Editorial Roundup: New York

Auburn Citizen. July 20, 2022.

Editorial: Stop delaying New York farm overtime decision

One of the toughest conditions for any industry is uncertainty. Business leaders and employees struggle to plan when there are too many unknowns, or even a singular big unknown.

Such a big unknown is hanging over New York’s agricultural industry, and has been for a couple of years.

A 2020 state law created a farm wage board that was going to consider whether to recommend establishing a 40-hour work week for agricultural labor, triggering overtime rate pay for hours above that mark. Current law in New York puts the OT threshold at 60 hours per week.

After delaying a decision once before because of the economic turmoil in the early months of the COVID pandemic, the state wage board made its recommendation in January. It called for a gradual phase in toward the 40-hour work week, starting with a reduction to 56 hours in 2024 and ending at 40 hours by 2032.

Although the wage board finally made its recommendation, the final decision rests with the state Department of Labor commissioner, but the true decider will be the person the commissioner reports to: Gov. Kathy Hochul. That’s just how Albany works.

But a half year since that wage board recommendation, there’s been no word from the Hochul administration on what it will do.

Now this week, the governor announced the start of what was described a multi-month farm listening tour, but it is supposed to be focused on priorities for the next federal farm bill.

We sure hope this farm tour isn’t an indication that the governor plans to kick the overtime decision down the road past the November general election. Perhaps that’s a smart political strategy because no matter what gets decided, there will be vocal disappointment from one group of advocates.

But farm operators and farm workers need an answer well before November. It’s an issue that’s been debated and studied plenty. The time for a decision is now.

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Albany Times Union. July 19, 2022.

Editorial: The judges’ secret court

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is under investigation; that much New Yorkers get to know. But they’ll find out precious little more for certain, even if the investigation leads to charges, thanks to the secretive process for disciplining judges in this state.

Only if Judge DiFiore is found guilty of an ethical breach or some other offense would the details become public. If not, the record would be essentially sealed, with no opportunity for public scrutiny.

That’s an extraordinarily secret process for any public servant accused of wrongdoing – a level of concealment that defendants who go before judges certainly don’t enjoy. It’s all the more extraordinary when one considers that Judge DiFiore is the chief judicial officer in the state, empowered to establish the standards and policies that all judges, from the local justice in the tiniest village on up, must abide by.

She is, for all intents and purposes, the head of the judicial branch of New York’s government. Imagine the governor, or the Assembly speaker, or the Senate majority leader charged with misconduct, and the public being told, “Sorry — none of your business.”

To be clear, New Yorkers aren’t entirely in the dark on this. We do know that a complaint was filed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct by Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association, because Mr. Quirk revealed that publicly. As the Times Union’s Robert Gavin reported, Mr. Quirk last year was involved in a disciplinary matter over an email he sent the chief judge objecting to her call for an investigation of allegations of racism and brutality among court officers. Mr. Quirk asked in the email how Judge DiFiore would like it if damaging stories about her personal life were “posted all over every court building in NYS.” The chief judge later wrote to his hearing officer to urge her to discipline Mr. Quirk, which he considered a violation of judicial ethics rules. The commission acknowledged in September that it would consider his complaint.

Judge DiFiore, it’s worth noting, announced her retirement just before her own investigation became public. The 66-year-old judge has seven years left on her 14-year term. Her spokesman insists the investigation and decision to retire are unrelated.

It’s also important to note that we don’t know for a fact that the complaint from Mr. Quirk is what Judge DiFiore is being investigated for, or the entirety of it. It’s also important to note that — contrary to a statement from her spokesman implying that discussing the matter would be a breach of confidentiality — she has the option at any point in this process to allow it to become public. She has made the choice not to be transparent.

It should not be a judge’s option to shield themselves from public scrutiny, certainly not once they are formally charged, if it comes to that. The Commission on Judicial Conduct has, in fact, urged the Legislature to change the law to allow disclosure of charges once they’re filed, for the hearing process to be open. Perhaps lawmakers who now find themselves in the dark with the rest of us will finally see the light.

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Dunkirk Evening Observer. July 20, 2022.

Editorial: Cannabis Charges, not letters, to stop illegal sales

Dozens of businesses have received strongly worded letters from the state Office of Cannabis Management to stop selling marijuana products illegally.

