Tag Archives: New York State Senate

State Senate passes Queens Library reform bill


| editorial@queenscourier.com

A bill to bring reform to the Queens Library has gotten the thumbs up from the state Senate and will now make its way to the governor’s office where it is expected to be signed into law, officials said.

The Senate voted Thursday on the bill which calls for a number of “best practice” reforms including creating an audit committee to oversee the Library’s accounting and financial reporting processes and its annual audits and establishing a labor relations committee to address labor issues.

“Once enacted, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud,” said state Sen. Michael Gianaris, who sponsored the bill.

The bill would also require executive staff of the Queens Library to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to limitations on any outside employment that could be a conflict of interest with their library responsibilities. The bill would also call for the Queens Library’s Board of Trustees to approve the hiring of key Queens Library staff.

“This bill has generated grave concerns and raised red flags with statewide and national groups. The American Library Association wrote that it would ‘threaten the ability for Queens Library to operate free of political influence, and will serve as a dangerous precedent for libraries and library boards around the nation,’” said Gabriel Taussig, chair of Queens Library’s Board of Trustees, who said he was not speaking on behalf of the rest of the board.

 

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Tony Avella joins NY State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/File photo

State Senator Tony Avella is joining the New York State Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), he announced Wednesday. 

He will be the fifth member of the breakaway faction of Senate Democrats — led by Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx — who share majority control of the chamber with Republicans.

“Under Senator Klein’s leadership, the IDC has developed a clear, progressive agenda for New York’s working families,” Avella said. “They have shown an ability to get big things done, without the dysfunction of years past.”

The cross-aisle conference, formed in 2011, also includes Senators Diane Savino of Staten Island, David Valesky of Oneida and David Carlucci of Westchester.

Avella, elected to the Senate in 2010 after two terms in the City Council, is also the only member from Queens.

State Senator Malcolm Smith, of southeast Queens, joined the conference in December 2012 and helped the IDC and Republicans take leadership. Klein stripped Smith of his IDC membership, however, after his arrest last year on federal corruption charges.

Conference members praised Avella for his passion and knowledge.

“Senator Avella has built a career fighting for those who are most in need, so I am thrilled to welcome him to the IDC,” Carlucci said. “He has the experience, passion and know-how to make a major impact on state policy.”

Klein said Avella’s public service experience makes him the “type of seasoned legislator who knows how to get things done.”

“He will be a major asset in our fight to make New York more affordable for working families,” Klein said.

The switch, however, is said to hurt Senate Democrats’ efforts to reclaim control in the chamber.

Senate Democratic Conference spokesperson Mike Murphy said in a statement that it was “unfortunate that progressive policies continue to be stymied because of divisions created by senators who choose to empower Republicans.”

Astoria Senator Mike Gianaris, the deputy minority leader, declined to comment.

The move also upset some of the senator’s usual supporters.

“It’s  disloyal and it’s not fair to the people of the 11th Senate District who have worked very hard for Tony over the years,” said Democratic State Committeeman Matt Silverstein. “What he did was self-centered and disgraceful.” 

Avella is up for re-election this year. He dropped out of a contentious race for Queens borough president last year, citing “unfinished business in Albany” as a major factor to his decision.

 

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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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State Senator Peralta goes on the record on Huntley wiretap


| tcullen@queenscourier.com

File photo

State Senator Jose Peralta says he did not have any illegal discussions with his former colleague, Shirley Huntley, when she secretly recorded him last year.

“I was as surprised as anybody to have my name on this list,” Peralta told The Queens Courier. “I did no wrong-doing whatsoever. I know that nothing on these tapes would implicate me on anything with the exception of the fact that I was recorded.”

Peralta said his lawyers were assured by authorities that he is not the topic of a federal investigation, unlike some others on the list released last week. State Senators Malcolm Smith and John Sampson were arrested within a month of each other on federal corruption charges. Prosecutors have not confirmed whether

Huntley’s cooperation with the FBI aided in those arrests.

Because there are still ongoing investigations, Peralta could not say what he discussed with Huntley.

However, he did say that it was nothing of substance and “people will be scratching their heads” at the content recorded.

Peralta’s own tenure in the Senate came on the heels of another legislator’s removal from the chamber.

He won a special election in March 2010 after the Senate voted to expel disgraced pol Hiram Monserrate, who was convicted of a misdemeanor. Monserrate tried to reclaim his seat in the special election, but with the loss of the Democrats’ backing, he finished third.

“I ran against someone who really shocked the confidence of his constituents,” Peralta said. “I wanted to make sure I was as transparent and as forward-thinking as possible.”

Peralta said the recordings of seven elected officials and two political consultants were an effort by Huntley to point fingers and divert charges away from her.

“She must have thought she can get [a plea bargain] by pointing fingers at others,” he said. “I’m not saying there are no bad apples,” but “most of us are hardworking, transparent individuals.”

Peralta told The Courier that since he is not under investigation, the wiretap will not impact his run for borough president.

“I think it’s a minor setback, of course,” he said. “But I’ve been on the campaign trail and people see it for what it is.”

 

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Middle Village teen receives congressional, state commendations for science achievements


| mchan@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

The only Queens teen to make the semifinals in a prestigious national science competition has a few more honors to place on her mantel.

