Editorial Roundup: New York

Albany Times Union. November 25, 2022.

Editorial: Editorial: The cost of abuse

The state could find itself financially liable for hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse in prisons. Maybe that will motivate it to do more to prevent it.

It’s long been understood that if you go to prison, there is a strong likelihood that you will be physically or sexually assaulted. Maybe by fellow prisoners, maybe by guards.

Some hardline law-and-order folk might call it an acceptable disincentive to commit crimes in the first place. Others might see it as an inherent and inevitable reality of any system of incarceration.

No. It is unacceptable in a modern, enlightened corrections system. Beyond the inhumanity of it, it defeats the whole goal of rehabilitation. Abuse only hardens people, and when it’s done by staff, it sends a message that it doesn’t really matter which side of the law one is supposedly on; everyone is corrupt, and violence is just how things are done.

If such concepts of morality and rehabilitation are perhaps too abstract for those who run our system of incarceration, now there’s a reason that may better drive home the message that there needs to be more attention to the problem: money.

As the Times Union’s Raga Justin reports, hundreds of formerly incarcerated women are suing the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision for alleged sexual assault by DOCCS staff during their prison terms. The women are using the Adult Survivors Act, which suspended the statute of limitations on such civil actions for one year starting on Nov. 24. Two law firms are filing on behalf of more than 750 women who served time in correctional facilities around the state, including Albion in Orleans County, Bedford Hills in Westchester County and the former Bayview in Manhattan. The women allege not only that they were assaulted, but that the state did nothing to stop it.

Should the women prevail, how much the state could be on the hook for remains to be seen. But if a $750,000 settlement reached earlier this year between the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and just one survivor of child sex abuse by a priest is any measure, the government’s liability could be well over $500 million.

And that’s just for 750 women. How many other prisoners, male or female, may find lawyers willing to take on similar cases, we don’t yet know. But there would seem to be at least a potential for substantially more. Victims of child sexual abuse, who had a similar opportunity to file civil actions under the Child Victims Act until August 2021, tended to find that attorneys were willing to take on cases only if the accused abuser worked for a deep-pocketed institution. The state of New York — with its millions of taxpayers — represents a virtually bottomless pocket.

There is nothing the state can do to change the past. The cases will run their course. But the suits should be a wake-up call to DOCCS and the Legislature that with custody of more than 31,000 convicted criminals comes a responsibility to house them as safely as reasonably possible. The societal cost of failing to do so — of turning out people more traumatized, disillusioned, cynical and angry than when they went in — is immeasurably higher than these lawsuits are likely to be.

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Auburn Citizen. November 27, 2022.

Editorial: Make bipartisan Assembly lines happen

With the 2022 state Legislature elections just a few weeks in the rear view mirror, an important meeting takes place this week that will impact the next time voters make their choices for state Assembly.

The New York State Independent Redistricting Commission gathers Thursday to take up the court-ordered work of coming up with new district lines for the chamber’s 2024 election because the boundaries in place currently have been deemed illegal.

Litigation over the Assembly lines, which were established by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul, came forward too late in the election calendar to allow for a remedy in the 2022 races. But the courts said the independent commission whose job it was to come up with bipartisan maps must try again before the next election.

We implore the members of this commission from both sides of the aisle to live up to the name of the body on which they sit and truly act with independence. The failure of the commission to put forward maps approved by representatives of both major parties started the mess that resulted with this year’s redistricting process and elections.

It’s important to remember that New York voters approved a law that established this commission. They were sick of the political games played by incumbent legislators in previous redistricting years. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they got — a big dose of political gamesmanship.

The ultimate losers were the voters who saw a special master from Pennsylvania, overseen by a single upstate New York judge, decide where districts would be located for the U.S. House of Representatives and the state Senate, where there was still enough time to make changes for 2022, even though that meant holding a second primary for those seats in August.

The Assembly lines are a second chance to show that redistricting in New York can be done in a bipartisan and fair manner. It just takes some people on the commission willing to do the work to make it happen.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. November 26, 2022.

Editorial: EDUCATION Wrong premise with ‘customers’

It’s been obvious since 2019 that the handwriting was on the wall for New York’s Regents diploma.

