- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

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

The New York Times on closing New York City jail complex Rikers Island.

April 3

Mayor Bill de Blasio is suddenly on the side of closing Rikers Island, the New York City jail complex synonymous with brutality, incompetence, corruption and neglect. If there is one place that exemplifies the national disgrace of mass incarceration, of inmates languishing without trial, of the warehousing of those with mental illnesses, it’s Rikers.

A year ago, de Blasio dismissed closing the jail as unrealistic. Asked about it on a radio show, he would say only that he had been “studying this issue carefully.”

But at a news conference with the City Council speaker, Melissa Mark-Viverito, he got right with this issue. He now agrees with Mark-Viverito, many others in the City Council, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the criminal-justice reformers who for years have been pressing a blindingly obvious argument: Rikers is irredeemable. It’s too violent, isolated and wastefully expensive. It’s too afflicted by gangs, by drugs, by guns, and by brutal corrections officers protected by a corrupt union. The only sensible answer is to shut it down.

De Blasio said a shrinking jail population, thanks to the city’s record-low crime rates and criminal-justice reforms, had finally made possible his change of heart. He said closing Rikers would take 10 years (long after he leaves office), and then only if the jail population is reduced to 5,000 (about half what it is now).

But on the difficult job of finding someplace to put the inmates - and facing the fury of not-in-my-backyard New Yorkers - he had nothing to say.

“I am proud to chart a course for our city that lives up to this reality,” de Blasio said in a statement. But charting a course doesn’t exactly describe what de Blasio was doing with his mostly vague proclamations.

The credit for a real Rikers road map must go instead to the state’s former chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, who has spent the last year heading a commission to examine the city’s criminal justice system. His report on Rikers, which was to be released on Sunday, makes a forceful case for why and how to shut down Rikers. It would move the inmates to one jail in each borough, each with a capacity proportional to the borough’s share of inmates. The jails would be in downtown areas, attached to or near the county courthouse. Jails that already exist would be modernized and expanded, or new ones would be built on existing footprints.

It’s a specific, sensible, defensible plan. It saves money and spreads the burden. De Blasio could have begun making the case for it. He didn’t. He chose to be noncommittal.

“I am working from a neutral position of saying only this,” he said at one point. “We will need a few more facilities. I would argue, the fewer, the better.”

Reporters were puzzled. One said that the mayor wanted the political benefit of saying he wants to close Rikers, but not the political problems. De Blasio attacked the reporter, as he is prone to do.

It’s true that “Nimby” opposition will be a big problem once the city can no longer stash inmates out of sight at Rikers. De Blasio’s news conference hadn’t even finished before the Staten Island borough president, James Oddo, was demanding, via Twitter, a “guarantee” from the mayor that no jail would be built on his island.

But that is just the kind of problem leaders are elected to tackle. New jails or jail cells will be hated in every borough. But the city needs them if it is to finally get rid of Rikers. De Blasio and the Council will have to lead the way, choosing specifics over platitudes, and clarity over mush. “True leadership is about making hard decisions,” said Mark-Viverito, who herself weaved when asked whether she would support a jail in her district. “I will see where the conversation leads,” she said.

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Online:

https://nyti.ms/2oRQe3P

The Poughkeepsie Journal on a plan to allow up to 10 commercial shipping anchorages on the Hudson River.

April 1

If the first few months are any judge, President Donald Trump’s policies will be a dangerous assault on the environment, reversing hard-fought progress that took decades to accomplish. Those damaging actions include proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, a reduction in environmental regulations and an opening for traditional gas and oil companies to run roughshod over efforts to build on the alternative-energy market.

The time to place markers down in the name of environmental defense is now. With that in mind, U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-Cold Spring, and many others are fighting against the plan to allow as many as 10 commercial shipping anchorages on the Hudson, including places in Kingston, Milton, Newburgh and Port Ewen.

Maloney offered up such legislation last year, but it was rejected. He has revived the effort, and with good reason. Environmental groups and numerous area elected officials have lined up against the anchorages, saying it could turn the river into a “barge parking lot.”

The Coast Guard’s justification for considering this industry-backed idea is bad enough. It’s a recognition of the tremendous, and dangerous, increase of crude-oil shipments by barge on the river and by track alongside the majestic Hudson.

The Coast Guard would allow these huge vessels to drop anchor in the area, something the industry says is necessary to avoid having these ships traverse the river during bad conditions, such as foggy weather.

But other safety factors must be taken into consideration. Providing the means for a continued increase in the number of shipments on the Hudson could have dire consequences. A substantial crude-oil spill undoubtedly would create a full-blown environmental disaster. And designating anchorages close to where municipal plants draw their water - as this plan does - would be a particularly reckless decision. These barges also would have a negative impact on tourism and interfere with recreational boating

Meanwhile, state Sen. Sue Serino, R-Hyde Park, and state Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-Hudson, are sponsoring legislation that would strengthen New York’s standing to prevent the anchorages from being designated in inappropriate spots.

At minimum, the number of these proposed resting stops in the Hudson Valley should be greatly reduced. And federal authorities must provide key details of what contingency plans would be like in the event of an accident.

The fight for a far better plan must press forward.

____

Online:

https://pojonews.co/2o2VzIe

The Dunkirk Evening Observer on flaws to the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

March 31

Though the intent was good in the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, the proposal itself was full of flaws. That very thing is what killed it.

