New York state Senator Dan Stec discusses State of the State speech and session priorities
New York senator Dan Stec represents northern and eastern New York’s 45th district. He has joined with fellow Republicans to advocate for the caucus’ Take Back New York 2022 agenda, which includes legislation to revise public safety laws. Stec tells WAMC North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley he agrees with some of the plans Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul outlined in her State of the State, but he thinks there were some omissions.
Certainly the first thing that you need to compare is against her predecessor, her presentation or style or demeanor, all better. You know just a little more professional and polite, a nicer approach. And nice goes a long way with me. She said though right in her speech she wants to have a good relationship with the legislature, I'll believe her. I'll take that at face value. I don't think her predecessor would ever say that. And if he did I don't think any of us would have believed him. So I was encouraged by that you know and again I wasn't surprised at all. I think her predecessor set a low bar. It was easier for her to be well received by the legislature and I think she was. The other takeaway, though, as far as just overall impressions is on my eight previous years in the assembly, all of those presentations were done in the concourse in the in the convention center. And so the governor had the advantage of two huge screens next to him. He was giving a PowerPoint presentation. Where with Governor Holchul was in the traditional home of this address in the Assembly chamber and it was empty because of COVID and so we're all watching it on the screen and it was a traditional speech. Very different thing to watch. Her presentation I think it was a little more broad, big picture. Whereas Cuomo's PowerPoint presentations usually got down into more specifics and details and numbers. Overall she was refreshing to me as opposed to her predecessor.
Senator Stec what did you make of the content of Governor Hochul's presentation?
I was encouraged. She touched on a lot of big topics but again not into a lot of detail. We will get that detail next week in the budget. But some of the specifics things that she pointed out that caught my eye and I was pleased with is acknowledging that we're not done with broadband build out. That's a big issue in the North Country, broadband and cellular service. A lot of us at all levels of government on both sides of the aisle are pushing very hard to make sure that we finish that. Remember several years ago Governor Cuomo put a half a billion dollars into it. And we've made progress but we're not done. He was all set to say, declare victory and move on. Governor Hochul came in and said we're going to put a billion dollars in. So I mean that's significant dollar amount when you compare to a half a billion before. I don't know if a billion is the right number. But my takeaway was an acknowledgment that there's still a significant amount of work to be done on broadband, which it's public safety, it's economic development, it's education, especially in COVID. I mean, there's just any reasons that we had before COVID to want to build out broadband you multiply that by 10 now. So I was encouraged specifically about that. Another one that I was encouraged by, a much smaller dollar amount and thankfully, a much smaller population that we're talking about but a very deserving population, the Joseph P. Dwyer veterans peer-to-peer counseling funding. Historically runs about $5 million in the state budget, which is a small portion of our state budget. This is peer-to-peer counseling services for veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or traumatic brain injury. So again, these are people that raised their right hand, took an oath, served their country, sacrificed and now need services because they're suffering from brain disorder or from PTSD. Governor Cuomo used to zero that out every year, every $5 million. And he would take it out of the budget and make the legislature negotiate it back in. It was playing a game. He was playing a game with it. It was a chip. And Governor Hochul, to her credit, not only did she say we're gonna fund it she wants to increase the funding. That's important to me. As a veteran I have a soft spot for my fellow veterans, especially the ones that need these services. And, again, you know, I mean, the most deserving group I think of constituents I have is a disabled veteran or a veteran that needs these services. And, you know, again, I was encouraged that Governor Hochul feels similarly about veterans. So those are two specific areas that I felt, you know, very good about.
Well those two specific areas are also in the list of your session priorities that you released at the very end of December prior to her...
It's like she was reading my mail! You know, these are the areas that my my constituents reach out to me about. You know, the broadband, and I know that my colleagues in the assembly in the North Country will say similarly, an awful lot of calls into my office. The two biggest areas in the last few years have been unemployment issues and broadband or cellular issues. And again because when we were all locked down and everything was closed everyone needed unemployment and everyone needed broadband to telecommute to do their telehealth or, or to, you know, their kids were locked out of school and they were getting remote learning. I mean, so everyone and their brother was trying to get on the internet at the same time. It highlighted the shortcomings that we had. So those are two of my top priorities and again I was pleased that they made in the State of the State.
