Could 2013 be the year…

…Indian Point begins to power down?

Two months of Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings on the future of the Indian Point Energy Center wrapped up last week, and though the license for one of the nuclear generators there is set to expire next fall — with the other terminating in 2015 — the practical reality is that the reactors can keep running until the commission decides whether to authorize their use for another 20 years at the request of their operator. It’s not operating under any deadline.

The Indian Point Energy Center, which supplies a sizable share of New York City’s electricity. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

But the state of New York isn’t waiting: it is already beginning to plan for an energy future without the nuclear facility, which is just 25 miles up the Hudson River from New York City and supplies much of the region’s electricity. As part of the Energy Highway Blueprint introduced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo this fall, the New York State Public Service Commission, responsible for overseeing the state’s utility companies, has directed Con Edison and the New York Power Authority to develop a contingency plan for generating electricity should the Indian Point facility close down. That plan is due to the state commission on the first of February, with three weeks of public comment to follow.

In a November order, the Public Service Commission dictated that the plan analyze the power-generation gaps the state would need to fill, assess other resources under development that could meet those needs, look into ways to mitigate the effects through energy efficiency efforts, explore opportunities to repower existing plants, and lay the groundwork for new projects — as well as ways to halt all of these things if it turns out Indian Point continues running as usual after 2015.

The state is also set to begin work on other aspects of Cuomo’s Energy Highway initiative — aimed at modernizing and strengthening the state’s energy system — early next year. Through the end of January, it is collecting development proposals for upgrades to a congested network of alternating-current transmission systems. It has also scheduled a conference on January 9 to begin exploring the possibility of expanding the state’s use of natural gas.

— Allison Maier


…Campaign finance reform comes to Albany?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has put campaign finance reform high on his list of priorities for the state legislature in the first months of 2013. Earlier this month, the Democratic governor ranked an overhaul of election spending laws No. 2 on what he called the “litmus test” he’ll be using to determine who in the state Senate’s coalition is worthy of his support.

Right now, the state’s campaign finance rules are riddled with loopholes, allowing sky-high individual contributions, virtually limitless donations from private companiesuncapped contributions to housekeeping funds and minimal disclosure requirements for independent spenders.

But Albany pols do not agree on how to reform the system. Last week, State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed a new rule that would force nonprofit groups to disclose what they spend on political races. Not to be upstaged, a few hours later Cuomo announced that he plans to introduce legislation that would go further than Schneiderman’s proposal, because it would apply to groups outside of New York as well.

At his 2012 State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared: “We must enact campaign finance reform this year.” AP Photo/Mike Groll

Cuomo’s 2012 State-of-the-State address included a rousing call for publicly funded campaigns, similar to the system of matching funds that is already in place in New York City. Good-government groups, including Common Cause, have championed this measure as a way to limit the power of money to sway races. (See actor Sam Waterston make the case.)

But no such reforms were enacted in 2012, and it is unclear if Cuomo will have better luck next session.

Reform legislation might not make it past the state Senate, where the GOP and the Independent Democratic Conference have forged a coalition. While members of the IDC say they support some kind of campaign reform, the conference’s leader, Jeff Klein, has so far reserved judgment on the idea of publicly funded campaigns. Dean Skelos, the senate’s Republican leader, also remains skeptical of such a measure.

For his part, Cuomo has so far refused to say whether he would support a reform bill that did not include public campaign funding.

So while the governor and key supporters on campaign finance reform have likened their quest to the successful push for same-sex marriage last year, there’s a chance any victory here will be a mixed one, and even many supporters of reform may end up with qualms about the results.

— Beth Morrissey


…Young criminal defendants stay out of adult jails and courts?

Could 2013 be the year New York finally tries minors accused of nonviolent crimes as the young people they are?

That’s the hope of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who in 2011 vowed to redirect 16 and 17-year-olds out of the adult court and jails systems and into juvenile detention facilities, probation departments or family courts. New York remains wildly out of step with scientific research and juvenile justice systems around the nation, which set the so-called age of criminal responsibility at 18. Besides New York, only North Carolina still tries teen minors as adults.

To understand why New York has resisted common sense for so long, one has to go back to the spring of 1978, when a 15-year-old by the name of Willie Bosket Jr. shot and killed two people in the New York City subway system.

In and out of the juvenile justice system from a young age, Bosket helped inspire criminologists to develop a theory of the “superpredators,” a wave of child-criminals that some called “the youngest, biggest and baddest generation any society has ever known.”

When Bosket received a mere five-year sentence under state laws on punishment of minors, it stoked public outrage and fears. In response, Governor Hugh Carey — then in a gubernatorial race against law-and-order candidate Perry Duryea —passed a law allowing juveniles as young as 13 to be tried as adults by the state’s courts, and established 16 as the general age of criminal responsibility in New York.

More than 30 years later, experts have debunked the “superpredator” theory as false and sensationalist.

Just last year, the United States Supreme ruled 5-4 that juvenile murderers cannot be sentenced to life without parole, a decision in step with its 2004 ruling in Roper v. Simmons that stated it is morally “misguided to equate the failings of a minor with an adult” and banned capital punishment for minors.

