Albany, NY From the perspective of the New York State Legislature, 2015 was a year of accomplishment and advancement, but there remains a fair share of issues that demand the continued attention of our public officials. Assemblymember Kevin A. Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess) commented today on the 2015 session, the legislative accomplishments he shared with colleagues and his vision for constituent services:
The 2015 budget prioritized the financial security of our school districts, fully funded the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program and dedicated additional resources to environmental preservation and agriculture. However, like the previous session, key proposals such as raising the minimum wage, ethics and campaign finance reform and increasing the age of criminal responsibility were halted in the lawmaking process, said Assemblymember Cahill. Although we were able to make impressive progress in crucial areas, significant work lies ahead for the Legislature in 2016 and I look forward to seeing what is in store for the 2016 session.
Locally, Chapter 392 of 2015 was signed into law, which authorizes the Towns of Rosendale and Marbletown to move certain town related services to the repurposed Rosendale Elementary School building, Cahill said. This consolidation is expected to help cut costs for these communities by allowing them to share a single location as well as certain municipal services.
Assemblymember Cahill further worked with the Hudson River Pilots Association to enact Chapter 427 of 2015, which recognizes and preserves the profession of navigators known as the Hudson River Pilots and ensures the continued safe passage of freight carriers that routinely travel through the greater Hudson Valley region. This measure establishes a more equitable and stable pension fund for the Pilots through minimal surcharges on vessels traveling through portions of the Hudson River. This bill guarantees the Pilots a more equitable annuity so that we may continue to safely move goods through our Hudson Valley communities for years to come.
Although vetoed for a second time, the Assembly and Senate again passed A.1273 (Cahill). This bill would authorize the establishment of an independent library district for the Starr Library in Rhinebeck, thereby allowing local residents to vote on the librarys budget and ensure that the facility can continue to offer resources to the community at large.
Assemblymember Cahills legislation (Chapter 229 of 2015) which would exempt small breweries from burdensome financial reporting requirements was signed into law. This will help local establishments like Keegan Ales, Bacchus, The Gilded Otter, Dutch Ale House and Rip Van Winkle Brewing Company to concentrate on their craft. Assemblymember Cahill also sponsored special legislation to secure a license to help a local eatery expand its legal beverage offerings.
Lastly, in keeping with the Assemblys pledge to protect our environment, Assemblymember Cahill recognized the natural beauty of the Shawangunk Mountain Range by designating a portion of highways that span the region as the Catskill Mountain Scenic Byway.
Statewide Legislative Initiatives:
Keeping the ever-increasing costs of utilities directly in mind, Assemblymember Cahill, along with his colleagues, advocated on behalf of all New Yorkers to help pass legislation enacting State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate (UCA). A.180 (Dinowitz) would put in place an agency whose sole responsibility is to represent and advocate on behalf of residential utility customers on a variety of issues that arise between the consumer and energy providers at the federal and state level, but unfortunately the proposal did not pass in the Senate. However, Cahill successfully fought for the inclusion of $505,000 in the 2015-2016 State Budget for the Public Utility Law Project, a non-profit organization that provides low-income New Yorkers with advice, financial assistance and legal representation.
Assemblymember Cahill stood behind legislation keeping the Green Jobs Green New York program that he helped create up-and-running in its current form for another year. Additionally, he sponsored a bill that would exempt utility and communications workers from travel bans during a declared state of emergency. A.8059 would give these employees permission to enter disaster areas in order to restore service to residential and business customers. Though it was vetoed by the Governor, the measure highlighted the need to reduce the length of power outages by allowing utility personnel to access and repair vital services and infrastructure.
Assemblymember Cahill continued to fight for meaningful upstate property tax relief in a legislative session often dominated by New York City-based issues. The end-of-session agreement, Chapter 20, includes a new property tax credit totaling $3.1 billion over four years. The program is exclusive to homeowners outside New York City and is structured so that more relief will be provided to middle and low income taxpayers.
One measure authored by Assemblymember Cahill that did not advance in the Assembly last year was A.1104, which would require New York State to assume the cost of basic, quality education and eliminate the use of regressive property taxes as a means of funding our public schools. The Assemblymember continues to sponsor the Equity in Education Act in order to continue the conversation on how best to fulfill our obligation to provide a quality education to all New York students without pricing residents out of their homes.
Cahill noted, In the 2015 session, the 21st Century Schools Act opened a discussion about educational equality and advancement. We have an opportunity in the coming 2016 session to consider this measure, making administration and financial support of our public schools fair and efficient.
Over the past year, the Assembly worked hard to reduce unnecessary testing of students and assist the states struggling schools while protecting the professional integrity of educators. Though the Governor vetoed the bill, both houses approved A.7013 (Nolan), which would allow persistently challenged schools to be designated as struggling instead of failing in order to obtain the financial and administrative support necessary to help improve their overall academic standards.
