Tag Archive | "Ken LaValle"

East End Heroin Task Force Formed to Battle Growing Threat

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By Kathryn G. Menu

State government leaders announced this week an initiative aimed at combating heroin abuse on the East End, as law enforcement, public health and court officials acknowledged the growing threat the drug—and other opioids—in Suffolk County.

On Monday, New York State Senator Ken LaValle, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo announced the formation of the Heroin Addiction Legislative Task Force, or HALT.

The legislators said the group was created to identify causes of and solutions to fight the growing heroin epidemic. The task force will specifically look at the five East End towns, according to Assemblyman Thiele.

The creation of the task force was spearheaded by Senator LaValle, after Senate leaders formed a statewide task force in March.

On Wednesday, Assemblyman Thiele said state officials representing the East End recognized approaches to battling the epidemic would need to be tailored for the region—a region with many law enforcement jurisdictions, local court systems, and its own set of obstacles when it comes to mental health care and treatment.

“The increase in heroin use has reached alarming levels and we need to take action to address this critical situation,” said Senator LaValle. “A broad based East End approach will help us to identify areas where we can be productive in combating the scourge of heroin and other opiates. The initial meeting will be the first in a series that will assist us in determining the types of resources that are needed on the East End.”

“The issue of heroin abuse certainly became more high-profile after [the actor] Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death, but if you talk to people in drug treatment programs and law enforcement, this has been a growing problem in the state for several years now,” said Assemblyman Thiele in an interview Wednesday.

“We don’t have a county police department or district courts, we have town and village police departments and town and village courts, so from a law enforcement perspective, dealing with this issue on the East End is different than the rest of Long Island,” he continued.

According to Assemblyman Thiele, the first meeting will be held on May 16 at 10 a.m. at the Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center on Main Street in Riverhead. That session, he said, will focus on bringing together law enforcement officials, counselors, representatives from treatment groups, as well as town and village justices and government leaders to talk about the epidemic before the task force begins to look at targeted solutions that can aid the East End.

On Wednesday, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said he expects the village will be represented at the forum.

“I think this is a great initiative because this is a problem and it seems to be growing at a crazy pace and is affecting a lot of people,” he said. “Either myself of one of the members of the village board will attend that first session.”

“This first meeting we largely expect it to be us as legislators doing a lot of listening,” said Assemblyman Thiele. “Before we can decide what government can do from a policy perspective we have to talk to the people on the ground dealing with this issue.”

The creation of the task force comes on the heels of two major heroin arrests by the East End Drug Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional agency led by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office that includes officers from town and village police departments across the North and South forks.

In February, nine men—six from the Riverhead area—were charged with multiple felonies for their alleged involvement in the sale of “Hollywood” heroin, a particularly potent brand of the drug that was sold to residents on the East End, including Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. During the course of a years long investigation into that ring, police said they confiscated 2,000 bags of heroin and thousands of dollars in cash.

In April, Suffolk County Police announced the arrest of 14 individuals in connection with an alleged sales ring that ferried heroin from Brooklyn throughout Suffolk County. According to Mr. Spota, that ring had flooded Suffolk County with 360,000 bags of heroin with a street value of $3.6 million.

The arrests come at a time when law enforcement and mental health care professionals are reporting an increase in the amount of heroin and opioid abuse in Suffolk County.

According to a report issued in 2012 by a special grand jury empanelled by Mr. Spota, heroin use between 1996 and 2011 accounted for a 425-percent increase in the number of participants in the Suffolk County Drug Court Program. Opioid pill abuse, according to the report, accounted for a 1,136-percent increase in the number of drug court participants. According to data issued by the county medical examiner’s chief toxicologist Dr. Michael Lehrer, there were 28 heroin related deaths in Suffolk County in 2010, which increased to 64 in 2011 and to 83 in 2012 with 82 deaths officially reported for 2013, although that figure is expected to rise as investigations into other deaths are completed.

 

 

 

 

State Education Aid Increases by $1.1 Billion

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New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. announced Monday that the 2014-15 state budget will increase state aid to education by $1.1 billion to more than $22 billion.

“The State Legislature has improved the governor’s 2014 state budget proposal by increasing school aid from a proposed 3.9 percent to 5.3 percent across the state,” said Assemblyman Thiele. “Suffolk County’s share of aid also would increase by 5.3 percent. Suffolk had gotten its fair share of this year’s school aid increase.”

