Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/510 Tue, 21 May 2019 17:00:55 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) Restoring Access to Driver’s Licenses Will Make New York Roads Safer http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8536-restoring-access-to-driver-s-licenses-will-make-new-york-roads-safer http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8536-restoring-access-to-driver-s-licenses-will-make-new-york-roads-safer green light ny driver's licenses

(photo: @EddieATaveras)


As a former Suffolk county police officer and detective, I think a lot about what keeps our communities safer. And one thing I know is that our roads are safer when everyone who is driving is licensed and insured. That’s why, as a state legislator, I believe New York should let all qualified drivers, regardless of immigrant status, follow the same process to get a driver’s license.

Driving is essential on Long Island. Throughout most of our region, you need a car to get to work and to drive your child to school or the doctor. Passing the Driver's License Access and Privacy Act would mean that 265,000 New Yorkers, including 51,000 Long Islanders, who currently don’t have access to a license would be able to safely drive to carry out their basic daily life necessities.

The roads in our state will be safer because every driver will go through the same process: submit an application, take a road test, and, if you pass, obtain a license. Making sure all drivers are licensed and insured means that more drivers are aware of traffic regulations and will likely reduce traffic-related incidents.

Roads are safer when all drivers can be tested, licensed, and insured. While research has shown that undocumented immigrants are particularly careful drivers, they are even safer when they have a state issued driver’s license. Various studies have concluded that ensuring equal access to licenses can reduce the incidence of traffic fatalities. And, in California, data show that within the first year of passing a similar policy to expand access to driver’s licenses, the number of hit-and-run accidents declined.

In additio to making our roads safer, restoring access to driver’s licenses to all New Yorkers can help build trust between local law enforcement and immigrant communities – a relationship that has been crippled by a series of attacks on immigrants and people of color by the Trump administration; the president went as far as encouraging police brutality in a 2018 visit to Long Island.

In the climate of fear that Donald Trump has created, members of our communities are more fearful than ever of interactions with law enforcement, which can lead people to not report crimes that they witness or of which they are victims. This is especially true when people don’t have access to a state identification document.

No one, regardless of immigration status, should have to fear contacting a police officer, whether it is to ask for help or to contribute to a solving a crime, for lack of documentation. Having a driver’s license will lead to thousands more current New Yorkers having access to an identification document that enables them to identify themselves as they drive on the road and proceed with their daily lives.

Restoring access to driver’s licenses will also be an economic win for our state. Immigrant New Yorkers already contribute enormously to our state’s economy -- contributing more than $100 billion annually as consumers, and more than $1 billion in taxes on top of that.

If the driver’s licenses bill, which would especially increase the number of immigrants with licenses statewide, were passed, the Fiscal Policy Institute has found there would be a further gain. Annual state revenues would increase by $57 million, and there would be a $26 million one-time boost in revenue, as people obtain licenses and purchase cars.

It’s also worth noting what this bill won’t do. The standard issue licenses that would be available to undocumented people would not be valid for air travel, for entering federal government facilities, or to vote. The standard licenses would simply enable members of our communities to access the roads and the insurance they need.

The Driver's License Access and Privacy Act would bring benefits to all Long Islanders through improved road safety, trust in law enforcement, and an economic boost. New York should not delay. This should be the year to restore access to licenses to all qualified drivers.

***
Phil Ramos is an Assembly member representing New York’s 6th Assembly District in Suffolk County. On Twitter @PhilRamos6AD.

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Restoring Access to Driver’s Licenses Will Make New York Roads Safer Mon, 20 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8529-as-public-school-parent-leaders-we-say-don-t-raise-the-charter-cap students with signs

(photo: Governor's Office)


There has been much discussion that the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo may raise the cap on charter schools, especially since the sub-cap of 235 charter schools in New York City has now been reached. As public school parents and co-chairs of the Education Council Consortium, which represents the elected parent leaders of Community Education Councils across the five boroughs, we overwhelmingly oppose raising the cap because this would have a seriously detrimental impact on our public schools.

Privately-run charter schools in New York City are already costing the Department of Education more than $2.1 billion a year. In addition, the city is required to pay for private space for all new and expanding charter schools if they are not given space in our already overcrowded public schools – the only district in the state and the nation that is so obligated. The cost to the city for this private space is rising fast, as our existing charters continue to expand to new grade levels.

On average, charter schools enroll far fewer special needs students and English Language Learners than other public schools. If the Legislature allows charters to continue to proliferate, our public schools will be even more concentrated with the highest needs students in less space and with fewer resources to educate them. Some of the fastest growing charter chains, including Success Academy, have been sued repeatedly for pushing out students and violating their civil rights, especially children with disabilities. The State Education Department has recently ordered that Success adopt a corrective action plan to cease these discriminatory practices.

The charter school waiting lists of 50,000 students are often cited as a reason to raise the cap. However a few points about these lists should be made: First, no one audits the figures claimed by charters and many students are double or triple counted if they apply to more than one charter school, as commonly occurs.  When charter waiting lists are audited, as happened in Boston, their figures were found to be inflated. We also know from a recent research study that 50 percent of the students accepted by lottery to Success Academy do not end up enrolling in their schools; which means that thousands of students are accepted off their waiting list without any need to raise the cap.

Some charter schools spend thousands or even millions of dollars on advertising on radio, subways, bus stops, social media, and glossy mailings to build up their waiting lists. This process is encouraged by the mayor, who allows charter schools, including Success Academy, Uncommon, KIPP, and Achievement First, to use Department of Education mailing lists to send promotional materials to families to market their schools.

Success Academy itself has what is described as a “full service brand strategy, marketing and creative division” including an advertising staff of more than 30 creative directors, designers, copywriters, strategists and project managers, an expense which no public school can afford.

Even so, the city’s public schools have longer waiting lists. This year, there were more than 155,000 instances in which the city’s 8th grade students applied but weren’t admitted to 21 of the most popular public high schools for lack of space. Many of the students who landed on these waiting lists were probably double- or triple-counted of course, just like students on the charter school waiting lists.  Yet this represents only a small fraction of the waiting lists at the 1,800 public schools across the city, which spend no funds on advertising or glossy mailings.

What is tragic is how, unlike charter schools, the city’s most popular and successful public schools, are prevented from expanding or replicating by insufficient space and funding, which would be further diminished if the charter cap were raised. 

As a city and a state, we must focus on supporting and improving our public schools, rather than encourage the growth of privately-managed charter schools that pull resources from them.

Public education is the cornerstone of our democracy and it is the Legislature’s responsibility to acknowledge that fact by keeping the cap on charters in New York City and statewide.

***
NeQuan McLean and Shino Tanikawa are Co-Chairs, of the Education Council Consortium. On Twitter @CNequan & @estuaryqueen.

