Monday, September 20, 2010

New York: Legislative Successes despite Dysfunction

Despite the dysfunction, the failure to pass GENDA and Marriage Equality bills, the never-ending budget process and the bitter aftertaste of last summer’s coup, the 2010 legislative session turned out to be the most successful in a generation.

Here's a taste of all that was accomplished this year (courtesy of NYCLU and ACLU sources):

* The Dignity for All Students Act: The Dignity for All Students Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell and Senator Tom Duane, prevents bullying in schools through training, mediation and counseling. After more than a decade of stalling with Republicans in control of the Senate, in 2010, the Legislature finally acted to protect our children.

* Family Health Care Decisions Act: The Family Health Care Decisions Act, sponsored by Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and Senator Tom Duane, empowers family members, spouses, domestic partners and close friends to make major medical decisions for incapacitated loved ones in the absence of a formal proxy (think: Terri Schiavo). After more than a decade of stalling with Republicans in control of the Senate, in 2010, the Legislature finally passed this bill.

* Stop-and-Frisk Database: The stop-and-frisk bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Eric Adams, prohibits the NYPD from keeping an electronic suspect database of the hundreds of thousands of innocent individuals stopped and released by police each year. And as was noted in an excellent Bob Herbert piece, this bill “send[s] the message, loud and clear, that whatever pass the Police Department has gotten from city government on these policies, the state is being much more attentive.”

* The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights: The Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, sponsored by Assemblymember Keith Wright and Senator Diane Savino, makes New York the first state to provide domestic workers basic labor protections. This is something you'd never see Republicans sponsoring!

* The Census Adjustment Act: This bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Hakeem Jeffries and Senator Eric Schneiderman, ends a legislative redistricting practice that counted incarcerated people, who cannot vote, as residents of their prison district rather than their home district, where they will likely return upon release. This practice gave New Yorkers who live near prisons disproportionate representation in Albany, threatening the principle of one person, one vote. (And folks, Carl Palladino, the Republican gubernatorial candidate, would want to keep the disproportionate upstate representation . . . )

* Civil Remedies for Hate Crimes: This is yet another bill that finally passed. This bill, sponsored by Assemblymember RoAnn Destito and Senator Kevin Parker, allows victims of hate crimes to sue and collect monetary damages from their assailants. This would not have been possible with Republicans in control.

* Syringe Access: Sterile syringe access, the most effective method of preventing the spread of HIV among injection drug users, was legalized in New York in the early 1990s. However, possession of syringes remained illegal, deterring drug users from state-licensed syringe exchange programs. The syringe access bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and Senator Tom Duane, decriminalizes the lawful possession of syringes. We wouldn't have seen this with Republicans in control - they'd probably try to pass a law making it a crime to possess a condom.

* Funeral/Bereavement Leave for Same-Sex Committed Partners: This bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Deborah Glick and Senator Velmanette Montgomery, requires employers who offer employees funeral/bereavement leave do so for same-sex couples. Like the Family Health Care Decisions Act, this bill extends a right traditionally associated with marriage to a broader group of people. It's a small consolation, when full marriage equality did not quite make the cut - but if Republicans were in control, we would not have had anything like this get through.

What we need is a larger Democratic majority in the State Senate - it is critically important that Demicrats get energized about this election, all around the state (and nation!)

Yes, the New York State Senate has been dysfunctional - having a bare-minimum 32-30 majority means that all it takes is ONE rogue Democrat, like a Pedro Espada, or a Ruben Diaz, to keep good bills from apssing - and we need at least four or five more Democrats in the Senate to get GENDA and Marriage passed in 2011, and to get state government on track.

The "tea party" people are frustrated about taxes - but Republicans don't really have solutions that work, and they bring an anti-American right wing social agenda to the table.

The fact is that 2010 was the best legislative session in decades, and it is all because of the narrowest of Demiocratic majorities in the State Senate. The future depends on enlarging that majority.

In Westchester County, we have to make sure that Suzi Oppenheimer and Andrea Stewart-Cousins get re-elected, and that we make sure we elect Michael Kaplowitz (and not wingnut demagogue Republican Greg Ball) to the seat being vacated by Senator Leibell. And in White Plains, getting Tom Roach elected to the Assembly is a priority! There is a lot of work to get done before the general election in November.

1 comment:

  1. Cool... It's easy to get discouraged and think we aren't making much of any progress.

    All these little things add up. Unfortunately too slowly for many.