When disgraced former Gov. Eliot Spitzer took office in 2007, one of his pet projects was pushing for driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants.
The proposal caused a furor across the country, with opponents dubbing it as not only a license to drive, but to kill. They pointed to the fact that the 9/11 hijackers possessed licenses and other falsified documents. Within six weeks of floating the idea, Spitzer backtracked and conceded that the proposal was ill-conceived.
Well, it now has new—and, perhaps, stronger—legs, with the introduction of a bill in the Senate last week that would grant not only driver's licenses but college financial aid, health insurance, and state jobs to certain undocumented people.
The limitations are fairly stringent: to be eligible, an immigrant must have come to the U.S. before turning 16, currently be younger than 35, lived in New York for at least two years and obtained a high school diploma or GED. Further, eligible people must not have any felony convictions and must have completed two years of college, two years of service in the National Guard or 910 hours of community service.
Advocates of the bill, known as the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act, say that it's an attempt to assimilate those immigrants who have shown a dedication to prospering.
"This is about young people who were brought here as children without documentation, and are now really working and committing themselves," Sen. Dan Squadron (D-Brooklyn), one of the bill's sponsors, told YNN reporter Liz Benjamin.
"If you want to get an education, you want to serve your state or you want to get a job and work hard, then we should give you a path to do that."
Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) has co-sponsored the measure, but was unavailable to comment. According to the 2010 Census, is 46 percent Hispanic.
According to a report released last month by the Pew Center, New York is home to somewhere between 525,000 and 725,000 undocumented immigrants. Further, about 450,000 of them are active members of the work force. Neither the report, nor the Senate bill, details how many people would be eligible for the proposed privileges.
The measure is modeled after a 2010 federal proposal, with the important distinction that the bill in Congress also offered a path to full citizenship. The proposal enjoyed the support of the majority of both houses of Congress, but was shot down last year by a Republican filibuster in the Senate.
Predictably, opponents of the proposal are coming out in droves. Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), arguably the most conservative elected official from the Hudson Valley, has dubbed the bill the "Terrorist Empowerment Act." He said that the proposal—specifically the driver's license provision—creates a gateway to terrorist acts in New York.
"Terrorists look for weaknesses in our system and holes in our security to exploit. This bill would provide that loophole for those who wish to harm us," Ball said.
"It is outrageous," he added, "to provide such a critically important form of identification to illegal aliens who have no right to be physically present in our country in the first place."
A 2002 Census report, authored in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, estimated that there were 115,000 undocumented immigrants from the Middle East residing in the U.S.
Ball has taken a hard line on illegal immigration, including companies that employ undocumented workers, since he was first elected to the Assembly in 2006. Last year he aired a campaign commercial that featured the lawmaker standing in front of day laborers in Putnam County and calling for a "crackdown on this black market economy."
Squadron brushed off Ball's comments as "poisonous rhetoric" designed to score political points.
"I don't think that when you look at the sorts of young people that we're talking about, that [Ball's comments] make any sense at all," he said.
Ball and Congressman Peter King, a Long Island Republican who recently made headlines for , will conduct a hearing in Manhattan on April 8 to probe the DREAM Act and other security issues.
The measure could have far-reaching implications for the Hudson Valley, where significant numbers of undocumented people reside in places such as Yonkers, New Rochelle, Sleepy Hollow and Port Chester.
While discussions about illegal immigration tend to focus on Hispanic and Middle Eastern people, there are also significant numbers of undocumented Asian and European immigrants in New York. The McLean Avenue section of Yonkers and the neighboring Woodlawn section of the Bronx, for example, are home to hundreds, if not thousands, of undocumented Irish people.
The bill has no companion in the state Assembly, and with the state's budget imbroglio building to a crescendo, few lawmakers have indicated what chance, if any, the DREAM Act has of passing.
Here's a look at what our local lawmakers were up to between March 18 and March 25:
Assemblyman Tom Abinanti (D-Greenburgh) did not introduce any bills.
Abinanti on March 22 addressed protesters outside of the Capitol calling for the extension of a tax on wealthy New Yorkers in order to offset steep cuts in state aid to schools. Abinanti, who supports the extension of the tax, told those gathered that they were "advocating for a better future." Gov. Cuomo and Republicans in the Senate oppose the tax, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has indicated that it is unlikely to pass.
