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Unions start Scaffold Law protection push

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – With some business and other groups pushing for changes to a law they says drives up the cost of construction projects in New York, an organized push has begun by a group of unions and allies to keep the law intact.

At issue is the Scaffold law, which critics say makes construction companies and property owners liable for "gravity-related" injuries, such as falling off scaffolding, even if the worker is at fault. However, backers of the law, the provisions of which date back to the late 1800s, say it pushes contractors to have safer workplaces for construction industry employees.

Eliminating the law has been on the agenda for upstate business and other groups for decades. They say the statute amounts to an unfunded Albany mandate that increases insurance premiums and, therefore, the cost to build public and private buildings.

The new coalition of pro-Scaffold Law advocates say they want to not only maintain the provision but to enhance its worker protections.

The issue is expected to be among the end-of-session items on the agenda for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and lawmakers for the session that is due to be over by mid-June.

Among those backing the new effort to keep the law in place are such unions and other groups including the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health; the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York; the New York City Central Labor Council; Service Employees International Union, Local 32BJ; and the New York Hotel Trades Council, as well as groups representing various minorities who work in the construction industry and the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The group has a website – here – promoting its cause.

Document dump: Group releases DOH inspection reports on abortion providers

By Tom Precious

ALBANY –- The group that sued New York State over Health Department inspections of abortion clinics this afternoon released the documents that it says shows a lack of interest on the state's part in checking up on procedures by abortion providers.

The Chiaroscuro Foundation, which seeks to lower the number of abortions performed in New York, released the large batch of documents -– found here -- that were the basis of a New York Post story earlier this week.

The Post reported that eight of 25 abortion clinics that come under the jurisdiction of the state Health Department inspections had no visits since 2000 and that another five were inspected once during that period.

The issue has quickly worked itself into the state’s gubernatorial campaign. Republican Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino today called on Dr. Nirav Shah, the state health commissioner, to resign over the matter. Astorino released this video today.

In response, the Health Department released the following statement Wednesday afternoon:

“The State Department of Health vigorously and aggressively investigates any and all allegations  of physician misconduct, or complaints against a facility under its direct supervision. This includes 22 complaints since 2005 against the 25 DOH-regulated facilities that provide reproductive health services -– all of which will also be subjected to re-inspection within the coming days.”

Bill Schwarz

New York State Department of Health

GOP still seeks DiNapoli foe; Mychajliw not interested

By Robert J. McCarthy

   Local Republicans will gather in Williamsville Saturday as part of a series of regional forums designed to "interview" potential candidates for statewide office.

   Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive and presumptive candidate for governor, will be at VFW Post 41 in Williamsville. So will John Cahill, former secretary to Gov. George E. Pataki and a potential candidate for attorney general.

   But the GOP still has not come up with a candidate to challenge incumbent Democrat Thomas P. DiNapoli for state comptroller -- though not for lack of trying on the local level.

   Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw said state Republican Chairman Edward F. Cox reached out to gauge his interest in a statewide race -- a logical move when considering Republican Mychajliw's two impressive victories in an overwhelmingly Democratic county.

   "It's very flattering that folks on the state level feel the quality of our work should be used in Albany," Mychajliw said, but emphasized he is not interested in running for comptroller this year.

Video: GOP statewide hopefuls trek to Buffalo for vetting process

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino and John Cahill, a potential GOP candidate for state attorney general, will trek to Buffalo on Saturday. News Political Reporter Bob McCarthy talks with Brian Meyer about the significance of the visit.

Another view of today's NY beer/wine/spirits summit

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – As the beer, wine and spirits industries meet today in Albany to talk about their booming businesses in New York, an alcoholism treatment advocate said he hopes Gov. Andrew Cuomo and industry executives also address the problems of underage and problem drinking.

“There’s a correlation between increased access to alcohol and problem drinking and underage drinking. As the industry thrives or as the industry becomes stronger in new York, I would hope that the social conscience of the industry would trend in the direction of supporting underage drinking prevention, supporting access to treatment and community-based treatment and recovery programs," said John Coppola, executive director of the New York State Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers.

