Allow me to begin the 238th Legislative Session by extending to you, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, to our staffs and to all of our guests seated here today, my heartfelt wish that 2015 be a year of good health and good will, for each and every one of you.
Before Majority Leader Morelle and Minority Leader Kolb fully introduce the 17 members of the Assembly Class of 2015, let me take this opportunity to personally welcome each and every one of our new colleagues to this, the People's House of the New York State Legislature.
To your families and friends who are here today, may I say how delighted we are to be celebrating this momentous occasion with you. Please remember that you will always be welcome in this chamber.
To our new members, let me say this: Many yearn for public life, but with that comes the critical responsibility of earning the People's trust.
Having the courage and the skill to lead and to represent means making a positive difference in the lives of others.
It is why we serve. It is why we continue to serve.
We deeply respect and heartily commend your decision to embrace and to immerse yourselves in this noble pursuit.
Remember this, the authors of our constitution believed it was essential to have citizens from all walks of life coming to Albany, bringing their unique experiences and expertise to the work of this House, and then returning home to live by the same laws they helped to promulgate.
As this session proceeds, I urge you to get to know the diverse collection of citizen leaders who are serving with you.
There is a tremendous amount of life experience, academic knowledge and wisdom in this Body, not to mention compassion, determination and good will.
Also remember, that the men and women who have served in this House over the past 238 legislative sessions, accepted the challenges thrust on them by war and terrorism, by epidemic and natural disaster, by economic and social upheaval.
With great character, passion, and sacrifice, they accepted those challenges and made critical decisions -- as history tells us - "in the beauty and full exchange of concepts and proposals."
I expect that we will address the challenges before us with the same dignity and civility, with respect for this House and with respect for each other.
And we will address the challenges before us in a more efficient and effective manner. Last year, we advanced a constitutional amendment to allow the use of electronic documents to age bills in our Chamber.
Thanks to the voters' overwhelming support of the amendment, the Legislature will be taking a historic step forward that will enable us to use computer tablets in the Chamber.
Our technical staff has already completed much of the infrastructure work necessary to implement our "electronic chamber" project. It is a significant change and we will need to amend our rules to account for the use of electronic documents.
I am appointing a bipartisan working group, to be led by Majority Leader Joe Morelle, to complete this project as soon as practicable, hopefully within the next few weeks.
In his inaugural address, the Governor noted that there are now 7.6 million jobs in New York, more jobs than have ever existed in our state.
The Governor also acknowledged that while the economy is improving for some, many are struggling with chronically high poverty and a minimum wage that is, in his words, "insufficient."
He said that the wealth gap is feeding national discord and that today, fairness and opportunity are in doubt.
The Governor is right. His father was right when he made that same point in his famous Tale of Two Cities speech in 1984.
The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Junior was right when he called economic injustice the inseparable twin of racial injustice.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was right when he warned that a democracy is not safe when private power becomes stronger than the democratic state itself.
Plutarch, the ancient Greek philosopher was right when he warned, thousands of years ago, that an imbalance between rich and poor is the most fatal ailment of all republics.
And we are right.
In the fight for the Marriage Equality Act, for repeal of the Rockefeller Drug Laws, for a state commitment to universal pre-K and for the legalization of medical marijuana, we were fighting for fairness.
In the fights for a higher minimum wage, stronger rent laws, the DREAM Act, GENDA and women's equality, including the right to reproductive freedom, we are fighting for fairness.
In the fights for state budgets that ease the burdens on working families, that ensure our least fortunate and most vulnerable receive the care and dignity they need and deserve, that provide the resources to give each and every child a quality, well-rounded education and each and every New Yorker access to the health care they need …
On all of these issues and more, we are taking on the real doubts and the real challenges facing real New Yorkers and striving to give them the fairness they deserve.
Our continuing challenge is to keep pushing New York forward, to keep improving, to keep gaining ground, to find the next foothold and to keep reaching upward.
In this new year and new legislative session, we will continue to work with the Governor, with the Minority and with our colleagues in the Senate to knock down the barriers to injustice and bridge the gaps that divide our people.
We will begin by passing a fifth, consecutive, on-time budget that reflects the priorities I have just outlined.
To craft a fiscally sound and socially responsible plan, we will be relying on our brilliant, expert budget maker, a leader who has been at the forefront of the most important battles for justice and fairness in our history, our timeless Ways and Means Chair, Denny Farrell. Thank you, Denny.
As you know, the Governor has made no secret about his desire to reform our public education system.
Certainly, we will listen to his ideas, but it will not stop us from pushing for the resources that will give our children the tools they need to escape poverty and ignorance and the threat of becoming marginalized and left behind.
We will continue to push for the resources and the reforms that enable our state to establish an education system that provides each and every child with the opportunity to receive the high quality, well-rounded education they need to achieve self-fulfillment and economic empowerment.
And … as the nation's most progressive city struggles with the relationship between our communities and our justice system, we will conduct a series of hearings to examine the system and will recommend and make reforms to improve the way we enforce our laws, and hopefully, restore some measure of faith in our legal system.
We have a lot of work to do and all of the talent and wisdom to get it done.
To my friend and colleague Assembly Member Joe Morelle, my heartfelt thanks for once again accepting the important responsibility and the challenge of serving as our Majority Leader.
Joe, you are an exceptional leader and have done a remarkable job of managing the work on this floor. Certainly, you have lived up to every expectation. Our faith in you grows exponentially.
My thanks to you, Minority Leader Kolb, for your leadership and for providing the critical dialogue that is essential to our Democracy.
Led by the distinguished Chair of our Intern Program, Assembly Member Deborah Glick, we are joined this afternoon by our new class of Assembly interns and by two of their faculty leaders, Doctor Angela Ledford and Doctor Wesley Nishiyama.
Let's give them a warm welcome.
And if I might, let me say how overjoyed I am to have our Parliamentarian, Carolyn Kearns, here on the dais beside me again.
We are grateful to our Associate Counsel, Brian Haak, for his excellent work and we are pleased that Carolyn is resuming her duties.
As it is fitting, let me close with words that our great former governor, Governor Mario M. Cuomo, delivered from this dais back in 1993, and I quote:
" … we cannot make it as a people if we lose a generation of our children to drugs, or to AIDS, or to inadequate education, or if we are locked in combat with our neighbors on the streets of our cities. We cannot make it without understanding and believing in the idea of family."
He said it so eloquently.
May the spirit of family and the memories of the joy and togetherness that we experienced with our loved ones during the recent holiday season inspire and guide us in our work today and throughout our legislative session.