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 Weeks Seven, Eight, and 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.

*Session Week 7*

Week 7 was a break from session, meaning there were no committee meetings and no bills were voted on. But that does not mean we have not been hard at work up in Albany! With the budget deadline approaching, my team and I held several meetings with constituents and organizations to discuss their financial needs and how the legislature can help. Along with introducing my bill for the CUNY New Deal (S4461), which waives tuition at CUNY institutions and requires certain staff-to-student ratios, I have sent my colleagues a budget letter requesting $273.6 million to launch CUNY New Deal, restore proposed Executive cuts to CUNY programs and funding and close the TAP Gap and one requesting $7 million for the State Education Department to enhance support and services for the success of students with disabilities.

*Session Week 8*

Last week, I introduced a resolution proclaiming February 25th as Students with Disabilities Advocacy Day in the State of New York. That day was also our Student Empowerment Day event, which I sponsored with Assembly Member Harvey Epstein. We rallied for funding to support students with disabilities in NYS Colleges. Over 500 people attended our virtual event. You can see just a handful of them in the photo below!

Committee Meetings

Civil Service and Pensions

Last week, I convened our second Civil Service and Pensions Committee meeting of this session. Including two of my own, we passed multiple bills.

  • My two bills on the committee agenda this week S4148, and S4149, enshrine certain retiree healthcare benefits into law to act as a strong counter to the governor’s proposed cuts in the Executive Budget.
  • S2934, S4117 and S4438 all aim to expand the qualifications and use of retirement benefits for public employees.
  • Also on the agenda, S2057 improves the promotion and administration of scheduled civil service exams to better recruit qualified minority candidates.

Judiciary

I voted to pass 7 bills through the Judiciary Committee this week. Some of those bills include:

  • S41A delays the date that owners of self-storage facilities can take possession of property within their facility until dues are paid, if users are not paying their monthly fees due to COVID-19;
  • S153 strengthens consumer protections in debt collection proceedings;
  • S1789 creates an evidentiary privilege for communications between a victim of domestic violence and a domestic violence advocate;
  • S1957 creates additional veterans treatment courts and the referral of related cases.

Session

Week 8 we were back in session, and passed 44 bills.

Importantly, my colleagues and I advanced legislation to better support and protect nursing home residents. Our aim was to establish transparency between nursing homes and the public in order to improve the quality of care within facilities. This package included:

  • Transparency Efforts: S.3185 requires residential health care facilities to disclose in writing, the website where a list of violations or actions taken against facilities can be found. Similarly, S.3061A required the Department of Health to record and share the data it receives regarding COVID-19 deaths.
  • Reporting: S.553 requires that the most recent Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) rating of every nursing home be prominently displayed on the home page of the Department of Health’s and each facility’s website. S.4336A would require all nursing homes to spend at least 70% of a facility’s revenue on direct patient care
  • Quality of Care: S.1783 establishes and implements an infection control inspection audit and checklist. S.1784A would mandate adult care facilities to include “quality assurance committees” in their plans.

This legislative package is a start, but we have much more to do to rebuild trust with New Yorkers who lost loved ones in nursing homes during the COVID-19 crisis.

Budget Hearings

Last week, we held our final budget hearings of the year. The topics were Economic Development (which you can watch here), Taxes (watch here), and Health/Medicaid (watch here).

*Session Week 9*

I am very excited to announce that this week we passed two of my bills that protect workers and their families during COVID-19. S2588 permits employees to take up to 4 hours paid time off to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and S4681 and establishes enhanced death benefits to families of public employees who passed away due to COVID-19.

Committee Meetings

I had four committee meetings this week: Insurance, Consumer Protection, Higher Education, and Labor. Here we passed some meaningful meaningful bills:

Insurance

I voted to pass 6 bills through the Insurance Committee this week, including:

  • S1413 and S4856 provide protection for prescription drug users by reducing the cost cap for insulin from $100 to $30 per month and requiring policies that cover prescription drugs to include emergency 30-day samples during a state of disaster emergency.
  • S815 authorizes health insurers and Health Maintenance Organizations to offer discounts or other benefits to individuals who participate in a qualified wellness program approved by the Superintendent of the Financial Services Department.

Consumer Protection

  • In this committee I voted for two bills that aim to eliminate human trafficking by requiring hotel employees to undergo a human trafficking recognition training program (S244) and requiring certain manufacturers and retailers to disclose the steps taken to within their supply chains against human trafficking (S748).

Higher Education

  • In furtherance of my goal to work for students with disabilities, I cosponsored and voted to pass S4533 that gives authority to the commissioner of education to extend student financial aid awards for disabled students.
  • I also voted in support of making NYS college affordable by expanding eligibility for the NYS young farmer loan forgiveness incentive program (S4082) and allowing SUNY Potsdam to set separate tuition rates for eligible non-resident undergrads (S3826).

Labor

  • We voted on my bill, S859A, which requires employers to provide information on student loan repayment options within new hire packets.
  • I also voted to pass bills to support parents and guardians in the workforce by requiring employers to accommodate lactation for nursing mothers in the workplace (S4844A) and permitting work-from-home for parents during state or local disaster emergencies (S5065).

Session

This week we passed 56 bills on a number of different issues:

Health

  • I am especially excited about my co-sponsored bills which make certain medications more accessible by allowing certain qualified individuals to prescribe (S1519) or administer (S1239) these medications.

Agriculture

  • S4892A Permanently establishes the Nourish NY program which has supported the state’s farms while providing nourishing fresh foods to people experiencing food insecurity throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
  • S549A, S2135, S2199, S4707, S4072 all aim to support local farming by connecting them to new resources and information.

Environment

  • S4378A and S3321 make state energy consumption less harmful to the environment and require renewable energy systems.
  • S3126 and S51031B ensure equity and jobs in the roll out of these new environmentally conscious initiatives.

You can see all the bills the Senate has passed so far this year here.

A Note on Governor Cuomo

Today, the Senate passed a bill terminating some of Governor Cuomo’s executive powers, which I signed onto as a cosponsor. In summary, S5357 by Senator Stewart Cousins provides that the existing directives issued by the Governor during the COVID-19 emergency remain in effect for 30 days, with further extensions and modifications being subject to legislative comment. The Governor must also post all existing executive orders online in a searchable format within 15 days of the bill’s passage. You can read the full language of the bill here, and watch my comments on the bill here.

In addition to concerns about his executive power, there has been a lot of other news surrounding Governor Cuomo in the past few days as well. You can read my statement on the allegations of sexual harassment here, and remain updated on my position and plans moving forward on my personal Twitter account.

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