Election of a New Speaker of the New York State Assembly
I look forward to working with the new Assembly Speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, to build on the advances for progressive causes and issues that the Assembly has achieved. As the first African-American Speaker of the Assembly, his election as Speaker is a historic achievement that deserves to be recognized in this month's commemoration of African-American history.
It is critically important that the Assembly has now come together in support of a new Speaker and to see to it that a progressive agenda continues to move ahead - including reducing economic inequality, providing health care for every New Yorker, supporting public education, protecting and strengthening the rent laws and tenants' rights, advancing human and civil rights, implementing criminal justice reform, protecting our environment, and achieving campaign finance and ethics reform.
Assembly Member Sheldon Silver resigned as Speaker after criminal charges were filed against him by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District. Like every individual, Assembly Member Silver deserves due process, but the situation became too disruptive to his ability to lead the Assembly and to the Assembly's ability to do the people's work.
Farewell to a Dear Friend, Captain John Doswell
It is with a heavy heart that I extend my condolences on the passing of Captain John W. Doswell to his wife, Jean Preece, and their daughter, Jhoneen Preece-Doswell.
John Doswell was an extraordinary, larger-than-life figure who made enduring and invaluable contributions to one of New York City's most precious natural resources, its waterfront. No person in the community did more to improve New Yorkers' ability to gain access to and enjoy that waterfront than John Doswell.
Captain Doswell was best known to us as a Community Board 4 member, founder of Friends of Hudson River Park, and Executive Director of the Working Harbor Committee (the sponsor of Hidden Harbor Tours that educate people about the working harbor of NY/NJ). John offered inspirational, tenacious, and effective leadership and activism in service to the community and waterfront that he loved.
As a founder of Friends of Pier 84, John played an instrumental role in helping to realize the vision of the Hudson River Park, making sure that Pier 84 was a "park pier," and helping to garner community support for the Hudson River Park. As an author of the legislation that created the Park, I can say that this effort might well have failed without his leadership and determination to create a better waterfront for all. As a founder of the Friends of Hudson River Park, he was crucial to establishing ongoing support of the Hudson River Park.
A veteran of the U.S. Navy who saw action in Vietnam, Captain Doswell was a quintessential sailor who was truly at home on the water and whose unflagging enthusiasm for the beauty of the waterways of New York inspired so many others. Captain Doswell served as a member of the boards of directors of several vital organizations dedicating to improving New Yorkers' access to our city's historic waterfront, including groups like the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, the North River Historic Ship Society, Save Our Ships NY, the Governors Island Alliance, and Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, and the Working Harbor Committee, in addition to serving as the NY Port Captain for OpSail 2012. John piloted the lightship Frying Pan, the historic schooner Lettie G Howard, and was a pilot, restorer and part owner of the 130' retired NYC Fireboat John J Harvey.
Members of the community may not have known of his pioneering work in the 1960s with corporate multimedia presentations or of his production and software development company that created corporate communications and business theatre events of all kinds; or that he was also a writer, designer, director, and computer systems designer and programmer of hundreds of industrial shows, films, and videos, as well as many other talents, too numerous to list.
Future generations seeking open, recreational public space on Manhattan's Hudson River shoreline will forever be in debt to Captain John Doswell. I am proud to have known him as a friend, and all those who love New York City's waterfront should be grateful to him for his lifetime of service to others.
New York Health Act Hearings
The New York Health Act is my bill to create a universal comprehensive health plan for every New Yorker. As chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I held six public hearings on the bill around the state in December and January.
These hearings were held in Albany, Buffalo, Manhattan, Mineola, Rochester, and Syracuse. More than 200 witnesses testified, including leaders in labor, clergy, small business owners, health care professionals and students, patients, and representatives of the insurance industry.
Witnesses told harrowing stories about their personal experiences of being uninsured or under insured. We heard about people who could not get medically necessary care because they couldn't afford to pay the deductible under their coverage, or were financially devastated by the cost. People told of care being disrupted or delayed because of restricted provider networks and being hit with huge out-of-network charges.
