Simotas Files Bill To Toughen Rape Law
Following a sensational trial, in which a police officer forced a 25-year-old schoolteacher into an alleyway and was convicted on several counts, but not rape, an angry Assemblymember Aravella Simotas (D–Astoria) introduced legislation on Monday “to prevent such a miscarriage of justice from happening again”.
Simotas, who has been an attorney for 10 years, declared, “Common sense dictates that what happened to the victim in this case is rape.”
According to a news release issued by Simotas, her bill “will define rape as sexual conduct, rather than sexual intercourse, to ensure that rapists cannot escape facing the full consequences of their actions based on a technicality”.
Simotas’ proposed legislation also “redefines the crimes of Rape in the First Degree, Rape in the Second Degree and Rape in the Third Degree to include oral sexual conduct, anal sexual conduct and aggravated sexual conduct in addition to sexual intercourse as an element of these rape charges”.
As the law currently stands, Simotas pointed out, “a charge of rape requires an element of penetration”.
Simotas also explains, “While (P.O. Michael) Pena was convicted of several other charges for holding The Bronx schoolteacher at gunpoint, the threatening of her life and forcibly sodomizing her, he was not convicted of the top count of rape.
“No verdict was reached on the rape charge despite evidence of the defendant’s semen in the victim’s underwear, redness to her genitals, eyewitnesses testimony and the victim’s own account of the pain of the attack.”
To repeat, as the law currently stands, Simotas said, a charge of rape requires an element of penetration.
Simotas also stated, “Pena and his defense team found a way to get away with rape. This legislation will ensure that no other victim will face the same indignity that this Bronx schoolteacher suffered.”
According to other sources, Marcia Pappas, president of the New York state chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) praised Simotas and offered help in securing changes in the existing law.
SIMOTAS BACKS AG FOR OPPOSING DRUG MERGER: Switching to another controversial topic, Simotas has praised state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and expressed support for his opposition to a pending merger between two of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies—Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions.
The AG’s opposition is based, she said, on potential threats to jobs and damage to small businesses.
Simotas, who has been a vocal critic about the availability and affordability of prescription medications, said in her letter to Schneiderman:
“I believe it is the private sector—our state’s small businesses—that has the ability to lead our economy back to prosperity, and that policymakers ought to do everything in our power to aid businesses.”
Last December, Simotas held a rally in Astoria to highlight the serious problems with the proposed Express Scripts-Medco merger. Simotas had stated that the “merger will destroy competition and give these companies unchecked authority to manipulate the pharmaceutical market and maximize their profits. While they prosper, consumers will be deprived of choice and face ever-rising prices”.
BUDGET PASSES ON TIME, BUT WITH GRIPES: Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos were all on the same page last week as the $132.6 billion 2012 budget zipped through with time to spare and on-time for the second year in a row.
But around Albany, there were gripes that things are going too smoothly these days at budget time and some lawmakers are not happy campers.
One unhappy sub-group are the senate Democrats. The general complaint is that the governor is too chummy with the Republican majority so he really doesn’t have to schmooze the Democratic minority. Some of the latter complain that the governor’s people aren’t helpful to them and don’t even return calls.
This dissatisfaction was reflected at a luncheon party the governor held to celebrate the smooth passage of the budget. But among the missing were two Queens senators, Tony Avella and Joseph Addabbo Jr., according to a published report.
Avella reportedly pointed to bad relations with the Cuomo team and Addabbo begged off because he had to catch up on some phone calls.
Another disgruntled senator, a member of the black caucus, complained that the caucus was left out of the negotiations and couldn’t get any of their pet grievances satisfied.
These complaints are easily dismissed as ignoring the gains that have been made by Cuomo in getting two budgets completed satisfactorily and on time with major deficits swept aside.
But there’s also a more serious problem that senate Democrats complain of—that the governor’s smooth relations with the Republicans are so smooth that he’s making them look so good that in some key elections Democrats won’t have much ammunition to throw them out and any chance of the Democrats regaining control of the senate will be all but impossible.
