As part of my community engagement platform, I promised to provide a regular weekly update on what’s happening up in Albany. Here’s an update from the third and fourth weeks of the 2020 legislative session.

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.

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*Governor’s Executive Budget Proposal for 2020–2021*

Last week, the Governor released his Executive Budget Proposal for Fiscal Year 2020–2021. The $178.6 billion proposal includes a 1.2 percent increase in spending compared to the current Fiscal Year. This year, the State budget is facing a projected $6.1 billion budget gap. To account for this gap, the Governor is reconvening the Medicaid Redesign Team (MRT) which was first convened in 2011. The Team will be responsible for creating a savings plan of $2.5 billion by April 1, 2020 and has been instructed to have no impact on local governments and no impact on beneficiaries of state Medicaid.

During the negotiations with the Governor over next year’s budget, I will continue to advocate against cuts in the quality of care in our State and against any proposals that will harm our local healthcare facilities and adult care facilities.

Other notable features of the Governor’s budget proposal include an $826 million (3%) increase in School Aid for a total of a proposed $28.5 billion in School Aid and a $504 million (2.5%) increase in Foundation Aid funding.

*Week 3*

The Senate got right back to work and met for three days on the week of January 21st. This week, the Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee held a meeting and I chaired the first 2020 meeting of the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee.

On week three, the Senate as a whole took up thirty-four bills that provide a deeper level of transparency in our public higher education system, access in our state government and improvements to our public mass transit system.

Corporations, Authorities and Commissions

On Tuesday, January 21st, I attended the first Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee meeting of the year. Below are some of the bills that I voted in favor of advancing out of committee:

  • S.5049 a.k.a. the statewide transportation authority reinvestment (STAR) act of 2020. The bill exempts all mass transit authorities in New York State from the bond issuance charges/fees required under current law. The goal is to reduce the cost of issuing bonds for the State’s mass transit authorities, freeing up money to be reinvested into operations and capital projects.
  • S.5338 requires that MWBEs (Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises) who are unsuccessful in securing a state contract that they applied for receive a notice of reason for their rejection within 30 days of the contract being awarded. The bill promotes transparency in the state contracting and procurement process.

You can read more about and watch the Senate Corporations, Authorities and Commissions Committee meeting here.

Civil Service and Pensions

On January 22nd, I chaired the first meeting of the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee in 2020. All four bills on the agenda were voted out of committee, including S.3099, which provides “legacy credits” on civil service exams to a step child or the child of a surviving spouse of a firefighter, police officer, emergency medical technician or paramedic killed in the line of duty. These credits are currently provided to the children of first responders killed in the line of duty but excludes the step-children of these heroes, despite the close parental relationship that many of these step-children had with their step-parent.

You can read more about and watch the Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee meeting here.

Session

Thirty-four bills passed the Senate this past week. Below are some of the bills that I voted in favor of passing:

  • Expanding Access to Public Meetings and Hearings: S1265 enhances the ability of the public to participate more meaningfully in the rule-making process by permitting agencies to use innovative techniques in organizing public hearings on proposed rules and rule changes. These techniques shall include designating a segment of time for the public to address questions to agency personnel, organizing hearings as roundtable discussions, scheduling evening or weekend hearings, and using broadcast and teleconferencing technologies.
  • Regulatory Framework for Hemp and Hemp Extract: S6968 designates the Department of Agriculture and Markets as the agency in charge of regulating the growing of hemp and the Department of Health as the agency in charge of regulating the processing and retail sale of hemp and hemp extract.
  • CUNY and SUNY Transparency: S4873 directs SUNY and CUNY to issue a report on the composition of faculty and academic advisors at both senior colleges and community colleges. This report will allow the state to assess the faculty and student needs in both CUNY and SUNY and would include information such as:

1) the number of faculty by campus in 2012 and the current academic year

2) the number of full-time tenured faculty, full-time tenure-track faculty, full-time non tenure-track faculty and those who may not have a faculty or academic job title but perform instructional duties

3) mean and median class size by campus in 2012 and in the current academic year for full-time tenured faculty, full-time tenure-track faculty, and full-time non tenure-track faculty and instructional staff;

4) mean and median class size by level in 2012 and in the current year for remedial 100-level introductory courses, and 200-mid-level courses, and above for completion of an associate’s degree and bachelor’s degree

You can watch Tuesday’s (January 21st) legislative session and read more about Tuesday’s agenda here.