Local government officials testified about the high cost of public employee health insurance. Small business owners talked about the crippling cost of coverage for their workers, or the problems of recruiting good workers if they don't provide coverage. Doctors and other health care professionals talked about having to spend enormous number of hours filling out paperwork and on the phone with insurance companies. Medical students talked about their dreams of being doctors and their frustration of having to deal with the paperwork, billing, and other requirements made by insurance companies.
The Gallup organization reports that 34% of families with private health insurance had someone put off needed health care in the past year for reasons of cost - in most cases for serious conditions. Despite the Affordable Care Act, in many cases the costs have in-creased, with insurers charging higher premiums, deductibles and co-pays. As the costs increase, many employers are shifting more of the cost to their employees, dropping coverage completely, or reducing employee's hours to less than 30 hours a week so they won't have to provide insurance. This not only affects employee benefits but cuts their wages too.
The New York Health Act would do away with these problems. It would provide universal complete coverage to every New Yorker without premiums, deductibles, co-pays, restrictions on provider networks or out of network charges. Instead, it would be funded by broad-based progressively graduated assessments, based on ability to pay, on payroll and taxable non-payroll income. The New York Health Act would give New Yorkers freedom of choice, health security, and financial security.
Tenant Alert: Rent Laws Set to Expire In June
The rent laws that protect affordable housing and two million New Yorkers (including some in the suburbs and upstate) will expire on June 15. That means the New York State Legislature and Governor Cuomo must negotiate and pass renewal of the law to extend rent protections past that date.
Everyone needs to get involved to keep and strengthen tenant protections. We need to repeal vacancy deregulation, which has allowed landlords to remove at least 400,000 apartments from the rent-regulation system by renovating empty apartments and dramatically increasing the rents. Once the rents are more than $2500.00 a month the apartment is no longer stabilized. This system has encouraged unscrupulous landlords to harass tenants, reduce services, etc., to get tenants to move out so the vacant apartment's rent will be above $2500.00. In many cases, whole buildings are emptied out to take the apartments out of the rent regulation system. It is our goal to bring these units back into rent stabilization.
We need to reform the Major Capital Improvement (MCI) and the Individual Apartment Improvement (IAI) rent increase systems to protect tenants from permanent rent increases. We need to protect tenants with preferential rents (when a person's rent is less than the legal regulated rent). Landlords use these tools to raise rents and make rent stabilized apartments unaffordable. We need to keep our rent stabilized housing stock affordable.
The City wants to keep the 421a tax break for developers because it is an incentive for them to build affordable housing. But it costs too much and too little affordable housing has been built as a result. I agree with ANHD (Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development) that the system needs fixing in these ways:
- Require that 421a developments make at least 25% of apartments affordable available at 30% AMI level, to serve the 1/3 of New Yorkers struggling the most with housing costs.
- Require on-site affordable apartments in every neighborhood.
- Make all affordable apartments permanently affordable.
- Prohibit double-dipping when 421a is used in conjunction with other housing subsidies.
- Promote mixed-income communities by ensuring the fair and equal treatment of all tenants.
- Create a compliance fee to fund the enforcement of tenants' rights and program rules to ensure that 421a rules are transparent and adhered to.
If we don't strengthen the rent laws, we will continue to lose affordable apartments faster than we can build them.
Each year more units are taken out of the rent regulated system.
I am working closely with tenant advocates and my Assembly and Senate colleagues to renew and strengthen the existing rental laws so that the more than one million rent regulated tenants in our city will be secure in their homes.
This will not be easy. There are powerful interests that would like to see the laws expire and disappear completely. I am committed to doing all that I can to pre-vent that from happening but I need your help.
You should read the facts and get involved by contacting the Real Rent Reform Coalition at www.realrentreform.org, Metropolitan Council on Housing at www.metcouncilonhousing.org and Tenants and Neighbors at www.tenantsandneighbors.org. These groups are all united and working together to stop the loss of affordable housing in our city.
