2017-02-08 / Political Page

Trump’s Immigration Ban Moves Slowly

US President Donald Trump, both in his private past life and his present situation as President of the United States, clearly appears to demand quick responses to what he wants – and that includes the travel ban he has proposed concerning Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, all of which have heavy Muslim populations.

President Trump issued an executive order which was designed to protect the US from terrorist attacks. The President’s order, however, was challenged by two states, Washington and Minnesota, and the case went before Judge James Robart of the Federal District Court in Seattle, according to The New York Times.

During last Saturday’s court session, Judge Robart temporarily banned Trump’s administration from enforcing two parts of the President’s order, which called for a 90-day suspension of entry into the US of people from the seven countries singled out in the President’s order; and the limits stipulated in the Presidents order regarding accepting refugees, including “any action that prioritizes the refugee claims of certain religious minorities.”

The story also added: the administration argued that Judge Robart had “improperly second guessed the President’s national security determinations.”

By late Saturday, Judge Robart’s ruling had been appealed in the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals for the in San Francisco late Saturday, where the court asked the federal government to file a second brief by 3 pm on Monday. Beyond that, there’s a good chance that the losing side in the Court of Appeals will then appeal to the US Supreme Court. That may satisfy some people involved in the case, but the lengthy legal action will delay entry for some immigrants seeking to enter the US.

GIANARIS BASHES NY GOP’S DEFENSE OF TRUMP’S ANTI-IMMIGRANT ORDER: “We are in unprecedented times that require all men and women of good conscience to stand up and resist the hateful policies coming from the Trump administration. As someone whose own parents came to the US from Greece, I will continue to fight with all my energy to preserve and protect our American values.”

CROWLEY BILL IMPROVES ACCESS TO SPECIALIZED REHAB TECH FOR MEDICARE PATIENTS: Congress Member Joseph Crowley (D–Queens, the Bronx), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, announced the reintroduction of the Ensuring Access to Quality Complex Rehabilitation Technology Act of 2017, legislation that ensures patients with severe medical conditions and disabilities have access to the highly specialized medical equipment needed in their day-to-day lives.

The bill establishes a distinct benefit category in Medicare for complex rehabilitation technology (CRT) products, such as specialized power wheelchairs and adaptive seating systems. Allowing for a separate category gives the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services the ability to better target their payment and coverage policies for complex equipment. Currently, Medicare classifies these specialized products as standard durable medical equipment, which limits access and choice for those individuals who rely on CRT products, Crowley explained.

Crowley joined with Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R–WI) to reintroduce this legislation.

“This legislation would guarantee that patients have access to the high-quality products and services they need to lead a more independent life. For those with disabilities and other medical conditions, these complex rehabilitation technology products are necessities,” said Crowley. “The quality standard and consumer protections included in this bill will also make the Medicare program stronger for all individuals seeking care.”

The bill also helps prevent fraud and abuse by requiring that a licensed physical or occupational therapist evaluates any patient seeking CRT products through Medicare and increases quality standards, Crowley added.

MALONEY ON TERROR ATTACK AT QUEBEC CITY MOSQUE: In reaction to the terror attack at a Quebec City mosque during Sunday night prayers, Congress Member Carolyn b. Maloney (NY–12) released the following statement:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Quebec City, and with all those who bore witness to the horrific attack at the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Centre Sunday evening. These terrorists, targeting individuals while they were praying, are nothing short of barbaric. The United States must stand in solidarity with our Canadian neighbors at this difficult time.

“I am grateful that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the NYPD stepped up security for mosques across our city so swiftly after the attack, to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers. We must remain vigilant against those who would seek to divide us; we are all a global community.”

KATZ ON DETENTION OF TRAVELERS AT JFK AIRPORT: Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who was on-site over the weekend and received briefings by lawyers about the status of previously detained individuals, stated the following about the situation at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).

“I commend the attorneys and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit who spent the past three days in JFK Terminals 1, 4 and 7, identifying families of the detainees and challenging the President’s executive order through lawsuits and restraining orders for individuals who had all the necessary documentation to enter the United States. I was in close contact throughout the past three days with congressional colleagues to assist the lawyers and families in any way possible. Attorneys are now preparing to defend legal permanent residents in affected countries who are being barred from boarding planes to JFK. Anyone impacted by the executive order who is in need of legal assistance can contact a network of volunteer immigration attorneys by emailing: immigrationlawhelp2017@gmail.com. This network includes lawyers from the American Immigration Lawyers Association and many nonprofit organizations.

