Plastic Bag Law Sets Off Council- State Legis Squabble
In one of the City Council's prouder moments, Speaker Christine Quinn and Councilmembers Peter Vallone Jr., James Gennaro and Michael McMahon headlined a ceremony in which they announced the start of New York City's plastic bag recycling program.
The city lawmakers also let it be known that they will be pursuing efforts to have the state reinstate parts of the new city law which were excised by the legislature at the close of the 2008 session.
The new law's objective is to have shoppers bring empty plastic bags to certain stores for recycling. This will help to reduce the number of plastic bags that get into the city waste stream and now account for as much as 4 percent to 5 percent of what is disposed of in landfills, according to McMahon (D- Staten Island).
The lawmakers, demonstrating the dimensions of the plastic bag environmental problem, said one billion plastic bags are used annually in New York City and a large percentage wind up as street litter, clogging sewers and costing millions to take out of circulation.
Vallone (D- Astoria) stated, "The City Council usually tries to create legislation that will leave its mark on New York City, but today we implemented one law that helps ensure we do not. This law strikes a balance between conscience and convenience by allowing New Yorkers an outlet they need to protect our environment."
Gennaro (D- Fresh Meadows), chair of the Environmental Protection Committee, declared, "Plastic bags clogging our landfills and catch basins are an environmental scourge that only legislation like this can have a real effect upon."
While the lawmakers and environmental advocates celebrated the start of the groundbreaking law, they also called upon Governor David Paterson to amend the proposed state legislation that would pre-empt and weaken the council's plastic bag recycling law.
The state legislative proposal, the lawmakers and others said, would significantly reduce the number of stores in New York City required to recycle plastic carry-out bags and would pull the teeth from the city law and take away the city's ability to enforce any bag recycling law or ensure that major businesses are in compliance with their recycling requirements.
According to some people who attended the ceremony, other comments were made at the City Hall announcement that the state lawmakers should not be meddling so unnecessarily into the council's lawmaking function.
The city law applies to stores that occupy 5,000 square feet or more or stores which have five branches operating in the five boroughs. The stores must provide an easily accessible collection bin in a visible location where customers can leave empty plastic bags. Signs also must be posted urging customers to participate in the recycling program. Store owners must have reusable bags available for purchase; they must also submit annual reports to the Sanitation Department on the amount and weight of collected plastic bags.
WEPRIN ANSWERS AUTISM CRITIC: Councilmember David Weprin, who has been actively engaged in the effort to help autistic children to cope with their problem, responded vigorously to the controversial comments made recently by California radio talk show host Michael Savage.
Weprin (D- Hollis) declared, "I am appalled and disgusted at the remarks recently made by Mike Savage just to get a boost in his ratings.
"It's easy to make comments while living in a vacuum. This man should be removed from the airwaves and given a real education lesson on autism. I call on Mike Savage not only to spend time with autistic children and their families, but I also call on him to immediately apologize to the children and their families who are dealing with autism."
About two weeks ago, during a broadcast, Savage described autism and its treatment by doctors as "a racket" and "a fraud". Virtually accusing youngsters of faking problems, he said "In 99 percent of the cases, [autism] is a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out."
Later, Savage insisted his remarks were taken out of context and that he wasn't talking about genuinely autistic children. He also said he was criticizing doctors and drug companies for allegedly over-diagnosing children in order to profit from autism and other disorders.
But, Weprin said, "Mike Savage should spend a day in the shoes of a parent of an autistic child and see for himself that autism is real and it is an issue that needs to be addressed."
Weprin, chairman of the council Finance Committee, has secured $3.15 million over the past two years to fund the Autism Initiative, which provides services to autistic children in afterschool or summer programs. Some of the funds are used to hold informational forums and training seminars.
GIANARIS RENEWS CALL FOR 'INNOCENCE COMMISSION': Following the dismissal of all charges against Long Islander Martin Tankleff after he served 18 years in prison for his parents' murder, Assemblymember Michael Gianaris (D- Astoria) renewed his call for the establishment of an Innocence Commission in New York state.
"Just as we study the causes of wrongful deaths, our criminal justice system needs an autopsy to determine how to prevent even more innocent people from being imprisoned," Gianaris stated.