One of the other priorities that you listed is the creation of special EMS and ambulance districts. I know that Essex County in particular, because it is so rural, has faced a lot of challenges because of a lack of being able to recruit people for EMS and ambulances. What's the reaction of other legislators to this legislation that you're proposing? I mean some city areas I would think wouldn't necessarily understand the need.
We did submit legislation. It has a bill number now. And actually there's a couple different pieces of legislation out there. And this is not a new issue and not is all the legislation new. There's a statewide bill that Senator Little had with Assemblyman (D. Billy) Jones. Last year I took it over from from Betty. So Senator Stec now and and Assemblyman Jones have a statewide ambulance district bill that would allow counties to create EMS ambulance districts within the counties. But that bill hasn't been going anywhere. It's gotten a lot of pushback from I suspect your professional paid EMS providers in your urban areas. So I can understand that resistance. But an unintended consequence, maybe their resistance is hurting rural parts of the state. So I drafted a second piece of legislation that is for Adirondack counties only, so the 12 counties that are either wholly or partly in the Adirondacks. Under this legislation we've carved it away from Erie County from Buffalo from, you know, from Syracuse, from Albany, from downstate, from New York City. Because those are rural counties, those 12 counties have an awful lot in common. I represent six of them, all or part of six of them. And you will have pockets in the Adirondacks that have good programs in place. We've got a good tax base. It's working for us. Our response times are good. We've got it. But then you have a lot of smaller towns, more rural parts of the Adirondacks, they're seeing their ambulance squads closed because they they they can't get the funding and they can't get people to volunteer. This would allow a county to say alright let's consider creating a district. Maybe they create it for the entire county, maybe they create it for part of the county. Actually the way the legislation is written a district could straddle multiple counties. So a district could be drawn based on service realities as opposed to where the political boundaries are. Because it's absolutely wrong and you hear too often 40 - 45 minutes for an ambulance to get somebody that had a heart attack. I mean minutes count when it's when it's a heart injury or heart attack. And so we want to have this as efficient as possible. And that means giving local municipalities more flexibility legally. The way that the state law currently works only a town can create a district. This would allow a county to create a district that straddles multiple towns and multiple counties.
Dan Stec, one of the other things that you brought up in late December and has been brought up again, not just by you but the the GOP caucus, is public safety. You wanted to reform bail reform. What are some of the key provisions that you're looking at?
Sure. Back to the State of the State. This was one specific area that Governor Hochul did not mention. If you had asked me the question what was something in the State of the State that was left out or something in the State of State that disappointed you the lack of mention of the criminal justice issues and how it's been really made messed up by recent legislation, to not gonna mention from the governor as something that she wants to work on disappointed me. And again all you have to do is this a real issue politically? Look at the election results on Long Island from this past November. A lot of those races, the county executive races, District Attorney races, hinged on these criminal justice issues. And the Democrats took a pounding because the public has a perception, and it's founded in fact now because we've been doing this for a couple years and we have statistics now, that they're feeling less safe that there's a revolving door that a lot of criminals are getting released and recommitting over and over again. Recent reports said that more than 50% of those that were released on no bail, recommitted a crime. And it's not just confined in New York City. A lot of people will say well are we having these problems in the North Country? You know what? My phone rang off the hook from people from Moriah they have a drug problem. And Moriah and I don't mean to pick on Moriah. They are seeing the results in little Moriah. So if Moriah is struggling with this then everyone from Montauk point to Buffalo is seeing it to some extent. What I'd like to see is what should have happened. Repeal it. Go back to what it was before. Oh, we can't do that there are problems with it before. I'll give you that. But you know what, first let's undo what we did. And then let's do it the right way. And the right way would include, which didn't happen. involve the Sheriffs Association, involve the District Attorneys Association. How you fundamentally change criminal justice without talking to the sheriff's and the district attorney's that's like me writing a medical manual and not talking to a doctor. I mean, it's just it makes no sense. Involve them. And oh, by the way, they're not partisan. If you look around the state there are a lot of Republican and Democrat DA's and sheriffs. So this isn't give the keys to Republican right wingers that are law and order and lock everybody up. Talk to the the Democrat chairs and the Democrat DA's. I know what they'll say. It'll be very similar to what the Republican because they're professionals and they know the issue and they know the shortcomings and they will help us. They'll say you know what this is how you fix that. At a bare minimum we got to give judges discretion and we got to let them factor in the dangerousness of the criminal. You know, I mean, if if a kid steals a loaf of bread in the store that kid shouldn't have to sit in jail because he doesn't have $500. I'm with you. I'm with you eight days a week on that. I don't know anyone in the legislature that isn't with you. But what we've got is people that are being let out and committing violent crimes over and over again, bank robberies over and over again, assaults over and over again. This isn't right either. And the judges are saying their hands are tied, that they can't consider bail because of the crime that has been charged. And so it doesn't matter. Is this person likely to reoffend? Is this person likely to hurt somebody? They're not allowed to consider that under these new bail rules. So undo it and then start over and get it right.
