By MICHAEL VIRTANEN
ALBANY (AP) - Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed toughening the penalties for child abuse, expanding food stamp benefits, and granting bail based on safety considerations among initiatives for the coming year.
Amid the Democratic governor’s major proposals this week to address homelessness, aging infrastructure and renewable energy, his budget plan contains many others ranging from new food certifications and home health care to another legislative attempt to establish an independent counsel to investigate civilian deaths at the hands of police.
Cuomo has proposed making criminal child abuse a felony, saying abusers too often don’t go to prison even after disturbing violent crimes.
The governor’s office says national data show 679,000 children were subject to substantiated maltreatment in 2013.
Each year, he says New York gets about 8,500 cases of alleged abuse by parents or caregivers and the problem is “more alarming than we know.” According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, many cases are not reported to police or social services.
Cuomo plans to propose a new felony with a penalty up to seven years in prison for endangering the welfare of a child, currently a misdemeanor.
That would apply to a serious offense by a repeat offender.
The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, administered by the state and county governments, provides food money to about three million New Yorkers, according to the governor’s office.
Eligibility is determined by income and household size.
Cuomo proposes raising the initial gross income threshold, requiring household income less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
He called for raising the threshold to 150 percent, saying it would make another 750,000 households eligible and deliver an estimated $688.5 million in additional benefits without any attendant increase in state or county costs.
Cuomo proposed requiring by law that judges consider the risk to public safety when deciding whether to release and set bail for a defendant, saying most states do this with more people released without any increase in crime.
New York is one of only four states that doesn’t do that, according to the governor’s office. The result is that people who present no safety risk remain jailed because they’re poor while others who may be dangerous are able to post bail.
New York requires judges consider defendants’ risk of flight in determining bail, not their risk to public safety,
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has since retired, last year ordered further oversight and review of bail decisions in New York City courts.
State data show that in the city, about 50,000 people are jailed because they can’t make bail every year, and more than half of them stay in jail until their trials, sometimes years later, Lippman said.
Cuomo said the marketplace is flooded with claims that foods are “natural” or produced “without pesticides” or other claims that are unverified or meaningless.
Following an advisory committee established last year to examine misbranding, Cuomo promised to establish the New York State Certified High Quality Initiative to establish a seal available to producers who voluntarily maintain certain agricultural practice plans.
New York will launch an advertising campaign to tell consumers to look for foods with the seal, according to the governor’s office.
State agricultural inspectors are expected to conduct on-site inspections with more food samples taken for testing at state laboratories.
HOME HEALTH CARE
The Cuomo administration is proposing legislation for home health aides to get authorized to perform certain advanced health care tasks for patients under the supervision of a Registered Nurse.
Aides currently can help elderly and disabled people at home with basic daily activities like, bathing, dressing, preparing meals, but prohibited legally from helping with giving medications or using medical equipment.
According to the governor’s office, as New York’s population ages, more people are relying on long-term care and don’t want to go to nursing homes. Authorized home health aides would help patients live longer at home and better support family caregivers.
Cuomo again proposed legislation to create a permanent office of independent special counsel to investigate cases where civilians die in encounters with police, something the state attorney general’s office is doing on an interim basis.
Critics have said local prosecutors cannot properly investigate or prosecute such cases because of their close relationship with police.
The issue was inflamed by the choking death of Eric Garner in Staten Island in an encounter videotaped and widely watched. The officer wasn’t indicted in a case brought by then District Attorney Daniel Donovan.
Cuomo pushed legislation last year that would have created a permanent special prosecutor, but the measure was blocked in the Senate.
His executive order signed in July, directing the state attorney general’s office to review cases in which unarmed civilians are killed by police, was effective for one year.
A special unit in attorney General Erich Schneiderman’s office is investigating the death of 36-year-old Miguel Espinal in Yonkers following a December car chase that began in the Bronx.
The unit, which has 15 prosecutors and 20 investigators, has also been investigating the death of 42-year-old Raynette Turner, who died in July in a Mount Vernon police holding cell.
Last year the governor created a $1.5 billion upstate economic development competition that awarded three winning regions $500 million each to jumpstart their economies. This year Cuomo wants to give extra funds for the regions that didn’t win.
Cuomo is proposing to give $50 million to the Mohawk Valley, North Country, Capital District and Mid-Hudson Valley regions. The money is intended to help each region begin to implement the economic development proposals they created for the contest, known as the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.
The three winning regions are the Finger Lakes, Central New York and the Southern Tier.
The budget proposal includes $100 million to help struggling communities rebuild their downtown cores.
The money will be split among 10 communities, one from each of the state’s 10 economic regions.
It will go to support transportation, housing, economic development or other community projects intended to encourage residents and businesses to settle in downtown neighborhoods.
Cuomo wants the state to increase its investment in tourism promotion to $50 million, a $5 million increase.
Half of the money would go to the state’s existing I LOVE NEW YORK marketing campaign, which works to promote New York tourism and products.
Other funds would support expansions of hotels, convention centers and other tourist facilities.
Five million dollars would be earmarked specifically for promoting the Catskills as a tourism destination.
CLEAN ENERGY ECONOMY
The state would spend $15 million to help train workers for the renewable energy sector under one provision in the governor’s budget plan.
The initiative is intended to ensure energy companies have enough trained workers to meet the growing demand for renewable sources of power.
Cuomo’s proposal calls for the State University of New York system to work with energy companies to develop training and certification programs for an estimated 10,000 workers.