10/19/2009 11:37:29 PM

 

 

(White Plains, NY) ~  The Westchester County Board of Legislators has approved landmark legislation that would require the forfeiture of vehicles for those convicted of operating a vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs or while engaged in unlawful speed contests or drag races throughout Westchester County. 

 

“This is a historic action for this Legislature.  Tonight, the Board took an important step to ensure public safety and protect our residents from drunk drivers,” said Board Chairman William J. Ryan (D, WFP-White Plains).  “I want to congratulate my colleagues on this victory, which will save lives in the future. The prospect of forfeiting one’s car, often an expensive material possession, will cause people to think twice before getting drunk and getting behind the wheel.”  Having worked for over a year in a bipartisan effort, this legislation comes for a vote on the heels on the tragic deaths of members of the Bastardi and Schuler families on the Taconic State Parkway in July, along with recent spark in DWI/DUI-related accidents within the county.  

 

“The passage of the bill is a major victory for Westchester County and one that will resonate throughout the region, as counties and municipalities aggressively pursue drunk drivers in an effort to make their streets safer," said Legislator Peter Harckham (D, I, WFP-Katonah), the author of this landmark legislation.  “It’s also important for residents to realize that if you’re caught driving drunk, you risk taking a life or losing your own. The County Board has found that while larger fines, longer license suspensions, and increased jail sentences may deter some offenders, a stronger deterrent is necessary to protect the public.” According to the National Transportation Safety Board, civil forfeiture of motor vehicles laws serve as a deterrent to recidivism may reduce first-time offenses and will send a stern message that driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs and drag racing will not be tolerated in Westchester County. 

 

“Our committees have worked together in a bipartisan effort for over a year and have added several constitutional protections for due process,” said the Board’s Committee on Legislation Chairman William Burton (D,WFP-Ossining).  “This bill has been modeled after legislation that is in place in Nassau and Suffolk counties, both have proven to be effective in those localities.”  In an effort to combat drunk driving and reduce the number of driving while intoxicated (“DWI”) and driving under the influence (“DUI”)-related accidents and fatalities, the proposed legislation would call for Westchester County law enforcement to begin confiscating the vehicles of intoxicated drivers arrested for DWI or DUI.  When an individual is arrested for DWI or DUI, the County would apply civil forfeiture proceedings against the vehicle, which is considered the instrument of a crime, and the car is immediately impounded.  Currently, twenty states permit the confiscation of vehicles for DWI or DUI offenses, with New York City, Nassau and Suffolk counties, specifically within New York State, with most being second offenses or more.

 

Details of the legislation include:

 

  • Contains an “innocent owner” affirmative defense, which is intended to stop forfeiture of a vehicle when the owner did not have actual knowledge that the vehicle would be used in violation
  • Authorizes the County Attorney to commence civil actions for forfeiture of vehicles when operated by a person who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs or found to be participating in drag racing and is arrested by any Westchester County police officers on county roads
  • Contains a provision which expressly permit lessors and lien holders of vehicles to recover such vehicles if seized by the county
  • Contains a “hardship relief” provision, allowing relief from forfeiture, in cases in which the defendant can establish that such forfeiture would impose substantial and unwarranted burdens on the defendant’s ability to travel to employment, school or medical treatment.  Such hardship relief could be subject to terms and conditions, including installation of an ignition interlock device in the vehicle. 

Within the last four years, Westchester County has seen a steady increase in DWI or DUI arrests.  According to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, adult arrests in Westchester County for felony and misdemeanor offenses rose from 2,337 in 2002 to 2,650 in 2007.  The Westchester County Department of Probation reports that DWI and DUI cases represent the largest percentage of their total cases – 23 percent.  Additionally, 17,000 people nationally die each year in alcohol-related accidents, with 80 percent of which involve recidivist drunk drivers.  “Over eighty percent of DWI and DUI arrests are first-time offenders and, therefore, forfeiture of their vehicles will severely cut down on this danger," states the Board’s Public Safety Committee Chairman Legislator Vito Pinto (D,WFP-Tuckahoe).  “Drunk driving is a deadly and serious crime.  This legislation sends a clear message to repeat offenders – driving drunk will not be tolerated in Westchester County.”

 

Click here to read the DWI Vehicle Forfeiture legislation.

