Oil Train Surety Bill, Medicine Price Gouging, Utility Public Advocate, Organ Donation Registry Expansion

Friend –

This past week brought increased attention to my Petroleum Storage Surety bill (A.7625) to increase safety with oil trains and passed the Assembly, but has yet to be taken up by the Senate. This important bill addresses insurance requirements for crude oil storage facilities, a matter of significance for our region given we are at the crossroads of major crude oil rail lines.

The Albany Times Union ran a strong editorial urging action in the Senate on the bill. I continue to lend my support to Senator Avella, who is the bill sponsor in the State Senate.

Among a number of bills passed in the Assembly last week, key ones include the prohibition of medicine price gouging, the formation of a Utility Consumer Advocate, and expanding the organ donation registry as summarized below.

Assembly passes legislation prohibiting medicine price gouging. The Assembly announced the passage of legislation to prohibit medicine price gouging of lifesaving drugs that are in short supply and exorbitantly priced making them unaffordable for patients who are fighting deadly illnesses.

The Assembly's legislation (A.6731) adds medicines, those that are publicly posted as drugs in short supply by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to the list of goods and services that can be subjected to the state's price gouging laws, and it empowers the state's Attorney General to prosecute cases involving illegally priced medicines.

Over the years, there have been many media reports that have documented the impact of "gray market" vendors who purchase from small wholesalers or pharmacies quantities of scarce generic drugs that are then re-sold at prices many times higher than their initial price point. There have been news accounts involving vendors that have inflated the price of blood pressure medication from the normal price per dose of $25.90 to $1,200.

Medicine price gouging has caused significant disruptions to the medical treatment of patients who are battling life threatening health conditions.

Utility Consumer Advocate. The Assembly announced the passage of legislation to establish the Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA) to bolster the voices of residential utility ratepayers in all regulatory proceedings.

The UCA would be established by the bill (A.180-A) to provide ratepayers with independent representation during state and federal regulatory proceedings involving utility companies that offer electric, natural gas, internet, cable television, telephone and wireless communication services.

To ensure the Utility Consumer Advocate is truly independent and an effective voice of utility consumers, the bill calls for the advocate to be appointed by the Governor to serve a six-year term, subject to the Senate's confirmation process. The measure would provide the advocate with several years of autonomy to independently and freely speak out on behalf of the state's consumers without the fear of being dismissed from the job because of his or her determinations.

Under the bill, the UCA would be authorized to take part in any proceedings before the Public Service commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, state and local administrative and regulatory agencies, and state and federal courts in order to represent the interests of residential ratepayers.

Expanding the organ donation registry. The Assembly passed legislation (A.9667-A) requiring that an Organ Donation Registry Option be included on NY Health Benefit Exchange Application.

This will increase the number of opportunities people will have to register and should increase the overall number of donors benefiting those in dire need of organ transplants, since the State now has one of the lowest participation rates in the country. The companion bill in the Senate (S6952-A) also passed, and the legislation will now head to the Governor’s desk to be signed into law.

Here are highlights from events in and around the 109th:

Vote on school and library budgets tomorrow. On Tuesday, May 17, voters across the 109th will vote on their respective school and library budgets. For more information about what will be on the ballot, please visit your respective library and school districts’ website.

Bethlehem Town Board votes against Pilgrim Pipeline. The Bethlehem Town Board unanimously voted against the Pilgrim Pipeline – which follows up from the board’s vote against the NED Pipeline. Here is a preview of the vote via Spotlight News. This comes amid protests at the Desmond Hotel and Conference Center in Colonie regarding natural gas pipelines, and we are reviewing legislative proposals to address some of these concerns.

Encouraging Update from U.S. Department of Labor on Verizon-CWA-IBEW strike. For the first time in weeks there is encouraging news as U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez released a statement on Sunday regarding the ongoing labor strike between Verizon, the CWA, and the IBEW. Read more here

New York State Museum Science Cafe at City Beer Hall. turnout for the Science Cafe event hosted by the New York State Museum at The City Beer Hall, with special guest Dr. Lisa Amati, State Paleontologist, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology.

City-UAlbany job fair. The City of Albany, in partnership with University at Albany, will be hosting a job fair on Monday, May 25 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The fair will take place at the Harold L. Joyce Albany County Office Building located at 112 State Street, Albany.

Conversations on Implicit Bias. The City of Albany is focused on strengthening the relationships between communities and the police department. Starting later this month are four community conversations on implicit bias throughout Albany. These crucial conversations are open to all residents. Dates and locations have been scheduled that can be viewed here. To RSVP, please contact The Center for Law and Justice at (518) 427-8361.

Bike to Work Day. Bike to Work Day is scheduled for Friday, May 20. Each year, I join fellow bicyclists heading into Downtown Albany to promote sustainable transportation options. Visit my Facebook page for when and where.

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 ---