Aishvarya Arora, 17, a senior at St. Francis Prep, was given commendations from the U.S. Congress, State Senate and Assembly on Friday, February 8 for making it to the second to last cut in this year’s Intel Science Talent Search.

The Middle Village student was named one of 300 semifinalists, whittled down from 1,700 of the country’s brightest high school seniors, last month.

She did not advance to the final round, but her 23-page research paper on teenage body dysmorphic disorder — a psychological malady in which a person becomes obsessed about perceived or imagined flaws in appearance — landed her $1,000 and recognition from her state and country.

“[Aishvarya] is an exceptional student who through hard work and determination received [this] extraordinary honor,” said Congressmember Grace Meng. “I am extremely proud of her.”

State Senators Toby Ann Stavisky and Joseph Addabbo, and Assemblymembers Nily Rozic and Andrew Hevesi, also bestowed honors upon the budding young scientist.

 

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Emanuel Gold, former Queens State Senator, author of ‘Son of Sam’ law, dies at 77


| ctumola@queenscourier.com

Former Queens politician Emanuel Gold, who served in the New York State Senate from 1971-1998, passed away Thursday at the age of 77.

“His contribution to Queens and to New York itself was tremendous,” said Heskel Elias, a friend and previous client of Gold, who practiced law in Forest Hills. “He was liked on both sides of the aisle,” he added.

While representing District 13  in the State Senate, Gold served as deputy minority leader, and was voted into the State Assembly in a special election in 1970, a year before he was elected as a senator.

One of Gold’s most notable accomplishments as a politician was authoring New York’s “Son of Sam” law.

Named for New York City serial killer David Berkowitz, it prohibits convicted criminals from profiting from their crimes.

Services will be held at Parkside Memorial Chapels, 98-60 Queens Boulevard, Rego Park, on Sunday, January 27 at 12:45 p.m.

 

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Bill would stiffen sex offender penalties


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

In an effort to keep the public safe from sexual abuse, the New York State Senate has passed a bill increasing the penalty for repeat offenders.

The Senate has approved legislation introduced by Senator Michael Gianaris which excludes time spent in prison from the 10-year period during which the actions of a repeat sex offender are deemed “persistent sexual abuse.”

Under the current law, criminals who commit certain sex crimes on multiple occasions can count time they are incarcerated towards the decade-long period in which they are subject to harsher penalties.

“Repeat sex offenders must be punished to the fullest extent of the law,” Gianaris said. “By specifically directing the exclusion of any time during which a person was incarcerated from the 10 year look back period, this bill would more effectively hold the offender accountable under the law.”

The legislation has yet to reach the Assembly floor for a vote, but if passed there, it will be sent to Governor Andrew Cuomo for signing.

“This bill is intended to prevent sex offenders who repeatedly target women and children from finding leniency in legal loopholes,” said Assemblymember Aravella Simotas, who co-authored the bill. “The legislation’s passage in the Senate is an important first step towards ensuring that individuals who commit persistent sexual abuse face the full consequences of their crimes.”

Redistricting battle: Court steps in


| mpantelidis@queenscourier.com

Inaction by lawmakers has prompted a federal judge to recommend court intervention in New York’s redistricting process.

Judge Dora Irizarry said on February 13 that federal courts should be placed in charge of ensuring the state’s election process for Senate, Assembly and Congressional districts adheres to state and federal law, and suggested a special master be appointed to redraw district lines.

Irizarry, a judge in the Federal District Court in Brooklyn, cited the “current state of inaction” in redrawing the lines and the upcoming Congressional primaries — slated to begin June 26 — as grounds for her reasoning.

Judge Gary Sharpe complicated matters on January 27 by ruling that primary elections for Congressional seats be moved up from September to June in order to allow military voters sufficient time to receive absentee ballots for the general election.

Irizarry also referenced instances of court interference which have expedited the process previously.

In her ruling, the judge noted, “In 1992 and 2002, the New York State Legislature acted only after there was judicial intervention.”

Irizarry’s decision came in response to a lawsuit filed on November 17 by a group of six civic leaders, calling for a special master to be given authority over the mapping.

Daniel Burstein, who represents the plaintiffs along with Richard Mancino, believes the ruling is a “giant step forward in our efforts.”

“The ruling recognized that time has run out for the New York Legislature to draw district lines in time for the primary elections and period for petitioning, which begins in March,” Burstein said. “When the Legislature fails to act in a timely manner, then it is up to the courts to protect the voters of the state.”

Due to the decision, a three judge panel, composed of Irizarry and Judges Reena Raggi and Gerard Lynch, has been appointed by the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals to make a final verdict. If a majority of the panel believes in the need for a special master, one will be appointed to draw the lines — after which the map will require approval from the court.

“Given Judge Irizarry’s recommendation, we do anticipate that a special master will be appointed,” said Burstein.

The New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), which drew up the current controversial lines, is holding public hearings across the state. Their maps, which would eliminate a number of incumbent senatorial Democrats, have been criticized by numerous politicians and good-government groups for being politically partisan.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also intends to veto the lines, according to spokesperson Matt Wing.

“At first glance, these lines are simply unacceptable and would be vetoed by the governor.”