By Jessica Bakeman
ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed 155 bills Thursday, including legislation aimed at increasing attendance in early childhood classes and cracking down on animal abuse.
Much of the legislation Cuomo approved deals with local issues. The measures were passed by the state Legislature during the legislative session that ended last month. Cuomo had until the end of the day Wednesday to act on the bills; he didn't veto any of them.
One new law authorizes the Rochester City School District to require that most 5-year-olds attend kindergarten.
The bill -- sponsored by Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece, Monroe County, and Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester -- is not unique. It was approved recently for New York City and similar legislation went into effect 25 years ago in Syracuse.
The law, effective immediately, applies to children who turn 5 on or before Dec. 1 of a specific school year, except those "whose parents elect not to enroll their children in school until the following September" and those enrolled in private or home schooling.
Cuomo signed into law other education-related measures. One authorizes school districts to provide busing to pre-kindergarten programs, effective immediately. The previous law didn't expressly authorize districts to provide busing.
The state education department supported the change.
"One major barrier to participation in public pre-kindergarten programs is the need for transportation, particularly in rural school districts," Richard Trautwein, the education department's counsel, wrote in a memo June 26.
Schools that were affected by Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene in 2011 inspired a policy change that now ensures severe weather or emergencies beyond schools' control won't cause them to lose state aid.
"The physical devastation resulting from Tropical Storm Lee and Hurricane Irene was unparalleled in recent history," Trautwein wrote in a June 26 memo. "(It) destroyed roadways and bridges, all types of infrastructure including homes, schools and businesses, and vehicles, including school buses."
Previously, schools that were not able to hold classes for the state-mandated 180 days would lose funding, even if they missed days because of a natural disaster.
Cuomo signed into law a bill that creates a misdemeanor charge for those who own, sell or manufacture animal fighting paraphernalia with intent. It takes effect in 90 days.
The legislation includes intent as not to penalize people who keep souvenirs, such as a family heirloom from a culture where cock fighting is common, said Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, the bill's sponsor.
The law is "a useful tool for law enforcement," he said.
Another new law requires hospitals to offer the whooping cough vaccination to parents and family members of newborns. It takes effect in 180 days.
Newborn babies cannot be vaccinated against whooping cough, but they can die from it, explained Elie Ward, director of policy for the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"New York and many other states right now are in the grip of a whooping cough epidemic," she said.
"When you're in a family that has a newborn, you're so overwhelmed with things to do," she continued. "If you're at the hospital, you ought to be able to easily get immunized to protect your baby."
A bridge in Western New York will bear the name of two beloved celebrities -- Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, best known for their leading roles in the television show, "I Love Lucy."
Cuomo approved legislation this week dubbing the bridge on Route 86 in the town of Ellicott as the "Lucille Ball - Desi Arnaz Memorial Bridge." Ball was from Jamestown.
During the session, the Legislature approved 304 bills that have not yet been sent to Cuomo's office for consideration. In total, both chambers passed 571 bills in 2012.
In a memorandum to the governor's office dated July 10, the state Education Department offered support for the Rochester kindergarten measure. It noted that the Board of Regents adopted a policy in 2005 that advocated lowering the mandatory school age from 6 to 5.
State law now requires first-grade attendance. Parents who don't enroll their children could be reported to the Office of Children and Family Services.
"This bill strikes an appropriate balance in promoting kindergarten at the age of 5 while being responsive to local needs by providing exceptions," Trautwein wrote.
Rochester Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said the law will help the district reach its goal of having every student reading at grade level by the third grade.
The district already enrolls about 90 percent of kindergarten-aged students, but the new law will give them influence reaching other children.
"For us to be able to educate our children, it depends on the children being there," Vargas said.