The Remarks of Speaker Carl E. Heastie Opening the 242nd Legislative Session

January 9, 2019
Assembly Chamber

[as delivered]

Good afternoon.

Welcome to everyone joining us in the Chamber today - the People's House of the New York State Legislature. It is my pleasure to begin the 2019 Legislative session by offering you my best wishes for a healthy and productive New Year.

I would like to acknowledge my friend, community partner and fellow advocate for social justice, the Reverend Dr. Allen Pinckney, Jr. who is the Senior Pastor of Butler Memorial United Methodist Church in my district in the Bronx. Thank you Reverend Pinckney for being here on this special day as we begin our work on the 2019 Legislative Session. Let me further add that his is the church that has given us Senator Jamaal Bailey and another young man in my office Kevin Riley. They're both members of your church, so thank you Reverend Pinckney.

I also want to extend a very special welcome to my constituents who have traveled here from the Bronx to be with us today. You hold a special place in my heart. You have stuck with me through thick and thin, and I am so thankful for your unwavering support.

To my Assembly Majority colleagues, thank you for your support and vote of confidence. This is the third time you have given me the privilege and I am eternally grateful to each of you for selecting me to serve as Speaker once again. From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for your friendship and confidence.

Nineteen long years ago, when I first came to Albany, the New York State Assembly looked very different. The leadership of the Majority Conference - the speaker, deputy speaker, majority, Ways and Means chair, in fact most committee chairs - were positions held by men.

Today, I am pleased to announce that there are 50 women representatives in the Assembly - a record number of whom are committee chairs and hold high leadership positions. I truly hope this inspires more women to run for office so that we can grow this number even more.

I am proud to introduce our new deputy speaker, Assemblymember Cathy Nolan. I am pleased that she has agreed to join our leadership team, helping to guide us in our pursuit to put families first. Cathy, thank you for your hard work over the years as chair of the Labor, Banks and most recently the Education Committee.

I'm also proud to introduce, formally, our new majority leader - Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Crystal is a dedicated member of this house. She has fought hard for her constituents in Western New York and she will continue to advocate for all New Yorkers as Majority Leader. She is a true friend and will be an exceptional leader. Crystal, thank you for accepting this challenge and important responsibility.

Assemblymembers Nolan and Peoples-Stokes join our now-veteran Chair of Ways and Means Helene Weinstein, who has been a thoughtful and dedicated public servant and has served our chamber with distinction. With three of the four top leadership positions being held by women, for once I am happy to be in the minority.

I would also like to welcome back my friend Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb and the Assembly Minority Conference.

Brian - as I may have said before, everyone is entitled to their own wrong opinion. But in all seriousness, I have a deep and abiding respect for you and for our political system and the notion that we can disagree without being disagreeable. That concept is too often lost in today's political discourse and I am deeply appreciative to you, Brian, and my colleagues on the other side of the aisle for their contributions to this chamber. So, thank you.

The Assembly Majority is both a member-driven and an issue-driven conference. As session gets underway, we will hear much about progressive priorities. It is important that we remember that many of the issues that have taken center stage all started here in the People's House. I have always said that New York - the Empire State - leads the nation on so many issues that have been nurtured and developed right here in the chamber by our hard working members.

When we were told "God bless them- shoot for the stars" when it came to raising the minimum wage - thank you, Michele Titus, for reaching for the stars. You led the way in New York becoming the first state with a $15 an hour minimum wage.

To Cathy Nolan, you didn't want families to have to choose between caring for a sick relative or getting their pay checks. Thank you for leading the way on paid family leave.

To Uncle Joe, Assemblyman Joe Lentol, you introduced a bill and led the way on something very near and dear to my heart and other members before anyone knew what "raise the age" meant. Thank you for caring about our young people.

And when we were charged to be my brother's keeper by President Barack Obama, we led the way in becoming the first and only state to fund MBK to change the plight of young men of color.

