A Special Message From
140th Assembly District
2011 Legislative Session
This year, as every year, we in the State Legislature considered thousands of bills on a broad range of issues, and of those, hundreds of proposals have received enough support to be enacted into law. In this report, I wanted to narrow the focus and tell you of a few changes that you may not be aware of, but nonetheless might find it useful to know about.
All of the measures included here have been passed by both houses of the Legislature, and have been, or can be reasonably expected to be, signed into law by the Governor. Please be aware that some of these provisions may not become fully effective immediately.
I hope this information is helpful to you, and as always, I welcome your thoughts on these or any other issues.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 20 percent of all traffic accidents and 16 percent of fatal accidents are caused by distracted driving. This year, we enacted a new law that makes the use of handheld electronic devices to send or view electronic messages, such as text messages or emails, while driving a primary offense. Violation of this new law carries a monetary penalty of up to $150 and three points on a driver’s license. It also increases the penalty from two to three points for using a cellular phone without a hands-free device while driving.
Police officers and other emergency responders risk their lives everyday to keep us safe. As drivers, we must do our part to keep these everyday heroes safe on the roadways as well. Therefore, we in the State Legislature enacted the Move Over Law, which requires a motorist to use “due care” to avoid hitting a first responder or an emergency vehicle that is parked, stopped or standing on the shoulder at any portion of a highway or roadway when the vehicle has its emergency lights on. Under this new law, drivers are required to exercise caution by slowing down and moving from the lane adjacent to the shoulder on a multilane highway, provided the driver can do so safely. A violation carries a $150 fine, plus court fees, and two points on a state driver’s license. This past spring, we became all too painfully aware of the importance of this new law when Trooper Kevin P. Dobson Sr. was struck and killed by a vehicle as he was standing on the shoulder of the I-290 near the Colvin Boulevard onramp issuing a ticket.
New York will soon join 29 other states in providing a new tool to address the increasing problem of adults with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other cognitive disabilities who wander from their homes and are reported missing. A new law was enacted this year that creates a statewide alert system called Gold Alert, which will require a response within 24 hours of an adult identified and reported missing. The system will utilize media and transportation outlets, local and neighboring law enforcement officials, as well as appropriate Web sites, to exhaust every avenue in an effort to locate missing vulnerable adults and return them home safely.
Ensuring the safety and well being of children and persons with developmental disabilities are among our highest priorities in the State Legislature. A number of initiatives have been passed by both houses and have been, or are anticipated to be, signed into law to ensure that we keep our most vulnerable residents safe. For instance, a new law, which will take effect on Dec. 1, 2011, requires camp directors to report suspected child abuse or maltreatment to the State Central Register of Child Abuse and to the local department of social services.
In 2001, the New York State Legislature enacted SARA - the Sexual Assault Reform Act - which upgraded the criminal laws for Rape in the First Degree and Criminal Sexual Act in the First Degree to violent felonies. At the time, the change in law did not include amendments to the crime of Sexual Abuse in the First Degree, and therefore, up until now, it had still been considered a misdemeanor when an adult inappropriately touched or made sexual advances to a minor older than 11 but younger than 13. This past session, we enacted a new law that strengthens New York’s criminal laws to make sexual contact with a person under the age of 13 by a person 21 years of age or older Sexual Abuse in the First Degree, a violent felony. This law will take effect on Nov. 1, 2011.
We also passed a series of initiatives to further prevent abuse and neglect of individuals with developmental disabilities living at group homes and institutions throughout the state. As this report goes to print, each legislative item highlighted here is still awaiting the Governor’s approval to be enacted into law. The first initiative creates a prior abuse notification system for employers to allow them to research potential employees in an effort to prevent those with a history of abuse from working with individuals with disabilities. Another measure would ensure that an investigation would continue even if an employee who is suspected of abuse or neglect resigns. And finally, supervisors at state run psychiatric centers and facilities operated by the Offices for People with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Hygiene would be required to report a suspected crime to law enforcement officials no later than 24 hours after discovery of the alleged wrongdoing.
A measure designed to save lives was enacted into law which requires that syrup of ipecac be taken off open shelves and kept behind a store or pharmacy counter. Syrup of ipecac, made from the roots of a tropical plant, has been used since the 18th century to induce vomiting after the accidental ingestion of poison. However, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the presence of ipecac in the home often results in its inappropriate use.
A new law also prohibits the sale of shisha, a flavored tobacco, and certain types of smoking paraphernalia to minors. Under this law, businesses offering these products may only sell them to individuals with proper identification and who are at least 18 years of age. This law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
Another initiative prohibits the sale of child care products containing the chemical TRIS, which is a flame retardant, after Dec. 1, 2013. A study by the National Cancer Association found that TRIS phosphate caused cancer in test animals and could be absorbed by children through the skin or mouthing of items. Prior to this legislation, there was a TRIS ban on children’s clothing, which was enacted in 1977.
