Editorials from around New York

October 25, 2017

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

The Gloversville Leader-Herald on the Harvey Weinstein investigation and rape culture.

Oct. 25

For years, former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein allegedly harassed women sexually, assaulting many of them. Now, his company has fired him and, on both coasts, officials are looking into whether he can be prosecuted.

You will have to pardon the many women who say Weinstein assaulted them after word of his misdeeds started circulating for holding their applause.

On Monday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office has begun a civil rights investigation into Weinstein. Schneiderman says he wants to know whether any New York employees were harassed or discriminated against at The Weinstein Co., which is headquartered in New York City.

But in New York, California and other locations where Weinstein is alleged to have assaulted women and threatened some, another investigation ought to be mounted. Its target should be law enforcement and entertainment industry officials who knew about Weinstein’s sleaziness years ago, but did little or nothing to stop him.

Some of his victims have said they were afraid to file charges against Weinstein, or even to complain about him. Investigators should learn just why the women had that fear.


Online: http://bit.ly/2y77dU7

The (Syracuse) Post-Standard on voting in favor of a constitutional convention.

Oct. 22

Every 20 years, New York voters are asked this question: “Shall there be a convention to revise the constitution and amend the same?”

This is one of those years. We think New York voters should answer “yes.”

A constitutional convention would give voters a path to making state government work better for them - a path their elected state legislators simply refuse to walk.

Why is Albany awash in nearly unlimited campaign contributions, and the corruption and self-dealing all that money invites? Because state legislators won’t enact meaningful ethics and campaign finance reforms.

Why do incumbents get re-elected almost automatically? In addition to their fundraising advantages noted above, legislators in 2012 drew district lines that largely preserve their hold on power - a process likely to be repeated after the 2020 Census. They won’t pass laws making it easier for people to vote, change political parties or file an absentee ballot without an excuse, because to do so might raise voter turnout -- and the risk that they might lose.

Why is important legislation, including the budget, negotiated behind closed doors by the governor and legislative leaders - the three (or lately four) men in a room? Because they know voters can’t do a thing about it.

Why do our courts strain under the load of too many cases and not enough judges, depriving defendants of swift justice? State lawmakers won’t take on the task of reforming our complicated and antiquated judicial system.

Why must local governments and municipalities swallow unfunded mandates from Albany, including the requirement to pay a hefty share of the cost of Medicaid, the state health insurance program for the poor and disabled? Because “home rule” provisions in the constitution are too weak.

A constitutional convention bypasses the intransigent state Legislature (and its sometime enabler, Gov. Andrew Cuomo). It gives citizens the power to make dramatic changes to the way government works. This unnerves the people in power.

Opponents of a constitutional convention - a coalition of strange bedfellows from the left and right -- argue that well-funded lobbyists and interest groups would take over the delegate election process and the convention itself. They raise fears that protections for labor rights, state pensions, the Adirondack Park’s “Forever Wild” Forest Preserve and our obligations to educate our children and care for the needy could be curtailed, or even overturned.

We feel these fears are overblown. New Yorkers would have to vote on any amendments that come out of a constitutional convention. In 1967, the last time New York held a constitutional convention, voters turned down an all-or-nothing package of amendments mainly over one amendment having to do with public support for religious education. A new convention would be foolish to attempt the same strategy.

It’s true that a convention would come at a significant cost - estimates range as high as $160 million - but keeping things the way they are also has its costs. Streamlining the courts alone could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

Albany is broken. A constitutional convention is an opportunity for New York’s citizens to fix it.

A “no” vote on Ballot Proposition No. 1, or a decision to leave that box blank, is a vote for the status quo.

On Nov. 7, vote “yes” to make your government work better for you. ...


Online: http://bit.ly/2zPfsWM

The (Auburn) Citizen on issues concerning the Owasco Lake watershed.

Oct. 25

When it comes to protecting the Owasco Lake watershed, there are several overlapping entities — scientists, municipal governments and grass-roots groups of citizens — working on solutions. We’re glad to see so many people taking an interest, but since the process for affecting change is often going to involve legislative approval, we believe that elected officials are the ones who ultimately need to take responsibility.

