Editorial Roundup: New York

New York Post. September 14, 2022.

Editorial: NY Board of Regents attack educational standards again

In their latest strike at education standards, the state Board of Regents this week set the bar for passing the once-prestigious Regents Exams at just a 50% score for another year. The excuse is that these kids didn’t get the teaching they should’ve during COVID — but the impact is to make a high-school Regents diploma less meaningful.

Not coincidentally, it will reduce parental fury over the learning lost as schools closed during COVID.

We strongly suspect this is why the State Education Department, which answers to the Regents, is keeping the full results of last year’s 3rd-through-8th grade state exams under wraps: In past years, school-level results were publicly available by now, but the SED has ordered the data kept under wraps with no clear timeline for when parents can learn the truth.

As the Empire Center’s Ian Kingsbury notes, the news is likely to be grim, as national exams show massive COVID learning loss. Yet New Yorkers need “to be armed with a full picture of the current condition of education in the Empire State” before they vote this November.

Notably, results from the 2019 Regents Exams helped justify the Regents’ vote to crack down on yeshivas that don’t try to teach basic English and math skills, but still collect taxpayer cash.

The missing info might well suggest that many regular public schools that pretend to teach are nonetheless failing children every bit as badly. The record suggests the Regents and SED want to hide that grim news.

As we’ve noted before, the Regents turned against standards after Carl Heastie became the Assembly speaker and appointed a board majority. And he won the speakership after winning the approval of the state teachers union — which doesn’t want parents getting any bad news about their kids’ achievements.

The same union (and its potent NYC local) is all-in for Gov. Kathy Hochul to win on Election Day. That should be reason enough for every New York parent to vote for Lee Zeldin instead.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. September 10, 2022.

Editorial: Rushdie Case And Those Like It Should Prompt Changes To State Discovery Laws

There was little doubt that New York’s pretrial discovery rules needed to be changed back in 2019.

New York used to have some of the most restrictive discovery rules in the country, with prosecutors allowed to withhold information until scant days before a trial began. Such “blindfold laws” put defendants at an unfair disadvantage, according to the Marshall Project, by forcing them to either agree to a plea bargain or prepare for trial without knowing all the evidence against them.

But, the 20-day discovery window may have been an overcorrection. Prosecutors argued they didn’t have enough staff to meet the quicker timeline to disclose evidence to the defense. They noted, correctly, the increase in state funding to district attorneys offices in the wake of the 2019 bail reform legislation paled in comparison with state funding of indigent defense programs and other funding disbursed to Public Defense offices around the state.

This old news became new again this week, when the 20-day discovery window made headlines in the criminal case against the man accused of stabbing author Salman Rushdie. County District Attorney Jason Schmidt asked for more time to pour through the 30,000 files or pieces of evidence in the case to prepare them for the defense. It’s hard to imagine how, with one of the highest caseloads in the state already, Schmidt’s team is going to meet the deadline. A decision on Schmidt’s request from Judge David Foley is expected this week.

Meeting the 20-day discovery standard should be manageable in most instances. After all, many cases are plea bargained and in other cases there isn’t that much evidence to be turned over. But already busy police agencies and district attorneys find themselves in an impossible position in a case like this — marshal all your resources to meet the state’s discovery rules to avoid a potential mistrial at the expense of possibly neglecting public safety.

In our opinion, a simple legislative fix should be considered for cases with thousands of pieces of evidence setting a schedule of evidence collection and a trial date a prescribed amount of time from the final evidentiary disclosure. The scales of justice should be equal for both the victims of crime and those accused of a crime. Adhering to the state’s 20-day discovery rule in cases like that involving Rushdie’s alleged attacker, in our opinion, tips the scales of justice too far in one direction.

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Auburn Citizen. September 8, 2022.

Editorial: Our view: Don’t let farm overtime lead to the demise of farms in New York

As New York state moves closer to changing the pay scale for farmworkers, great care must be taken to ensure the effort doesn’t completely backfire.

