The 2018 elections marked a turning point in New York politics that has the potential to reverberate for generations to come if we listen to the voters who spoke so loudly on Election Day. New York State has always been a national leader in progressive policies that build up all our citizens, and I am proud that the Assembly has long been at the forefront. In recent years, we have had to contend with a Republican Senate that limited our progress. But last night, New Yorkers and people across the country voted overwhelmingly to reject the status quo. Now it is up to us to deliver the results working with the new Senate Democratic Majority.
During my nearly four years as Speaker of the State Assembly, I have had the opportunity to travel across the state, and I can confidently say that there is more that unites us than divides us. With that in mind as we look ahead to the rapidly approaching 2019 session, I look forward to working with Governor Cuomo and new Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to craft an action agenda that puts New York's families first.
What does that look like? Here are just some of the issues we will be focusing on in 2019.
First, we must look to the future by giving students and teachers the tools they need to be successful. That means increased support for schools across the state and expanding pre-k and afterschool programs. We will continue to build on initiatives like My Brother's Keeper to ensure that all of our students can be successful. Working with the new Senate, we can build a future for every student by finally enacting the Dream Act so that all our children can realize their full potential.
Just as important, we need to ensure that every student has the opportunity to go to college without being saddled with a lifetime of debt. Through the "Higher Education Road to Success" initiative, the Assembly Majority has championed support for opportunity programs and community colleges.
UPDATE OUR ELECTION LAWS
Over the last several years, we have seen attack after attack on voters' access to the polls - from voter purges in Georgia, to voter ID laws in North Dakota, to the Supreme Court striking down a key part of the Voting Rights Act. The Assembly Majority believes we should make it easier, not harder, for eligible voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote.
We have legislation ready to ensure every eligible voter has ample opportunity to vote, including the establishment of an early voting period and no excuse absentee voting. We also plan to pass legislation to combine federal and state primaries, bringing New York State in compliance with federal law. We want to modernize and streamline voter registration by establishing an online registration process.
We will also work to fix our flawed campaign finance system, starting with closing the LLC loophole, bringing more transparency to the system and ensuring individuals cannot evade individual contribution limits.
CREATE A 21ST CENTURY TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
New York is home to one of the hardest working transportation networks in the country. For the MTA to keep New Yorkers and the millions of people who come to our city moving, we need to identify new sustainable funding sources that will support critical capital and operating needs. But it is not just the MTA - we must focus on transportation systems upstate and in every region. Our infrastructure is aging and in desperate need of repairs. We will continue to support funding for maintenance so our state and local roads, railways and bridges keep us moving forward safely and efficiently.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
We will also look to continue to address desperately needed reforms to our criminal justice system. That includes reforming our bail system so the size of someone's wallet will not determine whether a person must remain in jail while awaiting a court date. We should also continue to reform the use of solitary confinement, which is dehumanizing and has been shown to be overused and ineffective.
Our legislation would prohibit the use of racial and ethnic profiling, update and reform our state's discovery laws, increase transparency in grand jury proceedings, and reform the speedy trial provision, so people like Kalief Browder are not left languishing in prison. We must seal the records of low-level marijuana possession convictions in order to avoid the unfair stigma of a life-long criminal record.
CURB GUN VIOLENCE
Communities across our state and our country are slowly being torn apart by gun violence. It seems like we cannot go a week without hearing about a shooting at a school, a yoga studio or a place of worship. New York has always been a national model for sensible gun laws, and I look forward to working with our partners in the Senate to take up that mantle once again by requiring comprehensive background checks, banning bump stocks and keeping guns out of the hands of those proven to be a risk to others.
REFORM RENT LAWS
Too often, rising rents and stagnant wages are driving families out of the neighborhoods they shaped. While we work to keep our communities safe, we must also make sure families are not being forced out of their homes. The Assembly Majority is ready to pass legislation to extend and strengthen programs that protect low and middle income tenants to keep them from being priced out of their homes and communities.
PASS THE CHILD VICTIMS ACT
We must do all we can to give victims of child sexual abuse the justice they deserve. I look forward to finally seeing the Child Victims Act become law, extending the statute of limitations for criminal and civil cases involving sexual abuse of children, and empowering survivors of abuse to seek closure for the crimes committed against them.
PROTECT WOMEN'S HEALTH
While New York has always been at the forefront of protecting women's reproductive rights and ensuring access to family planning, our state's laws have not changed in more than 50 years. In the coming session, I look forward to finally seeing the Reproductive Health Act written into state law. We will also work with the Senate to pass the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act and the Boss Bill, ensuring that women in New York have access to contraception, and cannot be penalized by their employer for their healthcare choices.
QUALITY, AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE
As we saw with the recent elections, Republicans would like nothing more than to dismantle our healthcare system. Despite Washington's efforts to undermine access to affordable care, we believe that New Yorkers, and all Americans, deserve a healthcare system that guarantees coverage for all. We will continue to make the necessary investments in our healthcare systems to ensure that all our citizens have access to a world class healthcare system.
New York City may be the economic engine that drives our state, but we must do more to ensure all our communities have the opportunity to grow and thrive. Our Assembly Democratic conference is one of the most diverse in the country and we are proud to represent every region of our great state. Traveling across the state for the past four years has given me a unique perspective, and we will look to make smart investments and create programs so that businesses can thrive and our young people can stay and grow their communities.
Our list of priorities for the upcoming session is long and ambitious. But the last two years have taught us that we must act to protect our values here in New York. Together with our partners in the Senate, we will work to craft policies that will give our children a bright future, make our communities safer and stronger, and truly put New York's families first.