During a visit to Auburn this week, state Agriculture and Markets Commissioner Richard Ball said that instead of elected officials, he would rather see soil and water conservation districts become empowered to take the lead on watershed regulations.

We agree that people with water conservation education and specialized training are the experts we should rely on in making choices about what to do. But those people are being funded with public dollars, so there needs to be oversight in place that’s directly accountable to local residents.

We think it’s a bit too cynical for Ball to suggest that “a nice group of people who just got elected” shouldn’t have a significant part to play. Taxpayers don’t get to decide who is running things at soil and water, their elected representatives do. But taxpayers get to choose who those elected representatives are.

Government should, of course, utilize the experts and listen to them, but the people in public office are ultimately responsible for getting things done. At the end of the day, somebody needs to be held accountable for progress — or lack thereof — so if those people fail, the voters have the option of finding others to take over the work.


Online: http://bit.ly/2iCtyXG

The Journal News on addressing the opioid epidemic.

Oct. 21

National outrage over the opioid epidemic, which continues to take lives day after day, now has investigators correctly focusing more attention on the source of those millions of pain pills: pharmaceutical manufacturers and the powerful national distributors that push the pills. New Yorkers and all Americans must demand answers and accountability from the faceless corporate giants that make and distribute pills that have created a generation of addicts and revived heroin as a national scourge.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and a coalition of regional counties, including Westchester and Rockland, are among the many forces that are essentially “following the money” back to Big Pharma and a federal bureaucracy that may favor corporate dollars over protecting Americans from a deadly epidemic.

Many were disgusted by last week’s “60 Minutes” report about how three national distributors of pharmaceuticals have ignored suspicious drug orders from pop-up “pain clinics” and over-prescribing doctors. The federal Drug Enforcement Agency was all over the distributors, nailing them with millions in fines, until the DEA started pulling back, according to former high-ranking DEA official and now whistleblower Joe Rannazzisi, as well as several of his former colleagues. Of course, a major problem is that dozens of former DEA officials have flipped to work for the drug industry, and now lobby their former colleagues to weaken federal enforcement powers.

The report explained how Congress quietly passed legislation last year, signed by President Obama, that made it far more difficult for the DEA to interfere with suspicious drug shipments. How could the whole thing become more outrageous? One of the chief sponsors of the legislation, Pennsylvania Congressman Tom Marino, was chosen by President Donald Trump to be the nation’s drug czar before the 60 Minutes report forced him to withdraw his name.

It’s taken years for communities, counties and states to come to terms with the pain-pill epidemic — how easily people become addicted after ordinary injuries or surgeries and how maddeningly accessible pain pills, heroin and fentanyl are. Ultimately, public awareness has soared because so many people know of someone who has been directly hurt by the epidemic. About 60,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. Today, local communities, and communities across the country, are increasingly focused on prevention through awareness and education, improving access to treatment for addicts, and the cracking down on illegal distribution.

Still, beds are lacking and so is insurance coverage. President Trump’s opioid commission met on Friday and addressed the health coverage hole left by insurers who limit addiction treatment. That finding aligns with a report issued last year by President Obama’s opioid task force. Both panels’ findings come despite the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 that requires health insurers to treat mental health and substance abuse disorders the same as any other disease, without additional limits, co-pays or deductibles.

But investigators must also go after the source. Schneiderman is among 41 attorneys general who have launched a multi-state investigation of drug manufacturers and distributors. They have served subpoenas on major manufacturers — Endo, Janssen, Teva, Allergan. And they’re seeking documents from the three national distributors — AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson — that Schneiderman says control 90 percent of opioid distribution, a $500-billion-a-year industry. “Too often, prescription opioids are the on-ramp to addiction for millions of Americans. We’re committed to getting to the bottom of a broken system that has fueled the epidemic and taken far too many lives,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in announcing the jointly filed subpoenas.

Westchester, Rockland and Dutchess counties have also joined at least six other New York counties in suing pharmaceutical companies. They accuse the companies of using deceptive marketing practices to push their products. “So how did the most advanced country on the planet develop this problem like no other part of the entire planet?” Rockland DA Thomas Zugibe said in April. “Well, you can thank in large part profit motives that got us here, like many of the drug dealing that you see on an ongoing basis.”