Follow Borough President Katz via: @melindakatz or www.facebook.com/queensbpkatz

CROWLEY, DOT MEETING ON QUEENS LIGHT RAIL: Just over one year ago, Council Member Elizabeth Crowley announced her proposal to bring light rail commuter service to the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) Lower Montauk line, an 8.5-mile stretch of rail from Jamaica to Long Island City. Since then, the QNS Light Rail plan has garnered support from local residents, all surrounding community boards, the entire City Council Queens Delegation, local state elected officials, Borough President Melinda Katz, Congress Member Grace Meng, and many more. Additionally, in the 2017 city budget, Crowley secured $500,000 for the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a feasibility study of the line.

Last week, the Council Member hosted more than 20 community leaders in her district office for the DOT to give its first public stakeholder outreach presentation.

“This meeting marked a pivotal step in the process of making the QNS light rail a reality,” Crowley said. “Our borough is growing faster than city planners could have ever accounted for, and we need infrastructure that supports that growth. Light rail would bring reliable public transit to transportation deserts, get countless cars off the road, boost our economy, and help the environment.”

The study, managed by the DOT and conducted by AECOM, will determine the plan’s feasibility, including the constructability, cost, connectivity to existing transit, compatibility with existing freight use, as well as potential ridership and station siting, Crowley noted. The rail study will additionally look at rail and freight transport options, passenger service history, a corridor overview, the area context, at-grade crossings, and local bus networks.

“Improving transit options in Queens means better access to jobs, shopping and services, and quicker routes to schools, home and loved ones. We thank Council Member Crowley for her leadership and support, and for the opportunity to conduct this important feasibility study for commuter rail on the LIRR Lower Montauk Branch,” said DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia.

Crowley noted she was pleased to bring together leaders in the community that could ultimately benefit from the QNS Light Rail, and is proud to have their support moving forward.

“Strong support within the community is what will keep this project alive. I’m happy we can all work together to make the Queens of tomorrow a successful and thriving borough,” she said. “My sincere thanks to the DOT and AECOM for their work on this project,” Crowley concluded.

MALONEY CONDEMNS BANNON APPOINTMENT TO NSC: After President Donald Trump issued an executive order appointing White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon to the National Security Council’s Principals Committee while removing the Director of National Intelligence and Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of their seats on the same committee, Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (D–Queens/Manhattan) released the following statement:

“I am deeply troubled by the appointment of Steve Bannon, an individual closely associated with the alt-right movement, to the Principals Committee of the National Security Council and the removal of the Director of National Intelligence and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from this same committee. This action is a radical shift to the composition of the council and one that undermines our national security. The National Security Council’s chief responsibility is to keep our country safe. This council must not be politicized, but the appointment of a White House strategist to the Principal’s Committee does just that. Mr. Bannon does not belong on the NSC, let alone in the White House.”

PHEFFER AMATO TO CUOMO: INCLUDE ROCKAWAY RAIL LINE IN JFK MAKEOVER: Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato (D–Rockaway Beach) on January 30th praised Governor Cuomo’s “New JFK” vision, which includes improved transit, a unified terminal and upgraded security. Pheffer Amato urged Cuomo to include the Rockaway Beach Rail Line, or QueensRail, connecting JFK with Midtown Manhattan, as a central component of the multi-agency $10 billion overhaul.

“My predecessor, Phil Goldfeder, relentlessly campaigned for this straightforward upgrade to our transit system,” said Pheffer Amato. “Currently, there is a feasibility study being conducted, likely to be published in June. We are calling on the legislature, the Governor, DOT, MTA, and all other relevant bodies to keep the RBRL a top priority as we implement upgrades to JFK.”

The Rockaway Peninsula is connected by two tolled bridges to the mainland, one of which is concurrent with a subway line. Options for getting to other parts of New York City are limited, indirect, and often tolled. Travel times to Manhattan run upwards of one hour. By contrast, the Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) provided continuous transit service to Manhattan from 1880 to 1962. For 82 years, via the Rockaway Beach Branch, the commute to Manhattan from the Rockaways was about 40 minutes.

