Bklyn Lawmakers on the Move Jan. 29, 2021

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AG James Releases Report on Nursing Homes’ Response to COVID-19

Attorney General Letitia James

Attorney General Letitia James yesterday released a report on her office’s ongoing investigations into nursing homes’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that found the State Department of Health’s (DOH) may have undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.

Since March, James has been investigating state nursing homes based on allegations of patient neglect and other concerning conduct that may have jeopardized the health and safety of residents and employees. The investigations also revealed that nursing homes’ lack of compliance with infection control protocols put residents at increased risk of harm, and facilities that had lower pre-pandemic staffing ratings had higher COVID-19 fatality rates. 

Based on these findings and subsequent investigation, Attorney General James is conducting ongoing investigations into more than 20 nursing homes whose reported conduct during the first wave of the pandemic presented particular concern.

“As the pandemic and our investigations continue, it is imperative that we understand why the residents of nursing homes in New York unnecessarily suffered at such an alarming rate,” said James. “While we cannot bring back the individuals we lost to this crisis, this report seeks to offer transparency that the public deserves and to spur increased action to protect our most vulnerable residents. Nursing homes residents and workers deserve to live and work in safe environments, and I will continue to work hard to safeguard this basic right during this precarious time.”

Clarke, Tannousis on James’ Nursing Home Investigation

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke
Assemblyman Michael Tannousis

U.S. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Garden, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Midwood, Brownsville, Sheepshead Bay) and Assemblyman Michael Tannousis (R- Bay Ridge, Staten Island) yesterday separately expressed shock at the state’s response regarding nursing home deaths from COVID-19.

The reports found, among other things, that the State Department of Health’s (DOH) may have undercounted COVID nursing home deaths by as much as 50 percent.

“We are judged by how we treat our most vulnerable. This is especially true during a devastating pandemic, the likes of which we have never seen. By disregarding laws designed to protect public health — to cut costs and gain profit — those responsible for managing these non-compliant facilities are complicit. My office supports every measure to ensure justice is served,” said Clarke.

Tannousis said the report confirmed what many have been fearing for months—the toll the virus took on nursing home residents has been far worse than the state has been saying.

“The number of deaths in nursing homes and care facilities was undercounted by up to 50 percent. We demand to know who knew this information and when they knew it. There needs to be severe consequences for those responsible for causing this disaster and then hiding it from us for so long. The legislature must move immediately to remove the governor’s emergency powers and restore the balance of our state government so this never happens again,” Tannousis said.

Ampry-Samuel Bill Mandating RCV Education Campaign Passes Council

Alicka Ampry-Samuel
City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel

City Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel (D-Brownsville), yesterday, saw her bill, 1994-A, mandating specific steps for the city’s voter education campaign regarding ranked choice voting (RCV).

The measure would require the New York City Campaign Finance Board (CFB) to take a number of concrete steps to familiarize voters with RCV. Specific steps the bill would require the CFB to take are:

  1. Conduct a citywide media campaign.
  2. Distribute a postcard explaining ranked choice voting to each household in the City with at least one registered voter.
  3. Create and maintain information on its website regarding RCV.
  4. Collaborate with community-based organizations in all five boroughs on RCV education.
  5. Produce educational materials regarding RCV and distribute such materials to the 26 city agencies designated as “participating voter registration agencies” under the Charter.
  6. Train the employees of such agencies on how to incorporate RCV into their interactions with the public.
  7. Conduct targeted outreach to voters in council districts where special elections have been scheduled to take place prior to the citywide primary on June 22, 2021.

The bill also would require the 26 participating voter registration agencies to post and distribute the educational materials provided by CFB. In addition, the bill would mandate that the Civic Engagement Commission include RCV education as part of its poll site language interpreter training.

This bill would take effect immediately and be deemed repealed on December 31, 2025.

“Ranked Choice Voting passed in November 2019,” said  Ampry-Samuel. “In a year and two months, extremely minimal effort has been given to public engagement. Left to their own devices, Campaign Finance Board and Board of Elections would only satisfy the bare minimum of our city’s charter requirements of public education. That would be a waste of time and resources so I’m creating a space for us to ensure removal of barriers that keep people from voting and the opportunity to hold CFB accountable if they don’t.”

Diaz Bill Extending Deadline for Basement Apartment Applicants Passes Council

City Council Member Darma Diaz.

City Council Member Darma Diaz (D-Bushwick, East New York) yesterday saw her legislation, 2204-A, establishing a a six-month extension for applicants to the City’s basement apartment legalization pilot program.

Applicants were originally required to submit the required construction documents to the Department of Buildings (DOB) by January 2, 2021 (18 months after the effective date of Local Law 49 for the year 2019), but the impact of the COVID-19 crisis has caused significant delays, making compliance with the deadline difficult and affecting DOB’s ability to review applications and conduct necessary in-person inspections.

“I am honored to be in a position today where I can actively participate in adding housing stock to New York City. As someone who advocated for this bill to legalize basements after living myself as a young mom in an illegal basement, I see the value of turning underutilized space for housing into binding housing stock,” said Diaz.