2015-02-18 / Political Page

Gianaris Bill Bans Outside Income For State Legislators

Following up on Governor Cuomo’s threat to refuse to sign a state budget unless there is an end to outside income for state lawmakers, state Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced legislation “that would effectively ban outside income for legislators” and impose other ethics reforms.

In showing the courage to take a stand which many of his colleagues oppose, the Astoria Democrat declared:

“Our state government is in desperate need of real ethics reform. I am proud to author bills that would lower campaign contribution limits, as well as prevent public reimbursement of campaign committees for legal defense, and I am proud to support the entire Senate Democratic ethics package. I hope Senate Republicans realize the urgency of this issue and work with us to immediately pass these common-sense reforms so that the people’s faith in their government can be restored.”

“Our state government is in desperate need of real ethics reform. I am proud to author bills that would lower campaign contribution limits, as well as prevent public reimbursement of campaign committees for legal defense, and I am proud to support the entire Senate Democratic ethics package. “Our state government is in desperate need of real ethics reform. I am proud to author bills that would lower campaign contribution limits, as well as prevent public reimbursement of campaign committees for legal defense, and I am proud to support the entire Senate Democratic ethics package. Also included in the package of reform legislation introduced by Gianaris (D–Western Queens) are the following:

• taking away pensions from elected officials convicted of felonies

• creation of a public financing system for elections

• and strengthening financial disclosure laws

Previously, Gianaris, who has worked throughout his career in the state legislature to clean up Albany and pass tough ethics reform laws, had introduced two bills, one that would lower contribution limits for campaigns; the second to prevent campaign committees from being reimbursed for legal defense fees.

Following the recent federal charges brought against now former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, accusing him of federal corruption allegations, Cuomo took a firm stand regarding legislators collecting outside income apart from their salary as lawmakers and not having to disclose any information associated with the outside job. Cuomo has also suggested making legislators’ jobs full-time, as well as banning outside jobs.

After Cuomo announced his challenges, State Senate leader Dean Skelos (R–L.I.) and newly-elected State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D–Bronx) announced they were somewhat in support of Cuomo’s proposal.

Skelos said he had already entered discussions with the governor regarding the latter’s package of reform proposals, and added, “we need full transparency and strong ethics laws” modeled after other states that have them. However, Skelos was among 16 lawmakers named by the Daily News as having earned at least $100,000 in outside income in 2013.

Heastie was quoted in a newspaper as indicating he was aware of the governor’s strong feelings on the issue, and referring to his Assembly conference, said it knows something has to be done.

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeffrey Klein (D–Bronx), has announced he is giving up his outside income and has called for a general ban on it.

MENG SESSION ON EXECUTIVE ACTIONS ON IMMIGRATION: In an effort to familiarize her constituents about President Obama’s executive action on immigration, Congressmember Grace Meng is hosting an informational session on “Executive Actions on Immigration” next Monday, February 23, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Elmhurst Hospital, 79-01 Broadway, in Elmhurst.

Meng cautions attendees to be on time, because registration begins at 5 p.m., giving only a half-hour to register before the meeting starts at 5:30 p.m.

The meeting will be held in conjunction with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, (USCIS), Meng (D–Flushing) said. The lawmaker also invites questions and RSVPs by contacting Meng’s office at 718- 445-7860 or MengRSVP@mail.house.gov.

Some of the objectives of the meeting, says Meng, are to:

•Learn about President Obama’s executive action on immigration.

• be informed of general eligibility criteria and process for expanded DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability) and DACA (Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

• ask questions of USCIS.

• learn how to protect yourself from being a victim of an immigration services scam.

President Obama announced about a month ago a plan to allow millions of immigrants to remain lawfully in the United States under his executive action, but Republicans in Congress are fighting to block it.