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As Public School Parent Leaders, We Say Don’t Raise the Charter Cap Sun, 19 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Pass the Off Fossil Fuels Act, New York’s Strongest Climate Change Bill http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8528-pass-the-off-fossil-fuels-act-new-york-s-strongest-climate-change-bill http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8528-pass-the-off-fossil-fuels-act-new-york-s-strongest-climate-change-bill climate crisis

(photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


Grassroots climate activists hope that before state lawmakers adjourn for the summer they will strike a deal with Governor Cuomo to adopt the strongest climate legislation possible.

And let’s be clear: the strongest climate bill is the NYS OFF Act (A3565/S5526), not the more publicized Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA).

The Off Fossil Fuels Act, for 100% renewable energy by 2030, grew out of the successful grassroots campaign to ban fracking in New York. It seeks to implement the study done by Stanford and Cornell professors showing how the state could by 2030 obtain 100% of its energy from solar, wind, geothermal, and conservation. It includes the critical component of calling for a halt to all new fossil projects, a measure not included in either the CCPA or by the governor in his agenda. Forty state lawmakers are sponsoring the OFF Act.

The CCPA deserves praise for making environmental justice and a “just transition” central objectives of any climate action. But its climate policies are centered around enacting into law a ten-year-old Executive Order from the Paterson administration. The bill that the State Assembly passed every year since 2009 to do that was changed three years ago to the CCPA, adding environmental justice and labor provisions.

Our understanding of climate change has itself changed a lot in the last decade, especially so in the last three years. The climate goals in the CCPA were rejected by developing countries at the Paris climate talks. They rebelled against the industrial polluter nations which want a goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, insisting the target be lowered to 1.5 degrees.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently warned the world that it had to significantly step up its climate actions as we have less than 12 years left to save life on the planet. The IPCC is a conservative body, due to the nature of “scientific consensus” and because its pronouncements need to be approved by the fossil-fuel centered countries like Saudi Arabia, the United States, Russia, and Brazil. Every study by the IPPC has understated the speed and severity of climate change. As one of its authors has said, for an accurate read, take our worst case scenario and double it.

Even Governor Cuomo upgraded his climate goals following the IPCC report, now calling for 70% of state electricity to be renewable by 2030.

I spent more than three decades organizing for a variety of low-income community groups to end poverty and promote economic justice. We cannot solve the climate crisis without ensuring that the poor and workers benefit from the transition. While dedicating jobs and climate funding to lift up disadvantaged communities, we need to advocate for policies that ensure such communities are not blown, washed, or burnt away by extreme weather.

We need to remember that it is the developing world that is home to the principal victims of climate change. Half of the residents of Puerto Rico were without electricity and drinking water for six months – and they are part of the United States (despite how the Trump administration may approach them)!

Scientists now openly discuss the possibility of human extinction and/or the end of civilization as we know it. The Extinction Rebellion has risen to demand an end to greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. A majority of Congressional Democrats from New York sponsor the federal Green New Deal with its 2030 timeline and the federal OFF Act with a goal of 2035. How can New York pursue a timeline decades slower?

We have to enact bold, even radical, climate measures that increase the chances of humans surviving climate chaos. We have to reject the approach of embracing incremental measures that politicians, paid for by fossil fuel campaign contributions, find “reasonable.”

New York lawmakers need to take the best ideas from the OFF Act, CCPA, Cuomo’s agenda, and the half-dozen other climate bills. Climate activists need to weigh in on the details of the dozens of issues being negotiated by legislative leaders.

The just transition provisions of the OFF Act are stronger than the CCPA in guaranteeing jobs and wages for displaced workers and assisting communities dependent on tax payments from existing fossil fuel plants. The climate funding for disadvantaged communities in the CCPA is more limited than what its supporters believe. A key fight will be over how much funding is allocated and for what type of projects.

We need to develop detailed climate plans with short-term benchmarks with no more than two-year intervals for review and update. New York is not even close to achieving its goals for renewable energy established by the Pataki administration in 2002. Lawmakers need to allocate probably $10 billion a year to support the transition, an issue that has been largely ignored.

Local governments must also develop climate action plans, especially to site large-scale renewable energy projects, which at present are largely impossible to approve.

Many of the enforcement provisions in the CCPA were weakened by the Assembly. Those provisions should be restored, such as state agency compliance and the right for citizens to sue to enforce the law.

Far more action is needed on transportation and buildings, with each accounting for more than a third of the state carbon footprint.

New York cannot afford to waste this opportunity to adopt the best climate agenda. The devil is in the details. We need to listen to our children who want a world that gives them a chance for a decent future.

***
Mark Dunlea is Chair of the Green Education and Legal Fund. On Twitter @DunleaMark.

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Pass the Off Fossil Fuels Act, New York’s Strongest Climate Change Bill Thu, 16 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Care about Climate Change? Care About Scooters http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8506-care-about-climate-change-care-about-scooters http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8506-care-about-climate-change-care-about-scooters climate change scooter 2

(photo: Lime)


Solving our biggest global crisis of a rapidly warming planet means considering everything through the lens of potential solutions, even something as small as the electric scooter.

Micromobility is rightfully capturing the keen attention of urbanists around the world -- including the much-discussed e-scooter. And New York is poised to take advantage as well.

Simultaneously, New York is considering various necessarily ambitious policies to combat climate change and legislation to authorize local governments to roll out micromobility programs. Statewide, transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions, so these revolutions are closely related.

But New York must act decisively -- and quickly -- on both issues if it is going to start reducing its carbon footprint at a rate that allows it to reach its global warming goals and to prevent the harmful health effects of local pollution.

A recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report concluded we have 12 years to prevent the worst of climate impacts. Subsequent reports find our climate pollution emissions have continued to accelerate. Arctic melting has, as well. New York has already felt the dramatic and tragic effects of climate change, enduring the terrible power of Hurricane Sandy.

So any chance to significantly reduce the effects of climate change must be taken, especially when it improves other aspects of daily life. That’s where micromobility offers a tremendous opportunity.

Take the electric scooter itself, an under 50-pound mode of transit. Scooters stand in stark contrast to one- and two-ton cars, and the energy it takes to move them and space consumed to park them. Right now, two-thirds of trips made by car are under one mile. That’s a massive waste of energy when a large number of those trips are just one able-bodied person who could easily -- and often more quickly -- use a carbon-neutral option like a scooter.

People have noticed this when they have access to scooters, and the change trend is already well underway. They have taken shared scooters on over 50 million rides in the last year alone.

Moreover, independent studies by city transportation departments and internal company research have both found a roughly one-third, or often more, mode-shift in cities from scooters. This means one out of every three scooter rides is a trip not taken by ride-hailing, taxi, or personal vehicle, and when most vehicles are still one to two ton gas burning cars, that's a big deal for climate pollution.

It is also a big deal for public health, as local pollution afflicts people with health complications like asthma, and more often the urban young and old and people of color, a threat equal to a history of smoking.

For the New York City metro area, 100,000 shared scooters and bikes could easily prevent more than 300,000 car trips each day. That would also prevent nearly 50,000 tons of carbon annually and 4 tons of asthma-inducing particulates.

