State lawmakers sent a Valentine of sorts to villages around the state with the Feb. 14 passage of a bill that would allow some locales to continue to use lever voting machines.
Specifically, the measure would allow villages that administer their own elections to use the old-fashioned machines instead of federally mandated electronic machines until Dec. 31, 2012.
Piermont, South Nyack, Upper Nyack, Bronxville, Hastings, Larchmont, Port Chester, Rye Brook, Scarsdale, Tarrytown and Tuckahoe are among the villages in the Hudson Valley that run their own elections.
A 2002 federal law mandated that all states switch over to electronic voting systems by 2007, both to accommodate disabled voters and, ostensibly, avoid the problems that surfaced in Florida and Ohio during the 2000 presidential election. New York was the last state to come into compliance with the law, as it certified optical scan machines last year.
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye), who co-sponsored the bill in his chamber, said it would save villages money by ensuring that they don't have to lease new equipment from the county or provide training to local election inspectors.
The bill passed both the Assembly and Senate, and is now sitting on the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. His office did not immediately return requests for comment.
If signed by the governor, the new law would clear up current confusion over how villages are to administer their upcoming March elections. Currently, lever machines and paper ballots are outlawed in the state; at the same time, the county only recently gained permission from the state to lease the machines to villages. The costs are high: the Orange County village of South Blooming Grove, which has a population of 2,800, will pay $15,000 this year to use the new machines.
Bruce Wells, the president of the Scarsdale Forum, said that he supports the bill and hopes the governor signs it.
"While optical scan is perfect for elections with a large turnout, lever machines are easier for the village to run and count for elections with lower turnout," Wells said. "The issue with small elections is ease of counting the vote."
Here's a look at what our local lawmakers were up to between Feb. 11 and Feb. 18:
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) introduced three bills, including two measures that would allow Westchester County to implement a countywide property assessment system. The bill follows a report from a Westchester County task force that says such a system could save the county money and lead to a more equitable property tax system.
Abinanti's third bill would allow the town of Greenburgh to impose a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax.
Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge) did not introduce any bills.
Castelli on Feb. 16 presented Erling "Bumpy" Taylor of Armonk with an Assembly commendation for being awarded the 2010 Westchester County American Legion Legionnaire of the Year Award. Taylor is a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of Coral Sea. He also helped organize Armonk's first volunteer fire squad in the 1930s.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) introduced seven bills, including a proposal that would create a commission tasked with redrawing legislative districts. Currently the lines are drawn every 10 years by legislative leaders; good-government advocates have for years been calling on lawmakers to create an independent panel that would ensure more equitable results. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Feb. 17 introduced a similar bill into the Senate, where the bill enjoys support from GOP leadership.
Galef also wants to limit to 100 the number of bills that a lawmaker may introduce during each two-year term. Galef's proposal exempts bills that repeal or amend existing laws and measures requested by local governments.
A third bill would prohibit a legislator from providing state grants to businesses or non-profits for which that legislator serves as an official. Former Bronx Sen. Pedro Espada is currently facing criminal charges regarding allegations that he embezzled millions of dollars from a public health clinic funded by state grants. Espada is a board member at the clinic.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) did not introduce any bills.
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) introduced seven bills, including a proposal to create a "high-tech employment and training program" that would teach technology skills to unemployed or under-employed people. Katz does not indicate how the program would be paid for. The freshman lawmaker also wants courts to be required to report convictions of undocumented immigrants to the federal government and prohibit undocumented people from attending SUNY and CUNY schools.
Other Katz bills would allow local governments to pass property tax exemptions for senior citizens and disabled people with annual incomes lower than $40,000 and require the state to consider a municipality's ability to pay for federally mandated storm water treatment projects. According to Katz the mandate, known as MS4, has cost Hudson Valley communities $500 million.
Katz will hold town hall meetings on the state budget at the Mahopac Library on Feb. 22 at 6:30 p.m. and at the Ruth Keeler Memorial Library in North Salem on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m.
The freshman also will hold "mobile office hours" at Yorktown Town Hall on Feb. 23 from 4 to 7 p.m.
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye) introduced five bills. Among them are proposals to raise, from 29 to 35, the maximum age for a newly sworn state police officer and create more bicycle parking and storage at state office buildings.
Another Latimer bill would allow the village of Mamaroneck to impose a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax.
On Feb. 17, Latimer held a four-hour summit on the state budget at the Port Chester Seniors Center. Almost 50 people, including mayors, school superintendents and concerned citizens, testified at the hearing. Read more about it .
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) introduced one bill, which would broaden the crimes of second-degree sexual abuse and all degrees of aggravated sexual abuse to include "forced touching."
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) introduced three bills, including a proposal that would require high schools to screen athletes for evidence of traumatic head injuries prior to joining a team or after sustaining a concussion or similar injury on the field.
Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) introduced at least one bill, which would require state agencies to seek approval before overspending their budgets and mandates that surplus funds be used to pay down debt or otherwise decrease the tax burden on state residents. According to a memo accompanying the bill, the goal of the legislation is to put an end to the practice of agencies "going on a last-minute spending binge" at the end of the fiscal year.
In the Feb. 15 edition of Ball's Legislative Report video series, the senator spoke with the head of 9/11 Families for a Secure America and Michael Buffone, a 12-year-old Tea Party activist.
Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) introduced at least three bills, including a measure that would elevate the offense of endangering the welfare of an incompetent or physically disabled person from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony.
Carlucci and his colleagues in the Independent Democratic Conference on Feb. 15 introduced a package of bills aimed at providing mandate relief for school districts. The measures would allow neighboring school districts to enter into regional collective bargaining agreements, use certain reserve funds to offset budget gaps and streamline the process for schools to consolidate administrative and health care services.
In a Feb. 15 video, Carlucci discussed the state budget process, mandate relief and his work as the co-chair of a Senate commission that oversees the regulation of state agencies and public authorities.
According to the Senate website, Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) did not introduce any bills.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) introduced at least two bills. One would require the state to maintain a geographic information system (GIS) to aid local governments in making development decisions, and the other would increase, from 6 to 7, the number of city court judges in Yonkers.
Stewart-Cousins continues to seek public comment on the state budget and mandate relief proposals.
The senator on Feb. 4 received an award from Kendal on Hudson, a retirement home in Sleepy Hollow, for her advocacy on behalf of senior citizens.