Zugibe also noted that “doctors drank the Kool-Aid and accepted it.” Anyone who has seen pharmaceutical reps buzzing in and out of their doctor’s offices knows how connected drug companies are to those who write out our prescriptions.

Thanks to a federal database called Open Payments, which was required by the Affordable Care Act, we know that New York doctors were paid $164 million last year by pharmaceutical and medical-device companies, ostensibly for marketing and research. While there may be good reasons for relationships between drug companies and doctors — like to promote research and education on quality drugs and devices — the medical community must acknowledge that the opioid epidemic has raised legitimate and frightening questions about the power of Big Pharma’s financial incentives.

According to The Journal News/lohud’s David Robinson, who analyzed data from Open Payments: some New York doctors may not have disclosed payments from drug companies when speaking about their products and some doctors were quoted in the media praising drugs and devices made by companies that paid them. While we can’t be sure that such actions were unethical, the opioid crisis shows that it’s time for authorities to be far more vigilant about tracking these relationships.

Meanwhile, New York has taken key steps in curbing the opioid plague. Painkiller prescriptions are limited for acute treatment, cutting down on long-term use that can lead to addiction and curbing “leftover” medications sitting around that can feed an addiction. The state’s I-STOP electronic prescribing laws, which mandate that doctors electronically order pain meds, are another way to cut down on prescription medications becoming street drugs.

According to the Medical Society of the State of New York, incidents of doctor-shopping for prescriptions has dropped by 86 percent due to I-STOP’s Prescription Monitoring Program. It mandates that physicians check a controlled substance registry before prescribing such drugs. New York also continues to expand programs that get lifesaving naloxone into the hands of anyone who may need it, no questions asked.

It is painfully obvious, though, that more needs to be done. One way to fast-track action would be for President Trump to fulfill his promise and declare the opioid crisis a national emergency, a pledge he first made two months ago and recently stated would occur next week. We await more action, and additional resources, to fight this epidemic.


Online: http://lohud.us/2z7m1ag

Newsday on preparing for disasters in New York state.

Oct. 23

Each time a massive hurricane slammed into the coastlines of our islands and Southern states in the last two months, a familiar feeling of dread and vulnerability returned to Long Islanders.

Even five years after superstorm Sandy pummeled Long Island, five years after the water receded, and boardwalks were rebuilt, many homes elevated, dunes recreated and infrastructure reconstructed, that vulnerability remains.

Certainly, state and local officials have done much to rebuild in smarter and better ways, to try to protect, however temporarily, our shorelines. Plans for how to respond to such emergencies have gotten smarter. And the infrastructure of our power grid and other electrical equipment is much stronger. But all of these don’t substitute for a region-wide effort to plan for the next big one.

Take the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery, a department set up in 2013 to combine recovery and rebuilding under a single umbrella. That effort has been specific to Sandy, officials in that office noted. Its duties are about rebuilding from destruction, not about broader thinking about our region’s resiliency or plans for the future. Even though individuals are having those conversations, that’s not enough.

We have to continue to help those whose homes were ravaged by Sandy, and we have to complete the larger reconstruction projects. A prime example is repairs needed to the East River train tunnels damaged by Sandy’s corrosive floodwaters — an effort whose launch has now been put off to 2025.

But attention must be paid. Harvey, Irma and Maria didn’t hit Long Island, but could have with a few different turns. It’s only a matter of time.

Enter the notion of a regional or statewide coastal commission. Similar to the California Coastal Commission, such an organization would work with municipalities to regulate development to determine what’s best for the shoreline, plan for future massive weather events and, fundamentally, think differently and bigger than we’ve ever thought before. The Regional Plan Association, a Manhattan-based nonprofit public policy organization, suggested earlier this month that such an agency would work across state lines, handling coastal and environmental concerns from New York to New Jersey to Connecticut. That might be a complicated endeavor, but it should be started. The first priority should be to establish a state umbrella agency to bring New York municipalities together to devise a master plan. All that would take would be an act of the State Legislature and a signature from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

From Staten Island to Montauk, from Throgs Neck to Orient, we need to assess the needs, gather and address the best ideas, and then put them in place. The storms will surge, the tides will rise. Let’s not wait until the next one to respond.


Online: https://nwsdy.li/2i5hlXs

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