A major part of the school aid increase was the reduction of the Gap Elimination Adjustment by $602 million. The GEA was originally enacted to close a state budget deficit back in 2008-09.

Mr. Thiele said the final state budget also includes the governor’s $2 Billion Smart School Bond initiative to improve classroom technology and construct pre-kindergarten classroom space. He expressed support for the governor’s Smart School Bond Act, which must be approved by voters in November.

“The focus on improving quality education is a goal I fully support,” said Mr. Thiele. “This state aid proposal accomplishes that goal for Long Island and New York State.”

“Superintendents in my district conveyed that their priority for this year’s budget was the reduction of the GEA—a budget-balancing fiasco imposed by the Democrats in 2010 when they controlled all three branches of government.” said Senator Kenneth P. LaValle. “This year, we were successful in restoring $602 Million of the GEA money to local school districts. The state’s commitment to education is now well over $22 billion. This budget meets the needs of New York State’s children while at the same time providing property tax relief to residents who help underwrite the costs. I am pleased to have obtained increases for each school district in my area.”

Under the state budget, the Sag Harbor School District will receive $1,637,585, a 5.92-percent increase in state aid. The Bridgehampton School District will receive $656,377, a 10.9-percent increase. The East Hampton School District is set to receive $2.76 million in state aid, a 4.15-percent increase, and the Southampton School District will get $2.6 million, a 9.9-percent increase.

Senator LaValle Requests Nominations for “Woman of Distinction”

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New York State Senator Ken P. LaValle is requesting nominations for a woman to be recognized as a New York State Senate “Woman of Distinction.”

Residents of the 1st Senate District have been encouraged to nominate friends, spouses, coworkers and neighborhood leaders who have performed outstanding work on behalf of their communities.

“This program provides us with a special opportunity to honor extraordinary women for their achievements.” said Senator LaValle. “I am proud that we have many deserving women in the area I represent. I look forward to reviewing the accomplishments of the nominees.”

The Senate will honor a distinguished woman from the 1st Senate District and throughout the state at a May 13 ceremony in Albany, with each honoree’s photograph and biography becoming part of a special exhibit. Previous winners have included leading women from the business world, academics and civic life, as well as those who have performed heroic or selfless acts, made significant discoveries or provided examples of personal excellence against significant odds.

To nominate an individual, visit SenatorLaValle.com.

DEC Will Revise Mute Swan Proposal

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Mute Swans at the East Hampton Nature Trail on Monday, 2/17/14

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has announced it is considering changes to a draft mute swan management plan following public outcry over plans to kill or capture all mute swans in the state by 2025.

According to DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, over the past five weeks, the DEC has received more than 1,500 comments on the plan from individuals and organizations, as well as more than 16,000 form letters and 30,000 signatures on various petitions.

“The draft plan for management for mute swans received significant public interest and DEC received many thoughtful and substantive comments,” Commissioner Martens said. “DEC is listening to these comments and concerns and will revise the draft plan and provide an opportunity for the public to comment on the revised plan this spring.”

In revising the plan, the DEC likely will acknowledge regional differences in status, potential impacts and desired population goals by setting varying goals for different regions of the state. In addition, the DEC will consider non-lethal means to achieve the management plan’s intended goals.

New recommendations are expected to be released this spring, and according to the DEC prior to finalizing the next draft, the DEC will meet with key stakeholder groups to ensure all potential management options are identified and considered.

Senator LaValle to Host Environmental Roundtable Thursday in Riverhead

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New York State Senator Kenneth LaValle will host a two-hour-long environmental roundtable to discuss issues impacting the First Senate District this Thursday, February 7 from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Suffolk Community College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Center in Riverhead.

This year’s participants will help Senator LaValle chart a legislative agenda regarding the environment that LaValle said is aimed at preserving the character and quality of life on the East End.

More than 65 participants are expected at Thursday’s forum, including representatives from town and village governments, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, environmental groups and concerned citizens.

New York State Assemblymen Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and Dan Losquadro will join LaValle at this event.

New York State First to Adopt Sweeping Gun Control Regulations After Sandy Hook Tragedy

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By Amanda Wyatt

One month after the fatal shooting of 26 students and teachers at a Connecticut elementary school, New York State legislators — including Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle — moved swiftly this week to pass what are being called the toughest gun control laws in the country.

The New York State Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act of 2013, also known as the NY SAFE Act, was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday following passage by the State Assembly, 104-43. The legislation had been passed by the State Senate, 43-18, on Monday evening, just hours after being introduced by the governor.