MALONEY, ALLIES MOVE TO GET 9/11 CANCER COVERAGE: In response to the vote this week by a key advisory committee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS), Congressmember Carolyn Maloney and her co-sponsors of the Zadroga 9/11 health program, Congressmembers Jerrold Nadler and Peter King, took steps to determine whether certain cancers will be added to the list of covered conditions in the World Trade Center Health Program.
In a letter to USDHHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, which included U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand among the signees, the lawmakers requested a meeting with Sebelius to discuss the ramifications of the vote by the Science/Technical Advisory Committee to add certain cancers to the list of conditions in the World Trade Center Health Program.
The lawmakers, who represent individuals who are sick from exposure to toxins at Ground Zero, said they know many of these individuals have cancer.
“Now,” they said, “the committee has reported on the science supporting the link between Ground Zero exposures and the development of cancer among these individuals.
With this recommendation in mind, they requested the meeting with Secretary Sebelius to discuss the next steps.
EMILY’S LIST BACKING MENG FOR CONGRESS: According to a news release from Emily’s List, which was forwarded to the Gazette, that organization has announced that it is fully recommending Assemblymember Grace Meng for Congress in Queens’ 6th CD.
Meng has been endorsed for the post by the Queens Democratic Organization, which is headed by Congressmember Joseph Crowley. The 6th CD was recently created as part of a redistricting of all congressional seats in New York state by an appointed judge.
Also seeking the nomination besides Meng, who’s from Flushing, is Assemblymember Rory Lancman (D–Fresh Meadows) and Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley (D–Glendale). They are expected to face off in the Democratic primary on June 26.
Queens Republicans have endorsed Councilmember Dan Halloran (R–C–Whitestone) for the seat. If Meng is elected, she will become the first Asian- American from Queens in Congress.
Stephanie Schrock, president of Emily’s List, stated: “Grace Meng is not only a strong candidate, she’s exactly the kind of fierce advocate for women and families that we need in Washington right now. Grace is a true progressive who will stand up to the radical Republican agenda and get things done in Congress.”
Since its founding in 1985, Emily’s List has worked to elect 87 pro-choice Democratic women to the U.S. House, 16 to the U.S. Senate, and nine governors. In the 2009-2010 cycle, Emily’s List had the largest number of members and donors in its 27 year history.
MEETING WITH ‘LEGION’, ADDABBO PLEDGES SUPPORT: In a meeting recently in Albany with American Legion members, state Senator Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D–Howard Beach) assured them of continued support in all matters of importance to veterans. Addabbo assured them, “It’s an honor to advocate in the senate on behalf of all veterans, whether they served in overseas conflicts long ago or are now fighting on foreign soil to protect us from the ravages of terrorism.
Addabbo also highlighted a situation where city agencies issue fines for violations to local American Legion posts. One such fine was issued to the American Legion post in Forest Hills. Addabbo related that he has introduced legislation that would eliminate the financial penalties against the veteran sites and allow them 100 days to resolve the violations.
“Veterans have already paid their debt to the city and nation,” he explained. “They should be treated with respect and differently from other establishments.”
Addabbo, a member of the senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security & Military Affairs, told them he is aware of their proposed legislative program and monitors it closely. He has also sponsored a bill to authorize the state Department of Education to develop and make available to schools throughout the state a curriculum focusing on the history of the American Flag and underscoring the connection between the Pledge of Allegiance and the many contributions made by U.S. war veterans to this country.
The AL calls for passage of the 2012 legislative program, which includes military service credit, protection of war memorials, tax reductions for vets and vet organizations, and health and chemical dependency services for all veterans.
An AL bill passed during 2012 authorizes buffer zones around service member’s funerals that might attract demonstrators opposed to military policies.
Addabbo, a co-sponsor of the law, stated, “This law strikes a balance between the constitutional rights protesters and our obligation to show respect for families who are saying a final goodbye to a loved one.”
