Tag Archives: bill

Bill introduced to City Council calling for term limits for community boards


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

A new bill that was set to be introduced in the City Council Wednesday calls for putting term limits on community board members appointed in mid-2016 or later.

Councilman Daniel Dromm, who is one of the initial sponsors of the bill, was set to introduce legislation in the Council’s Government Operations Committee that would establish term limits for community board members.

Currently under law there is no limit to the number of consecutive two-year terms board members could either be appointed to or serve.

If the new bill were to pass, those appointed for a first term starting April 1, 2016, or after would only be allowed to serve twelve years, or six consecutive terms.

Under the proposed bill, a board member such as former Community Board 2 chair Joseph Conley would not have been able to serve the almost three decades he had under his belt.

Dromm told the Gotham Gazette that just how communities change, he believes community boards should, too. Although he “applauds” and thanks those who serve 30 or 40 years on a board, he added that he thinks they “need to move things around.”

Community boards have up to 50 voting members. Votes by community boards are non-binding, but they often carry influence with elected officials.

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Stop for school bus or lose license for 60 days: state Senate


| mchan@queenscourier.com

File photo

Repeat scofflaws who zoom through school bus stop signs could face stiffer penalties under a bill the state Senate passed last week.

The legislation calls for a 60-day license suspension for drivers who illegally pass a stopped school bus more than twice within 10 years.

“It’s bad enough that a driver passes a stopped school bus once, but to do it twice is unacceptable,” said upstate Sen. John Bonacic, who penned the law. “This bill is intended to make our roads safer for our school children.”

Committing the crime twice within three years is currently punishable by up to $750 and 180 days in jail. But only the monetary fine — up to $1,000 — increases for each new offense after that.

The new law, in line with citywide “Vision Zero” strides to reduce pedestrian fatalities, would temporarily yank dangerous drivers from the wheel.

“Drivers who are reckless with their lives and the lives of others, particularly with the lives of children, must be punished and taken off the roads,” Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky said.

The bill now awaits movement by the state Assembly’s Transportation Committee.

 

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Rep. Meng wants Flushing gems added to National Park Service


By Queens Courier Staff | editorial@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

Federal park officials are supporting a bill by Congressmember Grace Meng that would make historic Flushing sites part of the National Park Service, the legislator said.

The measure would require the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees federal parkland, to look into whether sites connected to the Flushing Remonstrance could be included in the national park system.

The Remonstrance, a historic 1657 petition, was signed by Peter Stuyvesant and 30 citizens to protest a policy that banned Quakers from practicing their religion in the colony of New Netherland.

Other sites mentioned in the bill are Flushing’s John Bowne House, where the Quakers held meetings, and the Old Quaker Meetinghouse, which was built in 1694 by Bowne and other Quakers.

“The story of the Flushing Remonstrance is not for New Yorkers alone,” Meng said. “It was an early struggle to establish the fundamental right to practice one’s religion.”

National Park Service Associate Director Victor Knox said the Department of the Interior supports the bill during a recent hearing held in Washington, according to Meng.

 

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Queens lawmaker wants fire hydrants tagged with markers


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy Councilmember Mark Weprin

All New York City hydrants should be tagged with high-flying flags to be spotted more easily during snowstorms, a Queens lawmaker is proposing.

Councilmember Mark Weprin is reintroducing legislation this March that would require markers be placed at least three feet above hydrants.

The bill, first introduced in 2011, would help firefighters quickly pinpoint nearest hydrants that are buried in the snow, Weprin said.

It would also help homeowners locate and dig them out faster and keep motorists from accidentally parking too close.

“Hydrants get snow plowed in. There are some you can’t even see,” Weprin said. “It seems like just a common sense change.”

Six major snowstorms have slammed the city so far this winter, Mayor Bill de Blasio said during the last blast on Feb. 13.

In Central Park, Bridgeport and LaGuardia Airport, it is the third snowiest February on record, according to the National Weather Service.

