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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"2013 Session: notes from Week One"
ALBANY, Jan. 21 -- We’re just over one week into the 2013 legislative session – which for state government historians and the trivia buffs out there represents the 236th time the New York State Legislature has convened – and I guess it’s safe to say that we’re off to a historically noticeable start.
In fact the session’s opening action on gun control set the stage, for a variety of reasons that I won’t get into at any great length here, on what’s shaping up to be a session where legislators will be asked to take up several of today’s hottest of hot-button issues.
So I’ll take this chance to make a few observations about the past week – and the days ahead – in New York State government:
-- First and foremost, it’s important to turn our attention, as we do every year at this time, to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On the national day of observance on January 21st, in ceremonies locally and across the state and nation, we recall and honor the life of one of history’s great public figures. On this day, I also hope you’ll take a moment to visit the New York State Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Observance website at www.nyking.org;
-- As I noted last week, Governor Cuomo unveils his 2013-2014 proposed state budget on Tuesday, January 22nd. Of all the actions of each and every session, it’s the unveiling of the executive budget proposal that’s most anticipated. A few of the priorities I’ll be looking for the governor to address on Tuesday include helping the competitiveness of upstate manufacturers and small businesses through targeted tax relief and regulatory reform; addressing the concerns and challenges of low-wealth, high-need school districts across the region and throughout upstate, rural New York; offering job training and economic security for our workers and their families; providing greater relief from the crushing burdens of taxes, mandates and regulations; and enhanced fiscal responsibility;
-- I voted against the new New York gun control law, the recently approved NY SAFE Act, because on balance the final product and the process that produced it went too far to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding and responsible citizens and, equally important, not nearly far enough on keeping a law-and-order focus on where and how these terrible crimes and criminals can and should be most effectively confronted. The act did include some movement in key areas, including important, practical and common sense initiatives in mental health, school safety and first responder safety. But how effective will it truly be to protect us from the criminally insane? Or to combat the illegal, out-of-state guns that account for most of the gun crimes in New York? Even some supporters admit that it will do little. According to one leading pro-gun control group, New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, 60 percent of the guns used in crime in New York State come from out of state. That figure soars to 85 percent of crime guns in New York City. And this issue – illegal guns coming in from other states -- can only be addressed federally;
-- So while New York’s new gun control law surely captured its share of short-term headlines, maybe the most valuable and lasting impact of the act (and the passionate nationwide debate on gun control that’s been ignited in recent months) will be a laser-like focus on the importance of the Second Amendment, on the root causes of the horrific mass shootings that rightly spark outrage and sadness, and on the most effective, meaningful ways to address the violent mentally ill and violent crime generally. These issues continue to pose many of the toughest questions we face in the arenas of civil liberties, constitutional rights and culture. But it’s a national discussion that needs to be undertaken. In other words, recent actions in Albany and Washington won’t mark the last word, merely the latest;
-- And while we’re on the topic of law and order, here at home we’re wise to remember a 2005 report from the State Commission of Investigation that warned how methamphetamine would become a dire public health and safety threat unless New York adopted new and tougher laws to combat the drug’s proliferation. That report, Methamphetamine Use & Manufacture, highlighted the Southern Tier as a hotbed of criminal meth activity. And it sparked a strong, bipartisan legislative effort that produced New York’s first comprehensive strategy to combat the manufacture and sale of meth. The 2006 law put in place tough new criminal penalties to outlaw clandestine labs; promote greater community awareness and education; recognize the danger to children; and address the environmental hazards associated with meth labs. Fast forward seven years and we’re seeing that meth busts and other meth-related incidents of addiction, violence and tragedy in the Southern Tier over the past year or so have been nothing short of alarming. Meth, and for that matter any illegal drug or drug trafficking, can’t ever be taken lightly. So we’re smart to heed the warning signs and ensure that our laws and other deterrence efforts are keeping pace with the goal of putting meth manufacturers and sellers out of business across the region. Last year I sponsored legislation in the Senate to significantly increase the criminal penalties for possessing, selling or manufacturing the dangerous and highly addictive drug. We’ll renew that push this year.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869