- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Journal News on legislation that would prohibit New Yorkers from driving with snow on their cars.

Feb. 11

So you’ve finally had to get your winter driving on. We, too, were lulled by December and January. Surely there’s no need to remind drivers to clear their cars of snow and ice before they maneuver along slippery roads. From what we’ve seen this short winter - snow-covered cars driving down the highway spewing icy blobs along the way - a refresher is needed.

For years now, the state Legislature’s pretty much ignored, or assigned to death-by-committee, a variety of bills that would mandate fines for those who drove vehicles with roofs piled high with snow and ice.

One bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer, D-Yonkers, would make it a violation to drive a vehicle on a public thoroughfare with an “accumulation of snow, sleet or hail on the roof or cargo of the vehicle in excess of three inches.” Revenue from the fines would help fund a safety campaign to remind drivers of the dangers of ice falling from uncleaned vehicles. Fines would also cover the cost of setting up special roadside stations so truckers can keep snow and ice off their rigs.

Mayer has worked to get legislation through every year since she took office in 2012; then-Assemblyman and now-Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano carried the bill before that. Mayer said there are other paths to addressing a snow-removal mandate; for example, the governor could include money for snow-clearing stations at truck and rest stops.

So far this session, Mayer’s bill is stuck in the Assembly’s transportation committee and there’s no “same as” in the Senate. “We would be very wise, sooner rather than later, to enact some laws to deal with it before we really regret (it),” Mayer told the Editorial Board.

We had a close call last year on the Tappan Zee Bridge. A 23-year-old Valhalla man received dozens of stitches to close a gaping wound on his forehead after a chunk of ice came crashing through the windshield of his Subaru.

Even though New York has no law mandating snow and ice removal from vehicles, damage after-the-fact can earn a violation. “You are responsible for things in or on your vehicle,” New York State Police Sgt. William Collins said last February after state police (unsuccessfully) sought the trucker whose rig shed the iceblock that caused havoc on the bridge.

New Hampshire and Pennsylvania laws include fines of up to $1,000 for accumulation that causes injury or property damage.

So far, just New Jersey and Connecticut impose fines for drivers whose vehicles are covered with snow - proactive instead of reactive penalties.

The Massachusetts and Pennsylvania legislatures are weighing bills that would cite a driver with a snow- and ice-covered vehicle; the Pennsylvania legislation came after Christine Lambert was killed on Christmas Day, 2005, when a chunk of ice from a tractor-trailer crashed through her SUV’s windshield.

We may not (yet) have a law that mandates clearing your vehicle’s roof. But that’s hardly a reason not to take a few extra minutes and make sure you’re not commandeering an ice- and snow-piled vehicle on slippery roads.

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Online:

http://lohud.us/1PMuzUA

The Daily News on New York’s ethics commission conducting seminars on lobbying protocols.

Feb. 15

While wildly overreaching with a regulation that crimps speech protected by the First Amendment, New York State’s ethics commission is conducting invitation-only seminars on new lobbying protocols with lobbyists.

The Joint Commission on Public Ethics had no room for the public to see how it expects those who pressure government to behave in a state that, amazingly, counts 21 registered lobbyists for every member of the Legislature.

When a member of the Daily News Editorial Board tried to drop by the meeting simply as a interested member of the public, a receptionist barred entry as an invited lobbyist was admitted.

Later, the commission spokesman said the panel conducted the session in a room that was too small for outsiders. Give us a break. Too small for anyone but the insiders?

Gov. Cuomo has written legislation to subject JCOPE, as it is called, to the Freedom of Information and Open Meetings laws. The panel that demands public disclosure from others must live by the same rules.

Had JCOPE engaged in full public discussion, there is little chance that it would have adopted a regulation that makes newspaper editorial boards an adjunct to lobbyists.

This editorial board, and presumably others in New York, engages in regular conversations with parties interested in the passage or defeat of legislation in Albany.

Some are elected officials, such as the governor or legislators. Some are public relations people, hired by groups ranging from landlords to clergy. Some are the leaders of such organizations.

JCOPE has declared that, of all those people, only the paid PR people must report their activity to the panel. How wrong is this, plus ill-informed and unworkable? Let’s make a list.

