NEWS AND ISSUES


July 2008 Community Report

Dear Neighbor:

The following is a summary of some of my office's activities since my last community report:

ALBANY UPDATE

The New York State Senate's 2008 legislative session ended on the evening of June 24, a day later than planned, with a flurry of legislative action overshadowed by the resignation of State Senator Joseph Bruno as Majority Leader.

While a number of important bills were passed in the final days of this legislative session, there were significant disappointments and there is much more work for me and my colleagues to do.

On the plus side, we passed Brownfields legislation, which will help stimulate the upstate economy, clean up the environment and assist developers via tax credits to encourage new building on sites once thought to be vast wastelands. We also passed a bill to crack down on predatory lenders and help families facing foreclosure stay in their homes and "net metering" legislation that will lead to greater investment by homeowners, farms and businesses in facilities that generate energy from clean renewable sources. Other notable bills passed will protect children from dangerous toys, enhance protections for consumers to prevent identity theft, and ban mandatory overtime for nurses in hospitals and other health care facilities. I am happy to report that both houses of the legislature passed a bill that Assemblymember Jonathan Bing and I sponsored, which mandates that a person who makes good faith efforts to protect a child against abuse shall not be penalized in child custody hearings. This legislation now awaits the Governor's signature.

Despite these victories, some of the biggest issues facing New Yorkers, including preservation and production of affordable housing and expanded healthcare for all New Yorkers, were ignored by Senate Republicans. Unfortunately, legislation that would reform the system by which rent adjustments are determined for rent regulated apartments, repeal vacancy decontrol, protect Mitchell-Lama and Section 8 buildings, and restore home rule over rents and evictions to the New York City Council, were not even reported out of the Senate's Housing, Construction and Community Development Committee. The need for such common sense reforms were made clearer than ever on June 20, when the New York City Rent Guidelines Board approved its highest rent increases for rent stabilized apartments in years.

I am extremely disappointed that time ran out before we were able to pass an amendment to the HIV testing law that would provide for the routine offering of HIV testing in most healthcare settings and streamline the process of obtaining written, informed consent to such testing. It is also unfortunate that we were unable to pass the Healthy Teens Act, meaningful paid family leave legislation, as well as most of the important legislation that would reform our government and combat global warming.

Hearing on the Dignity for All Students Act:

On June 10, I held a public forum in Albany to discuss the need for passage of the Dignity for All Students Act (S.1571/A.3496). This bill would require that New York State school districts promulgate rules to prevent and respond to discriminatory violence; adopt policies to make schools harassment- and discrimination-free; develop guidelines on non-discriminatory instruction and diversity; establish teacher and administrative training guidelines on dealing with diversity, reducing discriminatory behaviors and responding to discriminatory harassment and hate violence; and provide a staff member trained in human-relations education.

At the hearing, more than 35 New Yorkers shared their professional experiences and personal stories regarding bullying and harassment in New York public schools. It took great courage for many of the presenters to come forward with their painful stories, but by doing so, they illustrated the depth of the problem and the urgent need for legislative action. As if more evidence were needed, three days after the hearing, Newsday ran a story about the shocking bullying that one 13 year-old boy endured for more than a year at his Long Island middle school ("Bullied boy's parents say West Islip school responsible," news article, June 13). It is time my colleagues in the New York State Senate get serious about the issue of school bullying and finally pass the Dignity for All Students Act. No student should be afraid to receive an education.

Opposing the Proposed Conversion of GHI/HIP to a For-Profit Entity:

As you may know, EmblemHealth, Inc., the parent company of Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York (HIP) and Group Health Incorporated (GHI), has submitted a plan to the New York State Insurance Department to convert and combine the two not-for-profit health insurance providers into a single for-profit public company. The conversion, which I believe will both negatively impact the provision of health care services to New Yorkers and will adversely affect those individuals who are currently enrolled in GHI and HIPfs health plans, is subject to State Insurance Department approval. Please see my letter to New York State Insurance Superintendent Eric R. Dinallo expressing my concerns about and opposition to the conversion.

