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Niagara Legislature passes animal abuser law

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature created an animal abuser registry on Tuesday.

Sponsored by the Legislature’s four Niagara Falls Democrats, the law requires any county residents convicted of an animal cruelty crime to pay a $125 fee and submit their name, address and photo for a website. The information will be listed for 15 years after the conviction and must be updated with address changes. The law also prohibits pet stores and animal adoption agencies from selling animals to anyone listed on the registry.

Minority Leader Dennis F. Virtuoso said the idea was inspired by recent incidents such as the beating of a turtle with a baseball bat and a dog being thrown out of a car in a bag in Royalton.

Legislator Richard Andres, R-North Tonawanda, said he hopes the registry will lead to more public reporting of animal cruelty.

Ian Stirling of Niagara Falls, a member of a Central New York animal rescue group, praised the law. “You’re stepping up. You’re telling the governor and the people of this state this is important,” he said.

His wife Dianne Stirling said ending animal abuse is a long-term project. “Get one abuser off the street at a time. That’s what you want to go for. Feel good about it for five minutes and jump back in,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Social Services Commissioner Anthony J. Restaino told lawmakers that the union representing his department’s employees sabotaged a potential compromise over a new work schedule.

Civil Service Employees Association members denied it and said the Oct. 13 picket that angered Restaino was aimed at winning a new contract.

Dozens of CSEA members picketed the Legislature meeting, as they have for the past few months, protesting the contract situation.

The department abandoned the 17-year-old flexible work schedule last week, as Restaino concluded that it was being abused by Social Services employees who come to work late and leave early. Workers, whose schedules call for seven hours a day plus an unpaid lunch, used to be allowed to start anywhere from 7 to 10 a.m., although they had to stick with a given schedule for at least four months. Now, everyone must work from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“Sixty-seven percent of the department was out of the building at 3 p.m. The building is open until 4,” Restaino said. He said clients were finding they couldn’t reach their caseworkers.

“Then there’s frustration at both ends,” he said.

Social Service manager Suzanne Needler said the workers are frustrated, too, because of the county’s four-year freeze on annual “step increases” in pay, which ended this year. It makes a difference of as much as $3 an hour and has cost her $13,000 in the past four years.

Restaino said he was “impressed” by an Oct. 7 compromise proposal from the union, but he said he was accused of unfair labor practices in the Oct. 13 picket. He said no talks will be scheduled until at least after the holidays.

The CSEA had no recourse to stop the schedule change because the original agreement allowed it to be canceled with two weeks’ notice. Restaino made the decision in late July.

During Restaino’s talk, Dominic Luna, the CSEA’s chief negotiator, started shouting at him and was asked by Legislature Chairman William L. Ross to leave the room.

“We believe this is not good for the people we protect,” Luna said. “Why didn’t they come to us if they had a problem?”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com