MALONEY PROPOSES REVERSE MORTGAGES FOR CO-OPS: Congressmember Carolyn Maloney proposed last week allowing co-op owners to obtain reverse mortgages, which are presently permitted for private home owners. Maloney pointed out, “At present, no private lenders are issuing reverse mortgages to co-op owners. Much of the housing market in New York City is made of co-ops, meaning that many New Yorkers are excluded from the reverse mortgage market.”

Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) explained reverse mortgages enable homeowners aged 62 or older to withdraw some of the equity in their homes as monthly cash payments, a line of credit or a lump sum disbursement. The amount borrowed, plus interest, insurance and fees, is due only when the owner moves out of the home, or dies, Maloney explained.

The lawmaker continued, saying that the right for housing cooperatives to use reverse mortgages was enacted into law in 2000 in the American Homeownership and Economic Opportunity Act of 2000, Public Law 106- 569, but the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has not issued the guidelines needed to implement the law.

Maloney said that in 2008, a provision in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 asked HUD to issue regulations so reverse mortgages could be used for co-ops. Before the housing market crash in 2008, reverse mortgages were available to co-ops through some portfolio lenders. In 2011, Maloney circulated a letter that was signed by eight members of Congress urging HUD to issue the regulations. Last summer, Maloney noted, The New York Times reported that HUD had begun drafting regulations, but had decided not to put them into effect.

Now, last week, at a Financial Services Committee Hearing on the Future of Housing in America, with HUD Secretary Castro, Maloney asked Castro to look into allowing co-op owners to obtain reverse mortgages through the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage (HECM) program, which is insured by the Federal Housing Administration, a division of HUD.

Castro committed to work with Maloney on the issue, providing a source of hope for those who once thought co-ops would never be eligible for reverse mortgages.

CROWLEY, BOYLE MEET WITH SOBER ST. PATRICK’S DAY FOUNDER: Congressmember Joseph Crowley, vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Congressmember Brendan Boyle (D–PA) met with the founder of Sober St. Patrick’s Day, William Reilly. Crowley said that since 2012, Sober St. Patrick’s Day has worked to create events across the United States where participants can join in celebrating the history, culture and festivities of St. Patrick’s Day in an alcohol-free environment.

Crowley (D–Queens/Bronx) stated: “St. Patrick’s Day is a chance for everyone to feel a little bit Irish, and events like Sober St. Patrick’s Day help ensure that remains possible. William Reilly and the team behind Sober St. Patrick’s Day are working hard to ensure that those who want to join in the festivities in an alcohol-free environment have the possibility to do so. I thank him for what was a very interesting and productive discussion.”

Boyle added: “The Irish cultural heritage is very rich, from literature to music to dance. This is a chance to celebrate and enjoy these aspects of our heritage.”

Crowley said Sober St. Patrick’s Day events are held annually in New York City; Richmond, VA; Cleveland, OH, and Casper, WY; and the organization has plans to expand to Philadelphia this year.

The lawmaker also noted the effort is gaining momentum globally. In 2013 Sober St. Patrick’s Day expanded to the North of Ireland where a free concert for 5,000 people immediately follows the annual Belfast City St. Patrick’s Day parade, Crowley said.

MENG BILL: FLAGS PURCHASED BY U.S. GOV’T SHOULD BE MADE IN AMERICA: Legislation that would require all American flags purchased by the federal government should be made in the United States has been introduced by Congressmember Grace Meng.

Under the lawmaker’s All-American Flag Act, she said, any U.S. flag acquired by the federal government must contain 100-percent American-made materials entirely manufactured in the United States. And, she pointed out, current law requires the federal government to purchase flags made of only 50-percent American-made materials.

“This legislation is common sense,” said Meng (D–Flushing). “An American flag should be entirely made in America. There are many American businesses that manufacture American flags affordably, and the federal government should spend our tax dollars on flags from these businesses, not on flags made overseas. We must honor our veterans and support our businesses, by only purchasing American-made American flags.”

The lawmaker said that according to the U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Census data, the dollar value of U.S. imports of American flags in 2013 was $4 million.

