Inner Loop North project one step closer to reality

The Inner Loop North Transformation Project could finally move forward as a result of legislation passed by the House of Representatives. The project was submitted as part of this year’s Surface Transportation Member Designated Projects and would expand on the success of the Inner Loop East project by filling in the Northern section and replacing it with a street-level boulevard.

“For too long, the Inner Loop has sectioned off entire parts of the city of Rochester, creating silos and closing off neighborhoods to development that could have uplifted families,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Morelle (D-Irondequoit). “Now we have the opportunity to correct the mistakes of previous generations, which is why I’m so proud to have helped deliver House funding for this transformational investment that will unite downtown Rochester and strengthen our urban core. I urge my partners in the Senate to join us in prioritizing this necessary project that will help us build a more equitable and inclusive community.”

Divided highways built in the midcentury have been detrimental to underserved communities, limiting economic development by cutting off access within the neighborhoods, Morelle said. Left to languish over decades of inaction, these neighborhoods will now be the focus of reunification and investment.

“The transformation of the Inner Loop will give a boost to the economic and infrastructural landscape of Rochester,” said state Sen. Jeremey Cooney (D-Rochester). “By investing in rebuilding our infrastructure, we are committing to redesigning our urban landscape with the needs of communities most harmed by the original construction of the Inner Loop at the forefront. This project will create jobs and encourage new businesses to grow which is an important step in revitalizing our city.”

The $4 million Inner Loop North Transformation Project is modeled after the Inner Loop East project and will fill in the northern section of the Inner Loop and replace it with a street-level boulevard to increase neighborhood connectivity while providing investment and job opportunities. The New York Times recently profiled the project and the history of the Inner Loop.

“Rochester is showing the nation how we can revitalize our cities by replacing old underused highways that have divided us both literally and figuratively,” said Mayor Lovely Warren. “I’m excited that this funding will continue the work started by former Assemblyman David Gantt and our neighborhood leaders, as well as replicate the success of Inner Loop East, where $22 million in public dollars have returned over $229 million in private investment and created a brand new neighborhood.”

The project was included as part of the INVEST in America Act (H.R.3684), which passed the House of Representatives in July.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

County leaders applaud legislation passed in final days of 2021 session

The New York State Association of Counties is touting what the organization calls major victories for local governments in the recently concluded state legislative session.

“Over the last year we’ve seen how vital it is to have strong local governments that can respond to unforeseen emergencies and provide essential services to residents when it matters most,” NYSAC President and Ontario County Board Chairman Jack Marren said  in a statement. “Counties applaud Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Steward-Cousins and the state lawmakers who fought to provide counties with the resources and flexibility we need to support the programs at the local level.”

Key county priorities that passed both houses of the legislature include:

• S.5560-A (Reichlin-Melnick) / A.5339 (Paulin) – Creates an Early Intervention Covered Lives Assessment Fee on commercial insurance to help fund services for infants with special needs.
• S.6323 (Gaughran) / A.7209 (Thiele) – Expands Investment Options for Counties to provide similar options as those available to New York City under current law and help maximize returns for taxpayers.
• S.5418-C (Cooney) / A.6601-A (Rivera) – Creates an AIM Redesign Task Force to analyze and recommend available alternatives to the current AIM formula and allocations, including models from other states.
• S.4051 (Bailey) / A.4982 (Hevesi) – Raises the age of Juvenile Delinquent Offenses from 7 to 12, keeping very young children out of the criminal justice system, helps to address racial disparities in the justice system and allows tax dollars to be spent on programs that are developmentally appropriate for young children.
• S.6445-A (Reichlin-Melnick) / A.7694A (Lunsford) – Extends the County-Wide Shared Services Initiative for an additional three years and enhances flexibility within the program to encourage more participation.

“Counties appreciate our partners in the state Legislature who stepped up this year to support local governments as we emerge from the pandemic and start to rebuild,” said NYSAC Executive Director Stephen Acquario. “Speaker Heastie, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and members of the Legislature worked with us to pass legislation that will help counties more effectively serve vulnerable children and families across the state.”

Acquario said that while this year saw significant progress on a host of issues confronting counties, much more work remains to be done, including reforms to civil service to ensure counties have the tools necessary to hire a diverse, qualified and motivated workforce and reforms to laws governing mental health competency restoration services.

“I’m hopeful that we can build on the progress made during this session and carry that momentum into next year, but first we need Gov. Cuomo to sign these bills into law so that counties can get to work building effective and sustainable local governments,” Acquario added.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Cuomo, lawmakers reach deal on $212 billion budget

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers reached a deal on the state’s budget this week.

The final, $212 billion budget includes a number of measures to aid industries and sectors that have been hardest hit by the pandemic. Additionally, the enacted budget closes the state’s deficit and invests in the ongoing response to the pandemic and recovery efforts.

Highlights of the budget include:
• A record $29.5 billion in aid to schools;
• $29 billion in public and private green economy investments;
• $2.4 billion for rent and homeowner relief;
• $2.4 billion for child care;
• $2.1 billion for excluded workers;
• 1 billion for small business recovery;
• A first-in-the-nation plan to make broadband internet affordable;
• Legalizing mobile sports betting; and
• Implementing comprehensive nursing home reforms.

