Western New York

State Pegs Buffalo Facility For Children With Dual Diagnoses

From the Morning Memo:

A state-owned building currently under renovation on the campus of the Buffalo Psychiatric Center will become an inpatient service facility for children with dual diagnoses of developmental and mental health disabilities, the state offices of Mental Health and People with Developmental Disabilities announced.

The state was originally renovating the building so patients from the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center could be treated there.

However, there was strong pushback from local legislators and the community at large against co-locating adult and youth patients and closing the children’s center. Following a five-year long saga, and multiple legal challenges, OMH decided not to move forward with that proposal.

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, who was among those leading the charge, seemed supportive of the new plan. He said he’s encouraged to see the two agencies working together to offer services that otherwise would not exist in the region. Gallivan noted that children with the dual diagnoses often have to leave the state to get treatment they need – if they receive it at all.

“They talked in detail that these are not the children that are being treated at the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center,” the senator said of state officials who pitched the new plan.

Gallivan previously suggested the space be used to treat adults recovering from opioid addictions, which remains an issue both in WNY and throughout the state.

“They’re competing needs,” the senator said. “There’s no question about it, but we have a state asset that was available, and it appears to be that they’re putting it to good use. We still have to pursue these additional beds for inpatient services for opioid treatment.”

Some critics of the original plan remain concerned about the idea of adults being treated in the same location as children. But Gallivan said he’s primarily concerned from a clinical standpoint. He said OMH never proved why moving the children from the West Seneca facility was in their best interest when experts said they were better off in a more therapeutic, rural setting.

He said that for now, he doesn’t have the same concerns for the children, aged 12 to 17, who would be treated under the new plans.

“While some might question whether that’s the right place for it or not, I’m looking at it right now that we are now going to be providing these additional services that we never did and defer to the experts who say this is the appropriate location,” Gallivan said.

OPDD said the program will help discharged youth adjust to a non-inpatient environment and receive transitional services before going home.

WNY Delegation Criticizes U.S. Transportation Secretary

From the Morning Memo:

Western New York’s Congressional delegation reacted quickly and in a bipartisan fashion to comments made by U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elain Chao about pilot training standards.

At an event sponsored by the Washington Post, Chao attributed the regional airlines pilot shortage to a rule requiring 1,500 training hours. She said Congress needs to have a robust discussion about lowering that threshold.

The rule was instituted in 2010, in large part due to an intense lobbying effort from family members of those who died on Colgan Air Flight 3407. The National Transportation Safety Board deemed the crash was caused by pilot error, and that pilots were insufficiently trained.

“Obviously we hold the memories of those who are lost in our hearts, and we don’t ever want to see an accident like that again or any accident ever occur,” Chao said. “But there is this side effect, unanticipated, corollary impact of reducing the number of pilots, pilots who can very safely fly in our sky. So I think Congress needs to have this discussion, and we will abide by the wishes of Congress.”

In response, members of Congress, Republicans Chris Collins and Tom Reed and Democrat Brian Higgins, as well as New York’s two Democratic U.S. senators, wrote a letter to the secretary. They expressed “extreme disappointment” with her comments, reminding her that airlines have had five years to adjust to the rules.

The delegation posited that the real reason for a pilot shortage is the failure by airlines to offer pilots competitive wages. They also noted the United States is in the midst of the longest stretch in the country’s history, by far, without a fatality caused by pilot error.

“Ask passengers boarding an airplane who is willing to settle for a pilot that is less trained, and I don’t believe one flyer would volunteer to make that sacrifice,” Higgins said. “With Flight 3407, Captain Sully’s Miracle on the Hudson, and the most recent Southwest incident, history shows us again and again that training and experience matter.”

“Congress has already had discussion on this, held numerous hearings and taken action. A compromise on flight safety is a compromise on human life, a concession we must not be willing to make.”

Collins said he spoke with Chao in January, and she assured him the pilot standards would remain in place. He said her comments yesterday were in stark contrast to that conversation.

“Instead of talking about eliminating a rule that has kept passengers safe, I’d recommend Secretary Chao talk to the regional airlines and figure out a way they can improve their wages and working conditions to attract and keep pilots,” he said.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer meanwhile called Chao’s remarks an “affront” to the 3407 families, and a suggestion that puts the safety of the general public at risk.

The delegation has vowed to continue standing with the families who have continued to lobby for years at the U.S. Capitol for additional safety measures.

WNY Assemblyman’s Website Apparently Hijacked By Japanese Prostitution Service

It appears state Assemblyman David DiPietro’s campaign page was hijacked by a Japanese prostitution website.

Certainly, dipietroforassembly.com has no information about the East Aurora Republican’s bid for re-election. Rather it describes a service, that appears to be called Pink Companion.

A bit might be lost in the Google translation, but here’s a taste of the website:

“Can you get naked and you can kiss too? Is there such a service? Believe it or not, there is. It is also said to be a pink companion or super companion, but if you leave it to them It is possible to have that pink banquet that you’ve been longing for, and you were angry with it. How can you play with them? It seems awful, but you can get it taken off. It is also possible to be naked and to be pleased together,” it reads. “I can do a lady that I even saw in my dreams, and even if I wanted to do it, I’d be happy to have a baseball fist that was being laughed with eyes that seem to be strange. Is it balloon volleyball recommendation? A girl is a skirt ballet. It is a volley which makes balloons look like balls and only feet.”