The alcoholic beverage industry has been booming in recent years – Cuomo today said job growth has doubled in four years – thanks, in part, to state policies that have encouraged the growth of such businesses as farm breweries and distillers.

Coppola noted that the state Gaming Commission Wednesday is holding a hearing with gambling addiction treatment experts in advance of decisions the agencies will make later this year to increase by four the number of Las Vegas-style casinos in the state. “We really haven’t seen that kind of effort from the alcoholic beverage industry,’’ Coppola said.

Coppola said he is more worried about worsening underage drinking problems as a result of large, national alcoholic beverage interests than many of the kinds of new businesses opening in New York in recent years, since many of these Empire State producers are small and make higher-end products with product price tags that are beyond the reach for many teenagers. He said dealings he has had with the smaller producers is that most are “very responsible.”

“As we call attention to how strong this industry is becoming in New York and if it’s good for the economy and people are being responsible, fantastic. On the other hand, we have massive marketing efforts in magazines, billboards and TV that are clearly marketing underage drinking … I would not lay this at the feet of smaller, niche beer and wine folks. I don’t think they’re directly marketing to kids,’’ he said. “That being said, I would hope that their voice is strong, that they set a good example and I would hope the governor and others hold the industry as a whole to some sense of responsible advertising and responsible distribution of their product."’


Video: Jerry Zremski's Week in Washington

News Washington Bureau Chief Jerry Zremski offers updates on coverage including Labor Secretary Tom Perez and STEM grants for schools, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's equal pay for equal work bill and stories on Buffalo Bills ownership, stadium issue.

New union president sees a new NYSUT coming

By Tom Precious

ALBANY – The new leader of the state’s teachers union sees her labor group becoming an even more powerful voice in Albany with increased engagement of parents and other stakeholders to affect state policies.

“When we call up for a rally you will see rallies that fill up the streets in Albany,’’ said Karen Magee, a longtime public school teacher in Westchester County who, over the weekend, ousted longtime New York State United Teachers union Richard Iannuzzi as president. She is the first woman president of the 600,000-member union.

If there was any warming of relations between NYSUT and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, it was not showing on Monday. When asked, Magee said she had received no phone calls from the governor since her election by NYSUT delegates on Saturday. In the 2010 election, NYSUT sat on the sidelines in the governor’s race.

This year, she said Cuomo and the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, have until NYSUT’s governing board meets in August to gain an endorsement.

Right now, after several years of battles with Cuomo over everything from teacher performance evaluations to charter schools and school funding, Magee said Cuomo faces a stiff wind with teachers across the state. “Unless there is some significant change, I can’t imagine our teachers would even consider endorsing the governor,’’ Magee said in a phone interview Monday.

Could the union back Astorino? “The field is open as to who we endorse,’’ she said, adding that she does not know enough about Astorino's education policies.

Some union leaders over the weekend said delegates were impressed by Astorino’s recent decision to keep his children in public school from taking the Common Core assessments last week.

Magee said such decisions are up to parents. “As teachers, we have to support whatever parents choose for their children,’’ she said.

Magee said NYSUT will be fighting in the last couple of months of the legislation session to get Common Core standards delayed for the sake teachers. She said teacher performance reviews should not be based on tests that do not count for students.

NYSUT, she said, lost 35,000 members in the past five years due to cuts in the growth of spending or actual reductions by the state and districts on schools. In the meantime, she said, NYSUT had become a “top down’’ organization that “lost focus of the engagement of the membership.’’

Cuomo insisted during budget talks that the teacher evaluation issue not be a part of delays made to the Common Core standards. The day the budget was passed, though, he sent signals of being open to discussing the issue with lawmakers in the next couple months; he has not been specific about what he believes should change in the way of teacher evaluations.

Magee said she believes Cuomo has realized it makes little sense to delay the impact on students from the Common Core tests but not on the performance evaluations for teachers. “I think he finally has found out how incongruous that thinking was,’’ she said.