“New York was ambushed early and hit hardest by COVID, devastating our economy and requiring urgent and unprecedented emergency spending to manage the pandemic,” Cuomo said in a statement Tuesday. “Thanks to the state’s strong fiscal management and relentless pursuit to secure the federal support that the pandemic demanded, we not only balanced our budget, we are also making historic investments to reimagine, rebuild and renew New York in the aftermath of the worst health and economic crisis in a century.

“This budget continues funding for the largest-in-the-nation $311 billion infrastructure plan, establishes a groundbreaking program to provide affordable internet for low-income families and enhances public safety through police reforms, all while continuing to provide relief to New Yorkers and small businesses as we recover from the pandemic,” Cuomo added. “I thank the legislative leaders — Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Heastie — for their partnership in helping make this critical budget a reality and delivering results for the people of this state.”

The budget comprises New York’s $311 billion infrastructure plan, which includes the governor’s $211 billion 2020-24 plan and his $100 billion 2015-2019 plan. The evolving plan increased by $36 billion in the budget with the inclusion of new development plans in New York City, a $3 billion environmental bond act, transportation programs and additional supportive, affordable and public housing support, as well as incremental increases to existing capital programs.

The budget includes legislation requiring internet service providers to offer an affordable $15 per month high-speed internet plan to qualifying low-income households. The state also will require providers to advertise the plan to ensure programs reach underserved populations statewide. To further bridge the gap, New York has partnered with Schmidt Futures and the Ford Foundation to launch ConnectED NY, an emergency fund to provide roughly 50,000 students in economically disadvantaged school districts with free internet access through June 2022.

The enacted budget directs $2.3 billion in federal child care resources to expand the availability, quality and affordability of child care. Child care providers would receive $1.3 billion in stabilization grants to support expenses, as well as additional funds for cleaning and safety. Further investments would be made to increase capacity in child care “deserts” and help parents find the child care provider that’s right for them.

The budget creates a $2.4 billion Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to ensure residents can make rent and remain stable in their homes. The program will support households in rental arrears that have experienced financial hardship, are at risk of homelessness or housing instability and that earn less than 80 percent of area median income.

The enacted budget includes comprehensive nursing home reform legislation to help ensure facilities are prioritizing patient care over profits, officials said. The reforms establish minimum thresholds for nursing home spending of 70 percent of revenues on direct resident care and 40 percent of revenues on resident-facing staffing, capping profits at five percent, and targeting unscrupulous related party transactions. Excess revenues recouped by the state will be deposited into the existing nursing home quality pool for further investments for nursing homes to meet high-quality standards.

The budget includes a $1 billion small business, arts, entertainment and restaurant relief package to help businesses and other organizations recover from the impacts of the pandemic:
• COVID-19 Pandemic Small Business Recovery Grant Program: Provides $800 million in grant funding for small businesses including for-profit arts and cultural institutions impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
• New York Restaurant Resiliency Grant Program: $25 million in grant funding to support restaurants that provide meals to distressed and under-represented communities.
• Arts and Cultural Organization Recovery Grant Program: $40 million to provide grants through the New York State Council on the Arts to eligible arts and cultural nonprofit organizations to assist in the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
• Restaurant Return-To-Work Tax Credit: Provides up to $35 million in tax credits to support restaurants hard hit by the pandemic through 2021.
• Extend and Enhance the Musical and Theatrical Production Credit for four years: In order to support musical and theatrical productions that occur in the state but outside of New York City, the budget extends the credit for four years through 2025 and increases it by $4 million to $8 million.

The 2022 enacted budget continues to lower personal income tax rates for middle-class New Yorkers. In 2021, the fourth year of the multi-year tax cuts enacted in 2016, income tax rates have been lowered from 6.09 percent to 5.97 percent for taxpayers filing jointly in the $43,000-$161,550 income bracket, and from 6.41 percent to 6.33 percent in the $161,550-$323,200 income bracket. The cuts are expected to save 4.8 million New Yorkers more than $2.2 billion this year, officials said. When the cuts are fully phased in, middle-class taxpayers will have received an income tax rate cut of up to 20 percent, amounting to a projected $4.2 billion in annual savings for six million filers by 2025. As the new rates phase in, they will be the state’s lowest middle-class tax rates in more than 70 years.

