2017-01-11 / Political Page

Confirmation Of Trump Cabinet Designees Starts

US Senate confirmation hearings for nominees to cabinet positions in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration began yesterday, with Democrats poised to hear nominees’ answers to questions that might reflect how they feel about the president’s policy plans.

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer, signaling that the questions could get sticky in spots, was quoted as saying in some press reports: “will they try to persuade the president that’s the wrong way (his policies) to take America?”

Confirmation hearings have a history of getting nasty and contentious, and these present ones could easily fit that description. One report stated clearly, “Democrats plan to keep the focus on the president-elect to a degree with few historical parallels. New Presidents usually serve as a backdrop; this year by contrast, Mr. Trump’s words will loom over the hearings as Democrats press nominees to take a position on them.”

There seems to be little success Democrats can achieve with these queries, but surely they will try to get some idea of the support or opposition there may be lurking in some nominees’ minds about Trump’s policies.

The Democrats have already seized on another point that emerged with the start of the hearing: many of the nominees have not yet submitted the background checks, tax returns and ethics forms customarily required of them before the hearings begin. There will be much to review in these areas, because most of Trump’s cabinet nominees are millionaires, like Trump himself, who never submitted any financial background checks during his plunge into politics.

Sooner or later, the nominees must comply with financial background and ethics agreement submissions under the Ethics In Government Act, which was passed in 1978, after the Watergate scandal, according to Newsday.

Yesterday, Republicans and Democrats were scheduled to hear from Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), proposed Attorney General; and General John Kelly, Homeland Security nominee. Today the schedule calls for Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State nominee; Betsy De Vos, Education Secretary proposed; and Representative Mike Pompeo (R–KS).

Schumer said he reportedly had asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–KY) to delay hearings for those without completed ethics paperwork, but McConnell would not agree because Republicans wanted as many as possible to be screened before Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

Meanwhile, last week Trump announced he had nominated retired Senator Dan Coats, an Indiana Republican, as National Intelligence Director. Trump had recently taken issue with and challenged US intelligence officials after they announced Russia had snooped on our elections.

Coats, 73, who was on the Intelligence Committee when he was a senator, had criticized Russian activities. Now he may be called on by Trump to improve relations with Russia. Coats had served eight years in the House before moving over to the Senate in 1998, when he retired to become a lobbyist.

ADDABBO: NEW LAWS TARGET HEROIN ADDICTION, MINIMUM WAGE, HEALTH, CONSUMER PROTECTION: With the dawn of the New Year, a wide variety of new laws went into effect in the Empire State, encompassing efforts to combat opioid addiction, increase the minimum wage, cut taxes, address the proliferation of abandoned properties, and expand an array of health and consumer protections, according to NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr.

“When the ball dropped in Times Square on New Year’s Eve to mark the beginning of 2017, it also heralded the implementation of a roster of new state laws addressing issues from ‘A’ for addiction to ‘Z’ for ‘zombie’ properties,” Addabbo said. “An assortment of new statutes will also put more money in the pockets of some workers, aid businesses, provide assistance for veterans, fight back against breast cancer, and make homeowners’ insurance more affordable,” Addabbo (D–Howard Beach) added.

Among the new laws in effect for 2017 are measures to:

• Make changes to insurance policies to better address opioid and heroin addiction, end prior authorization for immediate inpatient treatment, and increase access to naloxone and other overdose reversal medications.

• Update New York’s Child Health Plus insurance program to cover newborns from the first day of their birth month.

• Increase the minimum wage for employees in New York City from $9 to $11 an hour for most businesses, and to $10.50 for employers with fewer than 10 workers.

• Require that the window tint of vehicles be examined during yearly safety inspections, with window glass tinted beyond 30 percent of light transmittance leading to inspection failure and required remediation.

• Enable New Yorkers applying for health insurance through the State’s Health Benefit Exchange to also register as organ donors.

• Provide New York City public employees with up to four hours of excused leave annually for breast cancer screening.

• Extend the “Hire A Vet” tax credit to 2019, and the period of eligible employment for veterans under the program to 2018.

• Require that local social service departments and non-profit agencies receiving state funding ask all people applying for assistance whether they or members of their families have served in the armed forces. If so, those seeking aid would also be provided with contact information for the State Division of Veterans’ Affairs.

• Inform the public of scheduled meetings of the State Board of Regents and any of its subcommittees, task forces, or other subgroups seven days in advance.

• Enable homeowners to receive a 5% rate reduction for fire insurance, homeowners’ insurance, or property/casualty premiums for residential property if they complete a course in natural disaster preparedness.

• Make sure that escolar (oilfish), a fish that can cause significant gastric disturbances, is no longer labeled as “white tuna.”

• Require insurance companies to inform motorists of their right to have their vehicles repaired in a shop of their choice.

