By Assemblyman Will Barclay
The 2013 legislative session has ended. In this week’s column, I want to share my thoughts on some positive steps the Legislature took to enact change and also highlight a few matters that will, unfortunately, remain status quo for now.
Developmental Disability Funding restored
An agreement to restore funding for the state’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities passed the Legislature. Both the Senate and Assembly agreed to restore $90 million to the agency. The agency’s budget was cut by $90 million in the 2013-14 budget. While I’m pleased this funding will be restored, this could have been avoided during budget negotiations. Instead, we gave rebate checks to families earning as much as $300,000 and $420 million in tax credits to film producers. Thankfully, a grassroots effort began to advocate that funding be restored. Cuts to this agency were egregious. Not only was it $90 million in cuts at the state level, but the agency also receives matching federal dollars to operate, which would have resulted in a $180 million cut overall. Many lawmakers, including myself, sponsored legislation to restore the funding. I was pleased to vote in favor. Provided the Governor signs this bill into law, agencies will be able to provide services and won’t be forced to cut programs necessary to people with disabilities.
Farmers Breathe a Sigh of Relief
I was pleased the Farmworkers Labor Act did not become law. It is a poorly-conceived bill. It would create an 8-hour day for farmworkers and farmworkers would also be allowed to strike. It’s simply not feasible. Various times throughout the growing season, farmers are forced to work when crops are ripe and weather conditions are favorable, or else suffer extreme losses. The labor bill was pushed by downstate lawmakers who have little idea what it takes to run a family farm.
A measure that did pass the Legislature and will hopefully be signed by the Governor was an agreement to lower the cap on assessments for farmland. Currently, a farm’s assessment can increase up to 10% from the previous year. We capped that growth at 2% annually. This is good news for farmers. It will help contain their costs of high property tax growth from year to year. I was pleased to be a sponsor of this bill in the Assembly.
Ethics Legislation Stalled
I was disappointed no changes to our ethics laws were made. This should have been a priority, especially for the Assembly Democratic Leadership, many of whom were ensconced in the recent scandal which involved former Assemblyman Vito Lopez. He was accused of sexual harassment. A detailed investigative report revealed deals made behind closed doors by the Assembly Speaker and quiet payoffs to the tune of $100,000 of those who were allegedly sexually harassed. I proposed legislation that would create an independent ethics committee. We need one that is independent of the Speaker of the Assembly. If there is an ethical complaint, those complaints should be handled promptly and independently through an independent committee. We need to make this a priority. So many lawmakers have been embroiled in controversies. This is a distraction for the public and for legislators who are trying to improve our state.
Public Campaigns Held Off
Often, you hear the phrases ethics and campaign financing reform used interchangeably. This troubles me greatly. These are two very different topics and each deserves its own debate. During the last weeks of session, the Governor put forth a proposal to strengthen ethics, but he also tied in publicly funded campaigns in that same bill. Thankfully, this bill was not brought to the floor. The Assembly passed what it called the 2013 Fair Elections Act on May 7. I voted against this. This measure would give public dollars to candidates who apply and qualify to run a political campaign. The public campaign financing measures proposed would create something similar to New York City’s publicly financed campaigns, and would provide millions of taxpayer dollars each time an election is held. With 213 lawmakers, the attorney general, the gubernatorial all holding elections, this could add up to millions in recurring costs for taxpayers. Fundamentally, I also disagree with taxpayer dollars supporting political views. I, for one, support candidates who hold values that are similar to my own. I don’t want my taxpayer dollars supporting candidates with whom I don’t agree. Thankfully, this did not pass the Senate.
SAFE Act Remains Law
The most disappointing part of this session was the so-called SAFE Act’s passage. It was rushed through without public input. This was an unwarranted infringement on our Second Amendment rights. New Yorkers responded immediately and I continue to hear from many who point out the problems with the law and the way in which it passed. We rallied in Albany and called for change. Unfortunately, this fell on deaf ears. The Assembly Democratic Majority will not consider its repeal.
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