E-Mail Newsletter – June 3, 2015

In the past two weeks as we near the end of the legislative session, you may have heard of or received a robo-call or a direct mailer regarding my stance with the Education Tax Credit (ETC), a highly controversial tax credit proposal for private schools raising some constitutional church and state concerns. Although well-meaning, the funding mechanisms - promoted by the Governor and the State Senate - may further the divide between wealthy and poor schools, which is already a noticeable divide in my district and across our state.

The latest version of this legislation provides upwards of $450 million in tax credits over three years – money that would otherwise be paid to the state’s general revenue fund while authorizing the transfer of public money to religious school foundations, in violation of the long-held constitutional principle that bars the government from endorsing religion. Further, no safeguards are included in this legislation to ensure that funding would be prohibited for going to private schools which promote religious intolerance, discrimination or even the subjugation of women.

Families earning up to $300,000 could be eligible for a scholarship. There is also an elaborate pre-approval process so unless you have a sophisticated accountant, you need not apply. As currently written, the bill will benefit mostly wealthy donors and private schools in wealthy parts of our state. I will send more soon.

Allowing teachers to discuss freely specifics on standardized tests. I have co-sponsored legislation that would assist teachers by lifting the prohibition on discussing the contents of standardized assessments with other faculty members (A.7402).

Under current practice, teachers and other faculty members must sign a confidentiality agreement which states that they cannot discuss questions on standardized tests, even with other teachers, making it harder for them to prepare and improve teaching materials. This bill would prohibit educators from signing these agreements, allowing teachers to collaborate with other faculty members so they can formulate better lesson plans for grades 3 through 8.

New education commissioner. Congratulations to newly appointed State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the first woman to hold the state's highest office in education. Education is in the midst of challenging times in New York State and in the nation - and I look forward to working with a leader committed to resolving serious concerns and needs regarding high stakes testing, struggling schools, as well as funding and educational inequities. I am also pleased to note that the new Commissioner is a product of the SUNY system and a long-term educator in the Empire State.

Farm-based distillers gifts and souvenirs bill passed the Assembly. The Assembly unanimously passed my bill that allowed for farm-based craft distillers to sell gifts, souvenirs, and other non-manufactured items, in addition to alcoholic products made at their facilities. Farm-based craft beverage producers locally promote our region and continue to create jobs for local workers - this bill will allow for these producers to grow as part of regional tourism destination initiatives and awaits passage in the Senate.

Single payer legislation passed. The Assembly has passed the New York Health Act, which will create universal, single payer access in the Empire State. The bill now heads to the Senate and hopefully soon after, the governor’s desk. A very sincere congrats to a host of local advocates who have spent years promoting the merits of this proposal.

Medal of Honor for Albany hero Henry Johnson bestowed by President Obama. The Medal of Honor ceremony for Army Sgt. Henry Johnson for conspicuous gallantry during World War I took place on Tuesday, where President Barack Obama presented the award to New York National Guard Command Sgt. Maj. Louis Wilson on behalf of Sgt. Johnson. In honor of Sgt. Johnson's achievement, I have introduced a resolution commemorating this historic recognition.

Mixed Martial Arts. Well stated Times Union editorial linked here - regarding the legalizing the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA),‬ where the goal is to not to move a ball down a field, or into a basket, but to inflict bodily harm on an opponent.

Events and Highlights from the 109th:

Kenneth’s Army fundraiser. This past week, I joined Assemblyman McDonald at a fundraising event in support of Kenneth’s Army, a memorial fund honoring Kenneth White, who was slain last year. The fund will set up a scholarship to be offered this year. For more information, visit this link.

Altamont Free Library. The Altamont Free Library will begin another exciting Summer Reading Program this month, in addition to a number of interesting things happening at the library this month.

In June, the library has concerts by Indian Music Caravan and Running the River and Tai Chi lessons in the park, in addition to book clubs, potlucks, and storytimes. For more information, view their newsletter.

Delmar Farmers Market. The Delmar Farmers Market opened for its seventh season this past Saturday at the Bethlehem Central Middle School (332 Kenwood Avenue, Delmar). The market is open each Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This market has been selected for two years in a row as one of the best in the country. The market has all kinds of in-season, local and organic fruits and veggies, breads, cakes, pies, cookies, cheeses, local wine and beer, salsas, honey, maple syrup, plants for your gardens, breakfast and lunch, great crafts and live music.

St. Catherine’s Job Fair. St. Catherine’s Center for Children provides a comprehensive range of human services in the City of Albany. On Wednesday, June 3 from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., St. Catherine’s will host a job fair at their facility at 40 South Main Avenue. Learn more by visiting their Web site.

Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a job portal entitled Jobs Express, where thousands of private and public sector jobs are listed. Visit jobs.ny.gov for more information on how to apply for these opportunities.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note.

Sincerely ---