“As we end the 2016 legislative session, we leave Albany in the same condition as when we began – functionally broken. Despite early promises for reform, lawmakers turned a blind eye to public demand and urgent need for meaningful change.
It has been a disappointing year on several fronts. Albany’s uninspiring new ethics ‘reforms’ will not address the core issues of Albany corruption and were inexplicably delivered in the dark of night without public review. Special interests fueled an economic policy agenda that will eviscerate job-creating businesses. The most important spending decisions and public policies are developed in secret. Too few in the Capitol control too much power.
Instead of learning from past mistakes, Albany operates as if we can get ahead by standing still. New Yorkers deserve better. Fortunately, some measures Assembly Republicans have fought for and supported for years became a reality for New Yorkers in 2016. They include:
- Heroin and Opioid Legislation – The Assembly Minority held forums in every region of the state, listening to countless heartbreaking stories of addiction and tragedy. I am extremely proud of the time and energy our members invested on this crucial issue. While the fight against heroin and opioid abuse and addiction is far from over, the legislative package represents a solid first step to combat this terrifying epidemic.
- Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) – After years of calling for a vote, a bill to legalize MMA finally reached the Assembly floor and passed with widespread support. New York, the last state to authorize professional MMA, has finally caught up to the rest of the nation.
- Breast Cancer Screenings – This legislation encourages early detection of breast cancer by increasing access to, and the availability of, breast cancer screenings. The bill extends hours for screening at 210 hospital-based mammography facilities across the state and eliminates insurance hurdles for mammograms and other screening and diagnostic imaging procedures to detect breast cancer.
- Veterans’ Buyback Bill – The governor vetoed the bill the last two years, but with intense pressure to honor those who fought to protect our freedoms, legislation to grant up to three years of service credit to all veterans in the state retirement system who were honorably discharged passed both houses and was signed by the governor.
Despite these positive steps, we close the 2016 legislative session without important reforms that would improve the quality of life for our constituents and protect our communities. Sadly, the governor and Majority Conferences are far better at passing frivolous bills and making empty promises than solving problems. Some key items that went unaddressed were:
- Real Ethics Reform – Yet again, Albany failed to scratch the surface of substantial ethics reform. Six months of rhetoric provided no results, and New Yorkers are still waiting for a pension forfeiture bill that includes all convicted felons who abused their taxpayer-funded positions; term limits for legislative leaders and committee chairs; greater oversight of the state’s economic development programs and discretionary spending; replacing the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with an ethics watchdog not controlled by political appointees; and an open and transparent budget process that welcomes input from all.
- Help for Small Businesses – 2016 has been the perfect storm for businesses already operating in the nation’s worst economic environment. After passing the job-killing $15/hour minimum wage and paid family leave mandates, the governor and legislative leaders empaneled a toothless Business Regulation Council to help improve the state’s toxic business environment. The council’s disappointing recommendations were released in early June and no action has been taken on any of its suggestions. New York, ranked the nation’s worst business climate, somehow became even more undesirable this year.
- Brittany’s Law – New York City has a registry of individuals who have abused animals. But New York State has yet to create a registry of violent felons who have abused women and children. Brittany’s Law would save lives, prevent crimes, and make communities safer. Despite passing the Senate for the seventh time with overwhelming bipartisan support, Assembly Democrats continue to block the bill from moving to the floor.
- START-UP NY Report – Empire State Development Corporation has a legal obligation to provide an update by April 1 on the progress of the governor’s START-UP NY program – his signature economic development program – and millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent promoting it. The report is more than two months late, in what represents a continued pattern of publicly-funded programs being shrouded in secrecy by this administration.
- Making College More Affordable – The Assembly Minority proposed a number of measures to help students and families handle the skyrocketing cost of college. More New York students should be eligible for tuition assistance, and the level of aid available needs to be increased. Unfortunately those measures were blocked, as Assembly Democrats continued to support taxpayer-funded college tuition for illegal immigrants and inmates.
Make no mistake, the end of the 2016 session does not mean the Assembly Minority is giving up and walking away. The missed opportunities on these critical measures will become the cornerstone priorities moving forward.”