Archive for July, 2011

Protecting Abortion — But Not Women

By MICHAEL BENJAMIN (Originally published in the NY Post)

Little noticed during the frenzied closing days of the legislative session was final passage of a measure that provides a certificate of stillbirth to grieving parents. The bill languished for years because of objections from some pro-choice advocates, who fear that it opens the door to conferring personhood on a fetus.

What changed? No one is certain. Albany insiders say that Democratic Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak was replaced as prime sponsor by Sandra Galef, a pro-choice woman; otherwise, the pro-choice “veto” would’ve continued.

As the bill awaits Gov. Cuomo’s signature, it has given hope to the supporters of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. That legislation — which I sponsored for several years — would allow prosecutors to bring dual charges against those who harm a pregnant woman and her unborn child.

But it, too, has been bottled up by those who fear that granting any legal status to any fetus will somehow put us on a slippery slope to outlawing abortion. This, though the bill explicitly states that it neither alters any abortion laws nor seeks to circumvent Roe v. Wade.

New York Penal Law addresses offenses committed against a person, such as homicide and assault. The law has been strengthened at various times to provide greater protection for, among others, children. Yet significant loopholes remain relating to homicide and assaults in which unborn children are the victims.

Our penal code has its roots in the English common law, which — guided by premodern medical science — saw the killing of an unborn fetus not as murder but as a lesser crime.

Try telling that to the parents of Niasha Delain, a pregnant bank teller slain in 2008 on her due date by her estranged boyfriend. Despite murdering Niasha and her full-term baby, the killer was only charged with second-degree manslaughter and a felony abortional act.

Pro-choice advocates fear that any change to the law here will undermine Roe v. Wade. But Roe covers actions taken by a woman and her doctor — it certainly doesn’t grant a third party any right to terminate a pregnancy without the woman’s consent.

And courts in liberal Massachusetts have held that viable fetuses can be treated as persons in homicide cases — yet abortion rights remain perfectly secure there, and in 35 other states with similar laws.

New York law now effectively denies adequate protection to pregnant women and their unborn children. Although the murdered babies are laid to rest in marked graves and the families grieve for them, our state tells them that their loved ones never existed.

The refusal to recognize the intrinsic value of an unborn child’s life amounts to zealotry. This is insensitive toward the mothers and their loss. It seems to treat the loss of an unborn child as though it were a bruise or a broken bone. Yet broken bones heal; a stolen life can never be replaced.

Pro-choice politics requires Democrats to march in lockstep or face electoral consequences. But Democratic lawmakers should learn the lesson of gay marriage — and recognize that there would be little voter backlash in passing the Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

In allowing the bill to come to a vote, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos would give their members the opportunity to express their willingness to protect pregnant women who freely choose to have children. The vote would be not unlike the vote on the Marriage Equality bill; legislators should be free to vote their conscience without anyone thinking they have abandoned their position on abortion.

I urge Gov. Cuomo to sign the Stillbirth Certificate bill into law and hope I’ll soon be able to urge him to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, too. New York should respect and protect the choices of all women and their unborn children.

Michael Benjamin retired from the Assembly last year after eight years representing a Bronx district.

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Smart Veto For A Tax Cap Gimmick

Published 12:21 a.m., Monday, July 18, 2011

Leave it to the New York Legislature to get all tough and put schools on a diet, and then sneak them cream puffs on the side.

That’s essentially what lawmakers tried to pull in a session that saw passage of both property tax cap legislation and a bill to let school districts play fiscal games with pensions costs.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was absolutely right to veto the pension bill. It was a cynical attempt by the Legislature to appear as though it’s helping taxpayers as it’s setting them up for even bigger tax bills down the road.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Peter Abbate, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. Martin Golden, R-Brooklyn, would have allowed districts to borrow up to 125 percent of their pension costs over the next two years. The bonds could be paid back over 15 years. Voter approval would not be required.

The measure passed on the last day of session — the same day lawmakers approved a tax cap that requires school districts and governments to hold increases in property tax levies to two percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

The tax cap law includes several exemptions. One allows districts to exceed the cap if pension contributions increase by more than two percent over the previous year.

We can appreciate the concern here. Pension costs are expected to rise significantly over the next several years to cover investment losses that public retirement systems sustained in the recession.

