Hope for desperately needed reforms of ethics and election laws is fading. That’s profoundly disappointing.
Even in the best of times, Albany can be a place where good legislation goes to die. Party politics, provincial priorities, opaque lobbying, and turf battles have killed many bills. Little has changed as the June 16 scheduled finish of this year’s legislative session approaches.
Most distressingly, lawmakers seem set on doing as little as possible to curtail corruption — despite the recent sentencing of former legislative leaders Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, and ongoing investigations into the awarding of Buffalo Billion redevelopment contracts by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration and into fundraising by the campaign of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Self-interest, in other words, trumps reform.
The only likely change is pension stripping for officials convicted of job-related felonies. That’s a good start. But what about limiting or banning outside income, or closing the loophole that allows huge contributions from secretive limited liability companies? Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who won April’s special election to replace Skelos after running an anti-corruption campaign, has proposed to dramatically reduce the amount of donations to party or county campaign committees and to increase transparency on LLC contributions. His colleagues should recognize that Kaminsky embodies the public’s anger and its demand for an end to business as usual. We hope he succeeds.
New York’s abysmal voter turnout was second-worst among states in the 2014 general election. How about moving deadlines for registering to vote and for changing parties closer to election dates, automatically registering eligible voters when they do business with state agencies, early voting, and making candidates’ access to ballots easier? Again, nothing is stirring.
The people of New York want change. Surprise us.
Nor are lawmakers dealing with other critical issues. This drives voters crazy, especially when the bills have clear benefits for them. Voters feel that government no longer works for them, and as the presidential campaign shows, they’re beginning to hold politicians accountable. No more games.
Let’s get these passed:
For years, the Senate has passed legislation to stiffen penalties for drivers leaving the scene of serious accidents only to see it shelved in the Assembly. This year's bill from Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) would extend the maximum sentence to 15 years from the current 7, but a similar version is mired once again in reflexive Assembly resistance to any criminal justice measure that increases penalties. Our local district attorneys favor tougher sentences to deter drunken drivers from running away from accidents to avoid harsh penalties and punish those who do. Hit-and-runs are too big a problem to ignore.
Child Safe Products Act
This has been bottled up in the Senate, most shamefully last year when Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) would not allow a vote on a bill with more sponsors (42) than votes required for passage. Assemb. Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) have similar measures with lists of chemicals in children's products that manufacturers would have to disclose. Some would be banned from toys and such, including arsenic, mercury, lead and cadmium. A state ban is far better than individual actions taken by Suffolk and other counties. Part of the dispute is jurisdictional -- the Assembly version amends environmental conservation law, the Senate bill changes general business law. The public doesn't care. Resolve your differences and get this done.
Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Assemb. Michelle Schimel (D-Port Washington) want to ban triclosan, for good reason. The antibacterial agent is found in products like soap, toothpaste and shampoo, but evidence suggests it plays a role in the development of cancer. It's also an endocrine disrupter that interferes with development in fish, frogs and other species when it gets into surface water. The Food and Drug Administration has found it has no benefits over soap and water. But since it stays in the water supply for a long time, and because it's in longer-lasting dishwashing liquid and sunburn relief sprays, triclosan could be helping to build the next generation of resistant super-bacteria.
The ride-sharing behemoth has been welcomed in some localities, treated like an invading army in others. Wherever Uber, Lyft and others seek to buy insurance in New York, they are stymied. It's the only state in which ride-sharing companies by law cannot buy the coverage required by insurers. Uber operates in New York City by being considered a black car livery system whose drivers buy their own commercial insurance. Legislation for the rest of the state must be passed. But Uber still would have to negotiate individual operating agreements with villages, towns, cities and counties. State regulation covering registration, background checks and handicapped access is needed, but it's stuck in Albany's paralysis. Let Uber start providing rides in the communities that want it; increased competition will reduce costs and improve service. A more comprehensive measure can be approved next year.