NEWS AND ISSUES
November 2011 Community Report
The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:
Holding a Forum on Medically-Assisted Torture
On November 15, 2011, I held a public forum to address the controversy surrounding accusations of medical professionals' participation in torture or "enhanced interrogation" as well as to analyze the potential impacts and implementation of proposed legislative responses. A number of court cases and petitions to state disciplinary boards have included evidence that licensed medical professionals abdicated their professional responsibility by taking part in torture. Since these professionals are licensed at the State level, it is within New York State's jurisdiction to determine whether violations have occurred as well as the appropriate sanctions. The forum explored the legal, regulatory and ethical obligations of medical professionals relating to torture and other enhanced interrogation techniques, and analyzed the potential impacts and implementation of proposed legislative responses. It featured speakers from the New York State Psychological Association, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Physicians for Human Rights, the Center for Justice and Accountability and many other stakeholders. I will be working with New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried to craft the best possible bill and introduce it in advance of the coming Legislative Session.
Marching in Solidarity with Occupy Wall Street
I was pleased to see that so many residents of the 29th Senate District turned out to participate in END TO END FOR THE 99%, a solidarity march from Upper Manhattan along Broadway to Occupy Wall Street at Zucotti Park on November 7. Several hundred participants completed the entire 11 mile march and many people who live and work in my district joined at the two meet-up points that I organized. For too long, super-rich corporations and individuals have exerted outsized influence on our government and our society. The march drew people who represent the diversity of the 99% joining in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest to call for an end to the obstruction of widely-supported efforts to make our tax structure more fair, reform campaign financing, preserve and expand affordable housing, provide comprehensive healthcare to all, retain and create jobs and so much more.
Celebrating John Jay College of Criminal Justice's New Vertical Campus
On November 2, I had the privilege of speaking at the ribbon-cutting of John Jay College of Criminal Justice's magnificent new building on Eleventh Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets. The 620,000-square-foot, 13-story vertical campus houses 56 state-of-the-art classrooms, new cyber lounges and cutting edge science facilities as well as emergency management and high rise simulator labs, a moot court, conference and exhibit spaces and a black box theater. I applaud John Jay President Jeremy Travis and City University of New York Chancellor Matthew Goldstein for having had the vision to develop the cutting-edge educational environment necessary for John Jay to reach its academic and professional potential. I was proud to support John Jay's efforts to secure New York State funding for this project and I am deeply moved by the college's commitment to educating for justice – social, economic, political, and criminal justice. Students representing all of New York's diversity come to John Jay because of its challenging educational opportunities, strong moral underpinnings and high social relevance. I wish John Jay and all its stakeholders the greatest success in the college's wonderful new home.
Serving on a Panel at the West Side Tenant's Conference
On November 5, 2011 I joined Assembly Member Gottfried and Ellen Davidson, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, in a panel discussion at the Sixth Annual West Side Tenants' Conference. Our breakout section focused on the new rent laws, recent legal rulings that affect tenants and what tenants can do to help in the fight for stronger rent regulations. The Conference, which I co-sponsored with Housing Conservation Coordinators and many other tenant advocates and elected officials, featured workshops on a wide range of important topics, including fighting tenant harassment and reforming the Division of Housing and Community Renewal. As a longtime tenant advocate, I believe it is vital that tenants understand how the rent laws affect both them and their neighbors.
Ensuring a Community Voice in Proposed Pipeline Review
On November 1, I along with Representative Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Stringer, Assembly Member Glick and Speaker Quinn wrote to Consolidated Edison ("Con Ed") regarding its proposed pipeline along 10th Avenue from Gansevoort Street to 15th Street to link a natural gas distribution center to the proposed Spectra Energy Pipeline. While there is an extensive process in place for public input and review of the Spectra Energy portion of the project, it appears that there is no formal process in place for community review of the design or construction of the part of the pipeline that is controlled by Con Ed. While I have reservations regarding the project, including its size, the proposed safety measures and the impact of its construction on the surrounding community, I would nonetheless like to ensure that there is an effective plan for community input should this project move forward. This week, Con Ed responded with a commitment to engage in an ongoing dialogue with the community. I look forward to working with all parties to ensure community concerns are both heard and addressed.