The same lines are still available, according to transit experts, needing only to be cleaned, updated and reactivated to reconnect the Peninsula to the LIRR rail system. Since Superstorm Sandy in 2011, the area has made a concerted and well-received effort to rebuild, and the popularity of the Peninsula has exploded. The resultant influx of people, schools and businesses has created a more vibrant economy, placing gigantic strain on the region’s aging transit infrastructure, the lawmaker explained.

“Not a day goes by when I don’t talk to a constituent about traffic congestion and the maddening indirectness of getting to Manhattan from here,” said Pheffer Amato. “Queens is a transit desert, badly in need of more options. The Rockaways in particular are becoming what they once were – a vibrant, affordable, attractive center of population growth.

“All we need to do to take cars off the road, restore direct transit and save 40 minutes of commute time daily is reactivate an old line, for which right-of-way is already available,” she continued. “I plan to make sure this simple, crucial support for southern Queens families, businesses, and air travelers is kept at the center of our JFK upgrade process.”

PHEFFER AMATO SAYS USE ‘FAMILIAL DNA’ MATCHING TECHNIQUE IN MURDER PROB: In August of last year, Karina Vetrano, 30, was murdered while out for an afternoon run. Six months later, her killer is still at large. Vetrano’s killing sent shockwaves through her tight-knit community of Howard Beach, in south Queens. This Friday, NYS Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato, representative for Howard Beach and surrounding communities, will ask the State Commission on Forensic Science (SCFS), to change the law so investigators can use familial DNA matching, or “FM,” in pursuit of new suspects.

Pheffer Amato notes that the cutting-edge tactic, which builds a “family tree” map that can provide investigators with new leads, has been instrumental in closing several high-profile murder cases over the past decade. New York State’s laws are ambiguous on the tool, which makes prosecutors extremely reluctant to use it, lest cases be thrown out or overturned on appeal. The number of states that allow FM is nine, and Pheffer Amato is lobbying for New York State to become the tenth.

“As a mother and daughter,” said Pheffer Amato, “I’m unfortunately very cognizant that one in five women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Perpetrators of sexual violence are less likely to face prison than other criminals. As an elected official, I must look out for victims, their families and the whole community. The Vetrano family and so many others in my district continue to face the daily struggles of loss, made worse by the fact that Karina’s killer is yet to be found. In order to promote justice, to ease the pain of family and community members and to protect against an active threat to everyone’s safety. I strongly urge the SCFS to allow use of familial DNA searching in this case, and in all cases moving forward.”

Assembly Member Pheffer Amato is encouraging those who are impacted and have opinions on the use of FM to join her this Friday, February 10th, at the division of Criminal Justice Services, Office of Forensic Services, at the NYC address. The hearing will run from 9 am to 5 pm Pheffer Amato will be giving testimony at a time to be determined. Though the window for submitting public comment is closed, constituents and other interested parties are encouraged to contact the Assembly Member office with input on the matter, at (718) 945-9550.

TURNER COMMENTS ON TRUMP’S IMMIGRATION ORDER: The following statement was issued by Queens Republican Party Chairman Bob Turner:

“The recent directive by President Trump to protect its citizens in the United States has garnered a storm of controversy and misinformation. The implementation of the executive order was somewhat haphazard, and even ham-handed, but the security measures are legal. The President, by proclamation, for any period he deems necessary can suspend entry into the United States of any or all aliens and the political hysteria following the executive order is essentially that – political.

“The executive order is not a ban on Muslims, nor will it significantly reduce the annual rate of immigrants entering the US each year legally. President Trump was elected on a platform featuring better vetting and scrutiny of our border access procedures. He did just what he promised to do. The problem seems to be what the executive order is not. He has issued a temporary ban on aliens from high-risk countries until a better screening procedure is in place. It is not a ban on immigrants and it’s not an eviction notice. We are a nation of immigrants and immigrants are an important part of our continued economic growth and development. Immigration occupies a noble place in our history; that’s what makes us great.”

