- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

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

The Daily Gazette of Schenectady on the New York state Senate passing bill to allow dogs at restaurants with outside seating.

May 23

“Love me, love my dog.”

That seems to be the rationale behind a bill that would give restaurateurs the option of allowing patrons who dine al fresco to be accompanied at their patio tables by dogs.

The bill, which passed the state Senate with nary a dissent, must be a testament to the power of animal rights activists, because it seems like a mutt to us, at least the kind of bill that would raise an eyebrow or two.

Maybe it wouldn’t be a problem for some dogs, or some non-dog-owning restaurant patrons. But not every dog is well enough behaved to sit quietly by, or under, a table while its owner enjoys a leisurely meal. Or to refrain from shaking (and sending its fur, which is an allergen to some people, flying) or relieving itself when nature calls.

And even if a dog can be counted on to sit still most of the time, what happens if there’s an exception - such as when a crowd of kids shows up, or another dog, who isn’t quite so well behaved, gets rambunctious or aggressive? (Restaurateurs who say they’ll only let in dogs they “know” are well-behaved are kidding themselves. How will they say yes to one but no to another?)

The problem, as any owner knows (but may not be willing to admit) is that dogs will be dogs. Their at times quirky behavior may be endearing to some people, but not to all. And yes, those people can always sit inside such a restaurant (the law would only allow the dogs to be outside, and they couldn’t even pass through an enclosed area to reach an outside patio); or they’d be free to choose another restaurant entirely. But why should they have to? Dining al fresco can be so much nicer.

Sanitation is a big part of the dogs-will-be-dogs problem. They walk, roll and lie on the ground, and they’ll eat almost anything they come across, so their cleanliness has to be an issue in a place where food is served. Again, maybe not all dogs, but certainly many if not most.

And even if a restaurant maintained two outdoor seating sections, segregating dog owners from non-dog owners, some diners’ health would still be an issue.

It remains to be seen whether the Assembly will be as gung-ho to pass this as the Senate was, but if it is, some strict rules must be incorporated into the bill. For example, dogs should not be left unattended, even for a minute (a problem for a solo diner who has to use the restroom). Dogs that bark, act up or in any way disturb other diners should be immediately evicted. (Good luck to the restaurateur enforcing that one.)

Avid dog lovers will defend their pets, and complain that they have to put up with kids who sometimes behave worse than their dogs. That may even be true in some instances, but kids are humans. They eat in restaurants along with other humans, and they can be controlled. Dogs are animals that eat at home, and despite their owners’ best intentions, are capable of creating mayhem in a way that kids generally are not.

Indeed, they really have no business in restaurants, indoors or out.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1cZlGa4

The Plattsburgh Press-Republican on Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin’s remarks on upstate New York.

May 26

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin didn’t make many friends in Northern New York last Wednesday, but, then, he probably doesn’t need many friends in this area.

Shumlin was taking part in a program to encourage Canadian businesses to establish operations in Vermont, something we’ve often wondered why the Green Mountain State didn’t do more of.

“We have a real opportunity to increase jobs in Vermont from Canadian companies who need to be headquartered in the United States for one reason or another, and we should be more aggressive about it,” Shumlin was quoted by The Associated Press as saying before a meeting in Burlington with representatives of 23 Quebec businesses and the provincial and federal governments.

Though Quebec is Vermont’s largest international trading partner - given the geography, who else would be? - Shumlin acknowledged that the state has retreated from earlier efforts to attract Canadian firms.

The Vermont Legislature recently appropriated $100,000 to try to initiate and cement the state’s dialogue with Quebec, including hiring a person to take charge of the effort.

Our region, of course, has been actively working on the New York-Quebec connection for decades. People around here would be hard-pressed to remember a time when that connection wasn’t front and center in the community’s economic-development priorities.

In fact, our relationship with Montreal and Quebec goes beyond industrial operations. We covet our tourism and commercial ties with Canada with equal zeal.

Many Canadian companies provide jobs and tax revenue for us, shoppers help fill our cash registers, and Canadians eat at our restaurants and stay at our hotels. This has been the case for many, many years.

Shumlin seemed to acknowledge that Wednesday, when he appeared on camera on WPTZ-News Channel 5. Apparently referring to New York’s longtime practice of offering tax advantages to Canadian companies setting up plants in the North Country, Shumlin acknowledged that tax incentives are one thing - and important to companies - but added that the companies and their employees also have to live where they operate.

“Given a choice between Vermont and rural New York,” he said, seeming to choose his words carefully, “I think a wise person will choose Vermont.”

That’s where a number of local people would draw the line. Shumlin appeared to be demeaning Plattsburgh and environs in favor of Burlington and the rest of Vermont.

Vermont is a small state, and most of its activity flows through Burlington, its largest city. Northern New York may not enjoy that same profile in relation to its state, but its state-generated resources are far greater, and it has many other attributes.

Plattsburgh is a safer city in which to live. It and many North Country communities have high-quality cultural and recreational sports offerings. This area also claims easy access to beautiful mountains, lakes and rivers.

We all know and appreciate our strengths as a region, and Vermont’s governor’s presumption of superiority cannot diminish them.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1J1fFY5

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle on health care patients’ privacy protection.

May 26

You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know there are certain things you just should not touch with a 10-foot pole.

This should have been obvious to the physicians at Greater Rochester Neurology when a new employee - a nurse practitioner from the University of Rochester Medical Center - brought thousands of patient records with her. The doctors should have instructed her to immediately delete each and every one of the files before pointing her back out the door.

Instead, Greater Rochester Neurology opened up the records and used them for potential gain, sending letters to advise patients they could follow the nurse practitioner to her new gig.

While the private medical practice - and perhaps URMC - could face a very hefty fine from the federal government, this incident highlights the need for greater patient privacy protections in this era of “big data” and burgeoning electronic medical records.