The NY SAFE Act represents the first state legislation addressing gun control following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. And according to Assemblyman Thiele, who voted in favor of the act, it is “a step in the right direction.”

While he knew it would be “difficult and controversial,” Thiele said on Wednesday that he believed the act “struck the right balance between the needs that we have to protect our children and families from gun violence, while still respecting the constitutional mandates of the second amendment.”

“I just see it as common sense, sane regulation of guns,” he added.

In a written statement, Senator LaValle explained several important provisions in the act.

“The New York Safe Act of 2013 closed several loopholes in New York State’s gun laws that have been on the books since 1994 that included a ban on assault weapons,” he said.

“The legislation, now law, maintains citizens’ rights to bear arms and gave the legislature an important opportunity to stiffen penalties for gun crimes — something the city-centric Assembly has resisted — addresses mental health issues, protects first responders and shields the identities of legal handgun owners from broad public disclosure,” LaValle pointed out.

“No one’s gun is being confiscated,” he added.

Specifically, the act tightens the ban on assault weapons, and reduces the minimum magazine capacity of guns from 10 to seven bullets. There will be universal background checks on all gun purchases, as well as instant background checks at ammunition purchases. And safe storage of guns will be required in any homes where a convicted felon or individual who has been involuntarily committed resides.

The NY SAFE Act also mandates the recertification of all handguns, and existing assault weapons must be grandfathered into a new statewide gun database. There will be increased penalties for having a firearm on school grounds and for crimes committed with illegal guns, as well.

“This legislation has some provisions in it to help local school districts improve school security, including an increase in building aid for modifications that school districts make to their district as far as security, and also allowing retired police officers to be hired without any loss of pension rights,” said Thiele.

The act has a strong focus on mental health, requiring healthcare providers to report potentially dangerous patients to the authorities so they can crosscheck whether these individuals are registered gun owners. It also expands Kendra’s Law, which forces certain individuals to receive psychiatric care.

But how this legislation will affect the East End — and Sag Harbor, in particular — remains to be seen. As Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano noted, “it’s very, very rare” that the Sag Harbor Village Police Department encounters individuals with weapons.

Still, he said, “just because it’s a nice, quiet village doesn’t mean things couldn’t happen here. [Newtown is] a nice little area similar to Sag Harbor, they say.”

In fact, shortly after the Newtown shooting, the police received a couple of different phone calls regarding “suspicious people” around Sag Harbor schools — all of whom turned out to be parents and employees.

And while Fabiano did not think the NY SAFE Act was a “cure-all” for the malady of gun violence, he suggested that it was a good start.

“What they passed, is that going to work and make it all better? I think it’s going to take a very, very long time for things to start working, because there are so many weapons out there…And we’re just talking about New York State. If the whole country did something like this, maybe we’d have a better chance,” he said.

While the NY SAFE Act has its share of supporters, it has also ignited a firestorm of controversy from gun rights groups, like the National Rifle Association (NRA). In a press release, the NRA said that they were “outraged at the draconian gun control bill.”

Cuomo and New York state legislators “orchestrated a secretive end-run around the legislative and democratic process and passed sweeping anti-gun measures with no committee hearings and no public input,” they declared.

“These gun control schemes have failed in the past and will have no impact on public safety and crime,” continues the NRA’s statement. “Sadly, the New York Legislature gave no consideration to that reality. While lawmakers could have taken a step toward strengthening mental health reporting and focusing on criminals, they opted for trampling the rights of law-abiding gun owners in New York, and they did it under a veil of secrecy in the dark of night.”

And while Assemblyman Thiele’s office had received a flood of correspondence asking for more gun regulation immediately after the Newtown shooting, he said most of his mail in the past week to 10 days had been from pro-gun groups.

“You’re always balancing public welfare versus individual rights…It is a balancing test, and I think we’re kind of restating where that balance is,” he said.

State Denies Grant for Local Schools Looking into School District Consolidation

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Several East End schools suffered a blow last week when they learned they had not been awarded a competitive Local Government Efficiency Grant, which would have examined the possibility of consolidating and reorganizing local school districts.

Despite this setback, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and State Senator Ken LaValle — who had written letters of support for the grant — are determined to move forward.

“Senator LaValle and I will find another way to fund this consolidation study,” said Thiele in an interview on Monday.

In a separate interview, LaValle echoed Thiele’s comments.

