ALBANY, NY – On Saturday, the New York State legislature ended its legislative session for this year. Here are a few issues we’ve been following in Ithaca and Tompkins County and how the state’s decisions will trickle down to our area.

Another take on the heroin epidemic

While we wait to see if and when The Ithaca Plan — the city’s comprehensive, controversial plan to battle the heroin epidemic —  gets off the ground, the state has also been taking measures to combat the opioid problem.

The state’s approach is considerably less controversial and does not include any of the harm reduction strategies that drew criticism, such as supervised injection sites. Instead, the state’s plan focuses on prevention and treatment.

According to a report, one of the major provisions of the state’s new approach aims to prevent people from developing an opioid addicition by limiting painkiller prescriptions to a seven day supply, down from 30. This limit does not apply to those who suffer from chronic pain.

Other provisions include:

  • removing the need for prior authorization from insurance companies for patients seeking inpatient treatment or medications like suboxone that are designed to combat withdrawal
  • insurance coverage for naloxone, a drug used to revive a person from opioid overdose
  • an extra day of emergency treatment (up from 48 hours to 72)
  • improved education for doctors who prescribe painkillers
  • funding for more beds and treatment program slots statewide

Ethics reform fails

In May, the Tompkins County Legislature made a resolution calling on the state government to pass substantial ethics reforms. Ithaca lawyer Leslie Danks-Burke has also made the ethics issue a key point in her run for State Senate against Tom O’Mara.

The resolution established that over the past 15 years, 30 New York State legislators left office due to criminal misconduct. The most recent examples are Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Dean Skelos, a Democrat and a Republican respectively, who were both convicted of corruption late last year.

The Tompkins Legislature resolution outlined several possible reforms. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the New York Legislature was listening.

According to a Washington Times report, there were some reforms passed, but they will do little to address to root problems of corruption in Albany. They settled on measures that would limit the power of lobbyists and Super PACs, but would do little to punish lawmakers who abused their position.

While the Assembly unanimously passed a bill that would strip pensions for officials charged with corruption, the State Senate were pushing for a broader version of the measure that would affect more state workers.

Ride-sharing drive runs out of gas

App-based ride-sharing service Uber has been making a massive push to try and make its service available in upstate New York. Currently, such services are only available in New York City due to insurance regulations.

While Uber is naturally focused on larger cities like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, it has gained support from the mayors of smaller cities like Ithaca, Utica, Rome and Hornell. Many groups on college campuses have pushed for ride-sharing to be allowed upstate as well.

Uber says it will bring jobs, convenience and a safe-alternative to drunk-driving to upstate. It’s opponents, however, argued that it creates an unfair market environment for taxi companies and that Uber does a poor job catering to people with disabilities, lower-income people and the elderly.

While the Senate passed a bill that would bring ride-sharing to upstate, the Assembly wanted a bill that had much higher insurance requirements. Uber proponents argued that the higher insurance requirements would effectively kill the idea of Uber in upstate anyway, as the business model would no longer be affordable.

Ultimately, the two houses could not agree and so ride-sharing services will remain downstate-only for now.

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.