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From the Desk of Senator Craig Johnson

Volunteer Firefighters, Ambulance Workers
Now Qualify for More Affordable Health Insurance

Important legislation that will allow municipalities to extend health services and insurance to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers has been signed into law, Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) announced.
“This is good legislation that will help the brave men and women who help keep our neighborhoods safe,” Johnson said. “This bill will help give many first responders the peace of mind to continue with this dangerous and selfless work.”

The bill (S.5111), which passed the Senate in February, will allow volunteers – many of whom are without insurance or paying very expensive premiums– to receive affordable coverage through their municipality, including those local governmental entities offering their employers health insurance through the New York State Health Insurance Plan (NYSHIP.)
Currently, NYSHIP is offered in approximately 900 municipalities across the state.
Volunteer firefighters make up the largest number of firefighters in New York State. According to the Office of Fire and Prevention, in 2009 there were approximately 96,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State compared to 18,500 career firefighters.
This law takes effect immediately.

Bill to Increase Government Transparency Passes State Senate

Legislation sponsored by Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) to increase transparency and public scrutiny of state government passed the State Senate last week.
The bill (S.7369/ A.10052) would require the Secretary of State to compile and maintain its first-ever full list of state commissions, boards, councils, task forces, or similar bodies. The list, which will also include each entity’s membership and meeting times, is required to be updated yearly and be available to the public.
“The public has to be informed in order for them to be involved,” Johnson said. “My legislation improves accountability and increases government transparency in state government. Frankly, this is something New York State should have been doing a long time ago.”
The measure was introduced after a legislative review of more than 100 statutorily authorized boards, task forces, and commissions, found that only about half had information online, only a third had their public meetings listed and only 45 percent of them had readily available contact information. Forty-one states have some form of centralized compilation or list of state entities.

New Report Shows Need for Taxpayer Abuse Assessment

“Last week, the Empire Center for New York State Policy released a report that lists the top pensions paid out by the Teachers Retirement System.
“Much has been made about the large number of Long Island educators (16 of the top 20 pension earners) on this list and whether this taxpayer-funded status quo is sustainable. Those are very valid questions.
“However, what has gone virtually unmentioned was the inclusion of disgraced Roslyn Superintendent Frank Tassone Jr. He ranked 33rd on the list with a yearly pension of $174,035.
“This is a reminder of one of New York’s great shames: Even if you are caught red-handed stealing from taxpayers, you are still guaranteed your taxpayer-funded retirement.
“As you know, Tassone was convicted of a serious felony for taking part in an $11 million looting of Roslyn’s taxpayers and their children. Since pensions in this state are constitutionally protected, Tassone continued to receive his, even though he was in prison for abusing his position.
“This situation is unacceptable to me and to the vast majority of the public.
“That is why I have introduced legislation (S.6823A/A9960A) to right this wrong. My bill, which is sponsored in the Assembly by my good friend New York State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, will create a taxpayer abuse assessment to be levied against public officials who abuse the public’s trust.
“The funds collected from this assessment, which would be equal to the convicted person’s pension, will then be redirected to the very institutions that were defrauded.
“I also believe that this legislation, were it to become law, would serve as a deterrent against future crimes. Would-be fraudsters would think twice about abusing the system if they knew their financial security was on the line.”
This legislation is currently in the Senate Standing Committee on Civil Service and Pensions and I am hopeful that it will come to a vote before the full body before the end of the year. The full Empire Center report can be viewed at senatorcraigjohnson.org.