March/April 2019 Issue
March 02, 2019

Legislative session starts with big wins

Author: Kara Smith
Source: NYSUT United
Committee of 100

"Passage of these two bills is a big step forward for our state." – Andy Pallotta

With the state Senate now in Democratic hands, the 2019 legislative session is shaping up to be a promising one for NYSUT members — and a fast moving one as well. Before the end of January, a healthy roster of NYSUT-backed bills had already been signed into law.

In the opening weeks of session, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act and the anti-conversion therapy bill won Senate and Assembly approval and received the governor’s signature soon thereafter. GENDA prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s or a group’s perceived gender identity or expression. The new law encompasses the transgender population. The anti-conversion therapy bill prohibits mental health professionals from engaging in sexual-orientation change efforts for individuals under the age of 18.

“Passage of these two bills is a big step forward for our state, especially for members of the LGBTQ community and their families,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, noting that unions, through collective bargaining, have traditionally offered the best protection for LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. “We’re happy to see New York State extending these protections to all.”

After years of delay, the Legislature also passed critical reforms to New York State’s voting laws, making it easier for citizens to vote. The set of new laws will allow early voting up to 10 days before elections, will consolidate federal and state primary dates and allow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register for the ballot, making them automatically registered to vote on their 18th birthday. The law also makes it easier for registered voters who move to different counties within the state to maintain their voter registration.

Another victory is passage of the DREAM Act, which for the first time offers undocumented students access to state financial aid and scholarships. Pallotta praised the move, “the DREAM Act will unlock new opportunities for immigrant students who seek to continue their education and pursue their version of the American dream.”

Other important wins include passage of the Child Victims Act, which extends New York’s statute of limitations, giving child sex abuse victims more time to pursue criminal charges against their abusers; and the Red Flag Law, which makes available enhanced safety measures to teachers and other school officials when there is risk of a school shooting.