Opening the 246th Legislative Session
January 9, 2022
Good afternoon members, staff and guests. Welcome back to the People’s House. I want to begin by wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year.
I am eternally grateful and humbled that, once again, my colleagues have placed their faith in me to serve as speaker of this great body. It is an honor and a privilege.
Just as you have chosen me, New Yorkers have chosen us.
Despite the challenges we face, New Yorkers went to the polls and made their collective voice heard – they have entrusted us to steer this ship through the storm.
We know that New Yorkers, and all Americans, are facing record high inflation and economic uncertainty. Now more than ever, they need us to continue to put families first. To focus on the needs of everyday New Yorkers.
While it might not seem apparent if you read or watch the news, over the years we have made great strides in helping to improve the lives of the people of this state. And I think it is important to celebrate those accomplishments.
Year after year, the Assembly Majority has championed policies that support families and help them climb the economic ladder.
The fight for fair wages started right here in the People’s House.
In 2016, we established a plan for sustainable wage growth across the state and created a paid family leave program to ensure no one must choose between earning a living or caring for a new or sick family member.
On December 31, 2022, another phase-in of the minimum wage increase took effect. However, we cannot afford for wages to remain stagnant. As we look to the future, we will continue to monitor wages and ensure they keep pace with the cost of living.
Year after year, we have made historic investments in public education to ensure a solid foundation for the success of our children.
Since launching the Higher Education Road to Success initiative in 2015, we have doubled opportunity program funding and fought to slow down the rising cost of higher education by increasing base aid for community college students, raising the TAP award for the first time in seven years, and keeping tuition flat since the 2019-20 school year.
Last year, as New Yorkers fought to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, we fought to ensure the state budget accelerated the middle-class tax cut and delivered critical tax credits to ease the property tax burden and provide the relief it takes to raise a family.
We doubled down on our efforts to address the childcare crisis and help New Yorkers get back to work by expanding access across the state.
During one of the most challenging economic times in our state’s history, we fought to keep New Yorkers in their homes. We established the Emergency Rental Assistance Program and the Landlord Rental Assistance Program to help New Yorkers pay their rent and utilities and to help small landlords receive rental payments.
We will never stop fighting to lift up New Yorkers – to lift people out of poverty – through opportunity – and into the middle class.
And, my colleagues, we have fought to protect the fundamental rights of New Yorkers.
For years, many people across the country, and right here in this chamber, assured us that Roe v. Wade was settled law, but we knew better.
In 2019, we passed the Reproductive Health Act to ensure that here in New York, health care decisions remain between a woman and her doctor – not politicians, and certainly not judges.
Then, last summer, when we learned of this radical Supreme Court’s intention to undo nearly 50 years of precedent and strip Americans of their federal protections, we passed more legislation to protect reproductive health care providers and further safeguard these rights in New York. We will never stop fighting to protect reproductive freedom in this state.
As gun violence continues to terrorize communities – including Buffalo – we have repeatedly passed common sense gun legislation to keep our communities safe.
Last year, when the Supreme Court chose to dismantle a more than 100-year-old sensible concealed carry law, we passed legislation to strengthen our red flag laws, improve communication between local authorities and our federal partners, eliminate loopholes, and require licenses for semi-automatic weapons – just to name a few – because we value lives over guns.
Now more than ever, we need our federal partners to take action to protect every American from gun violence – we cannot do this in New York State alone.
Yes, our accomplishments have been many. But I also know we have so much more work to do.
This year, we must be laser focused on putting money back in the pockets of New Yorkers. On helping our fellow New Yorkers climb another rung in the economic ladder.
We must build on the legacy we have of putting families first.
And it starts with safe and secure housing. New York is home to one of the world's largest economies. We are a global financial center, yet we still struggle with inadequate housing and homelessness.
My friends, we can do better. Instead of simply affording rent, we must widen our focus to help New Yorkers build wealth through home ownership. Let's really put our collective energies toward meaningful and sustainable solutions to our housing crisis. I look forward to working with our partners in government to tackle this problem head on. I am confident we will deliver.
The global pandemic dealt a devastating blow to our small businesses and they are still recovering from the economic impact wrought by COVID. Small businesses are the heartbeat of our communities, and we must continue to listen to their needs and concerns. But we also need our colleagues in Congress – leaders from this great state – to use their voices to help us deliver relief to our small businesses struggling to get of unemployment insurance debt.
For years, we have championed efforts to ensure we leave our children a planet that can be enjoyed for generations to come. In 2023, we must double down on our efforts to address the global climate crisis. And my colleagues, despite the rhetoric from some on the right, we are in a crisis. The evidence is in every storm we see. Last year, voters enacted a historic $4.2 billion Environmental Quality Bond Act - now it is up to us to ensure that the full potential of these funds are realized and that we build on these gains.
And we must meet the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and end our reliance on fossil fuels once and for all.
There has been much discussion around public safety, and no matter what side of the aisle you sit on, we all want our communities to be safe.
But we must acknowledge that public safety is about much more than how we respond to crime after it has already been committed. We do a disservice to the people of this state if we only focus on the crimes that have been committed and not on the issues that have led to these crimes.
Data shows us that New York is one of the safest states, but people do not feel safe. We know that people’s perception is their reality, and we must recognize that.
If we genuinely care about public safety, and I know we all do, we have to put as much, or more, emphasis on the root causes of crime than how we respond to it.
We know that access to safe and affordable housing, mental health crises, access to meaningful employment, and addiction are the real drivers of poverty and crime – and that is where our focus should be – not simply using buzz words to score political points and offering nothing more than reactive solutions.
We were elected to serve our communities as legislators because we have been entrusted to fight for the things they need. We know firsthand that the struggles of our neighbors with food insecurity, un and under employment, housing shortages and affordability, insufficient mental health services and lack of educational opportunities are the real sources of the problems in our communities.
When we talk about public safety, those things should be at the heart of our conversations.
The fact is that crime breeds off poverty and a lack of opportunity, and we cannot simply police, imprison and penalize our way to safer communities. That’s why we have always worked to combat the root causes of crime in our communities, not just the symptoms.
We must continue to focus our energy on providing opportunities, delivering equality and making sure that New Yorkers have access to the resources they need.
It reminds me of a story that Mario Cuomo told about the poisoned lake. He told a story about how a village would constantly drink from a poisoned lake, and would only react to what would happen to people after they were poisoned from the lake, instead of concentrating on why the lake was poisoned in the first place. And the moral of that story is that we must be proactive, and not reactive.
In closing my colleagues, now more than ever, New Yorkers need us to be laser focused on all the issues they care about, foremost, affordability and rooting out the causes of crime and unease in our communities. I am confident that if we work together, we can accomplish this goal.
I would like to congratulate all of you on your election or re-election, as well as leadership appointments. For the first time in history, a majority of our committee chairs in this chamber are now women. I look forward to working with all of you in the year ahead to help us deliver on that promise – to help us build on our legacy of putting families first.
Now I would like to invite everyone to join me in extending a warm welcome to our intern class of 2023. On behalf of all the members, I want to thank Assemblymember Patricia Fahy, our new chair of the Higher Education Committee as well as the Intern Committee; Kathleen McCarty, our program director; Dr. Janet Penska; Dr. Angela Ledford; Dr. Wesley Nishiyama; and Dr. Don Boyd.
My Assembly colleagues, once again, welcome back to the People’s House for the 246th Legislative Session. Together, I know we will continue to move our state forward and families upward.Now let’s get to work!