The bill has never moved out of the Committee on Fire and Criminal Justice Services, though similar laws exist in other cities like Orangetown, N.Y. and Santa Maria, Calif., Weprin said.

“I’m hoping we can make the case a little better now,” he said.

 

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Federal, state and city officials: ‘Make Lunar New Year an official school holiday’


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

State lawmakers have strengthened a renewed push to make Lunar New Year an official school holiday, garnering support from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Students shouldn’t feel like they have to choose between celebrating their heritage and missing a day of school,” the newly-risen speaker said.

The City Council plans to introduce two resolutions, calling for schools to close and metered parking to be suspended on one of the most important holidays of the year in Asian communities, Mark-Viverito said.

Multiple other measures have been introduced in the state and federal levels that call for a similar break for families.

A bill that would establish Lunar New Year as a school holiday for districts with an Asian-American population of at least 7.5 percent has been introduced in the State Senate and Assembly for years.

Flushing is the only neighborhood in Queens to meet the criteria, along with Chinatown in downtown Manhattan.

While it has made no movement in the past, elected officials gathered Friday in downtown Flushing to declare 2014 the year of action.

“This is the year and this is the time we believe it’s going to happen,” said Councilmember Paul Vallone, who is drafting a bill that would suspend metered parking that day.

About 14 percent of city students in the school system are Asian-American, Mark-Viverito said.

Officials have long argued absence rates in some city schools climb 80 percent on the first day of the Lunar New Year. Though observing students are “excused,” the absence is marked on their record.

U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, who spearheaded the Assembly’s attempts during her last tenure, proposed a resolution in Congress this month, asking local education agencies that include the city’s Department of Education to close schools that day.

“One day, we’ll look back and see that we made history,” said Councilmember Karen Koslowitz.

 

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Flushing widow pushes for hit-and-run bill


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The widow of a Flushing man killed last year in a tragic hit-and-run held back tears while she pushed for a bill to protect pedestrians.

“I’m very heartbroken, very angry,” said Taysha Dominguez. “There are no words to describe the pain and the suffering that my family is currently going through at this moment.”

Her husband, Dante Dominguez, was struck by a car while crossing 41st Avenue and Union Street on foot in Flushing last November. The driver, who is still unknown, fled and left the father of three to die, officials said. He was 45.

“Even when I step on someone’s foot, I hold accountability. I say that I’m sorry to that person,” said the widow, 30. “This person continued driving, didn’t have the heart to help save that victim. To leave the scene — that’s heartless. That is what has torn me apart.”

Lawmakers and Dante’s family returned to the scene of the crime last week to urge the City Council to pass a bill which would require more police action and the installation of nearly 200 red light cameras.

“We don’t want her husband to have died in vain,” said Councilmember Peter Koo.

The legislation would require the NYPD to make annual reports to the City Council on hit-and-runs that result in death or severe injury, detailing all actions taken to determine culprits. The city’s police department would also have to collect video surveillance from cameras near the crime scene.

The bill also calls for the city to install red light cameras in more than 150 intersections and create a tax credit for property owners who install their own devices.

Sources said the bill will soon be introduced in the City Council.

“Hit-and-runs are too frequent in Queens, and we need to do everything we can to make sure the police have the resources they need to find the drivers responsible for them,” said Councilmember Leroy Comrie.

Inspector Brian Maguire of the 109th Precinct urged anyone with information on Dante’s death to anonymously help by calling 1-800-577-TIPS.

“Getting into an accident is not a crime,” the precinct’s commanding officer said. “It’s only a crime when you flee the scene.”

Dominguez said her husband was a hardworking artist who toiled through long shifts to make ends meet. She added that their family is still reeling from the loss.

“I can’t say we’re okay when we’re really not,” said Dominguez. “We have no sense of closure. We’re hurt and we’re torn. There is not enough justice being done to find out who did this.”

 

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10 years after deadly staged accident, family wants Alice’s Law passed


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The family of the 71-year-old Queens woman killed 10 years ago in a staged car accident said bureaucratic delays have held up justice — and a proposed law to stiffen penalties in such cases.

