New York State DMV Increases Penalty for Railroad Crossing Violations
February 16, 2017 With growing recognition of the dangers at-grade railroad crossings, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has increased the points assigned to motorists who violate the rules of the road at the nearly 2,700 railroad crossings around the state. Now, two years after the deadly Metro-North train crash in Valhalla, New York, drivers will be on notice that every effort should be taken to ensure safety at roadway intersections with railroad tracks. For many years, motorists who disobeyed traffic laws at railroad crossings risked, other than their lives and those around them, a fine and a modest 3-point penalty on their license, the same value as for speeding 1 to 10 miles per hour above the speed limit. The DMV has now increased the points for railroad crossing infractions to 5 points, to better reflect the seriousness of the risk people are taking when they do not behave lawfully while at these locations. News of the DMV’s action became clear at a legislative budget hearing yesterday when Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester) asked the Department’s Executive Deputy Commissioner, Theresa Egan, about the topic, and she reported that the change was put into place in August.
“If you are knowingly reckless at railroad crossings, you are putting yourself, those around you, and those in the train at risk for a catastrophe,” said Assemblyman Buchwald. “The New York State DMV deserves great credit for increasing the punishment for railroad crossings infractions to better reflect the danger that law-breaking drivers can create. I applaud the DMV for taking action to combat unsafe actions at railroad crossings and my hope is that drivers will get the message that at railroad crossings all signals must be followed to keep everyone around them safe.”
The change in DMV regulations comes after the deadly Valhalla train crash in February 2015 in which six individuals were killed after an SUV pulled onto the tracks at a Metro-North Railroad grade crossing, four of those victims having been residents of Buchwald’s 93rd Assembly District. Shortly after the accident, Assemblyman Buchwald introduced a bill that would have increased the points for railroad crossing violations, with the primary goal being to convey to drivers that running thought a railroad crossing or getting too close to the tracks is more dangerous than the typical traffic infraction. In August of 2015, Assemblyman Buchwald sent a letter to Executive Deputy Commissioner Egan urging the DMV to increase the point penalty. In November 2015, the Department declined the request. Undaunted, Assemblyman Buchwald reached out to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs Metro-North Railroad, to gain support for an increased penalty for violations at railroad crossings and to pursuade the DMV to take action.
Last year, Assemblyman Buchwald was also the lead Assembly sponsor of legislation, authored and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo, that implements more joint inspections of signals at railroad crossings, aligns state requirements with federal regulations on railroad bridge inspections, and increases penalties on railroad companies that do not comply with the regulations and on drivers that commit repeated railroad crossing violations.
While there is no one action will prevent all future crashes involving motor vehicles and trains at railroad crossing, it is believed that having a higher assessed point value for such violations, coupled with improved signage at crossings alerting motorists to the increased penalties, will serve as a significant reminder to drivers of the need to be extra cautious when approaching railroad tracks.
Property Tax Relieving Local Hotel Occupancy Tax Bills Signed into Law by Governor Cuomo
January 9, 2017 Three bills sponsored by Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester) that will allow local governments to enact a hotel occupancy tax in the towns of North Castle, Harrison, and Mount Kisco were signed into law by Governor Cuomo late on December 31, 2016. With the passing of A.9691, A.9692 and A.10033, local residents can hope to utilize the hotel occupancy tax to reduce property taxes and fund road repairs in the three towns.
"I would like to thank Governor Cuomo for signing these bills into law, especially since he vetoed them last year," said Assemblyman Buchwald. "The state legislature and our local governments came together and united to reduce reliance on property taxes to the relief of local residents. This is a victory for the people of Harrison, Mount Kisco and North Castle."
"I am pleased that these bills have been signed into law by Governor Cuomo. These bills will ensure the continuation of vital local services and programs while alleviating the burden on our property taxes. "said State Senator George Latimer (D-Westchester), Senate sponsor of the Harrison and North Castle bills.
“The Town of North Castle is very pleased that the municipal occupancy bill has finally been passed into law by the Governor,” said Supervisor Michael Schiliro, Supervisor of North Castle. “The new law provides Tax Cap relief to our taxpayers as the new revenue will help improve our Town's infrastructure, specifically our roads. Kudos to Assemblyman David Buchwald and Senator George Latimer for their tireless efforts in providing tax relief to their North Castle constituents.”
