The horrible violence in Newtown, CT is the most appalling in America's long series of assault weapon mass murders. More innocent lives have been taken by an individual who never should have had access to guns - especially assault weapons - in the first place. Our country, not just each state, needs to take strong action to limit people's access to guns and to outlaw assault weapons.
The National Rifle Association's response to the tragedy was a call to have school staff carry guns. Putting more guns in our schools and on our streets is an assault on our safety and our right to live without the constant fear of being shot.
We all need to be heard. I've gone to press conferences, signed on to a long list of bills, signed petitions. Visit the Mayors Against Illegal Guns Web site to add your voice to the call for the reduction in gun violence.
UPDATE: Fracking Regulations in NY
The push to create regulations for and to permit hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale area in upstate New York continues. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing regulations to allow gas companies to frack in New York. In early December, the DEC released the proposed regulations.
On January 3, the New York Times disclosed that the state had secretly produced an "evaluation" of fracking that claims it would have no harm to human health. But the document says it did not review what might happen if something went wrong - which happens all the time.
I believe the public comment period for the proposed regulations should be suspended until the state discloses all of its studies and analyses of fracking, as several environmental groups have demanded under the Freedom of Information Act.
The regulations are inadequate and leave many questions unanswered. In December, as chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I joined Assembly Members Robert Sweeney and Charles Lavine, chairs of the Assembly's committees on Environmental Conservation and Administrative Regulations Review, respectively, in a letter to the DEC to urge withdrawal of the regulations, in the interest of the health and safety of all New Yorkers. We are also seeking additional time for public comment.
On January 10, 2013, in Albany, our three committees will hold a joint public hearing about the proposed regulations.
Disaster Assistance/FEMA's Downtown Office
New York is still cleaning up from Super Storm Sandy and will be for some time. There is still time to register for federal disaster assistance. The deadline for FEMA has been extended to January 29, 2013. Individuals and families that require money for rental assistance, essential home repairs, personal property losses and other serious disaster-related needs not covered by insurance are encouraged to apply. Individuals can register at www.disasterassistance.gov or at 800-621-3362.
FEMA has also opened a storefront office in lower Manhattan at 66 Frankfort Street, Store #10 in the Southbridge Towers. It is open Monday through Saturday, 8am - 6pm. You can stop by the office or visit http://www.fema.gov/apply-assistance,
Businesses, including landlords and nonprofits of any size, can apply through the Small Business Administration (SBA) for low-interest loans of up to $2 million to repair or replace damaged real estate or inventory. Homeowners can also get loans through the SBA of up to $200,000 to repair damaged real estate. Homeowners and renters can also apply to borrow up to $40,000 to repair or replace personal property damaged by the storm and sometimes will increase a loan by up to 20 percent for structural improvements to lessen the risk of future property damage by disasters of the same kind.
To learn more and to apply online, go here: www.sba.gov/disaster or call 1-800-659-2955. Those who are deaf, hard-of-hearing or speech-impaired can call 1-800-877-8339.
Rally for Workers Justice
Workers around the country have been under attack by anti-labor right wing forces. From the roll back of unions in Wisconsin, Indiana, and now Michigan, working class people need to stand up for their right to a fair wage and a safe work place more than ever.
When fast food workers and airport luggage screeners took to the picket lines in December to demand fair pay, I was proud to stand with them and thousands of members from different unions at a rally in Times Square.
Fair wages help create safe, more connected communities. In difficult economic times, we should not be stripping the worker of a salary that helps put food on the table and helps their children get a good education. We should be extending an additional helping hand.
We are an enormously wealthy country. But less and less of that wealth is going to working people. We need to turn that around.
New Yorkers for Better Libraries
Libraries have long been a cornerstone of sharing information and helping to educate people. New Yorkers for Better Libraries works to make sure Albany continues to support libraries across New York State.
I was thrilled to learn they gave me an 'A' grade for my support of libraries last year. I was one of only 13 to receive the 'A' grade, out of 150 Assembly Members. As the New York Public Library and many others work to broaden the path into the 21st Century, I will continue to support the libraries in our community and across New York State.
Early Voting in New York
Across the country, more and more states are allowing their citizens to vote early, giving people more than one day to cast their ballot. Early voting has proven to be effective for increasing voter participation.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is introducing legislation to permit early voting in New York for primary and general elections. I've signed on as a co-sponsor and hope it will become law. Some of the highlights of the law are:
- Allows duly registered voters to vote in person beginning 14 days prior to any general election and 7 days before a primary election.
- Requires county boards of elections and the New York City Board of Elections to designate at least five polling places in each county (or borough) for early voting.
- Early voting polls will be open from 8:00am - 7:00pm each day during early voting, including Saturdays and Sundays.
I also favor allowing absentee voting by mail, without having to show any specific reason. We should also develop a simple, secure system for voting online.
If we can do major financial transactions online, we ought to be able to vote.
Considering the problems New York City has faced in the past few elections, providing New Yorkers access to the polls earlier will help increase voter participation and help create a more robust democracy.
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