“It should have passed,” said Daniel Ross, 56, of Bayside. “I don’t want another family to go through what we went through.”

His mother, Alice Ross, died in 2003 when her car was struck in Bellerose by another vehicle.

According to the district attorney, Waurd Demolaire of Brooklyn intentionally rammed his car into hers to collect insurance money under the state’s No-Fault Law. He was convicted of manslaughter and conspiracy in 2006 and released on probation last October.

“The perpetrator got off with a very reduced sentence, considering the fact that he murdered my sister,” said Alice’s brother, Don Peters. “Now he’s free to walk the streets of New York again.”

Legislation dubbed Alice’s Law has been proposed in the State Senate and Assembly. Both bills would impose tougher criminal penalties on people who engage in staged accidents. But legislators said failure to compromise on two different versions of the law has stalled the ratification process.

The Assembly wants to classify staging accidents to defraud insurance as a class E felony, the lowest felony offense. It carries a prison sentence of one to five years.

A bill passed in the State Senate would make the crime a class D felony and upgrade it to class B if the accident causes serious injury or death to another person. That could mean a prison sentence of five to more than 25 years.

“It’s continually frustrating that there seems to be a philosophical difference between the State Senate and Assembly,” said State Senator Tony Avella, a cosponsor of the Senate bill. “Increasing penalties for any sort of crime, [the Assembly] just won’t do it.”

Assemblymember David Weprin, a sponsor of the bill in the lower house, said he is optimistic that both houses will reach a compromise and get the legislation passed this year.

The legislature has less than one month to resolve differences and get one bill approved in both houses before the session ends June 20.

Last year, the State Senate passed its bill in March and sent it to the Assembly. But according to records, the Assembly’s amended bill reached the Senate on June 19 — too late for action by the upper house.

Alice’s Law was first proposed in 2007 and has been reintroduced every year since 2010.

“It’s been too long in coming,” said Peters, 78, of Saratoga Springs. “The process has been much too slow. I wish it would become law. I think it would be a very appropriate recognition of that anniversary.”

Daniel Ross showed The Courier a copy of a letter from authorities saying the man responsible for his mother’s untimely death was now free.

“That was murder,” he said. “It could have been anybody’s mother.”

 

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City council concerned over climate changes


| mchan@queenscourier.com

Photo Courtesy of Councilmember James Gennaro

The City Council unanimously voted last week to pass a bill which would allow a task force to address rising sea levels and a recent increase in high-intensity rain storms throughout the five boroughs.

These long and short term problems stemming from climate change would be tackled by a panel of mayor-appointed climate impact scientists, according to Councilmember James Gennaro, who heads the Council’s Environmental Protection Committee.

“What we’re seeing more of now, more so than sea level rise, is the catastrophic impacts of these very high-intensity and frequent rain storms. We’re getting lots of intense weather events that are associated with the gradual warming of the atmosphere,” Gennaro said. “We’re seeing very intense rain storms on a frequency that we haven’t seen before.”

The task force was first created in 2008, under legislation penned by Gennaro, to help the city plan for wilder storms and higher oceans expected in the coming decades. By dealing with greenhouse gases, Gennaro said the bill first sought to reduce the severity of climate change. But this year’s “landmark” legislation, the councilmember said, is all about trying to adapt to it instead.

“Climate change is happening nonetheless,” he said. “We don’t control the fate of the climate around the world by reducing our own greenhouse gas. We’ll still be getting the effects.”

Gennaro said the panel — made up of private entities and representatives of city, state and federal agencies — would be called upon to bring “all of the best scientists together” to figure out the potential impacts of climate change in the city and develop protective policies around them.

Members of the task force, which will make recommendations no less than once every three years, will also brainstorm on infrastructure remedies, including the use of storm surge barriers, and improvements to the city’s sewer system, to make sure coastal parts of the city do not get flooded.

“Common sense policies,” Gennaro said, like where to develop complex buildings in the city away from future sea level complications, will also be considered by the panel.

