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Will voluntary safety measures be enough?

   WASHINGTON - The Obama administration held a "call to action" on aviation safety on Monday - and what that really means that is if the regional airlines don't act, the FAA will call them on it.

   FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt calls what the airlines are now facing "bright light voluntary" safety measures.

   In other words, the airlines will have to comply or else see their name advertised in bright lights. And it's all because of the crash of Continental Flight 3407 in Clarence on Feb. 12.

   Most notably, the FAA will direct airlines to seek the flight records of their prospective pilots, which will require them to ask job candidates to sign a privacy waiver. By October, airlines that refuse to do that will be publicized, Babbitt said.

   And beyond that, the FAA plans to seek tougher - and mandatory - rules governing when and how much pilots can fly.

   It sounds like tough government action, but the families of the victims of Flight 3407 are not so sure about the "voluntary" safety measures.

   "We cannot emphasize enough that our recent experience gives us little faith in the airlines' ability to self-monitor or their willingness to comply with voluntary recommendations," the families said in a letter to Babbitt that instead suggested legislation to boost aviation safety.

   So what do you think: Are these "bright light voluntary" safety measures enough to make sure that regional airlines are as safe as the major carriers?

   --- Jerry Zremski

Plenty of blame to go around in Senate mess

   And so what has been labeled by critics as the "most dysfunctional" Legislature in the United States is, thanks to the Senate, effectively shuttered.

   The blame is spread around the halls of the Capitol to include both Senate Democrats and Republicans.

   But it goes beyond that. Eliot Spitzer has been blamed. Were it not for his prostitution-enjoying ways, New York would still have a lieutenant governor who could break the 31-31 tie that the Senate now finds itself in.

   But there's a historical footnote to all this. It goes back to the last redistricting process shortly after the 2000 census. Republicans at the time could see the handwriting on the wall: Demographics were changing such that it would be only a matter of time before they lost control of the Senate.

   So they came up with a creative solution: Take the 61 member Senate and grow it by a seat to 62. With some magnificent computer software doing the trick, Republicans could keep their majority intact and not lose any seats, the thinking went, in the 2002 and subsequent elections.

   One of their jobs in 2002 was to protect then-Sen. Guy Velella, a Bronx Republican. They did so by borrowing Republican voters from an adjoining district at the expense of then Sen. Nick Spano, a Westchester County Republican. (For the record: Velella some years later was convicted on bribery and other charges and did prison time, while the district lines his former pals in the Senate drew for him eventually cost Spano, now a lobbyist, his Senate job.)

   The map-drawer behind the scenes running the Senate redistricting process in 2002? None other than Sen. Dean Skelos, the Long Island Republican who served for six months last year as majority leader and then won that title back in last week's coup.

   Significant, of course, in all this is that by going to an even-number, 62-member Senate the change put even more of a need to have a lieutenant governor in place to break tie votes.

   Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, a Kenmore Democrat, has pushed a solution to this for quite
awhile. He thinks the constitution should be changed to ensure someone is installed in the lieutenant governor's office should a vacancy occur by the elevation of the second-in-command to the governor's office, as seen last year with David Paterson.

   Today, lawmakers may find themselves taken out of the equation when a state judge decides whether he wants to enter the fray and rule who controls the Senate.

   "As a matter of public policy, you guys should work this out," Justice Thomas McNamara told the feuding sides Monday.

   Even judges don't want to get involved with the mess that is the Legislature.

   --- Tom Precious

 

Yahoo! It's a lock for Lockport (we hope)

   Although one suspects this may not be the answer for our host of unemployed autoworkers,
Yahoo! may create as many as 125 jobs, many of which are supposed to pay in the $50,000-a-year
range, at a new data center in Lockport.

   Town officials, wary of giving the big build-up to the project in a region that has seen
all too many bogus development schemes, and also compelled to clam up by a Yahoo!
confidentiality agreement, kept "Project Pilgrim" hush-hush for about three months. Thursday,
the digging of reporters, the need to schedule public meetings and the natural tendency of
politicians to self promote led to the lid coming off.

   The company won't say it has chosen Lockport, despite having submitted applications for
site plan approval and tax breaks. And town officials emphasized they have applications, not a
done deal.

   But in contrast to Lockport's Walmart project, which took more than three years of town red tape and a year and a half of litigation, the town seems prepared to whoop this one through in a few
weeks.

   For one thing, the site is in the town's own industrial park, which cuts down on the number
of potentially annoyed neighbors. For another, the town is scheduling special meetings of its
Planning Board and Industrial Development Agency instead of waiting for the usual date to roll
around on the calendar.

   It was the town's willingness to do this that played a key role in apparently winning the
project. The much-maligned New York Power Authority came up with 15 megawatts of almost-free
electricity for the power-sucking banks of computers that power the search engines and other
applications of Yahoo!

   And the cliche of having a "shovel-ready site" finally showed its usefulness, as a company
in a hurry met a town with a sizable piece of unpolluted vacant land well supplied with water
and sewer lines, roads and other utilities.