Right now, we need government leaders at all levels to have an Apollo-like mindset to the climate crisis and, as a result, measure every major policy decision through the lens of the climate fight. Scooters and electric micromobility are just one of the myriad of solutions we will need to deploy now to have a chance of making an impact on this global challenge.

We’ve done this before. During World War II, every major policy decision was put through the filter of the war effort. That allowed us to turn our economy into a giant cog of mission-oriented productivity, going, for example, from a production of just 3,000 bombers to a staggering 300,000 in those few years.

It’s time to make bold changes in the effort against this climate crisis. If this is our modern World War III, we'd better get moving, big and small, on city streets across the globe. New York can do its part by authorizing micromobility statewide right now.

***
Andrew Savage is vice president of sustainability and a founding team member of Lime, a mobility company that makes scooters, bikes, and more. He is a veteran of local, state, and federal government. On Twitter @limebike.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Care about Climate Change? Care About Scooters Mon, 13 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
At 94%, New York Health Insurance Coverage Best of Four Most Populous States http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8503-new-york-94-percent-health-insurance-coverage-best-of-four-biggest-states http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8503-new-york-94-percent-health-insurance-coverage-best-of-four-biggest-states protecting hc nyc

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)


New York State had achieved the highest percentage of residents with health insurance coverage of the four most populous states in the country by 2017, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, one of the nation's leading health research organizations.

Ninety-four percent of New York's residents had health insurance coverage that year; California was second, with 93%. Both of these states accepted the Obamacare Medicaid Expansion, and both had 26% of their populations served by Medicaid in 2017. Texas and Florida, the other two of the four most populous states, both rejected the Medicaid expansion and had 83% insured and 87% insured, respectively. The United States as a whole had achieved 91% of its population covered by health insurance by 2017.

health insurance coverage1

A report by State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli actually pegged New York's health insurance coverage rate even higher in January 2018, at 95%, citing Center for Disease Control data. Either number for New York, 94 or 95%, reflects a solid record of attainment of social well-being in the state; not perfect, by any means, but very good.

So how did New York get there?
This article looks at how New York's policies achieved these positive results, as well as prospects for improvement.

First, however, it's useful to take a look at the immediate pre-Obamacare environment for the nation and these most-populous states, as well as how the states and the nation were faring in 1998-2000 as the Clinton administration came to a close in a period of substantial economic growth.

The following tables look at health coverage in the United States and the four big states in 2008 and 2010, as the Great Recession was beginning and ending.

health insurance coverage2

In 2008, 15% of the nation's residents did not have health insurance and 13% were in the Medicaid program. In New York, 12% of residents were uninsured and 13% of residents were on Medicaid. By 2010, after the Great Recession, the uninsured had risen to 16% of the country, and 17% on Medicaid. In New York, uninsured was still 12%, but 22% were on Medicaid.

A 2001 U.S. Census Bureau report showed uninsured rates for 1998-2000.  As the American economy continued to expand at the end of the Bill Clinton years, health insurance coverage reached 14% uninsured by 2000.

New York's situation was worse than the nation in 1998-2000, with 15.7% of its residents uninsured in 1998, and 15.1% uninsured in 2000.

In 2000, California had 17.9% uninsured, Texas 23.2%, and Florida, 17.2%. New York, at 15% uninsured, had a higher percentage of its residents with health insurance of the four largest states, but all four had higher levels of uninsured than the nation.

What happened? First: the Defeat of Block Grants for Medicaid
After the Republican Party won the House and Senate in 1994, the new Republican majorities passed legislation to limit Medicaid spending by providing a capped lump-sum amount of money for Medicaid to every state in the country, effectively eliminating the program as an entitlement. This lump sum was called a Block Grant.

Initially, welfare and other spending for poor people would also be given to states as a block grant. President Clinton vetoed this entire package in December 1995. New York Governor George Pataki made similar proposals, which were rejected by the Democratic-controlled Assembly. Ultimately, Clinton was able to force Congress to separate Medicaid from welfare, with welfare becoming the "Temporary Assistance to Needy Families" block grant (in New York), while Medicaid health care was preserved as an entitlement for the poor.

Enter Child Health Plus and Family Health Plus
In 1997, President Clinton proposed and Congress approved a program to expand health insurance coverage for children up to age 19. In 1999, the New York State Legislature passed legislation, which Governor Pataki signed, authorizing New York to apply for approval from the federal government for a program to be named Family Health Plus, enrolling the parents of children in Child Health Plus (CHP), up to 150% of the poverty level, in the Medicaid program.

Childless adults earning up to 100% of the poverty level would also be permitted to enroll. CHP in New York had enrolled over 500,000 children by 2001, and the federal government approved the Family Health Plus waiver. Implementation was planned for the fall of 2001.

A Health Emergency is Declared in New York After 9/11
The horrific impacts of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and New York are known as part of American history.

But there was a side story about health care in New York that is less well-known. The New York State government's Medicaid computers were in the World Trade Center and were destroyed in the attacks.

These computers contained the information on the eligibility of those enrolled in the Medicaid program. Medicaid was very bureaucratic; recipients had to submit proof of their continued eligibility every year in a recertification process. After the Medicaid computers were destroyed, Governor Pataki announced on September 19, 2001 that New York had received an emergency waiver of the recertification requirements for Medicaid for New York City only through January 31, 2002.

A program known as Disaster Relief Medicaid was implemented that allowed persons to merely fill out a one-page document and attest they were eligible for Medicaid -- 350,000 people enrolled by the deadline.

New York's Family Health Plus program began its implementation shortly after 9/11 as well, allowing adults with children and earning up to 150% of the poverty line to enroll in Medicaid. A national recession was underway at the time of the 9/11 attack -- exacerbated in New York, of course, by the devastation in downtown Manhattan.

New York State lost nearly 200,000 jobs between August 2001 and August 2003, heavily concentrated in New York City. The confluence of all these events resulted in a major expansion of the Medicaid program in New York State; enrollment rose from 2.7 million in 2000 to 3.9 million in 2004.

New York State also began subsidizing small-group private health insurance through a program known as Healthy New York, where subsidized enrollment reached 145,000.

New York 2005-2013: The Great Recession, Medicaid Reform, Preparing for Obamacare
The New York State economy recovered from the recession and the Trade Center attack from 2003-2008, and the Medicaid rolls remained fairly stable, reaching 4.1 million in 2008. The Great Recession began in 2008, with the nation losing 8.5 million jobs from 2008 through February 2010.

New York lost more than 300,000 jobs and about 1 million residents were added to the Medicaid program, bringing Medicaid enrollment to about 5 million before Obamacare, enacted in 2010. This major new program, intended to provide health insurance to 30 million or more additional Americans, had a lead time of several years for the states to develop the ability to implement it.

