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Community Newsletter - December 2010

Happy Holidays from Team Kavanagh!

Kavanagh Joins Mayor Calling for Election Reforms

On December 6th, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh joined Mayor Mike Bloomberg, along with other elected officials and good government advocates, for a City Hall press conference to call for a series of reforms in New York State's election laws. Proposed changes to state law would create an early voting period, extend registration deadline and simplify ballot.

The Mayor's press release stated, "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg today announced a set of reforms designed to make voting more convenient and flexible for all New Yorkers and issued a report showing that New York has the most restrictive election policies in the country and decades of declining voter turnout. The proposal calls for four changes to New York State election law, including: creating an early voting period; allowing New Yorkers to fill out their ballots at home and bring to a polling site; modernizing registration process and extending registration deadline from 25 days to 10 days before Election Day; and simplifying the ballot design with plain language instructions. New York is the only state in the union that does not offer any of the following voter access reforms: early voting, no excuse absentee voting, same day registration, online registration or party switch within six months of a primary."

"I'm proud to join Mayor Bloomberg, our colleagues in government, and some of New York's great advocates for democracy in calling for these reforms. We've recently gotten some high-tech voting machines in New York, but voting here has not otherwise kept up with the times," said Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who chairs the State Assembly subcommittee responsible for election operations and voting rights. "Citizens have a right to expect that we'll do everything we can to make voting convenient and accessible. That means a far more reliable registration system, fewer arbitrary deadlines and restrictions on the time and method of voting, and ballots that are easy to read and use. Each of the voter friendly reforms we're calling for today is already the norm in many other states; I'm confident we can get them done here."

Legislature Passes Forceful Protection Against Wage Theft

On November 30th, the New York State Assembly gave final legislative approval to the Wage Theft Prevention Act (A.11726/S.8380), introduced by Assemblymember Carl Heastie and Senator Diane Savino. Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, a prime sponsor of the bill who had spoken in favor of immediate passage at an event organized by supporters on Monday, called the Assembly's action "a major victory for justice and decency in the way we treat workers, especially low-wage workers, in New York."

The Senate already passed the bill in the Spring. With Governor David Paterson's approval, the new legislation will protect many thousands of workers from employers who steal their wages by paying less than minimum wage, categorizing them improperly as independent contractors, or forcing them to work off the clock. While these practices are all illegal, penalties are minimal and enforcement mechanisms are limited under current law. The legislation will increase the penalties, give the Department of Labor and the courts new enforcement tools, and provide protection against retaliation when exploited workers come forward to complain about unscrupulous employers.

The National Employment Law Project estimates that more than $1 billion is stolen annually from workers just in New York City by employers who pay less than minimum wage, pay less than the compensation agreed upon, or fail to pay required overtime. The statewide figure is believed to be substantially higher.

Assembly Passes Moratorium on Controversial Gas Drilling

State Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh announced that he and his colleagues in the Assembly passed legislation (bill A11443B) that would enact a moratorium on the controversial gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking," for the extraction of natural gas. The State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has been moving toward a formal determination of whether, and in what circumstances, this kind of drilling should be permitted in New York. The moratorium, which has already passed the Senate, would be in place until May 15, 2011 and would allow the legislature to review DEC's determination and take appropriate action before any permits are issued.

Kavanagh, a prime sponsor of the bill and an active member of the Assembly's environmental committee, has been a strong and consistent advocate for ensuring that the State does not permit hydrofracking unless and until the process can be proven safe and the full environmental impact can be assessed and addressed.

Kavanagh Celebrates the Holidays with the Community

December 5th, Assemblymember Kavanagh joined the Turtle Bay Association (TBA) for the organization's annual holiday party and children's gift and toy drive. The festive event, which collected a large number of toys, books, and games that will be distributed by the Vanderbilt YMCA, God's Love We Deliver, and the Single Parents Resource Center, was held at Ashton's Alley, on East 50th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

On December 1st, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh joined Rabbi Chezky Wolff and Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village residents in lighting the menorah on the first night of Chanukah at the Peter Cooper entrance.

