Cuomo Signs Gianaris-Aubry Bill To Reform Queens Library

State Senator Michael Gianaris (D–Western Queens), issued a statement praising Cuomo for signing his bill into law, saying, “I am thrilled the governor signed this bill into law and helped end the abuses that have plagued our library system.”

Gianaris continued, “Effective immediately, my bill will rein in the excesses revealed in recent reports and provide a long-term blueprint for an efficient, transparent and accountable library system of which every Queens resident can be proud. I am thankful for the way just about everyone in Queens came together to fight for these much needed reforms, and I look forward to the day when taxpayers in Queens can be confident their tax dollars support a library system built to enrich our understanding of the world and not to enrich certain library staff at the expense of many.”

The governor had said as he signed the bill, “Those entrusted to serve the public have a responsibility to act in the public’s best interest. It’s clear that wasn’t happening here and additional accountability was needed.”

The Gianaris-Aubry law would facilitate the removal of library trustees for neglect of duty or misconduct. It requires that the minutes of yearly meetings must be made public and that trustees must report budget planning.

SENATE CONTROL BY DEMS POSSIBLE: When the Working Families Party got Governor Andrew Cuomo’s promise to use his influence to help senate Democrats gain control of the senate, he indicated he would attend to it after the November elections. But last week’s story that Democratic senators presently aligned with senate Republicans had suddenly agreed to end that arrangement and rejoin their fellow Democrats—thus giving the Dems control of the senate—came as a surprise and a shock.

Now the rival parties must fight it out on the campaign trial until November and at the polls on Election Day, and if the Democrats succeed, the way may be cleared for them to assume control when the 2015 senate convenes.

But in the interim, the battle by former City Comptroller John Liu to unseat incumbent state Senator Tony Avella, one of the renegade Dems, in Northeast Queens’ 11th Senate District, will go on. That will be decided on Primary Election Day on September 9.

The announcement came, not from state senate Democratic leaders, but by the leader of the Independent Democrats, state Senator Jceffrey Klein (D–The Bronx). One would assume that Cuomo, as we’ve already said had let it be known he wouldn’t deal with the issue until after the November elections, had spread that story, but then worked behind the scenes to cement the deal with Klein.

It’s also possible that Mayor Bill de Blasio got involved in order to get his programs through the senate. He had been unsuccessful dealing with Republican leaders early in his administration so he decided to get involved in trying to get the Democratic forces reunited. Judging by press reports, de Blasio was credited with having gotten the deal done, according to stories appearing in several newspapers. Corroborating the reported de Blasio involvement, Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said it wasn’t a good idea because the mayor will have to, on occasion, seek GOP support.

Regardless who was responsible for Klein’s change of heart, if he does side with the Democrats, that’s good news because for too long the party was unable to take advantage of it because different factions among the Democrats manipulated things and were successful in getting control. Sadly, some very deserving senators were bypassed and didn’t get committee chairmen positions, or other similar appointments.

But none of this talk about Democratic control of the senate is going to happen if it doesn’t get done at the polls, so they’ve got a lot of work to win enough senate seats to give the Democrats a majority.

Here’s the way state Senator Peralta sees it. He said in a statement, “The unification of senate Democrats will afford an opportunity for the state legislature to enact the kinds of policies and initiatives New Yorkers expect, need and demand, from campaign finance reform; to the Dream Act, to a higher minimum wage. I look forward to being able to deliver on a Democratic agenda reflective of the will of New Yorkers.”

LIU GETS ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT: While all this talk about Democratic chances of winning senate control was going on, former City Comptroller John Liu picked up another major labor endorsement in his campaign against incumbent state Senator Tony Avella (D–Northeast Queens).

It came from the 50,000-member international union, the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) Region 9A.

Director Julie Kushner stated: “Throughout his career, John Liu has taken on the tough fights, stood up to big corporations, and been a true ally for working men and women in this city. As Republicans have declared an all-out war on the middle-class in Albany, John Liu has continued to fight for middle-class values and the basic human rights of working people. At this critical moment, we need John Liu to keep fighting for us in Albany, which is why our members will do everything we can to get him there.”

Liu responded: “The hardworking men and women of UAW’s Region 9A think it’s time for a change in Albany, and I couldn’t agree more. For the last two years, we’ve had to put progressive values on hold because of the state senate. Working families cannot afford to wait for change any longer, and the broad support I’ve been privileged and honored to receive on this campaign shows how deeply our desire for change pervades the progressive community.”

Liu’s past endorsements include: IBEW (electrical workers) Local 3, 30,000 members; UFCW Local 1500 (grocery store workers), 23,000 members; and the hotel workers union, 50,000 plus members, to name a few.