Well here's something that is parallel to criminal justice reform kind of goes along with it. And as I look at the packages that the Republicans have put out, the Protect Those Who Protect Us package, and then the Take Back New York 2022 agenda, I don't see anything in those yet that have any reforms or funding for corrections. And your district obviously has quite a few correctional facilities, a few of which are once again on the chopping block. So why don't those packages address jails and prisons, which are also part of what I would expect to be criminal justice reform?
We've attacked so many aspects of criminal justice, including with the closures. Now I mean when you have 70,000 beds and 31,000 heads for those beds that's a strong argument to close prisons. Now why is that? Well, because we've decriminalized everything. Just because you made something not illegal doesn't mean that we aren't all of a sudden behaving better, because, hey, we only have 31,000 people, you've let a lot of people out of prisons. And that's why we are faced with closing prisons. But you mentioned the six that the governor was given as part of the budget, which is a whole other issue. We put so much into the budget that that shouldn't be there. But the governor was given the authority in last year's budget to close prisons. It didn't say had to be six. It didn't say there had to be any. It just said the governor can close prisons with a notice. And Governor Hochul picked six, a couple of them in the North Country, one of them Moriah Shock in my district. Now of the six that are on the closure list Moriah Shock is unique in that it was a shock, it was that transitional kind of nontraditional approach to corrections that everyone on the left side of the aisle always said they wanted. They should be embracing Moriah Shock. There should be more shock programs not fewer shock programs. In Ogdensburg, they just put a $10 million heating system in there. They're not finished with the heating system and Ogdensburg they spent $10 million on it, and then decided to close it. Not, you know, a whole lot of thinking it through going on here, really. And the other thing though when they talk about closing prisons, well, we're going to find jobs for everyone that was there. But don't worry we're going to take care of the community too and these buildings aren't going to aren't going to suffer on the vine. I'd like to take the people that say that and I'll take them to Lyon Mountain and to Chateaugay and to Gabriel's. The state has a horrible track record of of closing prisons and letting them go to ruin.
What's your priority as you head back down to Albany in the next few days?
Well, you know, again, we rolled out our Take Back New York package and our criminal justice reform. So we want to push those. We're going to next week we're going to be getting the budget. So first thing we're gonna do is just pour through that and see what is and isn't in there. And again it's not just revenues and expenses. It's going to be half a year's worth of legislation in there. The governor and a lot of people on the left are talking about increasing the the Excluded Worker Fund, which is unemployment benefits for people that are here illegally $2 billion last year and they're talking about I mean, these are these are the messages that we're sending New York residents. They're saying I don't need that. I'm leaving the state. So unfortunately I'm on the defense a lot fighting a lot of these things that are coming our way that don't make a lot of sense. I do want to embrace and continue to push broadband. I think that there's an opportunity to get this done and get it done well. We got to keep the schools open. I mean we still have to finish off the fight with COVID. But we've got to do it in a smart way. We got to follow science and not political science, but actual science and find a way to keep our businesses open. We just can't go into lockdown again. So we you know, we need to be vigilant, but we, you know, we don't need to overreact and say that's it we're going to lock everything down or we're going to see more people leave.
Republican Dan Stec is serving his first term as New York state Senator representing the 45th district. He served eight years in the state Assembly before filling the Senate seat vacated by retired Republican Betty Little.