The 15th Assembly District-the largest district in Nassau County-is comprised of 40 election districts and communities within the Towns of Hempstead, North Hempstead and Oyster Bay. The district includes Locust Valley, Hicksville, Brookville, Old Brookville, Upper Brookville, Matinecock, Salisbury, Westbury, Old Westbury, Oyster Bay, Mill Neck, East Norwich and Glenwood Landing as well as parts of Glen Head, Jericho, Laurel Hollow, Syosset, Bethpage, Greenvale, East Hills, Woodbury, Muttontown, Oyster Bay Cove, Roslyn Harbor, Plainview and East Meadow.
New York State Assemblywoman Donna Ferrara was first elected 12 years ago, and is running for her seventh term in the 15th Assembly District (AD) on the Republican, Conservative and Independence party lines.
Ferrara, a former resident of Westbury who currently resides in Syosset, received a bachelor's degree in English and business from the State University of New York at Albany and a doctorate from St. John's University School of Law. She began her career as a legislative aide for the late Senator Norman Levy in Albany and, upon admission to the New York State Bar, served as a legislative counsel to current Senator Kemp Hannon (6th SD).
In Albany, Ferrara is chair of the Joint Conference Committee, ranking minority member of the Assembly Insurance Committee and the Libraries and Education Technology Committee and a member of the Judiciary Committee. She is also a member of the New York State and Nassau County Bar Association and sits on the board of directors of the Adelphi New York Statewide Breast Cancer Hotline and Support Program.
"There are many complex issues - taxes, education, healthcare, tax incentives for businesses - that are important to the residents of the 15th Assembly District. But women's health has always been a priority for me," said Ferrara.
The assemblywoman said that in early 2003, her opponent, Dr. Robert Taubman, came to her district office to discuss the high rates of medical malpractice. To respond to his concerns, the assemblywoman co-sponsored a reform bill with various components, including capping pain and suffering - the non-economic part of a judgement, at $250,000 except in incidents of gross negligence by the physician. The bill, which was co-sponsored in March 2003, is still in the judiciary committee.
"This bill has become law in other states and where it has become law, the medical malpractice rates have come down," Ferrara said. "[Robert Taubman] and I are on the same page. What he is proposing and what he would like to see done is what I would like to see done."
During her first term, Ferrara successfully created statewide legislation prohibiting discrimination by insurance companies against breast cancer victims and, in August 2002, legislation she sponsored to pave the way for insurance coverage of the Computer Aided Detection (CAD) device to be used as part of routine mammograms was signed into law. A strong advocate for women's issues and senior citizens, Ferrara is a proponent of Child Health PLUS and the EPIC Pharmaceutical Program, which assists seniors with their prescriptions.
On the issue of property taxes, Ferrara believes a major Medicaid reform would help alleviate the increases. "Nassau County has the highest property taxes in the state and we need to, foremost, reform Medicaid because we have the most expensive Medicaid program in the country. Texas and California together don't even add up to New York's," she said. "Local government picks up the cost of this and in order to pay for it [Nassau County] has to increase property taxes. If we could reform Medicaid and have somewhat of a state takeover with some plan worked out, then we could help end the increase of property taxes in this regard. " She added, "I am not saying we should end Medicaid, just that there needs to be a major reform and we need to find ways to pay for it."
According to Ferrara, the legislature, in its past session, required the state to pay for Family Health PLUS. "That is a start," she said. "We need to do more. If we cap Medicaid and help the local government that will, in return, help property taxes."
In an effort for Albany to work more efficiently, Ferrara believes conference committees should be re-instituted. "I served on the public conference committees for two years," she said. "If they are resurrected we could work directly with the senators and get more accomplished."
When it comes to education, Ferrara said she has worked to ensure that the 15th AD gets the state aid it needs and deserves. "I am very proud of the state aid that the Long Island delegation has been able to bring home to the constituents," she said. "I think that we are very proud with our education system, but believe there needs to be some accountability in terms of how the money is spent in each individual school district." Ferrara added that she would be in support of random audits by the state comptroller.