In an effort to protect teachers and administrators from unfair performance review requirements, the Assembly passed A.7303-A (Nolan), which extends the period of time that schools have to implement the new Annual Professional Performance Review system, ensuring evaluations are not solely based on raw test scores and providing resources for educators and children to adequately prepare for state exams.
The Assembly expanded access to higher education by again passing the Dream Act, which allows all students who are legally residing in New York State to be eligible for financial assistance to help pay for college.
The Governor also signed into law Chapter 76, which will make two and four-year college campuses safer for students. This law requires all colleges and universities in New York State to implement uniform prevention and response policies and procedures for cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking.
The Assembly again passed a host of individual bills that protect the rights of women and guarantee equal opportunities for advancement in the workplace and beyond. A.6221 (Glick) reaffirms a womans right to access reproductive health services. This legislation makes sure that women in New York State can easily tap into appropriate healthcare resources and that they are given the necessary information and options by medical professionals to make responsible decisions about their bodies and long-term health, Cahill said.
Assemblymember Cahill continued to champion his bill A.8135, which requires health insurers to provide coverage of all federally approved family planning resources and related follow-up services.
The Assembly, Senate and Executive agreed upon ethics reforms in the 2015-2016 State Budget to hold elected officials accountable and reaffirm the publics trust in government. The enacted language includes increased disclosure of outside income and legal clients, increased regulation of independent campaign expenditures, greater restrictions on the personal use of campaign funds and restructuring of the per-diem system for state legislators. A measure that would strip the pensions of public officials convicted of corruption is set to go into effect after a second passage of a constitutional amendment by the legislature and voter approval in 2017. Furthermore, the Assembly approved A.2614 (Kavanagh), which closes a loophole in the election law by subjecting Limited Liability Corporations (LLCs) to the same political donation limits that apply to corporations. The reforms we passed are an important step in our efforts to clean up Albany, but they do not go far enough in linking campaign finance law to more stringent ethics rules, Cahill said.
Assemblymember Cahills office secured close to $2 million in capital grants for several deserving community improvement projects to make the 103rd District a more attractive place to live and visit.
The Irish Cultural Center in Kingston was selected to receive $1.5 million and a number of worthy organizations also were awarded funds, Assemblymember Cahill said. It is my firm belief that these investments will help generate jobs, grow our economies and create a secure and abundant future for our children.
The Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), The CENTER for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck and Drum Boogie Festival were designated as recipients for $50,000 each in funding. The Resource Center for Accessible Living will receive $25,000 and a $100,000 capital grant for improvements at the YMCA of Kingston and Ulster County was also submitted through Assemblymember Cahills Office.
Additionally, the New York State Regional Economic Development Council awarded a total of $90.4 million in grants this year to the Mid-Hudson Valley Region. These awards, together with the initiatives of the New York State Legislature, are valuable tools in building and growing our economy here in the Mid-Hudson Valley, Cahill said.
Chairman Cahill and the Assemblys Standing Committee on Insurance fought to protect the rights of policyholders, focusing much of its attention on a package of measures that address coverage gaps, the skyrocketing cost of auto insurance and increasing consumer awareness and protection in the event of natural and manmade disasters.
In the area of health insurance, the Committee was successful in passing A. 6780-B, providing immediate access to coverage for pregnant mothers through the New York State of Health marketplace, which the Governor signed into law on December 22, 2015.
Lastly, the Insurance Committee, along with the Assembly Committees on Local Governments, Transportation and Cities and the Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities, sponsored two roundtable discussions in New York City and Albany on the topic of transportation network companies. The conversations focused on liability and insurance matters, the impact on the taxi and limousine industry and the regulation of drivers and vehicles. Also discussed were two key bills in the Assembly that would lay out parameters for the ride sharing industry and place primary responsibility for regulation in the hands of the State Department of Motor Vehicles (A.6090-A) and would authorize insurance coverage for the ride-hailing companies and their drivers (A.8195).
One of the top priorities in our office is assisting residents from and around the 103rd Assembly District. We frequently assist individuals in navigating the expansive bureaucracy that exists among various state, county and local governmental entities. Among other things, our team helped individuals who were impacted by the Health Republic closure and required assistance in transitioning to other health care providers. We also aided folks in recovering retirement benefits, securing affordable housing, resolving landlord disputes and we helped businesses and individuals obtain state licenses, certifications and permits.
Constituent assistance is just a part of what we accomplish in our office. We participate in many community events, including the Hudson Valley Sinterklaas Festivals, Hooley on the Hudson celebration, Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, the Woodstock Film Festival and the Biannual International Drum Boogie.
As usual, Assemblymember Cahill made children a top priority. From visiting area schools, to organizing a summer reading program and hosting an awards ceremony for young readers, he made sure the children of the 103rd District came first. The Assemblymember also arranged for school groups touring the Capitol in Albany to explore the Assembly Chamber.