“I will keep at it,” he said. “I will pursue it. I will pursue some money, as I did, outside of the competitive grant process, to get the districts to talk about how they can share services or where there is interest in an out and out consolidation.”

Thiele said that he and LaValle would probably look into a legislative grant or “other forms of funding where the legislature has direct control over the funding, not funding that the Governor controls.”

The Sag Harbor, East Hampton, Southampton, Tuckahoe, Springs, Montauk and Hampton Bays school districts, as well Eastern Suffolk Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), had originally filed for the grant back in March.

The grant is part of the New York Department of State’s (DOS) Local Government Efficiency Program, which seeks to help municipalities save money and operate more efficiently through consolidations, mergers, the sharing of services and other tactics.

According to a press release from the DOS, $4 million dollars had been allocated for grant monies, and municipalities could apply for up to $200,000 in funding.

The grants, said LaValle, were “competitively scored by the Department of State, based upon the quality of the applicants’ data and endeavor.”

“From what I was told, the [local schools’] grant did not score high,” said Thiele, noting that of the 21 groups that were awarded the grant, only three were school districts.

“Assemblyman Thiele and I cannot go beyond what we did, in terms of local officials supporting their grants, because it would be unethical to use — as people would say, ‘political muscle’ — to try and affect political grants,” LaValle added.

LaValle has been a strong proponent of consolidation of South Fork school districts throughout his tenure. He said in the past, local school districts had received millions of dollars in state aid, some of which they could have used to conduct things like efficiency grant studies.

“In the past, I had secured money and they never really went forward with any consolidation — or even any efficiencies — that they could bring about by sharing services,” he said.

However, LaValle noted the decision for school consolidation is entirely up to the community.

For example, if two school districts wanted to consolidate, both school boards would have to approve of it. Then, referendums would have to be passed in both communities.

By Amanda Wyatt

Currently, the Southampton and Tuckahoe school districts have recently begun discussing the possibility of consolidating their school districts.

“It’s a local decision,” the senator said. “I try to take leadership in pushing people to either do consolidation, or at the very minimum, to share services.”

The Sag Harbor Board of Education (BOE) also remains interested in looking into consolidation and reorganization. President Theresa Samot said the BOE would probably discuss the grant at its next meeting, which was scheduled for Monday night, but was canceled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. That meeting has yet to be rescheduled, said Samot.

“We thought [the grant] would certainly be a good first step to see what the opportunities were,” said President Theresa Samot. “The board is certainly in favor of exploring any opportunity that might be valuable to the taxpayers, as well as the students. It’s something that we’ve certainly looked into, wherever we could collaborate to save money.”

Primary Win Pits Fleming vs LaValle

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Noyac resident and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming was a hardy victor in the Democratic primary for the 1st District New York State Senate race against Rocky Point litigation attorney Jennifer Maertz last Thursday. The decisive win gives Fleming, an attorney with offices in Sag Harbor, the Democratic line this November in the New York State Senate race against veteran Republican State Senator Ken LaValle.

Unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections showed Fleming earned 2,031 votes in the primary, 79.08-percent of voters supporting her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Maertz earned 531 votes or 20.67-percent of the votes cast in this race on Thursday.

“I think this race has really strengthened our resolve and given us confidence that the voters are looking for an alternative to the current leadership we have on the East End in Albany,” said Fleming around 10:15 p.m. Thursday night.

Fleming gave praise to Maertz, someone she said she hopes to work with on community issues.

“I am very pleased with the outcome and it is consistent with what we have heard from residents as we have moved through this campaign,” she added.

On Monday, Maertz noted that her defeat to Fleming coincided with the lowest voter turnout in the entire State of New York for the 2012 primary races. Maertz said she believed it was either voter apathy or perhaps local Democrats were not particularly interested in this specific race.

“Out of the voters who did go to the polls, it was a question of which candidate was able to reach the voters that would turn out for this primary,” said Maertz. “And she won that battle.”

“I do wish Bridget all the best in her campaign,” added Maertz.

Fleming will now prepare to face off against LaValle, a decades long member of the New York State Senate.

“He is a veteran state senator for 36 years and one thing I know from the work we have done talking to voters is 36 years is far too long to be in Albany,” said Fleming. “We need to convey that message first and foremost. Instead of local investment we see our tax dollars going elsewhere in New York State. Eastern Suffolk County is ready for someone who will truly represent its needs and interests.”

Two debates between LaValle and Fleming will be hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons — the first on October 15 in Hampton Bays and the second on October 22 in East Hampton with locations yet to be announced.