House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, with President Donald Trump’s backing, proposed a bill that would have addressed just about every single one of the thousands of pieces of Obamacare. Because it was a comprehensive bill, there was something in it for just about everyone to hate.

Why not tackle the task piecemeal?

For example, a bill ensuring health insurance companies can compete across state lines would do an enormous amount of good. In all likelihood, it would receive enough support to be enacted.

Another bill giving states more flexibility in how they administer Medicaid could serve beneficiaries, as well as state and federal taxpayers well. Less-wealthy states such could be permitted to offer pared-down benefits packages. Proposals to make beneficiaries more responsible for their own good health could be included. Again, what in that suggestion is not to like for a conservative?

Of course, there are big issues that need to be addressed. One of them is the cost of the Medicaid expansion included in Obamacare. Another is whether Americans should be penalized for not buying insurance that meets government specifications.

Why not tackle the less controversial, smaller issues where success is more likely first? Why not establish a pattern of problem-solving success and - dare we suggest it? - cooperation that could serve as a springboard for taking on the bigger obstacles?

Democrats point with glee to failure of the GOP plan. They were able to get Obamacare done, the Democrats note.

But that was a time when Democrats willing to learn what was in a bill after they passed it voted as a bloc. Now, with more awareness of their many mistakes, calls for a different approach.

____

Online:

https://bit.ly/2nPJF2g

The Canandaigua Daily Messenger on the need for good community safety nets so that no family must choose between employment and family safety.

April 2

Imagine it was you.

You and your husband are new to the area, with few friends and almost no resources. You both land a job in which you’re able to work together - family is everything, after all - and provide for your three young children.

Your children are watched in a daycare while you work, meaning they’re never alone; either with both parents at home or with a trusted caretaker while you work. Life is good - and getting better while you pursue the American Dream.

Until.

On this day, after your childcare provider is unable to watch the children, you find yourself in a horrible dilemma. If you fail to show up at work, you might be fired, and you definitely will lose 20 percent of your weekly take-home pay - money you don’t have to lose. If you leave the children at home alone, they could get hurt and have no one to help. What do you do?

This is the predicament that faced Jean Seide, 39, and Bilaine Seint-Just, 36, both of Rochester, who were arrested after deputies say they left their children alone in an employee access hallway of Eastview Mall while they worked maintenance jobs there.

The parents, both immigrants from Africa, have been charged with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child.

But regardless of the choice to be made that day, a hefty price would be paid.

And while we would never condone parents leaving their young children alone unattended, we can understand the difficulty this family faced in making any of the difficult decisions with which it was confronted.

This episode demonstrates the need for good community safety nets - so that no American family, regardless of means or stature, is faced with the same predicament of choosing employment over family safety. As well, this shows the interlocked relationship between job creation and family support.

We as a community have a responsibility in pursuing justice, but in this case how would you define justice?

Right now, a family faced with the worst of choices is torn apart, not knowing what the future holds. We should make sure that they understand the danger of the decision they made but also that they have a path in which to move forward.

As First Assistant District Attorney Jim Ritts recently noted in an unrelated case: “This is what my job is about - to make sure justice is achieved.”

What would you do?

____

Online:

https://bit.ly/2nBzmhH

The Glens Falls Post-Star on maintaining an expanded program for foreign seasonal workers to obtain temporary work visas.

March 30

Kathleen Moore’s recent story in The Post-Star revealed that, because of a change in a visa program, local employers like The Sagamore resort in Bolton Landing are facing a crisis in summer staffing that could hurt their business.

Local seasonal businesses such as resorts and garden centers have relied for years on foreign seasonal workers who obtain temporary work visas through the H-2B program. Last year, the program had a cap of 66,000 visas nationwide. But it also allowed the rehiring of workers who had gotten visas in any of the three preceding years, without counting them toward the cap. That made 198,000 more H-2B visas available, in addition to the 66,000.

This year, the rehiring provision was left out, meaning the number of visas available is only 66,000. We don’t know if the anti-immigrant tenor of the Trump administration led to the shrinking of the program, but we do know the change is a bad one.

The H-2B program allows employers to operate at full capacity during their busiest time of year. It helps local businesses, many of them small businesses, make money when it’s possible to do so - money that helps them get through the slow times.

Much rhetoric has been aired about employing Americans and not people who are in this country illegally. The H-2B program guarantees the foreign workers who are hired are in the country legally.

The H-2B visas are for non-agricultural workers, so this doesn’t apply to farms. Most local farms are dairy operations that need year-round workers, anyway.

The program requires that employers first advertise jobs and document they were unable to find local workers to fill them.

Curtailing visa programs for foreign workers will, ironically, lead to the employment of more people in the country illegally. When employers cannot find either enough local people or foreign workers with visas, they will turn to workers whose visas are questionable or nonexistent.

Our congresswoman, Elise Stefanik, sees the wisdom of maintaining an expanded H-2B program. She is co-sponsoring legislation that reinstates the H-2B expansion - called the “returning worker exemption.” Workers who qualify for the exemption have already proven their reliability by participating in the program for at least a year.

This is not an immigration measure; it’s a work program. Its focus is on helping American businesses. We’re glad Stefanik backs its expansion and we hope, for the sake of local employers, the rest of Congress joins her.

____

Online:

https://bit.ly/2n4VzZ7


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