Welcome to Albany and welcome to the New York State Assembly's annual "Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day."
I bring you the greetings of my Assembly colleagues on both sides of the aisle along with our very best wishes for an effective and enjoyable day here at the Empire State Plaza.
I am joined here this afternoon by my friend, the Minority Leader Pro Tem of the Assembly, Jim Conte, who is standing in for my fellow co-sponsor of this important day, Assemblyman Brian Kolb, who could not be here.
We know you have already heard from our Task Force Chairman, Assemblyman Mike Cusick, as well as from the Chairman of our Committee on Mental Health, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, and from the Ranking Minority Member of the Mental Health Committee, Assemblyman Steve Katz.
It is our way of telling you that the issues that matter to the Disabilities Community are not - and never should be - considered political issues. They are fundamental issues of fairness, justice, equality, safety, and opportunity.
With this in mind, the Assembly will take up our package of Disabilities Awareness Day legislation; bills which we crafted in concert with your leaders.
As I do each year at this time, let me commend each and every one of you for being here to represent the thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities who could not make it to their state capital today.
All New Yorkers benefit from the battles you are fighting. For your courage and for your perseverance, we salute you.
To those of you who have dedicated yourselves to serving and to advocating for people with disabilities, let me take a moment to express our utmost respect and my admiration.
Not only are you engaged in a noble calling, it is work that is essential to the integrity of our Democracy.
Why? Because, when we allow the rights of one community to be ignored or trampled on, we put the rights of all New Yorkers at risk. So, again, I commend you for the great work that you are doing.
Now, while we're here, let me take a moment to congratulate this year's "Doctor Henry Viscardi, Jr. Advocacy Award" winner, Ms. Melanie Shaw, the Executive Director of the New York Association on Independent Living.
My congratulations as well, to the winning artists in this year's Disabilities Awareness Day poster contest. Your work is beautiful and you make us proud.
May I also express my gratitude to all of our exhibitors and seminar presenters, and to Girl Scout Troop 1257 from the nearby Town of Averill Park, who are volunteering their time today to help us make this event a great success. We applaud your spirit and we are proud of you as well.
If you have taken part in our previous Legislative Disabilities Awareness Days, then you know you have friends and leaders who you can count on in the Assembly.
We are listening to you and taking action on your recommendations. We are continuously defending your rights to fairness and equity, integration, independence and accessibility all across our state.
As Speaker of the Assembly, I know better than most what great advocates and what talented leaders you have in the People's House of the Legislature:
The Legislature and the Governor work for you. No elected leader anywhere in this state, is more important or more deserving of attention than you are.
So, make your concerns known. Be direct. Be persistent. This is how you can make our Democracy better. And by all means, make today the best Legislative Disabilities Awareness Day ever!