Far reaching bill package is aimed at curbing gun violence

Legislators were joined by New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, students and families affected by gun violence to announce bills and proposals aimed at further curbing gun deaths in New York.

The ten bill package was presented by Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, D-Manhattan, the chair of New York legislators for Gun Violence Protection, and the Assembly and Senate sponsors of each bill. Also in attendance were student members of NYAGV’s education program, which helps to empower young people whose families have been affected by guns.

Kavanagh hopes the package will expand upon the provisions of the SAFE act, and further protect New Yorkers from gun violence.

“With the SAFE Act, we really took a number of steps forward that brought New York into the top tier in terms of stronger gun laws in America. And we’ve seen results,” Kavanagh said. “New York is among the lowest states in terms of per capita gun deaths in the country, and we’ve seen the SAFE act work in spite of predictions by some who opposed it at the time, that said it would be a disaster for law abiding gun owners in our communities.”

A bill (A.05826, S.00470) introduced by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern, and Senator Jose Peralta, D-Jackson Heights, would require microstamping technology be implemented on all firearms manufactured after January 2018. Microstamping produces a unique code on casings ejected from a gun, allowing crime investigators to track the weapon type and original purchaser.

The technology could deter individuals from using a gun to commit a crime, as it can be easily traced.

“The technology is designed to discourage gun trafficking,” Jaffee said, “And to aid law enforcement officials in investigating homicides and other crimes by allowing them to trace the firearms to the original purchasers through cartridge cases found at the crime scene.”

Three bills in the package aim to keep guns away from volatile individuals, specifically those convicted of hate crimes, domestic violence, and those displaying destructive behavior.

Senator Daniel Squadron, D-Carroll Gardens, and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brownsville, introduced a bill (A.7547/S.5569-a) that would prevent those convicted of hate crimes from possessing a gun.

Squadron hopes the package of bills will see speedy passage despite discontent between democrats in the Senate. “I wish I could say that [I was] here representing the entire state Senate,” he said. “But we know that when it comes to common sense legislation to protect New Yorkers and their families, too often the Senate has stood in the way.”

Senator Daniel Squadron believes the state Senate has often roadblocked gun safety bills.

Similarly, two bills introduced by Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, and Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, D-Manhattan, (A.0980 and A.5025) would expand the types of guns that domestic violence offenders are required to surrender, and include misdemeanor domestic violence offenses as a reason to revoke an individual’s ownership rights.

A third bill would restrict an individual’s access to guns if police or family members observe a potential threat from that individual’s behavior. If the individual displays erratic or violent behavior, the bill (A.6994/ S.5447) introduced by Senator Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, and Assemblyman Kavanagh, would allow family members to seek a court order to restrict that person from obtaining a gun.

Legislation proposed as part of this package will also implement expanded safety practices. This includes requiring proper storage of firearms, proposed by Assemblywoman Paulin, and Senator Jeff Klein, D-Bronx, (A.0563/S.4392) to prevent accidental shooting, particularly by children.

Another bill proposal (A.0914), sponsored by Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, D-Greenburgh, and Senator Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, would restrict the sale, transport, and possession of guns that are undetectable by x-ray machines and other security devices.

Two bills in this package will also attempt to provide information about gun violence, and in turn, focus the efforts of closing certain background check loopholes that currently exist.

The first (A.2977), proposed by Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, D-Brooklyn, will establish a gun violence research fund, which will be expended to the department of health, by way of a bill proposed by Senator Roxanne Persaud, D-Brooklyn, and Assemblyman Matthew Titone, D-Staten Island, (A.6640/S.4363) to create a SUNY gun violence research initiative.

Further gun violence prevention efforts will effectively be created in response to the potential findings of a gun violence research institute. Assemblymember Simon expressed that a research institute would “examine the causes and impacts of firearm violence and provide scientific evidence on which to base effective prevention efforts,” she said. “For far too long, there has not been adequate investment in research on firearm violence.”

Assemblyman Kavanagh and Senator Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, have also proposed a bill (A.3438/S.5808) that would close some loopholes in New York’s background check process. The legislation would give law enforcement 10 days, instead of three, to complete a background check, and require that sellers report anyone attempting to purchase a firearm that fails a background check. It will also require gun dealer employees to have a clean background check as well.