CROWLEY ON COMPREHENSIVE IMMIGRATION REFORM: This past Monday, Congressmember Joseph Crowley, Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus released the following statement marking the one-year anniversary of the Senate passage of bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform, with no sign of similar action from Republican leadership in the House of Representatives.

“It’s been 365 days since the Senate passed bipartisan legislation to fix our nation’s broken immigration system, yet all we see is excuse after excuse from House Republicans on their failure to act.

“While Republicans continue to make excuses, families across the country are suffering. The American people want it, the economy needs it, basic human decency demands it, and the Senate passed it. What else are House Republicans waiting for? Enough with excuses. It’s time for a vote.”

MENG’S ANTI-HEZBOLLAH BILL GETS COMMITTEE OK: Legislation sponsored by Congressmember Grace Meng, which would require the President to shed light on countries that facilitate operations by the Hezbollah organization, Israel’s staunchest enemy, passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee and will next be considered by the full House.

Meng (D–Flushing) said the legislation, which was attached to the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, would “hold accountable those countries that refuse to cripple the terrorist group’s fundraising, moneylaundering and global logistics networks”.

Specifically, Meng’s measure targets countries that may publicly condemn Hezbollah’s terrorist activities while privately aiding Hezbollah’s political and financial activities.

The bi-partisan Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act, she noted, aims to block Hezbollah and associated entities from gaining access to international banks and financial institutions.

At the recent session of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Meng is a member, she addressed the panel and thanked the members for making her bill an amendment to the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act.

She stated: “This amendment strengthens sanctions against Hezbollah by enabling the disruption of Hezbollah’s global logistics network and its fundraising and money-laundering activities.”

From here, she raises questions about the Obama administration’s relationship with Hezbollah.

Meng pointed out that her legislation/amendment “requires the Obama administration to shed light on those countries that either overtly or covertly enable any sort of Hezbollah activities within their borders. This provision is particularly important in the Hezbollah context, because there are far too many countries that outwardly condemn Hezbollah’s military and terrorist activities, while privately fostering environments where Hezbollah can operate politically and financially. Well no more, not if you want to do business with the Untied States.”

The Queens freshman lawmaker thanked Congressmembers Ted Deutch (D–FL) and Ron DeSantis (R–FL) “for their leadership and partnership… for crafting such important legislation, and committee staff for all their hard work in putting it all together”.

CITY COUNCIL OK’S ID LAW: Mayor de Blasio warmly welcomed the City Council’s passage last week of a municipal ID program, saying, “The municipal ID is more than just a card—it provides New Yorkers who are currently living in the shadows with dignity and peace of mind. My administration is fully ready to develop this plan and to swiftly implement a secure and accessible Municipal ID Card program.”

The mayor, sounding enthusiastic about the idea, said, “Every New Yorker deserves an official identification that allows them to prove who they are and access core services.” He thanked City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Councilmembers Daniel Dromm (D–Jackson Heights) and Carlos Menchaca and the entire city council “for quickly enacting this critical legislation…”

Also praising the new ID card, Assemblymember Francisco Moya (D–Jackson Heights) said, “I believe that all New York City residents should have access to identification cards, regardless of their immigration status. For many undocumented immigrants, having no ID means living life in the shadows.”

Future recipients will be able to use the card to open bank accounts or access city agencies or programs, get discounts at cultural and recreational institutions, and show the card to seek government help without fear of deportation.

The program will cost $8.4 million in the next fiscal year and $5.6 million in each subsequent year.

CROWLEY’S ON-THE-JOB TRAINING ACT ADDED TO DEMOCRATS’ JOB INITIATIVE:Congressmember Joseph Crowley’s “On-the-Job Training Act of 2014 (H.R. 3971) legislation that will help put New Yorkers back to work and improve skills through on-the-job training programs, has been added, he announced, to the House Democrats’ Make It In America Jobs initiative.

Spearheaded by Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Crowley said the Make It In America plan focuses on creating the best conditions for American businesses to manufacture their products, innovate and create jobs here in the U.S.

“My number one priority is to put New Yorkers back to work,” Crowley explained. “To achieve this goal, we must work to create an atmosphere of growth and opportunity in this country, and that’s what the Make It In America plan helps to accomplish. My On-the-Job Training Act is an essential part of this effort, as it helps job seekers gain new skills while encouraging businesses to hire.”

Hoyer explained, “New York workers and their families are fortunate to have Representative Joe Crowley fighting on their behalf each day in Congress. Not only does he continue to serve as a leader within the Democratic Caucus, but he has introduced important legislation under the Make It In America jobs plan that will help launch on-thejob training programs to help workers learn new skills that translate into higher-paying positions and middle class opportunities. I am proud to work with Joe to advance this important work of investing in a strong manufacturing sector that supports good jobs in New York and across the country.”