 

LaValle & Thiele Endorsed by the New York League of Conservation Voters

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The New York League of Conservation Voters (NYLCV), an organization aimed at making environmental sustainability a top political and policy priority in New York State, announced on Tuesday that it has endorsed incumbent Republican New York State Senator Ken LaValle and incumbent Independence Party New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. for re-election this November.

“The efforts of Senator LaValle and Assembly Member Thiele to protect our environment have benefited their districts, Long Island and all of New York State,” said NYLCV President Marcia Bystryn. “Their legislative track records demonstrate their commitment to advancing smart policies affecting our air, land, water and energy future. We are proud to support both of them and we look forward to even more positive environmental strides in the Senate and Assembly if they are re-elected.”

The League noted that the state legislature has approved three important environmental initiatives this year that would not have passed, said Bystryn, without the support of LaValle and Thiele.

LaValle and Thiele both co-sponsored the Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act, which increases public awareness of sewage discharge pollution in local waterways. By being notified of such discharges, citizens can make informed decisions about recreational activities, noted the league in a press release issued on Tuesday afternoon.

La Valle and Thiele also authored legislation providing for property tax exemptions for green buildings in an effort to promote energy efficiency improvements to existing properties as well as to encourage new green construction. The men also sponsored legislation regarding watershed protection improvement districts, a new law that permits town boards to create or extend watershed protection improvement districts, which help communities reduce sewage pollution, protect drinking water and safeguard the quality of local waterways.

The league added that LaValle was also the chief architect of the landmark Pine Barrons Preservation Act, which protects critical drinking water resources as well as an irreplaceable wildlife habitat. Thiele, among other environmental initiatives drafted and sponsored the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund Act, which allows East End towns to raise funds to protect this estuary.

“It is an honor to receive the support of the NYLCV,” said LaValle. “I fully intend to build upon my environmental record in the coming years and continue my role as an environmental steward.”

“I am honored to receive the support of the New York League of Conservation Voters,” said Thiele. “Throughout my political career, I have remained deeply committed to protecting the environmental health and integrity of the East End. As a member of the New York State Assembly, I look forward to the opportunity to work with the NYLCV in coming years to help further protect New York’s environment and help grow the demand for green, clean-energy jobs.”

Landslide Victory for Fleming in New York Primary for State Senate

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By Kathryn G. Menu

Noyac resident and Southampton Town Councilwoman Bridget Fleming was a hardy victor in the Democratic primary for the 1st District New York State Senate race against Rocky Point litigation attorney Jennifer Maertz last Thursday. The decisive victory gives Fleming, an attorney with offices in Sag Harbor, the Democratic ticket this November in the New York State Senate race against veteran Republican State Senator Ken LaValle.

Unofficial results from the Suffolk County Board of Elections showed Fleming earned 2,031 votes in the primary, 79.08-percent of voters supporting her bid for the Democratic nomination.

Maertz earned 531 votes or 20.67-percent of the votes cast in this race on Thursday.

“I think this race has really strengthened our resolve and given us confidence that the voters are looking for an alternative to the current leadership we have on the East End in Albany,” said Fleming around 10: 15 p.m., Thursday night.

Fleming gave praise to Maertz, someone she said she hopes to work with on community issues.

“I am very please with the outcome and it is consistent with what we have heard from residents as we have moved through this campaign,” she added.

On Monday, Maertz noted that her defeat to Fleming coincided with the lowest voter turnout in the entire State of New York for the 2012 primary races. Maertz said she believed it was either voter apathy or perhaps local Democrats were not particularly interested in this specific race.

“Out of the voters who did go to the polls, it was a question of which candidate was able to reach the voters that would turn out for this primary,” said Maertz. “And she won that battle.”

“I do wish Bridget all the best in her campaign,” added Maertz.

Fleming will now prepare to face off against a decades long member of the New York State Senate in LaValle, the Democrat remained hopeful.

“He is a veteran state senator for 36 years and one thing I know from the work we have done talking to voters is 36 years is far too long to be in Albany,” said Fleming. “We need to convey that message first and foremost. Instead of local investment we see our tax dollars going elsewhere in New York State. Eastern Suffolk County is ready for someone who will truly represent its needs and interests.”

A debate between LaValle and Fleming will be hosted by the League of Women Voters of the Hamptons on October 15 in Hampton Bays and again on October 22 in East Hampton with locations yet to be announced.