As part of my community engagement platform, I promised to provide a regular weekly update on what’s happening up in Albany. This is an update from Week Nine.

You can always email me directly at gounardes@nysenate.gov if you have any other questions, ideas, or want more information about what’s happening in Albany or the district.

**Speed Camera Legislation Update**

One of my priority bills to renew and expand New York City’s speed camera program for schools passed out of the Transportation Committee this week. This bill would renew the now-lapsed state authorization for New York City’s cameras in designated “school speed zones,” and increase the number of zones across the city from 140 to 750. According to the Department of Transportation, which administers the program, this expansion will allow a speed camera to be installed by every school across the city with a real pedestrian safety concern — because we shouldn’t have to choose which schools are protected from deadly driving and which get left behind. You can read more about my bill here. And here’s a copy of the bill text.

*Last week in Albany*

Last week the Senate passed some important pieces of legislation on the floor, including:

S1077 by Senator Persaud — allows judges to reduce a sentence against a defendant who was the victim of physical, sexual, or psychological abuse and where that abuse was a significant contributing factor to committing that crime.

S3057 by Senator Gaughran — requires volunteer firefighters’ death benefits to be paid to beneficiaries within 90 days from when they apply. This is meant to expedite a process for benefit payments that is often delayed and to give grieving families one less thing to worry about.

S1826A by Senator Kennedy — known as the New York Call Centers Job Act, this bill prevents companies that receive public loans, grants, tax breaks, or other forms of public financial assistance from outsourcing call center jobs out of New York State, and if they do, requires that they pay back the value of whatever taxpayer assistance they received. This is a bill is meant to ensure that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing companies that choose to move jobs out of our state and disrupt families’ livelihoods.

I voted for these bills on the Senate floor.

One of my committees, the Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions, met last week and we voted to push forward a variety of measures, including a bill to exempt the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) from fees that the state issues on its bonds in an attempt to reduce the MTA’s debt load, and a bill to allow plaintiffs looking to sue corporations to serve the legal papers in the Department of State’s New York City office as well as its Albany one.

*The State Budget*

Last week, the State Senate passed its one-house budget resolution. This document is in response to the budget proposed by the Governor earlier in the year. The purpose of the Senate budget resolution is to formally articulate what we want to see included in the final budget, and now over the next two weeks, the Senate, the Assembly, and the Governor will all engage in negotiations to finalize the state budget.

The Senate’s budget plan includes a number of key components — long-ignored priorities of the hardworking people in southern Brooklyn and across New York State:

  • Increasing foundation aid to schools by $1.2 billion which is desperately needed by the underfunded schools in our district;
  • Expanding the Tuition Assistance Program by increasing the minimum TAP award, the maximum TAP award, and increasing eligibility by raising the TAP income threshold so more New York families can benefit;
  • Early voting will be funded so that waiting in long lines on Election Day never again deters participation in our democracy;
  • Creating a new statewide position to advocate for people with disabilities and be a voice for an often voiceless community;
  • Restoring $550 million of cuts the Governor proposed to healthcare funding so we don’t have to shut hospitals, close nursing homes, and scale back on necessary care.

Other highlights of the Senate budget resolution include:

Lowering Prescription Drug Prices

- The Senate budget proposal regulates Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs), prescription drug middlemen that supposedly hold down the cost of drugs for consumers with their buying power but have been criticized for instead driving it up by failing to pass the savings onto consumers. Our budget requires that PBMs be registered and licensed with the state, increases penalties for violations, imposes more fiduciary duties, increases transparency of PBM contracts, and prohibits PBMs from requiring substitution of a dispensed drug without approval of the prescriber.

Education Funding

- The Senate budget proposes a 4% increase in funding for schools that provide special ed services to students with disabilities.

- The Senate budget proposes increasing School Aid by $1.62 billion or 6.0% over the 2018–2019 school year.

-The Senate budget proposes providing $20 million for expanded pre-kindergarten grants, $5 million above what was proposed by Governor Cuomo.

-The Senate budget proposes providing $30 million to nonpublic schools to invest in new STEM technologies and resources

Restoring Cuts to Medicaid

- The Senate budget proposal rejects a $550 million across-the-board Medicaid cut. We refuse to let any budget deficits fall on the backs of healthcare workers and low-income patients.

MTA

- Provides $3 billion in State operating assistance for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) in concurrence with the Executive’s recommendation.

- Introduces the MTA RAIL Act which will enact much needed reforms to the way the MTA operates including a comprehensive forensic audit of the MTA, improving long-term capital planning, providing MTA riders a voting voice, ensuring that MTA revenues are more likely to go to New York businesses, and overhauling the way the MTA analyzes itself.

-Approves a framework to implement congestion pricing as a way to reduce gridlock and congestion in Manhattan and secure desperate needed investments into the MTA

Good Government and Election Reform

-Provides $10 million in funding for early voting and other voting reforms. These state funds will ensure that local governments are not required to spend additional money to implement the voting reforms enacted by state government.

- Establishes a publicly financed small donor matching system in order to curtail the corrosive influence of money in politics in addition to other necessary campaign finance reforms.

There’s a lot more that we included in the budget resolution. And there’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure the final document both reflects our values and invests in the areas that need critical investment. To read more, click here.

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

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NYS Senator, District 22.

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Senator Andrew Gounardes

Senator Andrew Gounardes

NYS Senator, District 22.

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