E-Mail Newsletter – June 29, 2015

I join with others in applauding the Supreme Court’s decision on Marriage Equality and recognizing what New York State has known for the last several years: legalizing same sex marriage is a matter of justice. I am proud our nation has finally embraced what so many have long held to be a basic human right – the right to marry.

The legislative session has finally come to a close, with a legislative package that includes property tax relief and additional changes to how the state manages education. Here are a few updates:

Oil Train Petroleum Storage Surety. My Petroleum Storage Surety bill (A.7625/S.5751-A) that would ensure financial requirements are met when storing crude oil to prevent taxpayers from being responsible in instances of inadvertent crude oil shipment accidents or spills passed 137-2 in the Assembly, but failed to move again in the Senate.

The legislation would apply to crude oil stored at all bulk storage facilities in New York State – including the Port of Albany – and require financial security to meet all responsibilities for cleanup and decontamination costs associated with the accidental release of such oil.

Since I originally introduced this legislation just one year ago, the growth of crude oil transportation has continued to climb. With storage facilities here at the port, Albany is host to the convergence of two major oil freight lines. This bill ensures that crude oil operators and storage facilities are responsible for their actions, not taxpayers or the public at large. We have work to do in the Senate, and I will continue to advocate strongly for this important legislation in the coming year.

Providing direct property tax relief. The legislation includes a new four-year, $3.1 billion property tax rebate program that will give homeowners needed property tax relief - albeit not as direct a relief for middle and working class families as I would have preferred. The rebates will be provided in addition to homeowners’ School Tax Relief (STAR) benefits and are contingent upon schools and municipalities staying within the two percent property tax cap.

After the first year, the program will operate similar to the “circuit breaker” proposal long supported by the Assembly, where the amount of the rebates will be based on a household’s annual income for families earning up to $275,000.

Senior citizens in the Enhanced STAR program will receive the property tax rebates, which will increase to 34 percent of their current savings over the next four years. Additionally, a program created last year will send a second rebate check in 2016 to residents whose school district and municipality take steps to reduce costs and adhere to the tax cap. Again, I would have preferred a more direct, targeted reduction in taxes.

Extending the property tax cap. The property tax cap limits the amount local governments and school districts can raise their property tax rate annually to no more than two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less. The tax cap – which has saved taxpayers over $7 billion since it took effect – will be extended for another four years under the legislative agreement.

Needed reforms to the tax cap will allow exemptions for BOCES programs’ capital expenses as well as payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) agreements.

Enhancing education for all students. I am very pleased that the final legislative package incorporates my Testing Readability Bill (A.7460) introduced in April that would require state administered standardized English or mathematics assessments to be presented at a readability level that is grade-level appropriate. Many thanks to Guilderland educators who drew my attention to this problem and helped provide the technical expertise in developing the legislation.

In addition, the legislation requires the State Education Department to release significantly more questions and answers from standardized English language arts and math tests used for grades 3 through 8, providing teachers additional information they can utilize in the classroom. Also, teachers, principals, and superintendents will no longer be required to enter into confidentiality agreements preventing them from discussing the contents of these exams after the exams have been publicly released.

Improving teacher evaluations and student assessments. The Assembly’s legislation would also improve teacher evaluations and student assessments by:

+ Creating a content review committee to review standardized tests in grades 3 through 8 in English language arts and math to ensure these tests are fair, accurate and appropriate for each grade level; and;

+ Taking into account factors such as poverty, English Language Learner (ELL) status, students with disabilities and prior academic history when measuring student growth under the new teacher evaluation system.

Investing in nonpublic schools. The Assembly’s legislation includes a significant investment in nonpublic schools. This $250 million will be used to reimburse private and parochial schools for the costs of performing state mandated education services.

Highlights from the 109th:

Delmar Farmers Market named Top 101 farmers markets for third year in a row. The Delmar Farmers Market was named as one of the top 101 Farmers Markets in the country by the Daily Meal web site. This is the third consecutive year the Delmar market has been ranked among the best in the nation by the site.

The market is located at Bethlehem Middle School (322 Kenwood Avenue, Delmar) from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. For more information, visit their Web site.

Times Union All Stars. Very proud of my Albany High daughter, Eileen Bequette, for making the Albany Times Union All-Stars in the Pentathlon! Congrats to teammate, Jahari Coleman, for making the first team in the 100- and 200-meter.

SUNY Poly latest to sign up for CDTA Universal Access Service. It was announced recently that SUNY Poly will provide its 3,500 students, faculty, and staff with universal access to CDTA bus routes, becoming the latest Capital Region institution to adopt this program and will go a long way toward growing ridership and spreading the word on this transformative project. Congrats to both SUNY Poly and CDTA for adopting this initiative, which I hope will lead to more replication. Read more via the Albany Times Union.

LEAD Diversion Program. Albany City and County officials announced this week they will be developing an innovative program to reduce recidivism while advancing public safety and public health. The program is known as Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD).

Under LEAD, police officers may exercise their discretion and divert individuals for certain low-level criminal offenses like drug possession; instead of being arrested and going through the regular criminal justice process, the individual is referred to a case manager, who then facilitates access to a comprehensive network of social services. For more information, read the rest of the release via the City of Albany.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit jobs.ny.gov for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---