Otis has successful legislative year

From Hometown News:

There were 658 bills passed in both the state Assembly and the Senate this past legislative term, five were sponsored by Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Rye Democrat.

Otis’ total was 10th-highest among the 28 first-time legislators, which include those elected in special contests in March 2012, November 2012 and special elections in 2013.

No first-term legislator had more than 10 bills passed in both houses.

The scope of Otis’ five bills includes restricting energy service companies’ telemarketing practices, stricter penalties for pet thefts, securing soccer nets, criminalization of directing laser light beams at airplanes and extending oyster farming regulations, the last of which Otis called a “standard renewal.”

“It’s difficult for first-time legislators to get significant bills passed because they go to senior legislators in committees, so you have to find bills that come up with new issues, which is what I did,” Otis said.

As of press time, three of Otis’ bills regarding pet theft, laser pointers and oysters have been signed into law by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“As a new member of the Assembly, I didn’t know how I would make out. I knew getting these passed was going to be difficult, but I think I did a good job in bringing attention to new topics that weren’t raised before and getting them passed,” Otis said.

Restricting energy service companies’ telemarketing practices

This bill is intended to protect energy consumers by establishing telemarketing standards for the 207 energy services companies in New York State.

“These are small companies that want to supply energy to you instead of Con Ed. They tell you they’re going to provide energy bills at a lower cost, which isn’t always the case,” Otis said. “They rely on misinformation and aggressive marketing tactics to confuse costumers.”

To protect customers from misinformation and confusion, Otis’ bill mandates telemarketers disclose information, including the representative’s name, name of the company and the purpose of the call, and authorizes the New York Public Service Commission to enact a $1,000 penalty for violating the mandates.

Further, the bill would require the energy companies to remove a customer from call lists upon request.

“This measure is a much-needed safeguard that empowers customers by allowing them to opt-out of energy services companies telemarketing calls and offers strict penalties to deter these companies from engaging in these abusive sales practices.”

Otis said this has been the No. 1 consumer complaint from his constituents.

Stricter penalties against pet theft

The American Kennel Club, which serves as a resource for dog owners and breeders, tracked more than 590 pet thefts in 2013 and found there was a 31 percent increase over the previous year.

The Kennel Club said, “Thefts range from tiny puppies being stuffed into purses at pet stores to, most recently, purebred pets being snatched from cars in parking lots and shelters.”

Otis said these dogs are typically sold to families, research facilities or puppy mills or used in dog fighting rings.

Otis’ bill increases the penalties for stealing pets from $200 to $1,000.

“There has been a sharp rise in reports of stolen pets, yet New York’s penalties have not increased in over 40 years,” Otis said. “It is my hope that stiffening the penalty will reduce the number of animal thefts and prevent the cruelty that comes with this serious crime.”

Securing soccer nets

At the professional sports level, there have been discussions about protecting players against concussions in football and pitchers in baseball from being struck with line drives.

At the New York State level, Otis’ bill would protect soccer players by implementing safety guidelines for moveable soccer goals.

A study by Anchored for Safety, a group dedicated to educating the public about unsafe soccer goals, found since 1979 there were 38 deaths and 56 injuries around the world from falling soccer goals.

“A gust of wind…a young player…an uneven playing field…In their current design, only 22 pounds of force can bring a 400-pound goal crashing down, injuring—even killing—a player,” Anchored for Safety said.

Otis’ bill requires the New York Department of State, with recommendations from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, to develop mandatory statewide safety rules for moveable soccer goals. Otis said those standards are to be based on the existing U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s “Guidelines for Moveable Soccer Goal Safety,” which serve as the best practices safety guidance, but have been optional previously.

“This takes an optional guideline and makes it mandatory,” Otis said.

Otis spoke about the inspiration for this bill, which came from a 2012 incident when a nine-year-old Rye Brook girl broke her femur when a goal post fell on her.

Otis said the bill establishes a $500 fine for failing to comply with the standards set forth by the Department of State.

Criminalization of directing laser light beams at airplanes

If Otis’ bill is signed into law, shining a laser at an airplane or in its flight path will be a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a max of one year in prison, or a class E felony, which is a max of four years in prison.

Otis compared the laser light to a camera flash in a dark room.

“It can temporarily blind a pilot or impair his or her night vision,” Otis said. “This endangers the lives of the pilots, passengers and people on the ground.”

According to a press release from Otis, the FBI and the Federal Aviation Administration began tracking laser incidents in 2005. Since then, there has been more than a 1,100 percent increase in the number of incidents nationally, increasing from 283 in 2005 to nearly 4,000 in 2014. There have been five incidents in 2014 alone.

This bill would align New York State law with federal law and “protect New York City airports by allowing local law enforcement to prosecute offenders,” Otis said.