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Weekend in review
Some of the stories that made the news from Fri., Feb. 10, through Sun., Feb. 12:
Robert Downen reported in the Times Union rallies both in support, and against Planned Parenthood were held throughout the Capital Region Sat., Feb. 11. At the Albany Planned Parenthood on Central Avenue, more than 1,000 people, including national, state and local politicians, rallied in support of the organization. Ariél Zangla reported in the Daily Freeman a group of 40 supporters took over a corner of Broadway at Grand Street in Midtown Kingston on Saturday morning. Many in the group held pink, printed signs with messages supportive of Planned Parenthood. Under the Republican-held Congress, Planned Parenthood advocates fear that access to health services will be defunded. Federal money does not pay for abortions, but the organization is reimbursed by Medicaid for other services, including birth control and cancer screening. Anti-abortion activists also staged rallies around the country over the weekend, calling for the federal government to cut financial support to Planned Parenthood. However, in some cities the counter-protests in support of the reproductive health organization dwarfed the demonstrations, the Associated Press reported. A few hours after the Albany rally, an anti-Planned Parenthood march was held in Troy, where dozens of people voiced their opposition to allocating tax dollars to the organization.
Karrie Allen reported in The Chatham Courier that a recent proposal to build horseshoe pits in Chatham's Crellin Park has led to a controversy over alcohol in the park. The Chatham Lions Club proposal included a request that service of alcoholic beverages be allowed during tournament play. The Lions eventually withdrew the proposal. After hearing the idea, more than 70 residents signed a petition against allowing alcohol in the park. Town board member John Wapner proposed a policy with two options: Prohibit alcohol at all times, or give the board the power to allow exceptions if an event organizer secures a town permit with a clearly defined area for sales and hires a licensed vendor to sell and distribute alcohol. The town's existing policy prohibits smoking and alcoholic beverages in the park. The board said they would invite their insurance company to speak at the 6 p.m. March 2 workshop meeting about the issue.
Matthew Hamilton reported at Capitol Confidential state Assembly member, Democrat Felix Ortiz announced Thu., Feb. 9, his plan to reintroduce legislation that would impose a five-cent fee on plastic or paper shopping bags used for purchases at shops, supermarkets, service stations and retail outlets statewide. The idea is that retailers would pass on the cost to customers during checkout, thereby creating an incentive for the use of reusable bags. Oritz called for New York to join California and more than 150 communities nationwide and take the step forward to protect the environment. “Disposable plastic bags are a nuisance. They litter our streets and subways and are clearly harmful to nature. Let’s stop debating taxes over these bags and do the right thing: Eliminate them completely,” Ortiz said in a statement. Ortiz put forward the proposal just as state lawmakers voted on legislation last week that would delay the implementation of a bag fee in New York City.
Diane Walden reported in The Columbia Paper on work underway in Columbia County to respond to what is believed to an opioid abuse crisis. County Board of Supervisors Chairman Matt Murrell, Republican of Stockport, included an effort to confront this problem as one of his 2017 goals, and formed a committee to develop a response plan. However, because information for only one year is available the local numbers are small, and the full scope of the problem is still unknown. The state Department of Health reported that opioid overdoses contributed to 11 deaths and 46 outpatient emergency department visits in Columbia and Greene Counties combined in 2014. Several local officials, including the county Director of Public Health, the county sheriff and the county Stop DWI Coordinator all believe opioid abuse has increased in recent years. Several members of the county committee want to see a program developed in collaboration with Greene County officials. Murrell requested the committee solicit more input, including from Greene County, before anything is released. Meanwhile, the committee will continue to meet and develop the response plan.
Kenneth C. Crowe II reported in the Times Union that Hoosick Falls now has more problems than just the toxic PFOA chemical in its drinking water. The state departments of Environmental Conservation and Health said Thu., Feb. 9, they have directed Honeywell to immediately conduct a study of the volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene and 1,1,1-trichloroethane at the company's former John Street facility. The first chemical is considered carcinogenic; the second can depress the central nervous system. "During the course of the PFOA investigation, where the results are being validated by an independent party, we discovered volatile organic compounds that exceed New York state standards in groundwater and soil that was collected from locations at, and near, the former John Street facility," Honeywell stated in a letter to village residents. The letter has been posted on the village website. The Village Board will discuss the issue at its next meeting on Tue., Feb. 14.
Josefa Velasquez reported at Politico New York only one-half of patients certified for New York's medical marijuana program have purchased the drug more than once, according to the state Department of Health. Of the nearly 13,000 patients certified for the program, 10,250 have been dispensed a medical marijuana product, and of those, only 6,400 have purchased a product more than once. “This data is unfortunately not surprising at all,” said Ari Hoffnung, the CEO of Vireo Health, one of the state's medical marijuana manufacturers. “The lion's share of the patients do not regularly use the product.” There is a difference, he said, between the number of patients certified and the number buying medical marijuana. The state’s medical marijuana program is one of the most restrictive in the nation. The five organizations that grow and dispense medical marijuana in New York have complained that there are fewer patients than expected and sales revenues have been far lower than what the Cuomo administration anticipated.
Chris McKenna reported at The Fray U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced last week that he and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have reintroduced legislation that would reinforce the constitutional right to a legal defense by allowing class action suits against states that fail to adequately provide public defenders for indigent criminal defendants. The two Democrats first introduced the Equal Justice Under Law Act last year. In the House, 16 of Maloney’s fellow Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.