The latest proposal on the table is for overtime to kick in for workers at a lower number of hours over a period of 10 years, with the overtime threshold of 60 hours today becoming 56 hours in 2024 and eventually hitting 40 hours in 2032.

Supporters say the change is long overdue and that farm laborers have been historically and unfairly taken advantage of.

Some farmers say they simply won’t be able to compete with out-of-state competition, and predict a wave of closures and relocations.

We support a wage increase, in principal, because something does need to change, and phasing it in slowly was a big part of the compromise that’s been tentatively worked out. But rather than write the new wage policy in stone, we believe that any changes need to remain flexible so that corrections may be made along the way.

Farm advocates say that even the 60-hour threshold caused some operators to cut back on the hours they offered workers, and the importance of the long-term health of the agricultural industry in Cayuga County and across the state must never be taken for granted.

As the hour limit to reach overtime gets lowered, there should also be a mechanism in which this rule gets revisited every year or two in case the most dire predictions of farms closing or moving out of state can be shown to be occurring.

The state, in partnership with the agriculture industry, should continue to work toward fairness in the pay scale at farms without getting locked into a system that could unwittingly destroy the industry as we know it. A long-term plan to lower the overtime threshold must be built with a pause button that can be used in case of emergency.

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Albany Times Union. September 15, 2022.

Editorial: A terrible deal for taxpayers

Why did the state pay so much for coronavirus tests from a major donor to Gov. Kathy Hochul?

Fact No. 1: Digital Gadgets head Charlie Tebele and his family members have donated nearly $300,000 to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s campaign.

Fact No. 2: The Hochul administration signed two purchase orders to buy $637 million worth of at-home coronavirus tests from Digital Gadgets, even though the distribution company’s per-test price was significantly higher than what was being charged by competitors.

What are we to make of those two facts? Well, if we’re to believe the Hochul administration, one has nothing to do with another. The purchase, it says, was not influenced by the campaign contributions.

“I was not aware that this was a company that had been supportive of me,” the governor, a Democrat, said during a July meeting with reporters. “I don’t keep track of that. My team, they have no idea.”

That, of course, is what politicians almost always say. But there are reasons to be skeptical of the claim — or to find it downright laughable.

As reported by Times Union investigative reporter Chris Bragg, the state paid as much or more than consumers would pay in a retail store for the tests from Digital Gadgets, despite buying 52 million of them. What happened to getting a deal when you buy in bulk?

The administration justifies the purchase by saying Digital Gadgets, a New Jersey-based wholesaler of hoverboards and other electronic devices, was able to deliver the tests when they were otherwise in short supply.

Yet as Bill Hammond of the Empire Center for Public Policy has written, the administration continued paying for significant quantities of the tests from Digital Gadgets after the omicron wave had subsided, and with it the demand for testing. Meanwhile, the state did not try to stop the orders before paying the full $637 million, even though it likely had the ability to do so, and ended up buying more tests than it needed.

As we’ve said before while arguing for campaign finance reform, we believe political contributions influence public policy decisions. If they didn’t, why would companies continue to be so generous? Are we to believe that Mr. Tebele and his family don’t have better uses for nearly $300,000?

But even if we accept Ms. Hochul’s claim, there is cause to be alarmed by the state’s deal with Digital Gadgets. The higher price of the company’s tests — at $12.25 per test, more than double what some other companies were charging — cost New York taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Cort Ruddy, a Department of Health spokesman, declined to say whether the agency had negotiated with Digital Gadgets over the price.

The apparent waste is obscene, and it perhaps could have been avoided had Ms. Hochul not issued a disaster emergency order last November suspending the normal competitive bidding process, which includes oversight from the state comptroller’s office. The order gave her administration unchecked authority over COVID-19 supply purchasing.

The very month of the order, Mr. Tebele and his wife together gave the Hochul campaign $50,000. In the months since, through May, they gave nearly $90,000 more, maxing out what they could legally donate, and an array of other Tebele family members have likewise given large amounts to Ms. Hochul.

A coincidence? It would be naive, at best, to think so.

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