Highlights of the March 6, 2007 meeting
of the
Tompkins County Legislature
Legislature Backs Unemployment Insurance Reform
The Legislature, by a vote of 10-3, urged New York State to “enact measures to bring significant reform” to New York State’s unemployment insurance system. (Legislators Sigler, Proto and Hattery voted no; Legislators Mackesey and Randall were absent)  The resolution, sponsored by Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, calls for the state to provide a “meaningful increase” in the state’s current maximum weekly benefit of $405 dollars, that it increase the calculation for lower wage workers and that it eliminate the denial of access to unemployment benefits for hourly paid employees of educational institutions.  Because of current state law, the resolution notes, hundreds of educational institution hourly employees in Tompkins County cannot access unemployment benefits when temporarily laid off between academic terms or during school break periods, creating hardship for working families, even though similar employees in most other fields are able to do so.  The presidents of the United Auto Workers Local 2300, representing hourly workers at Cornell University, and the Ithaca City School District’s Paraprofessionals Union were among nine members of the public who urged legislative support of the resolution, prior to the vote.

The Legislature debated the proposal for more than half-an-hour, with much of the discussion focused on whether action should be delayed to permit further examination – since Legislator Shinagawa filed the proposal as an individual, it had not gone through the Legislature’s committee process.  A proposal to refer to committee narrowly failed by a vote of 6-7.  Advocates of delay, including Legislator Dick Booth, argued that more information was needed on matters including financial impact and that the committee structure should be used to allow further examination.  But Shinagawa countered that expeditious action was necessary to communicate a sense of priority during the current state legislative session. Legislator Mike Sigler said he could have supported the measure, had it gone through committee review.

The resolution also calls for the state to provide expanded opportunities for jobless workers to upgrade their skills through job training programs and for improved access to the system to workers with limited English-speaking sills.  It will be sent to Governor Elliot Spitzer, Acting Labor Commissioner Patricia Smith; Senators James Seward, Michael Nozzolio and George Winner; and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.

Contact:  Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, 280-7557; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978

Legislature Supports Babcock Tract Acquisition

The Legislature, by a 12-1 vote (Legislator Mike Hattery opposed; Legislators Mackesey and Randall were absent) approved allocation of $20,000 from the county’s Capital Reserve Fund for Natural, Scenic and Recreational Resource Protection, to help secure the so-called “Babcock Tract”, a 113-acre woodland parcel adjacent to Robert H. Treman State Park, and to provide public access to the area.  Through the allocation, the county collaborates with the Finger Lakes Land Trust, which purchased the parcel and is also seeking support from the Towns of Newfield and Ithaca.  The Babcock Tract is located in “The Gorges Natural Features Focus Area”, identified in the county’s comprehensive plan, also adjoins Cornell’s Lick Brook Natural Area, and is crossed by both the Cayuga Inlet and the Finger Lakes Trail.

Contact:  Martha Robertson, Planning, Chair, Development, and Environmental Quality Committee, 272-0584; Planning and Public Works Commissioner Ed Marx, 274-5560; Legislator Michael Hattery, 844-4361.