Overall, it selectively interferes with speech based on who is speaking and to whom.

As a unit of a media organization this board relies on the free flow of information to make judgments. JCOPE is placing a burden on one significant source.

It also ignores the very real possibility that someone asks to speak with us in confidence in order, for example, to avoid blowback from opposing parties. Now, they will have to file their name with JCOPE.

Still more, the regulation states that a PR consultant must report lobbying if the consultant contacts an editorial board. Okay, does the consultant have to report if the board makes the contact?

And why is reporting limited to the consultant? Why doesn’t the head of the organization that hired the consultant to deliver the message have to report?

And what is an editorial board anyway? Not every media organization has something called an editorial board and they, too, express opinions about legislation. And, say, the consultant urges a columnist to write about legislation? Is that lobbying? Why not?

JCOPE is going haywire - and not just because of this editorial board nuttiness. Where lobbying was once defined as a closed door meeting between insiders, the panel is now moving to define huge swaths of public speech, including through social media, as lobbying. And doing it behind closed doors with the First Amendment hanging in the balance.

Online:

http://nydn.us/24abhyL

The Times Herald-Record of Middletown on the vacancy in the Supreme Court created by the death of Antonin Scalia.

Feb. 15

The president of the United States has the obligation to nominate justices whenever there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The Senate has the obligation to consider the nominee and either approve or disapprove.

That’s about as original an interpretation of the United States Constitution as you can get, the kind of analysis that appealed to Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving justice on the present court, whose death over the weekend has generated yet another political frenzy in a tumultuous year, opened yet another front in a political war.

There is nothing in the Constitution or in constitutional practice leading to the idea that no vacancy should be filled in the final year of a presidential term. As we have modified that document from its origins, we have moved if anything in the direction of speed, not delay. Where the president once was inaugurated in March to allow time for slow vote counting, elector polling and cumbersome travel, we - Congress and the people - passed an amendment moving that date to mid-January.

When it comes to naming people to that important court, we - Congress and the people - expect those responsible to do their jobs.

Any failure to fill the Scalia seat in a timely manner will leave the court with only eight justices for more than a year, including the remaining 11 months of the president’s term, a month or more for the new president to consider and vet candidates and at least two months, more likely three, for confirmation hearings and votes.

As an originalist, the leading proponent of the school of thought that the Supreme Court should respect the words and ideas of our founders, Scalia would be amused by this immediate reaction of both Republican Senate leaders and Republican presidential candidates.

President Obama should not nominate a replacement, both said in the hours after the announcement of Scalia’s death. Instead he should turn this presidential election into a referendum on the Supreme Court.

Perhaps it could become that if all candidates, Democrat and Republican, would disclose their preferred court nominee along with their running mate and Cabinet members. Then we truly could have a referendum on the court.

Scalia would chafe at that as well, the notion that we should be in effect electing members of the high court.

No, there are no precedents for what the Republican leaders are demanding. It is pure partisan politics, the same instinct driving the Republican chairs of the House and Senate budget committees to break with four decades of practice and not hear from the president’s budget director.

If President Obama is for it, whatever it may be, they are against it. He might as well not bother to nominate anyone, some senators threaten, or they will use the filibuster as they have so regularly over the past seven years.

Instead, they should do their jobs. Let the president nominate, let the Judiciary Committee consider, let the Senate vote.

Those who continue to reject this out of hand, as Republican leaders have so far, will show that they have no interest in bridging the partisan divide that has become so detrimental to our democracy.

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1PQG223

The Watertown Daily Times on presidential leadership.

Feb. 13

The adage that begins “If it seems too good to be true, .” is especially pertinent to political candidates.

When they’re on the stump, it’s easy for presidential candidates to make promises. Only one of them will win the election in any given campaign cycle, so no one will care that all the others can’t keep their word. And for the one who reaches the White House, there will be plenty of time to come up with excuses as to why his or her specific pledges never came about.

Looking at the extremes of the ideological spectrum, here are a few of the big plans that the current crop of presidential candidates have offered:

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., wants to make college tuition free and debt free. Real estate developer Donald Trump said he would build a wall between the United States and Mexico - and he’d make Mexico pay for it.