But pension bills aren’t a one-time expense like, say, a new school. They come every year.

Borrowing to pay for them is nothing less than borrowing to cover the cost of operating expenses, one of the worst fiscal practices governments can commit. The money still has to be paid back, with interest. At best, it only makes things feel better for a while — which is, perhaps, one of the reasons we have so much public debt today.

This bill also smacked of an attempt by the Legislature to mask some of the tax cap’s limitations. The exemption for pension costs means that voters will almost certainly be presented with larger tax increases than the tax cap’s hype would lead them to expect.

Will the tax cap make things harder for school districts? Yes. Will it stop taxes from rising? Almost certainly not. Are there smart ways to stabilize pension payments? You bet there are, and they’re not much more complicated than, say, a budget plan for home heating oil. But they require discipline — particularly the will to pay more sometimes when you could pay less.

Whether the tax cap lives up to New Yorkers’ expectations for both their wallets and their schools remains to be seen. But we won’t be able to have an honest discussion about the law -if lawmakers hide the flaws behind fiscal gimmickry.

THE ISSUE:

The governor vetoes a bill to let school districts borrow for rising pension costs.

THE STAKES:

Pushing today’s challenges to the future does nothing to solve them.

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Michael Bennette Announces Candidacy For Male Republican District Leader Of The 49th AD

Former Assemblyman Arnaldo Ferraro, Chairman of the Fiorello LaGuardia Republican Organization and Lucretia Regina-Potter, Female  Republican District Leader 49AD, congratulate Michael Bennette, President of the organization, on his recent announcement to run for Male Republican District Leader of the 49AD.

Michael Bennette with his wife Ermine, daughters Michele and Laura, and future son-in-law, Salvatore.

At a recent meeting of the Fiorello LaGuardia Republican Organization, Michael Bennette, President of the Organization, announced his candidacy for Republican State Committeeman (District Leader) of the 49 Assembly District.

The self-styled Reagan Republican is a staunch opponent of  “Obamacare” and all other changes sponsored by the Obama administration. “It will erode the very fabric of our country which was envisioned by our forefathers as a capitalist country that encourages enterprise and entrepreneurship. I am opposed to big government and innumerable entitlements that continue to increase our national debt and damage our economy.”

On a local approach, Michael Bennette pointed out that he believes that the major “political” function of the Republican District Leaders is to elect more Republican members to the New York State Assembly. Mr. Bennette states that this task is already difficult to accomplish in Brooklyn because of the preponderance of Democratic registered voters over Republican registered voters. He also states that it has become even more difficult lately because of two additional reasons: 1.The lack of unity in the Brooklyn Republican Party, and 2. The complacency on the part of some Leaders and other Republican operatives to cooperate with the Democratic elected officials, thus ensuring their re-election and their perpetuation in office.

“The last time I can recollect that there was unity in the Party and a strong challenging determination from Republican leaders was obviously in 1984. In that year, not only were the Republicans able to elect a Republican Assemblyman in Brooklyn, but they were also able to defeat an incumbent Democrat with the help and support of the Conservative and Right-to-Life Parties. I strongly urge all Republicans in Brooklyn to set aside their difference of opinions and even personal interests, to better accomplish a long overdue development of a stronger Republican Party. I am also deeply honored to run as the candidate for Republican State Committeeman in the 49 Assembly District, and extremely pleased to run for such an important Party Office with the current, official and dynamic 49 AD Republican  State Committeewoman Lucretia Regina-Potter.”

As parents and strong advocates of traditional family values, Lucretia Regina-Potter and Michael Bennette understand and know very well the responsibilities and sacrifices of raising children and providing for their needs. Another difference between them and the four opponents running against them is that Lucretia Regina-Potter and Michael Bennette are not products of the Brooklyn political establishment, nor are they indebted to party bosses. Their allegiance is only to the community that they represent as Republican Leaders.

Michael Bennette is a Brooklyn native and a lifelong resident of Bensonhurst and Bath Beach. He holds a BA from Brooklyn College, and is a retired Production-Operations Manager in the garment industry. He and his wife Ermine, the daughter of Italian immigrants and a paraprofessional in the public school system, have two children, Michele, a recently engaged fifth-grade teacher, and Laura, a program support assistant.

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