The enacted budget includes new revenue resources that provide the revenues needed to make the investments that will support New York’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and New York’s recovery from it, according to the governor’s office, including:
• The budget deploys the first $5.5 billion of the $12.6 billion provided for in the federal American Rescue Plan Act 2021. These funds are integrated throughout the budget in accordance with available federal guidelines.
• The budget includes appropriation authority for local governments to receive federal support. The package of $10.8 billion in federal aid for local will help support essential workers and government employees, assist the vaccination efforts, boost local economies and support the network of local government services that New Yorkers depend on.
• The budget implements a surcharge on high earners through tax year 2027 that sets a top rate of 10.9 percent for all filers earning more than $25 million. The surcharge raises $2.8 billion in FY 2022, rising to $3.3 billion in FY 2023.
• The budget implements a surcharge on corporate tax rate that increases the business income tax rate from 6.5 percent to 7.25 percent for three years through tax year 2023 for taxpayers with business income greater than $5 million. It also increases the capital base method of liability estimation to 0.1875 percent from the 0.025 percent rate in effect last year. The capital base method increase continues to exempt qualified manufacturers, qualified emerging technology companies, and cooperative housing corporations. These changes raise $750 million in FY 2022 and $1 billion in FY 2023.
• The FY 2022 enacted budget authorizes mobile sports wagering. Once fully phased in, legalization will provide more than $500 million in revenue for the state to help rebuild from COVID-19 and grow what could be the largest sports wagering market in the U.S. into a profitable industry long-term. Once fully phased in, the program will provide $5 million annually to youth sports and $6 million to combat problem gambling, doubling the resources currently available. The remainder of this new revenue will be dedicated to education.

“While this year’s state budget includes some positive measures, such as support for struggling small businesses, tax relief for middle-class residents and significant funding for local roads and bridges, the inclusion of massive tax hikes and costly mandates poses a serious risk,” said Justin Wilcox, executive director of Upstate United, a nonpartisan, pro-taxpayer education and advocacy coalition. “Imposing $4 billion in new taxes will ultimately hurt New York’s recovery efforts. This immense tax burden will drive more New Yorkers out of the state; joining the 1.4 million former residents who have fled to other states over the last decade. Embracing a massive tax-and-spend approach over a responsible pro-growth plan is the wrong choice at the wrong time.”

The budget provides $6.2 billion for the second year of a record $12.3 billion, two-year Department of Transportation capital plan that will facilitate the improvement of highways, bridges, rail, aviation infrastructure, non-MTA transit and DOT facilities, a 38 percent increase from the final two years of the last DOT capital plan.

“This year’s state budget includes an extraordinary investment in transportation infrastructure. With the unwavering efforts of our partners in the Senate and Assembly, and the support of Gov. Cuomo, local road and bridge programs will receive more than $1 billion in the coming fiscal year,” said Joe Wisinski, president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association. “This essential funding will help keep millions of motorists safe and create tens of thousands of jobs.”

Funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and the Marchiselli program will increase by $100 million to $577.8 million and funding for Extreme Winter Recovery is $100 million. The budget also provides $100 million of new funding to localities responsible for State Touring Routes, increases highway aid through the PAVE NY program by $50 million to $150 million and maintains funding of local bridge projects through the BRIDGE NY program at $100 million. This represents an overall year-to-year increase of $285 million and brings funding for local highway and bridge projects to more than $1 billion.

“Due to the incredibly strong advocacy efforts of our partners and advocates, the overall NYSDOT capital program is the largest ever at $6.168 billion,” said Mike Elmendorf, president and CEO of Rebuild New York Now. “Within the NYSDOT capital program, state and local construction also hit a record level for the 2021-2022 budget at $4.8 billion. This significant increase in funding will allow for localities and municipalities across the state to repair decaying infrastructure and create more jobs to help our economy fully recover. New York families deserve this investment in their local communities.”

The budget provides more than $7.7 billion in state support for higher education in New York, an increase of $283 million, or 3.8 percent, from FY 2021. New York has increased funding for higher education by more than $1.7 billion, or 29 percent, since FY 2012. In addition, the enacted budget provides more than $1 billion in new capital funding to SUNY and CUNY.

“The pandemic-induced economic crisis has hit our most vulnerable students the hardest. Financial challenges, including food and housing insecurities, have disrupted their pursuit of a degree or certificate — and ultimately a rewarding, family-sustaining career in high-demand industries,” said Katherine Douglas, Monroe Community College interim president. “I’m grateful to Gov. Cuomo and our state legislators for their bold vision, leadership and support of our students. Federal and state support will eliminate hurdles to college access and completion, paving the way for more equitable, brighter futures for our students. It will also enable MCC to keep its tuition affordable. Together, we will help transform the lives of our students and the local community and revitalize our region’s economy.”

New York’s colleges and universities are expected to receive an estimated $5.4 billion in direct federal stimulus aid, including more than $3.4 billion for public colleges and close to $2 billion for private colleges. SUNY and CUNY have nearly $3 billion in remaining stimulus funds to spend over the next 2-3 years. A substantial portion of this funding will be used to provide financial aid grants to students with exceptional needs, such as students who receive Pell grants.

The FY 2022 enacted budget enacts a COVID-19 Recovery Workforce Initiative, which invests $50 million for training in high-growth industries, employer-driven training for low-income workers and funding for small businesses to re-train and hire furloughed, laid-off or new employees.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Labor has paid out more than $75 billion in benefits to more than 4 million New Yorkers — more than 30 typical years’ worth of benefits. The budget supports reforms to the unemployment system, including upgrades to modernize technology, among other things.

The budget creates a $2.1 billion program to provide cash payments to workers who have suffered income loss due to COVID but who are ineligible for unemployment insurance or related federal benefits due to their immigration status or other factors.