“Last month was the hottest ever on record, and it’s only one example of the extreme weather New York City has experienced in recent years,” said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. “If this isn’t a call to action, I don’t know what is. We must act decisively now to address severe climate trends or we’re going to face tougher decisions down the road.”

T-Mobile store scams Queens customers out of thousands


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

A major mobile phone service provider is under fire from hundreds of Queens residents who say an authorized retailer scammed them for thousands — before closing up shop and ducking their calls.

A T-Mobile retailer, who sources identify as a South Asian man named “Raj” who suffers from schizophrenia, allegedly billed customers for several unauthorized lines that he tacked on to their accounts, and then pocketed the additional money when they directly gave him payments in cash.

“He’s from my country. He speaks my language and is even from my city. I trusted him. Now he ran away,” said Tarsem Singh, 47. “I can’t afford this. I paid these bills already. I feel like I’m going to die.”

Singh, a car service driver from Brooklyn, is one of hundreds of consumers who said they made direct payments to a T-Mobile preferred retailer who owns two Queens stores, at 138-40A 84th Drive in Briarwood and 134-11 Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park.

Singh said he kept receiving notifications from T-Mobile of unpaid bills totaling $1,400, even though he said the dealer at the stores assured him the invoices had been paid and the mistake would be fixed.

Instead, Singh said, the devious dealer, who owns and operates a company called Jagdeep Global Products, Inc., re-sent the payments twice to two wrong routing numbers.

Dozens of customers who united outside the shuttered Briarwood store last Thursday said the owner, and all his employees, have fled. The two Queens stores have been closed for at least two weeks, they said.

“The last three days, I haven’t been working because I’m looking for him,” Singh said. “I have no money in my pocket.”

A spokesperson for T-Mobile confirmed the fraudulent activity committed by the store owner and said the company apologizes to those affected and is taking “fast action” to correct the issues.

“We have worked together with the wholesaler responsible for the store and the owner has been replaced. Customers who feel they have been negatively impacted by their experience with either of these stores should contact T-Mobile customer service. T-Mobile will address each concern and will work to correct all related issues directly with our customers,” the spokesperson said.

The company would not disclose or confirm the name of the stores’ owner.

The 107th Precinct said there were no reports filed from the location, but said the issue could be a civil, not criminal, matter.

A swarm of customers said at least 300 people have been affected and are left struggling to pay off bills for services they never wanted.

Taliff Mohammed, 44, said he set up an account in January for three prepaid lines. Instead, the Briarwood T-Mobile vender signed him up for five contracted lines, he claims.

“When I brought it to their attention, they said it was a mistake on T-Mobile’s behalf and they said they would take care of it,” said the Ozone Park resident who also directly paid the vendor each month in cash. “I thought they were making the payments, but every other couple of weeks, my line used to get cut off. I would go back to them and it would be restored. They never paid the bills. They were sending checks that bounced.”

Mohammed said he heavily suspected fraud, but when he called T-Mobile, he said the company blew him off and said he was responsible for $1,271.92 in payments, including cancellation of lines the vendor added to his account without permission.

Harjeed Kaur, 45, of Briarwood said she was billed $2,000 for an account she already closed after vendors signed her up for five lines instead of the original three she asked for.

Calls to numbers listed for employees were either disconnected or went straight to voicemail. A number listed for Raj was “temporarily not in service.”

“We all trusted him,” Kaur said.

Co-op, condo owners left in the lurch


| mchan@queenscourier.com

City co-op and condo owners were dealt a major blow by the State Legislature after lawmakers wrapped up the year’s session without passing three key bills, including one that would put a halt to skyrocketing property tax valuations.

“Three strikes and you’re out. This was a disastrous session if you’re a co-op or condo owner,” said Bob Friedrich, president of Glen Oaks Village Owners, Inc. and cofounder of the President’s Co-op and Condo Council. “The State Legislature left us high and dry.”

State lawmakers had until June 21 to give bills the green light before reconvening next January. Governor Andrew Cuomo said the 2012 session was “one of the most successful in modern political history,” touting accomplishments reached in pension tiers, teacher evaluations and better protections for people with disabilities.