The process to devise new graduation standards for the state’s high schools has been largely focused on finding a replacement for the Regents exams. Higher high school graduation rates the past two years with the Regents exams postponed hasn’t helped the case for those who want to keep the traditional batch of exit exams for the state’s high school students.

We have long argued in this space that not every child is geared for college. Some need to be directed into career and technical education programs — and there is no need for a Regents diploma for those students. However, a recent state-backed study of graduation requirements in several other states and a smattering of foreign countries did show the Regents exam has value in showing a student is ready for college, with a correlation between rigorous coursework in high school and higher grade-point averages, college completion rates and getting higher-paying jobs after graduation. So the Regents exams would seem to have a role for students on a college track.

But something Betty Rosa, state education commissioner and a former Board of Regents member, said during the Regents’ November meeting caught our ear. After Regent Catherine Collins made another plea for the usefulness of the Regents exams, Rosa responded that the Regents needs to keep in mind what students need for their future. We were on board until we heard this — “At the end of the day our job is to keep in mind what our students need for the future, hearing the voices of our constituents but most importantly hearing the voices of our students. Our students talked about financial literacy. Our students talked about what the Regents mean for them. … Keep in mind that this is about customer service. Our customers are the students.”

That may be one of the most myopic and frankly idiotic comments we’ve heard out of someone in a job with so much authority over the educational futures of our children.

Students are not the customer, particularly when it comes to education. Students are the product. It is the state’s job to come up with an educational system that helps as many of those students become a finished product ready to contribute to society.

Society, Ms. Rosa, is the customer here. Society needs citizens who can make informed decisions when they enter a voting booth or if they decide to run for public office. Families need educated people to raise the next generation. Businesses who count on state schools to deliver a capable workforce are a customer.

The longer this inexorable slog toward new graduation standards continues, the less certain we are that this Education Department or this Board of Regents can fix anything. Regents exams may not be the all-important indicator of a student’s college readiness, but let’s not lose focus on who the “customer” is in the first place.

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New York Post. November 28, 2022.

Editorial: Two bills newly elected Gov. Hochul needs to act on ASAP— to show she’ll do right by New Yorkers

Gov. Kathy Hochul has begun to sign-or-veto hundreds of bills she left until after the election, yet two she’s yet to act on are no-brainers: vetoing a costly expansion of the state’s wrongful-death law and restoring the comptroller’s role in vetting contracts in advance.

Before Thanksgiving, Hochul vetoed dozens of bills (many of them efforts to micromanage her) and signed others, including one to freeze new permits for cryptocurrency mining at old fossil-fuel plants for two years. Given crypto’s general dubiousness right now, that’s hard to complain about, but the green reasoning behind it is beyond dubious: Will Albany now ban every industry it thinks uses too much fossil-fuel power?

By contrast, if the governor fails to veto the Grieving Families Act — a massive giveaway to ambulance-chasing lawyers — it would cost New Yorkers billions, in the form of higher prices for health care, insurance and more. It would also strain the budgets of local governments forced to make larger payouts.

The bill expands the state’s wrongful-death law, letting survivors sue not just for monetary expenses but also emotional pain, a blank check for some juries. It would also extend the time limit to sue and allow unmarried partners and others to collect damages.

Lawyers would get a big chunk of the awards, yet businesses that foot the bill will pass their new costs on to average New Yorkers via higher prices, or just stop doing business here.

Private doctors could see a 40% hike in (already huge) malpractice premiums; hospitals, 45%, per New York’s Medical Society. Auto insurance premiums could climb 6%, general liability coverage, 11%.

Another bill, to permanently restore the state comptroller’s role in reviewing contracts in advance, is a must-sign if Hochul hopes to turn the page on seemingly corrupt deals. Gov. Andrew Cuomo sidelined the Comptroller’s Office a decade ago, later only allowing a limited restoration of the review power.

With the election over, Hochul needs to start putting New Yorkers’ needs ahead of fears of alienating special interests. She can start doing that by nixing the wrongful-death expansion and making the comptroller’s pre-contract oversight permanent.

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