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 10 and 11.

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 10*

Committee Meetings

I had three committee meetings last week: Civil Service and Pensions, Judiciary and Cities 1.

Civil Service and Pensions

I convened our third Civil Service and Pensions Committee meeting of this session. Our agenda included:

  • S4308, which allows retired higher education professionals to make voluntary contributions to their employee organizations. My other bill,
  • S5178, which formally codifies a collective bargaining agreement between the executive branch and the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, which represents SUNY campus officers, state park police officers, environmental conservation police, and state forest rangers.
  • S3070 requires a study on the civil service examination to improve diversity in the public sector. S4201A protects public employees from being retaliated against for COVID-19 related absences.
  • S3537 includes certain employees of the upstate transit authorities in addition to NYCTA and MTA employees to refer contract disputes to a public arbitration panel to be resolved.
  • S4411 gives certain beneficiaries of state and local employees’ the option to choose pension benefits instead of death benefits.

Judiciary

I voted to pass 10 bills through the Judiciary Committee last week. Some of those bills include:

  • S3086 increases the age of consent for marriage from 17 to 18 years old
  • S4777 replaces certain instances of the use of “mentally ill persons” with “person with a mental disability”.
  • S700 allows attorneys to practice in the state without residing or having an office in the state.

Cities 1

In the Cities 1 committee I voted to pass 5 bills:

  • To help mom-and-pop small businesses stay in business, we approved S2957 which allows NYC to offer a10-year property tax abatement program for property owners who limit rent increases for small businesses to 3% a year.
  • S4257 requires landlords to furnish commercial tenants in NYC with a written lease that contains certain details.
  • S4310 requires the NYC Commissioner of Buildings to remove billboards and their support structures when they are declared a public nuisance.
  • S3799 includes allegations of racial profiling within the scope of investigations that the NYC Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) may conduct.

Session

Last week we passed 38 bills on the Senate floor. Some of these include:

Workplace

  • I am especially excited about my co-sponsored bill S4844A which expands accommodations for nursing mothers in the workplace.
  • S1215 aims to increase diversity in the workplace by assisting contractors to identify minority group members and women for hiring opportunities.
  • S3263 requires MWBE businesses be informed of the reason they were not rewarded a state or municipal contract.
  • S571 allows businesses to use funds received from the Minority and Women-Owned Business Development and Lending Program of the Empire State Development Corporation to refinance existing debt.

Insurance

  • To make insurance more accessible, S1578 includes behavioral analysis under standard coverage for Medicaid recipients. S1187 prevents gender discrimination from disability insurance premium rates.
  • S815 makes reductions in health insurance premiums in return for an enrollees participation in a qualified wellness program.

Education

  • S572 authorizes certain schools serving school age children to establish reserve funds. S2687 allows certain school districts to enter lease agreements outside of their boundaries due to extenuating circumstances.
  • S664 requires information on the repayment of outstanding loans to be included in the standard financial aid award letter.

*Session Week 11*

After careful thought and consideration, the Senate passed its one-house budget this week. The one-house budget is a statement of principles which reflects which pieces of the Governor’s budget the Senate believes should be kept and which should be culled. Details on the budget proposal are outlined below.

I am also extremely pleased to announce that my bill (S2588) allowing public employees four hours of excused leave to receive their coronavirus vaccine was signed by the governor as is now law. I hope this bill addresses some of the obstacles to getting a vaccine, allowing workers to be more flexible in their schedule and receive their vaccines in a timely manner.

Committee Meetings

The Insurance and Labor Committee meetings took place this week where we considered some important bills:

Insurance

In the Insurance Committee I voted to pass 9 bills, including:

  • S3566 makes it easier for individuals to access prescription medications by removing mandatory mail order requirements for local network pharmacies.
  • S5299 requires insurance companies or pharmacy benefit managers to apply price reduction instruments for out-of-pocket expenses when calculating an insured individual’s cost-sharing requirements.
  • S2008 requires medical insurance notices to explicitly state whether a claim or bill has been partially approved or entirely denied.

Labor

We passed 6 bills through Labor, including:

  • S5397 enacts the “New York state YouthBuild Act” which expands the number of YouthBuild programs and authorizes additional funding.
  • S5129 authorizes workers covered under workers compensation to seek treatment from physical therapist and occupational therapist assistants.
  • S5490 requires the Department of Labor to provide Unemployment Assistance applicants with information on state-level rental and mortgage assistance programs each time they certify or recertify for unemployment benefits.

Session

This week we passed 29 bills on the Senate floor, including two of my own:

  • My first bill, S161, allows military veterans to receive additional credits on competitive examinations for civil service appointments and promotions. My second bill, S4308, allows retired higher education professionals to make voluntary contributions to their employee organizations

Mental Health

  • S409, which I cosponsor, creates a problem gambling advisory council.
  • S4207 requires the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services to develop a problem gambling education program that certain individuals must complete.
  • S4086 authorizes a gift for substance use disorder education and recovery on personal income tax returns and establishes the substance use disorder education and recovery fund.

Criminal Justice

  • I am very proud to have cosponsored the HALT Act (S2836), which passed the Senate this week. HALT limits the time an incarcerated individual can spend in solitary confinement, restricts the criteria that results in an inmate’s solitary confinement, improves conditions of confinement and provides effective alternatives.
  • S2986 expands the definition of coercion in the second degree to include the production or dissemination of intimate images.

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

One House Budget

The Senate’s one-house resolution was passed this week. The one-house is the Senate’s response to the budget proposed by the Governor, and acts as a starting point for further budget negotiations between the Senate, Assembly, and Governor. The final budget, agreed upon by the three groups, is due April 1st.

Some highlights of the Senate one-house budget include:

  • A prioritization of tax cuts in the middle class and imposing new taxes on the ultra-wealthy. This is being achieved through the continuation of a years’ long 20% reduction in middle class personal income tax rates while raising taxes on the ultrawealthy.
  • $1.7 billion in rent and housing relief provided through a new COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance Program, housing access voucher program, and $500 million in commercial rent relief. This will provide direct relief to both landlords to help tenants facing housing instability.
  • $400 million in property tax relief by enacting a property tax circuit breaker, an idea I introduced last year.
  • In alignment with the CUNY New Deal legislation I introduced last month, the Senate proposed providing $30 million in direct aid in an effort to close the TAP Gap, increasing the maximum TAP award by $1,000, and adding an additional $4 million for mental health services on CUNY campuses in combination with an extra $250 million in capital funds for both CUNY and SUNY schools.
  • $2.1 billion for excluded workers to provide unemployment benefits for those who would not qualify. The Senate one-house budget resolution also includes an early retirement incentive (ERI), which is legislation that I have been advocating for. This will give local governments more leeway to save money in lieu of layoffs.
  • $200 million to increase nurse staffing levels and provide better quality care for residents at long-term care facilities, plus $328.5 million for residential health care for medically fragile children and young adults. $27 million are also set aside to be put into the Community Services for the Elderly Program.

To get updates on the status of the Senate Budget resolution, you can subscribe here.

A Note on Governor Cuomo

I recently called for the resignation of Governor Cuomo. You can read my statement on the matter 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.