A bill in the drafting stage by Assemblywoman Pam Hunter, D-Syracuse, would join New York in an interstate agreement to combat the flow of illegal guns over state lines. The issue is of great importance in Syracuse, which saw 30 homicides in 2016 – the highest in the city’s history.

“The guns that are killing our young people in the city of Syracuse aren’t manufactured in New York, don’t come from that community, they’re coming from different states,” Hunter said.

Lastly, a bill proposed by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-Manhattan, (A.4798) would establish guidelines for a statewide gun buyback program, which has seen success in cities across New York, particularly in Yonkers, which has seen a decline in gun violence since the implementation of their buyback program, according to Deputy Chief Tim Hodges.

“What we decided to do was have a gun tip hotline, and it was totally anonymous and it was only for illegal guns, not legal guns,” he said.

Hodges recruited the help of James Nolan, a resident of Yonkers whose brother, Michael Nolan, a professional baseball recruit was fatally shot in 2015. Nolan says his help in gaining the trust of the community has benefitted the program and the city.

“After Michael’s sudden and tragic death, I had a choice. My choice was to make the streets better and safer as much as I can,” Nolan said.

Assemblyman Kavanagh hopes that this bill package will help protect New Yorkers from “unnecessary” gun violence.

“We still have levels of gun violence in our country and in our state that are unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve made progress but we need to do more.”


Nirvana: Unplugged, Proves Their Legacy

Seated atop a rolling office chair, on a stage covered in lit black candles and clouded in cigarette smoke, Kurt Cobain and NIRVANA tuned their instruments to play their first all-acoustic set for MTV Unplugged. Audience members got up close and personal with the band and Cobain, who was named the 12th best guitarist of all time according to Rolling Stone.

The performance, captured by MTV for its unplugged series, was recorded on November 18, 1993, and has remained one of Nirvana’s most popular recorded albums of all time. To simply listen to this performance and to watch it on DVD are two different experiences entirely. The ease and banter between bassist Krist Novoselic and drummer Dave Grohl with Cobain, coupled with his stage presence gives viewers a lens into the best selling band at its peak.

The band, with the help of cellist Lori Goldston and guitarist Pat Smear performed a set of 14 songs, including 8 originals and 6 covers. Swiftly transitioning from their grunge roots in “Come as You Are” to an orchestral sound complete with cello and accordion in “Jesus Don’t Want me For a Sunbeam,” NIRVANA showed off their innate musical abilities. It was alarming how laid back they seemed on stage, making each song feel almost effortless as they transitioned from strumming and chatting and smoking cigarettes to playing.

Cobain’s easily accessible grungy, scratchy voice truly led the way for this incredible performance. Showcasing his talent on a solo version of “Pennyroyal Tea” and most memorably on the final song of the night, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night,” Cobain sung out every ounce of tone in his voice, creating a miraculously effortless grunge sound. Although Cobain was nervous about playing a fully acoustic set for an audience, the stripped down version of NIRVANA proved to be just as intoxicating as the amplified one.

In addition to the other covers, Cobain brought out the brothers of the Meat Puppets to accompany him on their three songs in the set: “Plateau,” “Oh, Me,” and “Lake of Fire.” The gesture proved that for Cobain it’s never been about the fame or the credit, but about the artistry and collaboration in the rock genre. By integrating so many covers into the set, NIRVANA showcased their artistic talents and showed love for their many inspirations and influences.

Underground Punk Rock Rising in New Paltz

Everything about the New Paltz underground music scene is a serendipity. I suppose in a place where so many young people come together to collaborate and get an education, it is only natural for them to try their hand at exploring musically as well. Walking into Snug Harbor bar on Main St. is an experience of its own. The walls are plastered with graffiti-esque amateur artwork. The wood floors are stained with years of beer spilled on them and the thousands of vans, converse, and leather boots that have danced on them throughout the years.