Working with Colleagues to Alleviate School Overcrowding:

As part of my continuing efforts to address school overcrowding in School District 2, on July 14, I participated in a meeting on this topic with the New York City Department of Education. Many of my colleagues in government, as well as representatives from Community Education Council 2, CB2 and other Community Boards within the boundaries of School District 2, attended the meeting, which was hosted by U.S. Representative Carolyn Maloney and New York City Comptroller Bill Thompson. Short and long term solutions to the problem of overcrowding were put on the table, including siting a middle school at 75 Morton Street. I, along with my colleagues, am dedicated to solving the school overcrowding crisis and will continue to press DOE to address this critical problem.

Presenting a Special Albany Performance of The Castle:

Also on June 16, I invited the company from Off-Broadway's The Castle to Albany to give a special performance of their autobiographical work, which sheds light on the stories of incarcerated individuals and their journeys beyond, for New York State legislators, their aides and other policy makers. Conceived and directed by The Fortune Society founder David Rothenberg, the show reflects the cast's collective experiences in jail as well as their arrival at The Fortune Academy, a nationally-recognized residence in Harlem for homeless individuals with criminal records. For many in the audience it was eye-opening experience and I want to thank the cast for their brilliant performance.

The Castle continues to play in New York City at New World Stages, 340 West 50 Street, every Saturday at 5:00p.m. Proceeds from ticket sales benefit the Fortune Academy. To order tickets or for more information about the Fortune Society's extraordinary work promoting successful prisoner re-entry, please visit www.fortunesociety.org.

Supporting the Landmarking of Silver Towers and Devoe:

On June 24, I had the pleasure of submitting testimony to the Landmarks Preservation Commission in support of both the landmark designation of University Village/Silver Towers and the F.W. Devoe & Co. Paint Factory building. These are designations for which I, my colleagues, CB2 and the community have long been advocating, and I want to thank LPC for moving forward with them.

Testifying at Hearing on St. Vincentfs Redevelopment:

On July 15, I testified at the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission's (LPC) hearing on St. Vincent's Hospital's redevelopment plan in support of the revised Certificate of Appropriateness applications and the hardship application. This is not a decision that I made lightly. I understand why there is opposition to this proposal and agree that the situation is far from ideal. However, after much research and evaluating, conducting a survey and attending numerous meetings, I believe that the current proposal is the only one of the alternatives that will be financially feasible for St. Vincent's and allow for the construction of a new state-of-the-art, level one trauma center. I do believe that St. Vincent's must continue to publicly and transparently answer the valid questions that the community has posed and I have confidence that this will happen while the Landmarks Preservation Commission continues to contemplate the applications.

Again Opposing BSA Variances for Congregation Shearith Israel:

On June 24, I submitted yet another statement in opposition to the seven variances requested by Congregation Shearith Israel at the applicant's fourth hearing before the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). After reviewing the application and hearing testimony on its merits for more than a year, the BSA voted to close the hearing. I urge you to take advantage of one last opportunity to be heard. While Community Board 7 has already officially expressed its opposition to the variances, you may also voice your individual concerns by sending your comments to: Hon. Meenakshi Srinivasan, Chair of the BSA, at 40 Rector Street, 9th Floor, New York, NY 10006, or by Fax: 212-788-8769. The final decision will be issued on Tuesday, August 26, 2008.

Securing Funding for Solar 2 Project:

I am happy to announce that I was able to secure $100,000 in capital funding for the construction of the Solar 2 Green Energy Arts and Education Center in Stuyvesant Cove Park. This "net-zero" educational facility will be New York City's first carbon-neutral building and will generate more clean energy than it consumes and will use solar power and advanced mechanical systems to prevent the production and emission of carbon dioxide. The Solar 2 project will be a great addition to both our community and our City, and I am glad to be able to provide assistance so that its construction can begin in a timely manner.

Celebrating the Opening of the North Tribeca Section of the Hudson River Park:

On July 23, I had the privilege of attending the ribbon cutting ceremony of the North Tribeca Section of Hudson River Park. This new segment of the park includes passive lawns, a tree-lined esplanade, tennis and basketballs courts, native grasses and wooden boardwalks. Earlier this year, I was delighted to help secure $20 million in State funding for the Hudson River Park and I look forward to many more ribbon-cuttings in the future.


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