Editorial: Gov. Hochul’s ‘no message’ agenda is really about her
“I have no message,” Gov. Kathy Hochul told ABC 7’s Bill Ritter about rumors that her disgraced predecessor Andrew Cuomo could play spoiler in this year’s election. Thing is, “no message” covers Hochul’s take on nearly everything.
She told Ritter that she is focused on “making sure people feel safe, reducing the cost of everyday living for New Yorkers.” How, exactly — and who’s opposed?
This follows her shepherding of the state’s largest budget ever, which in the long run will drive up taxes and thus eventually the cost of living for most New Yorkers. Her big “victories” were to push the Legislature into tinkering slightly with the disastrous no-bail and discovery laws (fixes that won’t remotely make anyone feel safer) and winning a near-billion-dollar taxpayer handout to the (out of state) owners of her hometown Buffalo Bills — a giveaway that polls poorly in Buffalo.
She’s also posturing on abortion, pushing a state constitutional amendment to secure women’s rights, though the 2019 Reproductive Health Act is already an ironclad guarantee that goes well beyond Roe v. Wade and an amendment will take years to pass.
Meanwhile, her outright political moves have largely backfired: Her first lieutenant-governor pick, Brian Benjamin, quit after the feds arrested him on campaign finance fraud and bribery charges. She fully supported the Legislature’s unconstitutional, voter-suppressing gerrymander that has state elections in chaos. She tapped Rep. Antonio Delgado as her new LG, opening up his seat to a serious Republican challenge.
Instead of becoming notorious for harassing women, she’s hired a host of talented women as her top aides, so she’s an improvement on her predecessor in one big regard. But her relentless special-interest fundraising and her general acquiescence in the Legislature’s tax-and-spend ways looks pretty Cuomoesque.
Maybe that’s why she has nothing to say to him, and so little substance to offer the voters.
Auburn Citizen. May 8, 2022.
Editorial: School budgets need additional public feedback
Throughout New York state this week, public school district education boards will be holding public hearings on the budget proposals that will be put before voters on May 17.
The timing of these hearings is set by state law. They must take place seven to 14 days before the vote. The law also sets a time for when the budget proposal that is the subject of that public hearing be approved by the school board. But unlike any other type of local government budget, this spending plan must be finished seven days before the public hearing.
As a result, these hearings are largely just for show. The budget can’t be trimmed or expanded due to the feedback from this hearing. The main benefits for these sessions are to give interested a voters a chance to get some questions answered in order to inform their decision, or to provide them a platform for advocating either a “yes” or “no” vote to others.
There’s perhaps some benefit to that, so we can support the idea of continuing this hearing as a final opportunity to inform the public before the vote. But there needs to be another hearing in the budget development process, one before the school board takes its vote on the plan to put on the ballot.
This basic premise is used by county legislatures, city councils and town boards for their spending plans. A tentative budget is approved and a public hearing is held. Should the elected body in charge of that budget decide to make some changes based on that hearing, they can do so before voting on the final draft.
We urge education policy and good government advocates to encourage state lawmakers to take a look at education law and tweak the school budget timelines accordingly.
Advance Media New York. May 8, 2022.
Editorial: Make police more accountable. End qualified immunity in NY
In the 12 days remaining in its 2022 session, the New York state Legislature can bolster police accountability by passing legislation that would end qualified immunity in New York.
Qualified immunity protects government officials from being held responsible in civil court for depriving a person of their constitutional rights.
The Supreme Court created this legal doctrine through a series of rulings over the past 50 years, giving ever wider latitude to the conduct of police and other officials. The court has raised the qualified immunity bar so high that few plaintiffs can overcome it — and many don’t even try.
The current standard asks: Was the official conduct objectively reasonable? Was it unlawful under “clearly established law”? The second question stops many lawsuits in their tracks; plaintiffs must find a case in the same court with the exact same set of facts and circumstances. Often, the court never even gets to the question of whether the conduct violated the Constitution.
The New York bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Pamela Hunter, D-Syracuse, would eliminate the “clearly established” standard as a defense for violations of the state and federal constitutions, opening the courthouse door to plaintiffs stymied by that high bar. They’ll still have to prove their claims to a judge. But at least they would be heard.
Qualified immunity contributes to the culture of impunity in policing that reached its apex with the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That set off nationwide protests and calls for greater police accountability.
Floyd’s assailant, Derek Chauvin, was the rare police officer criminally charged for killing an unarmed civilian. Because prosecutors are reluctant to charge cops who commit violence and police departments poorly discipline their own, civil courts often are the only venue for victims (or their survivors) to seek justice, compensation and changes in police policy.
Qualified immunity is a barrier to justice, even when authorities commit egregious abuses that defy the Constitution, common sense and basic human dignity.
For example, courts granted qualified immunity to officials accused of: confining a prisoner to a cell covered with feces for days on end; tasering a pregnant woman for refusing to sign a traffic ticket; setting fire to a suicidal man doused with gasoline; shooting a woman four times for holding a knife in a non-threatening manner; and standing idly by while a prisoner strangled himself with a telephone cord after twice attempting it with bedding.