KOSLOWITZ’ BILL PUTS SANITARY LETTER GRADES ON FOOD CARTS: Council Member Karen Koslowitz (D–Forest Hills) submitted legislation on Feb. 1st requiring New York City food trucks and carts to display Health Department letter grades. “My legislation would mandate letter grades be displayed by food trucks and carts just like the ones which are put up at city restaurants,” noted Koslowitz. “You go to a food cart, and you really don’t know its sanitary condition. Our current grading system works well for restaurants, and I believe it would be good for the city’s food carts as well. The consumer has a right to know to what degree a cart is in compliance. This way the public can make an informed choice as to whether to eat at a particular food cart. It’s simply about consumer protection, forewarned is forearmed.”

VAN BRAMER’S BILL TO PROTECT CHILDREN FROM PESTICIDES IN PARKS: New York City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer has introduced legislation to reduce children’s exposure to pesticides in New York City Parks. Under Intro 1466, cosponsored by Council Member Mark Levine, the city would be required to clean children’s play equipment after toxic pesticides are sprayed, a regulation that is not currently in place.

The New York City Parks Department uses Roundup, a pesticide produced by Monsanto that has been linked to cancer by the World Health Organization, to deter rat infestations in city parks. However, the Parks Department does not have to clean play equipment used by the city’s children after the pesticide is sprayed. Intro 1466 requires that play equipment be cleaned in order to protect children’s health, Van Bramer explained.

“It is our responsibility to do everything we can to keep our city’s children safe and healthy,” said Van Bramer. “This common-sense legislation requires the city to clean up after itself and keep our children safe by simply making sure play equipment isn’t contaminated by pesticides. Our parks are an incredible resource for New York City’s families – it’s up to us to make sure they are safe and clean.”

“Ensuring that New York’s parks are as healthy as possible must be a top priority for our city,” said Levine, Chair of the Council’s Committee on Parks and Recreation. “Requiring the city to clean play equipment near where certain chemicals have been used has the potential to make our parks measurably cleaner and safer for the children and families who use them. I applaud my colleague, Majority Leader Van Bramer for introducing this legislation and his efforts to better New York’s parks system.”

MENG’S LEGISLATION TO AWARD ANWAR SADAT CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL: Congress Member Grace Meng (D–Flushing) helped introduce legislation that would award the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States Congress.

“Anwar Sadat was an extraordinary leader, visionary and peacemaker who, as President of Egypt, became the first Arab leader to visit and recognize Israel,” said Meng. “Awarding him with the Congressional Gold Medal would be an outstanding way to honor the enduring legacy he left behind, and pay tribute to his courage, and the contributions he made to peace in the Middle East. I’m proud to help introduce this bill, and I urge the House and Senate to pass it.”

The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), is entitled the Anwar Sadat Centennial Celebration Act since next year will mark what would have been Sadat’s 100th birthday.

In addition, a Senate version has been introduced by Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).

Sadat was critical to creating a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt. Following 1978’s Camp David Accords, Sadat signed a peace treaty with then-Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1979. His efforts won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

‘SPRING SEASON PREVIEW’: Queens Historical Society has an adventuresome and extensive schedule of programs and events for the winter and spring. All are welcome to their Spring Season Preview that will provide further detail to these events which include film screenings, insights from authors, historians, and photographers in Queens! Learn more about their free pilot after-school program, Now It’s Electric! presented by Con Edison. To kick off the Spring season they announced Council Member Peter Koo (D–Flushing) as their guest of honor. Save the date Saturday, February 25.

MALONEY CONDEMNS REPEAL OF GUN BUYER BACKGROUND CHECK PROVISION: Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (D–Queens-Manhattan), a member of the House Democratic Caucus’ Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, released the following statement after the House of Representatives voted to reverse an Obama Administration effort to provide Social Security Administration information on individuals with severe mental health disorders to the federal gun background check system.

“I am deeply troubled by the House’s vote to reverse a step in the background check process for gun purchases. The rule, which implements bipartisan legislation that Congress passed unanimously in 2007, enables the background check process to keep weapons out of the hands of those who would do harm to themselves, others, and who are already prohibited from owning a firearm by federal law. Reversing this rule puts American lives at risk.

“Rather than work with a new administrator to improve the rule, the Majority would rather have no rule at all. This bill not only repeals this background check improvement rule, it also prohibits the federal government from issuing a similar rule in the future.

“We’ve got it backwards. We shouldn’t be repealing gun safety rules, we should be strengthening them. Gun violence is an epidemic in this country and we have done literally nothing in Congress about it since Republicans took the majority in the House in 2011.”