Every day my staff communicates with countless agencies, departments and offices across all levels of government and society from the Department of Financial Services to Family of Woodstock to our municipal offices regarding a diverse range of issues that affect residents from all walks of life, Cahill said. We value the opportunity to deliver results for the people.
Assemblymember Cahills legislative record has been recognized by several prominent organizations. He was awarded the Circle of Friends Legislative Award by the New York Farm Bureau for an outstanding voting record in support of the agricultural community and the EPL/Environmental Advocates gave him high marks in their annual Environmental Scorecard. His legislative record and leadership on a variety of issues regarding drinking water, climate, energy sources and public health resulted in widespread praise from this well respected coalition of environmental stewards.
The 2015 budget provided $1.6 billion in funding support for public schools as well as the Higher Education Road to Success initiative to ensure young adults have the opportunity to develop the skills they need to compete in the workforce. Schools in the 103rd Assembly District received an additional $10 million in state assistance in the 2015-2016 state spending plan, bringing their total aid to approximately $160 million.
More than $14 million was secured for additional child care subsidies and continuing support for child care programs at CUNY and SUNY. Funding was also provided for key initiatives that will help make higher education more accessible for students and their families.
Provisions for affordable housing were also included in the budget. This year, we provided critical funding for housing preservation and development so more New Yorkers can have a safe place to call home, said Cahill. We also fought for and delivered more than $435 million to combat homelessness in our communities.
A $500 million investment was made to expand broadband internet access statewide. The appropriation has the potential to make high-speed access available to underserved areas of New York State with slower internet speeds.
Assemblymember Cahill and his colleagues successfully advocated for an additional $1.5 million in aid for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program to encourage cutting edge research into treatment and to find a cure for paralysis and damage due to spinal cord injury.
After funding this research to the tune of $7 million last year, I am pleased that we have finally dedicated the statutorily-required amount of $8.5 million to a program that will provide support for innovative experimentation and the development of treatments that are unparalleled by almost any other place in the world, noted Cahill.
The budget also made a $20 million investment in Hudson Valley agriculture to ensure that farms in the region remain preserved and vibrant for generations to come. This initiative will have resonating effects on the growing distillery and craft beverage industry in our region that promises to continue to contribute to the growing tourist market and inject revenue to the local economy.
A modest restoration of the Environmental Protection Fund to a level of $177 million allowed for necessary and timely preservation and capital projects to move forward. However, Assemblymember Cahill acknowledges that this is nowhere near the amount necessary to provide for the proper safeguarding and maintenance of our state parks, historic sites and Forever Wild areas.
In the area of insurance, Chairman Cahill and his colleagues on the Insurance Committee fought hard to ensure that the Hospital Excess Liability Pool was extended in the budget for another year.
To ensure doctors have continued access to additional layers of affordable medical liability protection, the committee passed provisions that safeguard medical malpractice insurers against unworkable risk-based capital requirements while it opposed measures that would have attached inappropriate and extraneous tax conditions to physicians being able to secure this coverage.
Protecting Our Families:
Assemblymember Cahill and fellow legislators stood up for working families in a variety of ways. They acted to make a meaningful increase to the minimum and tipped wage to allow workers to provide a more reasonable standard of living. While not advanced by the Senate, the Assembly approved a number of protections to ensure pay equality, barring employers from wage discrimination based on gender or ethnicity, and put in place improved access to affordable childcare for parents as well as expanded paid family leave benefits.
These proposals will prevent workforce discrimination, provide for fair and just compensation for all types of employment and ensure parents are able to care for their children while continuing to pursue professional careers, Cahill said.
In a continued effort to ensure safe home environments for all New Yorkers, a package of bills was enacted to protect victims of domestic violence by making police, counseling and court resources readily available to surviving spouses and children.
Criminal Justice Reform:
Ongoing discussions over modernizing New Yorks criminal justice system yielded several noteworthy changes. While legislation stalled that would have raised the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18, the Assemblys advocacy on this issue led to change nonetheless. An executive order will ensure that 16- and 17-year old inmates will be housed in separate facilities from older inmates. Additionally, recognizing that nationwide tensions between the public and law enforcement have approached crisis levels, the Assembly pushed for new oversights on policing.
As 2015 comes to a close, I am proud of the progress the Legislature has made on a number of salient issues and am honored, as always, to represent the 103rd District. I look forward to continuing this work with my fellow legislators, my dedicated staff and the many local organizations and agencies throughout the district and state, said Assemblymember Cahill. I am determined to complete the enactment of comprehensive campaign finance and ethics reform and an immediate raising of the minimum wage in New York State. There are also a number of budgetary commitments we must honor; it is essential that we adequately fund our public schools and invest in infrastructure. Of equal significance is the need for a sound and fiscally responsible plan to provide relief for the citizens of this state.
As a reminder to constituents, all State Assembly offices will be closed on Thursday, December 31st and Friday, January 1st. We will reopen on Monday, January 4th and look forward to serving the residents of the 103rd Assembly District in the coming year.