This last case, Cope v. Cogdill, illustrates the absurdity of the qualified immunity defense. An appeals court granted qualified immunity to the jailer who watched Derrek Monroe take his own life, without calling 911 or rendering aid, because precedent dictated that a phone cord is “not as obvious” a ligature as bedding.
Such outcomes undermine the public’s confidence in law enforcement. That deprives law-abiding police officers of the respect, trust and cooperation they need to do their jobs.
A broad coalition of conservatives, liberals, libertarians and legal scholars have joined forces to argue for ending qualified immunity. Change is not likely to come from the Supreme Court, which recently reaffirmed the doctrine, or from Congress, which failed to advance a police reform bill named for Floyd.
Not surprisingly, police unions oppose ending qualified immunity. Their arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny.
— Claim: Officers will be punished for making an honest mistake. Under the Fourth Amendment, courts already give police wide deference for split-second decisions. Courts are forbidden from judging conduct with “the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”
— Claim: Police officers will quit en masse if stripped of qualified immunity. That simply hasn’t happened in other jurisdictions that have curbed qualified immunity.
— Claim: Officers will be deterred from performing their duties for fear of being sued. Academic surveys find that police officers rarely think about it. But if ending qualified immunity deters them from violating people’s constitutional rights, that’s a good thing.
— Claim: Lawsuits will bankrupt individual officers. This is plainly false. The bill explicitly takes cops off the hook and makes municipalities responsible for paying damages.
This bill is not anti-police; it is pro-accountability. It took guts for Hunter to take up the issue amid the political fallout from Albany’s previous attempts at criminal justice reform.
It’s worth noting that qualified immunity isn’t just for police; it covers other government employees, as well. A teacher who experienced unlawful retaliation, for example, or a student beaten by a school employee could sue under Hunter’s bill. But the vast majority of cases involve law enforcement or corrections officers. They are charged with protecting human life — and are uniquely equipped to end it.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, dissenting in Kisela v. Hughes, called qualified immunity “an absolute shield for law enforcement officers, gutting the deterrent effect of the Fourth Amendment.” The court’s grant of immunity to the officer who shot the woman with the knife “tells officers that they can shoot first and think later, and it tells the public that palpably unreasonable conduct will go unpunished.”
New York lawmakers can change that. End qualified immunity now.
Plattsburg Press Republican. May 11, 2022.
Editorial: Be prepared for water safety
Every summer, as the weather warms, people head out to local rivers, ponds and beaches to cool off.
But such fun times can turn tragic in an instant, as we’ve seen far too often over the years.
Injury or inexperience can lead people to losing their way in the water and drownings can occur on any occasion.
Having lifeguards on duty at popular beaches can literally be a lifesaver, and we give thanks to our North Country neighbors who put in the time and training to become lifeguard-certified.
You can read more about how to become a certified state lifeguard at https://tinyurl.com/4yfhta7t.
But let’s also discuss stopping water tragedies before they even occur.
That means being prepared. Drowning is the top cause of injury-related deaths for children ages 1 to 4 and the third-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death among children 19 and younger, according to safekids.org.
Here are some safety tips to follow from safekids.org and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• Make sure your children learn basic swimming and water safety rules. Infants can often learn to swim before they walk.
• Adults supervision is critical, whether at home, in a public pool or in a waterway. Supervising adults should avoid distracting activities such as reading, using the phone or consuming alcohol or drugs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “touch supervision,” meaning the adult is no more than an arm’s length away from a child around water.
• Use life jackets. Whether near natural bodies of water or at the pool or water park, make sure your child wears a life jacket that fits properly and is approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.
• Install fences around home pools, irrigation ditches, drainage ditches and ponds. Fences should be at least 4 feet tall with self-closing and self-latching gates.
• Understand and know the risks of lakes, rivers, oceans and rivers; they all have hidden hazards.
• Learn CPR and other water rescue skills. Even the most vigilant parent or guardian might be faced with an accident or injury.
All those tips lead to one point: Be ready.
You never know when you might be called on to save a life. So always remember to be prepared.
Buffalo News. May 7, 2022.
Editorial: Two state initiatives tackle the difficult but essential goal of managing plastics
There is hopeful movement on the recycling front, even though a national expert asserts it doesn’t go nearly far enough.
At the University at Buffalo, a new state Department of Environmental Conservation-funded research center will explore ways to make plastic recycling more effective. In Albany, legislators are ironing the kinks out of the Extended Producer Responsibility law, which provides incentives to manufacturers to use more sustainable and recyclable materials.
It’s been around since early 2021, but initially met with resistance and requests for exemptions. A new version of EPR is now working its way through the Assembly; an earlier Senate version is further along.
Both approaches demonstrate that solutions are being sought for a sadly broken recycling industry. The truth is that most well-meaning New Yorkers are conscientiously filling their blue bins every week, unaware that much of their “recycling” ultimately ends up in a landfill. It’s a problem. Paper and cardboard will break down relatively quickly. Plastic won’t.
