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Congress fixes a problem ...

   The Buffalo News Opinion Brain Trust today is happy to see that Congress is about to bring in airline safety reform for a safe landing, after being stacked up in a legislative holding pattern for a year.
   But we're not that impressed with the suggestion that New York's dysfunctional Legislature would be any less so if it got smaller.

- An end in sight - Buffalo News Editorial
   Families of the victims of Continental Connection Flight 3407 have nearly won a hard-fought battle in Families3407 getting airline safety legislation approved through Congress.
   Safety provisions have been attached to a temporary extension of funding for the Federal Aviation Administration. Now it is up to the Senate to pass the legislation so that it can be sent to the president for his signature. ...
   Kudos to top lawmakers—Chairman of the House Transportation Committee James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., Commerce Committeechairman— for changing tactics to attach the safety provisions to a temporary FAA funding extension that will be permanent law once enacted.
   Lawmakers from Western New York—Reps. Louise Slaughter, Brian Higgins, Chris Lee and Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand—must continue to usher the legislation through the process. As close as this is to fruition, it’s no time for our representatives to take their eyes off the bill.

   Update:
- House approves safety rules sought by Flight 3407 families - Jerry Zremski/The Buffalo News
   Updated update:
- Senate passes aviation safety measures, sending bill to Obama - Jerry Zremski/The Buffalo News
   Updated updated update:
- Obama to sign aviation bill today - Jerry Zremski/The Buffalo News

    Here's the text of the bill, HR 5900, and background from GovTrack.us. It passed the House by voice vote - i.e., everybody who was there at 11:30 p.m. shouted "yea" - and there is no roll call to record. I happened to catch it on C-SPAN. It was Western New York Night, as Lee, Higgins and Slaughter each got to claim credit in the way they claim credit in Congress, by giving other people credit.

... Hidden charges

   We gave this guy some grief a few weeks ago, when we thought he deserved it. [His colleague, Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, wrote to defend him.] Today, well, the man's got a point. But we think we can improve on it.

- Carrying baggage - Buffalo News Editorial
   Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. [right], had it exactly right. If the airlines don’t get right with the public on the JamesOberstarextra costs of travel, the public will demand that Congress force the issue.
   The issue begins with the baggage charges that airlines implemented three years ago as costs rose and the economy weakened, but it doesn’t end there. Seat selection, early boarding, extra leg room, blankets, pillows, drinks and meals can all add significantly to the cost of air travel. The public should be able to evaluate those potential extra costs at the time of booking.
   That’s the primary issue, though Oberstar suggested that Congress might act to restrain what the airlines can charge. ...
   the nonpartisan Congressional Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that airlines, travel agents, online travel services and other outlets should be required to disclose all such fees in a clear and consistent manner. ...
   Airlines are under tremendous financial pressure from competition and a weak economy. It’s in the public’s interest to maintain healthy competition within the industry. Government should stay out of setting fees and simply require the industry to disclose them in a uniform, easily understandable way. That would do the trick.

   And, just by the way, it now looks like the hold-up we were bagging on Oberstar about before is about to be resolved. With his help:
- Air safety bill near passage - Jerry Zremski/The Buffalo News
   Key aviation safety improvements stemming from last year's crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence Center could win approval in Congress and be sent to President Obama within days, thanks to a legislative breakthrough Wednesday. ...
   Rep. Jerry F. Costello, D-Ill., chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee ... and Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, revealed their strategy shift in a meeting with about a dozen members of the Families of Continental Flight 3407.
   Upon hearing that their long legislative fight appeared on the verge of victory, many family members wept.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

Injured: On the road. On the job.

   A black and blue theme to today's Buffalo News editorials.
   The state needs to require a new way of looking as street and highway design. The city of Buffalo needs to get a handle on the number of police officers and firefighters who are on injury pay.

- Make roads safer - Buffalo News Editorial
   A high number of pedestrians and bicyclists are being struck by automobiles while navigating dangerous crossings both in Erie County and throughout New York State, and the AARP is trying to pushBikelane through practical legislation at the state level that will lay the groundwork for common-sense infrastructure on projects going forward.
   All that is now needed is some common sense from the Assembly.
   "Complete Streets" legislation (S. 5711-B), sponsored by Senate Transportation Chairman Martin Malave Dilan, D-Brooklyn, recently passed the Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support, 57-4. The bill would provide an innovative and comprehensive approach to the way the state designs its roads. The approach would accommodate vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities and public transportation users -- in other words, the entire public.
   Here's where the issue takes a wrong turn.
   A companion bill in the Assembly was amended by its sponsor, David Gantt of Rochester, who heads the Assembly Transportation Committee, to eliminate the majority of the roads covered in New York State. This is an unacceptable outcome to AARP and many other groups that support the "Complete Streets" legislation. Under the amendment, the bill pertains only to roads overseen by the Department of Transportation, thus eliminating the majority of roads in the state of New York.