The recession caused staggering New York State budget deficits. Struggling to cope, both Governors Paterson and Cuomo undertook intensive cost-containment efforts in the Medicaid program while maintaining and even enhancing eligibility. Participation in managed care became standard for Medicaid recipients, even the disabled. New York enacted some utilization limits and tightened reimbursement rates for providers. But the State still took steps to streamline and simplify Medicaid, such as allowing 12-month eligibility periods, eliminating the asset test and fingerprinting, affirming the experience of Disaster Relief Medicaid.

New York also accepted grants from the federal government to get Obamacare up and running by the beginning of 2014. New York integrated its Medicaid program with the new Obamacare health exchanges, in what became known as New York State of Health. Family Health Plus was folded into Obamacare. State government planned for the state to centralize Medicaid administration and take over enrollment processing for persons newly applying for Medicaid as well as the private health insurance plans offered on the exchanges.

Obamacare: 94-95% of New Yorkers Now Insured
By 2013 New York had reached 89% of its population covered by health insurance, and launched Obamacare in 2014. Another 1.2 million New Yorkers were enrolled in the Medicaid program and 250,000 in the new private plans during the Obamacare rollout.

New York adopted a screening policy for applications through the Exchange to enroll residents in Medicaid if they were determined to be eligible, resulting in New York's small private plan enrollments. After all, the federal government was covering 100% of the new costs up to 2019.

New York also received approval in 2015 from the federal government to add residents not eligible for Medicaid into a new insurance program called New York Essential Care, which now covers nearly 750,000, including adults from the Family Health Plus program whose eligibility for Obamacare Medicaid had not been preserved in the switchover. Comptroller DiNapoli's report cited New York as one of only two states in the country to create such a Plan (which is being paid 93% by the federal government). Adding this program to Medicaid enrollment (now 6 million plus) brings 7 million New Yorkers into non-Medicare public plans. 95% of New Yorkers now have health insurance.

The state government recently took important steps to codify elements of the Obamacare rollout into state law through the new state budget, protections toward stability in case there is significant undercutting of the health care law via the Supreme Court or other federal action.

Three Legislators
Three members of the New York State Legislature deserve special mention for extraordinary leadership in the state’s achievements in health insurance. One is Assemblymember Dick Gottfried of Manhattan, the senior member of the Legislature who has chaired the Assembly Health Committee since 1987. Second is State Senator Kemp Hannon, a Republican from Nassau County, who chaired the State Senate Health Committee and supported the Medicaid expansions and shepherded them through the Republican-controlled State Senate. He was defeated in 2018. And third, James Tallon, who served in the State Assembly from 1975-1993, as Majority Leader and Gottfried’s predecessor as chair of the Health Committee. He became President of the United Hospital Fund in 1993 and became the state’s intellectual leader in health care.

What’s Next?
New York still has 1 million to 1.2 million residents without health insurance. The Kaiser Foundation reports that 8% of New York non-elderly adults age 19-64 still do not have health insurance.

Recently the de Blasio administration announced a plan to enroll several hundred thousand more New York City residents without health insurance into a New York City insurance plan based on its network of municipal hospitals and clinics, which have their own Medicaid Managed Care Plan (the city is also attempting to enroll undocumented immigrants, who can’t be insured, into health care plans where they are assigned primary care doctors).

The city’s efforts are a good idea and the New York State government should help the city by paying for outreach and facilitated enrollment.

New York could still build on the substantial increases in health insurance outside New York City as well, and continue efforts to provide small group coverage through its Exchange. The top five states for insurance coverage in the nation have reached 96-97% of their residents insured.

And Single-Payer? Don’t Forget Donald Trump
The New York State Assembly has passed a single-payer health plan, called the New York Health Trust, several times, as recently as 2018,; it is now bill A. 5248 in the current legislative session.

Moving forward with such a plan still has innumerable hurdles, one of which involves folding the Medicare program into a comprehensive New York health insurance plan, necessitating federal government approval under the Trump administration, which is not likely. Single-payer must also pass the State Senate and be supported by Governor Cuomo.

Going into the 2020 presidential election, even if Donald Trump is defeated and the Democrats take back the United States Senate it's not certain there will be a national consensus on single-payer or Medicare-for-All. Incremental progress might still be the choice. It is clear New York State has made great progress and still has the capacity to do better, something New Yorkers should be proud of.

***
Jim Brennan was a member of the New York State Assembly for 32 years, where he chaired four committees. On Twitter @JimBrennanNY.

 

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At 94%, New York Health Insurance Coverage Best of Four Most Populous States Tue, 07 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Governor Cuomo Has Just Weeks to Embrace a Real Green New Deal for New York http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8497-governor-cuomo-has-just-weeks-to-embrace-a-real-green-new-deal-for-new-york http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8497-governor-cuomo-has-just-weeks-to-embrace-a-real-green-new-deal-for-new-york Cuomo environment

Gov. Cuomo (photo: governor's office)


As debate over the Green New Deal has seized the nation, the young people of Sunrise Movement have been challenging politicians to answer a simple question: What is your plan?

In April, the New York City Council rose to that challenge with a series of bills that sets a high-water mark for urban climate action across the globe. Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the Climate Mobilization Act soon.

Governor Cuomo, meanwhile, has allowed the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA), the most ambitious climate legislation in the country, to languish in Albany. “I don’t see anything specific for the rest of the session” in terms of environmental legislation, the governor said recently -- a shocking statement considering the lack of climate action coming from Albany -- about the state government agenda before the legislative session ends mid-June.

Climate change is an existential threat for my generation. Young people deserve more than lip service from leaders who have consistently failed to confront the crisis over the past decade.

New Yorkers know this. We’ve seen the impacts of climate change and fossil fuel pollution in record-breaking heat waves, devastating hurricanes like Superstorm Sandy, and overwhelmingly high rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases. We know we need to act urgently to meet the scale of the challenge.

To his credit, Governor Cuomo put forth a vision for climate action in his executive budget. He calls it a Green New Deal. Unfortunately, his plan is not worthy of the name.

The young people of Sunrise ask politicians to share their plans so that we can see who is serious about tackling climate change and who is not. We have three criteria for judging what constitutes a serious plan to address the crisis.

First, the Green New Deal needs to transition the entire economy to clean energy. Governor Cuomo only sets enforceable decarbonization targets for the electricity sector.

Second, the Green New Deal needs to make sure resources flow directly to the communities hit hardest by climate change – particularly communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. The governor talks about environmental justice – but his plan fails to put his money where his mouth is.

Finally, the Green New Deal needs to center the good, family-supporting jobs that will be created through investments in renewable energy. The governor’s proposal doesn’t yet outline a comprehensive way to make that happen.

Here’s the thing: the Climate and Community Protect Act, which predates Governor Cuomo’s ‘Green New Deal,’ would accomplish these three needs. The CCPA is a vision for climate justice that has been improved and expanded and revised for almost four years with the support of over 150 community, labor, and environmental organizations.

