New York’s 2019 state legislative session wrapped up at the end of June, and it was truly a historic one. Reflecting on Albany’s record this year, WHARR celebrates the passage of many progressive bills, including voting reform, gun violence protection, limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and of course landmark safeguards for reproductive rights. Our electoral work, alongside a broad coalition of other grassroots groups, helped pave the way for these victories, and we could not be prouder of the contributions of our members and fellow activists.
Yet there is some important legislation that was not passed. The state must do more to secure the health and reproductive freedom of every New Yorker, to protect and expand voting rights so that democracy works for everyone, and to help foster safe and sustainable communities for all.
Below is a status update on the priorities in WHARR’s 2019 legislative agenda, with outstanding legislation highlighted in bold. Over the next year, WHARR will join other allied orgs to continue advocating for these bills as priorities for next session.
WHARR’s Areas of Focus:
Reproductive Health Act & Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act
From our inception, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act has been a top priority for WHARR, and we are encouraged by these being two of the first bills to be signed into law this session. We now urge robust implementation and education on these bills. Read our full statement here.
Maternal Mortality Review Board
We are thrilled that both houses unanimously passed legislation to establish a New York State Maternal Mortality Review Board, and a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Advisory Council. The board’s responsibilities will include conducting comprehensive and confidential reviews of maternal deaths, as well as developing recommendations for reducing maternal deaths. The advisory council is tasked with reviewing the boards’ findings, and establishing best practices based on their recommendations. As part of this year’s budget, the Governor and Legislature also allocated $8 million over two years for initiatives related to maternal mortality, including funding the board and council, as well as training to reduce implicit racial bias in health care institutions statewide.
All menstruating individuals should have access to quality, affordable menstrual products. Both the Assembly and the Senate failed to pass bills that would ensure their availability in homeless shelters and require the provision of free menstrual products in charter schools (there is already a law mandating that they be available in public schools). It is important that these bills are passed in the 2020 legislative session.
Crisis Pregnancy Centers
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) — also known as limited service pregnancy centers — are unlicensed, anti-choice clinics that target unsuspecting, pregnant people and attempt to deter them from getting an abortion. They are notorious for deceptive practices, including posing as licensed medical-providers, lying to women about the supposed “health risks” of abortion, and misleading them about the age of the fetus so that they may wait until it is too late to get an abortion. There is no state legislation regulating CPCs, so we call on New York to prioritize passage of A.8212 / S.6311 next session, requiring a state-wide study of CPCs and an associated report with findings, conclusions, and recommendations to the Governor and Legislature.
Comprehensive Sex Ed
New York currently has no statewide learning standard for comprehensive sexuality education, which means students across the state are receiving inadequate, biased, or misleading sex ed — or none at all. All K-12 students in the state should have access to comprehensive sex ed led by teachers who are adequately trained and knowledgeable. When the next session begins, we urge immediate passage of A.6512 / S.4844 to mandate comprehensive sex ed statewide.
Domestic Violence & Gun Violence
Domestic or intimate partner violence is all too common, so we are pleased that in January, the Legislature passed a package of gun violence protection bills — including Extreme Risk Order Protection (also known as the Red Flag Bill, A.2689 / S.2451), safe storage, criminal background check extension and rapid fire ban. We are glad that this initiative was a strong effort by both chambers, which passed these protections that were signed into law by the Governor this session.
LGBTQ people, especially trans people, are particularly vulnerable to acts of violence. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2017 there were 29 reported cases of fatal violence against transgender people nationwide, and four of those cases took place in the state of New York. We are pleased that this session, the Legislature passed GENDA, banned so-called “conversion therapy,” and banned “gay panic” or “trans panic” defenses in New York courtrooms.