• Mandate certain banks to secure and maintain vacant or abandoned one-to-four family residential properties, require the State Department of Financial Services to keep a statewide registry of vacant properties, and ensure that homeowners receive clear notice of their rights during a foreclosure process.

• Expand the state’s highway “move over” law to provide more protection to volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance workers, and others using vehicles with blue or green lights to respond to roadside emergencies.

• Make a number of tax law changes to reduce the corporate franchise tax for businesses; extend the Clean Heating Fuel Tax Credit; allow taxpayers to directly deposit a portion of their income tax refunds into 529 college savings accounts; continue tax credits to companies providing transportation to the disabled; permanently extend the noncustodial parent Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), and give a new City income tax credit to New York City’s beer producers.

“As we enter the New Year, many workers will have more money in their pockets, businesses will enjoy needed tax benefits, and a variety of consumer and health protections will be strengthened,” Addabbo said. “I look forward to working throughout 2017 in our State’s Capitol to enact even more laws to assist my constituents and residents throughout New York as a whole.

CUOMO DESCRIBES IMPACT OF POTENTIAL AFFORDABLE CARE ACT REPEAL IN NEW YORK: Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on January 4th the impact of a potential repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act were enacted, Cuomo noted, an estimated 2.7 million New Yorkers would lose coverage and New York State would experience a direct state budget impact of $3.7 billion and a loss of nearly $600 million of federal funding that goes directly to counties, which they use to help lower property taxes.

“The cost of a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, to state and local budgets and to the New Yorkers who depend on its health care coverage, is simply too high to justify,” Governor Cuomo said. “Since its implementation, the Affordable Care Act has become a powerful tool to lower the cost of health insurance for local governments and New Yorkers, and it is essential that the federal government does not jeopardize the health and livelihoods of millions of working families.”

The NY State of Health exchange has successfully cut the percentage of uninsured New Yorkers in half, from 10 percent to 5 percent. It has also significantly expanded eligibility and access to health coverage, allowing hundreds of thousands of previously uninsured New Yorkers to achieve economic and healthcare security. Based on current enrollment levels, the repeal of the Affordable Care Act would result in over 2.7 million New Yorkers losing health coverage, Cuomo added.

Republicans in Congress had announced that they will vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s significant achievement in office, as soon as his term in office ended. The debate is now going on in Congress and the vote will come shortly.

CROWLEY CHEERS ARMY’S CHANGES FURTHER OPENING DOOR TO SIKH AMERICANS: Congress Member Joe Crowley (D–Queens), the Bronx), Chairman of the Democratic Caucus and a leader on Sikh American issues, welcomed a US Army directive on religious accommodations that will further open the door to allowing Sikh Americans to serve while maintaining their articles of faith, such as a beard or turban. Last year, the Army released a policy that provides for career-long accommodations for Sikh Americans. The revisions announced on January 4th build on that progress by defining the scope and implementation of service by Sikh Americans.

“This is major progress, not just for the Sikh American community, but for our nation’s military. Sikh Americans love this country and want a fair chance to serve in our country on equal footing. Today’s announcement will help do just that,” said Crowley. “We are a stronger nation, with a stronger military, because of our respect for religious and personal freedom. I applaud all those who have worked so hard in a bipartisan way to make this day possible, and I appreciate the leadership of Secretary Fanning and General Milley.”

Before the recent changes, Sikh Americans and others had to be granted a limited accommodation, or permission, to serve in the Army while maintaining their articles of faith. Such accommodations were neither permanent nor guaranteed, and had to be renewed after virtually every assignment. Service members had also been required to remove their articles of faith while their accommodation request was pending, once again subjecting them to the difficult position of choosing between their faith and their job.

In 2014, Crowley and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) led over 100 members of Congress in a bipartisan letter to the Department of Defense urging the US Armed Forces to update their appearance regulations to allow Sikh Americans to serve presumptively while abiding by their articles of faith, such as wearing a turban or beard.

Sikhs have served in the Army since World War I, Crowley noted, and they are presumptively permitted to serve in the armed forces of Canada, India, and the United Kingdom, among others. Currently, a number of Sikh Americans have been granted individualized accommodations to serve in the Army, where they have won accolades for their service, including the Bronze Star. These patriotic soldiers wear turbans and maintain beards in a neat and conservative manner in accordance with operational requirements. They are also able to wear protective equipment, including helmets and gas masks, in conformity with safety requirements.

In 2015, a US District Court ruled that adherence to practicing Sikhism would not diminish the ability of a Sikh American Hofstra University student, Iknoor Singh, to serve in the Army’s Reserve Officer Training Corps.

A recognized leader in Congress on issues related to the Sikh American community, Crowley spearheaded a multi-year, successful effort to convince the federal government to begin collecting data on hate crimes committed against Sikh Americans and Hindu Americans, an important issue brought to nationwide attention by the massacre of Sikh worshippers in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012. Crowley also rallied support for the recent New York Police Department change to its policies to allow Sikhs to serve in the police force while maintaining their articles of faith.

