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I am a strong supporter of public education, which is the foundation of our democracy and for ensuring equality of opportunity for all. I have always been a fierce advocate for our public schools and ensuring all children have access to a quality education. As Chair of the NYS Senate Education Committee, I am extremely proud that last year’s budget implemented a decade long overdue plan to fully fund NYS’ portion of public education funding. This is an incredibly important achievement for New York’s schoolchildren, particularly for low-income students – an achievement on which I worked tirelessly. This year, we continued to build on last year’s historic investment by appropriating the second year funding of $1.5 billion owed under Foundation Aid, and by the end of next year’s budget, every district will reach 100% of the amount owed under the Foundation Aid formula.
In addition, we expanded full day Pre-K for 4 year olds across New York State. We also responded to the needs of students as we continue to recover from COVID closures. We increased funding for schools serving children with disabilities, and serving deaf and blind students. We provided new funding for critical student mental health services, summer learning, after-school or extended day and year programs. I am committed to continuing to build on these achievements until all New York school children have the robust education they need and deserve.
Women's Reproductive Rights
The Supreme Court decision to overturn decades of precedent surrounding abortion is devastating to millions of Americans, and completely inconsistent with the views of the majority of Americans. A constitutional right, granted expressly nearly 50 years ago, has been eliminated. A woman’s right to decide her future, to become a parent or not, and to make decisions about her body cannot be relegated to a state-by-state approach that will allow the complete ban on abortions in many states. In anticipation of the Supreme Court decision, I co-sponsored legislation, subsequently signed by Governor Hochul, to protect patients who travel to New York from states that have taken away their reproductive rights (S9039/A10094A) as well as medical professionals who provide the healthcare services, including prohibiting medical misconduct charges for performing reproductive health care (S9079A/A9687B); forbiding New York State from cooperating with out-of-state legal cases involving abortion except in limited circumstances (S9077/A10372); prohibiting medical malpractice insurers from taking adverse action against a healthcare provider in New York State for providing legal reproductive services (S9080B/A9718B); and directing the Commissioner of Health to study the impact of limited service pregnancy centers (S470/A5499).
When we saw the breadth of the majority and concurring opinions in the Dobbs case, we knew we had to enshrine protections in the New York State constitution, and during this summer’s Extraordinary Session, we started that process. The legislature adopted the first passage of a State Constitional amendment granting constitutional protections to women which expressly includes abortion, LGBTQ New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color, while maintaining religious protections.
We are in the midst of a climate crisis. I am acutely aware of the impacts of climate change on our earth and on constituents and communities as they experience increasingly frequent and severe flooding and rising sea levels, and I am deeply committed to addressing this crisis. I have helped pass historic measures, including the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) which the NY Times declared “One of the World’s Most Ambitious Climate Plans”. I fought for and helped secure increased Clean Water Funding and Environmental Protection Fund funding, and I have supported and advanced a number of measures to address the climate crisis. The legislature adopted important environmental justice legislation, including legislation necessary to pass a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment for all New Yorkers, which the voters adopted.
In my role as Chair of the Senate Education Committee, I helped secure a commitment that would make New York the first state in the country to achieve a fully zero emission statewide school bus fleet. I also worked with advocates to achieve passage of S.2122A last year, which will reduce the amount of lead in school drinking water. The legislature also adopted the SIGH act (S.922-A), which prohibits the construction of new schools near major roadways, and bills which are attentive to and inclusive of the voices of low-income communities. I sponsored legislation (S.8828), passed by the Senate, which would require the Department of Environmental Conservation to authorize and encourage the use of nature-based solutions as the preferred alternative for stabilizing tidal shorelines in the state, and I support efforts passed by the Senate that would expand sales of zero-emission vehicles (S.2758) and require NYS to purchase zero emission vehicles (S.2838A).
One of my earliest votes as an elected official was for the SAFE Act, passed after the Sandy Hook massacre. I’ve spoken up and out about the need for passage of effective gun safety legislation at the federal level, and I have supported strong, common sense gun safety bills at the state level.