In the midst of a chaotic Tuesday night at this local watering hole, a band called Baby Saints sets up their equipment. Formerly known as Old Cave, the band got its start as a solo project of lead singer Dominic Antifeatro during his freshman year at SUNY New Paltz. During his junior year, Antifeatro recruited the help of his friends: bassist Devin Gilbert, Ben Finkelstein on drums, and Ted Rosa on guitar.

Although it was a short setlist, Baby Saints showcased their pure talent by mixing original songs with a cover of Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer.” Their original songs are clearly a product of mixed influence, incorporating slow, easy, ska-like jamming tunes with screamo punk vocals at the bridge and chorus. As the sound builds in sound and intensity, so does Antifeatro with his emotional, bare, intense vocals. Just as quickly as the sounds build up, they drop off after the chorus, back into an almost sarcastic cheery tune, moments after Antifeatro screams “how do you sleep now?”

The attention of the crowd was drawn uniquely to Baby Saints. During a night of 5 different bands, Baby Saints drew the biggest crowd into the tight space between the bar and tables. Perhaps the most significant moment was the guitar solo during their cover of  Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer. All eyes were on Rosa, as he skillfully transported the crowd through an all immersive melodically and chord perfect sound, while the band backed him up with their natural jam band sounds.

The original recordings of Old Cave are available online, but here’s hoping Baby Saints keep up their perfect blend of the best of classic; both past and present.

Autism Action Day in Albany

In an effort to pass a package of bills aimed at assisting New Yorkers with autism and developmental disabilities, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara joined with autism advocates and presented the first Autism Action Award, to Sara Mae Hickey, owner of a cafe that employs autistic adults at the first Autism Action Day.

Santabarbara unveiled the five point package of legislation aimed at increasing job opportunities, providing independent housing options, improving access to information, assisting in communication, and creating a centralized resource location in New York for people with autism.

“About 1 in 68 children in the United States are living with autism, and at some point it will be 1 in 68 adults,” Santabarbara said. “We need to turn awareness into action, and Autism Action day is an opportunity to do that.”

Santabarbara presented the first Autism Action Award to Sara Mae Hickey, 25, owner and operator of Puzzles bakery and cafe in Schenectady, NY. Puzzles bakery is unique in that its employees work in an integrated environment, employing adults with and without developmental disabilities. Its business model speaks to one of the most important needs for adults with autism; employment.

“What Puzzles does is it fosters awareness and understanding within the community,” Hickey said. “People come in and they learn about autism and our cause.”

Hickey, a 25 year old Schenectady resident, came up with the idea for Puzzles during her time at the Clinton Global Initiative, whose mission is to turn ideas into action. Hickey recognized the need for employment opportunities for adults with autism. Providing this employment for autistic adults helps foster their independence and give them a chance to engage in their communities. She spent the past two years working to open the restaurant until they opened about a year ago.

According to Hickey, the first Puzzles bakery and cafe is getting global attention. “Everyday I get letters and emails asking me to open up more locations. I’ve heard from Ohio, California, and even New Zealand. I have a list of 600 applicants who want a job right now.”

The demand for employment for autistic adults is staggering. “We need more people to step up and create opportunities for people with disabilities,” Hickey said. “I was honestly surprised that the name Puzzles wasn’t already taken.”

The next step for Hickey is to open more locations in the Schenectady area, and eventually franchise, so that more communities across the United States and the world can open businesses with the Puzzles model.

Assemblyman Santabarbara organized Autism Action day in order to introduce a series of bills that will bring attention to the needs of the developmentally disabled population in New York.

The first bill would create a statewide Autism Spectrum Disorder Advisory Board (A. 8635) to implement the rest of the Autism Action plan. The second bill, (A.5141), would add communication support to the existing vocational rehab centers in New York to improve employment outcomes for those with autism.

The third bill would address the overwhelming housing issue for those New Yorkers with autism, by providing an interest free loan to families in order to build apartments on their property for their family members with autism (A.8696). The fourth bill will work to make access to information and technology easier for those with autism, by ensuring that devices have appropriate software (A.8708).

Finally, the fifth bill, (A.8389) would mandate a first-of-its-kind standardized autism ID card to help people with autism communicate with law enforcement and first responders in emergency situations.

