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Highlights from the 2011 Legislative Session


2011 Legislative Session Brings Victories, Disappointments…

After all the emails, strategy sessions, meetings, Facebook updates and trips to Albany, the 2011 Legislative session closed with a huge amount of excitement about New York’s new civil rights law that will bring marriage equality to same sex couples.  Much gratitude and appreciation goes to the amazing groups who worked on all of these important issues this year – and to our elected officials who are ultimately responsible for all of our “wins”!  Finally, many, many thanks to the hundreds of you who responded to our action alerts on marriage equality, foreclosure reform and preservation of child care for working families.  We thought you might like to hear the highlights of legislative advocacy this year!

WINS:

Historic Passage of Marriage Equality Law in New York - A.8354 and A.8520/S.5857
STATUS: PASSED
This ground-breaking and historic law, rooted in equality and fairness, extends the right to marry to all couples in New York, regardless of their gender.  With the passage of this law, New York is now the sixth and largest state in the United States to adopt marriage equality.  Other states include: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, Iowa, and the District of Columbia.  Critical to the passage of this law were the comprehensive exemptions to religious organizations, enacted in a separate chapter amendment.  Over the next several months, Empire Justice Center will be providing further legal analyses surrounding the impact of marriage equality on the myriad substantive areas of poverty law in which we work. 

Make Definition of Domestic Violence Consistent Across All State Programs - A.627/S.4222
STATUS: PASSED
This bill amends the Social Services Law definition of “victim of domestic violence” to better comport with expanded definitions in both the Family Court Act and Criminal Procedure Law.  Social Services Law definition determines intimate partner violence victim access to residential and non-residential domestic violence services, as well as access to the public assistance waivers and protections available under our Family Violence Option. It also provides victims access to address confidentiality protections in civil proceedings and access to anti-discrimination and confidentiality protections contained under Insurance Law.  Empire Justice and domestic violence advocates have long supported this change and are very pleased with its passage.

Establish an Address Confidentiality Program for Domestic Violence Victims who Must Keep Their Location Secret - A.628/S.5293
STATUS: PASSED
If signed by the Governor this bill will add New York to the growing list of states that allow victims of domestic violence to substitute their actual mailing address for one provided by the state.  The bill allows for receipt and forwarding of mail and for service of process with the Secretary of State.  Similar bills were passed in 2009 and 2010, but vetoed by Governor Paterson.  We are hopeful that Governor Cuomo will sign the bill this year. 

Don’t Allow Check Cashers to Act as Payday Lenders in New York – A.7047a/S.3841a
STATUS: NOT PASSED
With New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, we worked hard to make sure that this dangerous bill did not get passed this year.  The bill would allow for an unlevel playing field by making it possible for check cashers to make high-cost loans above our 25% interest rate cap that mainstream, regulated banks and credit unions are currently prohibited from making. These prohibitions have protected New Yorkers from payday and other non mainstream lenders that prey on low income and struggling consumers by charging exceptionally high interest rates.  For more information, click here.
 
Ensure Due Process Protections as Fair Hearing Evidence Shifts to Electronic Format – A.8087/S.4828
STATUS: NOT PASSED
This bill would allow social services districts to present evidentiary packages SOLELY in electronic, rather than paper, format at fair hearings.  This process is being piloted in New York City and has yet to be properly assessed.  It is premature to implement it statewide, and before doing so, key due process protections must be put in place.  As a result, we worked with colleagues to slow down this bill so that these issues could be addressed.  

Don’t legitimize for-profit debt settlement companies in New York State – A.8212a/S.5215
STATUS: NOT PASSED
This controversial bill appears to provide consumer protections by licensing and regulating for profit debt settlement and debt management services conducted in New York State, bringing them under the jurisdiction of the Department of Financial Regulation.  However, Empire Justice Center joined with consumer groups across the state including Consumers Union, NYPIRG and NEDAP in educating lawmakers and filing memos in opposition out of concern that the legislation provides legitimacy to an industry that has a track record of decimating consumer credit histories while collecting exorbitant fees.  In the vast majority of cases, users of these services are left in worse shape than when they began.  New York must study this issue further. Other states are strengthening consumer protections and some have banned for profit debt settlement companies altogether.  For more information, click here.

LOSSES:

Help Protect Homeowners and Shorten the Foreclosure Process- Clarify Standing to Sue in Foreclosure Actions – A.629b/S.697a
STATUS: NOT PASSED
This bill requires all plaintiffs in foreclosure actions to file verification of ownership of the mortgage note with the complaint, ensuring that only the true owner and holder of the mortgage and note forecloses on a home.  It would also allow the homeowner to raise the question of standing at any time – right now it must be questioned within the first month.  As it currently stands, a plaintiff must own and hold the mortgage and note to have standing to sue, yet banks are bringing foreclosure actions against borrowers without proper ownership and without the appropriate paperwork.  This bill provides transparency for the courts and homeowners, better enabling them to determine whether the plaintiff is the proper party.  It also would protect future buyers who currently may face title issues if the property was foreclosed by the wrong party.   While this bill did pass the Assembly and had momentum in the Senate, we were not successful in getting it passed this year. For more information, click here.

Prioritize Child Care Dollars to Keep Low Income Parents Working – A.8101/S.5586 
STATUS: NOT PASSED
Substantial cuts to child care funding this year will make it close to impossible for local social services districts to avoid cutting child care subsidies for working parents, putting jobs and the safety of children placed in less expensive care at risk.  This bill would temporarily prioritize child care dollars that retain jobs by allowing new mothers to care for their children under the age of 1 at home for an additional 9 months.  Despite the hard work of our colleagues across the state and over one thousand emails to legislators on this issue, we were unsuccessful this year.  We hope to be able to get this legislation passed next year.  For more information, click here.

Ensure that New York Has Access to Federal Resources to Set Up our Health Insurance Exchange - A.8514/S.5849
STATUS: NOT PASSED.
In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, New York needs legislation establishing a Health Benefits Exchange, a public benefits corporation that will serve as a marketplace for the purchase and sale of qualified health plans.  New York has already been awarded Level I funding from the federal government to begin the work required to establish its Exchange.  In order to apply for Level II funding which would extend over the next five years, we must pass Exchange legislation. Unfortunately this legislation did not pass in the Senate – it’s unclear what will happen next. 
     
To keep up with our policy activities, please “like” us on Facebook, where we will continue to post interesting articles and all of our policy documents! 
 

For more information, please contact:


Kristin Brown

Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210 


(518) 462-6831
(518) 935-2852
kbrown@empirejustice.org

06/30/11