PARENTS OF MURDER VICTIM CALL FOR USE OF FAMILIAL DNA MATCHING TO SOLVE CRIME: Last Thursday, February 2nd, Phil and Cathie Vetrano, parents of Karina Vetrano, whose murder remains unsolved, called for the New York State Commission on Forensic Science to adopt guidelines permitting use of Familial DNA Matching (FM) at its upcoming February 10th public meeting. They were joined by city and state elected officials and neighbors.

The Vetranos will be testifying at the meeting on the 10th, as will Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato (D–Far Rockaway) and other local elected officials, on the urgency of using all necessary tools to achieve justice for families of unsolved-crime victims. Speaking as well will be FM expert Rockne Harmon. Harmon has helped states adopt guidelines for the use of familial matching, resulting in several high- profile convictions, including the closure this past week of a forty-year-old case involving Karen Klaas, late wife of Righteous Brothers singer Bill Medley. “Experience has shown that virtually every investigative lead to date has led directly to the actual offender,” said Harmon. “No false leads have been produced. Of the ten states using FM, none has sought legislative change of their existing database law. They considered FM to be a permissive use within the statutory purpose of their law and self-regulated in order to implement FM. We hope the New York State Commission will follow suit on February 10th, and achieve justice for Karina’s and so many other anguished families,” he concluded.

“There is no healing my ravished, broken heart in the wake of the ultimate tragedy a mother could experience,” said Cathie Vetrano, Karina’s mother. “We deserve, and Karina deserves, for this monster to face justice. This technique simply works, and any and every person would wholeheartedly demand its use if it were their child and not mine. My valiant daugh- ter fought to give us this. We are hoping and expecting for the Commission to help us in this small but important way, and to not make us wait for justice a day longer.”

Pheffer Amato and other local leaders spoke at the rally. “I’ve been working with the Vetranos for months, because they’ve been through the worst ordeal anyone could go through, and they’ve gotten no closure on this horrible tragedy,” she said. “Familial matching is a common-sense way to find new leads. The Vetranos and so many other families need justice now, and I intend to do everything I can to help them get it.”

“When investigators run out of leads, how can you look into the eyes of the loving family left behind and tell them that, while we have the capability to perform Familial DNA Matching to find the murderer, we just cannot pursue it?” said state Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. “I call on the New York State Commission on Forensic Science to adopt guidelines that have been proven effective in other parts of the country.”

“I fully support the Vetrano family and my partners in elected office in their efforts to ensure that New York State allows familial DNA testing to help identify the individual wanted for this heinous crime. The police should have this tool available to them to identify criminals who would otherwise escape justice,” said Council Member Eric Ulrich. “I’m confident the city and state can create reasonable safeguards to protect constitutional liberties and ensure investigators conduct these tests after all standard investigative pathways have been exhausted.”

State Senator Phil Boyle, from Suffolk County, said, “I deeply commend the Vetrano family for their tireless advocacy on this important issue, in their search for justice over the senseless murder of their daughter Karina. It’s now time for New York State to allow our law enforcement officials to use this powerful crime-fighting technology. I strongly urge members of the State Commission on Forensic Science to accept recommendations to permit Familial DNA searching in New York during their special meeting next week. Until then, I am honored to work with my colleagues Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato, Senator Tony Avella, and Senator Joseph Addabbo to advance legislation allowing for familial DNA matching.”

STAVISKY CELEBRATES BLACK HISTORY MONTH: Senator Stavisky (D–Flushing) recognized February as Black History Month, urging New Yorkers to discover and celebrate the many accomplishments African Americans have made to New York and the United States.

“Each February provides us with an opportunity celebrate our diversity, and learn more about the many contributions African Americans have made to our community,” Stavisky said. “Black History Month is an important reminder of how our society is enriched through diversity. This year, more than ever, we must continue to celebrate our differences. I urge all New Yorkers to learn more about African American contributions to our society, and to take time to better appreciate and understand the African American experience in the United States.”

Originating in 1926 as “Negro History Week,” historian Carter G. Woodson chose February for this celebration because the second week of the month marks the birthdays of both President Abraham Lincoln, and abolitionist and former slave Frederick Douglass. In 1976, the week of recognition and celebration was extended to the entire month of February.

For more information about Black History Month, please visit: www.africanamericanhistorymonth.gov/

For Black History Month educational resources, please visit: smithsonianeducation.org/educators/resource_library/african_american_resources.html.