Columbia Street Improvement Comes to the LES

On December 3rd, Lower East Side residents and community leaders came together at 43-51 Columbia Street to celebrate a much needed sidewalk improvement. After years of struggle, the heavily transited and often dangerous Columbia Street sidewalk was finally repaired, avoiding future injuries to residents. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was on hand to celebrate this accomplishment, addressing the crowd along with resident activist Samuel Vasquez, District Leader Paul Newell, and Community Liaison Leslie Pena representing Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who was out of town attending an environmental policy conference. The event was supported by Baruch Houses Vice President Luther Stubbleflied, St. Mary's Church, Primitiva Christian Church, COMPAS, Senior BEST Program, Gompers Houses TA President Minerva Montez, the Grand Settlement, De Witt Reformed Church, Loisaida Inc., and Justice for the Lower East Side Inc.

New Lower East Side Visitors Center

A brief program and ribbon cutting marked the official opening of the Lower East Side Business Improvement District's (BID) new Visitors Center and offices at 54 Orchard Street between Hester and Grand Streets. The BID's Executive Director Bob Zuckerman and members of the board of directors were joined by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district includes the bulk of the BID's geographic area, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, who represents the rest of the area, State Senator Daniel Squadron, Councilmember Margaret Chin, Councilmember Dan Garodnick, and City Department of Small Business Services Commissioner Rob Walsh. In his remarks, Kavanagh spoke about the success of the BID in recent years in supporting and getting the word out about the unique local businesses in the Lower East Side community and providing services that are responsive to neighborhood needs.

Kavanagh Welcomes New Baruch College President Wallerstein

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh met with City University of New York's (CUNY) Baruch College President Mitchel B. Wallerstein on Friday, November 19th, to welcome Dr. Wallerstein as the new President. They discussed the tremendous success that Baruch has seen in recent years, Dr. Wallerstein's vision for the future, and the difficult budgetary challenges faced by CUNY, the City, and the State. Kavanagh expressed his strong commitment to supporting Baruch.

Kavanagh's Flu Shot Event Is a Huge Success

On, November 16th, Assemblymember Kavanagh and Visiting Nurse Service of New York co-sponsored the distribution of free flu shots at the Wald Houses Tenant Association Room. The event, which was intended to encourage seniors and other at risk persons to get a shot, brought in dozens of community residents.

Kavanagh, Squadron, Mendez and LES Advocates Fight for Historic Buildings

Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, State Senator Daniel Squadron, City Councilmember Rosie Mendez, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP), the East Village Community Coalition (EVCC), and several other community groups met on November 16th in front of the historic houses at 326 and 328 East 4th Street to call upon the Landmarks Preservation Commission to designate the buildings as landmarks. Landmark status would save these buildings from a proposed renovation project that would alter them beyond recognition. The 170 year old buildings, with their original details largely intact, were the first and only structures built on this property, and have been home to shipping merchants, a synagogue, and an artist collective. The proposed modifications would badly damage a modest yet important relic of New York's past.

Squadron, Kavanagh Announce New Clearer Standards to Reduce Blockage of Buses in New First and Second Avenue Bus Lanes

On November 22nd, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh, joined by community leaders and taxi drivers, announced new clearer standards regarding when drivers are permitted to enter bus lanes. On the first day that surveillance cameras will be used to enforce bus lane rules along First and Second Avenues, this information will help taxi drivers and other motorists follow the City's bus lane rules. The NYC DOT and the NYC TLC developed these standards with the elected officials' input.

"The challenging part about projects like the East Side bus and bike lanes is not just repainting the streets. We also need to change the rules of the road and create a culture that better allows drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to share the space," said Assemblymember Kavanagh. "Almost a year ago, we called on the City and the MTA to implement a true Bus Rapid Transit system along First and Second Avenues. We're not quite there yet, but new enforcement mechanisms like bus cameras and clarification of the rules for taxi drivers and other car users should help get us one step closer to the full transit potential of our streetscape."

