Skip to comments.'Nanny state,' or looking out for public? [NY => hyper-regulation!]
Posted on 08/23/2010 3:25:30 PM PDT by Fitzy_888
ALBANY -- The Democrats who run the Albany County Legislature like to pass local laws. Critics, often Republicans, say they tend to trample the rights of individuals and private enterprise -- and are yet another intrusion into the lives of citizens.
All but eight of Albany's 39 county lawmakers are Democrats. The legislature's penchant for local laws is likely linked to the dominance by the party that lends itself to a governing style of protecting constituents.
Across the aisle, Minority Leader Christine Benedict and the other six Republicans and single Conservative have opposed most of the three dozen local laws proposed since 2008.
"I don't think government should interfere with the way we live our lives," Benedict said.
Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, both with Republican legislative majorities, pass virtually no local laws.
Schenectady County's GOP minority leader, Robert Farley, said: "I don't believe in hyper-regulation or a nanny state."
Recent targets of Albany's legislature include cyber bullies, idling automobiles, restaurant cleanliness and calorie posting, high-tech smoking devices known as e-cigarettes, dropside cribs and BPA in "sippy" cups. The latter two were subsequently banned by state statute.
A law limiting where sex offenders can live was struck down in court. A bill to make gun shops register ammo sales ignited Second Amendment activists, including the NRA. The measure is languishing in committee.
It was the ban on trans fat that probably sparked the most controversy. The chemically engineered product that has been around since the 1920s has been linked to cardiovascular disease. But bakers balked, in part because their recipes rely on trans fat to hold the frosting on their specialty cakes.
The county ban covered only locally owned bakeries and restaurants, not supermarkets, which are regulated by the state Ag and Markets Department.
Legislator Gil Ethier, a Cohoes Democrat, introduced two baker-friendly measures, one to exempt the bakeries outright and another to suspend enforcement for two years. The bills remain in committee.
Majority Leader Frank Commisso, the driving force behind the law, minces no words. He said the effect of "the poisonous ingredient known as trans fat" is alarming, especially for children as they grow into teenagers and adults.
Commisso, 64, has embraced healthy eating, but he insisted his stand is "not because I lost 100 pounds and has nothing to do with me giving up trans fat."
"Out of 1,300 establishments in the county, only four seemed not to have their act together," Commisso said, referring to the three bakeries and a diner cited this month by the county health department for violating the ban, which is modeled on New York City's ban.
"We're not looking to hurt the small guy," Commisso said. "This is going to benefit them, not hurt them."
Farley, of Schenectady County, disagrees. "Trans fat is hyper-regulation. Does anyone really believe a triple cheeseburger is a low-calorie meal?"
One man's hyper-regulation may be another's pioneering good government.
Forty years ago, a local law on Long Island had wide-ranging impact. Suffolk County passed, in 1970, the nation's first comprehensive ban on detergents containing phosphates to protect drinking water. It became state law.
Albany County Legislator Gary Domalewicz points proudly to expanding a local law requiring criminal background checks of home health care workers by adding more crimes that could disqualify prospective aides.
Stephen Acquario, executive director of the New York State Association of Counties, said the primary role of the county legislature is to set the property tax levy and approve the budget.
"However," he said, "there is a parallel purpose to enacting local laws, rules and ordinances that are in the best interest of the health, safety and welfare of the public, and that is a state constitutional power."
Albany, as the headquarters for state government, finds itself in the cross-hairs of lobbyists and special-interest groups.
"They are going to the grass-roots effort because they can't get anywhere in the state," Legislature Chairman Dan McCoy said, noting for the past five years these groups have sought out his Democratic colleagues.
He cited the smoking ban as a case in point. The American Heart and Cancer Society "came to us and lobbied us and lobbied all other counties," McCoy said.
In 2002, Democrat Domalewicz pushed to make the county the first in the state to go smoke-free in public places. The next year, when a bill in the state Legislature covered all of New York, Domalewicz pulled his bill.
On texting while driving, Albany's ban followed Schenectady County. Both counties' actions were subsequently trumped by state law.
The balance between state and local power can lead to court. That's the case with a popular local prohibition, adopted in Albany County in 2006. It restricted Level 2 and 3 sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, day care centers and playgrounds. The other three Capital Region counties followed suit with similar laws.
Attorney Terence Kindlon successfully challenged Albany's law on behalf of three sex offenders on state constitutional and other grounds. Last year, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Roger D. McDonough struck it down, ruling it was pre-empted by state statute.
The bill's lead sponsor, McCoy, wants to appeal. If appellate judges uphold the lower court, he said, "Then we did everything we could to protect the children."
"Some laws are important," said the 10-year veteran, "but some of the stuff we do, I wish the state would do it."
He said the state restricts residency for sex offenders on parole or probation, and the county law closes a loophole by applying to all convicted offenders, including those no longer under supervision.
The local laws have a downside for county government, which is responsible for enforcement. "We have very limited resources and staff," said Mary Duryea, spokeswoman for County Executive Mike Breslin. "More laws mean more pressure on these limited resources."
With the county facing a $30 million deficit, McCoy said the focus should be on the budget
"We could do more creative things," he said, "like shared services, consolidation of services, that's the real impact for taxpayers."
McCoy concedes politicians' self-preservation is a powerful force. With the entire legislature up for re-election in 2011, "It feels good to be able to put on a piece of campaign literature that you passed this law."
County is facing a $30 million deficit.
Recent targets of Albany's legislature include cyber bullies, idling automobiles, restaurant cleanliness and calorie posting, high-tech smoking devices known as e-cigarettes, and dropside cribs.
Imposed bans on child "sippy" cups and trans-fats in local bakeries.
Haven’t you heard? Slavery is freedom.
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