Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried
242 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001
Tel: 212-807-7900, E-mail: GottfrR@nysa.us

Assembly Member Dick Gottfried
Albany Update from
Assembly Member
Dick Gottfried

Chair, NYS Assembly Committee on Health
December 2011

Este boletín está disponible en español.


Victory for Fairer Taxes:
Albany Special Legislative Session

New York’s state income tax was not very fair. A moderate income family making $40,000 a year paid the same tax rate – 6.85% – as a family making $400,000, $4 million, or any higher amount. I believe that was wrong. The dollar that puts bread on the table should be taxed less than the dollar that pays for caviar.

In 2009, to help balance the state budget, the Legislature and the Governor created a surcharge on incomes over $300,000 a year. The higher-bracket income was taxed 8.97%, bringing in about $5 billion a year for health care, education, and other basic needs. The surcharge was set to expire Dec. 31, 2011, sending the tax rate on those households back to 6.85%.

I and most of my Assembly colleagues have been fighting to continue a higher and fairer tax rate for the wealthiest New Yorkers – even before it became fashionable to call them “the 1%.” We need the revenue to protect education, health care, public transportation, and a host of other essential services.

Governor Cuomo called the Legislature into special session in December to act on proposals to make state taxes fairer. The package that passed is a real victory for social justice.

Families earning over $2 million a year will pay 8.82% on that income. The top tax rate will be cut to 6.45% for families earning between $40,000 and $150,000, and 6.65% for families earning between $150,000 and $300,000. It will stay at 6.85% for families earning between $300,000 and $2 million. These rates will be in effect through the end of 2014.

For the 2012-13 state budget, we are facing a deficit of $3.5 billion. This package will pay for almost $2 billion of that.

I supported a plan to raise even more revenue from higher income brackets. However, considering the strong political opposition to taxing even the highest-income taxpayers, I think the package we passed is an extraordinary and important achievement.

The Occupy Wall Street movement deserves a lot of credit for changing the political climate and making this possible. Many more people now understand that too often, our government at all levels has been protecting and enriching “the 1%” at the expense of “the 99%.”

And more people understand that if New York is to continue to be a productive and successful community, for the 1% and the 99%, we must have fairer taxes and funding for education, health care, public transportation, and other services.


Universal Health Care for All:
Gottfried and Duane Introduce Single Payer Bill
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Doctors and medical students with Physicians for a National Health Program (www.pnhpnymetro.org) came to Albany to lobby for the Gottfried-Duane universal health care bill.

All New York residents would receive comprehensive health coverage under the universal health care bill introduced by me as Assembly Health Committee chair and Senate Health Committee Ranking Member Thomas K. Duane.

Federal health care reform enacted by Congress and President Obama includes a long list of important steps forward. It also sets the stage for a state like New York to build something even better.

Under the plan, publicly-sponsored coverage would replace insurance company coverage, and premiums would be replaced by broad-based public financing based on ability to pay. The bill, A.7860/S.5425, is co-sponsored by 62 other legislators.

Health care is a right, not a privilege. We can get better coverage, get all of us covered, and save billions by having New York provide publicly-sponsored, single-payer health coverage, like Medicare or Child Health Plus but for everyone. A single-payer system is the most cost-efficient, fair and moral choice for New York.

I am working with legislators and advocates in other states to get universal health plans enacted across the country.

Legislative Success in the 2011 Session

I’m happy to report that 12 of my bills passed the Assembly and Senate earlier in the year, and 10 of them were signed into law by Governor Cuomo.

Some of the most important bills I carried this year include: an expansion of the Family Health Care Decisions Act to enable family members to make health care decisions relating to hospice care for a patient who is unable to do so and has not signed a health care proxy; legislation to encourage people to help get emergency medical help for drug or alcohol overdose victims by offering protection against prosecution for drug possession; and increasing the availability of medical services through a variety of programs and initiatives.

For more information on a bill, please go to: http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us and enter the bill without spaces or periods (e.g., A1138).