   It's nice to see that the planets might have finally aligned for a significant development.
Of course, all this seemed to have happened two years ago for a similar project, the HSBC data
center in Cambria.

   The field where that ballyhooed $1 billion project was supposed to have been built is now
on its way to producing what looks like a nice crop of wheat this planting season. But perhaps
the Town of Lockport and Yahoo! can grow some jobs to support local families.

      -- Thomas J. Prohaska

Avenue House: A lot for a young woman to handle alone

         Ed Collingwood has lived across the street from Avenue House for 30 years. He has seen the teenage boys who stay there grow a bit colder and more daring over the past several months.

   In the wake of the killing of group home worker Renee Greco at the house Monday night, Collingwood wonders whether the 24-year-old woman should have been left alone with the boys.

   He recalled knocking on the door of Avenue House one Saturday morning last winter to complain about loud music coming from the group home. Greco answered.

   Collingwood said he complained about the music and Greco replied, "I tried. I can't handle them."

   "I said, "Then call the police.' She said, "Could you call them?'‚" Collingwood recalled. "That's when I had an indication that these young women they hired couldn't handle it. ... I thought I should tell someone."

   He didn't, he said, adding, "I feel kind of guilty."

   Greco's brother, as well as a close friend of the slain Buffalo woman, told The Buffalo News on Wednesday that Greco was feeling too much tension in the job and planned to quit soon.

   She was aware of the dangers, but thought she was doing something meaningful in helping to try to turn around the lives of those in her charge.

   "She handled it, but it's kind of nerve-wracking when you have between four, five or six teenage boys, some 18 or 19 years old. You never know," said Lisa Fullone, a close friend of Greco's since high school.

    Officials at New Directions Youth & Family Services have closed Avenue House as they take a closer look at what happened Monday night to try to determine whether any procedures could be improved. They also want to give the staff and residents some time to mourn Greco's death, an official with the agency said.

— Thomas J. Prohaska and Denise Jewell Gee

From the state Capitol that's seen it all

ALBANY - The state Capitol has seen it all the past two years: resignation of a disgraced governor, conviction of a state comptroller, indictment of a former legislative majority leader and scandal after scandal - from sexual affairs with interns to embezzlement charges - involving state lawmakers.

But the crowd that built hour by hour on the third floor Monday afternoon got to witness something indeed rare: a very public leadership coup. Whether it holds or not - which will all depend on what some Democratic senators do in the next 24 hours or so - Monday was a day of days.


Read the full story.

What? Is something going on?'' a lobbyist joked as any sense of certainty was unraveling around the Capitol outside the Senate chamber. A couple hours earlier, he was talking with Democrats who controlled the chamber. Before dinnertime, he was among the throng of lobbyists and insiders - some of whom have been cut out of influence since Democrats took over - lined up outside the Senate GOP conference room shaking hands with Republican lawmakers and staffers.

The elements were all here: two Democrats who only six months ago held out for weeks before they would agree to back Malcolm Smith as majority leader - thereby giving Democrats the fragile 32-30 control of the Senate. There were the Republicans, adept as any at Robert's Rules of Order. There were the Senate Democrats, who have been feeling their way all session trying to get their feet wet in learning the ways of Albany. And there were the outside forces, such as Tom Golisano, the Buffalo Sabres owner who helped plot the coup with his advisor, Steve Pigeon, the former Erie County Democratic boss.

Where does this go? There were plenty of predictions, but no real answers. Pedro Espada, the new Senate leader - if you buy the insurgents' claims - says he will be adding more Democrats in the days ahead to form, with the Republicans, as close to a coalition government as this town has ever seen. Smith -- if you believe his Al Haig-like boasts - is still in command, and will block what he called an illegal move by Espada and his GOP allies.

At stake is lots - everything from the outcome of major issues that were due to be debated in the final three weeks of the 2009 session and internal machinations of the Democratic and Republican parties to office space at the Capitol and pork barrel spending for districts.

Putting aside policy for a moment, which is never an easy feat at the Capitol, the political equations are many. Can the Republicans use this to try to keep - or get, depending on which side you believe about Monday's coup - control in 2010? That is a crucial election, because the following year all the lines of the Senate, Assembly and congressional seats will be redrawn by whoever controls the Senate, Assembly and governor's office.

Still, the questions are many? Do senators who may have not gotten jobs they were promised - like Lake View's Bill Stachowski, who was in line to become Senate finance chair in a deal that was pulled back by Smith - join with the renegades? Does Sen. Darrell Aubertine, a North Country Democrat, now become convinced by this mess to leave Albany and run in a special congressional election that will be occurring soon who is eyeing running? [Aubertine wouldn't say Monday; if he left, Republicans could take back that seat, adding more numbers drama to the equation.]

And, of course, does Espada really have five more Democrats willing to join his effort, which could lead to a permanent - and successful - coup?

- Tom Precious

Crystal Beach, Miami of the North

When the Crystal Beach amusement park was closed in 1989, it was the end of an era for the Canadian resort community on the north shore of Lake Erie.

