2012-04-24 / Opinion


Senator James L. SewardSenator James L. SewardFaster payment of state tax refunds, search and rescue training for volunteers, increased criminal penalties for pet theft, and the legalization and regulation of mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions in New York state. These may not sound like related topics, but legislation focusing on each was approved by the state Senate in recent days.

On New York state’s tax filing deadline, the state Senate passed legislation I strongly support that would expedite payment of income tax refunds and simplify STAR property tax relief filings for senior citizens.

Did you know that sometimes the state Department of Taxation and Finance holds returns requesting refunds for up to two months, starting from when taxpayers file their return to when they may actually see the refund? There is no legitimate reason for this. If citizens file on time, the state has a responsibility to get the refunds out the door in a timely fashion.

The Senate Bill 2631 requires the state to pay tax refunds within 30 days of the receipt of a taxpayer’s return, unless there is a discrepancy in the return. In those cases, the state would provide written notice to the taxpayer and a date when the discrepancy would be resolved. If the state fails to take these steps, it would be liable to pay interest on the refund to the taxpayer.

Related legislation, Senate Bill 1920 would simplify the renewal process senior citizens follow when applying for the school tax relief exemption. The measure allows senior citizens previously approved for STAR exemptions and who have elected not to participate in the income verification program to file a simplified renewal application annually. This will simply the renewal application process and will relieve both seniors and tax assessors of needless paperwork and wasted time.

The Senate also passed legislation that allows for the creation of a training program for volunteers interested in assisting the search and rescue operations of state forest rangers. Senate Bill 553 will enhance the safety of volunteers and the public during search and rescue operations in the Adirondacks, Catskills and other forested communities across the state.

Each year, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s forest rangers conduct over 200 search and rescue operations in remote and forested areas of the state. The assistance of trained and credentialed individuals and groups who volunteer to assist in searches would be highly valuable in providing additional resources to respond to emergency situations where lost or missing persons are in need of immediate assistance.

The Senate also tackled the growing problem of pet theft. Senate Bill 946 would make stealing a licensed dog or cat a felony and takes into account the monetary and emotional value of a pet.

According to the American Kennel Club’s database of customer and media reports, there is a continuing trend of pet thefts in the United States, with a 49 percent increase in the number of pets reported stolen in the first seven months of 2011 as compared to 2010.

Law enforcement often takes limited action on reported thefts of dogs and cats because, currently in New York, the dollar value of stolen property needed to qualify for felony larceny is $1,000. It is often very difficult to establish the value of a dog or cat, particularly when the animal is not recovered. This bill would change existing law to include the theft of pets as grand larceny, making the crime a class E felony.

Finally, the Senate once again passed legislation, Senate Bill 1707A, to legalize and regulate mixed martial arts (MMA) competitions in New York state. In recent years, mixed martial arts has evolved from its beginnings into a more reformed, organized and regulated sport. Forty-seven other states allow matches and we are losing out on significant tourist and tax dollars by barring it here.

All of these bills have been forwarded to the New York State Assembly.

Senator Seward’s office web site is

Return to top