Ferrara, who is married with two children, recently attended a weeklong fellowship at Harvard University. She was the only woman in the United States to receive a scholarship for the fellowship, which centered around public policy for women.
Dr. Robert Taubman
Old Westbury resident Dr. Robert Taubman is the Democratic candidate for the 15th Assembly District. An Ob-Gyn, Taubman has centered his campaign on reforming women's healthcare and is particularly concerned about the path women's healthcare is taking, especially when it comes to mammography's.
"The decline in service is detrimental, the present wait for a mammography is 2 to 8 months past scheduled times," Taubman said. "This long wait is unacceptable considering that modern medicine's greatest weapon against cancer is time. The quicker cancer is detected in a person, the greater that person's chance of survival is, so how can we say that there is nothing wrong when there can be up to an eight month delay in the detection process?"
If elected, Taubman said he'll work as a healthcare insider in Albany to protect further erosion of the healthcare system. "We must enforce a system of accountability of our HMOs, medical liability system and pharmaceutical industry. We must assure that the continuing erosion of the best healthcare system in the world is stopped," he said, adding, "I will fight to put every healthcare dollar back into medicine so that every New Yorker has access to our treasured system."
According to Taubman, high costs facing doctors due to rising malpractice insurance rates are hurting health care and causing many practices to fold. "There has been a tremendous decrease in the number of obstetricians on Long Island due to malpractice insurance," said Taubman. "It is quickly approaching a time where it's going to be impossible for obstetricians to continue practicing." If this happens, Taubman asks, "Who will deliver your baby?"
To rectify the problems associated with the high cost of malpractice insurance, Taubman suggests developing a medical court. "We have divorce court and bankruptcy court. A medical court would help," he said. "Each case could be brought up at its own merit before a panel comprised of a judge, doctor and attorney. The beauty of the system would be that it would bring more cases forward, hence identifying bad doctors. If you had a medical court, you could bring every case in front of it and it would be much more disciplined a system than we have now."
Taubman is also supportive of pending legislation to place a cap on pain and suffering - the non-economic part of a judgement, at $250,000 - except in incidents of gross negligence by the physician. "If something is not done, the consequence would be that doctors would go bare as they do in Florida, meaning they carry no malpractice insurance and unable to be sued because they have no malpractice insurance," he said. "There is high mounting pressure to allow doctors to do that."
Another concern, said Taubman, is Long Island's rising property taxes. "It is becoming impossible for our children to live here," he said. "We need to reform Albany to lower our property taxes." If action is not taken to rein in the huge increase in Medicaid costs and other non-funded state mandatory programs, Taubman said the impact on local taxes would be staggering.
"I would support an immediate cap on the share that local governments would have to pay for these programs with the state paying any future increases," said Taubman. "This would give our representatives in Albany a much stronger motive to curtail spending, thereby saving local and state taxes.
Another issue Taubman said he would address if elected is education. According to the candidate, recent scandals involving school administrators, such as that in the Roslyn School District, are plaguing some Long Island school districts. "I would support an immediate resumption of audits of all school districts by the state comptroller's office," he said. "We have a moral obligation to assure that every dollar of our school budgets is directed to our children's education and not some administrative cheat." He added, "In addition, I will work to reform the school aid formula to bring more money into our school districts. The key to improving our schools is a combination of responsible management and less dependence on our already too high school taxes."
Taubman earned his bachelor's degree in biology from Ithaca College, attended SUNY Downstate Medical School and completed his residency at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, where is he currently an associate attending ob-gyn.
In addition to being part of a private practice in Great Neck for over 20 years, Taubman is a clinical instructor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In 1996, he was named a top doctor in the metro area. He is also the president of the Ob-Gyn Association of New York, Inc and a member of the Village of Old Westbury's Board of Appeals.