Spearheaded by a coalition called NY Renews, the CCPA is the holistic approach to the climate crisis that New Yorkers deserve. The coalition’s plan sets a legally enforceable timeline to get New York’s entire economy off of fossil fuels by 2050 while also ensuring that 40 percent of state funding goes to frontline and vulnerable communities (low-income and communities of color, among others, facing the brunt of environmental harms), and that the green jobs created are also good jobs that follow prevailing wages and provide training and apprenticeships when possible.

The federal Green New Deal resolution introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has broken new ground for its success in bringing climate change to the fore in Congress. But in New York, the CCPA has for years been a model for climate legislation that centers both good jobs and healthy communities.

Climate change, pollution, and environmental harms have exacerbated systematic inequality by disproportionately affecting indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and yes, youth like young climate strikers and the Sunrise members that have been showing up nationwide to push their representatives toward climate action.

Governor Cuomo says he wants to be at the forefront of the climate movement — framing his proposals as a ‘Green New Deal’ demonstrates as much. But the way New York should lead the climate movement is by modeling the power of community-focused action. The governor’s plan wouldn’t get us to 100 percent renewable energy economy-wide, and it doesn’t include the kinds of provisions we need for jobs or justice. Superstorm Sandy has already showed us how necessary it is to invest in the frontline communities hit hardest by the climate crisis. No justice, no deal.

The CCPA, however, enshrines in law an enforceable timeline to eliminate fossil fuels throughout New York by 2050, meaning that New Yorkers will not only have a plan, they will have recourse to ensure the state follows through.

The CCPA has passed the State Assembly three times already, only to be stopped by what used to be the climate change-denying, Republican Senate leadership. That’s changed now, and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has embraced the CCPA and its coalition of community, labor, and environmental groups.

If Governor Cuomo can’t commit to supporting the CCPA, then the state legislature needs to force his hand by putting the bill on his desk.

In 2019, all climate action is long past due. With the federal Green New Deal stalled in Congress thanks to fossil fuel executives and their allies in Republican leadership, what we need now is for our state leaders to step up. The CCPA is ready, and New Yorkers are ready too.

The question is, is the governor?

***
Matthew Miles Goodrich is New York State Director of Sunrise Movement. On Twitter @mmilesgoodrich & @sunrisemvmt.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Governor Cuomo Has Just Weeks to Embrace a Real Green New Deal for New York Sun, 05 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Two Years After New York City Expanded Protections for Freelancers, State Yet to Act http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8499-two-years-after-new-york-city-expanded-protections-for-freelancers-state-yet-to-act http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8499-two-years-after-new-york-city-expanded-protections-for-freelancers-state-yet-to-act freelancers rally

Council Members Rafael Espinal, left, & Brad Lander (photo: City Council)


Two years ago, the New York City Council’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act went into effect, giving freelance workers legal protections against wage theft, delayed payments, employer retaliation, and lack of contracts for their work. The first-of-its-kind law has since allowed the city to recoup thousands of dollars in wages for hundreds of freelancers and was broadly praised as a laudable and necessary step in a changed and still-changing economy.

But as the City Council, with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s support, has taken additional steps to help independent contractors and freelance workers in the booming ‘gig economy,’ similar action has been glaringly lacking at the state level.

In December, when Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his “first 100 days agenda” for the start of his third term in 2019, with a speech at the Roosevelt Institute in Manhattan, he spoke of New York’s changing economy and the challenges that freelance workers face, seemingly putting down a marker that the state would pursue action on the topic.

“The so-called gig economy is a growing economic engine. Freelancers, independent contractors, consultants are replacing traditional employees,” he said. “And while many welcome the freedom and the flexibility of these arrangements, there are also pitfalls that go along with the positive. Gig jobs do not come with paid sick leave, they do not come with vacation days, or parental rights, or workers' compensation, or protection against work related discrimination, or protections against wage and hour violations. We want an economy that moves forward. We want an economy of tomorrow. But we want an economy that moves everyone forward, not just some forward.”

But Cuomo did not follow suit with any proposals either in his January State of the State speech or executive budget presentation. The final budget agreement reached with the Legislature at the end of March did not include new protections for gig economy workers. It appears to be the only issue Cuomo mentioned in his December speech where he did not then follow up with concrete proposals.

In January, Hazel Crampton-Hays, then a spokesperson for the governor, said in a statement to Gotham Gazette that the administration was “exploring whether we need new rules to help protect impacted workers or whether the Department of Labor can issue regulations.”

In a statement on Thursday, Cuomo spokesperson Caitlin Girouard said, “We are engaging with the legislature, interested stakeholders and relevant state agencies on ways to address this issue and come up with meaningful solutions.”

New York City, meanwhile, has been attempting to bring a semblance of order and accountability to the gig economy through local laws. Last year, the City Council passed a living wage requirement for drivers who work for app-based ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. The bill was challenged in court by Lyft and upheld by a state Supreme Court judge just this Wednesday.

Council Member Brad Lander, who spearheaded the Freelance Isn’t Free Act, says his legislation should be enacted statewide, rather than through regulation by the Labor Department, as just the first step in addressing the woes of a growing sector of workers.

“The vote was 51 to nothing here, the Republicans voted for it. Everyone agrees you should not be cheated out of getting paid for work you did and I would think it would be a no-brainer to pass it,” he said in an interview outside City Hall earlier this year.

The law has clearly been working. According to data from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs, the agency tasked with enforcing the law, to date, the department has received 561 inquiries about the law and fielded 764 complaints from freelancers, and has helped them recover just under $1 million ($978,928.66) in lost wages.

The department is also set to hold a Freelance Isn’t Free Day on May 15, exactly two years since the law took effect, at the Freelancers Hub in Brooklyn.

“New York City knows the value of its many freelancer workers and the challenges they face, and we are proud to have implemented the Freelance Isn’t Free Act—the first and only law of its kind in the country,” DCA spokesperson Abigail Lootens said in a statement.

“Albany has just not gotten started yet,” said Lander, a Brooklyn Democrat. “I’m glad the governor spoke to it in his 100 day agenda, I’m sorry they haven’t yet moved forward with proposals. The Freelance Isn’t Free Act, taking it statewide, that’s a great place to start.”

Among the major challenges of creating new legislation, Lander said, is the lack of uniformity in who is considered a freelancer or independent contractor, and the myriad sectors where lax enforcement means workers are exploited. Day laborers and domestic workers, for instance, are viewed as independent workers but not officially considered so. (As an aside, Lander even said recently-passed laws to provide predictable schedules to fast food workers were necessary since they were increasingly being treated like independent workers.)

“As freelance and independent work have grown, a set of problems have grown in the economy because it wasn’t designed to provide protections and supports for those workers and there’s really some gaping holes,” Lander said. “Some of them are hard to fix. It’s not easy to figure out how to do portable benefits and retirement security. We should solve those problems and we’re gonna keep pushing forward here at the Council.”

