The last few days of this year’s state legislative session brought with them a flurry of activity, with several long-awaited bills like the GreenLight New York bill to reinstate standard driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act finally getting through both houses of the legislature and signed by the governor.
It was a welcome change of pace from business in usual in Albany, where a house once divided along party lines had long made our state capital a great place for bills to go to die.
But as our state leaders return to their districts to spend the next few months gathering constituents’ thoughts (and campaign contributions), now is a good time for we, the public, to take stock of what has been done this year, and of our top priorities for state action in the upcoming year.
As the federal government has become more and more unwilling to enforce its role protecting the environment of our nation, New York has been at the forefront of codifying strict environmental regulations here.
From reducing greenhouse gas emissions to implementing water quality standards to punishing polluters and protecting our coastlines from sea level rise, New York continues to set a high bar, and many of our local municipalities are leading the state in implementing these strategies.
Our environment is key to our health as a species — without understanding our role in the ecosystem, we can’t claim to care about our children’s future.
But the strength of our environment is just the bedrock for a healthy future. If we were to look at society through psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the safety of our physical environment is only one facet of this bedrock. We also need to have access to affordable health care.
The New York Health Act, which would have provided a Medicare for All-style health insurance program for all New Yorkers, was at the forefront of progressive leaders’ minds this legislative session.
The bill would do away with private insurance companies in the state, providing a Medicare-style program for all New Yorkers that would be paid for through a progressive payroll tax, which would charge a higher percentage of income for higher-income New Yorkers.
Proponents argue that this method of paying for health insurance would be cheaper than what most people pay now for premiums, deductibles and copays through private insurance plans.
It’s a sweeping bill that would radically alter the lives of all New Yorkers, which has been taken up by the legislature in varying forms since 1992. It has passed the State Assembly the past four years before dying in the then-Republican controlled State Senate.
Many lawmakers thought that would change this year, as a new Democratic majority was sworn in to the State Senate. But many unions have come out against the legislation this spring, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has essentially dared the Senate to pass it, saying in March that he would sign it, “but no sane person will pass it… Every union is against it.”
Unions are in fact split on the bill, with the New York State Nurses Association and 1199 SEIU United Health Care Workers in favor of the bill, while the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Association have come out against it.
Dr. Martha Livingston, a public health professor at SUNY Old Westbury who has been a fierce advocate for the bill, had this to say about the governor at a forum on the New York Health Act in Southampton this spring:
“Here’s what we know about Andrew Cuomo: If the parade is long enough, he will be at the front, and he will say he started it.”
That’s a good message to take away from the past few months as freshman state senators head home for the rest of the year. What parade do we want Andrew Cuomo to lead in the coming year?