“For the past few days, we have either been kept waiting on budget bills or working on them until the wee hours of the morning,” said Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons, in a statement Wednesday. “It seems the mindset for the Assembly Majority is that the bigger we grow the budget, the better New York will be. I feel the complete opposite, as I believe we must go to battle against the debt New York has stacked up in order for our state to get anywhere. We must speed up our debt payback. I view a successful budget as to not raise taxes but to reduce them at a rate of a percentage each year. The more money we can leave in the pockets of residents, the better shape our state will be in for future generations.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Unshackle Upstate releases 2021 advocacy agenda

Unshackle Upstate, a pro-taxpayer education and advocacy organization, has released its 2021 Advocacy Agenda. The group again takes issue with taxes, prevailing wage mandates and the Scaffold Law, but this year also addresses the pandemic.

Justin Wilcox
Justin Wilcox

“Given the state of New York’s economy, embracing a pro-growth mindset in 2021 is essential to the future. Over the last year, countless businesses have closed, more than 1 million New Yorkers have lost their jobs and more than 100,000 residents have fled to other states. We’re not just dealing with a public health crisis, we’re also in the midst of a historic economic crisis,” said Unshackle Upstate Executive Director Justin Wilcox. “Our 2021 advocacy agenda offers a map that will get New York on the road to recover. Fast-tracking the proactive measures in this agenda will provide relief to our small businesses and revive our communities. It’s time to stand up for upstate and get our economy growing.”

The organization’s key priorities for the 2021 legislative session include:

• Reducing the income tax rate, corporate tax rate and sales tax rate for localities with fewer than 1 million residents;
• Creating an upstate legislative caucus;
• Enacting COVID-related protections for employers;
• Pausing future minimum wage increases until the upstate economy recovers;
• Reforming Prevailing Wage calculations; and
• Enacting a 5-year moratorium of the Scaffold Law.

The organization noted that statewide, roughly one in four small businesses remain closed since January 2020, according to an analysis from Opportunity Insights — a joint effort between Harvard University, Brown University and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Additional data from the U.S. Census Bureau found that New York lost nearly 1.4 million residents to other states since 2010. According to the latest unemployment figures from the New York state Department of Labor, more than 1 million jobs have been lost since December 2019.

The 2021 agenda states that embracing a pro-growth mindset will be essential this year.

“Now that countless employers and employees across the state are working remotely, they’re realizing they don’t have to live in New York state,” the agenda states. “While many residents will undoubtedly join the 1 million New Yorkers who’ve fled over the last 10 years, those who can’t afford to leave will be left to shoulder the nation’s largest state and local tax burden.”

In addition to reducing income tax, corporate tax and sales tax in communities with fewer than 1 million people, Unshackle Upstate is advocating for a pause on future minimum wage increases until the Upstate economy recovers. Continued increases would lead to business closures and job losses, the group contends.

Unshackle Upstate is supporting legislation that would exclude unemployment charges caused by the impact of COVID-19 from being used to calculate an employer’s experience rating. The group also suggests that employers who act in good faith and follow rules and regulations must be protected from COVID-19 lawsuits.

Unshackle Upstate continues to address reforming how New York’s prevailing wage is calculated in this year’s agenda. Among other things, the organization would like to see a return to the federal Davis-Bacon standard so that prevailing wage reflects the wage of 50 percent of the labor force in a given trade or a weighted average for each construction trade, not New York’s 30 percent standard. And the agenda also addresses what it calls New York’s “antiquated” Scaffold Law, which it contends increases the cost of general liability insurance on every construction project in the state, and serves as a drag on economic development.

Some of the items Unshackle Upstate supports include: maintaining fiscal responsibility within the state budget; enactment of small business tax relief; employer protections regarding marijuana legalization; expanding tax reforms for manufacturers; continuing workers’ compensation reforms; continuing upstate investment initiatives; and expanding broadband and cell phone service access throughout Upstate.

The organization said it opposes increases on existing taxes, fees, assessments or creation of new taxes; creation of a single-payer health system; weakening of the 2 percent property tax cap; use of regionally mandated project labor agreements; over-regulation and product bans on the chemical industry; and reclassification of gig workers from independent contractors to employees.

“The facts about New York’s business closures, population decline, job losses speak for themselves,” Wilcox said. “The question now is simple and stark: Will Albany take the necessary actions to rebuild the state’s shattered economy and reclaim our status as the Empire State?”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Schumer introduces legislation to bolster semiconductor industry

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer has introduced bipartisan legislation that promises to bolster U.S. leadership in the microelectronics sector that could have implications for Rochester’s photonics and semiconductor industry.

Citing concerns that China is catching up to the U.S. in microelectronics production capacity, Schumer this week unveiled the American Foundries Act, a bipartisan initiative that seeks to re-establish U.S. leadership and revitalize innovation in the global microelectronics sector.

Schumer said the legislation would make critical investments in domestic commercial and defense-related microelectronics manufacturing and research and development, and it would address economic and national security concerns by decreasing U.S. dependence on foreign-made semiconductor chips.

“The economic and national security risks posed by relying too heavily on foreign semiconductor suppliers cannot be ignored, and Upstate New York, which has a robust semiconductor sector, is the perfect place to grow this industry by leaps and bounds,” Schumer said in a statement Monday. “America must continue to invest in our domestic semiconductor industry, including companies like GlobalFoundries, ON Semiconductor, IBM and Cree right here in New York, in order to keep good-paying, high-tech American manufacturing jobs here at home.

