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The Remarks of Speaker Carl E. Heastie

Opening the 239th Legislative Session

January 6, 2016
Assembly Chamber

[as prepared]

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Good afternoon.

Welcome to everyone joining us in the Chamber today. It is my pleasure to begin the 2016 Legislative session by offering you my best wishes for a healthy and productive New Year.

To my Assembly Majority colleagues, I am humbled to lead the People's House and I am happy to be back in Albany. I look forward to working with all of you to move our state and our families forward.

To Minority Leader Brian Kolb and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle, thank you for your loyal opposition. We may not always agree but we will strive to represent our views and our constituents with both enthusiasm and respect.

Thank you all for your commitment to the communities you serve.

Whether they live in Lewis County, Niagara County, or the Bronx, every single one of our families matter. We are one New York.

During the past six months, it was my honor to travel across this great state to visit with members and learn about their districts, their communities, and the challenges they face.

I came away from these trips with a greater understanding of our wonderful state, and I am more convinced than ever that New York truly is the "Empire State".

We are a state that is blessed with incredible diversity - rich agricultural lands, tourism hotspots, vibrant cities, and wonderful recreational opportunities.

But I also know that we have many challenges…

The upstate and suburban tour highlighted the overwhelming need for economic development and sustainable jobs. This is a critical part of helping New Yorkers gain access to the middle class.

We must continue our efforts to attract and retain businesses that invest in the local economy and provide strong, quality jobs for New Yorkers.

At the same time, we must strive to give small businesses and MWBEs the support they need to grow and thrive.

The economic development we want for New York must prioritize fairness for workers - both in opportunities and wages. New York must be a state where everyone has the chance to succeed, not just a fortunate few.

For more than 200 years, this House has brought hope and opportunity to countless people and it will continue to do so long after our time here comes to an end.

There is much we can accomplish in the coming session, so in that spirit today I will outline the Assembly Majority's vision for moving New York forward.

And that vision begins with restoring the people's faith in our government.

This House has always supported measures to bring more transparency and accountability to state government and last year, we made significant progress toward that goal.

We passed a number of bills that would strengthen compliance and demand more of elected officials when it comes to ethical conduct:

We created a new Office of Ethics and Compliance.

We enacted more stringent disclosure requirements.

We adopted enhancements to the per diem reimbursement process to increase accountability to taxpayers.

We enacted new limitations on the use of campaign funds and we took action on a series of proposals that were unfortunately not adopted by the state Senate.

We will once again pass these bills and call on our colleagues in the Senate to follow suit so we can finally

Make no mistake - over the coming weeks, discussions around proposals on ethics WILL be a priority of this house. The Assembly is serious about ethics reform and we know that words are not enough.

That is why we will once again pass these measures and continue to seek out new solutions to restore public trust.

Our ONLY motivation must be the pursuit of a BETTER New York.

Last year, we made a commitment to uplift families and provide the support and investments that are necessary to ensure their social and economic well-being. I am proud of the progress we made toward that goal.

We secured an on-time state budget and went on to pass legislation throughout the session that delivered the solutions New Yorkers need to achieve:

This year, we will pick up where we left off and continue to deliver.

Across the state, workers and families are struggling with an ever-widening income gap.

It is time that we turn our attention to the inequalities that exist in our tax structure that are feeding that divide.

Too many hardworking men and women in this state struggle to support a household knowing that they are just one paycheck away from financial hardship.

These families are fighting to remain in the middle class and it is our responsibility to fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity and common sense.

We will take up and pass a proposal to bring fairness to our tax code by making permanent tax cuts for working families and asking wealthy New Yorkers to pay their fair share.

From the North Country to Buffalo and the Southern Tier down to Long Island, what we are fighting for is EQUALITY in access to opportunities and above all FAIRNESS:

FAIRNESS in education for our children.

FAIRNESS in wages for workers.

FAIRNESS in achieving real and comprehensive women's equality.

FAIRNESS in the pursuit of a safe and affordable place to call home and raise our families.

FAIRNESS in opportunities to grow our small businesses.

FAIRNESS in access to child care, paid family leave and basic health care for our families.

FAIRNESS in access to reproductive health services.

FAIRNESS in investment to preserve our infrastructure and ensure access to safe transportation networks.

FAIRNESS is our mission and it is the KEY to putting families first in this great state.

Let me emphasize once again that our students deserve the best education we can afford them.

We will push for the highest funding level possible to ensure that ALL schools have the resources and tools they need to fulfill their duty to the students they serve.

Closing the achievement gap has been a longstanding priority of this House and we intend to build on last year's historic investment in our public schools and assist those that are struggling.

Nearly twenty years ago, under an Assembly driven initiative to invest in early childhood education, the doors to pre-k were first opened to families across this state.

Today, that commitment has paved the way for one of the most successful pre-k programs in the nation.

This first step is one of the most critical for our students' future success and is now within reach of thousands of families. We will stand by our commitment to ensure that this program is adequately funded.

