Cuomo signs bill allowing adoptees their birth records

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Thursday that allows adult adoptees to obtain their original birth certificates with the names of their birth parents, a cause that advocates had pursued in Albany for more than 25 years and that a pair of Orange and Ulster residents had championed.

Both were given seats of honor on the Senate floor in June when a climactic vote was taken to pass the bill. One was Claudia Corrigan D’Arcy, a Kingston resident and director of outreach and advocacy for the Adoptive and Foster Family Coalition in New Paltz. She had been fighting for the legislation since 2006, moved by her experience as a birth mother who had put her son up for adoption in 1987.

Also on hand for the Senate approval was Annette O’Connell of Woodbury, spokewoman for the New York Adoptee Rights Coalition. She was an adoptee herself, and had been advocating for the legislation for five years.

The bill, bottled up in Albany since 1993, sailed through the Senate and Assembly with little opposition. “Where you came from informs who you are, and every New Yorker deserves access to the same birth records – it’s a basic human right,” Cuomo said on Thursday after signing the bill. “For too many years, adoptees have been wrongly denied access to this information and I am proud to sign this legislation into law and correct this inequity once and for all.”

New York had held a veil of confidentiality over adoptions since the 1930s, allowing adoptees their original birth certificates only in rare instances when a judge consented. Adoptees and their advocates had argued that access to birth records was a basic right that only adoptees had been denied, casting the legislation they sought as a civil rights issue. They were jubilant when it passed.

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Anti-impeachment ads target Maloney, Delgado

Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney and Antonio Delgado were among 37 House Democrats targeted by digital ads this week by a conservative group opposed to the impeachment of President Trump.

The American Action Network says it spent $2 million on the ads, which coincided with the start of televised impeachment hearings on Wednesday and enable like-minded readers to email their representatives with a click. The message urges the House member to “work on issues we care about” and dismisses the inquiry as a “partisan charade.”

The targets are Democrats whose congressional districts Trump won in the 2016 election. Every House Democrat except two voted in favor of the impeachment inquiry and its rules two weeks ago, and every Republican voted against it.

Maloney, a fourth-term member whose 18th District Trump won by two points, is on the committee that’s holding the hearings and has been on cable news shows to discuss the alleged abuse of power in the inquiry. He told supporters in a fundraising email Wednesday night that he was “already facing an onslaught of Republican attacks for standing up for our democracy,” and that “Republicans are spending in my district to try to stop us from getting to the truth.” 

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Absentee count for tight Ulster DA race starts Monday

Ulster County election officials have around 2,800 absentee and affidavit ballots to begin opening and counting on Monday to determine the outcome of a district attorney race separated by only three votes on Election Day.

The contestants in the neck-and-neck contest to succeed retiring District Attorney Holley Carnright are Democrat Dave Clegg and Republican Michael Kavanagh, who held the three-vote lead out of nearly 50,000 ballots cast and tallied on Nov. 5.

Tom Turco, the county’s Republican election commissioner, said Tuesday that 2,275 of the 3,682 absentee ballots that Ulster voters had obtained had been submitted and seen by both him and his Democratic counterpart, Ashley Dittus. Another 142 absentees have yet to be viewed by Dittus. The county also has 428 affidavit votes that haven’t been reviewed yet for their validity.

Turco said the counting of absentee and affidavit ballots will start at 10 a.m. on Monday and could take at least two weeks to complete.

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Skoufis proposes lifetime health coverage for kidney donors

A new bill by state Sen. James Skoufis aims to encourage kidney donations by offering donors free health insurance for life, paid for by the state.

The legislation is meant to close a huge gap in the number of New Yorkers awaiting kidney transplants and those willing to sacrifice a kidney. More than 8,000 people now need transplants, while 521 served as live donors last year and 347 had done so through the first 10 months of 2019, according to a memo accompanying the bill. An average of 13 Americans die each day waiting for a new kidney, the memo states.

“There is a disproportionately low number of people who are live kidney donors, and overwhelming demand for donations in our state,” Skoufis, D-Cornwall, said in a press release announcing the bill. “Clearly, additional, reasonable incentives are required to encourage people to make such an altruistic sacrifice. People who are selfless enough to donate a kidney should be provided with the peace of mind that they will never have to worry about health insurance.”

The bill would establish a budget line to cover health insurance premiums for kidney donors.

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Metzger bill raises farm tax credit to help retain workers

State Sen. Jen Metzger announced a new bill this week to increase an existing tax credit for farmers to bolster their finances and help them attract and retain employees.

Current law allowed farmers a $500 refundable credit this year for each worker who put in 500 or more hours, an amount that is set to drop to $400 next year and rise to $600 in 2021 before the credit program expires.

Metzger, a Rosendale Democrat, said her proposal would raise the credit to $800 per employee in 2021 and to $1,200 in 2022, and extend it indefinitely.