But co-op and condo community activists said legislative leaders adjourned the session without extending the city’s J-51 program, its tax abatement program and not resolving valuation issues. The lack of passage could rip holes through 360,000 residents’ pockets, they said.

“These three issues are not sensitive, political issues. It’s not controversial. It’s simply renewing existing laws that already have widespread support,” Friedrich said. “And yet the legislators, who are paid very well to do their job, came out empty handed.”

The city’s J-51 Program, in existence for decades, gave owners partial property tax exemptions to encourage them to renovate residential apartment buildings, while its property tax abatement program, established in 1996, reduced the difference in property taxes paid by Class 2 co-op and condo properties and one, two and three family homes in Class 1 — which are assessed at a lower percentage of market value.

Friedrich, who expected the abatement to be extended, said if a special session is not called this year to renew the program, Glen Oaks Village alone would lose out on about $1 million, which he said would eventually come out of shareholders’ wallets.

Warren Schreiber, president of the Bay Terrace Community Alliance and cofounder of the President’s Co-op and Condo Council, predicted similar revenue losses — which he said would lead to 17 to 25 percent maintenance increases for residents.

“We were all terribly disappointed. These were programs that we already had,” he said. “This will be economically devastating for some residents.”

According to a summary report released by the Department of Finance (DOF) this year, taxes are expected to rise by 7.5 percent for co-op owners and 9.6 percent for condo owners across the city, while owners of single-family homes will see an increase of 2.8 percent. Last year, officials said, some co-op and condo valuations saw astronomical increases as high as 147 percent.

A pair of audits released this year by the city’s comptroller office found the DOF at fault for causing upheavals in condo and co-op property values — a determining factor in property taxes — when it changed its formula for calculating them in Fiscal Year 2011-12.

A “8/30” cap proposed to relieve co-op and condo owners would have limited property tax increases to 8 percent per year or 30 percent over five years, but President’s Co-op and Condo Council officials said they do not expect a fix to be made for another year.

Meanwhile, rumors have been swarming that Cuomo will call lawmakers back to Albany for a special session before the year’s end, reportedly to approve the tax abatement extension.

Councilmember Mark Weprin said “for a fact” the abatement would be renewed and “improved” this year in the fall under Assemblymember Ed Brauinstein’s bill and an agreement with the state.

“It’s not a ‘major blow.’ Once it’s passed, it’ll be a huge victory,” Weprin said.

Despite the unofficial pledge, State Senator Tony Avella and Assemblymembers David Weprin and Mike Simanowitz announced they would be holding a press conference on Monday to rally for the abatement renewal.

Health Exchange will make insurance more accessible


| brennison@queenscourier.com

The governor issued an executive order recently establishing a statewide health insurance exchange after the state legislature failed to pass the bill last year.
Governor Andrew Cuomo established the New York Health Benefit Exchange on Thursday, April 12 saying, “The bottom line is that creating this health exchange will lower the cost of health insurance for small businesses, local governments and individual New Yorkers across the state.”

The statewide health care exchange will allow individuals and businesses to purchase health insurance through a state marketplace, and will comply with President Barack Obama’s health care plan. If a state did not institute one by January 2014, it would be enrolled in the federal program.

More than 2.7 million New Yorkers are uninsured, costing the state and local governments more than $600 million per year — this adds an additional $800 in premiums to a family’s average cost every year, the governor’s office said.

“The sky-high cost of insurance in New York is driving businesses out of the state and preventing lower income New Yorkers from being able to afford needed coverage,” Cuomo said. “Establishing the health exchange will bring true competition into the health care marketplace, driving costs down across the state.”

Twelve other states have established health insurance exchanges since the president enacted the Affordable Care Act in March 2010; two of the dozen states’ exchanges were also instituted through an executive order.

The Democratic-controlled Assembly passed the New York Health Benefit Exchange in June, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not vote on the measure prior to the ending of the year’s legislative session.