“The recent passage of the occupancy tax bill is wonderful news for the Town/Village of Harrison,” said Mayor Ron Belmont, Mayor of Harrison. “The added proceeds will not only allow Harrison to make local, tourism related infrastructure investments, it will also offset increased traffic and public safety needs. I would like to thank Assemblyman David Buchwald and Senator George Latimer for their strong leadership and continued efforts in helping to pass this very important legislation.”
“Through the efforts of our representatives in the Assembly and Senate, Governor Cuomo has signed the Hotel Occupancy Tax Bill,” said Mayor Michele Cindrich, Mayor of Mt Kisco. “The legislation gives several Westchester County municipalities another tool to control real property taxes by imposing modest user fees on hotels, motels and other transient type housing. I thank Assemblyman David Buchwald, whose extensive local government experience is reflected in this bill.”
Last year, Governor Cuomo vetoed similar hotel occupancy tax bills for Harrison and North Castle. Many people felt that last year’s vetoes were unfair since neighboring municipalities, such as Rye Brook and the City of White Plains, have been allowed to impose hotel occupancy taxes. Assemblyman Buchwald and Senator Latimer, persisted, in all cases with the unanimous support of local elected officials, and ultimately their work on behalf of local property taxpayers won out.
Governor Cuomo Signs Railroad Safety Legislation into Law
November 29, 2016 Governor Andrew Cuomo has put his signature on legislation he put forward with Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester County) and Senator Joseph Robach (R-Monroe County) to implement more stringent safety measures at grade-level railroad crossings. This law comes after the deadly Valhalla train crash in 2015 in which six individuals were killed after an SUV pulled onto the tracks at a Metro-North Railroad grade crossing. The new law implements more joint inspections of signals at railroad crossings, aligns state requirements with federal regulations on railroad bridge inspections, and increases penalties on railroad companies that do not comply with the regulations and on drivers that commit railroad crossing violations.
“Too often, New Yorkers have experienced tragedies at grade-level railroad crossings. I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing this legislation into law to provide greater safety, efficiency, and modernization at our railroad crossings,” said Assemblyman David Buchwald. “This law and new safety measures are a result of cooperation between the State Legislature, the Governor, our municipal governments, and the New York State Department of Transportation.”
“The safety of our riders and motorists depends upon drivers obeying effective and well maintained traffic signals and grade crossing warning systems” said Randolph Glucksman, Metro-North Railroad Commuter Council Chair. “We thank Assemblyman David Buchwald for his efforts to ensure that traffic signals coordinated with grade crossing signals are in good working order and that laws requiring compliance with grade crossing signals are effectively enforced.”
“I want to thank Governor Cuomo and Assemblyman Buchwald for implementing new railroad safety measures for Westchester and all of New York State” said Srinivasan Selvaraj, a resident of Chappaqua, New York. “My family had a scary incident involving the malfunction of the boom barrier on Metro North’s Harlem line near the intersection of the Saw Mill River Parkway and Roaring Brook Road in Chappaqua. It is comforting to know that steps are being taken to put in place better monitoring of railroad crossings.”
In 2014, over 250 deaths were related to railroad crossing collisions across the country. Many New Yorkers use railroad crossings or rely on trains on a daily basis. This law is a necessary part of ensuring the safety of commuter trains and drivers.
The new law goes fully into effect on December 1.
Governor Cuomo and Assemblyman Buchwald Help New York Families Save for College
November 29, 2016 With the financing of higher education becoming an even bigger challenge for Americans, Governor Andrew Cuomo has signed into law legislation that provides an innovative solution to help families save for college. The bill, A.9118, sponsored and introduced by Assemblyman David Buchwald (D-Westchester County), unanimously passed both the State Assembly and Senate earlier this year. The new law allows New Yorkers to directly deposit their state tax refunds into a 529 College Savings Plan.
New York State residents have long been encouraged to save for higher education through the New York 529 College Savings Program. Savings in a 529 account can grow tax-free when used to pay for higher education expenses, including room and board, books and other supplies. And while New Yorkers could always deposit their state income tax refunds into their bank accounts, now they can directly send all or part of their refunds to their 529 college savings accounts. So, Buchwald’s bill provides a more convenient way to save for higher education especially at tax refund time, when it is easier for many families to put money away for the future.
“Government should empower citizens, and that is all the more important when it comes to families saving for their children’s college education,” said Assemblyman Buchwald. “I want to thank Governor Cuomo for signing my bill into law and thank all of my legislative colleagues who voted for this bill. New Yorkers now have a direct route every April to provide their loved ones improved access to higher education.”