I continue to decry the proliferation of guns and gun related violence plaguing our nation, including the heartbreaking gun violence in Buffalo, Uvalde, as well as the recent Supreme Court decision undermining New York’s conceal carry licensing processes prompted New York to take action. We adopted legislation to require a permit for those over the age of 21 to purchase a semiautomatic weapon (S.9458/A10503); update the criminal code to make the threat of mass harm a crime (A89B/A6716A); require microstamping of ammunition (S4116A/A7926A); strengthen measures to prevent those with criminal backgrounds from obtaining guns and ammunition (S4970A/A1023-A); allow health care providers to file extreme risk protection orders (S9113A/A10502); and strengthen regulations for high capacity ammunition feeding devices and body armor (S9229A/A10428-A, S9407B/A10497). All of these bills have since been signed by Governor Kathy Hochul.
Most recently, the Governor called an “extraordinary session” to allow us to respond to the Supreme Court’s decision overturning New York’s 100-year-old gun control law restricting concealed carrying of a firearm. The legislative package we passed (S51001/A41001) enhances licensing requirements for concealed carry permit applicants, adds new provisions for sensitive areas where the permit holder is prohibited from carrying a concealed firearm, enhances safe storage requirements to apply if a minor under the age of 18 lives in the home, and makes technical changes to the Body Armor Law. Additionally, this legislative package establishes New York as a “point of contact” state, which requires gun dealers to contact the State Police to conduct the background check that must be done before an individual can purchase a gun.
Over the years, we have seen increasingly frequent and destructive storms across the district, wreaking havoc on residents and causing increasing amounts of damage. I have a long history of addressing these problems. When I served in the Assembly, I secured millions of dollars in funding for Yonkers’ post-Hurricane Sandy recovery. Recent losses incurred by residents as a result of Hurricane Ida prompted me to redouble my efforts – pressing for and securing a $41 million Hurricane Ida Relief Fund, based upon my bill S.8135, which will use Federal dollars to help those who are still dealing with losses that were not otherwise covered. I am also proud to be the prime sponsor of several flooding preparedness bills, including S7530, S7581, and S7582. S7530 would permit land acquisition for resiliency measures under the Environmental Protection Fund, S7581 would create the Office of Flood Prevention and Mitigation within the Executive Chamber to coordinate state-wide approaches to flooding issues, and S7582 would require adjustments to the building code to account for the likelihood of increased flooding due to climate change. I remain dedicated to my mission to prevent future flooding by championing my new bills, climate change initiatives, thoughtful development, recognizing ecosystem benefits, water infrastructure, and other mitigation efforts. Flooding is becoming more persistent and destructive, and our response must match the scale of the problem.
Throughout my district we see that the failure to invest in our infrastructure is a source of constant frustration and great economic cost. During my time in the legislature, I have allocated and secured grants for, among other things, the rapaving of significant portions of my district’s roadways, including sections of Central Park Avenue in Yonkers and I-684 in Bedford, as well as a plan for the Yonkers Public Schools to rebuild their schools. Despite these best efforts, this piecemeal approach to improvements and repairs fails to address our substantial infrastructure needs across my district. Investing in our infrastructure is an essential component of the success of our communities and our economy, and we must do more.
The 2022-23 adopted NYS budget provided $4.2 billion for the Clean Water, Clean Air, and the Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act, including $500 million for electric school buses and related charging infrastructure, as well as $500 million in Clean Water Infrastructure Funding, including sewers and other wastewater infrastructure. It is on the ballot this fall, and I strongly support it.
I strongly supported and was very pleased with the adoption of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will provide an extraordinary opportunity to rebuild our roads, and bridges; expand access to high speed internet and clean drinking water, while creating good paying union jobs.
Energy affordability and utility accountability have been major concerns of mine since taking elected office. With recent increases in energy bills and the repeated failures of utilities to respond efficiently and effectively to storm events, holding utilities’ feet to the fire remains a top priority of mine. Following this winter’s spike in energy and heating costs, I sent a public letter with Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins to the Public Service Commission (PSC) and Con Edison demanding that they account for the failure to take reasonable hedging and customer outreach efforts to mitigate the increases. Con Ed and the PSC both then publicly acknowledged that more needed to be done and have since agreed to take steps to improve best practices. I also publicly opposed Con Ed’s current rate hike application this spring and called them out for trying to obtain major profit increases on the backs of already-struggling customers.