“We need to ensure our domestic microelectronics industry can safely and securely supply our military, intelligence agencies and other government needs,” Schumer added. “This is essential to our national security and to U.S. leadership in this critical industry.”

Although the U.S. revolutionized the microelectronic industry and invented much of the key technology used today, competitors in Asia have made huge investments into their microelectronics industries in recent years to challenge U.S. leadership, Schumer noted. More than three-quarters of cutting-edge wafer fabrication capacity is now based in Asia, he said, with last year being the first in which North America fell behind China in capacity.

“The American Foundries Act is a bold step to respond to the aggressive incentive available to overseas competitors and reverse the decline of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States,” said Keith Jackson, president and CEO of ON Semiconductor. “ON Semiconductor urges the Congress to quickly advance legislation to promote American semiconductor research and manufacturing.”

The American Foundries Act would authorize the Department of Commerce to award $15 billion in grants to states to assist in the construction, expansion or modernization of microelectronics fabrication, assembly, test, advanced packaging or advanced research and development facilities.

The legislation also would authorize the Department of Defense to award $5 billion in grants for the creation, expansion or modernization of one or more commercially competitive and sustainable microelectronics manufacturing or advanced research and development facilities capable of producing measurably secure and specialized microelectronics for defense and intelligence purposes.

In addition, the act would authorize $5 billion in R&D spending, including $2 billion for DARPA’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative, $1.5 billion for the National Science Foundation, $1.25 billion for the Department of Energy and $250 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Sen. Schumer has long recognized that our 1,250-acre STAMP site in Genesee County presents a tremendous opportunity to create thousands of high-quality semiconductor jobs for the Western New York and Finger Lakes regions,” said Steve Hyde, president and CEO of the Genesee County Economic Development Center. “Our challenge has always been the considerable cost to get the site developed and shovel-ready in the global competition to land projects of this scale. This legislation though is a game-changer in so many ways as it will support cutting-edge domestic semiconductor development and increases in semiconductor manufacturing capacity at a crucial time in our nation’s history.”

Schumer introduced the legislation in the Senate with nine additional senators signing on. He said he will aim to include the legislation as an amendment in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

[email protected] / 585-653-4021
Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer

Rear seat belt legislation headed to state Senate

In the last decade, nearly 300 people in New York state have been killed and more than 25,500 have been injured in crashes while unrestrained in the back seat of a motor vehicle. It’s a stat that many state lawmakers are hoping to improve with the passing of rear seat belt legislation in the Assembly this month.

The legislation, A6163/S4336, now awaits a vote in the state Senate.

“AAA is hoping it will go through this year because right now the New York State law says that when you’re 16 years old you don’t have to buckle up in the back seat,” said Elizabeth Carey, director of public relations & corporate communications for AAA Western and Central New York. “New York State was one of the first states to enact the seat belt law, and for whatever reason back then, they didn’t make it for adults in the back seat.

“It just sends a poor message to people that it’s not really important to buckle up in the back seat, whereas the research shows it’s very important that you need to be buckled up in the back seat for your own safety,” she said.

In 1984, then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo set in motion the country’s first mandatory seat belt provisions, following numerous debates over the issue. AAA reports that opponents of the legislation likened it to “Big Brother.”

Assemblymember Andrew Ryan at the time wrote that the law was “another step toward George Orwell’s 1984 society,” while Assemblymember Ray Chesbro, R-Phoenix, believed it “could open a Pandora’s box of ‘protective’ measures leading to the concepts of Big Brotherism chronicled in George Orwell’s book ‘1984,’” and Sen. Charles Cook said the law was an “intrusion into individuals’ personal lives and their freedom of choice,” according to a 2016 report from AAA.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles has noted that seat belts absorb the force of impact in a crash and reduce the risk of being injured or killed. “It holds you securely to help prevent you from striking hard objects inside the vehicle while being tossed around,” and passengers are less likely to be ejected from the vehicle through its windshield while wearing a seat belt.

New York is a “primary enforcement” state, which means you can be pulled over and issued a traffic ticket just for failure to wear a seat belt. The penalty for violation is up to $50 per person. Drivers can receive points on their driver licenses as well.

Despite early objections to front seat belt laws, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that more than 15,000 lives are saved each year in the U.S. because drivers and their passengers were wearing seat belts when they were in a road traffic crash.

The NHTSA reports that seat belt usage is nearly 90 percent. Among young adults 18 to 34 killed in crashes in 2018, nearly 60 percent were completely unrestrained. Some 52 percent of men killed in crashes in 2018 were unrestrained, compared with 39 percent of women killed in crashes.

The NHTSA also reports that while 46 percent of all front-seat passenger vehicle occupants killed in crashes in 2018 were unrestrained, 56 percent of those killed in back seats were unrestrained.