At the state level, Assemblymember Harry Bronson, a Monroe County Democrat, has introduced a bill to ensure independent contractors are paid on time. In a statement, Bronson emphasized that the state’s workforce has dramatically changed but labor laws have not kept pace. “The modern economy has led to the rise of individual workers being classified - or intentionally misclassified - as “independent contractors” or “freelancers.” Many of these independent contractors do the same work as traditional employees, and in some cases participate in work alongside traditional employees, yet they are not afforded the same wage, hour, and benefit protections under the law as their traditionally employed counterparts,” he said. “This increases their vulnerability to wage theft and creates barriers to health, retirement and other benefits traditional employees receive.” Bronson also said he is working on similar legislation to protect workers in the gig economy.

New York City had more than half a million independent workers last year, according to a May 2018 report by freelance online platform Fiverr, which partnered with Rockbridge Associates to analyze Census Bureau statistics. The report found that independent workers brought in $103 billion in revenue for the state between 2011-2015.

“Governor Cuomo was absolutely right to mention the issues facing freelance and independent workers in his 2019 agenda but it’s really disappointing that the issues seem to have fallen off the radar since then,” said Eli Dvorkin, policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit think tank.

Dvorkin said the state’s social security net hasn’t kept up with the changing economy and that the state can’t “regulate our way out of this challenge” by solely focusing on issues such as protections against worker discrimination or how to classify an independent contractor. The state needs to take a proactive approach, he said, and could become “the leading state pioneering portable benefits, which would be a system of flexible benefits that are accessible to independent workers and that travel with workers as they move from job to job.”

No state across the country has passed legislation to establish portable benefits for independent workers, though a bill has twice been introduced in the Washington State legislature and Dvorkin speculated that it could soon pass. In New York, former Assemblymember Joe Morelle, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last year, floated the idea of legislation on portable benefits but it seemed to fizzle away.

For legislators looking for inspiration, Dvorkin said a portable benefits program could feasibly be modelled after the Black Car Fund, which was created by the state Legislature in 1999 to provide workers compensation to livery car drivers.

“We developed this system 20 years ago. We just haven’t really updated it or done anything really focused on these issues since then,” Dvorkin said. The fund’s recently-exposed fiscal management issues notwithstanding, he said it provides the basic framework for mandating a surcharge, either in one sector or across different sectors, that would feed a fund for workers, giving them access to health insurance and workers compensation, among other benefits.

“Without being able to pool your needs with others in your situation, your costs are much higher,” Dvorkin said. “On a pretty basic level, we think the right approach would be one in which the clients, customers, are paying at least part of the cost of the benefits. That would make the system fair.”

He also urged the state to push the burgeoning tech sector to innovate solutions to providing benefits. He cited, for example, startups like Propel, which created an app to provide access to SNAP benefits, and Alia, designed by NDWA Labs, an arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, to give house cleaners access to benefits.

“Building out an architecture for the evolving economy that provides better worker supports and protection is a big task,” Council Member Lander said. “We’ve gotten started on it at the city level but we have a long way to go.”

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

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Two Years After New York City Expanded Protections for Freelancers, State Yet to Act Thu, 02 May 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8481-where-top-city-and-state-officials-stand-on-raising-the-charter-school-cap govcuomo capi rally

Gov. Cuomo at a charter school rally (photo: governor's office)


After several new charter schools were approved last month, the cap on such schools allowed in New York City was reached. New York State has a cap on the number of issuable charters, which allow a group to start a new charter school, the controversial, privately-run, publicly-funded schools that mostly proliferate in the five boroughs and educate roughly 10% of the city's 1 million students. Within the larger cap, there is a sub-cap for charters that can be issued for schools in New York City.

In the past few months, 18 applicants for charters in New York City made it through the initial application process and a meeting of the SUNY Board’s charter schools committee, one of the two authorizers, but there were only seven charters left to be issued under the sub-cap.

New York City Charter School Center, among others, raised concerns about this earlier this year. James Merriman, the center's CEO, called the situation “the definition of a crisis” at the time. Charter school advocates had hoped that the sub-cap would be addressed in the state budget process, but there was little talk of an extension in Albany during budget negotiations.

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and longtime charter school supporter, favors lifting the cap. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a second-term Democrat and longtime charter opponent, is against lifting the cap; as is City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. It’s not clear how much say de Blasio, Johnson, and Williams will have, though, as the decision will be made by Cuomo and the state Legislature, where the Assembly appears cold to the idea of lifting the sub-cap while the Senate appears open to it.

While it was clear the New York City sub-cap on charter schools would be hit this year, Cuomo did not include raising the cap in his State of the State policy book or his executive budget. After the Cuomo administration declined to comment for a Gotham Gazette story in February, when the cap was about to be hit, a budget deal was reached with no mention of the cap.

“We support raising this artificial cap, but the legislature needs to agree as well,” said Cuomo senior advisor Rich Azzopardi, in a statement to Gotham Gazette, echoing a comment he made mid-April to the New York Post.

This public support heightens the potential that there could be a change to the charter school cap before the end of the legislative session in June. Cuomo has long been a strong supporter of charter schools and his advisor’s comments mirror Merriman’s statement that the cap is “arbitrary.”

A spokesperson for Senate Democrats told Gotham Gazette, “We will discuss as a conference” while a spokesperson for Assembly Democrats said “It is not something we are considering.”

State Senator John Liu, a Queens Democrat and the chair of the Senate’s subcommittee on New York City Schools, said “The charter cap should be increased only when charter schools are held to the same accountability standards as public schools. For every family waiting for a spot in a charter school, there are more families waiting for a spot in a preferred public school.”

Before Democrats took a majority in the State Senate last year, Senate Republicans and the Independent Democratic Conference would work with Cuomo to advance charter school priorities as part of the budget process or the regular negotiations over extending mayoral control of New York City public schools.

With the new budget, state lawmakers agreed to extend mayoral control for three years, until June 2022, after Mayor Bill de Blasio will leave office, but the charter cap was left out of the deal, perhaps indicative of the new Democratic reality in Albany.

This last happened in 2017 when a deal was struck for a two-year extension of mayoral control of New York City schools. The deal also allowed 22 revoked or surrendered charters to be reissued.

It’s unclear how hard Cuomo will push for the cap to be raised, and how receptive Senate Democrats might be. As often happens in Albany, a deal may be reached where Assembly Democrats get movement on a priority in exchange for agreeing to the cap being lifted.

Senate Democrats could also help mitigate potential opposition in key swing districts in next year’s legislative elections, when they will be trying to defend their new majority for the first time. Charter school interests are often major campaign donors -- including to Cuomo, the former IDC, and Senate Republicans -- and spenders on independent expenditure campaigns meant to influence elections.

Those charter interests have also spent heavily against de Blasio in the past. Asked for the mayor’s position on the charter school cap, a spokesperson pointed to a statement by the mayor from September and said “our position hasn’t changed.”

“I believe that the charter cap is perfectly sufficient the way it is,” de Blasio said at a press conference then, “and that our focus should not be on the expansion of charters. Our focus should be on doing the hard work of making our traditional public schools better.”

