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Police allowed to stop drivers for sending text messages

LOCKPORT - Niagara County will have a tougher law against sending text messages while driving than the state will, at least for a month.

The County Legislature last week passed a local law barring texting while driving and imposing a $150 fine for each offense. It takes effect 30 days after Tuesday's passage.

The State Legislature passed a similar bill, but the main difference was that the state law calls for "secondary enforcement." That means a police officer can pull someone over for texting only if the officer sees some other infraction besides that.

Police in Niagara County will not be under any such restriction-at least until the state law goes into effect Nov. 1.

"It's unfortunate that the governor signed that law," said Legislator Jason J. Murgia, D-Niagara Falls, referring to the secondary enforcement provision.

On another topic, the Legislature passed a Medicaid provider fraud auditing contract, hiring the Bonadio Group of Pittsford to audit cases dug up by Robert M. Restaino, the county's Medicaid fraud investigator.

He estimated the company will be paid $15,000 to $17,000 for each of a dozen pending audits.

Also last week, the Legislature approved the creation of eight new jobs in Social Services-six caseworkers, a supervisor and a clerical worker - to help deal with a steady increase in child abuse reports.

The state gave the county a $203,000 grant that will pay for the new workers' salaries and benefits in full-but only until March 31. Thereafter, the county will have to cover a portion of the cost.

The Legislature also applied for a $362,935 state grant to pay for a new water playground to replace the 1963-vintage wading pool in Oppenheim Park in Wheatfield. The same amount is being sought from the Niagara River Greenway Commission, a grant which also would cover a similar improvement in Krull Park in Olcott.

Info Quick Solutions, which computerizes the county clerk's land and court files, was given a $23,000 contract to process pistol permits, including the printing of plastic cards for permit holders.

On the other hand, the company agreed to pay the county a share of the money it is earning by selling online access to county clerk records, which would bring the county $26,000 for the first eight months of this year.

R. B. Mac Construction Co. of Lockport was hired for $129,000 to reconstruct some cellblocks in the older section of the County Jail, and Clough Harbour & Associates of Buffalo was given a $122,000 contract to design replacements for several bridge railings around the county.

The Legislature also voted to allow the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda to join the county's purchasing group for natural gas and electricity.

It also passed a stack of resolutions complaining about recent state laws: increases in hunting and fishing license fees, abolishing STAR school tax rebate checks, and $200-per-child handouts of federal stimulus money to welfare recipients who have children.

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