 

Legislator Harckham’s YouTube video on DWI vehicle forfeiture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_gnxBFOZUk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10/27/2009 4:42:42 PM

WHAT:  

Westchester County Legislator John Nonna is hosting a town hall forum on the state of health care today

WHO:  

Westchester County Legislator John Nonna with the following guests:

  • Mr. Joel Seligman, President of Northern Westchester Hospital Center

  • Mr. Keith Safian, President of Phelps Memorial Hospital Center

  • Dr. Arthur Fass, Cardiologist
  • Dr. Richard Strongwater, Internal Medicine

  • Eunice Serton, NWHC nurse

  • Margaret Rafferty, Professor of Nursing at CUNY 

WHERE:    

Mount Pleasant Library
350 Bedford Rd (btwn Sunnyside and Romer Aves)
Pleasantville, New York

WHEN:  

Thursday, October 29, 2009 at 7:00 p.m. SHARP

WHY:      

This town hall meeting is to provide community residents with the opportunity to  hear  health care professionals, hospital administrators and physicians   discuss the state of health care today and possibilities for health care reform .  This is a non-political event and no current legislation will be discussed.  Residents will also have the opportunity to ask questions.

 

Click here to watch the town hall meeting.

 

President Obama Announces $3 billion in grant money for residential smart meters

10/27/2009 10:02:22 PM

 

 

(Somers, NY) ~ Over the past 5 years Westchester County Legislator and Vice-Chairman of the Board Michael Kaplowitz (D, I – Somers) has repeatedly lobbied for smart meters on behalf of residential ratepayers – including at the state level in Albany and before the New York City Council, an initiative today reinforced by President Obama in a press conference where the President announced $3 billion in grant funding for residential smart meter installation.

 

“‘Smart meters’ offer consumers the ‘three E’s; economic advantage, environmental benefit and energy efficiency,” Kaplowitz said. “Imagine there’s a gas station where it normally costs $4.00 per gallon but if you go after 11 PM, it’s only $2.00 per gallon. Wouldn’t you want the option to go out at 11 PM to save money on a commodity you use so much of? It’s all about providing the rate payers with a choice.”  Kaplowitz, a certified financial planner and immediate past chair of the legislature’s Budget & Appropriations Committee, continued by saying this will also create jobs and stimulate the local economy.

 

According to Kaplowitz, technology known as ‘smart meters’ has been available, although residential consumers have not been able to elect to have a ‘smart meter’ installed in their homes. “Smart Meters” are home energy monitoring systems that enable ratepayers to see their “real time usage” along with the corresponding “real time prices” in 15-minute intervals. Smart meters also have the ability, in the event of an outage, to automatically notify the power company of a power outage without the consumer having to report it.  “Consumers deserve choice. Individual home energy meters and real-time pricing would not only provide ratepayers with a choice, but would revolutionize electricity consumption by saving consumers real dollars and conserving energy, which, in turn, contributes to a cleaner environment.”

 

In October 2005, Kaplowitz, the immediate past chair of the Environment & Energy Committee, led the County Board in calling on the Public Service Commission to permit residential “smart meters,” enabling consumers to take advantage of “real time pricing.”  “Under the current system you pay an average of the various prices of a watt for each of the 24 hours.  What we want is to have consumers benefit from the lower, off-peak rates that keep that average down during the day and have the information available to them so they can make choices when the rates are high.  That’s the benefit of RTP,” Kaplowitz said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan and legislative leaders discuss governments responsibility to find lasting solutions

10/30/2009 10:39:46 AM

 

 

Westchester County Board of Legislators Chairman William Ryan (D, WFP-White Plains) hosted a roundtable discussion on domestic abuse, “Stopping Family Violence Where It Starts” with the County’s leading domestic violence advocates today.  This was an initiative that will seek to promote a collaborative effort and coordinated strategy between service providers, law enforcement and government to provide domestic violence victims with the services they need to escape violent relationships.  Ryan, along with Majority Whip Judith Myers (D-Larchmont), the Board’s Chair for the Committee on Public Safety and Security Legislator Vito Pinto (D-Tuckahoe) and the Board’s Chair for the Committee on Community Services Legislator Lois Bronz (D, WFP-Greenburgh) invited advocates to the discussion so they could give substantive updates on their work in the service area and to hear from them about the current challenges. "Not long ago, domestic violence was considered a family problem," Ryan said. "Today, thanks to such legislative gains as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and a renewed commitment by government to help fund community-based agencies to address the concerns, it is recognized as a threat to the entire community.  My goal today is to bring together a diverse group of leaders that represent government, the judicial system, the education community, domestic violence victim service providers, faith-based organizations and many others, to talk about local domestic violence issues, learn more about existing programs, and identify ways county government can best partner with community stakeholders to effectively take on the challenges of a growing domestic violence problem.”