“Although we in government cannot fully control where all American flags are made, we can control where American flags purchased by the United States government are made,” added Meng.

The legislation is similar to a bill Meng sponsored when she was a member of the New York State Assembly. The measure, which was entitled the New York State All- American Flag Act, required New York State to only purchase flags entirely made in America.

VALLONE: PLACE PEDESTRIAN COUNTDOWN SIGNALS NEAR SCHOOLS, PARKS: Councilmember Paul Vallone (D–Bayside) has introduced a bill to accelerate and mandate the installation of pedestrian countdown signals at intersections next to schools and parks. The lawmaker said the legislation is aimed at reducing pedestrian injuries by helping them to avoid getting caught in the middle of a crosswalk when the signal changes, and this becomes especially important near schools and parks.

Vallone said that according to the Department of Transportation (DOT), “Countdown signals have been shown to decrease pedestrian injury crashes and are strongly favored by pedestrians who find them easier to understand than other signal types.

“Thus, this legislation would mandate that beginning in 2016, and annually thereafter, the Department of Transportation will be tasked with installing pedestrian countdown signals at 100 intersections directly adjacent to schools or parks.”

Vallone added; “Ensuring the safety of our city’s children and parents should be a top priority and these countdown signals achieve that goal. Installing pedestrian countdown signals next to every school and park is directly in line with the goals of the Mayor’s Vision Zero initiative and I am proud to introduce this legislation.”

MENG TRYING TO FIX S.S. DISPARITY: Congressmember Grace Meng has introduced a bill to fix the disparity in Social Security benefits for seniors born between 1917 and 1926, who are referred to as “Notch Babies.”

Meng’s legislation, she said, which is called the Notch Fairness Act, would square things by giving the Notch Babies, either a $5,000 lump sum payment (payable in four yearly installments), or an increase in monthly social security benefits. Involved seniors would pick the option.

“Passing this legislation is long overdue,” said Meng (D–Flushing). “Fixing this disparity in benefits would not only make a huge difference to the many seniors who rely on this money as their main source of income, but it is also the fair and right thing to do for older Americans who were shortchanged by Congress. It’s long past time to address this problem, and I urge my colleagues in Congress to move forward with this important bill.”

Meng explained that seniors born between 1917 and 1926 presently receive lower S.S. payments than those who were born before and after them due to an adjustment Congress made to Social Security benefits in 1977. The adjustment was made, Meng said, to fix a prior cost-of-living modification that resulted in unexpected windfalls for beneficiaries born before 1917.

SMITH, TABONE AWAITING SENTENCING: Former State Senator Malcolm Smith and ex-Queens Republican Vice Chairman Vincent Tabone, who were convicted on bribery charges recently in connection with a deal to place Smith, a Democrat, on the 2013 mayoral ballot as a Republican, are now awaiting sentencing. Both were convicted in a trial in White Plains. Their original trial had ended in a mistrial, setting up the White Plains trial.

ADDABBO GETS SEAT ON ENVIRONMENTAL PANEL: State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr., who has consistently made environmental concerns a focus of his legislative work, both in his Southern Queens district and in Albany, has just landed in an ideal spot—a seat on the Committee on Environmental Conservation.

Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) welcomed the new assignment as “a great opportunity to work even harder to protect and conserve the precious natural resources in our state and within my district.”

Describing his new assignment, he stated, “From continuing my efforts to protect Jamaica Bay, to working on public policy that may help to address extreme weather patterns that threaten our communities, to taking action to safeguard our air, water and green spaces, I am excited to begin working as a member of the Environmental Conservation Committee. It is vital that we, as a nation, state and city, take thoughtful and effective action to preserve and improve our environment for today’s families and future generations.”

Looking back, Addabbo touched on several of his past activities that showed his interest in the environment. Since 2010, he and his neighboring Assemblymember, Mike Miller (D–Woodhaven), have held twice-yearly community recycling days “to enable my constituents to more easily recycle electronics, old clothing, paper, and a variety of other household goods.”

