Governor signs law banning smoking near playgrounds
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Senator David Carlucci on July 12 which prohibits smoking on or near public playgrounds where children under twelve are present. “New York State must take the lead when it comes to promoting health and wellness, and I can think of no more obvious choice than our public playgrounds where our families come to congregate,” Carlucci explained. Cuomo framed the approval as a public health matter, citing concerns over secondhand smoke and cigarette butts which might be ingested by young children. The law will go into effect in conjunction with other local laws and is designed to allow local regulatory bodies to impose stricter measures to supplement the new state prohibition. Smoking has declined in New York City recently due to similar bans on smoking in city parks, falling by two thirds between 2010 and 2011.

Almost 500 drivers ticketed for distracted driving over July 4th weekend
Following the Fourth of July weekend, Governor Cuomo announced the results of a statewide crackdown on distracted driving which netted 486 drivers for texting at the wheel. The initiative began over the weekend of the Fourth and is expected to continue over the course of the summer, with a stronger police presence on roads. To better detect offenders, police have used specialized, unmarked Concealed Identity Traffic Enforcement (CITE) vehicles built on high platforms to enhance officers’ visibility of car interiors. The move is the latest chapter in Cuomo’s drive to expand and strengthened laws against distracted driving. In 2011, he signed a bill making the use of handheld devices on the road a primary offense, allowing police to stop drivers solely on that basis. More recently, he signed a bill instituting license suspension period changes for drivers who are caught texting and driving with probationary and junior licenses. New York State has faced an explosion in distracted driving in recent years, with a 143% increase in cell phone-related accidents. One survey showed 43% of teenagers admitted to texting while driving.

Abandoned building in Monsey catches fire, leaves firefighter injured
A fire was reported on Saddle River Road in Monsey shortly after 3 a.m. on July 15, prompting action by local fire personnel and resulting in one injury. The fire was reported by a driver who saw the blaze while passing the location on the New York State Thruway, which runs just north of the building. After police arrived and confirmed the building was fully-engulfed in flames, fire departments from Monsey, Spring Valley and Hillcrest arrived to extinguish the blaze. One firefighter was treated at the scene for heat exhaustion and transferred to Good Samaritan Hospital. Due to the suspicious beginnings of the fire, the Rockland County Sheriff’s Arson Investigators and Ramapo Police Detectives were called to the scene to assist. An investigation into the cause is ongoing.

State of Illinois to begin enforcement of parental notification law for abortions
In a ruling from the Illinois State Supreme Court late last week, the court affirmed a parental notification law for abortion does not violate the state’s constitution and can be enforced.  The largely unenforced law requires the notification of a legal guardian 48 hours before a child under the age of 18 undergoes the procedure. Before the ruling, federal courts prohibited the law’s enforcement due to the state’s unwillingness to add bypass rules or end an expedited appeals process which often allowed exceptions based on a minor’s maturity level. The push for enforcement came largely from Paul Linton, a constitutional scholar who had been working with abortion opponents since 2004 to add a confidential bypass rule. Pro-life groups had argued this made Illinois a “fugitive” abortion state where teenagers travelled for procedures which were illegal or under tighter restrictions in their home states. The current effort comes after the ACLU attempted to fight the law on federal grounds but lost. The state court countered arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued against enforcement, explaining the law does not constitute an unreasonable invasion of minors’ privacy. Though at least one parent must be notified in most cases, the law still provides for exceptions in the case of medical emergencies.

American Family Association to push for constitutional ban on same-sex marriage
With the aid of Senator Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), the American Family Association is hoping to fight rising momentum from same-sex marriage proponents by creating a renewed push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Under the Marriage Protection Amendment, (H.J. RES. 51), marriage would be legally defined as being between a man and a woman on a federal level. Huelskamp presented the legislation in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act. “The recent rulings on DOMA and Prop 8 have emboldened gay activists to work even harder,” Huelskamp explained. “A federal Marriage Amendment will finally put an end to activist judges tampering with the will of the people.” In addition, the amendment explicitly supersedes state constitutions, removing the requirement for legal authorities to abide by state regulations. Hence, existing state laws permitting the practice would be effectively nullified.

Snowden: NSA had backdoor access to Microsoft-linked Outlook.com
A new revelation from NSA leaker Edward Snowden has revealed the NSA was given special backdoor access to Microsoft software through Outlook.com. According to leaked documents obtained by The Guardian from Snowden, the access was provided by Microsoft itself in order to bypass constraints the NSA faced when requesting special authorization to servers. NSA requested access specifically to encrypted chats on Outlook.com, which went online in December 2012 and launched commercially in February. In addition, Microsoft built NSA access into its SkyDrive cloud storage service and Skype and began to collect metadata in 2011. Upgrades added later in July 2012 tripled the volume of video records the NSA could access. Not only was the collection voluntary on the part of Microsoft, but it was also praised in the leaked documents. The NSA lauded Microsoft’s “collaborative teamwork” and added that once collected, the data is often freely shared with the CIA and FBI through another data-sharing application.

