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Legislative Session Leaves Much to Be Done, With One Grand Exception

August 17, 2011

Author: Kristin Brown

After the 2011-12 state budget passed - on time - Empire Justice Center’s policy team immediately shifted gears to focus on our other legislative priorities http://tinyurl.com/3zqyw4h and to respond to a number of bills that unexpectedly demanded our attention.

From April to the end of June, we worked with colleagues in coalition and individually in an effort to preserve child care subsidies for low income working parents and to reform the foreclosure process to protect homeowners from being foreclosed on by banks that don’t have the right to so.  We pushed for New York to pass Health Care Exchange legislation and we fought back proposals that would harm low income consumers. We also worked to support efforts to bring Marriage Equality to New York. 

We want to thank everyone who engaged in these efforts - to those of you who provided leadership, offered support and responded to our calls to action.  Together through all the strategy sessions, meetings, phone calls, facebook updates, thousands of emails and dozens of trips to Albany to talk to lawmakers, even in the cases where we were not successful, we were able to build a strong foundation for our continued efforts in the coming year.

In particular, the work that was done to introduce ourselves and our issues to the new administration, new legislators, new committee chairs in both the Senate and the Assembly and new key staff people throughout state government will be incredibly helpful going forward. 

We are poised for another fast paced year and another difficult budget in which the state will need to solve a multi-billion dollar budget gap. We will of course keep all of this in mind as we develop our legislative priorities for 2012.  Below are  highlights from 2011 and some hints at our 2012 priorities. 

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 many of the substantive areas of poverty law in which we work.  See three related articles in this issue of the Legal Services Journal: Marriage Equality: A Historic Victory for LGBT Families in New York on page 7, OCFS Issues Guidance on Adoption Study Criteria Related to Sexual Orientation and Length of Marriage on page 9; DOMA Still Governs at SSA on page 12.

Make Definition of Domestic Violence Consistent Across All State Programs
A.627/S.4222   STATUS:  PASSED

This law 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 New York’s 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. For more information on domestic violence related legislation see the 2011 Domestic Violence Legislative Update on page 10 of this newsletter.

Ensure Due Process Protections as Fair Hearing Evidence Shifts to Electronic Format
A.8087/S.4828   STATUS:  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.  Given this, we believe it is premature to implement the process statewide; before legislation is passed to achieve statewide implementation, key due process protections must be put in place.  As a result of these concerns, we worked with colleagues to slow down this bill so that these issues could be properly addressed.  For more on this issue see: Fair Hearing Update:  The Fair Hearing Evidence Management System (FHEMS) and The Electronic Evidence Packet System (EEPS) on pages 18-19.

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 to stall this bill, which we believe will harm low income consumers. The legislation would allow check cashers to make loans that mainstream, regulated banks and credit unions are currently prohibited from making - thus creating an unlevel playing field that would disadvantage mainstream lenders.  The existing protections and limitations were put in place to protect New Yorkers from payday and other non mainstream lenders that have been known to target low income and struggling consumers for loans and then charge exceptionally high interest rates.  For more information see memo in opposition:  http://tinyurl.com/3b5wkm8 .

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, in the vast majority of cases, users of these services are left in worse shape than when they began.  To address these concerns, other states have acted to strengthen consumer protections and some have banned for profit debt settlement companies altogether.  Out of concern that the legislation would provide legitimacy to an industry that has a track record of decimating consumer credit histories while collecting exorbitant fees, Empire Justice Center joined with consumer groups across the state including Consumers Union, NYPIRG and NEDAP in educating lawmakers about this issue and filing memos in opposition.  We strongly believe that New York must study this issue further before taking any action.  For more information see memo in opposition:
http://tinyurl.com/3hyyslu .

UNRESOLVED:

New York Must Pass Health Insurance Exchange Legislation to Ensure Access to Federal Funding   A.8514/S.5849
STATUS:  NOT PASSED. YET.

In accordance with the Affordable Care Act, New York needs legislation establishing a Health Benefit Exchange 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, Exchange legislation must be passed. 

Late in the 2012 legislative session, Governor Cuomo came out with a program bill to establish a State Health Insurance Exchange.  The bill would establish a single Exchange to be operated by a new public benefit corporation that would have the authority to regulate insurance plans and act as a buyer to negotiate discounted rates.  The Senate then produced its own bill, under which the Exchange authority would have no power to regulate or act as a buyer.  The compromise bill that emerged passed the Assembly and stalled in the Senate on the last day of session.  Several important pieces of the Governor’s bill were lost in the compromise (e.g. the conflict of interest provision for Board members).  We still hope for improvements, which could gain traction from the proposed regulations for state exchanges issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in July. 

New York’s compromise bill creating a state Exchange, as of this writing, provides for: 1) Regulatory authority and authority to do Medicaid enrollment; 2) Stakeholder consultation and consumer slots on all regional advisory committees; 3) Studies on a wide variety of topics, including active purchaser, disparities, basic health plan, integration of public insurance programs, and the Navigator program to assist consumers.

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 would require that only the owner and holder of a mortgage and note, or its agent, would be able to foreclose 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, banks and mortgage servicers are bringing foreclosure actions without proper ownership and\or the appropriate paperwork: the mortgage and the note – leaving homeowners and future buyers of the home at risk.  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 see Standing to Sue in Foreclosure Cases on page 36 of this newsletter.

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 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 see State Budget Cuts to Child Care Threaten Well Being of Children in Low-Income Working Families article on page 13 of this newsletter.

 





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