“Every parent of a college-bound student in New York State should take advantage of our 529 college savings plan,” State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said. “Saving early is the best way to combat the rising costs of a college education and Assemblyman Buchwald’s bill will make it even easier to do so.”
“We applaud Governor Cuomo and the New York State Legislature for passing important legislation that will make the possibility of saving for college a reality for ALL children and their families” said Jennifer March, Executive Director of Citizens’ Committee for Children. ‘This new law will enable every New York family that files taxes to split their tax refund and deposit a portion into a 529 college savings account. Research clearly demonstrates how just a small amount of college savings can give a child a college-oriented identity and dramatically increase his or her chances of attending and completing college. In this competitive labor market, we know that we can never start too soon in providing our children with a clear path toward college and career. This law is a win-win for children, youth, families and all New Yorkers.”
“On behalf of New York’s working poor families, The Financial Clinic, wants to it extend sincere gratitude and congratulations to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, especially Assembly Member David Buchwald and State Senator Thomas Croci, for recognizing that New York’s families, and especially its low-income families, need every opportunity to help save for their children to go to college” said Mae Warson Grote, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Clinic. “Now 9 million New Yorkers will have an annual chance to build savings at tax time and thousands will use that opportunity to make college easier for themselves and their children. With the rising cost of education and a greater than ever emphasis placed on educational success in the labor market, Governor Cuomo has demonstrated his commitment to New York’s families and the success of their children as well as building the financial security of working poor New Yorkers. Looking forward, The Financial Clinic is eager to support the New York Department of Taxation and Finance as it acts to implement and extend this critical opportunity to New York tax filers.”
New York’s 529 college savings program has been recognized as one of the best in the nation according to SavingForCollege.com in its 2015 and 2016 analyses of individual states’ 529 investment plans.
Buchwald’s bill, A.9118 had 48 co-sponsors in the State Assembly, both Democrats and Republicans. Senator Thomas Croci (R-Suffolk County) carried the bill in the State Senate and was instrumental in getting this bill passed in both houses.
Letter from Assemblyman David Buchwald
November 16, 2016 I want to thank the residents of Armonk for your support and votes last week. I am greatly honored to have been reelected to serve as your state representative for another two years. I will continue to work to restore public trust and promote ethical and responsible leadership in New York State Government. I do not take for granted the fact that I did not have an opponent this year; it simply encourages me to continue representing all of my constituents, no matter their political party, through both my legislative and community initiatives. My job, though filled with occasional hurdles and frustrations in Albany, is a pleasure because I get to help people on a daily basis. So I thank you all, once again, for giving me the privilege of representing the 93rd State Assembly District.
David Buchwald New York State Assemblyman 914-244-4450
Assembly Members Stand Against Fracking Waste
September 13, 2016 Assemblyman David Buchwald and 32 other members of the New York State Assembly have signed onto a letter urging the Department of Environmental Conservation to ban the environmentally-damaging use or disposal of hydrofracking waste in New York State. The letter comes on the final day of public comments as the DEC receives feedback on its waste management regulations. Assemblyman Buchwald (D - Mt. Kisco) championed the letter, which says that oil and gas waste should not be deposited in landfills or at wastewater treatment plants, and should not be used as a de-icing agent on roads. The letter, also asks the department to remove the exemption that prevents oil and gas waste from being treated as hazardous materials.
New York State and Governor Cuomo exercised significant leadership in banning high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York State due to its potential negative public health and environmental impacts. Yet, that during the past 6 years, five landfills in New York State have accepted approximately 590,000 tons and 23,000 barrels of fracking waster from operations in Pennsylvania.
“We should not be allowing fracking waste, especially from out of state, to be disposed in New York landfills and at wastewater treatment plants or used as a de-icing agent on our roads,” said Assemblyman Buchwald. “Now is the time for the DEC to act. I am very pleased that over 30 of my Assembly colleagues have joined me in added their voice to such an important environmental and public health issue.”
“Communities across the state are reeling from drinking water that is making people sick due to an aging infrastructure and inadequate regulations on industry” said Liz Moran, Water & Natural Resources Associate for Environmental Advocates of New York. “The acceptance of fracking waste is another example where New Yorkers’ health is compromised. The state banned fracking because of the dangers – those dangers include fracking waste. We applaud and thank Assemblyman Buchwald for his leadership in protecting New Yorkers from fracking waste.”