Season's Greetings
Dear Neighbor:

I am pleased to have this opportunity to make my final 2009 report to the people. In this newsletter I have provided a summary of significant legislation that passed the Legislature this year and was signed into law by the Governor. I am sure these important new laws will be of interest to you as they are designed to better protect residents by improving and implementing programs and services that will help to ensure the health and safety of all New Yorkers. The other important articles contained within include information regarding the COBRA Expansion Law; the New State Law that Bans the Use of Electronic Devices While Driving and Stiffens Regulations for Teen Drivers; the New Booster Seat Law which took effect on November 24th, and the opening of the new York College Child and Family Center.

As this year comes to a close, I wish to thank you for your continued support and for your correspondence expressing issues that may affect you or the community in which you live. I am always interested in your views and comments and appreciate hearing from you. Please feel free to call or visit my office should you need assistance or any further information on articles contained in this newsletter.

Best wishes for a safe and enjoyable holiday season and may you have a healthy and happy New Year!

Vivian E. Cook

Assemblymember Cook Helps to Secure Funding for the York College Child and Family Center
Photo Assemblymember Cook joins York College President, City University of New York Officials and dignitaries at the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the York College Child and Family Center. In photo from (l to r) Assemblymember Cook, Peter Jordan, CUNY Vice Chancellor; Dr. Marcia V. Keizs, President, York College; and CUNY Vice Chancellor, Gloriana B. Waters.

Assemblymember Vivian E. Cook is pleased to announce the opening of the York College Child and Family Center, which now stands on the site of the former St. Monica’s Church, which was erected in 1856 and closed in 1973. With the shared vision of York College President Marcia V. Keizs and Assemblymember Cook’s efforts to secure a $5 million capital construction grant allocated by the New York State Legislature, this abandoned church and historical landmark is now restored into a magnificent state-of-the-art facility.

The Child and Family Center Ribbon Cutting Ceremony took place on November 13th and was attended by elected officials and dignitaries, some of which included: CUNY Vice Chancellors Peter Jordan and Gloriana Waters, and Yvonne Reddick of Community Board 12.

The York College Child and Family Center was designed to meet the need for an affordable early care and education program for children of York College student parents. The Center will make it possible for more people with children to be able to attend college.

Highlights of the Laws of 2009

Falsifying Crane Inspection Records Adds civil penalties and a minimum fine of up to $1,000 for each violation by crane inspectors who submit false or erroneous reports on the safety status of a machine. (Signed Chapter 64)

Requires Enhanced Disclosure of Retailer Refund Policies Makes several improvements to the refund policy disclosure law by removing an exemption that allowed retailers that provide cash refunds within twenty days to avoid the disclosure requirement. The measure also requires stores to post whether their return policies charge consumers any fees. It also mandates that retailers provide a written copy of a store’s return policy that is available upon request. (Signed Chapter 278)

Rockefeller Drug Law Reform Reforms the state’s drug laws by eliminating most mandatory minimum state prison sentences and restores judicial discretion and permits judges to sentence non-violent drug offenders to probation, local jail or a combination of both. The bill also enhances options for substance abuse and drug treatment and rehabilitation. It also would augment reentry initiatives designed to facilitate the reintegration of offenders into society thereby breaking the revolving door of drug abuse and prison. In addition, the measure would allow certain non-violent drug offenders to be eligible for treatment and judges will have more sentencing discretion. Under the measure, long prison sentences continue to be available, particularly for drug peddlers, those who sell on school grounds or to minors and for “kingpin” drug dealers. (Signed Chapter 56)
Caring for Pregnant Female Inmates Provides for the care and custody of pregnant female inmates before, during and after delivery and prohibits the use of restraints while traveling to the hospital for purposes of giving birth unless the inmate is a substantial flight risk. (Signed Chapter 411)

Public Schools Emergency Alert Act Requires the New York City School District to implement an emergency alert notification system to convey timely information concerning emergency situations that pose a threat to students, faculty and staff. The emergency alert notification system would be required to employ several methods of communication, including automated text messages, phone calls or electronic mail. The alerts would notify and advise parents, faculty, staff, and elected representatives. (Signed Chapter 31)