Voting and Campaign Finance Reform
We are pleased that the Legislature prioritized voting reforms this session, including early voting and consolidated federal and state primaries. In addition, the lead time for registered voters to enroll in or change their party affiliation was shortened to four months, and while we are disappointed that it wasn’t reduced to 25 days, we are glad to see this step in the right direction. However, it is unfortunate that automatic voter registration did not pass the Assembly (apparently due to a typo in the bill), and we plan to hold Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to their word that this issue will be resolved and that the bill will be passed immediately in the next session. We also call on the legislature to restore voting rights for those on parole.
We will also keep an eye on the commission tasked with establishing a small donor public financing system. During the budget process, a commission was created to finalize the details of this program — but we fear that the commission’s directives are too loose and it will not accomplish much. However, commissioners have now been appointed (as of early July), and we look forward to seeing their recommendations to create a program incentivizing candidates to seek more small donations.
Additional Areas of Interest:
- Ban on Non-Consensual Pelvic Exams. New York became the sixth state in the country to ban non-consensual pelvic exams performed on anesthetized or unconscious people.
- Sexual Harassment Laws. New York State set a new standard for sexual harassment, requiring employees to prove they experienced “inferior terms, conditions or privileges of employment,” rather than the previous “severe and pervasive” standard. Nondisclosure agreements barring employees from speaking out about discrimination are, in most cases, banned. The statute of limitations for sexual harassment complaints will be raised to three years, domestic workers and independent contractors are included in the new protections, and punitive damages and attorney fees can now be awarded in employment discrimination actions. Failure to make a complaint will no longer absolve an employer of liability for harassment, and the new legislation prohibits mandatory arbitration of discrimination claims.
- Equal Pay. The Legislature took steps to prevent wage discrimination by passing a package of bills prohibiting salary history inquiries, expanding protections from wage discrimination for public employees, prohibiting a differential rate of pay based on protected class status, and ensuring equal pay for equal work for public employees with protected class status.
- Equal Rights Amendment to New York’s State Constitution. In February, the Assembly passed a bill to amend the state constitution to prohibit the denial of equal rights on the basis of sex. (The current constitution protects equal rights on the basis race, color, creed, and religion, but not on the basis of sex.) However, the Senate passed a different and broader version of the bill in June, adding protections not just on the basis of sex but also on the basis of additional classifications including pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ethnicity, age, and disability. It is imperative that the Assembly make it a priority to pass this more inclusive version of the bill next year. We also urge that the relevant actors take the other steps required for the passage of any amendment to the state constitution: passing these laws in the Assembly and the Senate in the 2021 legislative session, and approval by voters via ballot referendum.
- Rent Regulations. The Legislature expanded protections for tenants by passing measures to abolish vacancy decontrol, expand the Emergency Tenant Protection Act statewide, and curtail the ability of landlords to raise the rent after renovating a building or apartment.
- Driver’s Licenses for All. This was a particularly polarizing issue even among Democrats, but ultimately the Legislature passed the Green Light Bill, granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.
- Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. This bill makes New York State a worldwide leader in climate policy. New York’s Green New Deal requires New York to lower its greenhouse gas emissions from all human-controllable sources in the state by 85% by 2050. A minimum of 70% of the state’s electricity must be generated from renewable sources by 2030, and 100% by 2050.
- Marijuana Decriminalization. New York did not fully legalize marijuana, but the Legislature did decriminalize possession and agree to automatically expunge many low-level marijuana convictions across the state.
Plus, let’s not forget our victory at the city level: As the fiscal year drew to a close, New York City became the first in the country to directly fund abortion! Rewire News recently posted an editorial from the New York Abortion Access Fund describing this historic accomplishment, and WHARR got a great shout-out alongside NIRH and All* Above All.
Thank you, WHARRiors, for all your hard work over the last couple of years. We can all celebrate the successes of the 2019 session knowing that our efforts played a role in raising public awareness and pressure for critical bills and in paving the way for a Democratic majority in the Legislature. We rallied outside Governor Cuomo’s office, handed out flyers to commuters, called and met with our electeds, knocked on doors, texted and wrote to voters, fundraised for candidates, and lobbied in Albany. Above all, we never gave up.