The operators of those businesses, should they persist in selling marijuana, could face significant fines and possible criminal penalties, regulators said in “cease and desist” letters to the businesses. “Unlicensed sales undermine the legal market that is being built by introducing products that are not lab-tested and potentially threaten public safety,” warns the letters sent out by the Cannabis Management Enforcement Division.

It’s comical that cease and desist letters are the state’s response. It is the state that has dragged its feet, hemmed and hawed, sat atop its thinking rock pontificating about the moral purity of the state’s social equity strategy in marijuana business and, in so doing, created this situation. There are people who want marijuana products, there are people who to sell marijuana products, and there are New York state officials sitting high atop Mt. Sinai like Moses for more than a year crafting the stone tablets that will contain the rules and regulations to govern the market.

If the state wanted to send a message about the sale of marijuana, it would enforce its existing law rather than send letters. After all, the state started sending letters more than a year ago and the number of businesses in the marijuana trade has increased, not decreased. Even with the decriminalization of marijuana in 2021, the sale of marijuana still comes with misdemeanor and felony charges for those selling 25 grams or more punishable by between one and seven years in jail and a fine between $1,000 and $15,000.

But doing so would create more people with marijuana charges on their records, which goes against the social equity provisions the state is so busy virtue-signaling in every news release and public utterance from the state Office of Cannabis Management.

What avenue does that leave the state? Strongly worded letters. What a joke.

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Jamestown Post-Journal. July 19, 2022.

Editorial: State Is Pushing Awfully Hard To Create Isolation, Quarantine Rules Far Away From Public Sight

It’s disappointing, but not surprising, that Gov. Kathy Hochul and state Attorney General Letitia James have decided to appeal a Cattaraugus County judge’s ruling against an expansion of state powers.

The decision also seems foolhardy given the clear signals against administrative overreach sent recently by the U.S. Supreme Court in West Virginia v. EPA, a case that curbed administrative rulemaking by the Environmental Protection Agency

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,‘” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion for the court.

But Roberts wrote that the Clean Air Act doesn’t give EPA the authority to do so and that Congress must speak clearly on this subject.

“A decision of such magnitude and consequence rests with Congress itself, or an agency acting pursuant to a clear delegation from that representative body,” he wrote.

In our view, Judge Ronald Ploetz’ ruling in Borrello et al v. Hochul et al is in the same vein as Roberts’ opinion in West Virginia v. EPA. If administrative agencies can’t make environmental policy without legislative approval, then why should New York state’s government be given authority — without proper due process protections — to remove people from their homes through an administrative rulemaking process with no legislative approval?

The lone difference between the two is federal due process claims were removed from the Borrello v. Hochul lawsuit, leaving for Ploetz’ consideration only Rule 2.13’s relationship with existing state law and the state constitution. Ploetz didn’t rule on state due process claims, finding that Rule 2.13 violates protections contained in existing state Public Health Law. But, it’s hard to see how expanding the state’s ability to order someone into isolation and quarantine without hearings before the fact rather than after the deed is done isn’t in violation of the state constitution’s due process protections, particularly without legislative action.

The state’s appeal in Borrello et al v. Hochul et al is nothing more than a waste of time and money, particularly when the state’s Democratic supermajority could implement such rules any time they want. But nobody, particularly in an election year, wants to sign on to such legislation.

So much for transparency, eh?

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New York Post. July 20, 2022.

Editorial: Kathy Hochul’s COVID ‘emergency’ pay-to-play hijinks

Gov. Kathy Hochul very quietly last week declared an absurd extension of the COVID public-health “emergency,” letting her keep extra powers though the pandemic’s clearly over.

Among other things, it lets her keep granting no-bid contracts to donors, like Charlie Tebele — whose family gave nearly $300,000 to her campaign and whose Digital Gadgets LLC has netted $637 million in no-bid deals for at-home COVID test kits.

She’s exempted the “emergency” purchases from oversight by the state comptroller. The Empire Center’s Bill Hammond warns this flouts laws meant “to protect the taxpayers from paying too much because the state is playing favorites with contractors.”

Wonder what donor might score the contract for her newly ordered review of the state’s COVID-19 policies?

The gov’s publicly going all-out to boost another donor, Vornado Realty head Steven Roth. He’s given nearly $70,000 to her campaign; his company’s in line for $1.2 billion in tax breaks under her Penn Station redevelopment plan — which looks to be short billions in funding.

When it comes to pay-to-play, it looks like ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo is holding Hochul’s beer.

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