The events of Autism Action day were greeted with support from local autism advocates, including Schenectady ARC, Liberty ARC, the Autism Society of the Greater Capitol Region, and the New York State Association of Community and Residential Agencies (NYSACRA).

Santabarbara, whose 14 year old son Michael is autistic, added, “We must do everything we can to provide those affected by autism with the support and resources needed to help engage the community on their own terms. Now is the time and this is the day to take action.”

NY’s Labor Unions breathing a sigh of relief

Five of the most influential labor unions in New York are celebrating what could be a short-term victory. The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association came down Tuesday to a deadlocked 4-4 vote along liberal and conservative lines. The case threatened to block the ability of public-sector unions from collecting “agency” fees from employees who choose not to join the unions that represent their place of work.

A decision to disallow these fees would have gone against the state law of 23 states and the District of Columbia, reducing the funds for union activities such as lobbying and collective bargaining.

The case is the first decided by the high court since Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, highlighting the effects of decision-making with an incomplete bench.

The split decision preserves organized labor’s ability, for now, to collect agency fees. New York’s chapter of the Civil Service Employees Association emphasized the short term shelf life of this union victory.

“The Friedrichs case is symptomatic of this trend toward a lack of economic fairness and imbalance that is like a cancer on our society,” said CSEA President Danny Donohue. “Friedrichs sought to overturn a long-standing law of the land for the self-interest of some individuals, but only at the expense of the greater community good.”

The litigation was brought to the courts by the Center for Individual Rights, a libertarian group representing the plaintiff teachers. It moved quickly through the court system. and could be heard again when there is a full bench.

“We believe this case is too significant to let a split decision stand and we will file a petition for re-hearing with the Supreme Court,” Terence Pell, president of the CIR, said in a statement

According to the CIR, the plaintiff teachers in the case object to paying fees to a union with whom their political opinions do not align. They claim being forced to fund the union as a condition of employment in a public school is unconstitutional.

The Friedrichs case is not the only challenge to labor unions making its way through the courts. Last year, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order banning labor unions from seeking agency fees, citing union participation in politics as a breach of First Amendment rights. In anticipation of legal repercussions, the Rauner filed a federal lawsuit on the issue, hoping to see it brought to the Supreme Court.

Labor unions in New York have come out in support for the ruling, but not forgetting the continuing fight ahead of them.

“The ruling is a defeat for anti-union, conservative forces whose goal is to bankrupt unions and dilute their political influence,” said Frederick Kowal, president of the United University Professions, which represents faculty and stuff on SUNY campuses. “But organized labor cannot rest, knowing full well that the same anti-union factions that brought Friedrichs before the high court have other cases in the pipeline to challenge unions.”

The Friedrichs case, like others against labor unions, have continually been ruled against in lower courts. According to Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for CSEA, “agency fees have been the law of the land for more than 40 years.”

Madarasz says “unbridled greed and self interest” are at the heart of these anti-union cases.

“Attacks on the rights of working people are being funded by the Koch brothers and other corporate entities,” Madarasz said. “It works under the divide and conquer mentality. We need people working together to fight against these attacks.”

The New York Public Employees Federation, representing scientific and technical employees in New York, issued a statement in reaction to this week’s ruling: “While the labor movement in the U.S. is breathing a collective sigh of relief this morning, it doesn’t change the fact that there are more such cases waiting to be heard and threats to unions are still very real.”

Teachers unions in New York warned of the corporate interests threatening the strength of labor unions, and emphasized the Supreme Court’s importance for the rights of all Americans, especially those who work.

“The union victory in the Friedrich’s case demonstrates the critical importance of the Supreme Court,” said Michael Mulgrew, the president of the United Federation of Teachers. “The corporate interests that created and backed the Friedrichs case will continue their efforts to undermine unions, working people, and the country’s middle class.”

“Today’s court ruling is a blow to the corporate, anti-worker groups behind Friedrichs who wish to deny worker the strong voice on the job they need and deserve,” read a statement by New York State United Teachers.


Published at Legislative Gazette, Albany NY.

NY’s labor unions breathing a sigh of relief