“I think one thing that people don’t think about is that if you’ve got people in the back seat, anytime you’re involved in a crash all the contents of the vehicle move forward,” said Mike Formanowicz, AAA’s driver training manager. “So if you have passengers in the back seat that are sitting there unbelted, you can imagine they’re going to move forward with full force that can cause injuries to themselves and also cause injuries to the driver and passenger in the front seat of the vehicle.

“The weight of those back seat folks is going to be thrown forward,” Formanowicz added. “If you’re sitting directly behind the driver or the passenger in front, you’re pretty much going to slam into their seat. But if you have somebody in the middle there’s really nothing holding them back.”

The new legislation, which was sponsored in the Senate by David Carlucci, D-Rockland/Westchester, and introduced in 2019, would add and amend the vehicle and traffic law to require the use of seat belts by all passengers 16 years of age or older riding in any seating position in a motor vehicle.

When the legislation was sent to the Senate Transportation Committee, Sens. Patrick Gallivan, R-Erie/Wyoming/Livingston, and Chris Jacobs, R-Erie, voted against it.

“I think it’s part of a larger picture. I think it impedes on individual choice,” Gallivan said, echoing sentiments from others during the 1984 disputes over front-seat belt legislation. “We’ve seen a number of other pieces of legislation that I think get into areas of personal choice that I don’t think government should be stepping in.”

Gallivan was quick to differentiate between the importance of front seat restrictions versus rear seat restraints.

“The operator of the vehicle, his or her actions, of course, can affect the safety of others,” Gallivan said. “That is not necessarily the case in the back. It’s really that simple. I believe that’s something that should be a personal choice.”

New York state is in the minority with its lack of a rear seat belt law. Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have legislation that requires all passengers in a motor vehicle to be restrained with a seat belt.

The new legislation, if passed, will have statewide and local impacts. Unbelted rear seat adults were injured or killed in crashes in 60 of New York’s 62 counties in 2016, and Carey noted that Monroe County ranked ninth among counties statewide for rear-seat injuries and fatalities among passengers who were not buckled in that year.

[email protected]/585-653-4021/@Velvet_Spicer

Limo tragedy leads to new laws in NY

A deadly crash in Schoharie County has led to landmark limousine reforms in New York State. Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week signed a comprehensive package of legislation putting new reforms and safety standards into place.

The legislation stems from an October 2018 accident in which a 31-foot stretch limousine crashed at state Routes 30 and 30A, 30 miles west of Albany, killing 20, including the limo driver, all 17 passengers and two pedestrians who were in a nearby parking lot.

It was the deadliest transportation-related disaster in the U.S. since the 2009 Colgan Air Flight 3407 crash outside Buffalo killed 50. It also was the deadliest road transportation disaster in the U.S. since a 2005 bus fire in Wilmer, Texas, killed 23 nursing home residents.

“These far-reaching reforms deliver much-needed protections that will help keep dangerous vehicles off our roadways, crack down on businesses that do not prioritize safety and will give New Yorkers peace of mind when they enter a limo in this state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “New York stands with those who lost loved ones in the horrific crashes that inspired this legislation and I commend the family members who worked tirelessly to help pass these bills to prevent future tragedies.”

In the Schoharie crash, it was determined that the brakes failed on the limo, which previously had been ordered out of service. In addition, the limo was certified for 10 seats, yet had 18 installed. The limo had previously failed two safety inspections.

The New York State Police determined that Prestige Limousine’s operator, Nauman Hussain, was aware of the issues yet continued to rent the vehicle. He was arrested on a charge of criminally negligent homicide and later indicted on 20 counts each of that charge and second-degree manslaughter. His trial is scheduled for May of this year.

The 10-point legislative package includes new safety regulations such as seatbelt requirements, immobilization of defective limousines, increased penalties for illegal U-turns, GPS requirements, customer service resource requirements, regular validation of vehicle and driver safety information, new commercial driver’s license requirements for limo drivers, creation of a passenger task force and drug and alcohol testing for drivers.

“Limousines and celebrations usually go hand-in-hand, and the Senate Democratic majority wants to keep it that way,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrew Stewart-Cousins. “The crashes that have taken place because of unsafe limos and lax regulations are tragedies, and we have a responsibility to address this problem. The Senate Majority stands, and grieves, with the families who lost loved ones to limo crashes and who turned that suffering into activism.”

The 2018 tragedy followed a 2015 crash in Long Island in which four women were killed and four others injured when the limo driver allegedly made an illegal U-turn and was hit by a pickup truck whose driver admitted he had been drinking.

In that case, charges against the limo driver were dropped and the pickup truck driver pleaded guilty to driving while ability impaired, costing him a fine and a 90-day suspension of his license.