Crowley (D–Queens/The Bronx), describing his On-the-Job Training Act, said it creates a separate competitive grant program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor that encourages the development of new on-the-job training (or OJT) programs as well as provide state and local agencies and others with support to recruit employers to participate in their programs.

“The legislation also expands the program to include a broader range of participants in their programs,” Crowley pointed out, “including cities, school districts, colleges and industry associations. Applicants are able to tailor their programs to achieve specific goals, such as serving long-termed unemployed or training workers in targeted fields, like green technology.”

Crowley said the legislation has been endorsed by a wide array of organizations dedicated to promoting effective employment policy, including the National Skills Coalition, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the National Association of State Workforce Agencies (NASWA) and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

CUOMO SIGNS ANTI-HEROIN BILLS: Having taken an historic step last week, signing legislation to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Governor Andrew Cuomo addressed another seemingly endless social scourge by signing 11 bills to deal with the recent sharp rise in heroin use in New York state.

At the bill’s signing on a visit to Binghamton University, the governor told reporters that a third of the heroin seized by the Drug Enforcement Agency over a period of time had been seized in New York state. Another sign of resurgent heroin use, Cuomo cited, came from state public health officials, who said deaths from heroin overdoses had shot up from 215 in 2008 to 478 in 2012.

Summing up, Cuomo said, “It’s a problem that is all throughout the state, more so in affluent suburbs with white teenagers from affluent middle class families…”

The bills signed provide for insurance companies to continue to cover paying for addiction treatments, funding for public drug awareness programs and funding for more state trooper investigations into heroin trafficking. Pushing the problem along is the fact that the drug today is less expensive than ever before, but more potent than ever.

Cuomo called for more community awareness and responsibility, especially among families where there is a problem.

MALONEY URGES FED TO CLOSE FRACKING LOOPHOLES: Absent sufficient federal government oversight of “dangerous” natural gas production, including hydraulic fracking, Congressmember Carolyn Maloney asked, “Why should fracking be exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and more?”

Hydraulic fracking is the name given to the mining of certain land tracts by shooting powerful streams of water and chemicals into deep underground locations which hold vast amounts of natural gas, freeing it and collecting it for sale as a rich source of energy. But one of the major drawbacks of the process is that the water shot into the ground runs off and gets into bodies of drinking water, making them unsafe to consume.

Maloney asked the question about hydraulic fracking at a meeting of the Joint Economic Committee (JEC) hearing in Washington. She posed her question to several witnesses at the ses- sion, including Dr. Daniel Yergin, chairman, of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates; Diana Furchtgott-Rogh of the Manhattan Institute, a think tank; and Chuck Meloy, an executive vice president of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation.

The Queens/Manhattan/Brooklyn lawmaker also amplified on her question pointing out “These are our nation’s most important environmental protection laws. They are designed to protect the water we drink, the air we breathe and land we live on. Pollution from fracking is not bound by a state’s borders. It’s clearly a national issue and that requires national protections.”

Maloney did not reveal their word-for-word response, but paraphrased their positions, saying they replied “that state oversight was sufficient to protect public health and the environment from toxic chemical runoff and poor air quality related to fracking.” The witness expressed no issues with exemptions from important federal regulations under the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act for the oil and gas industry.

“Only one witness, Maloney continued, Elsie Holstein, of the Environmental Defense Fund, responded that federal policy should be changed to regulate and oversee fracking and other new drilling methods,” Maloney further reported.

After the hearing, Maloney applauded New York state’s approach to natural gas expansion, stating that “While the natural gas boom presents some opportunities, policy makers must ensure that we have the necessary safeguards in place to protect vital water resources and public health from negative consequences of fracking. I’m proud that my home state issued its moratorium on dangerous exploration until we can assure that the health and safety of local communities is protected.”

PHIL RAGUSA, LEADER OF QUEENS REPUBLICANS, DEAD AT 74: Philip Ragusa, a longtime Republican Party member, and leader of the Queens organization since 2007, passed away last Tuesday of leukemia, at 74. Ragusa was also a committed community advocate in the Northeast Queens area and an accountant by profession.

Congressmember Grace Meng, the Flushing Democrat, lauded Ragusa as a “decent and honorable man who for many years worked tirelessly to help improve his community and his party. My heart goes out to his family and friends, and I ask Queens residents to join me in sending them our thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

Also offering condolences was Councilmember Peter Koo (D–Flushing), who stated:

“I was saddened upon hearing of Phil’s passing yesterday. The world has now lost a true gentleman, and I have personally lost a loyal friend. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family. We will all miss him sorely, and hope that we can take solace in the fact that Phil is in a better place.”

Edward Cox, the state Republican chairman, said in a statement: “Phil was a good man, was dedicated to Queens County and the Republican Party and was an indomitable County Chair.”

Ragusa is survived by his wife, Nelly, and daughter, Stephanie. Funeral arrangements were incomplete at this writing.

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