Plastic’s recycling rate now stands at about 8.5%, compared to rates of 60% and more for cardboard and paper. A longtime expert in this field, Judy Enck, regional EPA administrator under President Obama and founder of the Beyond Plastics center housed at Vermont’s Bennington College, says, “Just as cars must meet fuel efficiency standards and appliances must include similar energy efficiency, all packaging should be required to meet environmental standards.”
It’s an essential point. Industries profit, in part, by pushing a share of their costs on to the public. It happens with pollution, for which taxpayers often foot the bill, and it happens with landfilling. Some better balance is needed. That requires legislation.
Enck is lobbying for a New York measure that would require a 50% reduction in plastic packaging over the next 10 years; at the end of that period, any packaging that does not meet this standard would no longer be sold in New York. It’s a big reach.
Enck does admit that an Extended Producer Responsibility law could generate fees that might help beleaguered municipalities, which have no control over how anything is packaged but still have to pay to process everything that goes into the bins, garbage or recycling.
According to those familiar with the Assembly version of EPR, the legislation includes plastic reduction requirements and does not depend solely on fees. It also takes a stand on the so-called “chemical recycling,” which is essentially incineration of plastics.
Studies of EPR bills that have taken effect in Canada and Europe show that, without reduction requirements, a fee-based system does little to reduce plastic pollution. New York should learn from those examples.
Anti-plastic activists would like to see the same kind of timed-out reduction in plastic manufacturing that’s proposed by New York’s Climate Action Plan, which envisions reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. In their view, anything less is not acceptable.
Reality intrudes when we consider that a much more sweeping piece of federal legislation, Break Free From Plastic Pollution, was introduced in 2020, revised in 2021, and still faces formidable opposition from lobbying groups. After November’s midterm elections, its chances for passage may diminish.
Hope intrudes when we consider that most Americans plainly desire to end plastic pollution; that’s why they continue to fill up those bins, and, even better, increase their usage of containers that can be washed and refilled.
Meanwhile, UB’s New York Center for Plastic Recycling Research and Innovation will look for ways to improve sorting, processing and participation in recycling that actually does its job reducing waste. Even if EPR does not become law this year, UB may find solutions that accomplish some of its goals. That’s the thing about research — it’s supposed to lead to the questions that hadn’t been asked and the answers nobody had imagined.
Baby steps, but that’s mostly how change happens.
Albany Times Union. May 11, 2022.
Editorial: Undo Mr. Cuomo’s revenge
New York’s political parties unfairly stifle independent candidates.
It won’t shock many readers to learn that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo was willing to exact political retribution, and even use the power of his office to do it.
So when the Working Families Party angered Mr. Cuomo by endorsing Cynthia Nixon, his 2018 primary foe, the governor a year later hijacked a commission created by lawmakers to develop a system for publicly financing campaigns and used it for a blatant attack on the viability of third parties.
Most infamously, the commission more than doubled, from 50,000 to 130,000, the number of votes needed in gubernatorial and presidential elections for such parties to qualify for ballot access.
Less noticed was that the commission also made it much harder for independent candidates to petition their way onto the ballot, tripling the minimum number of signatures needed from 15,000 to 45,000.
None of that was on the commission’s original agenda, mind you, and Democratic Party leaders, including Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, should have blocked Mr. Cuomo’s subterfuge. They didn’t, however, and we can certainly surmise why: It benefits major-party incumbents to quash as much competition as possible.
Of course, history takes unexpected twists. And as it turns out, it is now Mr. Cuomo himself who faces the higher ballot hurdle if he decides to run as an independent candidate in this year’s gubernatorial election. Yes, the irony is delicious.
Yet Mr. Cuomo, with more than $16 million remaining in his campaign account, would have the resources needed to gather the signatures with relative ease. Other independent candidates typically do not.
The result of the 2019 changes, which left New York with ballot access requirements considered to be among the nation’s most stringent, is fewer choices for voters and fewer new ideas introduced into the political process. Such stagnation is not good for democracy, of course, nor is it good for generating voter interest in elections.
The argument here isn’t that there should be no hurdles to ballot access. It would do voters no good to be confronted by an endless list of names. And yes, potential gubernatorial candidates should be made to demonstrate that they have broad support and are serious about running.
The prior requirement – 15,000 signatures – achieved that; prior to the commission’s move, nobody seemed to think the height of that hurdle was a problem. Also, that happens to be the number of signatures required for Democrat and Republican candidates to get on gubernatorial primary ballots, and there’s no reason the standard should be higher for independent contenders.
In the wake of Mr. Cuomo’s resignation last August, lawmakers from both major parties should be taking stock of his abuses and examining their own culpability in allowing the former governor to get away with so much.
But that examination shouldn’t end with rueful navel-gazing. Instead, it must include stripping back the abuses that Mr. Cuomo left behind, including his attack on third parties and independent candidates. This cold dish of revenge should be sent back to the kitchen.
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