On the same day, the freshman also spoke out against impending cuts to early intervention programs, which provide specialized instruction to developmentally disabled children.
Assemblyman Robert Castelli (R-Goldens Bridge) introduced 12 bills, including a proposal that would allow local governments in Westchester to adopt laws that prohibit utility companies from cutting down trees, and require that new trees be planted if trees must be cut down.
Castelli also wants the state to require mining companies that engage in hydraulic fracturing, or "hydrofracking," to test for radioactive chemicals in the water discharged from mining operations. Another bill would require that miners receive "certificates of competence" before they are allowed to operate hydrofracking equipment. There is currently on hydrofracking, which is set to expire July 1.
Another Castelli bill would allow the Katonah-Lewisboro school district to conduct a five-year pilot program in which cameras would be mounted on school buses, and would photograph drivers who pass stopped buses.
The assemblyman also wants to ban "video chat"—two-way conferencing on a smartphone—while driving. Video chatting is currently legal while driving, as long as the phone is not being held.
Castelli and Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) on March 22 presented the Boys & Girls Club of Northern Westchester's 2011 Youth of the Year Award to Jason Distant of Mount Kisco. Distant, a senior at Fox Lane High School, has logged more than 180 hours of volunteer work over the last 10 years.
Castelli on March 19 held a town hall meeting with Congresswoman Nan Hayworth in Bedford.
Assemblywoman Sandy Galef (D-Ossining) introduced five bills, one of which would allow most of the state's counties and large cities to permanently impose a 4 percent sales tax. Current law allows for a 3 percent tax, with any higher tax requiring legislative approval every two years. The administrative burden placed on county and city governments when pushing for extensions, Galef said, amounts to an unfunded mandate that would be relieved by her bill.
Galef also wants to make it illegal for a child under 8 to ride in the front seat of a car, unless there is no back seat or it's already occupied by other people. A violation would result in a $50 fine.
Two weeks ago Galef introduced a bill that would prohibit smoking at playgrounds, but provided no penalties for violations. Last week she put forward a similar bill that would levy fines of up to $100.
Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) introduced one bill, which would provide for child care subsidies for the parent of a child under 6 if the parent works a night shift and needs to put the child in day care in order to sleep. The parent would have to meet the existing income requirements for the subsidy.
Jaffee on March 22 joined a number of other lawmakers in calling for the legislature to restore proposed cuts to early intervention programs for developmentally disabled children.
Assemblyman Steve Katz (R-Yorktown) did not introduce any bills.
Katz on March 21 hosted a meeting with local and state officials to discuss proposed changes to a federal mandate, known as MS4, that requires local governments in the Hudson Valley to test and filter groundwater that spills into New York City's watersheds. Katz and other lawmakers, including Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson), are pushing for a bill that would require the state Department of Environmental Conservation to consider a municipality's ability to pay for the massive 10-year project, which is expected to cost a total of $500 million.
Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye) introduced two bills, including a proposal that would require that movable soccer goals at public parks and schools be installed according to regulations set forth by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and that signs be posted on the goals warning against climbing or hanging.
Latimer's second bill would extend to May 31, 2014 a 20-year-old law that allows Westchester County to distribute sales tax revenue to local governments and school districts. The current law is set to expire on May 31, 2012.
The Assembly on March 14 passed a bill, sponsored by Latimer, that would decrease, from nine months to 30 days, the amount of time a state agency has to appeal court judgements against them regarding the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). The current law, Latimer said, "may make moot an individual's FOIL request and functionally deny them timely access to documents." The bill will now go to the Senate, where it has no sponsor.
Assemblywoman Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) did not introduce any bills.
The Assembly on March 21 passed a bill that would make it illegal to alter caller-ID information when placing a call. Paulin said that the practice, known as "spoofing," is often employed by telemarketers who hope to trick people into answering the phone. The bill is headed to the Senate, where it is sponsored by Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Suffolk County).
Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski (D-New City) did not introduce any bills.