For free Black History Month programs at the Queens Library, please visit: www.queenslibrary.org/about-us/queenslibrarypublications/magazine

MALONEY REJECTS NEIL GORSUCH FOR SUPREME COURT: Following the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney, released the following statement:

“First and foremost, Supreme Court nominees must honor and uphold the rights enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. Tragically, especially for the women of America, President Trump’s nominee falls short of this standard. Judge Gorsuch’s views are far outside the mainstream of American legal thought, and his decisions have been especially hostile to both the rights and wellbeing of women.

“In the Hobby Lobby Case, Judge Gorsuch placed an employers’ beliefs above a woman’s rights and her own deeply held beliefs. His decision effectively gave employers the power to interfere with a woman’s decisions about her own body and her own healthcare. His decision puts employers in the examination room with a woman and her doctor and gives them veto power over a woman’s choices.

“Equal should mean equal, always. Yet Judge Gorsuch’s presence on the court would ensure that women’s full and equal rights could be in legal jeopardy for decades to come.”

CROWLEY, HOUSE COLLEAGUES REINTRODUCE ‘DEMOCRACY FOR ALL’ AMENDEMENT: Congress Member Joe Crowley (D–Queens, the Bronx), Chair of the Democratic Caucus, announced that he has cosponsored the reintroduction of the Democracy for All Amendment, which would reverse destructive Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United v. FEC, that have given corporations and the wealthiest donors the right to buy unlimited influence in our elections. Crowley joins Reps. Ted Deutch (FL-22), James P. McGovern (MA-04), and Jamie Raskin (MD-08), in reintroducing the amendment.

“Reversing Supreme Court decisions like Citizens United, will help restore and protect the integrity of our electoral process – one of the pillars of our nation’s democracy,” said Rep. Crowley. “The voices of corporations, special interest groups and the wealthy should not drown out the voices of everyday Americans. It’s high time we get money out of politics, and I’m proud to once again join my colleagues in support of the Democracy for All Amendment which will advance the basic principle of one voice, one vote that is so integral to our democracy.”

Since the 2010 Citizens United decision, Americans have witnessed an unprecedented explosion of big money in state and federal elections. The Center for Responsive Politics estimates that each of the presidential election cycles since have broken spending records coming in at $6.3 billion in 2012 and $6.9 billion in 2016. Election spending tripled between 2008 and 2012, and 93% of the more than $600 million spent in 2012 by Super PACs came from about 3,300 donors, or .0011 percent of the American population, Crowley explained.

Beyond the explosion of outside spending invited by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United, this decision also dramatically undermined the legitimacy of all campaign finance laws. In his far-reaching opinion for the 5-4 majority, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy held that any election law that goes beyond preventing quid pro quo, bribery-style corruption between candidates and donors risks violating the First Amendment. Unfortunately, in 2014 the Supreme Court only further embraced this narrow understanding of corruption in McCutcheon v. FEC, when it invalidated aggregate limits on how much a single donor could spend per election cycle. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Roberts even went so far as to argue that the influence awarded to donors is not a corrupting quid pro quo transaction, but a First Amendment right, Crowley stated.

The Democracy for All Amendment was developed in a collaborative effort with House cosponsors, Senate sponsors Senators Tom Udall (NM) and Michael Bennet (CO), constitutional scholars, and grassroots advocacy organizations committed to restoring the integrity of our electoral process. In addition to overturning recent rulings like Citizens United and McCutcheon, the Democracy for All Amendment also reverses the Supreme Court’s controversial holding in Buckley v. Valeo that spending money in elections is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment, Crowley noted.

HEALTHCARE FOR VETS EXPOSED TO RADIATION: US Congress Member Grace Meng (D–New York) and Senator Al Franken (D–Minnesota) have introduced a common-sense bipartisan bill to bring important health care benefits to “Atomic Veterans” who were exposed to high levels of harmful radiation when assigned to clean up nuclear testing sites during the late 1970s.

The bipartisan Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act – named after the late Congress Member Mark Takai of Hawaii – would designate veterans who participated in the nuclear cleanup of Enewetak Atoll on the Marshall Islands as “radiation-exposed veterans,” and make them eligible to receive the same health care and benefits given to other service members who were involved in active nuclear tests, Meng said.

