Niagara Gazette

December 26, 2013

GLYNN: A hard look at Rockefeller Drug Laws

By Don Glynn
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — It’s a milestone mostly overlooked by the U.S. media focusing so much on President Obama’s health care plan, the inability of federal lawmakers to resolve serious budget issues, and the growing unrest and turmoil around the globe.

In fact, it’s hard to believe that it was 40 years ago when the New York governor and state lawmakers pushed through what became known as the draconian “Rockefeller Drug Laws.” The prime supporter of that legislation was Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, the state chief executive from 1959 to 1973. Those laws increased the penalties for selling or possessing a few ounces of drugs, like heroin or marijuana, to a minimum of 15 years to life in prison.

“We arrested millions of people and built new jails in the state,” said Brian Mann, a reporter for North Country Public Radio and director of the Prison Time Media Project, an effort that has evaluated the effects of the failed drug laws.

Mann lashes out at the revisionist historians who contend that the drug laws were nothing more than the white people’s attack on black people. “In fact, the black community staunchly supported those Draconian (drug) laws,” Mann argues. The bottom line, he adds, “Those laws simply didn’t work. They didn’t stop it (drug traffic). They just put millions of people behind bars.”

It’s time to re-think the problem and, more importantly, the way society deals with it, according to Mann who was a recent guest on popular PBS program “New York Now” (WNED-TV).

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DELAY CITED: Reporters covering Gov. Cuomo’s final cabinet conference of the year were eager to find out the status of the long-awaiting state Department of Health report on the potential impact of hydrofracking on the environment. State Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shav, a Buffalo native, said his department needed more time to study the findings. When a reporter reminded Shav that he had predicted in January that the report would be released soon, the physician said: “It will be released when I complete the study of the findings.” Hydrofracking, or fracking as it’s called, is a process of drilling to extract oil and natural gas from shale rock formations. At present, New York State has a ban on the process until, Cuomo has made it clear a decision will not be made until results of the health study are reviewed.

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PAY HIKES: There’s good news, starting Jan. 1, for people now working for a minimum wage.

In New York State, one of 13 states that have approved an increase, the current $7.25 per hour rate will be boosted to $8 per hour. The highest is Washington state where the rate rises from $9.19 per hour to $9.32. (In the Sea-Tac, Wash., area, which covers 6,000 airport workers in Seattle and Tacoma, the rate will soar from $9.19 per hour to $15. The latter is being challenged in court).

As you might expect, an annual minimum wage raise is always welcomed by low-wage worker advocates and criticized by business-friendly groups.

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HELPING HANDS DEPT.: Doug Baker, president and chief executive officer of Mercy Flight-Western New York notes that in its last fiscal year, the agency forgave more than $1.3 million for care provided to uninsured and under-insured patients, an average of $1,209 per mission.

Mercy Flight continued to upgrade its equipment in 2013. Its fleet now includes one Bell 429 (helicopter) and four BK117 aircraft for its flight operations and 12 ambulances and three fly cars for its ground operations in Genesee County.

Individuals, clubs, businesses, youth groups or schools interested in finding out how to sponsor a mission should contact Samantha Ryan (716) 626-4100, ext. 308 or on the web at sryan@mercyflight.org.

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FOR THE RECORD: Ask people familiar with the debate over The Common Core State Standard for education and they’ll tell you about the widespread myths that prevail. One example: It is said Common Core accelerates overtesting.

The American Federation of Teachers replies that the standards say nothing about testing. Some states are falling into the trap of too much assessment — by testing  before implementing or rushing to impose high stakes. Others, however, are taking a more sensible approach. The AFT says that before administering new tests, states must get implementation right.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: What former president was called The Little Magician? (Answer Sunday).

Contact Reporter Don Glynnat 282-2311, ext. 2246.