Cuomo Increases NYS Disaster Preparedness
New legislation has been signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo that will update current emergency laws in New York State, allow acceptance of gifts and donations offered to the State in times of crisis, and aid in the implementation of the NY-Text emergency alert system. Cuomo believes New York will be facing more storms like Sandy and that these dangerous natural disasters, which used to only strike “once-in-a-generation,” are going to become much more regular. He is hoping the new law will increase the State’s preparedness and response to these storms. Under the new law, sheriffs will use fax or other electronic communication devices to alert the governor when there has been a state of special emergency declared in a specific county. The new law also allows the Office of Emergency Management to accept assistance in the form of goods or services, but not monetary gifts, from a public or private source. These gifts will be used for preparation, response, and recovery from state disaster emergencies. Donors, as well as types and value of the assistance given, will be made available in a public database. The NY-Text system will be implemented under the new law by ensuring that mobile service provider intermediaries are immune from liability when acting on behalf of the State to provide emergency alert messages. This opens the door for contracts between the State and these providers, so that mass text alerts may be sent to all wireless phones in a chosen area at any point during an emergency.

Zimmerman verdict prompts angry responses, but few instances of civil unrest
In a long-awaited decision, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, spurring frustration and protests from activists but few actual incidents of property destruction or violence. In response to the verdict, protests erupted across the nation in support of Martin, but few crossed the line into physical violence. Vandals were present in Los Angeles and Oakland, California. The violence in LA ended after two nights, with protesters announcing on July 17 that they intended to keep potentially-violent protesters in check. No civil unrest was reported in Sanford. The verdict was returned by a six-woman jury on July 13, ending a year and a half-long saga. Zimmerman had been accused of reacting too aggressively toward Martin, who was unarmed at the time of the shooting and returning home from a trip to a local shop. Testimony from eyewitnesses failed to shed much light on the matter, as accounts of the moments leading up to the shooting were contradictory at best, painting both Martin and Zimmerman as aggressors. One juror, however, came forward and explained part of the rationale for the acquittal was the jury’s conclusion that Zimmerman had a genuine fear for his life and reacted accordingly. Many cited the verdict as an example of racial issues in the U.S. justice system and the inadequacies of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, permitting killing an attacker in self-defense in any setting. Zimmerman’s supporters, however, pointed out that Zimmerman self-identified as Hispanic, came from a multi-racial family and had no prejudice against blacks.

Department of Veterans Affairs to invest $2.4 million in helping homeless vets
Congresswoman Nita Lowey (NY-16), Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18) and Congressman Eliot Engel (NY-17) announced on July 15 that a new investment of $2.4 million in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been secured for local programs. The funded programs are aimed at preventing homelessness among vets in the Hudson Valley by preventing housing losses and re-housing currently homeless vets. $1.89 million of the investment is slated for the Westchester Community Opportunity Program (WestCOP), while the remaining $500,000 will go to the Hudson River Housing Program. In particular, HVHP’s veteran assistance functions primarily through its Supportive Services for Veterans’ Families Program (SSVF). SSVF is a broad assistance program which places veterans in contact with Veterans’ Association services-including medical and mental health services-and provides other housing assistance. U.S. Housing and Urban Development figures indicate 62,619 veterans are currently homeless in the United States.

Foreclosure rates in Lower Hudson Valley jump up, in spite of national downward trend
In spite of a nationwide fall in foreclosure figures, the Lower Hudson Valley has seen a drastic increase in judgments dealing with distressed homes, with regional rates doubling over the first half of the 2013 year. In terms of numbers, Rockland seemed to fare better than other counties in the region. According to records from the Rockland County Clerk’s Office, 24 judgments were tallied in the second quarter and 18 in the first quarter. Over the course of 2012, there were 82 judgments in total, which was double the figure of 41 judgments in 2011. In Westchester, there were 151 foreclosure judgments in the first half of 2013, up from 93 in the first half of 2012. Putnam County saw 35 final judgments in the first half of the year, compared to 18 in the first half of 2012. Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac, attributes the dismal figures to New York’s longer foreclosure process, which takes time to handle distressed properties.