If one of these men is actually elected president, don’t be surprised if his landmark promise doesn’t come to pass. Both pledges, and all the major ideas offered by the other candidates, face uphill battles. Most presidents attained their offices on deals that, yes, were too good to be true.

Lyndon Johnson wanted to eliminate poverty. Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer. Harry Truman called for universal health care for everyone.

While campaigning for the presidency, Barack Obama made closing Guantanamo Bay one of his the cornerstones of his platform. And while Mr. Obama has been in office for seven years, Gitmo still hosts prisoners.

That’s because presidential candidates often neglect to mention that many of their promises require congressional approval. So it’s nice to hear the candidates rattle off their lists of pledges just as long as we keep in mind what stands in the way of these offers becoming reality.

With the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary out of the way, we find ourselves well into the race for the White House. The New York primary will be held in two months, which means the candidates will be canvassing the Empire State before too long.

So we’ll soon hear from the candidates up close and personal about what they’d like to achieve. And while it’s helpful to know what proposals they’d like to work on once in office, there is a more important question we need to ask them while we have their attention.

How does each of them plan to work with a divided Congress in reaching a consensus on the ideas they’ve put forth? The most important quality we should look for in any potential leader is how that person is able to lead. This will tell us more about how the candidate intends to govern than any pie-in-the-sky promise.

We hope Stephen W. Burke, a candidate from the north country, is listening!

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Online:

http://bit.ly/1PFCkKP

The New York Times on Europe’s refugee crisis.

Feb 16.

The announcement last Thursday that NATO would send ships to patrol the Aegean in an effort to break up the smuggling rings ferrying desperate refugees and migrants from Turkey to Greece is, at this point, more a symbolic show of solidarity than anything else. Even so, it reflects a heightened sense of urgency about the refugee crisis and sends a strong signal that the Western alliance stands ready to help Europe cope with it.

Gen. Philip Breedlove of the United States Air Force, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe, said last week that the mission had “literally come together in the last 20 hours” and that he had been asked to “go back and define the mission.” Part of that mission must be to help refugees at risk. Last year, 3,800 people drowned trying to cross the sea to Europe, and more than 400 have already drowned this year, many of them children. Frontex, the European Union border agency, and the Greek Coast Guard have simply not been able to cope.

Concern for refugees’ safety was not, however, the reason Germany, Greece and Turkey - the three countries most affected by the crisis - asked NATO for help. The main concern is political: public dismay at the prospect that the tide of refugees shows no sign of abating. Last week, Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, threatened to send millions of refugees on to Europe. Turkey has already taken in three million people and is under pressure to take in more.

This is an especially critical issue for Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has met with the Turkish government six times in an effort to enlist its help to stem the flow of refugees. Her popularity has plummeted as Germans have soured on an open-arms approach that saw more than a million asylum seekers arrive in Germany last year alone.

Meanwhile, with its economy still in tatters and refugees continuing to arrive at a rate of nearly 2,000 a day, Greece stands accused by the European Union of bungling the processing of the applications of more than 800,000 asylum seekers who arrived on its shores last year, then allowing people to continue overland to Germany and other destination countries. It is the responsibility of the first country of arrival to process asylum seekers’ applications, but Greece’s reception centers are woefully substandard.

Athens has promised to do better and open new “hot spots” - centers where asylum seekers can wait for a decision on their applications. But the European Union cannot expect Turkey and Greece to do their part without upholding its end of the bargain. Europe must pay Turkey the 3 billion euros ($3.34 billion) it promised to help keep refugees from leaving for Europe. And when the European Council meets this week, it must get member states to make good on last year’s pledge to take in 160,000 asylum seekers already in Greece and Italy. The rejection by Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Saturday of Germany’s proposal for a quota system to resettle refugees sends exactly the wrong message to other governments in the bloc.

So far, only 497 people have been relocated. That paltry number speaks volumes about the real crisis unleashed in Europe by the refugee influx, one that NATO ships in the Aegean cannot solve: the failure of European Union member states to forge a united, humane response to the tide of desperate humanity seeking help.

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Online:

http://nyti.ms/1op83GS

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