The new legislation includes:

  • Seatbelt Requirements (S.6191C/A.9057) — Motor vehicles converted into stretch limousines on or after Jan. 1, 2021, have at least 2 safety belts for the front seat and at least one safety belt in the rear for each passenger the vehicle was designed to hold, as well as requiring all stretch limousines to be retrofitted to include seatbelts by Jan. 1, 2023.
  • New Commercial Driver’s License Requirements for Limousine Drivers (S.6192A/A.8474A) — Individuals operating limousines carrying nine or more passengers, including the driver, must have a passenger endorsed commercial driver’s license.
  • Immobilization and Impoundment of Defective Limousines (S.6193C/A.9056) — Allows the Commissioner of Transportation to impound or immobilize stretch limousines in certain situations and provides that an impounded motor vehicle will not be released unless the Commissioner provides written notice that the vehicle has passed re-inspection. Any release of a vehicle without approval by the Commissioner will be punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.
  • Increased Penalties for Illegal U-Turns (S.6188B/A.8172B) — Violations will be subject to a $250 to $400 fine and/or up to 15 days imprisonment. Second violations in 18 months will be subject to a $600 to $750 fine and/or up to 45 days imprisonment. Violations involving a stretch limousine making an illegal U-turn while carrying at least one passenger would be subject to a $750 to $1,000 fine and/or up to 180 days imprisonment.
  • GPS Requirements for Limousines (S.6187C/A. 9058) — Requires stretch limousines to use GPS technology designed specifically for commercial vehicles.
  • Drug and Alcohol Testing (S.6186B/A.712A) — Requires that large for-hire vehicle drivers and motor carriers be subject to pre-employment and random drug and alcohol testing.
  • Seatbelt Use in Taxi and Livery Vehicles (S.7134/A.8990) — Expands seatbelt use requirements in for-hire vehicles.

“By passing this comprehensive package of legislation, the Senate and Assembly are strengthening standards across New York State, and changing the way the industry is regulated to ensure passenger safety is prioritized,” said Sen. Timothy Kennedy, chairman of the Committee on Transportation. “The families who lost loved ones in the limo crashes in Schoharie and Cutchogue (Long Island) were instrumental in the pursuit of these reforms, and their commitment to make New York safer will undoubtedly prevent other families from experiencing the same heartbreak they have endured. I thank Governor Andrew Cuomo, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Carl Heastie for working alongside us to fast-track this historic deal, and I look forward to seeing these important measures enacted.”

[email protected] / 585-653-4021 / @Velvet_Spicer

New labor law causing anxiety on N.Y. farms

When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed the Farmworkers Bill into law last week, farmworker advocates were cheered, and many farmers were seriously dismayed.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and would require overtime pay for workers after 60 hours of straight time, a required day off, a review panel for labor disputes, and the right to bargain collectively.

Farmworkers had been exempted when labor protections were widely adopted in the 1940s. As a result, it’s not uncommon for farmworkers to compile 80 or more hours a week, with all those hours paid at straight time. Average farmworker pay is about $14 an hour.

Cuomo pronounced the new law “not just a great achievement in terms of the effect on the human condition, it’s also a milestone in the crusade for social justice. It truly is a moment for reflection and celebration. First, as a practical matter, 100,000 farmworkers will have better lives. Their families will have better lives. They will finally, finally have the same protections that other workers have had for 80 years.”

Farm owners had continued to argue against this bill and others like it for years by saying that farm work just doesn’t conform to the kind of conditions and economics governing other kinds of work.  Crops ripen all at once, requiring lengthy working days until the harvest is in. Cows require milking two, three or four times a day on a schedule more attuned to their individual eating patterns and biorhythms than a standard work shift.

Advocates, meanwhile, had argued that workers deserve job protection and a day of rest just like anyone else, perhaps more so, given the physical nature of the work. Librada Paz of Brockport, a former farmworker who is a nationally recognized advocate for workers, said many farmworkers don’t see doctors because they have no provisions to take time off for a medical appointment.

Paz is a board member of the Rural Migrant Ministries agency and attended the governor’s signing of the bill into law. She said organizations like RMM will have to help educate farmworkers about their new rights.

“A lot of the places don’t give breaks,” Paz said. “We have to really go after this. People have their right to have their breaks. We have to teach them this new law.”

The impact of the law remains to be seen, with many farmers claiming it will be yet another factor pushing them out of business. And advocates for farmworkers say it’s a great first step, but additional measures are needed.

“Who’s going to be most hard hit is going to be folks who produce more labor-intensive product,” such as milk, fruits and vegetables, said John Sorbello, of Scottsville, Ontario County, and  Region 3 director of the New York State Farm Bureau. Some farms may elect to move from those types of farming to commodity crops such as soybeans because they can do so with less hired help, he said.

Sorbello said the Farm Bureau and other organizations moved the needle on overtime so that it doesn’t kick in until 60 hours, 20 hours later than most other workers.  Collective bargaining doesn’t worry him so much, he said, as the failure to include a no-strike clause in the law. Without it, he said, a strike could endanger milking cows, or destroy a crop.

He also was disappointed that the new law’s definition of a family farm – there are some exemptions for family farms – was limited to a nuclear family unit rather than groups of close relatives including nephews or cousins.

Many farmers have been arguing that the requirement to pay overtime will now force them to limit their employees’ hours to 60 a week, making up for the extra hours by hiring additional laborers at straight time.

“The first answer is we’ll hire more people. If the people are not available that could be a real issue,” Sorbello said. While many migrant farmworkers are uneducated, he said, they’re still smart; They will choose to work in a state where they can have unlimited hours.

