The end of the annual legislative session in Albany usually culminates in a flurry of last-minute deal-making. This time around, there doesn't seem to be movement on many issues that require big funding. As legislators race the clock to reach consensus on high-profile issues such as medical marijuana and the heroin epidemic, there are other meaningful bills under consideration with local and statewide impact also worth our attention.
Locally, one of the biggest items in play is a confusing, poorly written bill to eliminate Nassau County's annual $80-million expense generated by commercial property tax refunds on overpayments that went into the coffers of school districts and other municipalities. The idea, creating an escrow account to hold a percentage of the payments of those who grieve to fund overpayments, is smart. But the issue is complex, the approach is too hurried, the idea may have tax cap implications and it would undoubtedly lead to an increase in school tax rates. Even worse than the rush and lack of public comment is the quid pro quo: In exchange for sponsoring and supporting this bill for Nassau County, Deputy Assemb. Speaker Earlene Hooper (D-Hempstead) got Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano's support for a really bad move for the Freeport Armory. Hooper wants the state-owned 3-acre property transferred to a nonprofit community organization. Freeport's mayor says the village badly needs the armory for its Department of Public Works, and he's correct. That's why we opposed a similar bill last year and why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoed it. Both Hooper's Freeport Armory bill and the Nassau "county guarantee" legislation need to go down.
A bill to improve water quality on Long Island lays the groundwork for real progress on this important issue and should be passed. Among its many provisions, the bill requires the state Department of Environmental Conservation to set specific criteria for such things as acceptable nitrogen levels for groundwater and surface water on a watershed basis. If the DEC lacks the resources to fulfill its responsibilities as outlined in the legislation, it should be given the money it needs to do the job.
Cuomo and lawmakers have been negotiating over objections to the teacher evaluation system now that the impacts of Common Core test results on students have been delayed. With just 1 percent of the state's teachers evaluated under the system deemed ineffective last year while only 30 percent of students passed the Common Core tests, it's hard to see how teachers will be victimized by the current system.
The Senate has passed five important planks of the 10-point Women's Equality Act, which failed last year because supporters in the Assembly took an all-or-nothing approach, refusing to allow votes on individual proposals. Since there aren't enough votes in the Senate for the act's controversial abortion provision, it's time to move forward and pass bills that will crack down on sex trafficking, protect pregnant women from discrimination in the workplace and in housing, ensure equal pay, and strengthen domestic-violence laws.
In the wake of superstorm Sandy, resiliency has become a vital planning issue on Long Island. A bill that would require the consideration of the effects of sea level rise and extreme weather when issuing certain state grants and building permits, and that calls for the preparation of model local zoning laws that take into account climate risk, is a good step in the right direction.
A bill to ban most sales of ivory as a way to help prevent the extinction of elephants and to reduce funding sources for terrorists should be approved. Exceptions are made for antiques more than 100 years old and for ivory used for legitimate scientific or educational purposes. The ongoing slaughter of elephants in Africa, the increased involvement of organized crime and terrorists who use the harvest and sale of ivory to help finance operations, and New York's importance as a center for the ivory trade give passage of this legislation symbolic and real value.
A bill that would ban microbeads should be passed. These tiny plastic beads, added as an abrasive to products such as facial cleansers and toothpastes, are getting into our waterways, contaminating wildlife and posing a threat to human health.