End of Session Wraps up with Changes to Heroin Treatment, Some Ethics

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
The 2016 state legislative session ended in the early morning hours of June 18 after a long week of debate and votes on hundreds of bills.

Notwithstanding the broken legislative process, the Legislature and the Governor were able to come to agreement on several pieces of key legislation that will benefit New York.

Two of the most significant issues that were addressed were ethics and NY’s heroin epidemic.

With the conviction and sentencing of former State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, New Yorkers’ trust in state government is at an all-time low.

Citizens have been calling out for reform but there have been differences as to what ethics reform should entail.

Many in the media are demanding public financing of campaigns, although the public, rightfully so, remains skeptical of taxpayers paying for the campaigns of politicians.

Others want a full-time legislature.

Some, including myself, would like to see term limits imposed on leadership positions.

The one reform measure that almost everyone agrees on is that public officials who are convicted of a felony in relation to their public duties (e.g., bribery) should not be able to keep their state pension.

During this year’s budget negotiations, there was a three-way agreement between the Assembly, Senate and Governor to pass a resolution to amend the State Constitution to permit the forfeiture of state pensions for those public officials convicted of a felony.

However, for inexplicable reasons, the Democrat majority in the Assembly went back on the agreement and refused to pass the resolution.

Thankfully, due to public outcry, the Assembly Democrats finally relented and the Assembly passed the resolution at the end of this session.

Because it takes a State Constitutional amendment to enact pension forfeiture, the legislature will again have to pass the same resolution next year.

After that happens, there will be a state referendum on the issue where all New York voters will have an opportunity to vote.

Due to the common sense nature of the issue and due to its overwhelming popularity, I have every confidence that New Yorkers will vote in favor of pension forfeiture.

Another big issue that was addressed at the end of session is the state’s heroin epidemic.

Over the last several years, members of my conference, the State Senate Republican conference (including State Senator Patty Ritchie, who has been a leader on this issue) and the Governor have been holding separate hearings throughout the state regarding the issue of heroin.

At the hearings I attended, legislators heard from recovering addicts, families of those addicted, healthcare workers and others involved in the treatment of people addicted to heroin, and law enforcement.

It doesn’t take long sitting in one of these hearings to understand just how much of a problem heroin is and how much more the state needed to do to help mitigate this crisis.

It is a not a city or rural crisis, it isn’t a Downstate or Upstate issue, it doesn’t affect just one socio-economic class — it is affecting everyone in this state and it is an epidemic.

That’s why it is good news that the Legislature in bi-partisan fashion passed legislation that would, among other things, provide for greater insurance coverage for heroin treatment, limit opioid prescriptions, and increase education on addiction and pain management for healthcare providers.

The Governor should be commended for his efforts on this issue and also for signing this legislation so quickly after it passed the Legislature.

It is now law.

While this legislation is a good start, more will need to be done going forward to continue to try to get a handle on this crisis.

Next week, I will provide more end of session news.

If you have any questions or comments or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You can also find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.