Is COVID sufficiently in retreat so voters now can focus on passage of an environmental bond act?
Environmental advocates hailed the passage in last year’s state budget of a $3 billion environmental bond act to be put before voters last November. But they understood, and largely agreed, when the vote was postponed in July by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo because of the pandemic.
But 2021 is a new year with new prospects and new possibilities of re-passing the bond act, and the environmental leaders in the State Legislature — both from Long Island — agree that the bond act is a top priority. But they’re at odds over when to make a push for passage.
Assemb. Steve Englebright is counseling patience. For Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the future is now.
Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who like Englebright is chair of his chamber’s environmental conservation committee, said the bond act should be included in budget negotiations and expects that it will be.
"The bond act is all upside for the Island, especially in terms of water quality and resiliency infrastructure," Kaminsky told The Point.
But Englebright (D-Setauket) said he doesn’t think the bond act will or should be part of budget negotiations, because of the timing. He said putting the act on this November’s ballot depends on being able to educate the public about it and the public being in position to focus on it.
"During a pandemic when everybody is basically behind locked doors in the locked-down state of mind, it has not been really a terrific time to try to advance it," Englebright said. "Now, there does seem to be light at the end of the tunnel. If there is continued vaccination and movement toward herd immunity and reopening the economy … and kids going to school in a normal manner about the time people vote, maybe this is a good year to do it. But if we get ahead of ourselves and the bond act goes down, that would be a tragedy."
Englebright said a failed public vote in November would likely kill a bond act for another decade, one reason he still is undecided about whether it would be better to push for this year or punt to 2022. But he agrees with Kaminsky on the urgency for the funding the act would provide - from clean water infrastructure and invasive species to shoreline defenses against rising seas, open space protection and preservation, and recharging stations for electric vehicles.
Polling will help determine the bond act’s future, Englebright said, as will progress against the coronavirus. The decision, he said, would be better made in May or June when the act would have to be approved as standalone legislation.
"We should be ready," he said, "the need is so great."
Measuring impaired driving remains a major hurdle for legal pot
For a visualization of how far marijuana legalization has come in New York, consider the chart apparently circulating among legislators which depicts where things stand on some of the big open issues.
There had been a double digit number of contentious topics, sources tell The Point, but three-way negotiations between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, the State Senate and the Assembly are progressing far enough that one of the last big ones concerns the enforcement of driving while impaired.
It’s a particularly tricky piece of the puzzle for a few reasons, including that testing for driving while high is not as simple as the more tried-and-true breathalyzer for alcohol.
"It's a recent-use test, that's it," Maureen McCormick, Nassau County executive assistant district attorney and co-chair of the Vehicular Crimes Legislative Subcommittee for the state’s DA association told The Point.
Technology piloted in other states — like a roadside oral fluid test used in Michigan — doesn’t tell whether a person is currently impaired, a problem for law enforcement. And district attorneys have been warning about a quirk in state impaired-driving law which requires that police identify the problematic substance from a set list. Drivers who refuse the urine or blood tests might have their licenses threatened for a certain period but evade prosecution because DAs were not able to definitively link them to a particular prohibited substance.
McCormick on Friday sent an email to members of the Assembly highlighting her more than 30 years of experience as a vehicular crimes prosecutor and outlining two key driving provisions for the legislation: that driving "while impaired by marijuana/cannabis must remain a misdemeanor," and "Impaired driving crimes must be able to be charged based on the condition of the driver, not whether the impairing substance can be named and is on a list."
"If the bill does not contain these 2 provisions you must VOTE NO," the email states.
The Assembly is said to be cautious about ways that weed legalization could repeat the selective enforcement of stop and frisk, with criminal punishment often coming for non-white New Yorkers. But there appears to be general agreement between both chambers and the governor about the need for more training for police officers in observing and identifying signs of drug impairment.
Opposition to legalization has hardly disappeared — the American Medical Association, for example, has opposed legalizing recreational use, and Albany has been close to the finish line on this issue before. But many of the stumbling blocks from funding to home-grow appear to be finally disappearing, a change of pace on an issue that had morphed and ballooned in the years that Manhattan State Sen. and legalization sponsor Liz Krueger has been pushing this issue: "as it grew, the complications also grew," she observed.
—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
For more cartoons, visit www.newsday.com/cartoons
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—Michael Dobie @mwdobie