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Katko votes with Democrats

In his first votes as a member of the House minority, Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko sided with the Democratic majority on a slew of rules changes and legislation to end the government shutdown.

Katko, R-Camillus, was one of three Republicans who voted on Wednesday to adopt the rules proposed by House Democrats. It was the first time in nearly two decades members of the opposing party supported rules changes adopted by the majority party.

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican, joined Katko in supporting the new rules.

One of the major changes adopted by House Democrats was supported by the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of members that includes Katko and Reed.

Democrats altered the motion to vacate the chair, which can be used to remove and replace a House speaker. When Republicans controlled the House, the conservative wing of the party threatened to use the motion against then-Speaker John Boehner in 2015.

Under the new rules, a motion to vacate the chair would be considered only if it has the support of a majority of the House Democratic or GOP conferences.

The other rules changes included more Democratic-friendly measures, such as the creation of a climate change committee and automatic debt ceiling increases when a budget is approved.

There are other changes that both parties favor, including tougher ethics rules and a 72-hour review period for members to read important bills before votes.

Katko said he supported the rules because it will help make the House more efficient.

"Bills with broad support will now be considered quickly and the legislative process will become more transparent," he said. "I am hopeful that with these changes, the institution will function in a more bipartisan manner."

Part of the rules resolution allows House Democrats to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Republican attorneys generals challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Proponents of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, say the lawsuit threatens several key provisions, such as protections for individuals with preexisting conditions.

The attorneys general filed the lawsuit after the adoption of the GOP tax law, which included the elimination of the Affordable Care Act's requirement that individuals buy health insurance coverage. The individual mandate penalty won't be in effect beginning this year.

A federal judge recently sided with the attorneys general, but the case will likely be decided by the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court rules that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, the law will be thrown out.

Katko, who voted for the tax law and opposed the individual mandate, does support preserving protections for those with pre-existing conditions and other provisions of the health care law. He noted in a statement that he supported a resolution that would require Congress to "act swiftly" and reinstate protections if they are affected by a court ruling.

"With the changes made today, I urge Democrats to use this authority to fight for those with pre-existing conditions — not abuse their power to explore or revisit decided legal challenges within the Affordable Care Act," he said.

Late Thursday, Katko broke with his party again to support a spending bill that would end the government shutdown.

The House Democrats' spending plan would fund government operations, but it wouldn't include more than $5 billion for the border wall demanded by President Donald Trump.

When Republicans controlled the House in December, Katko voted for a bill that would've provided the wall funding.

While Katko agrees that there needs to be funding for border security, he criticized both parties for failing to act on comprehensive immigration reform. In a statement, he explained that he promised to never vote to shut down the government or continue a shutdown. He believes with his vote that he kept that promise.

He was one of seven Republicans who supported the bill to end the government shutdown and fund key programs, such as the Violence Against Women Act.

"I remain increasingly frustrated by the inaction of both sides in Congress on (immigration reform and border security)," he said. "Still, a government shutdown is a costly and unnecessary maneuver that does not help resolve Congress' failure to act."

The House Democrats' bill won't be considered by the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. And President Trump has made it clear he wants the $5.7 billion for the border wall.

Solomon Northup Legacy raising funds to install historical marker

The Solomon Northup Legacy this week launched a campaign to raise funds for the installation of the Derby and Miller Historical Marker, unveiled last summer, on Genesee Street in downtown Auburn.

On July 15, 1853, Solomon Northup's slave-narrative, and only written work, "Twelve Years a Slave," was published in Auburn by Derby and Miller Co. — the leading 19th-century publisher in Cayuga County. Last summer, on the 165th anniversary of the book's publishing, the Derby and Miller Historical Marker was dedicated during a downtown ceremony to commemorate the anniversary. The marker itself, though, has not yet been installed.

Melissa Howell, founder of The Solomon Northup Legacy, created a GoFundMe campaign Jan. 3 to raise $5,000 needed to support the installation and longevity of the marker. It will be installed at 115 Genesee St., site of the former Derby and Miller Co. storefront.

"Your support signifies the continued relevance of Solomon Northup's life and his journey from slavery to regained freedom," a message on the GoFundMe states.

This campaign was launched the same day the city of Auburn proclaimed the second-annual Solomon Northup Freedom Day on Jan. 4. Born a free man, Northup was kidnapped and sold into slavery in 1841. In 1852 a law was enacted that allowed the rescue and return of kidnapped free-citizens to New York, and Northup was found and freed on Jan. 4, 1853. He was reunited with his family Jan. 22, 1853.

During Thursday's city council meeting, Auburn Mayor Michael Quill signed a proclamation declaring Jan. 4 as "Solomon Northup Freedom Day" on the 166th anniversary of Northup re-obtaining his freedom.

Finger Lakes Drug Task Force seizes marijuana, assault rifle at Auburn home

An Auburn man is facing multiple felony drug and weapon charges after a Finger Lakes Drug Task Force investigation Friday resulted in the seizure of several pounds of marijuana.

Finger Lakes Drug Task Force members arrested Michael Shonchaz Gainey, 36, of 3 Spring St., Auburn, after executing a search warrant on the residence at approximately 9 a.m. Friday. Police recovered more than two pounds of marijuana, an assault rifle and $1,500 in cash, police said.


A rifle recovered from the Finger Lakes Drug Task Force of Michael Gainey's residence in Auburn Friday.

The search served as the conclusion to a five-month investigation into the sale of marijuana and narcotics, according to Auburn Police Department Sgt. Timothy Spingler.

The task force was assisted by the Auburn Police Department's K-9 Unit, the New York State Police Community Narcotics Enforcement Team and the New York State Army National Guard Counter Drug Task Force.

The National Guard program pairs local law enforcement agencies with National Guard members, offering unique and specialized resources and expertise, according to the program's official website.

The Finger Lakes Drug Task Force itself is made up of members from both the Auburn Police Department and the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office.

Gainey was charged with third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, second-degree criminal possession of marijuana, both class D felonies, and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon and two counts of second-degree criminally using drug paraphernalia, both class A misdemeanors. More charges may be forthcoming, according to a release.

Provided photo 


Cayuga County year-end sales tax report: Auburn excels, towns, villages lag behind

The final sales tax numbers for Cayuga County's multiple municipal governments show a strong year for the city of Auburn, but a weak performance by towns and villages in the area.

As a whole, sales tax receipts in Cayuga County reached $46.27 million, up from $45.67 million in 2017. The increase was driven primarily by a strong performance in Auburn, although the amount collected by the county's towns and villages decreased year-over-year.

The towns and villages, along with the Cayuga County government, split the sales tax collected from sales outside the city of Auburn.

Compared to December of 2017, the city of Auburn saw an approximately  7.9-percent increase in the sales tax collected, increasing from $8.57 million to $9.25 million.

Meanwhile, will the county government's portion went up 1.3-percent, from $22.84 million to $23.13 million, the share collected by the towns and villages decreased.

Towns received $12.21 million. down 2.7-percent from $12.54 million in 2017. Villages similarly saw collections decrease 2.4-percent, going from $1.72 million to $1.68 million.

Officials from both the city of Auburn and Cayuga County government have in the past described sales tax revenues as "unpredictable." To that point, the year-end numbers for 2017 showed the reverse of 2018, with Auburn taking in slightly less compared to 2016 while towns and villages had double-digit increases.