 

At the roundtable held at Michaelian Office Building, Chairman Ryan and legislators heard from advocates and service providers. Participants included Barbara Egenhauser, an Assistant District Attorney with the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, Camille Murphy, Director of the Westchester County Office for Women, Karen Cheeks-Lomax, Director of ‘My Sister’s Place’,  Eileen Lambert, a representative of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Carla Horton, Director of Hope’s Door, Maribel Rivera of Mental Health Association of Westchester County, Lisa Winjum of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic, Cindy Kanusher, Assistant Director for the Pace Women’s Justice Center, Beth Thompson, program manager for ‘Margaret’s Place’, an initiative between the Joe Torre Safe at Home project and Safe Horizon, Sylvana Trabout, Assistant Director for Trauma & Abuse at the Westchester Jewish Community Services, Mary Krukiel, Director of Victims Assistance Services—West COP and Eva Dolgin, LGBTQ Programs Coordinator at Victims Assistance Services.  They stressed the importance of expanding domestic and sexual assault services and the need for a national healthcare strategy to address domestic violence.  “We, at the Board, know how much needs to be done to take meaningful steps to end domestic violence and sexual assault. We need tough law enforcement, aggressive prosecutions, effective prevention programs and available shelters for families in distress,” said Legislator Bronz.  “Most importantly, we need to insure that more people know and understand that domestic violence is not a private matter. It is a critical national problem that affects us all -- in every community, in non-traditional sites, in every work place and in every school. Let’s begin to engage service organizations in the education process.”

 

“As we observe National Domestic Violence Awareness Month this month, we also mark the 15th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act -- a tremendous achievement that significantly highlights efforts to address domestic violence. Unfortunately, the anniversary occurs amid news of significant state and local cutbacks to domestic violence programs across the country, just as reports of violence are increasing,” said Legislator Myers.  “Government must continue to prioritize the life-saving emergency services that aid the most vulnerable among us.  Women who need to escape their abusers, figure out how to provide a safe home for their children and get themselves back on their feet financially simply cannot do all this alone.”

 

Ryan also emphasized the Board’s legislative initiatives around domestic violence:

 

  • In 2005 the Board voted along with the County Executive to make it illegal for an employer to refuse to hire or fire, or discriminate against a victim of domestic violence, or to act in a way that would cause a person to not be hired by another agency, due to their victim of domestic violence status. The same law also made it illegal for public business from hotel to store to amusement park, to refuse their services to a person based on their status as a victim of domestic violence.
  • It also became illegal to deny the rent, sale, or lease of housing accommodations to a person based on their status as a victim of domestic violence. In 2008, the Board voted to amend this law again (under the Human Rights Law)
  • In 2008, the Chairman of the Board of Legislators approved contracts to the Child Abuse Prevention Center, My Sister’s Place, and the Northern Westchester Shelter in the total of $110,000 to support prevention services, provide case management, overstay services at the shelter, and to provide domestic violence hotline services

Beyond these legislative improvements, Ryan announced an long-term commitment to work with advocates and leaders to identify creative and innovative ways that the Board of Legislators can support and help those agencies that are "on the ground" in an environment where resources are scarce. “While reports of domestic violence are on the rise, state and local funding for services to its survivors is down everywhere.  That means efforts to end domestic violence and aid its victims have more hard times ahead.  Government must work collaboratively with agencies to find additional support that will promote lasting solutions,” commented Ryan.

 

Click here to watch Roundtable Discussion.

 

More on Westchester County’s resources for Domestic Violence.

 

Click any image above to enlarge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/4/2009 10:12:45 AM

 

 

Click article to enlarge.