In addition to these efforts on affordability, in the wake of Tropical Storm Isaias, I introduced legislation to dramatically reform how utilities are penalized when they fail to adequately respond to storm events. Currently, the PSC is prohibited by law from penalizing utilities for the full damages they are responsible for if there are major violations of the public service law. This bill would remove those limits so that utilities no longer consider these penalties a cost of doing business and are incentivized to fulfill their responsibilities to customers to provide safe and reliable service. Although this legislation has not made progress in the Assembly, it passed the Senate both in 2021 and 2022 and I remain firmly resolved to continue the fight as long as my constituents remain burdened by utility issues.
I am a strong supporter of opening up the voting process to all eligible voters, and I’m very proud that every year since taking the majority in 2018, Democrats have expanded voting rights in NY State. That expansion continued this year with passage of the landmark John Lewis Voting Rights Act (S1046E) which I co-sponsored, and which ensures that “eligible voters who are members of racial, ethnic, and language-minority groups shall have an equal opportunity to participate in the political processes of the State of New York”. As states around the country work to roll back voting rights, we will continue the fight to protect those rights.
Healthcare continues to be one of the top concerns for my constituents, and I remain a strong supporter of universal health care coverage. I am pleased by the progress we have made in expanding coverage but remain deeply concerned about the number of people who continue to be uninsured or underinsured, as well as the frustrations of dealing with insurance, healthcare bureaucracy and other major challenges to our system. The pandemic also laid bare the inequities in our system as well as its underlying frailties, underscoring the necessity for continued healthcare policy reform and I will continue the fight to make sure all New Yorkers can access the healthcare they need.
I have and will continue to support unions, which led the path to the middle class for millions of Americans. I support workers’ rights to organize and seek new collective bargaining agreements. I have walked picket lines, written letters of support, and offered intermediary support in an effort to support those workers looking to organize and those seeking a collective bargaining agreement. I have advocated for strong labor provisions with prevailing wages in new state investments from broadband to development projects. I have met with and helped advise labor unions and employees as they respond to unfair labor practices, and have written letters to leadership of the companies in response to these practices. I have fought for workers in hospitals, nursing homes and as home care workers. I will continue to lend my support wherever and whenever possible to improve the lives of working people.
I led the fight for the laid off workers of Doral Arrowwood resort in Rye Brook, many of whom had worked there for over 20 years and were dismissed without notice on Christmas Eve, 2019. I persuaded the NYS Department of Labor and the Attorney General’s office to take up their cause, obtained a pro-bono attorney to represent them, and successfully obtained over $2million in recoveries for these workers.
Equity for All
I pride myself on being an inclusive, active and responsive leader, and I will continue to push for policies that help all the communities of the 37th District. I have been not just a strong supporter but a champion for the immigrant communities of my district. I supported and voted for important legislation to help immigrants, from the “Dream Act” and the “Green Light Law” in 2019 to crucial legislation like the Excluded Workers Fund during this era of Covid. I have always been a strong supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. I will continue to ensure that every child has access to a good education, regardless of status or zip code. I will work to combat climate change on a policy level, while helping all of the communities of my district cope with the already severe effects of climate change. I will support our small businesses, help them navigate the difficult regulatory landscape, and make sure that all workers are protected and earn a living wage. And I work to ensure we transition to a green economy in a way that is equitable and beneficial to all.
I have been a strong proponent of increasing the minimum wage, stronger wage and hour enforcement by the Department of Labor, prevailing wage requirements when public funds are used, and strengthening the WARN act. I support efforts to strengthen the laws and guarantee enforcement for fair wage and labor standards.
Affordable housing is one of the most challenging issues for New Yorkers, particularly in the suburbs. The lack of housing, coupled with high property taxes, have priced Westchester out of reach for too many. Quality affordable housing is critical for individuals and families in order to be self-sufficient, to maintain employment, and for our communities to thrive. Unfortunately, affordable housing for the diverse needs of our population has become increasingly out of reach for too many working people, seniors, and families. I have delivered important investments in our existing stock of affordable housing and consistently advocated for expanded investment in new housing. We need to continue to use all the tools available to us and to work creatively with our local communities to develop new ideas. We need to build more affordable housing through local affordable housing ordinances, which many municipalities have adopted. We need to increase public investment in affordable housing. In addition, we need to work with our local communities to ensure our local zoning codes do not discourage the creation of affordable housing, both rental and owner-occupied. I strongly support the development of affordable coops and condominiums, which have provided the bridge to home ownership for so many New Yorkers.