At the minimum, NYSUT wants a moratorium on the state standardized tests being used to judge performance levels of teachers. If NYSUT had its way, she said, “I’d like to see us rethink the entire process,’’ she said, so that there is not a “one size fits all’’ approach to evaluating teachers across the state in different teaching situations and different disciplines.


Zellner approaches Wielinski for clerk; Jacobs gets labor backing

By Robert J. McCarthy

   Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner said today he has approached Brian Wielinski, deputy Cheektowaga town clerk, about challenging incumbent Republican Christopher L. Jacobs for county clerk this year.
   "I think he'd be a dynamite candidate," Zellner said, noting his Cheektowaga base and Polish heritage -- traditional political plusses in Erie County. He also said Wielinski has not given a final answer, but that he considers it a "50-50" possibility tht he may have found his challenger.
   Many Democrats have expressed concern that no candidate has yet been found to take on Jacobs, who is considered the favorite.
   Jacobs, meanwhile, said he has been endorsed by the Buildings and Construction Trades Council of Buffalo, an umbrella organization of 18 construction unions. He has also been endorsed by Ironworkers Local 6, he said.


Poloncarz pranks media on April Fools Day

Had he been genuine, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz's announcement this morning that he was contemplating a plan to sell the naming rights to county buildings and facilities as a means of generating revenue and building the county's "brand" would have been one heck of a story.

In its apparent earnestness, it appeared as if the bigger story was going to be that the county executive had, um, lost it.

Alas, it was just a prank that he and spokesman Peter Anderson cooked up to play on unsuspecting local media types who tend to take the daily press releases they receive from the county executive's office fairly seriously.

Good one.

It is April 1st or April Fools Day, after all.

Admittedly, Poloncarz and company had our goat for maybe a minute. That is, until we got to section of   the release where the county executive expressed his vision of "national companies paying the county millions of dollars to advertise their products on big, brightly-lit signs across our community," and exchanging the Rath Building's name for the Cellino and Barnes Building.


Cuomo plans no special elections this year


By Robert J. McCarthy

   ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday that a
host of legislative vacancies will apparently not be filled this year.
   "It's not in our current plan," he said, when asked about the possibility of calling special elections during a post budget adoption press conference in the Capitol.
   The decision means almost 1.8 million voters will be left without representation as a result of resignations or lawmakers moving on to higher office.
   Indeed, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver noted at the same Capitol session that many voters continue to be represented by those who have won other elections, adding all legislative offices remain open and functioning.
Nine vacancies exist in the Assembly and two in the Senate. That is the result of representatives departing for other jobs or because of scandals, and their constituents now have one less voice to represent them in Albany.
   One of the vacancies stems from the January resigntion of Assemblyman Dennis H. Gabryszak, a Depew Democrat accused of sexually harassing female staffers.
   His seat and all others are expected to now remain vacant until January and the results of the November general election.  

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About Politics Now

Robert J. McCarthy

Robert J. McCarthy

A native of Schenectady, Robert J. McCarthy came to The Buffalo News in 1982 following a six-year stint at the Olean Times Herald. He is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University, and has been covering local, state and national politics since 1992.

[email protected]

Tom Precious

Tom Precious

Tom Precious joined The Buffalo News in 1997 as bureau chief at the state Capitol, where he covers everything from statewide politics and state government fiscal affairs to health care, environmental and municipal government matters. Prior to The News, he worked for news outlets in Albany and Washington, DC.

[email protected]

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri

Jill Terreri is an Amherst native and has covered politics and government in upstate New York since 2003. She joined The Buffalo News in 2012 and covers City Hall.

@jillterreri | [email protected]

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski

Jerry Zremski, The Buffalo News Washington bureau chief, has reported from the nation's capital since 1989 after joining The News as a business reporter in 1984. A graduate of Syracuse University, Zremski is a former Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University. In 2007, he served as president of the National Press Club.

@JerryZremski | [email protected]