The sponsors of these initiatives were visionary and are real leaders on progressive issues. We proposed these bills before they were popular because it was the right thing to do. We didn't need editorial boards or other elected officials to instruct or push us on our long-held priorities. As we have in the past, we will continue to lead the way on critical issues important to all New Yorkers.

To Assemblymembers Glick, Cahill and Jaffee, thank you for leading the way on protecting a woman's right to make decisions over her body.

Assemblyman Gottfried, you introduced the New York Health Act years ago because you dared to believe everyone should have access to health care.

To Assemblyman Aubry, the godfather of criminal justice reform, leading the way on speedy trial known as "Kalief's Law" and solitary confinement even before the tragedy of Kalief Browder, who was treated unjustly by our criminal justice system. Thank you, Jeff.

To Assemblywoman Walker who wants to change our bail system, a system which has not been used fairly. Bail was supposed to assure your appearance in court, not be a pre-trial hurdle or pre-sentence to keep you in jail based on your economic status. Thank you, Assemblywoman Walker.

Every defendant has the right to a level playing field by knowing what evidence is considered in relation to the charges against him. Thank you again Uncle Joe for leading the way on discovery reform.

Every child or young person should have the ability to get an education, whether they were born here or brought here by their parents looking for a better way of life. Thank you, Assemblywoman De La Rosa for fighting hard for the DREAM Act.

Because everyone should be treated with dignity and respect, thank you again Assemblymember Gottfried for pushing GENDA for countless years.

Our great Chair of Elections Chuck Lavine will lead our efforts to update our antiquated elections system. Chuck, I look forward to your great work. Once again, thank you.

And for children who were victims of sexual predators, let them finally be able to bring their abusers to justice. Thank you again, Linda Rosenthal for being a strong advocate for the Child Victims Act.

With climate change being ignored by the leadership in Washington, let's thank Professor Englebright for leading the way on the Climate and Community Protection Act. Thank you again, Steve.

And because we know we have critical transportation all over our state, I look forward to the leadership of our new Transportation Chair Bill Magnarelli to show us the way.

We will address a myriad of additional issues in a sensible and collaborative way, including:

  • Continuing to address the opioid crisis;
  • Accessible and affordable child care;
  • Common sense gun measures;
  • Robust education funding for our neediest schools;
  • Continuing to ensure college affordability;
  • Sustainable funding for the MTA;
  • Stronger rent laws, ensuring public and affordable housing, and protecting tenants across the state;
  • Marijuana law reforms; and
  • Economic development and job creation.

I have traveled across the state and I promise we will not forget any community in upstate New York - your district too, Mr. Goodell.

In November, we saw sweeping change in our state government. We will work with our like-minded colleagues in the State Senate who have fought for years to advance many of these measures. Alongside my friend Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who will soon become the new Senate leader, and our fellow Senate Majority colleagues, we will work together to make our Families First Agenda a reality.

All the issues I have talked about here, as well as others not mentioned, enjoy widespread public support. During a time when people are losing faith in government, we will show the way and truly get the people's business done. And I believe when all is said and done, we will have a list of accomplishments that will be unrivaled.

At this time, I ask you to join me in extending a warm welcome to our new intern class of 2019. We are so excited to have you all here with us this session.

On behalf of all the members, I want to thank Assemblymember Deborah Glick, chair of the intern committee; Kathleen McCarty, our program director; and all of the committee staff for their support.

Welcome back to our returning faculty members, Dr. Janet Penksa leading our graduate interns, Dr. Angela Ledford, Dr. Wesley Nishiyama and Dr. Anthony Maniscalco who will lead our undergraduates.

Before they are formally introduced by Majority Leader Peoples-Stokes and Minority Leader Kolb, I would like to take a moment to welcome the 22 new members of the Assembly class of 2019. Your input and support are critical and your contributions will be valued. I look forward to working with each one you to further our shared goals of moving this great state forward.

To all our returning and new members, once again welcome back to Albany as we begin the New York State Assembly's 242nd legislative session.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, let's get to work!