One of the main focuses of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration, rightly so, is the economy. Therefore, a number of initiatives and new programs have been enacted through the budget, changes to the law and even by executive order that will work toward keeping New York “Open for Business.” By executive order, the Governor created 10 Regional Economic Development Councils that are tasked with designing a locally-developed plan for economic development in their respective regions. The state will work with the Regional Councils to align state resources and policies, eliminate unnecessary barriers to growth and prosperity, and streamline the delivery of government services and programs to help the Regional Councils carry out their plans for development. The Western New York council is being led by University at Buffalo President Satish K. Tripathi and Howard A. Zemsky, Managing Partner at Larkin Development Group.
A law I sponsored establishes the Innovate NY Fund to bolster high tech companies and enhances the ability of small businesses in New York State to access loans through the State’s existing Capital Access Program. The federal Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 allows New York to be eligible for approximately $55.4 million in funding to help increase credit availability for small businesses with no state matching funds required. The State will use these funds to reinvigorate the moribund Capital Access Program and start the new Innovate NY Fund. Innovate NY will provide funding to both regional and local economic development organizations, technology-based development entities, research universities and investment funds to make seed-stage investments in emerging New York high-tech companies to help turn research at our local universities into products made here in New York. It also requires the State’s Urban Development Corporation (also known as Empire State Development) to ensure adequate geographic distribution of funds so that new startups competing for financial assistance have a competitive chance at obtaining the funding.
We enacted NYSUNY2020 into law, which will help New York’s public universities, including the University at Buffalo, become leading catalysts for regionally focused economic development, while simultaneously maintaining affordable tuition and improving academic quality for students. Under this plan, a $140 million NYSUNY2020 Challenge Grant Program has been established. The four SUNY university centers – Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook - will compete in this program for funds to implement campus economic development plans. The new law also enacts a rational tuition plan that allows each SUNY and CUNY campus to raise tuition by $300 per year for five years, replacing an era of sudden tuition increases with a system that is predictable and enables students and parents to plan for college expenses. The law will maintain affordability by establishing tuition credits, which will require SUNY and CUNY to apply a credit against the tuition charged to a student. The amount of the applicable tuition credit will be based on the level of a student’s tuition assistance program (TAP) award. Access to new capital and tuition increases through the enactment of NYSUNY2020 enables the key aspects of the University at Buffalo’s UB2020 vision to come to fruition, including its plan to move the UB Medical School to the downtown Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
The Self Employment Assistance Program, created by a 1994 law I authored, has been extended until Dec. 7, 2013. SEAP, which is administered by the N.Y.S. Department of Labor, has been extremely successful in helping individuals who are likely to exhaust their regular unemployment insurance benefits to develop and establish their own small businesses in New York. Qualified individuals receive their unemployment benefits while getting their new enterprise off the ground, even if they earn money through their self-employment. Participants must complete a minimum of 20 hours of entrepreneurial training, meet a minimum of two times with a certified business counselor, create a business plan and send periodic reports to their Department of Labor coordinators.
Autism affects 1 in 110 children nationwide, making it more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes and AIDS combined. Children with autism often require special medical care and attention, which can be very expensive. A new initiative passed by both houses of the Legislature and awaiting the Governor’s approval would have insurance companies cover costs related to the screening, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders. Under this legislation, children with autism may be diagnosed sooner and therefore treated at an earlier age.
Traumatic brain injuries can not only alter a person’s ability to walk, talk and function, they can also affect a person’s personality. Brain injuries do not heal like other injuries either, and no two brain injuries are alike. A new law replaces a strict limit on treatment visits with a standard of medical appropriateness for speech, physical and occupational therapies to persons with traumatic brain injuries. In this regard, therapeutic interventions such as speech, physical and occupational therapy are critical to a person’s recovery and/or ability to maintain as many life skills as possible.
In the past two years, flu immunization rates have risen dramatically in New York State, partly because health care officials, with help from the media, have repeatedly stressed how important it is to be vaccinated against influenza. In 2008, we removed a restriction that allowed only physicians or nurse practitioners to administer immunization vaccines and included licensed pharmacists who are certified by the State Education Department to administer immunizing agents to prevent influenza or pneumonia diseases. This session, we extended the sunset date of this law to March 31, 2016.
New York State is fortunate to have plentiful water resources. We in Western New York are especially fortunate because of our proximity to the Great Lakes. The preservation and protection of water resources is vital to New York’s residents and businesses, which rely on these resources for drinking water, recreation, and to support agriculture, manufacturing and other industries in the State. In an effort to conserve the State’s natural waterways, we enacted a new law that authorizes the Department of Environmental Conservation to implement a water withdrawal permitting program to regulate the use of the State’s water resources with a capacity equal to or greater than 100,000 gallons per day.
The New York State Legislature has given final passage to my legislation that amends the Alcoholic Beverage Control Law making the procedure for licensing and regulation of wineries and farm wineries in New York State a more seamless process. Included in the changes to the ABC Law are the definitions of a “custom crush facility” and “farm,” which clarify which properties are eligible for licensing. It also gives express authority for farm wineries to operate or use the services of a custom crush facility to process grapes, fruits, and other plants in New York State from or on behalf of other licensed wineries and farm wineries. Under the new law, holders of a winery license are now eligible to receive and process wine from other states, sell wine in bulk and sell wine to licensed wholesalers and/or retailers.