By Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
New York is known as the Empire State for a good reason - our state is a shining beacon of hope and opportunity for its citizens, and a symbol of possibility for people across the country and indeed the world. It's a promise our government has made to its citizens that we will do everything in our power to help them grow and succeed.
In the face of the daily deluge of bad news emanating from Washington these days, it's important to remember that here in New York, the State Assembly is doing all it can to uphold this promise. I am proud to lead the most diverse and dynamic legislative body in the country - our members trace their heritage from nearly every corner of the globe and are a true reflection of their constituents in every way possible. Our diversity and inclusivity is our strength and allows our conference to be the birth place of progressive ideals and policies years ahead of their time. Much of this progress has been hampered by a recalcitrant State Senate controlled by wealthy conservative donors, but that has not stopped us from aggressively pursuing measures that will make a difference in the lives of so many.
We have been able to make some progress in the face of fierce resistance from the right. Common sense measures like raising the age of criminal responsibility for young offenders, increasing the minimum wage, making college more affordable by expanding opportunity programs and free college tuition, sensible gun laws, and family friendly policies like paid family leave, are all the product of the vocal advocacy of the New York State Assembly. Under our leadership, New York became the first state to enact President Obama's My Brother's Keeper program to improve outcomes for young men and boys of color.
They were tough fights, but they were worth it. There is so much more to do, especially in view of the damage being done to our bedrock principles by the federal government.
Desmond Tutu once said that hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. The wave of progressive energy overtaking the country is extremely encouraging and the State Assembly will continue to serve as an incubator for the policies that will help all our citizens. What is especially clear is that people are tired of finger pointing and the road blocks put up by those who want to keep us from enacting measures that the vast majority of New Yorkers support.
There are many challenges ahead. I hear all the time that the progressive policies we pursue are too radical, too controversial or unrealistic. Nothing could be further from the truth! What's so controversial about ensuring the health and well-being of our citizens? That's why we in the Assembly once again this year passed a single payer healthcare bill that would guarantee quality healthcare for all our citizens.
Why don't our Republican colleagues in the Senate believe that women are capable and entitled to make their own health care decisions? Yes, the Assembly once again passed the Reproductive Health Act, only to see the bill fail once again in the Senate. We also passed bills to protect access to contraception and to keep employers from limiting employees' healthcare choices. Neither of which were even considered in the Senate. Think it doesn't matter? Look only to what's happening in Washington to know that it's long past time to enshrine these basic healthcare protections for women in New York law.
Why can't we treat immigrants with dignity and respect? While Washington is doing all it can to dehumanize and marginalize immigrants, the State Assembly has passed legislation to bring immigrants out of the shadows. We passed the New York State Dream Act to give education aid to immigrant children who know of no other home than this country.
Shouldn't we be doing all we can to give victims of childhood sexual abuse the justice they deserve? The Assembly this year once again took up and passed the Child Victim's Act, only to see it once again fail to even be considered in the Senate.
We in the Assembly are working each and every day to bring some sanity to our criminal justice system. We made significant strides last year by finally raising the age of criminal responsibility so that we can help young people break the cycle of poverty and crime and become productive members of our communities. And we continued those efforts this year by taking on tough issues like bail reform, ending solitary confinement, and a whole host of measures that will rationalize our criminal justice system for the better.
And we stand shoulder to shoulder with students across the state and the entire country calling for common sense gun laws. Our young people deserve to go to school each day knowing they are safe. We passed comprehensive legislation to reduce gun violence which included comprehensive background checks, banning bump stocks and keeping guns out of the hands of those proven to be a risk to themselves and others.
We fight for the rights of LGBTQ New Yorkers, passing legislation to ban conversion therapy for minors. We also passed the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression, and has now passed the Assembly 10 times since 2008.
Here in the Assembly, we believe that every New Yorker deserves to have their voice heard. We know voting is indisputably one of the most important and precious rights afforded to Americans, and we believe we have an obligation to ensure every New Yorker has the opportunity to vote with ease. We have passed measures to allow early voting, expand absentee voting, establish online voter registration and bring transparency to campaign financing by closing the Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) loophole, once and for all.
We also believe that we need to protect our environment and planet from climate change, which is already threatening communities in New York State and across the country and world. Over the last year, we passed the New York State Climate and Community Protection Act to address the impacts of climate change. We passed legislation to prohibit drilling for oil and natural gas in the North Atlantic. And we passed the Clean Air and Water Constitutional Amendment to ensure that clean air and water are treated as a fundamental right for all New Yorkers.
I am proud of my colleagues in the Assembly for standing up for working men and women everywhere. Despite the horrible policies being pursued in Washington, the mean-spirited rhetoric, and the divisive decisions that affect us all, the future remains bright here in New York. The State Assembly will continue to lead the way for our country in crafting policies that will truly make a difference in the lives of all our citizens.
While Washington continues to descend into chaos and those in charge continue to further divide the country, the New York State Assembly will still be fighting each and every day to make our communities a better place to live. That, after all, is the promise of the Empire State.