Fighting Back Against Illegal Hotels
In January, I testified before the New York City Council about the growing threat to affordable housing, public safety, and New Yorkers' quality of life posed by illegal hotels and the rise in illegal short-term stays in residential apartments. It's a problem that is reaching critical mass with the advent of online sites that broker this illegal activity, like Airbnb. Last month the City sued a Hell's Kitchen building owner for $500,000 for operating an illegal hotel in a residential building that lacked sprinklers and other fire protection measures.
Illegal hotels create problems for residents and tourists alike.
For New Yorkers living in residential apartment buildings where neighbors are illegally renting out their units for short-term stays, this can mean strangers coming and going at all hours, creating security, noise, and other concerns.
Residential buildings in New York City are not required to meet the same strict fire and safety codes required for hotels. Often, tourists book apartments online arrive from out of town to find the room they paid for in advance is not what they were promised. It may be dirty, bug-infested, or without clean linens or other services. These short-term visitors are stuck, with nowhere to lodge a complaint, since there are no front desk clerks or concierges in the lobby of illegal hotels.
There is no room at the inn for illegal hotels in New York City!
At a City Hall press conference before testifying at the City Council against the proliferation of illegal hotels in New York.
Legislation to Cover Emergency Contraceptive Drug Coverage
Emergency contraception (EC) can prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse or condom failure. It is important, and is safe and effective if taken very soon after intercourse. Often it is impossible for a woman to get a prescription in time, especially over a weekend. For all these reasons, the Food and Drug Administration has made EC legally available from pharmacies without a prescription.
However, most health insurance policies only cover prescription drugs - leaving people who need EC uncovered and having to pay the cost out-of-pocket.
This can be a financial burden especially for young women. Some women decide to do without EC and take their chances on becoming pregnant. No woman should have to make this choice.
I am joining my Assembly colleague Amy Paulin of Westchester County to sponsor legislation that would require insurance coverage for emergency contraception drugs with or without a prescription.
Covering Transgender Care Under Medicaid
New York State announced in December 2014 that Medicaid would begin covering transgender care and services. I applaud the action by the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to end New York State's discriminatory transgender exclusion. The previous policy was rooted in bias and bad science.
I submitted formal comments on the proposed DOH regulations and on ways in which the new regulation can be improved.
As Chair of the Assembly Health Committee, I will continue to fight to ensure that State government respects the principle that medical decisions are best left between doctors and patients, including transgender New Yorkers.
"Pier 55": A New Park for the Hudson River?
In November 2014, the Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation pledged to provide $130 million to design and create a new 2.4-acre park in the Hudson River at the current site of the dilapidated and unusable Pier 54 just south of West 14th Street. The Foundation also pledged to assume the park's operating expenses, maintenance, and cultural programming for its first 20 years.
The Hudson River Park Act had been amended by the Legislature to allow the replacing of the old Pier 54 with a new pier of equal square footage, although the shape can be different.
The proposed park would lie atop an undulating, parallelogram-shaped platform that would rise as high as 186 feet (about the height of an 18 story building) over the shoreline, with two performing arts spaces including an amphitheater plus lawns, plantings, trees, and walkways.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill De Blasio, and the Hudson River Park Trust (HRPT) have expressed their support for the proposal, and in November it was announced that the State, City, and HRPT would provide an additional $39.5 million in funding to complete the new park, which would be called Pier 55. Before construction could begin on the new park in 2016, HRPT's full Board of Directors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation would each have to approve the proposal.
The plans for the new offshore park show great promise and it could be a welcome new amenity for Manhattan neighborhoods that are starved for open, recreational public space. However, I share some of the concerns expressed by local residents:
- No public input was sought before the plan for the park was presented to the public, and that the input from local Community Boards will only be sought during a 60-day public comment period.
