Smullen Proud to Conclude Rural Equity Forums Before 2024-25 Legislative Session Begins

Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R,C-Mohawk Valley and the Adirondacks) organized five rural equity forums led by his fellow Assembly Minority Members over the past two months, and he is proud to see them conclude just in time for the 2024-25 Legislative Session. Those who hosted the rural equity forums included Assemblyman Anil Beephan, Jr. (R,C-East Fishkill), Assemblyman Scott Gray (R-Watertown), Assemblyman Scott Bendett (R,C-Sand Lake), Assemblyman John Lemondes (R,C-LaFayette) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning).

The purpose of these rural equity forums was to allow Assembly Members as well as state and local representatives to meet to discuss what the state could do differently to improve our rural communities and better support our upstate educators, farmers, business owners and first responders.

“The comprehensive strategies and legislation discussed during these forums will help lay the groundwork to build and strengthen our rural communities,” said Smullen. “I look forward to addressing these initiatives during the legislative session in the coming year. Our small businesses, fire departments, police stations, farms and schools require our attention. We must tend to the needs of both rural and urban communities, and these forums were a great start in finding solutions to help revitalize rural areas that have been neglected for far too long.”

The seven main goals of the rural equity forums included:

  1. Creating the Rural Equity Assistance Program, which will connect rural communities with available economic and community development grants and assist in the technical aspects of applying for those grants;
  2. Increasing support for first responders and those serving our communities;
  3. Connecting rural resources to reduce poverty;
  4. Improving rural school transportation services for students;
  5. Expanding access to broadband and increasing cell coverage;
  6. Allowing counties to opt out of the requirements of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA); and
  7. Establishing the "EmpowerED" Act to provide opportunities for students to cross-enroll in classes offered by local schools outside of their home district and expand BOCES services.

Significant points and concerns were brought to light by several panelists as well as those in attendance at each of the five forums. Panelists and attendees supported the call to expand broadband coverage and were eager to address the need to give School Resource Officers and mental health services for school districts eligibility for state funding. Many attendees also argued against the Electric School Bus Mandate, claiming it is unrealistic for upstate rural school districts, a stance Smullen firmly agrees with. It is clear there is much work to be done, but Smullen says he is ready for the challenge.

“​Overall, these forums were a great success and brought people from across the state and all walks of life together to address issues concerning them. Our rural communities are connected economically and culturally — there is a sense of kinship and friendliness that welcomes people from every corner of the state. Small businesses and people in upstate New York look out for one another, and now it’s the state’s turn to help look out for them. The ideas and solutions that emerged as a result of this collaboration between so many districts and people were extraordinary and addressing everything my Assembly colleagues and I heard over the past two months will remain at the top of my list as we move into the new year.”