New York State’s election of a Democrat majority Senate this January has influenced and inspired a passage of historic laws designed to protect reproductive rights, undocumented immigrants (especially students), place the safety of the general public over company gain through protective environmental laws, and even gun control legislation. The short amount of time it took to pass these laws is almost as groundbreaking as the passage of the bills themselves.
On January 15th, the senate majority passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA). New York’s State Assembly had passed GENDA ten times, however the former Senate Republican majority refused a vote on the legislation. New York was among 15 states and territories that did not have protective laws in place for members of the LGBT community. GENDA prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression and adds transgender people to the list of groups protected by the state’s Hate Crime Law (you are not misreading this; only now in 2019 is it considered a hate crime in New York to discriminate against individuals who identify as transgender).
A 2016 National Transgender Discrimination survey showed that 26% of transgender individuals lost a job due to bias, 50% were harassed on the job, 20% were evicted or denied housing, and 78% of transgender students were harassed or assaulted—supporters of GENDA are hopeful that the laws passage will lower these rates. The Senate also passed legislation prohibiting mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts with a patient under 18 years old, declaring underage conversion therapy illegal statewide. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins reported feeling hopeful about the effects of these new laws on the quality of life for LGBT New Yorkers:
“One of my proudest moments as a Senator was when we passed the Marriage Equality Act. But that was eight years ago now, and since then the former Senate Republican Majority refused to pass any real protections for the LGBTQ community. Now, under the Democratic Majority, this Senate chamber is affirming that we stand with our LGBTQ community.”
The passage of GENDA has been sixteen years in the making, meaning that statewide abolition of conversion therapy has also taken sixteen years, during which LGBT individuals have either had to endure the sheer insult of an existing practice which works to erase part of a person’s identity, but has not been scientifically proven to work at all. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Holyman, believes that passing GENDA will codify New York’s progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated with dignity and respect under the law. As the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans, today’s victory sends a strong message to LGBTQ New Yorkers across the state: you are loved, understood, and protected by your state government.
On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade (January 22nd), New York state passed historic pro-choice legislation. The passage of this law protects a citizen’s access to abortion if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned. The new Senate Majority passed three long-blocked bills protective of reproductive rights: The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA), and the Boss Bill. The RHA will modernize New York’s nearly 50-year-old statutes regarding abortion and ensure that New York State law treats abortion as health care, not a criminal act. The CCCA will require health insurance companies to include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive options, as well as contraceptive counseling, and services. The Boss Bill will ensure that employees or their dependents are able to make their own reproductive health care decisions without incurring adverse employment consequences.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins reflected on the social progression of New York state abortion law:
“New York once led the way on choice and women’s rights. Unfortunately for years barriers to women’s rights were put up, and our state has fallen behind.”
The majority party has increased state government activity to reconnect with how New York operated in the past: always moving forward.
The day after the Senate passed historic abortion laws, the passage of The José Peralta New York State DREAM Act was approved. This legislation will allow undocumented children (who are already students in New York State) the ability to qualify for state financial aid for higher education as well as give the ability for these families to create a Dream Fund for college scholarship opportunities. Allowing undocumented youths to access financial assistance will enable them to earn degrees, access highly skilled employment and contribute to their local economies statewide. The bill’s sponsor Senator Luis Sepúlveda said,
“I am honored to sponsor the José Peralta New York State DREAM Act. This essential piece of legislation will create new pathways to higher education for our bright undocumented students who form an important part of our American family.”
Immigrant workers comprise approximately 17 percent of the overall labor force in the United States. In our state of New York, that number is much higher—Immigrants comprise 25 percent of the labor force and add roughly $100 billion in consumer power to our economy yearly. Immigrant students will now reach even greater heights because of the improved access to a world-class education.
If compassion for undocumented immigrants is not reason enough to allow them access to the privileges U.S citizens receive, the situation can be put in economical context: When any minority is discriminated against in the labor force, when they cannot contribute to their local economies, the economy suffers from an underuse of its own resources and it becomes limited, unable to reach its own maximum potential. A notable parallel to this situation is when women entered the workforce and resultantly strengthened the economy. It is in everyone’s best interest to support the employment and education of undocumented immigrants—and the Senate majority is working hard to provide that support for current and future generations of undocumented immigrants.
On January 29th, The New York State Senate Majority passed major legislation to combat gun violence and protect the general welfare. The historic legislation strengthens anti-gun laws by implementing several new policies: Extreme Risk Protection Orders, the Effective Background Check Act, the Bump Stock Ban, and Gun Buy-Backs. The legislation prevents K-12 schools from authorizing anyone other than a security officer, school resource officer, or law enforcement officer to carry a firearm on school grounds. It also includes a bill which requires out-of-state applicants for gun permits to allow New York permitting authorities to review out-of-state mental health records. The Extreme Risk Protection Orders allows law enforcement officials, family and household members and certain school officials to seek a court order requiring a person likely to harm themselves or others to relinquish any firearms in their possession. The Effective Background Check Act establishes an extension of time up to thirty calendar days for national in-state background checks. The Bump Stock Ban prohibits the possession of a device that accelerates the rate of fire of a firearm. The Gun Buy-Backs bill directs the State Police to devise regulations for gun buyback programs so that all buyback programs across the state are operated consistently with uniform best practices. Democrat Senators have expressed frustration with the frequency of mass shootings in America – According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 340 mass shooting incidents occurred in 2018.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said
“The madness has to stop. It is our responsibility to protect our communities, our schools, and to keep all of New Yorkers safe. Following years of inaction on common sense gun safety legislation, we are finally going to lead the way and serve as an example to the nation on smart gun laws.”
Tired from constantly arguing the importance of gun-safety laws, the democratic senate took matters into its own hands, using the powerful position the elections put them in to preserve the safety of the general public.
On February 4th, New York Senate and Assembly passed historic legislation to ban oil and natural gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas. The legislation protects Long Island and New York from the Trump Administration’s dangerous offshore drilling expansion efforts. The bill is now waiting for the governor’s signature of approval before it becomes law. Governor Cuomo has publicly expressed his support of this bill, so there is no doubt of its approval.
“The Senate Majority will not stand by as the Trump Administration plans to drill off Long Island shores,”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
“Long Island’s natural resources and communities’ quality of life are under threat.”
The bill will update New York’s decades-old oil regulation and drilling laws by preventing conveyances, leaded, and acquisitions of land for offshore oil and gas. Banning offshore drilling counters Trump’s administration in its efforts to put energy company profits before people and valuing the environment we call home:
Senator Alessandra Biaggi said,
“We don’t need more oil and gas. The U.S. already has more than it can use. What we need is to take climate change seriously. We should increase our investment in renewable energy, which is not only cleaner, but also increasingly less expensive than fossil fuels. And renewables will provide more jobs and more economic development.”
The process of drilling oil produces harmful toxins like mercury and lead, which increases the potential negative effects of drilling in a heavily populated area. The majority party believes that the passage of these laws will guide New York towards the creation of a more sustainable future.
A general theme of haste and frustration can be noticed when evaluating the opinions given by the majority party regarding these new laws. Nearly every bill was passed with the idea that America’s current administration is facilitating social, economic, and environmental regression. New York’s Senate majority opinions reflect on the past social progression which has been achieved with nostalgia as they speedily pass long-coming historic legislation speedily to protect New Yorker’s and to reconnect with how New York has normally operated in the past: always moving forward.