Nonprofit Executive arrested for corruption
Following a joint investigation of the State Attorney General and the State Comptroller, Van R. Holmes, the president of the Young Leaders Institute, was arrested for allegedly pocketing thousands of dollars in public money intended for public services in New York City. Holmes stands accused of obtaining member item grants sponsored by former New York State Senator Shirley Huntley, who had previously admitted to embezzling $87,700 from the Parents Information Network, a taxpayer-funded charity she controlled. From 2007 to 2010, Holmes allegedly created false records, which he submitted to the state to receive fraudulent reimbursements totaling $77,000. Many of the stolen funds were claimed to have been for programs and purchases which were misrepresented or never occurred. In addition, Holmes stands accused of receiving discretionary awards from members of New York’s City Council in 2011 and 2012, creating false business records to steal $11,000 of the total $30,000 in awards. Holmes faces charges of Grand Larceny in the Second Degree and Third Degree, Forgery in the Second Degree, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree. If convicted of the top count, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Google Play app allows users to locate gun-owners
A new app offered through Google Play has drawn ire for what appeared to be an effort to plot the locations of guns and gun-owners, setting off a slew of angry responses from gun rights proponents. According to the developer, the Geo Gun Marker would allow users to both look up and mark sites on the App’s map which are qualified as being “dangerous.” Locations include not only homes and businesses of suspected unsafe gun-owners but both public properties and situations where users might be placed at risk. The rationale for the app appears to be not only public safety, but also a cultural experiment, with the creator characterizing it as “…a speculative design experiment ‘in the wild’ that is to suss out what the parameters of a successful gun safety app might be,” and an effort to boost awareness of dangerous gun-users and regulations. The NRA-ILA strongly criticized the app, explaining “The probability for abuse and the certainty of inaccurate ‘reporting’ cannot be overstated. What’s to keep people from marking any location for any reason at all?” In addition, the app itself was rendered largely ineffective when pro-gun hackers spammed the map with false markers. The app’s reviews have also been strongly critical. As of the writing of this piece 2,851 out of 2,916 reviews on Google Play received only one star out of five.

Eight homes to be built in Orangeburg for veterans
Homes for Heroes will be constructing eight new apartments for wounded and disabled veterans and their families, with the hope that more will be built at the same site in the future. The apartments, which are currently in their first phase of construction, will be located at the former site of Camp Shanks in Tappan in a joint venture between Joseph’s Home, Inc. and Rockland Housing Action Coalition, Inc. Though only eight apartments have been planned so far, Legislator John Murphy, who serves as president of Homes for Heroes, explained that the organization’s hope is that 52 garden-style apartments will be built in total. The charity is organizing an Appeals Day event for the homes with the Palisades Center Mall management from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on August 14. The tag sale will be held at the same time on September 7 at the future site of the homes.

New York Oxycodone kingpin sentenced to five years
John Bland, 49, the man behind an Oxycodone trafficking ring running through New York City, Duchess and Orange Counties, was sentenced to five years in state prison on July 16. Bland pled guilty to running a massive operation in which he provided associates with forged prescriptions for oxycodone, a powerful prescription opiate. Bland also admitted to selling the Oxycodone in bulk to other drug dealers, paying hundreds to each of his men for filled prescriptions and possession of 15,760 illegally-purchased pills worth $470,100 between February 11, 2001 and January 4, 2012. An investigation by New York State Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit and the NYC Human Resources Administration, Investigation, Revenue & Enforcement Administration uncovered Bland and six other associates. Attorney General Eric T. Schneidermann added that though stopping Bland was a victory, a new “I-STOP” electronic verification system has been put in place which will make it far easier for law enforcement to identify such operations in the future.

Garbage Truck Dumps Burning Recyclables on Hillcrest Road
On Wednesday July 17, 2013 at about 10:01 a.m., the Ramapo Police responded to a garbage truck fire on Union Road, just south of Viola Road. Motorists had called the Ramapo police reporting that a garbage truck was traveling south on Route 45 and the contents of the truck were on fire, however there was no exact location given on the initial calls. About 20 minutes later, the truck had stopped on Union Road, after numerous passing motorists flagged him down and told him his truck was on fire. The driver, identified as Clodoaldo Guimaraes of Park Ridge, New Jersey, stated that he immediately dumped the contents of the truck (Cardboard and recyclables), onto the roadway to prevent further damage to the vehicle. The Ramapo Highway Dept. responded to the scene with a front loader, to help break up the contents for the fire department. The fire was extinguished by the Hillcrest Fire Department. Union Road was temporarily shut down between Viola Road and Gilda Court, until the debris was cleared from the roadway. The garbage truck was owned by Interstate Waste Management, who sent a container to the scene to clean up the roadway. There were no injuries as a result of this incident.

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