GOTTFRIED BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW

Drug Overdose Emergency Help – People who suffer a drug or alcohol overdose often die needlessly because they or their companions do not seek medical help out of fear of an arrest. In response to appeals from parents, students, and substance abuse groups, New York State will now give legal protection to people who seek medical help for themselves or others who suffer from a drug or alcohol overdose. With some exceptions, they will not be charged or prosecuted for drugs or alcohol found in their possession when seeking help. (A.2063-C, S.4454-B DeFrancisco)

Legal Aid for Patients – Typically, a low-income patient referred to legal aid by a healthcare provider has multiple unmet social and economic problems that legal assistance can help resolve. The new law recognizes health-related legal services programs for income-eligible patients and their families to resolve legal matters that have an impact on patient health. Through these new programs, lawyers, in collaboration with healthcare professionals, will address basic needs including food, housing, healthcare access, education and safety, so barriers that may impede recovery or endanger health are removed. State recognition will not yet provide state funding, but will help programs raise private funds. (A.3304-A, S.5556 Hannon)

Electronic Prescription Clarification – As the use of electronic prescriptions becomes more popular and streamlines patient access to medications, it is important to remove any confusion or barriers to their use. This act in particular enables electronic prescriptions to comply with generic drug prescription rules. (A.3334, S.4254 Hannon)

Rabies Home Confinement – Under previous law, confinement of an animal suspected to have rabies must take place at an animal shelter or veterinarian’s office. With approval by a local health authority, home confinement will now be permitted. (A.3338, S.4566 Farley)

Family Health Care Decisions Act Expansion – Hospice - Last year, the Family Health Care Decisions Act was enacted, allowing a “surrogate” decision-maker, e.g. spouse, domestic partner, or other family members, to make decisions when relating to the care of a patient unable to do so and with no advanced directives or health care proxy. That law only applied to patients in a hospital or nursing home. However, there was no legal way to enroll that patient in hospice care. This law removes that barrier to allow surrogates decision-making capabilities for hospice care in the same manner as those previously allowed under the Family Health Care Decisions Act. We are now working on further expansion of the law. (A.7343-A, S.5259-A Hannon)

Assisted Living: Simplifying Procedures – When an assisted living residence (ALR) or adult care facility (ACF) resident is returned from a hospital or nursing home stay, staff had been required to carry out an examination to determine whether the patient was appropriate for an admission. This caused delays and increased costs. This law eliminates redundant admission requirements, thereby increasing the speed of admission into ALRs and ACFs, and reducing unnecessary examinations staff must perform. (A.7439-A, S.4894-A Hannon)

Expanding Access to Hospice Care – New York State law has been unclear about access to hospice care. Medicare will pay for hospice care if a patient has a life expectancy of less than six months. This law allows a patient to choose hospice care with a life expectancy up to twelve months, and simplifies and improves a hospice’s ability to provide end-of-life care-giving services for a terminally ill patient. (A.7650, S.5554 Hannon)

Increasing Dialysis Availability – Under strict supervision by the Department of Health, publicly-traded corporations are allowed to operate renal dialysis centers. Limited liability companies (LLC’s), which are like corporations, will now also be able to. (A.7810, S.5555 Hannon)

HCRA Surcharge Assessment – This law is a technical amendment related to the HCRA surcharge assessments that would authorize the Commissioner of Health to enter into multi-year settlement agreements with third-party payors, hospitals, and clinics. (A.8085, S.5553 Hannon)

Radiology Specialist Assistants – New York is currently the only state that provides for “specialist assistants.” Unlike physician assistants, whose education and training is a general medicine model, the SA training is akin to an apprenticeship specifically limited to the specialty area of the supervising physician. This law limits their duties comparably to what is allowed for radiologic technologists. (A.8179, S.5395 Hannon)


Marriage Equality Becomes Law

Making same-sex marriage legal in New York was a great and historic step forward this year. Legislators from both parties in the Assembly and Senate followed their moral compasses to extend the fundamental human right of marriage.

The State Assembly, where I first introduced the marriage bill in 2003, had passed the bill several times. Governor Andrew Cuomo’s activism was critical to getting the State Senate to finally act. He recognizes that discrimination against same-sex families is profoundly wrong. I am grateful for his leadership.

For years, I have said that same-sex couples should have the same rights as others enjoy to the legal and social protections, responsibilities, and benefits of civil marriage. Stable families help build a stronger society. For the welfare of the community and fairness to all New Yorkers, the new law says that the love, commitment, and families of same-sex couples are entitled to the same recognition the law gives to any couple.

