2001-06-27 / Political Page

Energy Bill Could Make Gianaris A Hero

By John Toscano

Assemblymember Michael Gianaris still needs Governor George Pataki’s signature on his Clean Air Energy Initiative before he can claim a major victory in the anti-pollution wars.

But that could be coming any day now as Pataki has positioned himself recently as favoring mandated federal emissions standards for older power plants. If he favors a federal ban on the four worst pollutants, why would he say no to a state ban, even if it didn’t go as far as the desired federal restriction?

Besides, why would the Republican-controlled state Senate tally just two votes short of unanimous on the Gianaris measure if there wasn’t approval expected from the state’s top Republican in the executive office in Albany?

If the governor signs the Gianaris clean Air Energy Initiative into law, it will be a huge victory for the freshman lawmaker from Astoria.

Gianaris ran last year on a platform promising some major relief to this area from excessive pollution from power plants. He had said repeatedly that if elected, he would have an advantage over his opponents because he had worked with the Democratic majority in the Assembly writing bills. So this not only gave him entree into the upper echelons in the Assembly Speaker’s office, but also gave him insight into how to prepare a prospective law and how to guide it through the legislature to win approval.

That Gianaris was able to do this and Democrats and Republicans are looking daggers at each other because of a statement over a budget almost two months overdue is another mystery.

But the amiable, soft-spoken Astoria lawmaker can’t pop the cork on the champagne until the governor puts "George Pataki" on the landmark legislation. Let’s just sit and wait.

STATE TOUGHENS DWI: Following Congress’ lead, the state Senate has voted to lower the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) level for driving while intoxicated (DWI) from .10 to .08 percent. The bill also would strengthen criminal penalties for repeat drunk driving offenders, said Senator Frank Padavan (R-C, Bellerose), who sponsored the bill.

Padavan had first introduced the lower DWI standard in 1981. He reintroduced it again now because under a new federal law, states will lose millions of dollars in highway funds if they don’t enact laws meeting the .08 limit. Among the federal law’s chief sponsor was Congressmember Nita Lowey (D-Queens/Westchester).

Padavan said the lowered BAC would reduce the number of highway deaths and injuries caused by DWI. But, he added, "Lowering BAC is not enough. We also need to focus on mandatory treatment, jail time and other penalties for repeat offenders."

DEMS’ GOLF OUTING: The major Queens Democratic Party social/political affair of the summer, the Annual Golf and Tennis Outing, is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 6, at the Inwood Country Club in Inwood, Long Island.

The full-day event kicks off at 10:30 a.m. with a breakfast/brunch buffet, followed by lunch at 12:30 p.m. and dinner and awards at 5:30 p.m.

The golf outing is being chaired by Congressmember Joseph Crowley and Assemblymember Brian McLaughlin; the tennis activity by lobbyist Sid Davidoff and Sandi Povman, wife of City Councilmember Morton Povman; and dinner by Martha Taylor and John McRae.

Dem party chairman Tom Manton promises a great time for the sports-minded and all other guests. Tickets are pegged at $500 per person.

SCHOOL AID ACTION: Local democratic lawmakers were busy last week on the pending court action regarding the state’s school and funding formula.

Gianaris called on Pataki to drop his appeal of Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrassse’s decision requiring a higher level of state funding for New York City schools each year. The decision held that the state funding formula for public education is illegal because it fails to provide a sound basic education for New York City children.

"It’s time for the governor and the legislature to start negotiations toward a fair and adequate formula that would fulfill our children’s constitutional right to a sound basic education," Gianaris declared.

Meanwhile, state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing) cochaired a public forum to get testimony on the school aid formula from the educational community. Stavisky, cochair of the Senate Democratic Task Force on School Aid Equity, announced that the next hearing will be held on July 12 at 10 a.m. in Room 1923 at 250 Broadway in Manhattan.

State Senator Daniel Hevesi (D-Central Queens) is also a member of the task force, which was created in response to the DeGrasse decision.

MALONEY ON CYPRUS: Legislation which expresses the United States’ support for admitting Cyprus to the European Union (EU) has been introduced by Congressmember Carolyn Maloney (D-Queens/Manhattan).

Maloney explained that her resolution follows the Helsinki Conclusions of 1999, which state that although it would be preferable to have a solution to the Cyprus political crisis before allowing the island nation to join the EU, "it is not a precondition for entry."

STATE CELL PHONE LIMITS: New York would become the first state to ban using hand-held cell phones while driving a car under legislation reportedly agreed on by Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and state Senator Joseph Bruno (R-Upstate).

The legislation would allow cell phone use with a headset or speaker phones. A driver would be exempt from any penalties only if using a phone to dial the 911 emergency hotline.

City Council Speaker Peter Vallone is pushing a bill banning cell phone use by drivers within the city.

‘PROMOTE NY’ ADS PROBED: Pataki’s multi-million-dollar campaign to promote New York state, which sometimes look like it’s promoting his campaign for re-election next year, is getting a hard look from state Comptroller Carl McCall, who may be engaging in pushing his own gubernatorial fortunes under the guise of carrying out his official duties.

Pataki’s ad campaign involves almost a dozen state agencies. In many cases, ads highlighting Pataki programs to aid minorities run downstate, and others touting the governor’s economic revival efforts run upstate, where many economically challenged areas are to be found.

A spokesman for the governor reacted to McCall’s charges by saying the governor was just doing his job in keeping the state’s citizens informed about state programs.

Pataki had previously attacked former Governor Mario Cuomo for the same purported abuses with which McCall is now charging him.

Pataki was also charged earlier with flying to campaign events at state expense.

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