Retirement Benefits Extends for two years all the temporary benefits for members of the retirement systems and the public employer contributions to the retirement system that would otherwise be paid by an employee. The measure also would continue the supplemental retirement allowances for Tiers 3 and 4 of the retirement system and the right of members to negotiate for improved benefits without receiving prior approval by an act of the Legislature. (Signed Chapter 79)
Interest Rate Extender Extends until June 30, 2010, the current eight percent statutory rate of interest used by public employee unions to compute an employer’s contribution amount. The bill would apply to the New York City Employees’ Retirement System, Teachers’ Retirement System, Board of Education Retirement System, Police Pension Fund, and the Fire Department Pension Fund.

Domestic Violence Victim Housing and Employment Discrimination Prohibits discriminatory practices against individuals in relation to housing and in employment matters because they have been victims of domestic violence. (Signed Chapter 80)

Nursing Home Patient Representatives Extends current prohibition of nursing home retaliation against a patient who sues the facility for alleged injury to apply where the patient is unable to act on his or her own behalf and the lawsuit is pursued by the patient’s representative. (Signed Chapter 60)
Nursing Home Patient Right to Sue Clarifies the right to sue a nursing home under section 2801-d of the Public Health Law by making explicit that such a right extends to injuries against physical and emotional health, financial injury as well as death. (Signed Chapter 61)

Preserving Mitchell-Lama Housing Preserves more than 5,800 apartment units in the Starrett City residential complex in Brooklyn by allowing the complex’s owners to refinance the project and provide funds for repairs and capital improvements, including $40 million for replacement of apartment unit appliances, damaged tiles and substandard windows. (Signed Chapter 199)
Municipal Loan Repayment Allows municipalities to issue loans for the renovation and repair of buildings with longer repayment periods. This would provide additional financing to owners and improved housing accommodations for tenants. (Signed Chapter 408)
Housing Development Corporation Extends the Authority of the New York City Housing Development Corporation to engage in activities that provide financing to low- and middle-income residents. (Signed Chapter 76)
Court Administrators Extends the authority of New York City Civil Court to appoint administrators to oversee abandoned and neglected property. Under the bill, the administrators work with owners to facilitate the redevelopment of rundown buildings. (Signed Chapter 265)
COBRA Subsidies Ensures workers who have been laid off from small businesses have access to COBRA premium subsidies offered through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. (Signed Chapter 7)

Tenant Eviction Notification Extends the notice period tenants must receive during eviction proceedings. The bill would exclude weekends and holidays from a 72-hour period for stays of warrants of evictions, which extends the response time tenants have to challenge evictions. (Signed Chapter 256)
Tenant Security Deposit Recovery Empowers the attorney general to investigate proceedings related to tenant security deposits. The measure requires tenant security money to be held in trust, and it authorizes a court to award the attorney general legal costs of up to $2,000 for each named respondent in proceedings involving security deposits. (Signed Chapter 225)
Child Support Agreements for Out-of-Wedlock Children Permits only court approved written agreements or compromises for child support between the recognized father and a mother or person on behalf of the child. (Signed Chapter 32)
Child Support to Include Value of Health Insurance Enhances the child support law and clarifies when parents are required to insure their children for medical costs if such medical insurance is reasonably affordable and accessible. (Signed Chapter 215)
Child Custody for Military Families Classifies a military service member’s return from overseas duty as a “change in circumstances” under the Family Court Act. This provides returning soldiers the legal standing to seek a modification of a prior child custody order, providing a legal mechanism to allow soldiers to reintegrate themselves into the lives of their children. (Signed Chapter 473)
Provides Greater Protection to Victims of Domestic Violence Requires that lawyers who specialize in the representation of children receive training in domestic violence. The law requires the court to state on the record whether domestic violence and child abuse factored into their award of custody or visitation. The measure also would permit certain low-level criminal convictions involving acts of domestic violence, which would otherwise be sealed, be made available to law enforcement. (Signed Chapter 476)

Assemblymember Cook joins colleagues to greet then-Senator Hillary Clinton on a trip to the State Capitol to meet with the members of the New York State Legislature. Mrs. Clinton has since been appointed Secretary of State.
Assemblymember Cook greets United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on her visit to the State Capitol to meet with the members of the Legislature.

Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises (MWBE) Requires state agencies to post contractor utilization plans on their Web sites to verify that good faith efforts were made to achieve MWBE participation. (Signed Chapter 429)
Minority Business Development Improves the outreach efforts of the Department of Economic Development’s (DED) Small Business and Minority and Women’s Business Development division. (Signed Chapter 361)

Sexual Assault Prevention Information Requires social service districts to inform recipients of public assistance of their option to receive information about the services that are available to help victims of sexual assault. (Signed Chapter 427)

Leaving the Scene of a Boating Accident Increases penalties for leaving the scene of a boating accident. (Signed Chapter 297)
Bicycle Safety Requires bicycles that are in use during time period of one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, to be equipped with a red or amber rear reflector to increase visibility in low light conditions. (Signed Chapter 16)
Commercial Drivers’ Licenses Permits the operation of police, fire and emergency medical vehicles by individuals whose drivers’ licenses are not Commercial Drivers’ Licenses (CDL) while performing their emergency responsibilities and other official duties or activities. The federal law which requires CDLs also allows states to grant certain exemptions. (Signed Chapter 36)
New York City Red Light Cameras Authorizes the City of New York to equip an additional 50 intersections with photo violation-monitoring devices for red light violations, thereby increasing the total number of red light camera intersections in the city to 150. (Signed Chapter 18)

Veteran Real Property Tax Break Provides a real property tax exemption to individuals certified to receive a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs disability pension. (Signed Chapter 353)
Cold War Veteran Exemption Increases the real property tax exemption for Cold War veterans. Under the bill, each municipality may adopt local laws to provide such exemptions and the exemption may include cooperative apartments and property held in trust for the benefit of a veteran. (Signed Chapter 235)

New State Law Bans Use of Electronic Devices While Driving Measure Also Stiffens Regulations for Teen Drivers

Whether you keep in touch by using your mobile phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), laptop, pager or two-way messenger, New Yorkers are constantly “plugged-in.” While these devices have numerous benefits, their increased usage has proven to be a significant distraction and danger on the road. That’s why I helped implement a statewide ban on driving while using portable electronic devices (PEDs) (Chapter 403 of 2009).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 25 percent of all police-reported crashes involve some form of driver inattention. According to a 2007 Harris Interactive poll, 91 percent of Americans think that driving while texting is as dangerous as drunk driving, and 89 percent of those polled were in favor of a ban.

Under the new law, drivers are prohibited from composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving e-mail, text messages or other electronic data while driving. The measure also bans viewing, taking or transmitting images and playing games. Motorists found in violation of the ban could face a maximum fine of $150. Fines are allowed to be imposed only as a secondary offense, when the driver is pulled over for a violation of another law.

In addition, the law requires the commissioner of motor vehicles to work with the superintendent of the state police to study the effects of the use of PEDs while driving. Previous studies have shown that drivers who use PEDs behind the wheel dramatically increase their chances of being in or causing a traffic accident. According to an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study, speaking on a cell phone while driving or texting impairs several aspects of driving performance, especially reaction time.

In the past few years, counties throughout the state have passed similar local bans. As of Nov. 1, 2009, these local laws were preempted and all New Yorkers are now subject to the new statewide stipulations.

Safe-driving provisions for junior drivers

In addition to cutting down driving distractions, the new law also better protects young, inexperienced drivers by strengthening New York’s graduated driver licensing (GDL) laws and bringing the state’s program closer to the model recommended by the NHSTA.

According to a 2008 NHTSA publication, a significant percentage of junior drivers are involved in traffic crashes and are twice as likely as adult drivers to be in a fatal crash. It’s been proven that certain factors, including lack of driving experience, inadequate driving skills, risk-taking behavior and distractions from other teenage passengers, have contributed to higher crash rates among teenagers.