If farmers are required to pay overtime, bringing pay rates to about $20 an hour, Sorbello said, they won’t be able to price their products competitively with states that are only required to pay a minimum wage that’s much lower. The prices growers can command for vegetables and fruits are often set by processors whose headquarters are out of state, Sorbello noted, and dairy prices are set nationally in a complicated formula that won’t take into account rising labor costs in New York.

Sarah Dressel, an apple grower in New Paltz, Ulster County, and chairwoman of the New York Apple Association’s board of directors, said in a statement that “the massive increase in labor costs coming down the pike because of this new law will make it difficult to sustain the business that has lasted for generations….I’m afraid this could be the breaking point for our orchard and many like ours across the state.”

Advocates suggest farm owners might be crying wolf.

“At the same time that farm owners are saying that agricultural industry is on the brink and it’s very difficult, there’s been huge growth and profit in the last few years,” said John Marsella, senior attorney with Workers Justice Center of New York in Rochester. “It’s important for our laws to protect some of the most marginalized individuals who participate in this economy.”

Paz said the new law will take some getting used to on both sides. “The problem is that farmers were so used to working the way they were working,” she said. “They’re going to have to find a way to adjust.” She predicted larger operations, those with 100 or more employees, will feel the most impact.

Marsella said a recent state appellate court ruling found exempting farmworkers from labor protections others enjoyed was a violation of the state constitution. That paved the way for the Farmworker Bill to finally win approval.

“We’re really leaders in many areas of agriculture across the country,” Marsella said. “New York serves as leaders in the protection of the most vulnerable workers. I’m proud of the state of New York and proud of the politicians who made this happen.”

It was downstate politicians who led the charge this time around, with two legislators from Queens filing the bill some months ago. Upstate legislators largely opposed it, saying it would harm rural economies.

“It should be named the Farmworkers Flee New York Act because it is simply more job-killing regulation, unrealistic for our small and large farms,” said state Sen. Pamela Helming, R-Canandaigua. “This is what happens when New York City, a place that enjoys farmers markets but not farms, tries to legislate a business that they do not understand.”

Assemblyman Brian Manktelow, R-Lyons, declared he was “outraged” when the bill passed the state legislature in June, and predicted it will “drive more families out of New York and businesses to close.”

Paz said the bill was a matter of human rights and dignity, and if farmers respect their workers as they often say they do, they should be willing to shoulder the true costs of operating a business.

Earning the right to bargain collectively to improve work conditions is just one step in the process of improving work conditions, Marsella noted.  Farm owners have no reason to worry about a labor shortage if they’re treating their employees well, he said.

“The people who stay or are happy are ones who feel they’re treated with dignity and respect and get a fair wage.”  Marsella said, “Far too often we see instances of discrimination, unpaid wages, housing violations and unsafe working conditions.”

The new law, he said, “is an important step in the right direction, that more individuals are able to participate in success of this booming agricultural industry.”

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275


Schumer battles toy-shopping bots

Echoing 2016 legislation that outlawed use of bots that gobble up concert and theater tickets, Sen. Charles E. Schumer this week is proposing a ban on bots that collect the hottest toys, causing both a shortage and a market for outrageously marked-up playthings.

Citing research by Consumer Reports, Schumer said spikes of bot activity has been detected in online holiday shopping, allowing high-tech shoppers to corner the market on such toys as Wow Wee Fingerlings, L.O.L. Surprise Dolls, Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition, and the Barbie Hello Dreamhouse. The toys, which can sell for as little as $10 in retail stores, are offered at resale sites for tens, hundreds and even thousands more than their original prices.

Fingerlings, by Wow Wee, are one of the hot collectible toys bots are seeking out, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer. Photo supplied by Wow Wee
Fingerlings, by Wow Wee, are one of the hot collectible toys that bots are seeking out, according to Sen. Charles E. Schumer. Photo supplied by Wow Wee

“The average New York holiday shopper is unable to compete with the light speed of the all-too-common Grinch bot, and are then held at ransom by scalpers and third-party resellers when trying to buy holiday presents. No New Yorker should have to fork over hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars to buy Christmas and holiday gifts for their children and loved ones,” Schumer said.

Previously, Schumer was successful in getting the Better Online Ticket Sales (BOTS) Act passed into law. The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018 and would ban toy market practices similar to the ones that had forced theater and concert fans to buy overpriced tickets on the resale market.   

“These cyber-scalpers use Grinch bots—the same technology ticket scalpers employed—to purchase at lightning speed the hottest Christmas toys en masse, create a false shortage and then resell them to desperate parents and grandparents—at obscene mark-ups” Schumer said. “It is a cynical rip-off pure and simple, and we should put the clamp-down on these predatory scammers ASAP.”

Schumer and colleagues Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), and Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY), introduced The Stopping Grinch Bots Act of 2018 the day after Thanksgiving. The legislation would use a framework similar to the BOTS act but apply it to sales of popular consumer items.

Schumer said bots can detect sales even before consumers know about them and fill out online orders in fractions of seconds, allowing them to purchase mass quantities before consumers even have a chance to shop.

“When it comes to speed-of-purchase of hot holiday gifts, your average consumer is bringing a knife to a gun fight,” said Schumer.  

[email protected]/(585) 363-7275