KIM FIRST FLUSHING REP IN ASSEMBLY LEADERSHIP: New York State Assembly Member Ron Kim (D–Flushing) has accepted a new position in the Assembly as Secretary of the Majority Conference. He is the first Assembly member from Flushing to attain such a leadership post, and is one of the few to do so in only his third term in the Assembly. His duties will include aiding the conference leadership and tracking developments through the Legislative Session.

“As Secretary of the Majority Conference of the State Assembly, I will have greater firsthand access to the issues and decisions that drive the entire State of New York,” stated Kim. “Whether it is fighting to protect small businesses and jobs, providing adequate solutions to the opium epidemic, or advocating for educational equity, I will be at the forefront in helping the conference set its larger vision and agenda for our state. I am very grateful to Speaker Carl Heastie for entrusting me with this role, and will do my best to continue fighting for my constituents.”

INDEPENDENCE PARTY OF NYU ENDORSES PAUL MASSEY FOR MAYOR: The Independence Party of New York–the largest third-party group in the nation-announced on January 5th its endorsement of Paul Massey in the 2017 New York City mayoral race.

The Independence Party has played a pivotal role in recent municipal elections, with the party’s votes providing the margin of victory for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s elections in 2001 and 2009.

“New Yorkers want and need new leadership in City Hall, and they don’t want another professional politician,” said Independence Party Chairman Frank MacKay. “Paul Massey will be that leader. He will shake up City Hall and get our government working for New Yorkers once again. Paul will put the public interest ahead of the special interests that are dividing and damaging this great city.”

In accepting the endorsement, Massey said: “I want to thank the Independence Party for its confidence in me and my vision for the city. I’m running for mayor because we need leadership that works. New York City needs a leader with both a bold optimistic vision for what our city can be, and the ability to run and reform a sprawling municipal government responsible for the well-being of over eight million people. Our current mayor is simply not up to the job. I am.”

The Independence Party of New York is growing in local and national influence, as 43% of American voters now identify as political independents, a record high.

“Paul Massey is an accomplished businessman and independent thinker who will deliver pragmatic solutions to our city’s toughest problems. New York City is the greatest city in the world and Paul will bring out the best in us, creating opportunity for all of our kids, unleashing our entrepreneurs and rebuilding and revitalizing neighborhoods block by block. We are proud to endorse him for Mayor,” said Richmond County Independence Party Chair Avi Gvili.

A proven leader, Paul Massey has built a successful real estate brokerage business with operations in every neighborhood in the city’s five boroughs. As mayor, he will focus on governing as a problem solver and as a uniter, with a relentless focus on New Yorkers’ most pressing quality of life concerns: affordable housing, quality schools, good jobs and safe streets, the announcement stated.

Massey has the vision and experience to deliver on these priorities, having cofounded one of the nation’s largest privately owned commercial property brokerage firms. He launched Massey Knakal Realty services in 1988, with the company eventually employing hundreds of people and responsible for one-third of all building sales in New York City. Massey Knakal was ranked New York’s #1 investment sales firm in volume for 14 consecutive years and was sold to Cushman & Wakefield in 2014.

“Paul Massey not only has what it takes to win the race, but more importantly, he has the qualities to be a great mayor,” said New York County Independence Party Chairman Michael K. Zumbluskas. “For months, Paul has been meeting with New Yorkers in every borough to listen and learn the problems facing our city from the Grand Concourse in the Bronx to Tottenville in Staten Island. In contrast with the current occupant of Gracie Mansion, Paul will put our citizens first, not his political ambitions. We are excited to be working with Paul and his team to build a winning coalition for all New Yorkers.”

The Independence Party of New York State is the largest third party in the nation with nearly 500,000 members and growing. The Independence Party promotes the position that candidates and elected officials should be free to tell the voters what their views are, without dictates from political party bosses, special interest groups and restrictive party platforms. We stand for honest dialogue with the American people and an end to empty political posturing and rhetoric that has long been fortified by the media, in collusion with the nation’s two-party system. Ultimately, our goal is to realize a third major party in the United States, Chair Frank MacKay stated.

HEVESI’S BILL BACKED BY de BLASIO: Assembly Member Andrew Hevesi’s bill to reduce homeless shelters by issuing a new rent subsidy which would allow renters to remain in their homes, has won the backing of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The mayor’s spokesman, Eric Phillips, said the mayor “applauded Hevesi’s legislation, which is gaining support in the Assemlby. Hevesi (D–Forest Hills) authored the Home Stability Support bill, which would reduce the need for homeless shelters which have been creating a problem in the city. Hevesi estimates his bill, if enacted, would cost the state and federal governments about $450 million.

The mayor praised Hevesi’s proposal and said, “We’re in the process of analyzing the details… but it’s definitely something we’re interested in and a goal we share with the assemblyman.”

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