Most of us are a little nonchalant about it; when you go to see your doctor, the HIPAA form is just one more piece of paperwork on that clipboard the receptionist hands you. No big deal, right?

But HIPAA - which is an acronym for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act - was enacted in 1996 to keep you in control of your own medical records. Despite ensuing modifications and a Privacy Rule addition, the legislation is not keeping up with the times.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services received 112,785 privacy complaints between April 2003 and April 2015. As reliance on electronic medical records has soared, so has the number of violations. In 2013 alone, corrective action was required in nearly 3,500 cases, affecting millions of patients. Clearly, many people have lost control over some of their most private and personal information.

The consequences for patients run the gamut. In one incident in Tennessee, patient information became available online and was being indexed by Google. There are cases involving discrimination in employment, and qualification for health insurance. There is rising concern over the use of data in biomedical research.

A lot of these cases are the result of ignorance or lax security measures, not malfeasance. (And sometimes the cases involve providers who are abusing the intent of the law; some providers, in order to protect their own financial interests, are using HIPAA as an excuse to make it harder for patients to access their own data.)

But ill will or not, the widespread use of electronic medical records is now making it easier than ever for HIPAA violations to occur. It is time for Congress to investigate a more modern approach to protecting patient privacy.

Meanwhile, providers need to make sure everyone in the office knows about the 10-foot pole and uses it.

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Online:

https://on.rocne.ws/1LJizPJ

The Syracuse Post-Standard on Congress and transportation funding

May 22

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of the summer driving season. As you take to the road, take note of the condition of the nation’s roads and bridges. A major engineering group gives U.S. infrastructure a grade of D+. One reason: Congress can’t seem to find a long-term solution to transportation funding in this country.

The federal government pays most of the tab for major highway projects through a federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. The money flows into the Highway Trust Fund. The trust fund teeters on the brink of insolvency because the gas tax is just about the only thing that hasn’t gone up since 1993. Also, vehicles are using less gas and Americans are driving fewer miles.

Because lawmakers can’t agree on a long-term transportation bill, every few months they have to bail out the Highway Trust Fund with billions from the general fund. This has happened more than 30 times since the last comprehensive highway bill expired in 2009.

As of this writing, the House passed another temporary patch, this one for two months, and the Senate was likely to follow. Any bets on whether we’ll be back at the precipice in July? Yeah, we wouldn’t take that bet, either.

Congress must stop kicking the infrastructure can down the road.

The simplest fix would be for lawmakers to bite the bullet and raise the gas tax or index it to inflation. But they won’t. Some lawmakers are philosophically opposed to raising taxes. Others are opposed because gas taxes are regressive - they hit poor and working-class families the hardest. President Obama is not in favor of raising the gas tax, either.

Nor has Congress come up with an alternative revenue source for funding our transportation needs. The Obama administration proposes a one-time tax on corporate overseas profits as a short-term fix. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-Barneveld, supports the concept but wants a lower tax rate to incentivize repatriation. But even that is unacceptable to some lawmakers.

The two-month extender is supposed to give House and Senate negotiators some breathing room to discuss broader tax reforms - along with transportation funding strategy. That sounds like a heavy lift. But they have to start somewhere.

C’mon, Congress. Get to it. This is the hard work you were elected to do.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/1J5hBgX

The Wall Street Journal on the U.S. rejecting China’s sea claims.

May 22

The U.S. Navy flew a P-8 Poseidon surveillance plane this week over the South China Sea’s Spratly Islands, where Beijing is building military bases atop reefs and rocks claimed by several of its neighbors. A CNN team invited along for the mission reported that China’s military repeatedly tried to order the U.S. plane away. “This is the Chinese navy,” it radioed in English. “Please go away … to avoid misunderstanding.” The U.S. crew responded each time that it was flying through international airspace.

By flying over the Spratlys, the U.S. provided its most forceful rejection to date of Beijing’s claim to sovereignty over an area that lies more than 600 miles from China’s coast. It also signaled that Washington would defend the freedom of the seas and the maritime rights of its partners.

And not a moment too soon. In recent years Beijing has expelled Philippine boats from certain fisheries, cut the cables of Vietnamese oil-exploration ships, and intercepted U.S. military vessels. Chinese dredgers have nearly doubled the total landmass of the Spratlys_creating more than 2,000 new acres, or some 1,500 football fields_in an attempt to extend Chinese military reach and its political claims.

For years diplomats got nowhere politely asking Beijing to stop. In 2012 the Obama Administration did not send naval forces to stop Chinese civilian and coast guard ships from banishing Filipinos from Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing area north of the Spratlys and inside the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone. The episode was barely noticed in the U.S. but raised alarms throughout Asia.

To its credit, the Administration has since toughened its response. After China declared an air-defense identification zone over Japan’s Senkaku Islands, a pair of B-52 bombers soon overflew the area. But U.S. officials claimed that was a previously scheduled mission unrelated to China’s gambit. This week’s overflight, by contrast, was an explicit response to China’s island-building, with the military releasing once-classified surveillance footage and bringing the media along for the ride.

In March a bipartisan group of Senate leaders demanded briefings on “specific actions the United States can take to slow down or stop China’s reclamation activities,” including possible military measures, changes in U.S.-China relations and expanded cooperation with Asian allies and partners. U.S. officials also say they are considering sending naval patrols past China’s artificial islands to reinforce that the waters around the Spratlys aren’t China’s to control.

That would be the right move. The longer the U.S. fails to contest Beijing’s South China Sea claims, the more aggressive China will become in asserting those claims - and perhaps the more willing it will be to fight for them. The time to resist Beijing’s maritime pretensions is now.

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Online:

https://on.wsj.com/1ciPH42

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