Schools across this state are facing overwhelming challenges. In NYC and many places upstate, I saw firsthand how poverty and factors at home can make it even harder for our students to learn.

The mission of our schools to educate students is further complicated by a lack of access to adequate resources.

We will do everything we can to make sure that our students have the resources they need from their first days in the classroom until the moment they complete their college education.

Last year we put forward a higher education Road to Success initiative and we will continue to build on the progress we made.

We will ensure the availability of funding for higher education opportunity programs and child care assistance at our SUNY and CUNY colleges.

These programs have proven successful in helping students and their families who struggle to afford the ever-increasing costs of higher education.

We will once again pass the DREAM Act and renew our calls for the Senate to do the same so that more of our students can successfully complete their education, build sound, lasting careers and make meaningful contributions to our communities.

No student in this state should be denied the opportunity to advance their education because of factors beyond their control.

We were proud and encouraged by President Obama taking action to close the achievement gap with the creation of the 'My Brother's Keeper' initiative.

It is undeniable that young men of color face tremendous obstacles.

We look forward to supporting this measure here in New York so we can help EVERY young person in our state succeed. We will do this and more to improve the plight of young men of color.

On December 31st, New York's minimum wage was raised to $9.00 an hour. The very next day, we fell behind 5 other states in the northeast - Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Connecticut as well as Washington D.C. who enacted higher wage floors.

We must realize that an unrealistically low minimum wage leads to very real problems of poverty, homelessness and hunger.

This House has always led the way in fighting for women, families and children. In just a few short weeks, the measures we passed last year will go into effect.

Among them, equal pay for equal work, protections for survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, preventing housing discrimination and providing stronger workplace accommodations for expectant mothers.

There is still work to be done on a host of other measures that have been longstanding Assembly priorities.

We need to codify the Roe v. Wade decision to ensure that women in New York will be able to control their reproductive health.

For several years we have passed paid family leave in this house. This year, the Assembly will pass paid family leave legislation again and look to our partners in government to help us finally make this critical benefit a law in New York State.

Today's families are facing an impossible struggle to balance the demands of working full-time and caring for their children and other dependents. Supporting them in this effort should not even be a question.

As a nation, unfortunately we rank dead last among developed countries for family-friendly public policies.

If we want to set a true example for growth and achievement, we must change the way we think about families and businesses in this state.

Child care and paid family leave should not be considered burdens or unfunded mandates… they are absolutely critical to ensuring workforce stability and more importantly, family stability.

Last year, thanks to the tireless dedication and leadership of the women of this body and the support of the Majority Conference, we passed a number of measures that put the well-being of women and families at the forefront of our agenda. This marks a tremendous victory for women and families in New York and we could not have achieved this without your hard work. Thank you for your efforts.

This year, we will continue to build on that progress and do what is best for families and businesses across the state. We urge our colleagues in the other house to take up and pass these important measures.

Over the next few months, we have a very clear agenda of priorities we must address for our families, our workers, the small businesses that employ them and the communities they support.

These are our priorities and I look forward to working with each of you to accomplish these goals.

At this time I will ask you all to join me in extending a warm welcome to our Intern Class of 2016.

On behalf of all the members, I would like to extend our gratitude to Assemblymember Deborah Glick, chair of the intern committee. Thanks to her leadership we can proudly boast one of the most intensive and rewarding internship experiences of its kind.

Joining us this year are returning faculty members, Dr. Janet Penksa, who will be leading our graduate interns and Dr. Angela Ledford and Dr. Wesley Nishiama for our undergraduate interns. They will be newly joined this year by Dr. Anthony Maniscalco.

To our interns - welcome to Albany! We hope that your experience in the State Assembly over the next few months will be a rewarding one.

In a moment, each of our new members will be introduced to the House and I welcome the Assembly Class of 2016 and their families and friends who are joining us in the chamber today.

I have said many times that the men and women in our society who answer the call to public service do so from a desire to make their communities a better place.

As a result of the November special elections, we have reached the highest number of female representatives in our state's history. The Assembly now has 43 women representing New York State. That is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.

On behalf of every worker, every senior citizen, every child, and every family, our job is, and always has been, to keep their interests first and to stick to the ideals that we all know are essential to achieving a better quality of life.

We have a busy session ahead of us so without further delay allow me to thank all our returning members and staff.

Sadly, in 2015 we bid farewell to two members of our Assembly family, Dr. Dennis Smith and deputy sergeant at arms, Larry Moyer.

Dr. Smith was one of our distinguished professors in residence who committed many years to this House and to making the intern program one of the finest legislative experiences possible.

Deputy sergeant at arms Larry Moyer was a committed public servant who gave more than 50 years of his life in service to the State of New York as a member of the Navy Reserve, the state police and here in our Assembly chamber where he will most certainly be missed.

Please join me in observing a brief moment of silence …

With that I will now turn to our Majority Leader who will take us on our way.

Thank you and God bless you all.