“This legislation is significant and demonstrates that Senator Metzger understands what farmers need,” Chris Kelder of Kelder’s Farm in Kerhonkson said in Metzger’s press release. “Those of us who work the land know that the margins are thin, and having this kind of support will go a long way to sustain our operations. Furthermore, it offers us additional incentives to hire and keep the farmworkers we need.”

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Farley releases internet campaign ad

Republican candidate Chele Chiavacci Farley released her first internet ad this week for her 2020 campaign against Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney for the 18th Congressional District seat.

“Congress has come to a grinding halt with partisan bickering and obstructionism,” Farley said in the 2 minute, 49 second video. She goes on call the next election a “fight for the future of our region and this country,” and tries to link Maloney with Queens congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and “radical socialism.”

She identifies immigration reform and securing the nation’s borders as one of her priorities, but also talks about unlocking American technology to “solve climate change.”

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Ulster DA candidates await absentee ballot count after nearly tied vote

The contest to succeed Holley Carnright as Ulster County District Attorney came about as close as it could get on Tuesday, with Republican Michael Kavanagh leading Democrat Dave Clegg by just three votes out of almost 50,000 cast in the race.

Kavanagh, chief assistant district attorney in Carnright’s office, finished the day with 24,969 votes, and Clegg, an attorney who ran for Congress last year, wound up with 24,966. Several thousand absentee votes have yet to be counted, leaving the outcome up in the air for at least another 10 days.

Clegg said in a statement that the the Board of Elections plans to start counting absentee ballots on Nov. 18. How long it will take to complete that count is unclear.

Clegg and Kavanagh are competing for a four-year term to replace Carnright, a Republican who has been district attorney for 12 years and didn’t seek a fourth term in office.

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Delgado, Gillibrand propose block grants for rural areas

Rep. Antonio Delgado and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand introduced a bill last month that would fund $50 billion in block grants for rural areas to spend on broadband service, affordable housing, water and sewer improvements and other efforts to boost their economies.

The Rebuild Rural America Act would authorize five-year, renewable grants to rural regions that have set up “partnership councils” and have been certified as eligible by their states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Amounts would be proportionate to each region’s population but weighted by poverty levels, with triple the normal amount given for each person in a census tract that has a poverty rate of 20 percent or higher.

Delgado, a Rhinebeck Democrat, said in a joint announcement with Gillibrand: “This bill gives rural communities the funding, flexibility, and technical assistance to do what they know will best help their towns — including building firehouses, repaving sidewalks, replacing old and failing water systems, and supporting economic development to make sure our upstate communities have what they need to grow and thrive.”

Two or three fellow Democrats co-sponsored the bill in each chamber.

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Cahill bill on emergency room charges signed into law

Patients whacked with emergency room bills after being taken to a hospital outside their insurance network will now have those charges negotiated by the hospital and their insurer under a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and signed last month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The legislation expands a practice known as independent dispute resolution that was created in 2014 to settle disagreements between medical providers and insurance plans over out-of-network expenses. The Cahill bill subjects emergency-room charges to that same process and eliminates the aggravation for consumers, who generally have no say in which hospital they are brought to in emergencies.

“In many cases, if the patient is forced out-of-network to receive services, excessive charges are disputed by consumers, the hospital and the insurance company,” Cahill, D-Kingston, said in a press release.  “This bill expands a well-established, consumer-friendly protocol for instances like these.”

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Schumer urges feds to finish study on school-bus cameras

Sen. Chuck Schumer pressed a federal agency this week to complete a study it started four years ago to evaluate the effectiveness of mounting cameras on school buses to catch and fine drivers who endanger children by illegally passing stopped buses.

New York endorsed that deterrent this year with a law that allows counties to invite their school districts to have cameras placed on the stop arms of their buses. Orange County is poised to pass a law next week to begin a voluntary camera program, and will be one of the first counties in New York to act on the new state law. County officials say the cost will be covered by fine revenue, at no expense to the county or any participating districts.

Schumer, wading into the same safety issue, released a letter on Wednesday that he sent to the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, reminding her that her agency announced four year ago it would collect data on whether bus cameras reduce the number of drivers illegally passing stopped buses.

He urged the NHTSA to “swiftly release this study and, if deemed fit, to revise its safety guidelines to recommend that all states implement stop-arm camera enforcement programs.” He noted that at least 21 states, including New York, have now started installing cameras on school buses or given districts the option to do so.

In a press release, Schumer said 50,000 drivers pass stopped school buses on an average day in New York, and charged the NHTSA had “slow walked” its report on bus cameras and hindered safety improvements as a result.

“So my message to the feds is simple: it’s time to slow down cars and speed up the release of this potentially life-saving report, and if deemed necessary, change safety standards to require the installation of these cameras on all new school buses,” Schumer said.

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