“Service members who cleaned up Enewetak Atoll deserve the same benefits that U.S. law guarantees to other service members who were exposed to dangerous radiation and nuclear waste,” said Meng. “It is imperative that Congress recognize and correct this discrepancy as soon as possible. My good friend Rep. Takai cared deeply about this bipartisan issue, and this legislation will not only rectify the omission, but honor his commitment to our service members and his dedication to public service. I’m happy to partner with Senator Franken on this important initiative, and I thank him for introducing a version of this legislation in the Senate.”

“One of my highest priorities as a Senator is making sure that our veterans and their families get every benefit that they deserve,” Franken said. “Atomic cleanup veterans are often forced to pay out of pocket for certain medical costs because the VA does not recognize that they were exposed to high levels of radiation. Despite being put in harm’s way, these veterans are being shortchanged. Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation ensures that veterans who participated in the cleanup of the Enewetak Atoll receive the benefits they deserve and should have received long ago.”

The legislation is named after Rep. Takai, a veteran of the US Army and Hawaii Army National Guard, who passed away last year, since he originally sponsored the bill in the House during the last session of Congress.

Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the site of more than 40 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. The service members who participated in its nuclear cleanup between 1977 and 1980 suffer from high rates of cancers due to their exposure to radiation and nuclear waste, but are currently unable to receive the same treatments and service-related disability presumptions that other “radiation exposed veterans” receive. The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would tackle this issue by extending key VA benefits to those who helped clean up the Marshall Islands, which remain partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation.

NYS REFERENDUM TO REVOKE PENSIONS OF CONVICTED PUBLIC OFFICIALS:

In an effort to ensure that corrupt public officials do not benefit from their criminal behavior at taxpayer expense, NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr. has voted to pass legislation (S.418) that will clear the way for New York voters to decide this November whether pensions should be stripped from officials convicted of felonies related to their public duties.

“The concept behind this proposal is simple: if a public official knowingly, criminally and seriously violates the public trust, that official should not be able to collect a government pension funded by public tax dollars,” Addabbo said. “By having the Senate and Assembly pass this proposed constitutional amendment for two years in a row, we can now move forward in having this question of pension revocation or reduction put to all of New York State’s voters in a public referendum on the November election ballot.”

The proposal to amend the New York State Constitution would enable courts to determine whether officials convicted of felonies directly related to their public responsibilities should have their public pensions reduced or completely revoked. The decision would be guided by the severity of the crime, and the courts would also consider whether eliminating or slashing the official’s public pension would severely impact innocent children, spouses or other dependents that had nothing to do with the official’s criminal behavior, Addabbo stated.

“While I believe the vast majority of men and women who enter public service are committed to improving the lives of their fellow New Yorkers, it is clear that there have been more than a few bad apples who used the power of their office to enrich themselves, break the law and otherwise violate the public trust,” said Addabbo. “If New Yorkers choose to approve this constitutional amendment in the fall, I hope it will serve as a strong deterrent to public corruption and send a strong message to all office holders that severe ethical lapses will not be tolerated or ultimately rewarded with lucrative public pensions.”

Addabbo noted that existing state law under the 2011 Public Integrity Reform Act allows state prosecutors to seek pension forfeiture for officials convicted of public corruption, but it is not mandatory that an action be brought. In addition, existing law only applies to public officials, who became members of the state’s retirement system after November, 2011. “This proposed constitutional amendment is designed to strengthen and expand potential punishments for those who arrogantly and knowingly abuse their office and put their own personal welfare over and above the interests of the public,” Addabbo said, noting that existing language in the New York State Constitution strictly limits actions affecting employee pension rights.

The legislation passed both the Senate and Assembly for the second time, as is required for all proposed constitutional amendments, on January 30, 2017. If voters approve the measure in November, it would apply at the earliest to crimes committed by public officials on or after January 1, 2018.

GIANARIS ON SUNNYSIDE YARDS STUDY: State Senator Michael Gianaris released a statement regarding any potential development of the Sunnyside Yards. He said, “Any future development must ensure adequate infrastructure to handle our growing population, including additional schools, parks and open spaces, and vastly improved mass transit, particularly on the 7 line. I will intensify my efforts to see these needs addressed before thousands of new residents are added to our neighborhood, and will not support any plan that does not have the community’s approval.”

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