State Legislature addresses bear bile, sippy cups in closing session

There were big issues decided in New York this year: Gay marriage, a property tax cap, rent control

There were big issues decided in New York this year: Gay marriage, a property tax cap, rent control for about a million New York City apartments.

But legislators also addressed smaller concerns: They voted to ban the sale of bear bile and require dental warnings on sippy cups for children in the late-session flurry of enactments before leaving for the summer and perhaps the year.

“Throughout New York, carcasses of American black bear cubs and adults have been discovered, illegally killed for their gallbladders and bile,” Assembly sponsors wrote, saying the parts are used in traditional Asian medicine and only five states don’t restrict the trade. They also noted that the Chinese Association of Medicine and Philosophy says there are 54 herbal alternatives.

In the 1990s, the Chinese government encouraged bear farming, with bile regularly siphoned from captive animals, the London Times reported. It is used to treat liver, eye and other ailments.

However, wildlife officials said they haven’t noticed much bear poaching here for body parts.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation as a matter of policy doesn’t comment on pending legislation, according to spokeswoman Lori Severino. “That said, there is no evidence that bears are being poached for gallbladders in New York. In fact, the unlawful taking of bears is relatively unusual, and not a factor in terms of managing their populations,” she said.

The agency reported 1,064 black bears killed last year in New York’s September-December hunting season. In a 2009 report in National Geographic magazine, federal wildlife authorities said Asian bear populations were threatened by the trade, but there was little evidence of poaching for parts and nearly 50,000 bears killed legally each year in North America.

The proposed warning on sippy cups with their bill-shaped spouts followed research showing a 15 percent increase in cavities among children ages 2 to 5, while cavities were decreasing among older children. Sippy cups and baby bottles containing sugary beverages used as prolonged pacifiers are suspected as culprits. Manufacturers and importers would have to label containers or packaging, starting in 180 days.

Those and other measures are heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for signing or veto. The combined tax cap and rent control bill and legalization of gay marriage were signed into law almost immediately, though the general 2 percent cap on property tax hikes won’t take effect until next year, and gay marriage becomes legal July 24.

Some of the other bills adopted in New York this year include making texting while driving a primary traffic offense, raising public university tuition, letting livery taxis legally pick up street-side hails in New York City’s outer boroughs, requiring insurance coverage for autism spectrum disorder and limiting protests at military funerals.

Another bill would require public schools to immediately bench student-athletes who suffer concussions until they are symptom-free for 24 hours and get physician authorization to resume their sport or gym class.

Spokesmen said the governor’s office will review bills once they’re sent to him.

The Cuomo administration authored the legislation to authorize State University of New York and City University of New York campuses to increase tuition by up to $300 annually for five years, meant to give the individual campuses control and to avoid any sudden tuition spikes. The governor’s office also proposed tougher enforcement against texting at the wheel as a safety measure.

Lawmakers also voted to let ambulances use rear-facing blue lights, like police cars and fire trucks can, saying studies show they are the most noticeable.

They passed legislation to create the Missing and Vulnerable Adults Clearinghouse, a statewide alert system in case someone with Alzheimer’s disease or a similar cognitive impairment is missing. It would use the existing Amber Alert structure now used when children are reported missing.

They approved an amendment to the state statute against music piracy to include hard drives, flash drives, memory cards or other storage devices to the list of potential bootleg recording vehicles that already includes records, discs, tapes and cassettes.

Lawmakers voted to ban “pseudo bath salts” containing ingredients known as Mephedrone and MDPV, saying some people are taking them as drugs. Similar bans exist in Britain, Australia and Canada.

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