Will New York make a move at long last? Signs so far are slim. Two bills introduced in the Assembly and the House last spring stalled without a vote. Unsurprisingly, a major obstacle issue is money: how the state will pay for sweeping changes to its court system.

Family Court, which would have to take in thousands of new cases each year, has undergone enormous budget cuts in recent years. The burden of the proposed changes is estimated to be tens of millions of dollars for the state’s probation department alone.

Enthusiasm for the bills has also been tepid among some criminal justice advocates, who say they do not go far enough in protecting children. The proposed measures, for example, do not apply to teens accused of violent crimes and would not guarantee them the right to an attorney, which they currently have in adult court. “Policy makers need to have a spine. If it’s the right thing to do, then do it, but don’t do it piecemeal,” said Glenn Martin, executive director of the Fortune Society.

When the new legislative session starts in January, The New York World will be watching carefully to see whether our state’s leaders take seriously the challenging task of reforming a justice system that needlessly criminalizes young people at a great cost.

– Maura R. O’Connor



…1 million New Yorkers sign up for health care coverage?

Last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved plans for New York State’s health insurance exchange, a website and enrollment system for individuals and small businesses seeking affordable health insurance plans.

Now the clock is ticking: By October, New York will have to have the exchange up and running, with an anticipated 1 million individuals and small business employees expected to sign up for coverage through the exchange.

The state Department of Health has signed a $183.6 million contract with Computer Sciences Corporation to build the exchange in time for the 2013 deadline. The company will have to avoid the delays that plagued it in building state’s billion-dollar Medicaid billing system, which state comptroller Alan Hevesi found pushed the project back by nearly three years, adding $166 million to the cost.

A separate state request still pending with Health and Human Services could also have a big impact in 2013. The Cuomo administration, following recommendations from its Medicaid Redesign Team, has asked for approval of a $10 billion refund for savings generated through its efforts into new initiatives to improve New Yorkers’ health.

The team has calculated $17 billion in savings for the federal government through a wide array of already-implemented payment cuts and quality initiatives, and has asked to reinvest the majority of its savings back into improving the state’s health care systems.

The money could go a long way in supporting fledgling “health homes,” managed care programs that aim to reduce cost and improve outcomes for more than 5 million of the state’s highest cost and highest needs Medicaid patients. And that $525 million state plan is only one of the programs detailed in the state’s 152-page waiver application catalog. Other initiatives the state wants to see include the colocation of primary care services in or near emergency rooms to relieve crowding, expanded use of electronic health records and wider deployment of home health technologies for the disabled and elderly.

—Curtis Skinner


…the New York City primary election moves from September to June?

Political theater is never in short supply in New York, but 2013 will bring the city’s quadrennial battle royale: a mayoral election.

For the first time in 12 years, voters will elect an executive whose name is not Michael Bloomberg, and the field is already packed: there are four Democratic contenders plus a couple of credible Republicans considering a run. Just this week, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chair Joseph Lhota announced he is stepping down to ponder his own Republican bid, after he was practically beatified for his agency’s efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

Officially, the countdown clock to Election Day stands at just over 10 months. But smart political observers know that that clock should be fast-forwarded by at least eight weeks, since the current frontrunners gunning for Gracie Mansion are Democrats, and the Democratic primary is scheduled for September.

If the city’s Board of Elections has its way, New Yorkers could be headed to the polls to pick candidates as early as June — forcing contenders to rapidly accelerate their campaigns.

The board — already a punching bag for politicians and good-government advocates —claims that unless the primary is moved earlier in the year, there won’t be enough time to reset the city’s voting equipment before the general election in November, or in time for a Democratic runoff if one is needed.

“I believe ’em, that they can’t do it,” said Jerry Skurnik, a Democratic political consultant. “They say that it is impossible, and so, who am I to disagree?”

The real question, though, is whether the state legislature agrees, because they’re the ones with the authority change the date.

Reps for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Republican Senate leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Center) didn’t return our calls, and they haven’t given any recent indications that they’ll support a change in 2013.

It’s likely that at some point in the future, Albany will move up the state primary date from September to June to align with the calendar for Congressional races, after a judge changed the federal date to comply with a law that ensures military voters have enough time to file absentee ballots.

But Congressional races are held in even years, and the odd-year mayoral race is “a uniquely New York City problem,” says Douglas Kellner, the co-chair of the state Board of Elections. Which means it’s a problem that’s likely to garner little sympathy from the Republicans who control the Senate.

If Albany pols did decide to move up the city’s 2013 primary date, it would likely benefit City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who’s already the frontrunner for mayor and boasts a maxed-out spending account. A June vote would give competitors like Bill Thompson and John Liu less time to close the fundraising gap.

But in all likelihood, residents will get to enjoy — or have to stomach, depending on your point of view — another eight months of campaigning. And, there’s still time for a Republican candidate to emerge as a viable contender — which would leave the contest open all the way up through Election Day in November.

—Nathaniel Herz

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