As part of my community engagement platform, I promised to provide a regular weekly update on what’s happening up in Albany. This is the now the fourth update and I am still continuing to fine tune exactly how best to present this information to you without over-sharing. Of course, I’m happy to delve into more detail about specific bills or other issues, if you’re interested.

You can always email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov if you have any questions, ideas, or want more information about what’s happening in Albany or the District. I’ll always try my best to follow up with any comments posted below, but the best and most direct way to contact me is via email.

Happy Chinese New Year

From Tuesday, Feb. 5 to Thursday, Feb. 7, New York, much like most of the world, has been busy celebrating Lunar New Year 2019, the Year of the Pig. Red lanterns and firecrackers decorate our communities to celebrate the centuries-old festival that commemorates the new year. I had the pleasure of co-sponsoring and passing a Senate Resolution to honor the Lunar New Year that I will distribute to distinguished members of the Asian-American community in our District.

Special Note about the Metropolitan Detention Center

On February 3rd, I visited the Metropolitan Detention Center in solidarity with elected officials, concerned advocates, and the families of individuals who are detained awaiting trial. The horrible conditions faced by MDC inmates was unacceptable and I am glad to report that heat and power have been restored to the facility as well as family visits and medical treatments.

There are still many questions to answer about how we got to this point. I, along with many other elected officials from all levels of government, will be looking into the matter and will demand answers.

Back to Regularly Scheduled Programming

February 8th marks the close of week four of the legislative session and we were in session for two days this week. To see the full schedule of the legislation session, click here:

State Budget Process

This week, we continued holding joint legislative budget hearings on the Governor’s proposed budget.

Every year, the Governor proposes an Executive Budget in January, which becomes the basis of the negotiations and deliberations between the executive and legislative branches. The final budget is due to be approved by the legislature by March 31st of each year, because the state’s fiscal year begins on April 1st.

You can read a copy of the Governor’s proposed budget here. Remember, this version of the budget won’t be the final version.

As part of the budget process, the legislature conducts hearings on specific subject matters where state agency officials, budget experts, and outside advocates all testify about the Governor’s proposal and any changes they believe the legislature should make.

(I am in the process of scheduling a community event to better explain the state budget and provide a platform through which local residents have an opportunity to provide feedback to me about what they want to see in the budget. Stay tuned!)

This week, I attended the budget hearing dealing with Workforce Development. As the Chairman of the Civil Service and Pensions Committee, it is a priority of mine to question governmental agencies and departments dealing with public employees to ensure that we are protecting the retirement security of our hardworking public employees. You can watch the footage of the hearing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eUtNQ4rT-lI

Committee Meetings This Week

Civil Service and Pensions

On Monday, February 4th, I chaired my first Civil Service and Pensions committee meeting! As the son of civil servants and a graduate of New York City public schools and a public college, I am thrilled and honored to be serving our public sector workforce in my committee. You can watch the committee meeting in its entirety here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17og-Ttkvms

During this committee meeting, we considered five pieces of legislation that help support public sector employees and retirees. I voted to support all of the bills in committee:

  • S838 — eliminates wage inequality among state service employees in job titles and position classifications that have been segregated by sex, race, or national origin.
  • S1165 — expands the law to allow for employees of the following authorities to be eligible for referral to a public arbitration panel to resolve impasses in collective negotiations: Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, the Capital District Transportation Authority and the Central New York Regional Transportation Authority.
  • S1442 — guarantees the right to transfer sick time to fellow employees.
  • S2050 — reaffirms the Legislature’s intent to hold State retirees harmless for any health insurance premiums or other charges paid due to enrollment in Medicare.
  • S2051 — reclaims the legislature’s ability to set the State’s health insurance contribution rates for NYSHIP (New York State Health Insurance Plan) which covers all public employees. (The legislature had previously surrendered this power to the President of the Civil Service Commission in 2011 when it granted the power to set rates administratively as long as the President had the consent of the Director of the Budget. This means that these rates could be altered by a future Civil Service Commission, which is of particular concern to state retirees who are no longer active employees afforded the right to collectively bargain under the Taylor Law)

Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions

The Senate committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions also met on Monday, February 4th. The committee considered four pieces of legislation, all of which I supported:

  • S31 — requires any organization using public capital improvement funds to purchase only Energy Star equipment and appliances, where available.
  • S1861 — authorizes the NY Dormitory Authority to provide financing and construction services to the non-profit member libraries of the NYLA. Eligible projects may not exceed $5 million each.
  • S1872 — authorizes the Authorities Budget Office to suspend local authority board members and chief executive officers who are substantially delinquent in filing required reports.
  • S1875 — extends the amount of time between notice of a project and a public hearing in relation to a development project in New York State.

Day by Day

<Monday>

Monday was a lighter day during our legislative session. I was proud to co-sponsor the legislation that forms a private student loan refinance task force and to keep my promise to address the growing crisis faced by today’s students and recent graduates. The taskforce is a good first step in that direction.

The following bills were passed by the Senate:

  • S250 — establishes the private student loan refinance task force to recommend ways lending institutions can offer New York graduates of higher education the opportunity to refinance their student loans and provide borrowers with more flexibility to reduce monthly payments.
  • S521A — designates a section of the New York State Route 17 in the village of Hillburn, town of Ramapo, county of Rockland, as the “Justice Thurgood Marshall Memorial Highway”.
  • S978 — requires that instruction in the laws relating to handicapped parking be included in the pre-licensing driver’s course.
  • S1012 — permits the enlarged school district of Middletown to establish an insurance reserve fund.
  • S1634 — creates a task force to examine and report on whether policyholders and communities have adequate insurance coverage and if they are able to rely upon that coverage in the event of a disaster.
  • S2039 — changes the effective date and allows the Department of Financial Services to publicly promote regulations to facilitate the transition to standardized license renewal dates for business entities.

<Tuesday>

On Tuesday, we passed some serious environmental protection bills, and the Senate adopted resolution J364, proclaiming February 2019 as Black History Month in the State of New York, as well as J367, commemorating the Asian-American community’s Lunar New Year, the year of the Pig.

The following bills were passed by the Senate:

  • A2571 — prohibits the taking of menhaden (a kind of fish), by use of a purse seine (a method of fishing that employs a fishing net called a seine)
  • A2572 — prohibits oil and natural gas drilling in New York’s coastal areas.
  • S300 — amends New York’s estates, powers and trusts law and the surrogate’s court procedure act to apply marriage equality in the technical language used in these laws.
  • S2377 — authorizes information to be given to the children of veterans, including military background and circumstances of the veteran. This bill will serve to assist veterans and their families by helping to determine the numbers in need and by providing information about health programs to the children of veterans.
  • S2411 — extends the authorization for New York’s Ocean Acidification Task Force to facilitate research, public education, and information-sharing regarding ocean acidification and its impacts on the State.

Thanks for reading! As always, you can email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov or call my office at 718–238–6044.