Announcing the Start of Off-Board Fare Collection on 34th Street Select Bus Service
On Sunday, November 13, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority New York City Transit (NYCT) will introduce off-board fare collection on 34th Street as part of its conversion of the M34 and M16 bus lines to the M34 and M34A Select Bus Service (SBS). Fare machines will be available at each bus stop and riders will be required to swipe their MetroCard or deposit coins to receive a receipt prior to boarding the bus. When a bus approaches, passengers will be able to board at any door, decreasing boarding time. NYCT's Eagle Team fare inspectors will be verifying that passengers have their receipts and failure to present one will result in a $100 fine.
As a State Senator who also represents portions of the M15 SBS Service on First and Second Avenues, I recently issued a report on SBS implementation that identified continued deficiencies in the visibility and durability of the system's signage. Both the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) and NYCT have been responsive to previous concerns regarding SBS that I and other are elected officials have raised. I am pleased that they have agreed to install new signage made of a more durable material and with stronger adhesive on the M15 as well as on the M34, M34A and other SBS routes throughout the city. I will continue to monitor their efforts, and encourage you to let me know about your experiences with the 34th Street off-board fare collection system. If you have problems, please contact Sarah Meier-Zimbler in my office at 212-633-8052.
Remembering and Mourning Victims of Anti-Transgender Bias, Prejudice or Hatred and Fighting For GENDA
On November 18, I joined New York's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center, the Gender Identity Project, Human Rights Campaign, as well as other groups and community members at a vigil and speak-out memorializing members of our community and those around the globe who have died in the past year as a result of anti-transgender prejudice. The event was one of many worldwide marking Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), which occurs every November 20. Now in its thirteenth year, the message of TDoR is no less urgent than it was at its start, as transphobic hate crimes continue to occur here in New York, across the nation and around the world. Tragically, here in New York State transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals continue to face widespread discrimination without any legal protections. It remains one of my top priorities to ensure that the New York Senate passes the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act.
Testifying Before the New York City Council on My Medical Marijuana Legislation
I am gratified that New York City Councilmember Daniel Dromm has introduced Council Resolution No. 94-A, which calls upon the New York State Legislature to pass a bill that I sponsor, S.2774, which would decriminalize the usage of marijuana for medicinal purposes by eligible patients. On November 18, I was pleased to have the opportunity to testify in support of this resolution before the New York City Council Committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism, Drug Abuse and Disability Services and the Subcommittee on Drug Abuse. I shared the many benefits that this legislation would have for New York's chronically and terminally ill patients, many of whom are forced to break State law in order to obtain the pain relief that marijuana provides when other medications have failed. I also noted that the bill establishes common sense regulations to ensure that medicinal marijuana is delivered to and used only by eligible patients and not abused by others for recreational purposes. As the Ranking Member of the New York State Senate Committee on Health, I strongly believe that the time for legal medical marijuana is now, so that New York's suffering patients may have safe and legal access to this medicine.
Marking the Beginning of Heat Season
In New York City, from October 1 through May 31, landlords are legally required to maintain an inside, daytime temperature of at least 68° F if the outside temperature falls below 55° F , and a nighttime, inside temperature of at least 55° F if the outside temperature outside falls below 40° F. If you are not receiving adequate heat in your apartment, you should call 311 and be sure to write down your complaint number. Of course, please do not hesitate to contact Robert Atterbury in my office at (212) 633-8052 with your name, address, phone number and complaint number if you still are not receiving the legally required degree of heat in your apartment, or have any other concern regarding the habitability of your home.
Being Recognized for My Commitment to Accessibility and Social Justice
I was honored on November 3 to be recognized with the "Humanitarian Award" at the 504 North Star Democratic Club Awards Gala. I have received numerous awards over the course of my political career but this one was especially meaningful, coming from an organization that focuses on bringing disabled people of color into the political process to advocate for change. The leaders and members of 504 North Star Democratic Club have been true partners in my efforts to make New York a more accessible and just state. I firmly believe that access is justice and justice is access. We have won major battles in my twelve years in the State Senate but there is much more work to do. I am confident that with 504 North Star Democratic Club's continued advocacy, I will be able to achieve many more victories for those who too often lack a voice in the halls of government and for all New Yorkers.