Now, two decades later, a developer wants to take Crystal beach in a new direction, one that includes high-rise residential living.  Beachfront condos are ubiquitous along prime oceanfront property in Florida, but for our little Great Lake, this would be something rather new.

Some American owners of vacation properties on the Canadian beach are among those opposed to this shift in atmosphere and have drawn their own line in the sand.

Everyone with an interest in Crystal Beach would like to keep the community vibrant and viable. The question is, what is the best way to achieve that goal.

Do high-tech monitoring devices need stricter regulation?

   High-tech electronic-monitoring devices and software have been a boon for parents, police and law-abiding citizens.

   Everything from GPS devices and smart phones to smaller and cheaper video cameras and audio recorders have made it easier to communicate, travel and make sure your family stays safe.

   However, criminals also are taking advantage of these technological advances, notably stalkers who increasingly are electronically monitoring their victims, police and privacy advocates say.

   Stalkers are hiding tracking devices in vehicles, video cameras in bedrooms and audio recorders in homes and offices in an attempt to more easily pursue the objects of their obsession.

   Police and victims' advocates say they don't believe advances in technology are creating more stalkers, but they do believe it's making it easier for people who have this intense desire for control to hunt their victims.

   Law-enforcement personnel say potential victims need to know this could happen to them and they must be careful about what they do online.

   Some groups say laws need to be changed to account for the changes in how stalkers operate today, while others say the government needs to limit the sale of spyware software and other surveillance technology.

   What do you think? Do you think the government should take steps to make tech-aided stalking harder? Should Web sites that advertise these products or that obtain and sell personal information on demand be subject to stricter regulation?

   -- Stephen T. Watson

Read the full story.

13 dead women are just part of domestic violence toll

   The fact that 13 local women have been killed since November in domestic violence incidents is shocking enough. But that figure doesn't tell the whole story.

   For every abuse victim that's killed, others are seriously injured.

   In February, Niagara Falls resident Stephanie Turk was shot by her ex-boyfriend, who is accused of later engaging in a shootout with police that left him and two police officers seriously wounded.

   Turk was lucky to survive.

   On May 30, North Tonawanda resident Renee Hickey was shot eight times by Timothy R. Hance, 48.

   Hickey once had an order of protection against Hance.

   Hance subsequently committed suicide.

   But miraculously, Hickey lived.

   In countless other cases, women and sometimes men end up beaten, bruised and broken, but their abusers escape with misdemeanors and violations.

   Advocates for domestic violence victims say much has been done, but much more work remains.

   The key to ending this kind of violence is out there. Enough people just have to be committed to the solution.

   -- Sandra Tan

   Read the full story.

Albany poised to get tough on teen driving

   ALBANY -- Sometimes at the Capitol, it takes the realities of life to empower action. In the case of teen driving laws, advocates say it has taken the faces of more than 200 annual teen driving fatalities to do the job.

   But Albany, after years of inaction, seems to be moving on the issue of bolstering teen driving rules. The sponsors of a new Paterson administration bill said Tuesday they see nothing stopping passage of the effort to impose new restrictions on teen drivers.

   The bill would bring New York's rules up to the levels of many other states by restricting to one the number of teen passengers in a car driven by a teen, banning all portable electronic devices, ending plea bargains on moving violations, and adding training time for permit holders.

   "I do think it's a great idea," Diane Magle said of the bill. Her 17-year-old daughter, Katie, died in a 2005 crash in a car driven by a teenage friend. Magle said she especially likes the new bill's provision limiting the number of teen passengers to one; in her daughter's crash, three teen passengers were in the car.

   Magle said the bill should reduce teen driving fatalities.

   But she wishes lawmakers added one more provision: raising the driving age from 16 to 17.

   That would be difficult, especially in rural and even many suburban areas where parents and teens rely on the 16-year-old provision to get teens to places like after-school jobs.

   Whether Albany acts this year, despite the optimism of the measure's sponsors, is never certain.

   A year ago at this time, the momentum was there and sponsors were upbeat. But then, sources said, a couple downstate Republicans balked at the last minute over a provision requiring back-seat passengers to wear seat belts. One source said a GOP lawmaker was concerned about getting ticketed for not wearing a seat belt -- as he napped in the back while his driver took him between his Long Island district and Albany.

   -- Tom Precious

Welcome new GM investors

   WASHINGTON - If you don't play the stock market, you probably never expected to end up as part owner of General Motors.

   But that's what you are now.

   This is what the former leader of the former "Big Three" has been reduced to: a government-negotiated bankruptcy that leaves Uncle Sam - or should I say, you and me and hundreds of millions of other Americans - owning 60 percent of the company stock.

   President Obama said it's a worthy investment for the nation to make to ensure that America, for years to come, actually makes things.

   Other politicians - such as Reps. Louise M. Slaughter and Chris Lee - breathed a bit of a sigh of relief because the bankruptcy plan will leave plants in their districts open and operating.

   But it all raises an interesting question.

   How do you feel about spending some of your own taxpayer money to keep GM - and its Town of Tonawanda engine plant and the Delphi facility in Lockport, which will soon return to the GM fold - in business?

   --- Jerry Zremski

Read the full story.

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