Drivers will be advised of the following:

If possible, pick up or drop off passengers where there isn't a bus lane - across the street, or on the cross street, for example. But drivers may stop in an active bus lane for the time it takes for a passenger standing at the curb to enter or a passenger to exit the vehicle and get onto the sidewalk. Drivers can do what they can to help passengers quickly enter or exit the vehicle, including quickly helping to place or remove items from the trunk if necessary.

Unless otherwise restricted, vehicles are permitted in the bus lane to make the next available right turn. To make a right turn from a bus lane, drivers should enter the bus lane safely toward the end of the block they are turning from. New bus lanes are being painted to make this clear and show drivers where it is best to enter the lane. With an "offset" bus lane (the lane next to the curb lane), there are some locations where there is a curbside right turn lane before an intersection. Drivers should merge through the bus lane and use the curbside lane to make their turn, so that they do not block the bus.

BP Stringer, Senator Squadron & Assemblymember Kavanagh Issue Holiday Warning, Expose Hidden "Borough Fees" Charged by Rental Car Companies Across New York City

A survey by Borough President Scott M. Stringer, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh reveals that Dollar and Thrifty rental car companies force customers to pay extra fees solely because they live in certain parts of New York City: Brooklyn residents pay an additional $55 per day, Bronx residents pay $53, and residents of Queens pay $11. There are no additional costs, however, for residents of Manhattan or Staten Island or for renters who live outside of New York City. Dollar has 13 locations in New York City (5 in Manhattan, 5 in Brooklyn, 2 in Queens and 1 in Staten Island) and Thrifty has 2 locations (1 in Manhattan and 1 in Brooklyn), making it a total of 15 locations in New York City where Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens residents are charged these additional fees.

"This kind of blatant bias should be a thing of the past - and has become so in the rest of the car rental industry," said Kavanagh. "Our message is clear: If you want to do business in New York, you'd better be prepared to treat New Yorkers fairly and respect our diversity."

A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Kavanagh in the Assembly aims to prohibit rental car companies from discriminating on the basis of the geographical location of the residence of the person attempting to enter into the rental agreement; the bill also prohibits the imposition of additional charges or conditions and imposes a fine of up to $1,500 for each violation.

Kavanagh and Assembly Committee Explore Impact of Environmental Cuts

On November 18th, Assemblymember Brian Kavanagh and his colleagues on the Environmental Conservation Committee, led by Committee chair Bob Sweeney, held a public hearing in Albany to review the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) implementation of its budget for the current fiscal year, which runs through March 31, 2011. The Committee heard testimony on staffing levels and other resources devoted to environmental programs through over $1 billion included in the State budget. The DEC is responsible for conserving and improving New York's natural resources, managing the State's fish, wildlife and marine resources, and controlling water, land and air pollution to enhance the health, safety and general welfare of the State's residents.

At the hearing, various parties provided testimony about a wide range of environmental concerns, including Acting DEC Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz and former Commissioner Pete Grannis, who was fired recently by the Paterson administration when a memorandum became public revealing his grave concerns about the effect of staffing cuts to date and layoffs the Governor has proposed to implement in the coming weeks.

In response to questioning by Kavanagh and others, Iwanowicz said that he could not provide a rationale for the staffing targets that the administration has decided to impose on DEC, which are the basis for cuts and proposed layoffs that are substantially deeper than those of other State agencies. Grannis stood by the statements he made in the memorandum regarding the impact of the cuts, which were not disputed by Iwanowicz when asked about the memorandum at the hearing. Grannis also emphasized that the memorandum had been prepared at the request of the Governor's Budget Director and assured the Committee, as he has in other public statements, that he was not responsible for releasing it.

In addition to the present and former Commissioner, 24 other witnesses testified during the eight and a half hour hearing, including representatives of prominent environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, Audubon New York, and the Adirondack Council.