Contact: Mike Fraser, office: (518) 455-3751/cell: (518) 859-8518
The 2017 Legislative Session provided clear reminders of how dysfunctional state government is, and how much work will be required to fix it. The most inept budget process in years was followed by weeks of inactivity, absent significant legislation or reform-driven policies Albany so desperately needs.
In typical fashion, the majority of our work was done at the 11th hour, under the cover of darkness and with politics taking priority over sound policy. This year, the political games continued until the clock ran out, and the Legislature will be forced to return to address tax bills for localities and an extension of mayoral control in New York City.
I am proud, however, that several measures the Assembly Minority Conference has fought for became a reality for New Yorkers during this legislative session. They include:
- Ride-Sharing Throughout Upstate - Ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft will finally be allowed to operate in upstate New York. With additional legislation to accelerate implementation to June 29, this overdue initiative offers tremendous economic rewards and public safety benefits to residents and tourists.
- Protections for Volunteer Firefighters - The Assembly unanimously passed the Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Disability Benefit Program, a measure I introduced in 2012, to provide better health benefits for volunteer firefighters with five or more years of service. This will expand access to treatment for our brave first responders.
- Workers' Compensation - Employers will begin to see an overdue reduction in expenses through the enactment of Workers' Compensation reforms. High workers' compensation costs place a substantial burden on our small businesses, and makes it more difficult for them to succeed. These reforms will reduce rates and help make New York a more affordable place to do business.
- Extending Kendra's Law - This measure provides court-ordered access to assisted outpatient treatment to people dealing with mental illness. The law is named for Kendra Webdale, who died after being pushed in front of a subway train by an individual who was not receiving treatment for mental illness.
- Relief for Craft Breweries and Distilleries - This measure eases fiscal pressure and levels the playing field for one of the state's emerging industries by exempting tastings at breweries, cideries and distilleries from sales tax. Currently, the sales tax exemption is only available to wineries. This measure, which I introduced last year, will create jobs, bolster a new industry, and strengthen local economies.
While these and other positive measures were enacted, the 2017 legislative session has ended without important reforms that would protect our communities and provide effective solutions to New York's job problem. Several key issues that were ignored, yet again, include:
- Economic Development-Oversight - In a few months, the governor's former top aides will be on trial, charged with corruption of state economic development programs. Shamefully, lawmakers left Albany without any reforms to the very same programs. Despite calls by our Conference and the state comptroller for greater oversight and reform, majority leaders failed to bring bills to the floor. It's disgraceful that protecting taxpayer dollars remains so low on their priority list.
- Ethics Reform - Repeatedly, our Conference called for ethics reforms that would change the culture of corruption in Albany that led to the convictions of two legislative leaders. Those changes included implementing eight-year term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs; replacing JCOPE with a new, independent five-member Commission on Official Conduct; prohibiting the spending of campaign funds for criminal defense fees; and creating a new crime of failure to report corruption.
- Brittany's Law - Brittany's Law would save lives, prevent crimes and make communities safer. Despite passing the Senate for the seventh time with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Assembly Majority continues to block the bill from moving to the floor. New York City has a registry of individuals who have abused animals. But New York State has yet to create a registry of violent felons who have abused women and children.
- >College Affordability - Rather than the governor's mislabeled “free” college tuition plan, we need a college affordability approach that helps more young people. Our conference proposed a measure that would increase the Tuition Assistance Program's (TAP) awards and eligibility threshold; provide tax breaks on student loans; and make graduate students eligible for TAP assistance.
- Helping Small Businesses - Our state's small businesses face a challenging landscape due to the state's egregiously unfriendly tax-fine-and-harass polices and suffocating regulations. This year's state budget included no tax cuts for small businesses; during the legislative session, the only assistance they were granted was additional time to comply with new regulations. We will continue our work to eliminate taxes on manufacturers; pass a Scaffold Law exemption; establish the Learning for Work Program; and enact an Earned Income Tax Credit expansion.
Regrettably, our work went unfinished this year. Hopefully upon our return, we will address the pressing measures and numerous opportunities that were missed in 2017.