Other New York City elected officials are also against an expansion of charter schools in the city. “I have long had concerns about charter schools, which is why I do not support raising the cap. Chief among those concerns is the fact that charter schools do not have the same level of transparency that’s required of public schools, which is inherently unfair. Our focus should be on strengthening all of our schools and ensuring every student gets the opportunity to succeed,” said City Council Speaker Johnson in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

"The answer to the real issues in the NYC public school system is not to create further imbalance," Public Advocate Williams said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. "I do not support the the current push to raise the charter school cap. In fact, what the Governor should do is pay the public schools of the city the money they’ve been owed for decades. I also urge the Administration to launch a full investigation into the controversial disciplinary practices seen in some charter schools to combat wrongdoings that continue to occur.”

A spokesperson for Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a Democrat, said she is “opposed to raising the cap, period.” In previous testimony, Brewer has said that charter schools “are unsustainable education practices that serve the few at the expense of many.”

Spokespeople for other top city officials -- Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- did not provide comment for this story on where those officials stand on the charter school cap, despite multiple requests to each office.

Adam and Diaz Jr. have both been supportive of charter schools, while Stringer has been more cool to the privately-run, publicly-funded schools that now educate roughly 10% of the city’s students.

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by Andrew Millman, Gotham Gazette

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

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Where Top City and State Officials Stand on Raising the Charter School Cap Sun, 28 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
'Data for Progress' Poll Shows Support for 'Driver's Licenses for All' http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8475-poll-shows-support-for-drivers-licenses-for-all-new-yorkers http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8475-poll-shows-support-for-drivers-licenses-for-all-new-yorkers cm carlos press

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)


A new statewide poll by the progressive think tank Data for Progress finds plurality support for a proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, and majority support for legislation requiring “good cause” eviction of tenants and for legislation requiring schools to limit the use of student suspensions. The findings are likely to buoy Democrats in the Legislature as well as advocates attempting to pass those pieces of legislation, among other progressive priorities, before the end of the state legislative session in June.

The poll, conducted with 1,189 registered New York voters April 8-10, found that 42.4% of respondents indicated support for the “driver’s licenses for all” measure, compared to 37.6% opposed, with 16.1% not taking a position, and 4% unsure.

The percentage of respondents in support jumped slightly when the question was modified to include certain caveats: when told that driver’s licenses for all would improve road safety and bring in $50 million in annual revenue, the margin jumps to 47.4% support to 31% opposed; and when told that the measure would reduce the risk of deportation for immigrants, the margin increases to 46.9% support to 32.9% opposed.

The support numbers are a slight jump from those of a March Quinnipiac poll, which saw 37% support for the driver’s license measure, but the opposition is much lower than in that poll, which saw 57% opposition.

Among respondents, 40.3% are registered Democrats, 17.9% registered Republicans, 13.8% registered with a different party, and 22.7% not affiliated with any party; 71.1% of respondents self-identified as white, 12.9% as black, and 16% identified as a different race.

The poll was conducted using “online web panels in English,” according to Data for Progress. “Responses were weighted by gender, age, race, party registration, geography and education to targets derived from the most recent voter file available, ensuring that the poll reflects the current New York State electorate, without taking into consideration an individual’s probability of voting in any given election. A subset of responses were matched to the voter file to validate the findings of the poll."

Since the passage earlier this year of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to qualify for state higher education aid programs, immigrants’ rights activists have shifted their focus to the driver’s licenses proposal as their foremost legislative priority.

“These data show what we’re seeing in communities across the state, including the suburbs and rural areas: there is broad support for restoring access to driver’s licenses to all qualified drivers, regardless of immigration status,” said Javier Valdes, co-Executive Director of Make the Road New York, in a statement. “A surging chorus of New Yorkers want legislators to take action to make our roads safer by enabling all drivers to be able to go through the same licensing process—which would also boost the state’s economy and keep families together.”

In January, the New York Immigration Coalition launched a $1 million campaign to promote the driver’s license measure, spending on TV, radio, social media, and billboard ads as well as on lobbying.

A 2017 study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, found that the measure would bring in about $26 million in one-time revenues, such as license application fees and license plate fees, and $57 million in annual recurring revenues such as car registration fees and gas taxes. These revenues would come from an estimated 265,000 new drivers who would obtain licenses in the state if the measure were to pass.

Like other proposals, the driver’s license measure is a longstanding policy goal for activists that has been given new life by the shift in Albany to full Democratic control. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tweeted in March that he would look to advance the measure post-budget, and Governor Andrew Cuomo publicly supports it, but Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been noncommittal.

Good Cause Eviction
As for the good cause eviction measure, which would prohibit evictions for failure to pay an “unconscionable” rent increase, the polling margin is overwhelming, at 68.1% support compared to 17.4% opposed, with 11.3% not taking a position and 3.2% unsure.

Sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar, a Brooklyn Democrat, and Assemblymember Pamela Hunter, a Syracuse Democrat, the legislation would prohibit landlords from evicting market-rate tenants for failure to pay an “unconscionable” rent increase, defined in the legislation as a percentage increase beyond 150% of the annual percentage change in the regional Consumer Price Index.

The measure would be a significant step toward “universal rent control,” which has become a rallying cry of the left and a source of serious concern for real estate interests.

The state’s rent regulations will expire on June 15 if legislators do not renew them beforehand. Housing affordability advocates have identified this session as an opportunity to get various long-sought reforms to the state’s regulations passed by the now-Democratic state government, such as repealing vacancy decontrol and vacancy bonuses, and scrapping or significantly modifying rent hikes associated with “major capital improvements.”

“New Yorkers across this state know that there’s an affordable housing crisis, and part of the way to address it is to ensure that all tenants have basic protections,” said Delsenia Glover, Executive Director of Tenants and Neighbors, in a statement responding to the poll. “This good cause eviction bill is wildly popular because it would address the gaping hole in our rent laws that currently leaves five million renters statewide out in the cold.”

Limiting School Suspensions
Meanwhile, 55.6% of respondents to the poll supported the idea of legislation to limit the use of student suspensions in school compared to 21.9% opposed, with 19% not taking a position and 3.6% unsure. Poll-takers were asked, “In New York State, students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately suspended and disciplined for minor school infractions. There is currently a bill in the legislature that would ensure that school districts implement codes of conduct limiting the use of suspension as a disciplinary response to minor infractions, and encouraging the use of alternatives to suspension. Do you support or oppose this proposal?”

The Safe and Supportive Schools Act limiting school suspensions, sponsored by Brooklyn Democratic Senator Velmanette Montgomery and Queens Democratic Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, has also seen renewed interest this session, though it’s been a lower profile issue than driver’s licenses or rent reform. The measure would prohibit suspensions of longer than 20 days (currently suspensions can last an entire academic year), would ban suspensions of students in kindergarten through third grade, and would prohibit suspensions for minor offenses such as dress code violations or tardiness.

