This week marks the scheduled end of the legislative session this year. Although many important ("big ugly") issues remain unresolved as of this newsletter, it is expected that both the Assembly and the Senate will reconvene in session next Tuesday in an effort to complete work this year.
It is important to know that the Assembly has been debating a host of issues including on a circuit breaker for home owners, property tax cap, implementation delays for APPR teacher evaluations, Raise the Age of criminal intent, holding the line on charter school expansion upstate, additional aid for upstate struggling schools, and including resistance to providing an unprecedented tax credit to the wealthy for up to $1 million donations to private schools (the Education Tax Credit). I am encouraged by the outpouring of support for my position on this issue.
Here are a few legislative updates so far:
LED Streetlights Act of 2015. One of the most significant bills I have introduced this session that has passed the Assembly and Senate this week is the LED Streetlight Act of 2015 (A.6912-C/S.5205-B) which empowers the Public Service Commission to facilitate a transfer of ownership of inefficient streetlights to a municipality in order to upgrade them to energy efficient and cost-saving LED lighting technology.
The legislation, also sponsored by Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Rome), was prompted by a NYSERDAs report, Street Lighting in New York State: Opportunities and Challenges, noting if municipalities across the state owned and then upgraded their streetlights with LED technology, municipalities could achieve a savings of nearly $100 million on annual street lighting costs. According to the NYSERDA report, outside of New York City, approximately 74 percent of streetlights are utility owned and the report identified lack of municipal ownership of streetlights as a major impediment to upgrading streetlights with LED technology.
As municipalities struggle to find ways to save money while retaining adequate services for taxpayers, this legislation will make a significant difference in reducing the utility bill of localities, in which the cost savings can be truly substantial. Through owning their own streetlights, villages, towns, and cities can pave their way to an energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly future.
Campus sexual assault. After months of negotiations, the Assembly passed legislation that I supported requiring all colleges in New York State to implement uniform policies and procedures regarding sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking and activity that may otherwise violate codes of conduct (A.8244).
Under the measure, all colleges in the state are required to adopt a specific standard for consent in their codes of conduct. Consent is defined as a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity. The standard also makes clear that prior consent to sexual activity does not necessarily demonstrate future consent, nor does silence or a lack of resistance.
Additionally, the legislation provides amnesty to anyone who reports an incident of sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence or stalking from being subject to disciplinary action for violating the colleges drug and alcohol policy.
Protecting employees from reproductive health discrimination. The Assembly passed a bill I supported that prevents an employer from discriminating or taking any retaliatory personnel action against employees based on their reproductive health decisions (A.1142-A).
Disturbingly, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that health insurance plans cover FDA-approved birth control methods without out-of-pocket costs has led to some employers attempting to block access to this benefit. This legislation nicknamed the Boss Bill is a response to the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations can have religious beliefs of their own and, further, that these beliefs can be used to deny women health coverage for contraceptives based on those beliefs.
Health insurance access for pregnant women. The Assembly passed legislation that I supported that includes pregnancy as criteria to allow for special enrollment in a health insurance plan (A.6780-B). The bill would give expectant mothers who are uninsured the opportunity to enroll in a health insurance plan at any time, regardless of whether it falls outside a designated enrollment period. Currently, special enrollment periods often include marriage, divorce, gaining citizenship and birth. By adding pregnancy to this list, expectant mothers may apply for a qualified health plan without having to wait months for an enrollment period to open up.
Making party emblems optional on ballot design. The legislature passed my bill that allows for county boards of elections to make it optional to include party emblems on electronic voting ballot design. Removing the requirement that the emblems be included allows the county boards of election the flexibility to design the ballots in a much more usable and readable format.
Central processing of absentee ballots. Legislation that I sponsored which passed the legislature eliminates conflicting provisions in the states Election Law relating to the canvassing of absentee ballots in poll sites on Election Day and the appointment of persons conducting said canvassing. By repealing such provision, there can be no confusion on the part of election administrators, poll workers or candidates, that absentee ballots must be counted centrally at Board offices or facilities, which ensures consistency, accuracy and transparency in the election process.
Regulatory management of Atlantic cod. I sponsored legislation that passed the legislature which will extend the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)s regulatory authority for Atlantic Cod for an additional two years, and ensure that DEC continues to be able to maintain compliance with any applicable federal management plan or Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP).
Job Opportunities: New York State has setup a new 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.