Flipping the U.S. House and the NYS Senate has already produced consequences. Not only did the House majority stand solidly behind the Speaker in foiling the President’s $5.7 billion pet project, but the State has also already passed significant legislation, only days into the new session.I’ve written in the past about our archaic election laws. Now our new Democratic majority has passed some major fixes. From now on, we will have just one combined state and federal primary date. That means that all petitioning can take place at the same time, in March, and that caucuses will take place in spring rather than late summer.
The voting reforms that the governor signed into law in January include early voting, which allows citizens to cast their ballots at certain sites up to 10 days prior to Election Day, including on weekends. Teenagers aged 16 or 17 may now pre-register to vote, making them automatically registered the minute they turn 18. Political spending by limited liability companies will be reduced to the amount allowed for corporations, $5,000 per year, thus closing a loophole that allowed certain special interests to get around contribution limits and reporting rules.
If you move from one county to another within New York State, your voter registration will now follow you. You will simply file a change of address and be registered to vote in your new home.
More may be coming: Two resolutions for Constitutional Amendments would allow absentee voting by mail without qualifying excuses and enable same-day voter registration. Also under discussion are expanded hours for primary voting and designating Election Day a state holiday.
The day after those initial election reforms were approved, the governor signed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and a ban on conversion therapy. Both bills had stalled repeatedly in the Republican-dominated Senate prior to the 2018 election.
Some of New York’s new laws are clearly in response to the Trump administration and the revised balance of power on the Supreme Court. The governor has referred to them as “New York’s Declaration of Independence from Washington.” Those include the Reproductive Health Act, the NYS Dream Act, and the proposed NY Health Act (the governor is all for codifying coverage of pre-existing conditions but opposes some other parts of that bill). The legislature has just passed the Child Victims Act, another bill that saw Senate blockage two years in a row before passing in late January—unanimously. This bill allows child sexual abuse survivors to sue their abusers (or institutions such as the Catholic Church or a school district) up until age 55, rather than age 23. Alternatively, survivors may seek criminal redress up to age 28.
Still to come as I write are a law to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use; a law that would end the mandatory suspension of a driver’s license following a drug conviction that doesn’t involve DUI; and a “Red Flag” law that would permit school officials, police, or family members to petition a court for temporary removal of firearms from people who pose an extreme risk to themselves or others. A law to extend the waiting period before a gun purchase just passed the state Senate. Although longer waiting periods are recommended by the FBI and favored by most Americans in national polls, not one Republican senator voted for this bill.
On the back burner, but still expected to receive discussion in the first 100 days of 2019, are such issues as affordable housing, protections for public sector unions, clean drinking water, a millionaire’s tax, infrastructure repair, and New York’s own Green New Deal.
I’m not saying that all is sunshine and flowers. The proposed cut to Aid and Incentives to Municipalities in the governor’s budget will cost my town an alarming $55,000 if it goes through. As usual, the governor’s budget nickel-and-dimes public schools and fails to address inequities. However…At many times in the past, “blue” New York has not lived up to its reputation. Now, in the Age of Trump, it seems that the floodgates have opened, and we are getting a glimpse of what it might look like to live in a genuinely progressive state.
The next local election is March 19. Voters in the villages of Cayuga Heights, Dryden, Groton, and Trumansburg will select trustees and (in Dryden and Groton) a mayor. If you live in one of those villages, check your local weeklies for candidate information and make a plan to vote.
Kathy Zahler is Director of Communications for the Tompkins County Democratic Committee. See the committee website at tcdemocrats.org. The Republican View will run in the final edition of each month.
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