New York’s Proposed Smoking Ban in Public Parks: How Far Is Too Far?

Danielle A. Erickson, Staff Writer

            On September 14, 2009, New York City’s Health Commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, announced that he would strive to ban smoking in city parks and beaches.[1]  A few years ago, on March 26, 2003, New York legislators approved and Governor Pataki signed a state-wide smoking ban that took effect July 24, 2003.[2]  This ban forced cigarette smokers outside- banning smoking in offices, train stations, bars and other public places.[3]  The new ban would restrict the areas in which smokers are free to “light up” even further by designating, “1,700 parks and outdoor recreational areas, along with the city’s seven beaches, extending up to 14 miles of shoreline” as smoke free.[4]  When questioned about this new ban, Mr. Farley stated that, “[w]e don’t think it’s too far to say that people shouldn’t be smoking in parks.”[5]  He then went on to say that, “parents shouldn’t have to breathe smoke while standing on the sidelines of their children’s soccer games, and children shouldn’t even have to look at adults smoking.”[6] 

            The proposed ban seeks to expand “smoke free” areas in order to further protect the public from the dangers of second-hand smoke and as a tool to reduce the number of smokers overall.[7]  Supporters look to the success of the 2003 ban, which gained widespread acceptance and is credited for helping to reduce the city’s smoking rate from 21.5 percent in 2002 to 16.9 percent in 2007.[8]  Dr. David Kessler, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, agrees that second hand smoke is a very real issue and states that “[w]hile undoubtedly some will think this is going too far, 10 years from now, we’ll look back and ask how could it have been otherwise. It’s not only us, but our kids in these parks and beaches.”[9]  Dr. Kessler referred to health department statistics, which reveal that 7,500 city residents die each year as a result of smoking related diseases and that 6.9 percent of adult New Yorker’s smoke.[10]

            But even with the goal of the proposed ban being to protect the health of city residents, is that enough to pass what could easily be seen as legislation that would effectively restrict the rights and freedoms of a class of people referred to as “smokers”?  While the ban championed support from health advocates, and is being promoted by City council Speaker Christine Quinn, it still may require the approval of the City Council.[11]  New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is known for his anti-smoking campaigns, was caught off guard by the proposal.[12]  Bloomberg, who seemed to want to soften the impact of the proposal, qualified it by saying that he wanted “to see if smoking in parks has a negative impact on people’s health.”[13]  Additionally, he stated that, “[i]t may not be logistically possible to enforce a ban across thousands of acres, but there may be areas within parks where restricting smoking can protect health.”[14] 

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Will Disability Advocates Force a “Fundamental Alteration” to States’ Treatment of the Mentally Ill?

Edward J. Rao, Topics Chair, Staff Writer           

         On September 8, a federal judge for the Eastern District of New York ruled that New York State violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) as well as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act by failing to provide housing and services “in the most integrated setting” to nearly 4,300 individuals currently living in “Adult Homes” under the supervision of the state.[1]  The 210-page opinion, authored by United States District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis, stated that the “integration mandate” of both the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act was violated when individuals who could otherwise be thriving in supported housing, offering them most all of the amenities of their nondisabled peers, languished in Adult Homes, which the Court likened to “de facto institutions and satellite mental institutions.”[2]

            As reported by the New York Times on September 8, the ruling appears “likely to affect similar cases in other states.”[3]  The suit was filed by Disability Advocates, Inc., an organization aimed at protecting the rights of people with disabilities.[4]  The named defendants included New York Governor David Paterson, as well as the commissioners of the New York Department of Heath and the New York Department of Mental Health, respectively.  At the core of plaintiff’s argument was the notion that by not enabling residents to “interact[] to the fullest extent possible with nondisabled persons[,]” New York’s services ran afoul of the United States Supreme Court’s mandate in the landmark disability rights case Olmstead v. L.C. By Zimring.[5]  The Court agreed, holding that:

          Supported housing is an integrated, community-based setting that enables interaction with nondisabled persons to the fullest extent possible. People who live in supported housing have the autonomy to live and participate in their communities in essentially the same ways as people without disabilities. Simply put, residents of supported housing are not defined by the setting in which they receive services. Residents of supported housing have far greater opportunities to interact with nondisabled persons and be integrated into the larger community.[6]

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Reducing New York’s Budget Deficit and Reforming Local Government: The Need for Consolidation

Shane J. Egan, Staff Writer

New York State is facing growing budget deficits that are a threat to the long-term viability of the state.[1]  New York State leaders will have to make some very difficult choices in the months and years ahead about how to close these record budget deficits.  The financial panic of last fall combined with the historic economic downturn that followed will mean that the state will have to spend less.  According to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, New York depends on Wall Street for up to twenty percent of its revenue.[2]  While it is likely that we have made it through the worst of this recession, the New York State government will have to adapt to this new economic reality. 

New York has very few good options to close the budget gap.  The state could, of course, raise taxes, but in this author’s opinion, this is not the right course of action because raising taxes on an already overtaxed state[3] will only stifle economic growth and innovation.  Borrowing money is another option that is simply not feasible.  The Governor has stated that he, “fears rating agencies would downgrade the state’s credit standing if New York used loans to address the financial crisis.”[4]  Finally, the aid New York State receives from the American Investment and Recovery Act is only a short-term solution to the state’s budget deficit, which does nothing to solve the underlying problem — too much spending.

One area where spending can be cut is in the form of state aid to local government entities.[5]  Reducing the number of local government entities will allow the state to reduce its expenditure on aid to local government entities and at the same time help avoid painful cuts in important areas like education and healthcare.  New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has put forward a plan that overhauls the current process of municipal consolidation.[6]  The plan streamlines the process of consolidation by allowing municipalities to consolidate in a more efficient manner. 

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Is Hush Money Really a Campaign Expense? The John Edwards Example.

Sara Mase, Staff Writer

Political scandal has long been the fodder for juicy media stories.  In just the last several decades there have been numerous examples of poorly behaving public officials – but the most recent is John Edwards.  After losing the vice-presidency in 2004, losing the presidential race in 2008, and finding out that his wife has cancer you wouldn’t think that life could get much worse for him.[1]  Enter, Rielle Hunter, a videographer during his 2008 presidential bid.[2]  In July 2008, Edwards admitted to having an extramarital affair with her, that ended in 2006, but that appears to only be the tip of the iceberg.[3]  Earlier this year, on May 3, 2009, Edwards admitted “that federal investigators [were] looking into the handling of” his campaign finances during his 2008 run for the presidential nomination.[4]

 Specifically, investigators are looking into money and gifts, including a BMW, that were paid to Ms. Hunter during the campaign.[5]  These included:

 Benefits Ms. Hunter received from the two Edwards supporters, Fred Baron, a wealthy trial lawyer from Dallas who has since died, and Rachel Mellon, known as Bunny, a 99-year-old heiress to the Mellon fortune.  Before his death, Mr. Baron said in a statement that he paid Ms. Hunter and helped move her and [an aide] to California and other places on his own initiative, without informing Mr. Edwards.  Mr. Edwards has asserted that he knew nothing of the benefits provided to Ms. Hunter by Mr. Baron or Mrs. Mellon.[6]

 In addition, investigators are also “examining some $114,000 paid by the Edwards campaign to Ms. Hunter for a series of short campaign videos she produced.  About $14,000 of that money was paid to her well after the videos were produced, some through transfers from accounts and listed as for furniture purchases.”[7]  Despite the investigation, “Edwards has maintained that there was no impropriety in campaign payments for Hunter’s work.”[8]

Continue reading “Is Hush Money Really a Campaign Expense? The John Edwards Example.”