Continue reading "Injured: On the road. On the job." »

Two [more] places reform is long overdue

   Today's Buffalo News editorials call for reform. But nobody's holding their breath.

- Too long a flight - Buffalo News Editorial
   Most people understand that government works slowly. The structure of our federal government was designed to encourage deliberation and, for the most part, it succeeds wildly -- at least in terms of the time Dotlogo it takes to get anything done. But 15 years?
   That's how long the Department of Transportation has been working on the urgent task of updating flight and duty regulations for pilots. Had it done the work more expeditiously -- say, in just 10 years -- perhaps Flight 3407 wouldn't have crashed in Clarence Center last year.
   But since the DOT didn't, and since 50 people lost their lives in the February 2009 crash, shouldn't that light a fire underneath the public servants charged with rewriting rules on pilot fatigue? Yes, it should, but that's not happening, either.
   Congressional Democrats and Republicans, alike, are demanding action from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, whose lame response to their prodding was straight out of the government handbook: "Safety is our number one priority and addressing pilot fatigue is a crucial step toward making our skies safer. This rule is under review and we're working as quickly as possible to put forth a proposal."
   Right. The check is in the mail. ...

- Creating the ‘new’ Democrats - Buffalo News Editorial
   The New York State Democratic Party is busy trying to change its tarnished—and competely accurate—image as a corrupt organization in the pocket of special interests. So it proclaimed during its nominating convention recently in Rye Brook and, indeed, it may have made a good start on that project by anointing Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo as its candidate for governor this year.
   But a change of governor will not, on its own, repair a broken culture. And judging by the comments of Speaker Sheldon Silver, Cuomo’s most earnest efforts are likely to be met by nothing better than indifference in the State Assembly. If the Democratic Party—not just Cuomo—is serious about transforming itself into an organization devoted to the needs of some of the nation’s most poorly served constituents, there are some marks they’ll need to hit—some tests of intent. Here are some measures of the party’s commitment to change: ...

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News

WNY seeks CoP, lunch, wine

   What does Western New York want? Not much. According to today's Opinion section, just a good police commissioner, a really nice place to eat near the Falls and a good bottle of New York wine.

- What national search? - Buffalo News Editorial
   Whether you believe Buffalo's mayor and his staff have been conducting a full-out, intensive national Brownandcops search for the next police commissioner, or whether you believe it has been more along the lines of a cursory 2.0 version on a number of free Web sites, there's no doubt that Buffalo deserves the best and brightest.
   Some lawmakers are questioning whether the administration has made a significant effort in finding a replacement for H. McCarthy Gipson, whom
Mayor Byron W. Brown dumped in late December. ...
   For police commissioner, one might want someone who has gone through professional training such as the
FBI National Academy, considered a fundamental requirement to be a midlevel manager in some departments.
  
[Photo: Mayor Byron Brown, shown in 2006 with then-Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson and then-Deputy Commissioner Daniel Derenda, seems intent on appointing Derenda, now interim commissioner, to the top post without a national search.]

- Don’t let up - Buffalo News Editorial
   Even the Niagara Falls—or the Grand Canyon, or the Golden Gate Bridge—can only hold visitors in awe for so long before something else occurs to them.
   What’s to eat?
   The answer to that question for the City of Niagara Falls should include the dream of Niagara County Community College to create a culinary institute in that city’s downtown. If the idea of placing that school in the largely derelict Rainbow Centre mall can’t be made to work, and soon, then it is time to look elsewhere in the neighborhood.

- Balanced proposal for supermarkets helps everyone - Scott Osborn/Fox Run Vineyards
   With New York staring into the budget abyss and searching for creative ways to generate revenue, a vastly popular win-win proposal already exists, one that will raise critically needed revenue, create jobs and support small businesses: the sale of wine in grocery stores.

-- George Pyle/The Buffalo News