HALLORAN BILL KEEPS CITY AGENCY P.O. BOX IN NYC: Under a bill proposed by Councilmember Dan Halloran to keep as many jobs as possible in New York City, taxpayer bills would no longer be mailed to addresses in other cities and states. Halloran’s bill would require city agencies to maintain an alternate address within the five boroughs.
The Whitestone lawmaker said he recently discovered that several city agencies require New Yorkers to send bill payments to Post Office boxes outside the city. For example, he said, property tax bills to a PO Box in Newark and water bills to a box in Pittsburgh.
“We have a responsibility to keep jobs here in our city,” Halloran declared. “When mail gets sent to boxes outside New York, we take jobs away from New Yorkers. Money is sapped from our tax base and ends up in banks in Pittsburgh, Newark and who knows where else. This bill will keep NYC P.O. boxes right here in New York City, where they belong.”
The Republican lawmaker said the boxes were outsourced at the whim of contractors who decided to move their mailing addresses, leaving the city without recourse. Contractors are still free to have out-of-city mailing addresses, he noted, but if the bill passes, “The city will be required to keep the actual billing address in New York City.”
Halloran feels some seniors may be confused by out-of-state mailing addresses, or might worry the mailing is a scam. “Out of state mailing addresses are needlessly confusing, Halloran states. “People shouldn’t worry that their city bills are letters from Nigerian princes.”
Halloran feels the New York state government should have a similar law—that receiving mail on behalf of the state or a municipality should be done within New York state.
He says, “This should be standard language in every contract. Aside from the obvious benefits, this will increase convenience and speed of processing, making our government leaner and saving the taxpayers’ money.”
SIMANOWITZ LAUDS PASSAGE OF ‘YELLOW SCHOOL BUS’ BILL: After being elected to the state Assembly in September 2011, Michael Simanowitz (D–Flushing) learned the 7th and 8th grade students in the College Point section of his district were not permitted to take the familiar and convenient yellow bus to school, but instead were “forced to take two or three MTA buses and cross extremely congested intersections to get to and from school each day.”
He was told that the unusual arrangement for the 7th and 8th grade students occurred because of a federal ruling, which ordered the city Department of Education “to remove its variance for the children’s yellow school bus transportation”.
“The removal of the variances,” Simanowitz explained, “also caused undue hardships for some parents who had 6th graders using the (yellow bus) service, while the (older children) had to fend for themselves.”
Last week, Simanowitz finally was able to restore normalcy to many College Point families when the Assembly passed his bill authorizing the city DOE to restore the yellow bus variances for 7th and 8th grade College Point students.
Simanowitz said the state senate is expected to pass the bill shortly and after Governor Cuomo signs it into law, it will take effect next September.
BP, LAWMAKER CRITICIZE PENINSULA HOSP. CLOSING: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Assemblymember Phillip Goldfeder (D–Rockaways) greeted the closing of Peninsula Hospital in Rockaway with warnings that residents of the shore line community have been left in a precarious position.
“There is a medical crisis in Rockaway,” bellowed Marshall. “One hospital is now responsible for the care of more than 100,000 residents living on a peninsula that has limited access and egress options.”
Marshall also warned that with the onset of the swimming season shortly, the crisis will deepen as thousands of visitors will be flocking to the beaches en masse.
Goldfeder declared, “The health and safety of our families are now in serious jeopardy, with decreasing access to quality and affordable health care. I have been in constant contact with the Department of Health and will work with them, my colleagues and community leaders to come up with a plan to get Peninsula Hospital back on its feet and working for the communities of Southern Queens and Rockaway.”
Both bemoaned the fact that they had been working hard with city health authorities to keep Peninsula open and operating, but it was shuttered anyway.