The result? “During previous recycling events, a total of 192,000 pounds of paper and electronics alone—or 96 tons—were collected and prevented from being ultimately deposited in landfills.”

Jamaica Bay, “an environmentally significant body of water… and important refuge for birds and other wildlife,” have earned his attention and will continue to get it, he indicated. And the same applies to Broad Channel, Rockaway and Howard Beach, areas of his district which “are not only environmentally sensitive areas, but are very important to the local economy and tourist trade.”

Citing them, he stated, “Among the issues I intend to work on, we must continue to build back our beautiful beaches, which are an attraction for both local families and visitors from throughout the city.”

In addition to his new post, Addabbo will continue to serve as the ranking member of both the Senate Committee on Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs and the Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering. He is also a member of the Senate Committees on Education, Labor, Aging and Civil Service.

ADDABBO SUPPORTS N.Y. RISING COMMUNITY CENTER: “The New York Rising Program was essential to my district’s post-Sandy recovery. It gave local residents the chance to tell officials what their communities need to be protected from future disasters, and an example of that is these community centers. Within hours of Sandy ripping through my district, my constituents needed information about relief efforts and these proposed community centers would have been extremely helpful after the storm. Providing my constituents with a central hub to get information on how to protect their quality of life is vital. Howard Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways will benefit greatly from this. I look forward to working with the Governor's office and my constituents as this program unfolds and will fight for recovery options for every neighborhood.”

FERRERAS SEEKS PET ADOPTION TAX CREDIT: Seeking to encourage New Yorkers to adopt dogs or cats from the city’s animal shelters, Councilmember Julissa Ferreras last week introduced a resolution calling on the state legislature to pass a bill to give future adopters a $100 tax credit. If passed, it would make New York State the first to offer such a credit.

Ferreras (D–Corona), the council’s Financial Committee chairperson, explained, “Encouraging New Yorkers with a tax credit to adopt pets is not only compassionate, but would bring relief to our overburdened animal shelters and to animal lovers who want to adopt but are wary of the initial costs. In addition, the companionship of a pet has proven health and social benefits for adults and children.”

Ferreras already has State Senator Kevin Parker (D–Manhattan) ready to sponsor the bill in his house. Parker said, “Animal shelters are for six to eight million dogs or cats annually, and of these, three to four million are euthanized because they are not adopted.”

The $100 tax credit for adopters would offset adoption fees and initial pet care costs, but would also “significantly cut the public cost of looking after the animals held in shelters,” Parker said.

Also supporting Ferreras’ bill are Risa Weinstock, Executive Director of Animal Care and Control of New York City, and Sandra DeFeo, Executive Director of the Humane Society of New York.

Weinstock said, “We have so many wonderful animals looking for loving homes…and we welcome initiatives such as a pet tax credit that may encourage more New Yorkers to help make a difference for our city’s homeless cats and dogs.”

DeFeo said her organization has been “saving homeless animals’ lives since 1904” and “wholeheartedly supports Councilmember Ferreras in her endeavor to reward those who adopt an animal…”

MAYOR’S HORSE BAN PLAN LOSING STEAM: Two City Councilmembers from Queens sprung surprises on Mayor de Blasio this week, announcing they would not be supporting his plan to remove horse-drawn carriages from Central Park.

Councilmember Paul Vallone (D–Bayside) deserted the mayor, revealing in a Daily News story that there should be further efforts to keep the carriage industry in business possibly by tightening certain regulations.

Previously, Councilmember Eric Ulrich (R–Ozone Park) came out against the mayor’s plan because it would eliminate too many jobs.

Now the score stands 16 against and 11 in favor of the mayor’s plan, according to the count of those stating positions. It also reveals another of the mayor’s plans stumbling into trouble of late.

Vallone and Ulrich are the latest councilmembers to desert the mayor on the horsebanning plan, which now looks to be in danger of getting scratched.

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