I am proud of my role in this struggle. I introduced the first marriage bill in the Assembly in 2003, along with State Senator Tom Duane. When Governor Eliot Spitzer submitted it as a Governor’s program bill in 2007, Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, one of the Assembly’s openly gay members, became the lead sponsor.

To see my speech in the Assembly in support of the marriage bill, go to: http://www.assembly.state.ny.us/Gottfried.

While we have scored a great victory at the state level, the federal government is still an obstacle to full equality for same-sex couples. There is reason to hope this can change. President Obama has said he believes the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and is refusing to defend it in court. New York Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing against DOMA. But until DOMA is struck down by the Court or repealed, it presents some serious obstacles and burdens to same-sex married couples.

Marriage is complicated (which is why New York first got involved in regulating marriage back in the 1820s). Below are some of the most important issues to be aware of if you are a married same-sex couple or are thinking of getting married. In all of these matters, it is wise to seek the advice of a knowledgeable accountant or lawyer, one who is familiar with the issues that same-sex couples face. I also recommend reading through the resources on Lambda Legal Defense Fund’s website or the New York Civil Liberties Union website for further information.

Income Taxes

Since 2008, New York has recognized same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. However, until now those couples were unable to file joint state and local income tax returns.

Now, same-sex couples who marry in New York or got married outside New York, will be able to file their state and local income taxes jointly if they choose to. This will mean tax equity with other New Yorkers: a greater tax burden for some, and tax relief for others. It depends on your individual situation.

Unfortunately, because of DOMA, it will be necessary to figure your federal income tax separately. You and your spouse will each file as single or head of household (because the federal government doesn’t recognize your marriage). You then prepare a “dummy return,” which you will prepare as a married couple. This form will not be sent to the IRS, but you need it because your state and local forms use numbers derived from the federal income tax form.

Be aware: While many taxpayers will no doubt run to accountants for help, it will be up to individual accountants and tax preparation firms whether to charge more to same-sex married couples because of all the extra paperwork.

Inheritance

When a spouse dies, New York State law puts the surviving spouse first in line for inheritance purposes. Same-sex spouses will now have that same privilege. However, while New York allows unlimited assets to be transferred to a surviving spouse without being taxed, the federal government, because of DOMA, will continue discriminating against a same-sex spouse beneficiary for federal tax purposes, which can mean significant estate taxes. The same is true for federal gift taxes.

Protect your family as much as possible by discussing all your options with an experienced tax attorney or accountant and by having an up-to-date will on file for both spouses.

Health Insurance

In the past, New Yorkers receiving health benefits for a same-sex spouse through his or her employer had to pay income taxes on the value of that health plan in most cases. The Right to Marry Act has ended that on the state level. But because of DOMA, the federal government will continue to count the value of a same-sex spouse’s health insurance as extra taxable income.

Traffic Cameras

The New York City administration is seeking state legislation to increase the number of “red-light cameras” allowed in the City from 150 to 225, to create a demonstration program allowing the installation of up to 40 cameras that would keep track of speeding motorists, and to allow the City to issue a summons to violators. I strongly support this effort. (The City and I would prefer if Albany did not limit the number of cameras at all.)

Ordinarily, by law a police officer must be on the scene to issue a ticket for a violation. It took a change in the law to let a violation be issued based on an automated camera photo. Installing cameras on dangerous stretches of roads and highways provides drivers with a strong incentive to slow down and drive safely.

I am a co-sponsor of Assembly bill A.7425 (Heastie), which would allow the increase in red-light cameras, and Assembly bill A.7737 (Glick), which would authorize the speeding camera program.

Youth Voter Registration

The motor vehicle departments are required to have voter registration materials at their offices.

I am a co-sponsor of Assembly bill A.7440 (Kavanagh), which would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they apply for learners permits and drivers licenses at the DMV. When they turn 18, the voter registration would take effect. The bill would also allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries, if they will turn 18 before the general election. Eighteen other states allow this and I believe New York should as well.

Bring Back the Commuter Tax

In 1999, the state law that allowed New York City to collect the “Commuter Tax” was repealed. I voted against the repeal. I believe it is fair for commuters who earn their living here to support the city services that make that possible – such as police, fire, sanitation, streets, City-educated workers and customers. (If you own property or buy something outside the city, you certainly pay full local taxes there!)