Other parts of the site describe the “inn” where the transaction of services seem to take place, as well as “popular ways of playing” like cosplay.

Based on an internet archive search this appears to have happened sometime between May and September of last year. We’ve reached out to DiPietro for comment.

Opt-Out Movement Continues Today

From the Morning Memo:

It doesn’t have the exposure it did several years ago, but across New York advocates said the “opt-out” movement is alive and well. Schools are administering the English and Language Arts tests to students in grades 3-8 this morning.

Many parents are sending their children to school with notes that say they won’t be taking the standardized test. NYS Allies for Public Education said last year more than 225,000 students opted out, and they expect the trend to continue this year.

The group’s co-founder Chris Cerrone, also a parent and teacher, said this is not a numbers game, it’s more about sending a message to the state.

“For every kid that opts out, it’s making a statement that we don’t like the direction when everything becomes focused on a test or just the tested subjects as opposed to a well-rounded education,” he said.

The movement has lost a little steam, publicly at least, because the State Education Department has made changes to the tests, formerly known as Common Core. Besides a new name, NYSED has take other steps over the past few years including reducing the number of testing days and eliminating time limits.

“The changes are positive, but they’re only very small steps and they haven’t really answered the demands of what the opt-out parents across New York state are asking for,” Cerrone said.

He said the tests can have a place, but they should only be a diagnostic and until New York lowers the stakes, the movement will continue.

WNY Children’s Psych Center Will Stay In West Seneca

After a more than five-year battle, the Western New York Children’s Psychiatric Center will stay where it is after all. The Office of Mental Health was in the process of moving the facility in West Seneca to the same site where the adult center is located in Buffalo.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a state source confirmed the administration planned to reverse course. This comes following years of protest.

“It’s clear the community believes it is best served keeping the current facility open,” the source said.

The administration will explore other uses for the city building where the state has invested more than $5 million and construction is already in progress. State Senator Pat Gallivan, R-Elma, who helped lead the resistance to the move, has suggested in the past it could be used for patients dealing with opioid addiction.

The state will maintain plans to enhance community-based services and serve more children but will do so from West Seneca. An official statement is expected in the near future.

The change of direction, first reported by the Buffalo News, comes suddenly for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who just last year vetoed legislation to halt the relocation. The administration has also continued to defend a lawsuit brought by a coalition of patients, family members and mental health advocates.

That same coalition, Save Our WNY CPC, held a press conference Tuesday, asking the State Comptroller’s Office to investigate the governor’s motives. Attorney Steven Cohen suggested Cuomo had his eye on the West Seneca property and even tried to connect the issue to the recent corruption trial of former aide Joe Percoco and Syracuse developer Steve Aiello.

“Upon the convictions of key members of the Cuomo administration, the Percoco conviction, the Aiello conviction, who is a contractor, the testimony of Todd Howe, we have for the first time what may be a motive,” Cohen said.

The governor has said in the past the current facility is in need of substantial repair. It’s unclear at this point how much money will be needed for updates.

The psych center serves 19 counties.

Giambra Report Outlines Impact Of Recreational Marijuana Plan

Gubernatorial candidate Joel Giambra released a report Wednesday outlining the potential economic impact of his proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in New York. The campaign said $500 million dollars per year in new revenue is a conservative estimate.

Under Giambra’s plan the state would institute a 13 percent excise tax, permits and licensing fees for the new industry and a 7 percent state and local sales tax. The chairman of the Le Moyne College economic department, Ted Shepard, who contributed to the research, noted Washington and Colorado bring in a combined $500 million annually and the two states together have less population than New York.

Shepard said the cannabis industry should create 5,000 initial jobs, 25,000 once it’s fully running, plus another 15,000 ancillary positions. Giambra said its time to take those jobs and revenue from the black market.

“How any elected official in New York state, the governor and others, could’ve allowed this to continue over the years, is criminal in and of itself,” he said.

The candidate said the state can leverage the new money into roughly $12 billion in bonding over a seven-year period for upstate infrastructure and New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. According to the report, the plan could create 240,000 direct and indirect temporary construction jobs – 35,000 per year.

The governor, in his State of the State address this year, proposed a task force to study the legalization of marijuana. Giambra said that study should have been done a decade ago.

“We already have a group of experts here today and around the state and around the country, have already studied this,” he said.

Giambra said if elected, he would try to institute the plan as quickly as possible, but acknowledged he may need the legislature to act on a legalization bill. He said once marijuana is legal, he would also move to expunge criminal records and release prisoners incarcerated for related crimes.

WNY School Districts Plan For Walkouts

From the Morning Memo:

Across the country, students plan to participate in tomorrow’s national school walkout to call for additional gun control measures in the wake of the Parkland, FL shooting.

The planned 17-minute protest – one minute for each person who died in the massacre – at 10 a.m. has districts wrestling with how to avoid disruption while also supporting their students’ right to protest.