The bill would also require schools to establish a code of conduct to govern conduct and disciplinary responses tied to offenses, replacing more ad hoc dispersal of punishment. Data has shown that black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately likely to receive harsher punishments for the same infractions. John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Data Collaborative for Justice released a report in March showing black students are three times more likely than white students to be suspended for the same offenses, while students with disabilities are twice as likely to be suspended as their non-disabled peers.

Similar changes as included the state bill have been advanced in New York City, leading to a sharp drop in the use of suspensions during Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, though suspensions rose for this first time in his mayoralty last year.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

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'Data for Progress' Poll Shows Support for 'Driver's Licenses for All' Thu, 25 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000
New York May Soon Reverse 1992 Ban on Having Children Through Surrogacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8464-new-york-could-reverse-ban-having-children-surrogacy http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/8464-new-york-could-reverse-ban-having-children-surrogacy andrew cuomo gov photos albany

Sen. Hoylman, middle, with his husband & daughter, & Gov. Cuomo, right  (photo: governor's office)


When Marisa Horowitz-Jaffe and her husband, Doug Jaffe, wanted to have a baby, they faced numerous obstacles before the birth of their twins via a surrogate in a Dallas hospital eight years ago.

Their twins were born in a Texas hospital because the couple was forced to travel out of state in order to use a surrogate. New York is one of only two states in the country to criminalize surrogacy, a fact Horowitz-Jaffe was unaware of when her fertility issues began.

“Finding out surrogacy was illegal where I live, I was like, ‘What?’ It was like New York state giving me a middle finger,” she said. Paying for airfare, hotels, and other incidentals on top of fertility treatments, as well as the logistics of shipping temperature-controlled medications and transporting their premature twins back to New York added to an already stressful experience, she said.

The couple was not able to conceive a baby through intercourse. Determined to have a child, Horowitz-Jaffe went through rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryonic transfers, including using egg donors. She went through multiple failed procedures and a miscarriage of a 20-week-old fetus before she and her husband made the decision to use a surrogate through an agency, which matched them with a woman in Texas.

Five years later, with 12 total rounds of IVF, and $250,000 spent out of pocket, Horowitz-Jaffe and her husband finally had not one child, but two. It would have been far easier, she said, if their surrogate had lived in the next town over, instead of thousands of miles away.

Now, a four-year-old bill in Albany could soon become law and prevent New Yorkers from having a similar ordeal. The bill would not only legalize surrogacy but add protections for surrogates, including health insurance provided by the intended parents. Called the Child-Parent Security Act and sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, and Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Democrat from White Plains, the bill aims to repeal the state’s 1992 ban on surrogacy, which specifically prohibits parents from hiring or compensating a person for carrying a child to term for them.

Bans in New York and elsewhere, many since reversed, came soon after a famous 1980s case. In 1985, Mary Beth Whitehead of New Jersey agreed to be a surrogate for a male-female couple and do so using her own egg, as the wife in the couple was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Whitehead was paid $10,000 for her role in the pregnancy, but after the birth decided to keep the baby and return the money. Conflict ensued, turning the incident into the famous ‘Baby M’ case, in which New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled that paying women to bear children was illegal. Since then, surrogacies across the country have been gestational, meaning both a donor egg and donor sperm were used.

Marc Solomon, an LGBT activist who spent 15 years working on marriage equality, is overseeing a campaign in support of the Child-Parent Security Act through the Family Equality Council, a nonprofit organization.

Solomon mentioned ways in which lesbian parents or single women are not protected under current New York law, such as non-biological parents having to go through a costly adoption process to be legal parents of their children. Single women, according to Solomon, have no legal recourse if they have a child with a known (non-anonymous) sperm donor, as the donor could sue for custody of the child. Both of these scenarios would be avoided with the passage of the bill.

If the bill passes, it would allow non-biological parents to go through the court to get a certificate stating their legal parentage of a child carried by a surrogate. “[The bill] would put New York in the caliber of states that it’s usually associated with, like California, Washington state, Connecticut, other progressive states where surrogacy is allowed under certain circumstances, where everyone is protected,” said Solomon.

The bill was originally introduced in 2015 and, according to Paulin, could not pass the state Senate due to the Republican majority, which acted as a counterweight and oppositional force to the Assembly Democratic majority for most of the past several decades, until this year. Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan’s office did not respond to multiple inquiries for comment for this story. With the Senate now controlled by Democrats after last year’s elections and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo showing support for the bill in his 2019 state of the state policy book, the chances of it passing are greatly improved as the spring legislative session moves ahead.

“It’s never had as much traction as it’s had this year,” said Paulin.

With a new state budget in place as of April 1, the legislative session will now deal with a variety of other policy matters until its scheduled conclusion in mid-June. It’s unclear which of a long list of issues – including surrogacy legalization, rent regulation reform, marijuana legalization, and more – will find resolution.

An attempt to pass the Child-Parent Security Act was made earlier in the year with its inclusion in Cuomo’s 2019-2020 budget proposal. It was ultimately excluded from the budget deal that emerged among Cuomo and the legislative majorities. Hoylman, whose two children were carried by a surrogate in California, said changes had been made to the bill’s text and there was not enough time in the budget process to address them before it was voted upon.

Those changes, according to Hoylman, include ensuring surrogates have legal counsel and health insurance provided by the intended parents and were implemented following some opposition from advocacy groups. Cuomo’s policy statement also stipulates surrogates be allowed to make their own health care decisions, which would include their right to an abortion. Surrogates and intended parents would enter into a legal contract, ensuring what the governor’s policy proposal called “fully-informed consent.”

“The Governor believes New York surrogacy laws are antiquated and discriminatory against same-sex couples and couples struggling with fertility,” a Cuomo spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “That’s why he proposed righting this wrong by creating a new and long-overdue path for these New Yorkers to have children that provides legal protections for the parents-to-be and the women who choose to become surrogates. We look forward to working with the Legislature to address this issue."

“Overall, we need to make certain that wellbeing of surrogates and donors is the centerpiece of any legislation,” said Hoylman. A revision of the bill is expected to be made available in the next week or two. Both Hoylman and Paulin said they expect the legislation to be voted on this spring.

Even if the legislation becomes law, the surrogacy process itself will remain expensive, as it is not covered by health insurance. To Solomon, that’s an additional reason to legalize surrogacy in New York. “The expense of having to go in and out of state, and have a surrogate fly in and go to doctor’s appointments, and go to the delivery and travel back, adds thousands of dollars to the process,” he said. “If you’re concerned about making the opportunity of having a child available to people of lower means, it’s a case for legalizing and having surrogacy in New York.”

Horowitz-Jaffe hopes the bill will pass sooner rather than later, so other families do not experience what she went through to have her twins. “I don’t know why [politicians] have to make things harder. Going through infertility itself sucks,” she said. “And when they throw this on top of it? It doesn’t have to be this way.”

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New York May Soon Reverse 1992 Ban on Having Children Through Surrogacy Mon, 22 Apr 2019 04:00:00 +0000