You can watch Wednesday’s (January 22nd) legislative session and read more about Wednesday’s agenda here.

You can watch Thursday’s (January 23rd) legislative session and read more about Thursday’s agenda here.

*Week 4*

The fourth week of legislative session began on Monday, January 27th and wrapped up on Wednesday, January 29th. I attended the meetings of the Codes Committee, the Higher Education Committee and the Judiciary Committee.

In session, the Senate passed thirty-four bills for the second consecutive week. Included in that list, is S.4408 a bill that I sponsor, focused on reforms to the mostly unregulated reverse mortgage loan industry. Currently, lenders of these loans are not required to notify NYS Department of Financial Services in the event of a default on a reverse mortgage loan. This bill will change that by requiring a notification to DFS, and by requiring them to help consumers get in touch with a legal services organization to help them manage the process of the default.

Codes

The Senate Codes Committee met on Monday, January 27th for the second time this year. Below are some of the bills that I voted in favor of advancing out of committee:

  • S.2361A prevents those convicted of a hate crime from possessing a firearm.
  • S.7200, which I co-sponsor, fights against hate and hate crimes, by allowing a defendant’s previous statements to be admitted in court to show that a defendant intentionally committed a hate crime. I felt this was especially important in light of recent tragic acts of anti-Semitism.

You can read more about and watch the Senate Codes Committee meeting here.

Higher Education

The Senate Committee on Higher Education met on Tuesday, January 28th and took up four bills including S.7251 and S.7252 which make some common sense reforms to the State’s tuition assistance program (TAP) award for college students. Currently, all returning independent students that previously received a TAP award prior to the 1994–1995 academic year and all returning dependent students prior to the 2000–2001 academic year, would be limited to the maximum TAP award based on the TAP program in effect when they began their undergraduate career. S.7251 and S.7252 would allow these students to receive up to the maximum TAP award under current program guidelines and laws, giving them a fair opportunity to complete their undergraduate education.

You can read more about and watch the Senate Higher Education Committee meeting here.

Judiciary

My last committee meeting of the week was the Senate Judiciary Committee We considered eight bills, including:

  • S.1446 requires additional disclosure by the seller of a property by adding a question regarding the history of mold to the Property Condition Disclosure Statement.
  • S.6050 requires courts to consider acts of domestic violence when determining the distribution of property in a divorce proceeding.

You can read more about and watch the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting here.

Session

Below are some bills that I voted in favor of passing:

  • Access to Financial Literacy and Consumer Protection Information: S2397 directs the NYS Department of Financial Services and the NYS Department of State’s Consumer Protection Division to conduct a study on consumer awareness and financial education and make recommendations for a consumer awareness and financial education program.
  • Expanding Access to Property Tax Exemptions: S5557A allows local governments to raise the maximum income eligibility limit for the Senior Citizen Real Property Tax Exemption program and the Persons with Disabilities Real Property Tax Exemption from the current $37,399.99 to $50,000. This bill is meant to provide some relief to the growing number of low-income seniors on fixed incomes and persons with disabilities who have limited income in New York.

You can watch Monday’s (January 27th) legislative session and read more about Monday’s agenda here.

You can watch Tuesday’s (January 28th) legislative session and read more about Tuesday’s agenda here.

You can watch Wednesday’s (January 29th) legislative session and read more about Wednesday’s agenda here.

To see the full schedule of this year’s legislative session, click here.

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

NYS Senator, District 22.