Highlights of the July 7, 2009 meeting
of the Tompkins County Legislature

Legislators Back Single-Payer Health Insurance
The Legislature put itself on record supporting the single-payer approach for national health care reform, stating that the Legislature strongly supports adoption this year of a national single-payer health care system, as described in proposed federal legislation currently before Congress.  The vote was 10-3, with Republican Legislators Frank Proto, Mike Sigler and Mike Hattery voting no and Legislators Greg Stevenson and Tyke Randall excused.  The action, advanced by Legislator Dooley Kiefer, reaffirms the Legislature’s action three years ago  which expressed the body’s support and preference for the single-payer approach within New York State.  Another member-filed resolution, filed by Legislator Will Burbank, was withdrawn.

More than an hour of discussion on the issue followed 40 minutes of public comment, with ten citizens urging Legislature support of the single payer option, many recounting personal stories of how the system has affected them.  One of those who spoke was former long-time County Board member Beverly Livesay, who called the issue not partisan and “a crisis to the proportion of (Hurricane) Katrina.”  The resolution urges Congress not to tinker with the present profit-based health insurance system, to recognize widespread support for a new public approach and to accomplish “major and long-needed reform”; and states that “no reform bill should be adopted unless it contains a true national single-payer public option.”  Legislator Nathan Shinagawa predicted that a single-payer system would significantly reduce administrative costs and would be the only option with the true economies of scale to produce true savings.

Both Legislators Proto and Kathy Luz Herrera expressed concern that the measure, as a member-filed resolution, had not gone through the Legislature’s normal committee process, which Legislator Kiefer said she had not thought necessary since it reaffirmed an earlier position. 

Legislator Hattery said that, while the health care issue may not be partisan, there are real differences about how people view the best solution to the problem.  Legislator Sigler predicted that a single-payer system would reduce quality of care, with long and unacceptable delays in treatment, and he predicted that “fighting the government will be as difficult as fighting the insurance companies.”  An amendment that Sigler proposed which would have called for the single-payer system to be “fair to all”, with all federal and union workers and members of Congress and the Executive Branch included, failed by a 3-10 party-line vote.
Contact:  Dooley Kiefer, 257-7453; Legislator Will Burbank, 272-7555; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978.

Legislature Supports Statewide Ban on Texting While Driving
The Legislature, by a vote of 10-3, urged the State Legislature to adopt as soon as possible an amendment to the Vehicle and Traffic Law to prohibit operators of motor vehicles from text messaging while driving.  (Legislators Mike Sigler, Mike Hattery and Jim Dennis voted no; Legislators Greg Stevenson and Tyke Randall were excused.)  The measure states the position that a statewide ban is more effective than a patchwork of local laws banning the practice.  A local county ban initially had been proposed, but failed to make it out of committee, after committee members and law enforcement officials had expressed concern about how a local-only law against texting while driving could be enforced and prosecuted. 

Legislator Nathan Shinagawa, who advanced both the earlier proposal for a local law and advocacy for the statewide ban, said a state law carries the advantage of addressing the cultural aspect of text messaging through statewide public education programs, noting that many people, especially those under age 25, think that there is nothing wrong with texting while driving.  Legislator Sigler stated that, while he agrees that texting while driving is unwise, through its action, the Legislature is “legislating common sense,” with such enforcement taking officers’ time away from more important functions.  Legislator Hattery added that there are many dangerous activities that are the focus of public education campaigns that do not have laws prohibiting them.  Legislator Carol Chock left open the option of proposing a local law at a later time, should the state not pass a statewide ban in a timely fashion.
Contact:  Martha Robertson, Chair, Public Safety Committee, 272-0584; Nathan Shinagawa, Chair, Government Performance and Workforce Relations Committee, 280-7557; Legislator Michael Sigler, 339-7978.

Legislators Authorize Agreement to Develop Nation’s First Airport “Green” Master Plan
The Legislature, by unanimous vote, approved a consultant agreement to develop the nation’s first “green” master plan, a 20-year plan that will incorporate sustainable elements into all future airport projects, whenever possible, with the goal of greatly reducing or eliminating the airport’s carbon footprint. 

“Mounting evidence about climate change brings with it an urgency for all of us to protect the environment for future generations,” notes Airport Manager Bob Nicholas.  “Through this initiative I hope that we can do our bit and perhaps set an example for other airports to follow.”

The nearly $300,000 agreement with C&S Engineers, Inc. of Syracuse is approved subject to receipt of funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and State Department of Transportation.  The FAA will support 95% of the cost, with the state paying another 2.5%.  The $7,345 local share of project cost will come from airline fee revenue in the airport’s operating budget.  The project represents the first time that any airport in the nation has been permitted to use federal Airport Improvement Program funds as part of the master planning process.
Contact:  Airport Manager Bob Nicholas, 257-0456, ext. 543; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chair, Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, 277-5104.

Among other actions, the Legislature

  • Adopted a formal agreement and bylaws for the Intermunicipal Law Enforcement Technology Shared Services  (LETSS) group.  The vote was 12-1. with Legislator Leslyn McBean-Clairborne dissenting. The action formalizes the governance structure for a multi-jurisdictional data sharing program among the county’s criminal justice agencies, establishing the LETSS group as an oversight group reporting to the Legislature’s Public Safety Committee.
  • Appropriated more than $300,000 in unspent funds from 2008 to departmental accounts for use in the current year’s budget.  Thirteen departments were certified by the Finance Director to have unspent appropriations and excess revenues from 2008.  Nearly $300,000 in additional certified rollover funding was returned to the County’s General Fund.
  • Authorized a five-year extension, to the end of 2013, to the Air Service Board for Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.  The Air Service Board is an advisory board which assists airport administration with business and air service development, marketing, public and community relations, and airline negotiations.
  • Awarded a more than $100,000 contract for a runway safety-related project at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport to B&H Taxilane Lighting, Inc. of Conklin, New York.  With 95% of project cost supported by the Federal Aviation Administration and additional support from the State Department of Transportation, the local share of the project to relocate the runway 32 localizer array is just over $2,500.

Highlights of Legislature meetings

Tompkins County Legislature home page