"It was the most productive senate in 10 years," said State Senator Mike Balboni at a recent roundtable get together with Anton Community Newspaper editors. The senator, who is running for re-election in the seventh senate district, touted legislation passed this year in the senate in Albany in the areas of crime, consumer issues, the environment, education and health.
Senator Balboni praised Gov. George Pataki for supporting certain bills that without the governor's endorsement, might not have made it through the legislative chambers. He cited two areas where Governor Pataki's support was helpful: gun control legislation, which included raising the minimum age for an individual to be able to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, and bias crime legislation that will increase penalties for those who commit crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender, creed, race or age.
The senator reviewed the legislation created to benefit education. He spoke of the $1.2 billion increase in school aid this year, while reminding the editors that back in 1991 a $500 million cut in education took place.
When asked about unfunded state mandates, the legislator said there are three ways to address this: more state money for operating aid, providing more flexibility and more funding for teacher incentives.
As far as charter schools go, he was active in Great Neck's fight last year to prevent one from opening there. He said that while they may be appropriate for certain minority communities, charter schools will not work out in most suburban communities.
The senator spoke of two new laws passed that will help in making college more affordable. One law grants a deduction on state income tax returns for the costs of college tuition up to $10,000 per year. Also, eligibility for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) increased from households with incomes of $50,000 per year and under, to households with incomes of $80,000 and under. Also, the maximum TAP grant was increased to $5,000. All this , the senator noted, "is going to open an enormous opportunity, not only for students, but also for people who want to go back to school."
And, of course, the senator noted that the state is continuing to fund the STAR program, which has benefited so many senior citizens.
Turning to the environment, in response to a question about the condition of the Long Island Sound, the senator replied "It's getting cleaner!" In addition to dredging, he hopes that the sources of non-point pollution can be eliminated. He also noted the problem with run-off from the hills of Great Neck and Port Washington. "We're shoring up the shoreline, " he said, adding that silt is a problem, as well as saltwater intrusion into drinking wells.
Also of note is the fact that the senator obtained $10,000 from the state for the dredging of the Mill Pond.
On a more regional note, the senator informed the group that he voted for the ban on MTBE gasoline additive which tests have confirmed contaminated some of the Long Island water supply.
He also praised the Pesticide Notification Bill, which requires 48-hour prior notification by commercial pesticide applicators to neighbors, as one of the most far reaching bills in the nation. Additionally, schools and day care centers will be required to notify parents before pesticides are sprayed on grounds.
On the home front, the senator pointed proudly to legislation that restricts children's access to violent video games and also sets up a rating system for video arcades and CD-ROM games.
In this area, he also noted that a bill that allows parents to abandon babies up to 5 days old without fear of prosecution providing they notify authorities about the location of the child.
What has given the senator the greatest satisfaction in terms of legislation has been working on the anti-stalking issue and the "drive for a cure" special plates. He's especially proud of his work with the SASS Foundation cancer symposiums.
Locally, Senator Balboni obtained funding for some of Port's agencies. These include Port Counseling Center---$15,000 for social work intervention; Port Washington Children's Center---$15,000; Port Washington Senior Citizens, Inc....$2,500 for improvements to its parking lot; Port Washington Youth Activities League, Inc....$25,000 for renovation of Lions Field; and the Polish American Museum---$5,000 for cultural programs.
When asked how his family is, the senator announced that he and his wife Stephanie are about to become parents for the fourth time.