Happy Holidays, Net Neutrality, State of the State

Happy Holidays! This has been a whirlwind year – and a rather tumultuous one politically, so I look forward to a more civil and peaceful New Year.

My Bill to Keep Net Neutrality Principles in NYS. On Tuesday, I introduced legislation protecting net-neutrality principles in New York State in the wake of last week’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote to undo the Obama-era regulations preserving a free and open internet. My bill directs New York’s Public Service Commission to establish a process for internet service providers (ISPs) to certify that they follow net neutrality principles (based on federally mandated reporting requirements), and prohibits New York State from contracting with non-certified ISPs. The bill will be carried in the Senate by Sen. David Carlucci, the Chair of the Senate Committee on Consumer Protections. Thankfully, my bill has received some national attention, and I have heard from lawmakers in other states interested in introducing similar bills.

Federal Tax "Reform" Bill Passed / Op-Ed in Spotlight News. I could not be more disappointed that Congress has passed the Tax Reform Bill also known as the Tax Scam Bill. The bill will inflict real, lasting damage on far too millions of New Yorkers. The legislation has very little public support, and for good reason – it gives tax cuts to the one percent, and takes away significant tax deductions the middle and working class have relied on. This past week the Spotlight News gratefully ran my Op-Ed highlighting why this bill is particularly disastrous for the Capital Region.

Governor Unveils State of the State Proposals. Governor Cuomo will be delivering his State of the State address on January 3rd, and has unveiled several proposals in the weeks leading up to the speech. The Governor is proposing making the state's successful county-wide shared services panels permanent. This plan led to 34 counties submitting nearly 400 projects with more than $200 million in savings in the first year alone.

Another important highlight coming from the Governor this week is a proposed divestment of the state pension fund from fossil fuels. This will send a strong message to the financial markets that major investors, including New York State, are fully and aggressively committed to a carbon-free, clean energy future. I’m pleased to see these initial proposals and look forward to hearing the rest of the Governor’s plan.

New York Rated Among Healthiest States, First Age Friendly State. New York has been designated the TOP age-friendly state in the nation by the AARP and the World Health Organization. This achievement is a result of the Governor's directive to amplify health concerns in state agency policy-making, an effort that will result in more livable communities for people of all ages and enable more New Yorkers to age comfortably in their homes. This marks the largest five-year gain of all 50 states in the 2017 annual America's Health Rankings report.

Paid Family Leave Act Begins. Starting January 1, 2018, New Yorkers will have job-protected paid time off for the birth of a child, care for a loved one with a serious health condition, or help relieve family pressures when a loved one is called to active military service abroad. When fully phased in, New Yorkers will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid time off through an employee paid payroll deduction. I’m proud to have supported this measure and am glad to see this first-in-the-nation policy implemented at the start of next year. More information about the program can be found here.

New Emergency SUNY Student Aid. I’m very pleased to learn about the launch of a pilot program for emergency aid for SUNY students whose families encounter unexpected financial hardship. Nationally, only 38% of students who drop out of college will ever return to complete their degree. These funds will be awarded to students experiencing an unforeseen financial hardship or emergency situation, with the goal of keeping more students on track toward graduation. The University at Albany is one of the SUNY campuses enrolled in this pilot program.

Opportunity to Save on Property Taxes. Taxpayers in some municipalities in the Capital Region will be able to claim SALT deductions (which are eliminated in the new federal tax plan) if they pay their property taxes by the end of this year. Albany City Treasurer Darius Shahinfar notes barring unforeseen circumstances, his office will be able to accept payments of 2018 property taxes by December 29, 2017 in City Hall with checks dated for that day. Those in other municipalities should contact their town with more questions.

Community Updates & Events

Black Santa Exhibition. The African American Cultural Center of the Capital Region will have a unique display of African American Santa's from the private collection of Cathleen Coleman McConney. Cathy and her deceased husband Norman McConney, Jr. (a well -known former Assembly staff member) had been collecting African American Santa's for over 20 years. The exhibit is located at 135 South Pearl Street in Albany, and is open Saturdays from noon to 4:00 pm and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. (The exhibit will be closed Tuesday December 26th.)

School Vacation Week Programs at Pine Bush, Museum. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission will be offering several different programs at the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center during the upcoming school break, December 26-30. Topics include film-making for ages 10-17, winter birds and the signs animals leave behind.

Visit a Children's Museum. The Times Union also highlighted on Wednesday winter break activities happening at CMost, MiSci, and other regional children’s museums. Free and discounted passes to many local museums are available at the Albany, Altamont, Bethlehem, Guilderland and Voorheesville Public Libraries.

As always, for the latest news or for upcoming events, please visit my office online, on Facebook, on Twitter, or my Times Union blog. If you would like to reach my office, please feel free to send us a note, or give us a call at (518) 455-4178.