GOLDFEDER GETS BETTER NEWS: Goldfeder last week also was in better spirits to balance the loss of Peninsula Hospital as he was successful in securing the inclusion of the Residency Rebate for the Cross Bay Bridge in the 2012 state budget of $132.6 billion which was passed last Friday. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which imposed the toll and kept the funds, will be reimbursed by the state for the tolls that Rockaway residents will no longer be paying.
Goldfeder had pledged when he was elected for the first time last November, that he would work to eliminate the toll, which was the only inter-borough span (between the Rockaways and the Queens mainland) in New York City.
ITALIAN-AMERICAN LEGISLATORS AWARD SCHOLARSHIPS: Assemblymember Mike Miller (D–Glendale) announced last week that he is accepting applications on behalf of the New York Conference of Italian-American state legislators for four $1,500 scholarships to be awarded on June 4 at the organization’s Annual Legislative Conference Day.
Miller said, “considering the high costs of a college education,” the legislators’ organization “wanted to do its part to aid students [by] financing the education of our youth by investing in our future”.
Miller explained that current or future college students are eligible for the awards, which will be based on the student’s grade point average, interest in pursuing a higher education, involvement in the community and individual financial need.
Scholarships will be given out for academic and sports achievements, and a conference member may nominate students for each.
Miller said scholarship applications will be provided to high schools or can be acquired at his office at 83-91 Woodhaven Blvd. in Woodhaven. Digital application packets can be obtained by contacting Nicholas Roloson, Chief of Staff, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications must be submitted to Miller’s office no later than the close of business, 5:00 p.m., on Friday, April 27. Nominated students will be notified of their selection the following week.
Miller described the conference as a bipartisan organization of New York state Assembly and senate members who are actively involved in promoting and celebrating the state’s Italian-American community. “Its mission he said, is “to work hard to elevate and highlight Italian American contributions to the state of New York and beyond, in all aspects of society, including literature, the arts, architecture and politics.”
Miller added, “The conference also tries to dispel negative stereotypes of Italian- Americans.”
MARSHALL ASKS, FAST TRACK FORECLOSURE CASES: Queens Borough President Helen Marshall has called on state officials to assure that a new plan to speed up foreclosure cases meets its goal so Queens homeowners who have been entangled in the housing crisis can receive help.
At the same time, Marshall called for more state funding to help homeowners threatened by foreclosure to support the retention of lawyers and counselors to represent them in foreclosure proceedings.
“Given that Queens has been especially hard hit by the mortgage foreclosure crisis, it is appropriate that this plan is being initiated in this borough,” the BP said in a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Chief Judge Jonathon Lippman.
Marshall added, “I look forward to the court adopting these new measures to alleviate some of our troubled homeowners’ miseries.”
Marshall explained that the new plan would expedite foreclosure cases by giving judges additional control and requiring banks to send to mortgage settlement conferences bank officials who have the power to modify loans, allowing residents to stay in their homes.
“There is nothing more traumatic than homeowners and their families losing their homes, or even facing the prospect of losing their homes,” said Marshall.
MAYOR SIGNS EXTENSION OF RENT STABILIZATION: Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed legislation last week which will extend the city Rent Stabilization Law from April 1, 2012 to April 1, 2015. The mayor explained, in order to extend the law, “The city must determine that a housing emergency exists to merit the need for rent stabilization. The 2011 Housing Vacancy Survey, conducted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development, reports the vacancy rate in rental apartments to be 3.12 percent, well below the five percent rate at which the law requires rent regulation be discontinued.”
The mayor added, “The Rent Stabilization Law, enacted in 1969, has been extended in three-year periods since 1979, and requires owners of properties with six or more rental units to abide by the annual rent increase set by the Rent Stabilization Board.”
Bloomberg’s signing follows the City Council’s passage of the bill extending rent controls for three years. Among the councilmembers from Queens joining City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in sponsoring the bill were Councilmembers Daniel Dromm, Karen Koslowitz, James Gennaro, Jimmy Van Bramer, Peter Koo and Mark Weprin.