The Astoria lawmaker, an attorney, said the Tankleff case was "only the latest in a series of wrongful convictions in our state in the last several years". He said more than 11 percent of the DNA exonerations in the U.S. (21 of 188) occurred in New York, and the 21 New Yorkers served a combined total of 214 years in jail for crimes they did not commit.
Gianaris has already sponsored a bill which would establish an Innocence Commission whose job it would be to investigate wrongful convictions and to propose changes to prevent future injustices.
The commission would consist of 10 appointees representing law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, crime victims, defense attorneys and academics. Similar to the procedure followed by the National Transportation Safety Board after airline crashes, the Innocence panel would examine cases of exoneration after the fact, Gianaris explained, and issue reports and recommendations to prevent similar occurrences in the future.
HOUSE CONTINUES MALONEY LANDMARK LAW: The House of Representative's has approved legislation to continue a landmark act which established a DNA backlog processing program that helped to solve many rape cases. The original bill, due to expire next year, was authored by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney, who also introduced the reauthorization legislation.
"We cannot stand by and let rapists roam free while the DNA evidence that could convict them goes unprocessed," Maloney (D- Queens/Manhattan) declared. "Reauthorizing the Debbie Smith Act will ensure we continue to keep criminals off our streets and put them in prison where they belong."
"In order to provide victims with the justice that our Constitution promises, we need to continue this effort for five more years," Debbie Smith, after whom Maloney's bill was named, declared. Smith was raped near her home in 1989, and for almost seven years lived in fear that her attacker would return to kill her after she openly urged Congress to pass Maloney's bill. Some time later it was discovered her rapist was identified by DNA evidence and was in prison.
Congressmember Anthony Weiner (D- Queens/Brooklyn), who had been a strong supporter of Maloney's legislation, declared that DNA had helped to solve hundreds of cases in New York City alone, and the reauthorized law "will finally help eliminate the 500,000-plus nationwide rape kit backlog, train more forensic nurses and build more crime labs".
PLEA TO SAVE RIDGEWOOD RESERVOIR: City Comptroller William Thompson and noted environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently spoke out against a city Parks Department plan which they said would destroy the abandoned Ridgewood Reservoir on the Brooklyn/Queens border, which they consider to be "a teeming wildlife preserve in New York City".
In a guest editorial in the New York Times, Thompson and Kennedy also described the reservoir as "an oasis where an amazing range of plant and animal species thrive in a verdant landscape of steep hills and narrow valleys amid the city's paved sidewalks".
Built in 1858 along what is now the Jackie Robinson Parkway linking Queens and Brooklyn, the reservoir was abandoned in 1989.
What followed, Thompson and Kennedy wrote, was that "the 50 acres reverted to wetlands, meadows and forests" and "tens of thousands of plants and trees took root and flourished as an accidental wilderness".
Now, they went on, the Parks Department is considering a $50 million "renovation" project that would cover more than 20 acres of the reservoir with athletic fields and facilities that could destroy the environmental wonder.
The authors opposed the plan and urged the Parks Department to let it flourish and welcome people who can visit there and take in the beauty.
ENDORSEMENT: State Senator Serphin Maltese (R- C, Middle Village), who could be facing a strong re-election challenge in November from Councilmember Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D- Ozone Park), picked up the endorsement of the Council of School Supervisors and Administrators for his "steadfast support of CSA and [his] hard work to improve education in New York".
Maltese had made support of public education a major part of his campaign. The lawmaker cited his backing of an additional $616 million of state education aid to the city in 2007. In 2008, he said, New York City schools saw an increase of $644 million in state education aid, which he voted for.
Maltese reported recently that he has received more than 1,250 campaign donations in the past 19 months, amounting to a $610,000 war chest.
UFT ENDORSES DROMM: On the Democratic side of the ledger, Daniel Dromm, a school teacher, Democratic district leader in Jackson Heights and candidate to succeed Councilmember Helen Sears in Jackson Heights' 25th District in the 2009 elections, was endorsed by the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), the teacher's union.
According to UFT spokesman Ron Davis, Dromm was endorsed as "a longtime UFT member who will do whatever he can to further public education, and we will do whatever we can to support him".