The new law eliminates the limited class junior operator (DJ) and junior motorcycle (MJ) driver license so that young, inexperienced drivers will be supervised for the full six-month permit period and maintains junior driver licenses (Class DJ or MJ), which allow limited driving privileges for young people learning to drive. The law also increases the number of practice driving hours that must be certified by a parent or guardian from 20 hours to 50 hours before a permit-holding junior driver can obtain a license. The number of non-family passengers under the age of 21 allowed to ride with a junior driver not accompanied by a supervising adult has also been reduced from two to one.

These new stipulations will go a long way toward limiting driver distractions and inexperience, and only further New York’s ongoing commitment to solving the tragic problem of fatal and personal injury crashes. For more information, including a pamphlet regarding the new law, call my district office at (718) 322-3975.

Assemblymember Cook congratulates Judge Paul Wooten and greets his family after confirmation to the Supreme Court Second Judicial District.
Assemblymember Cook joins colleagues Assemblyman David Gantt and Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes to congratulate Black History Contest Winners Jayzia Gaskin-4th Grade, Radezia McCullough-5th Grade, Monicia Boway-6th Grade, and Ariayana Frazier-7th Grade.

COBRA Expansion Law Amended to Close Loophole, Increase Eligibility

Assemblymember Cook announced the Assembly has passed an amendment to the COBRA benefits law allowing a group of individuals who were covered at the time the law became effective—yet were unable to receive the extension if their benefits expired before their contract was renewed—to continue receiving coverage (A.40006). The original law, passed in June, extended COBRA benefits from 18 to 36 months for individuals whose policies were issued or renewed after July 1 of this year (Chapter 236 of 2009).

“With the national unemployment rate at a 26-year high, an increasing number of workers are experiencing extended periods of job loss or being forced to work part-time,” Assemblymember Cook said. “The result is a loss of group health insurance coverage that these workers cannot afford.”

The original law extended health insurance coverage offered through COBRA, but the timeframe for renewing certain contracts inadvertently disqualified a number of individuals. This chapter amendment ensures that these struggling New Yorkers continue to receive the health benefits they need.

The chapter amendment:

COBRA allows workers and their families who lose their health benefits – because of voluntary or involuntary job loss, reduction in hours worked, transition between jobs, death, divorce or other life-altering events—the right to continue their health benefits provided by their group health plan for a limited period of time.

As companies downsize, older workers are often offered early retirement options as an alternative to lay-offs. These individuals may not have retiree health benefits and can be years away from Medicare. This law allows these individuals to maintain their existing coverage for a longer period of time, without which they would be uninsured after 18 months.

“Providing New Yorkers with coverage, particularly if their employment status is reduced, is a priority,” Assemblymember Cook said. “This extension ensures that affordable health insurance coverage is available to those who need it.”

Effective November 24th: Children Under Age 8 Must Be in a Booster Seat—New Law Improves Safety for Children

Automobile accidents happen. If a child is not properly secured, serious injury or even death can occur. That’s why New York State has extended the law that requires children to sit on a booster seat in a motor vehicle from age 6 to 7. The new law took effect on November 24 (Chapter 405 of 2009).

Previously, the law required children 4-6 to use boosters seats. Most 7 year old children, however, are not big enough to be adequately secured by a vehicle’s lap and shoulder belt. Therefore, the law needed to be amended to include children under the age of 8.

Seat belts are designed to fit adults, not children. Seat belts are move effective for children in a booster seat because they raise a child up to an adult’s sitting height. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, booster seats reduce injury risk by 59 percent when compared to children who only use seat belts. In addition to preventing needless motor vehicle-related injuries in children, other benefits to using booster seats include: convenience, easy to use, availability, enjoyment and comfort. Booster seats give our children the support and protection they need to help them stay safe when they are passengers in an automobile. It can mean the difference between life and death.

For more information on New York State’s occupant restraint law, visit or contact my office for a pamphlet on child-safety seat awareness.