Earlier this year, I co-sponsored Assembly bill A.6764 (Weprin), which would institute a 1% commuter tax, with the revenue to be split equally between the City and the MTA.

This legislation would help New York City address its traffic congestion problems and upgrade its transportation infrastructure by raising badly needed revenue for both the City and the MTA. The revenues from such a tax could range between $1 billion and $1.4 billion. The tax rate would be only a quarter of what we who reside in New York City pay in New York City income taxes.

Protection of Transgender Rights

My bill to protect transgender people under the State Human Rights Law was approved by the Assembly in June by a vote of 89-55, with bi-partisan support. The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA, A.5039/S.2873) is still in committee in the State Senate.

Transgender people – whose gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression differs from their genetic sex at birth – face discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and other areas of life, and they are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes. They are not protected under current state law.

The experience and discrimination of transgender individuals, is unique, and should be specifically recognized. The discrimination should be unambiguously rejected in our State’s civil rights laws, just like discrimination based on age, sex, sexual orientation, religion, race, disability, or ethnicity.

The bill has broad and bi-partisan support. Fourteen states and 92 cities and counties in the U.S. have passed transgender-inclusive civil rights legislation. It is time for the state of New York to embrace our diversity and protect those who are most vulnerable to discrimination.

Fighting for Women’s Health

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I was proud to join the rally for Women’s Health in February and stand with Planned Parenthood to protect their federal funding. I spoke at this massive rally along with Senator Chuck Schumer; U.S. Representatives Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney; State Senators Liz Krueger, Gustavo Rivera, and Tony Avella; Assembly Members Linda Rosenthal and Charles Lavine; and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn along with Councilmembers Gale Brewer, Dan Garodnick, Jessica Lappin, and Rosie Mendez.
Across the country, reproductive rights are under attack. This is part of a coordinated attack on education, access to health care, public services, social justice, human rights, workers rights, and other progressive concerns.

Bills have been introduced at the federal level that would strip important organizations like Planned Parenthood of funding for family planning, sex education, and cancer screenings because anti-choice legislators believe in imposing their morals on the rest of us.

As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, protecting choice and access to reproductive health are among my top responsibilities. Government has a number of roles in society; telling a woman what to do with her body is not one of them.

I am a sponsor of New York State’s Reproductive Health Act, a bill introduced by Assembly Member Deborah Glick which would update New York State’s reproductive health laws and strengthen access to the full range of reproductive services.

New York’s current pro-choice statute on abortion has been in place since 1970, when it was a landmark achievement. Today it needs revision. The bill would:

Earlier this year, the Reproductive Health Act was passed out of the Assembly Health Committee. NARAL Pro-Choice NY said: “Today we applaud the Assembly Health Committee – and particularly its chair, pro-choice champion Assemblyman Dick Gottfried – for standing up for women’s health and rights by passing the Reproductive Health Act out of committee.”

In Albany, a coalition of over 76 legislators from both parties have formed a caucus to work on preserving our strong commitment to preserving a woman’s right to choose. I am a member of the caucus.

Gottfried Appointed to Medicaid Redesign Team

In January 2011, Governor Cuomo announced the creation of a Medicaid Redesign Team, to identify savings for the State’s Medicaid program while improving outcomes. This sounds like a contradiction, but we have learned that we can do it by improving primary and preventive care and care coordination.

As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I represented the Assembly majority on the Team, which also includes representatives of the Executive Branch, various stakeholders and advocates, and the Legislature. The goal was to find ways, other than just cutting payment rates or services, to reduce the cost of the program. The Medicaid Redesign Team conducted regional public hearings across the State to receive ideas from the public on ways to reduce costs and improve the quality of the Medicaid program. For more information on the MRT, go to the Governor’s web page and click on the Medicaid Redesign Team or go to: http://www.health.ny.gov/health_care/medicaid/redesign/.

After the first phase of the MRT’s recommendations were adopted as part of the state budget in March, the MRT formed several workgroups, bringing in more diverse voices. These workgroups produced a long list of important recommendations, which the MRT adopted in December.


KEEP UP TO DATE ON ALBANY AND COMMUNITY ISSUES

Please print, fill out, and return this coupon to: Assembly Member Dick Gottfried’s Community Office
242 West 27th Street, New York, NY 10001. Email: GottfrR@assembly.state.ny.us

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