- Adequate planning to accommodate vehicular and foot traffic in the area must be developed, and that additional mass transit service must be provided to accommodate the likely increase in New Yorkers and tourists visiting the new park.
- The cultural programming for the performing arts spaces in the park should be affordable and accessible for a wide cross-section of New Yorkers.
- A steady funding stream for the park's long-term operations and maintenance must be identified. The Diller-Von Furstenberg Family Foundation will be withdrawing its financial support for the park 20 years after its completion.
The proposed Pier 55 park is an exciting prospect for our city and our neighborhoods. I look forward to engaging with the advocates of the plan to maximize public participation as the proposal moves forward, and to the day when a new park graces our shoreline!
Complaints on Signage at Madison Square Garden
More than 100 residents of Penn South have signed a petition objecting to the disturbance caused by the glaring light emanating from the south-facing LED advertisement board owned by Madison Square Garden (MSG). The large sign displays a rotating series of advertisements. Light from MSG's sign shines constantly through their windows, sometimes illuminating rooms at night while residents are trying to sleep.
I presented the problem to the Garden's management team, who pledged to seek solutions to the problem. The Chelsea community has been welcoming to the Garden, and it is entirely reasonable to expect neighborly consideration in return. I look forward to continuing our conversations, and am confident that we can arrive at a compromise that preserves the quality of life of Penn South residents.
Fighting AIDS & HIV by Increasing Access to Syringes
I wrote the 2000 New York State law that legalized the possession of syringes. It's helped save tens of thousands of lives and protected the sex partners of IV-drug users and their children from HIV and hepatitis. But significant barriers blocking access to clean syringes remain, which is why State Senator Gustavo Rivera and I are introducing "a clean law on clean syringes."
In January, I joined Senators Rivera and Velmanette Montgomery of Brooklyn, members of the advocacy organization VOCAL-NY, and other advocates at a press conference to announce our introduction of legislation to fully decriminalize syringe possession and lift restrictions on the sale of syringes in pharmacies. It's an important, long-overdue step that's been proven effective in fighting the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C in other states, and it was a key plank in the report issued in January by Governor Cuomo's "Task Force on Ending the Epidemic" of HIV and AIDS. I will keep you apprised of the progress of our bill in the current session of the Legislature.
Announcing the introduction of legislation to expand access to syringes to fight the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis.
District 3 Community Education Council Legislative Breakfast
In January, I spoke at the 2015 legislative breakfast of the Community School District 3 Community Education Council. It's always gratifying to see so many principals, teachers, and parents gathering to celebrate their successes and discuss the challenges that lie ahead. I was educated in the NYC public schools, and my mother was a NYC high school math teacher. I emphasized the importance of maintaining a truly public education system that is available to all students.
The hosting schools for this year's event, Frederick Douglass Academy II and the Wadleigh Secondary School for the Visual and Performing Arts, demonstrate the excellence that can be achieved in our public schools with the right leadership and policies. The two schools have dramatically improved in key areas: assessment-based performance, attendance, and graduation rates are all on the rise. Both schools offer exciting new initiatives, like Wadleigh's culinary arts program, whose apprentice chefs prepared part of the breakfast for the annual gathering. I remain inspired by our community's schools, by the students who attend them, and by the dedication of parents, teachers, and administrators determined to secure a high quality education for New York's students.
Speaking at the annual Legislative Breakfast of the Community School District 3 Community Education Council.
Recycling Electronic Waste: It's the Law!
Disposing of electronic devices, or "e-waste" - which often contains hazardous and non-biodegradable materials - is one of the great environmental challenges we face. Starting in January 2015, all e-waste in New York must be recycled, thanks to a recent State law that I co-sponsored in the Assembly.
New York residents can recycle electronic items through a "Manufacturers' Takeback Pro-gram," in which retailers of electronic items, like Best Buy or P.C. Richards, accept e-waste items for recycling free of charge.
To learn more about e-waste recycling, go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/chemical/65583.html.
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