Russian voters, race horses aided by NY's new laws

AP News
Posted: Dec 30, 2009 2:00 PM

Russian immigrants will get help voting, and cheaters trying to dope race horses will face tougher odds under New York's newest laws.

The two changes are among hundreds of new laws effective with the new year. Most are arcane and involve bureaucratic changes and fiscal restructuring, but they hit New Yorkers _ directly or indirectly.

One law begins a new era for government employees. Workers hired after Jan. 1 will join a less lucrative public pension plan. The plan adopted by Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature is projected to save the state $48 billion over three decades, compared to continuing the current level of pension benefits for future employees.

The new tier is less generous in benefits and requires new employees to pay 3.5 percent of income per year for life toward their retirement. In the previous tier, some workers, including teachers, paid 3 percent toward their retirement for 10 years.

The New York State United Teachers, one of several major public worker unions which shaped the plan with legislators, put in a last-minute rush to get future teachers into the more expensive pension system. Through its Web site and by word of mouth, NYSUT members showed how a future teacher could work as a substitute teacher for one day before Jan. 1 and lock in a place in the more lucrative pension tier.

In New York's large horse racing and breeding industry, a new law seeks to protect horses from horsemen who try to dope a horse away from New York's four thoroughbred and seven harness tracks, where law enforcers operate.

"By adopting out-of-competition testing rules, the Board is protecting not only the wagering public, but also the health and safety of the magnificent equine athletes who compete at New York's four Thoroughbred and seven harness tracks," said John Sabini, chairman of the state Racing and Wagering Board.

Sanctions include long suspensions, fines and possible revocation of licenses. Prohibited substances that will be tested for include blood-doping agents, gene-doping agents, and protein and peptide-based drugs, including toxins and venoms.

Another law will make voting easier for a large and growing immigrant group.

Hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants in New York City are expected to get help voting under a law effective Jan. 1 requiring that election material be translated into their native language.

The New York Immigration Coalition says voting documents are already available in Spanish, Chinese and Korean, under the federal Voting Rights Act. But, the group said, tens of thousands of immigrants in New York City aren't covered.

Republicans in New York's Legislature had accused Democratic sponsors of the bill of trying to drum up Democratic votes in the city, which is seeing a rise in Russian-speaking immigrants.

There are 320,000 residents of New York City born in Russia or other areas of the former Soviet Union and at least 1 million Russian-speaking city residents. In some Assembly districts, as many as 20 percent of residents speak Russian, according to the Assembly sponsors.

Baruch College found Russian was the fourth most spoken language in New York City, after English, Spanish, and Chinese, with 194,000 speaking Russian at home.