxes they should look for tax relief that includes a maximum $330 child tax credit for each child ages 4 to 17 and an end to the marriage penalty. With the cost of energy at an all time high, filers can also look forward to energy credits.

New Yorkers are already enjoying tax cuts which include the elimination of the state sales tax on clothing and shoes under $110. We also authorized New York City to eliminate its 4% sales tax on clothing and shoes regardless of cost.

At the beginning of the new year, millions of Americans expect refund checks and many want their money quickly to pay bills and daily expenses without getting deeper in debt. However, I’m urging consumers not to turn to refund anticipation loans (RALs) to receive all or part of their refund a few weeks earlier than expected. RALs are not tax refunds; they are short-term loans against the taxpayers’ anticipated refunds and many tax services charge exorbitant interest rates for them. Tax preparation companies that promote these loans often prey on the poor and convince unaware consumers to unnecessarily borrow against their own money.

If you file electronically or e-file, you can receive your refund in half the time and not pay interest rates or other fees. For information on electronic filing, visit the Internal Revenue Service site at www.irs.gov or the State Department of Taxation and Finance at www.tax.state.ny.us.

Protecting Your Credit

With heightened concern over identity theft and an increased need to protect one’s credit and private information, consumers should be aware that as of September 1, 2005, New Yorkers can get a free copy of their credit report. To further protect consumers, the state Legislature passed a law that I proposed to require public and private organizations to notify customers when their private information has been breached (Ch. 442 of 2005). And last year the Assembly enacted a law to allow consumers to “freeze” their credit report to guard against identity theft (Ch. 63 of 2006).

With more and more depending on your credit report, make sure you are in control of your personal finance records. To order your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call (877) 322-8228.

Home EquityTheft Prevention Act

Many homeowners who are in default or who are facing foreclosure are being approached by persons or businesses who promise to help “save” their home. Unfortunately, many of these promises are actually scams which manipulate homeowners into transferring the title to their property or selling the home for a pittance. A new law, effective February 1, helps protect homeowners from deed theft and “foreclosure rescue” scams which result in the loss of their homes and the equity they have built over the years in their home (Ch. 308 of 2006).


Assemblymember James F. Brennan Assemblymember James F. Brennan
Offices:
416 Seventh Ave. • Brooklyn, NY 11215 • 718-788-7221
1414 Cortelyou Road • Brooklyn, NY 11226 • 718-940-0641
Room 842 LOB • Albany, NY 12248 • 518-455-5377
E-mail:

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