In Niagara Falls, officials are asking students to register if they intend to participate in the walkout. In return, they’ll receive two hearts. One is a pass to participate, the second a place for them on which to write how they plan to make the world a better place.

“I believe school is more than just sitting and learning and taking tests; it’s really about helping kids come together and helping kids deal with certain situations in their lives,” superintendent Mark Laurie said.

The Buffalo Public School District, meanwhile, said it is organizing alternative activities for its student body at 10 a.m. Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said it’s good that the administration is working with students to give them a voice.

“Young people have always been change agents in this country,” Brown said. “Young people have always been involved in movements to bring change to different issues that have been of concern to them.”

At Lancaster High School, the administration said it will not let students leave the campus, but they will be able to walk the halls for 17 minutes.

Reed Supports Steel and Aluminum Tariffs

From the Morning Memo:

The only thing that seems to be clear at this point is that the White House plans to moves forward with proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, despite considerable pushback from members of the president’s own party.

The details of that plan or exactly when it will go into effect remain largely a mystery.

NY-23 Republican Rep. Tom Reed understands the anxiety associated with the new trade policy and its potential impact on the American economy. He said he has heard plenty from the factories and businesses in his Southern Tier district.

“There obviously has been some concern expressed, and it’s consistent with that which has been widely reported across the country in regards to supply-chain disruption, retaliatory action by trading partners, the lack of ability to secure supply chains that allow them to operate,” he said.

While some Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, have broken from the administration on the plan, Reed made clear during a conference call yesterday that he generally supports it.

He believes it would be a major step toward resetting America’s positions on trade on the international stag, and also send a message to our trading partners the status quo no longer applies.

“This disruption comes with anxiety, comes with fear but at the end of the day, long-term, puts us in a much better situation to grow these manufacturers, to grow these operations and do what I think what we all want to do; that is bring those operations from overseas back to America’s soil,” the congressman said.

Reed said any country that threatens retaliation – as quite a few have – should be hesitant to actually do so if it means potentially losing access to the American marketplace, which might minimize backlash. He also believes taking this stance now could help the administration’s footing in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.

Maziarz To Plead Guilty To Reduced Charge

Fmr. state Senator and Niagara County Republican power broker George Maziarz will accept a plea deal Friday afternoon in Albany County Court. A source said Maziarz is expected to appear before Judge Peter Lynch and plead guilty to misdemeanor “filing a false instrument.” He will pay a $1,000 fine.

Maziarz was facing five felony charges with a trial scheduled to start next week. The Attorney General’s office has accused him of playing a role in a “multilayered pass through scheme” that had him using campaign funds and the Niagara County Republican Committee to funnel payments to a former Senate staffer who had been accused of sexual harassment.

As part of his deal, Maziarz is expected to make a statement of guilt, explicitly admitting to concealing payments to the staffer. He will not face any prison time.

In March 2017, both Maziarz and his successor in the state Senate, Rob Ortt, were indicted in the corruption case connected broadly to the Niagara County GOP. Prosecutors claimed Ortt’s wife was given a no-show job to make up for a reduction in pay he accepted to become the mayor of North Tonawanda.

Those charges were dismissed by Lynch in June.

Niagara Falls Feels Strain Of Dispute Between Senecas And State

From the Morning Memo:

In his annual State of the City address, Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster told citizens he was hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, regarding the ongoing arbitration between the state and the Seneca Nation about whether the Nation should still be sharing a portion of its casino revenues.

He said he still expects the arbitration to favor the state in the end, but remains unsure if the city will get its share, around $20 million annually, during the 2019 fiscal year.

“Our hope and our expectation is that when the arbitration ends, the Senecas are going to have to pay,” Dyster said. “But even if that happens, we want to be sure that we end up with a relationship with the Senecas going forward that’s not based on animosity, but instead is based on cooperation.”

In the meantime, the worst-case scenario is pretty bad. The city is staring down a $12 million dollar deficit, which is making it extremely difficult to even maintain the current level of services, let alone try to expand them.

The mayor said the state has no legal obligation to provide the city with funding unless it is paid by the Senecas. Given that the arbitration is between the state and the Nation, not Niagara Falls, reporters pressed Dyster about whether New York has a moral obligation to help out the Cataract City in the interim.

“I want to make clear that we haven’t made any requests to the state for some sort of emergency bailout,” he responded. “We’re not at that point. We’re in an arbitration process that we expect to win, and we hope that the arbitration is going to be settled in a timely way.”

The Senecas have also said they’d be open to negotiating payments with the individual cities where their casinos are located. Niagara Falls City Councilman Bill Kennedy said this is an emergency, and Dyster should find away to deal with it as soon as possible.

“The mayor needs to step up and talk to the people, the powers that be, Kennedy said. “The Seneca leaders, Governor Cuomo, talk to them. We have to have the testicular fortitude to be able to, you know, hey this is happening. We shouldn’t be in a deficit. We really shouldn’t be but we are so help us.”

Dyster said he has tried to avoid doing anything that undermines that state’s position in arbitration by giving the appearance it is already pursuing a “Plan B.”