Sen. Greg Ball (R-Patterson) introduced three bills. Two of the proposals would see the state legislature go "paperless" by making bills, reports, directories and other documents electronically instead of on paper, as is currently required by state law. Ball said the proposals could save the state millions of dollars each year. The first bill, however, is an amendment to the state constitution and would take at least three years to pass. Ball notes that the U.S. House of Representatives and a handful of states have enacted similar laws.
As noted above, Ball blasted the proposed DREAM Act, a Senate bill that would extend a number of rights to certain undocumented immigrants, calling it the "Terrorist Empowerment Act." Ball has taken a hard line on illegal immigration since he was first elected to the Assembly in 2006. He will chair a Homeland Security hearing on April 8 to probe the DREAM Act and to inquire as to how far the state has come since the 9/11 attacks.
On March 22, the senator called for a full forensic audit of the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) to be included in the state budget. The audit would cost about $2 million, which Ball noted pales in comparison to the state's $2.2 billion "bailout" of the MTA in 2009. The senator also called for the immediate repeal of , which requires public and private employers from Long Island to Dutchess County to pay 34 cents for every $100 of payroll. The tax, Ball said, cost Hudson Valley employers $165 million last year.
Sen. David Carlucci (D-Clarkstown) introduced one bill, dubbed the "Veterans Mental Health and Chemical Dependency Act," which would require a number of state agencies to find ways to improve outreach to veterans with mental health and substance abuse problems.
Carlucci on March 21 held a rally at his district office in Nanuet to call on the governor and lawmakers to restore funding to the Office for People With Developmental Disabilites (OPWDD) in the state budget. The agency is facing cuts of up to 5 percent, which Carlucci said would strip disabled New Yorkers of vital services. The senator was joined by officials from Jawonio, ARC and Camp Venture, nonprofit groups that advocate for the disabled.
The freshman on March 23 released a plan that he said would save the state $50 million this year by appointing a state "risk assessment manager" to examine workplace safety policies at state agencies. That review, he said, would ultimately lower the number of liability claims brought against the state each year. In 2010 the state was slapped with 258 claims that totaled more than $80 million, on top of $23 million in worker's compensation claims.
Carlucci on March 21 presented a Kindle to Hernz Laguerre, a junior at Spring Valley High School, as a prize for winning a Black History Month essay-writing contest. Laguerre's essay focused on the U.S. Constitution's impact on African-Americans.
In a March 24 "Legislative Report" video, Carlucci talks about various ways to streamline government and cut costs for municipalities.
Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer (D-Port Chester) introduced four bills, including a proposal that would require public libraries to distribute information to school districts on obtaining library cards.
Oppenheimer introduced two bills in tandem with Assemblyman George Latimer (D-Rye), which would strengthen safety regulations for movable soccer goals and continue to allow Westchester to distribute sales tax revenue to local governments and school districts.
The senator also introduced a proposal that would allow Port Chester to impose a 3 percent hotel occupancy tax.
Oppenheimer on March 22 criticized the Senate's Republican majority for proposing to lower School Tax Relief (STAR) exemptions for homeowners by $125 million and for not restoring the middle-class STAR rebate check program that was eliminated in 2009. Speaking on the Senate floor, Oppenheimer noted that Westchester homeowners face the highest property taxes in the country and that "we don't need property tax reductions taken away, we need them expanded."
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) did not introduce any bills.
The Senate on March 22 passed a bill, sponsored by Stewart-Cousins, that would allow homeowners to submit real property documents electronically. The measure, she said, would make the process easier and faster for homeowners and municipal officials.
The senator's call for the restoration of $15 million in cuts to the Yonkers school district was successful, as Senate leaders this week announced that they were dropping a proposal to distribute that pot of money to districts around the state. The city's schools are still facing a $17.5 million cut in state aid. Stewart-Cousins is calling for the passage of two of her bills, which would funnel almost $9 million to the district.
The Senate and Assembly on March 23 passed resolutions honoring Yonkers firefighter Mike Giroux and the city's Police and Fire Departments for the March 4 rescue of two workers dangling from a collapsed scaffold on the 13th floor of an apartment building. Stewart-Cousins called it "a truly heroic effort."
Dozens of students from Kensico Elementary School visited the Capitol on March 18 and met with Stewart-Cousins during the trip. The senator gave the kids a "homework assignment" to find out the total spending in last year's state budget. Here's a cheat sheet: $136 billion.