The exchange will be created within the state’s Health Department as opposed to as a separate entity, as was originally proposed in the legislation.

“During these tough economic times, access to quality, affordable health care is more important than ever,” said Karen Scharff, executive director of Citizen Action of New York. “By creating New York’s Health Insurance Exchange, over 1 million people who don’t have health coverage will.”

College Point kids may get back on the bus


| mchan@queenscourier.com

school buses3w

A bi-partisan bill could see full school buses pulling away from J.H.S. 194 once again.

Legislation passed by the State Senate and Assembly — that now awaits Governor Andrew Cuomo’s sign-off — would allow seventh and eighth grade students in the city to regain eligibility for school bus service.

In May 2010, the city Department of Education (DOE) announced it would end yellow school bus service for more than 4,000 seventh and eighth grade students throughout the city, as part of a “cost-saving measure.”

Community leaders said the move crippled neighborhoods like College Point, where they said there is no local middle school. Students at J.H.S. 194 in Whitestone, they said, were then forced to travel on city buses to get to and from school — their commute often totaling two hours.

Now, the new law initiated by Senator Andrew Lanza — named “Aniya’s Law,” after a 13-year-old Staten Island girl who was killed last June while crossing an intersection to catch a city bus after school — could restore yellow school bussing to city middle schoolers.

“It’s about time that we see a common sense solution to a ridiculous problem,” said Councilmember Dan Halloran. “The city literally left these kids out in the dark, adding hours to their commute to school.”

In 2010, Staten Island legislators instantly took the issue to state court due to their lack of public transportation services. State Supreme Court Justice John Fusco ruled the decision to eliminate school buses in Staten Island — as well as College Point — was made “without concern for the welfare and safety of the affected students,” according to a December 2010 report.

City officials took that ruling to Federal Court where Fusco’s decision was overturned on the basis that each student throughout the five boroughs must be treated equally. Due to a miscommunication in the DOE, parents and students at J.H.S. 194 were not informed that bus service was cut until 24 hours before the first day of the school year. The message was delivered by phone in an automated message, according to parents.

“Students in College Point were forced to spend up to an hour-and-a-half taking two or three city buses just to get to and from school. We can’t expect junior high school students to make two bus transfers to get to school every morning,” Halloran said. “It’s not safe, and it’s not fair to them. These are 11-year-old kids.”

If the governor approves the bill, the changes are slated take effect this September.

– Additional reporting by Bob Doda

Taxi gab: Governor in talks to resolve cab issue


| smosco@queenscourier.com

It’s a hail storm in the city, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg urges Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill into law that would grant taxi service to the outer boroughs.

The plan, which passed the legislature in June, would allow livery drivers to pick up passengers in northern Manhattan, as well as the other four boroughs, in areas that see little to no taxi service. The bill called for the city to issue up to 30,000 three-year, $1,500 permits to livery car drivers. It also called for the auction of 1,500 regular taxi medallions.

“It also will generate a billion dollars of revenue for the city at a time when we have $5 billion deficits we’re trying to close,” the mayor said during a WCBS radio address on December 8. “A billion would make a very big difference.”

Cuomo said that talks have not resolved the problems he sees in the legislation – problems like the percentage of livery and new medallion taxis that should be accessible to the disabled and whether livery cabs can pick up at airports. The meter is running out and if the governor does not sign the bill into law by December 21, talks would not resume until January or February.

“There’s a myriad of issues and they’re all significant,” the governor said in a statement. “I said from day one if we don’t have a resolution of these issues, I’m going to veto the bill.”

The governor called for a summit of the stakeholders involved in the taxi legislation negotiations in order to resolve the outstanding issues. The summit was held on Wednesday, December 14, and the results of the meeting were not available as of press time.

“As we have said all along, we are working very hard to reach consensus with the stakeholders in order to address taxi access issues in the five boroughs,” said a spokesperson for the governor. “The issues are not primarily governmental ones among the governor, the state legislature and the city. There are, however, remaining issues among the various stakeholders, business and advocacy groups whose interests must be reconciled.”