As Chair of the NYS Senate Education Committee for the past five years, I have led the fight to provide full foundation aid funding for every public school in the state and to acknowledge the critical role our public education system has had, especially during the COVID epidemic.
I am extremely proud that last year’s budget completed the final year of implementation of 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. Additional accomplishments from last session:
- We invested $150 million additional funds to continue the expansion of full day Pre-K for 4 year olds across New York State;
- We provided $134 million to expand access to free school meals in New York schools, which allows students in most of the state’s schools to get free breakfast and lunch;
- To encourage student civic participation, I sponsored legislation, later signed by Governor Hochul and now law, that requires local boards of education, BOCES, charter schools, and nonpublic schools to promote student voter registration and pre-registration during the school year (Chapter 478, Laws of 2023);
- I sponsored legislation, now law, requiring student governments in schools that lack a peer selected student government (Chapter 357, Laws of 2023).
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. I am committed to ensuring New York leads the charge in protecting access to reproductive healthcare. I’ve taken action in Albany by:
- Sponsoring legislation, now law, that authorizes and protects New York healthcare providers to offer telehealth services and prescribe medication abortion to women living outside New York State (Chapter 138, Laws of 2023). It is important to me that we protect the rights of women to safely access reproductive healthcare regardless of the state in which they reside;
- Co-sponsoring legislation, subsequently signed by Governor Hochul, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Decision, to protect patients who travel to New York from states that have taken away their reproductive rights (Chapter 218, Laws of 2022);
- Co-sponsoring legislation, now law, to protect medical professionals who provide the healthcare services, including prohibiting medical misconduct charges for performing reproductive health care (Chapter 220, Laws of 2022);
- Co-sponsoring legislation, now law, forbidding New York State from cooperating with out-of-state legal cases involving abortion except in limited circumstances (Chapter 219, Laws of 2022);
- Co-sponsoring legislation, now law, prohibiting medical malpractice insurers from taking adverse action against a healthcare provider in New York State for providing legal reproductive services (Chapter 221, Laws of 2022);
- Co-sponsoring legislation, now law, directing the Commissioner of Health to study the impact of limited service pregnancy centers (Chapter 217, Laws of 2022);
- NYS ERA – I co-sponsored the resolution authorizing the placement of a NYS ERA on the ballot this year. I’ll be working hard to support its passage.
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.” This year, I have a 100% score from the NY League of Conservation Voters for my positions on key environmental issues.
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 the Constitutional Amendment which guaranteed the right to clean air, clean water, and a healthful environment for all New Yorkers, which the voters adopted. 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.
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:
- Legislation, sponsored by me and signed by the governor (Chapter 487, Laws of 2023), 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;
- Legislation, now law, to reduce the amount of lead in school drinking water (Chapter 771, Laws of 2021);
- Legislation that would expand sales of zero-emission vehicles (Chapter 423, Laws of 2021) and require NYS to purchase zero emission vehicles (S2838A);
- The legislature also adopted the SIGH act (S922A), 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 introduced legislation to create an executive office – the Office of Flooding Prevention and Mitigation – which would coordinate existing state work on flooding, support municipalities in their efforts to prevent and mitigate flooding, and research flooding impacts and mitigation (S3335). I intend to make this a priority this coming session.
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. The heartbreaking gun violence in , Buffalo and Texas, as well as the recent Supreme Court decision undermining New York’s conceal carry licensing processes required New York to take additional action. This legislation:
- Requires a permit for those over the age of 21 to purchase a semiautomatic weapon (Chapter 212, Laws of 2022);
- Updates the criminal code to make the threat of mass harm a crime (Chapter 206, Laws of 2022);
- Requires microstamping of ammunition (Chapter 205, Laws of 2022);
- Strengthens measures to prevent those with criminal backgrounds from obtaining guns and ammunition (Chapter 207, Laws of 2022);
- Allows health care providers to file extreme risk protection orders (Chapter 208, Laws of 2022);
- Strengthens regulations for high capacity ammunition feeding devices (Chapter 209, Laws of 2022) and body armor (Chapter 210, Laws of 2022).
- 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;
- 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, here is what I did:
- I pressed for and secured a $41 million Hurricane Ida Relief Fund, based upon my bill S8135, 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:
- 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;
I have and will continue to support unions, which led the path to the middle class for millions of Americans, and the rights of workers generally. 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. I also introduced legislation (S5617) to strengthen NYS New York State Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, providing comprehensive reforms to protect private sector workers in mass layoff situations, and ensure additional stability and accountability for displaced workers.
In addition, I introduced legislation (S6757) that builds upon NYS’ minimum wage law to extend the authority of wage boards under the minimum wage act to consider minimum standards for benefits and working conditions.
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. 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. 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.
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 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 strongly support ensuring all eligible voters are able to participate in the electoral process. I’m very proud that every year since taking the majority in 2018, Democrats have expanded voting rights in NY State. That expansion continued with passage of the landmark John Lewis Voting Rights Act (Chapter 226, Laws of 2022) 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 noted in the education section, I sponsored legislation that requires all schools to assist students with voter registration and pre-registration (Chapter 487, Laws of 2023). As states around the country work to roll back voting rights, we will continue the fight to protect, and expand, those rights.
Israel/Rise in Anti-Semitism and Hateful Acts
The unprovoked attack by Hamas on Israelis on October 7 called for swift and immediate action – release of the hostages and eliminating the terrorist organization Hamas. I strongly support the right of Israel to exist, and for Jews to have a safe and secure state. I also believe we need a long-term solution that respects the rights of Palestinians to live with all the rights of others. At the time of this writing, it is urgent that all hostages are released; that Hamas is held accountable for their unspeakable crimes and that humanitarian assistance is provided to all the innocent Palestinians caught in this conflict.
I also am deeply troubled by the terrible rise in Antisemitism and Islamophobia here in America. I will continue to speak out against hate speech in our schools, our colleges and universities and in our public spaces.
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 repaving of significant portions of my district’s roadways, including sections of Central Park Avenue in Yonkers;
- I-684 in Bedford;
- Drainage work in Rye;
- 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 our district. Investing in our infrastructure is an essential component of the success of our communities and our economy, and we must do more.
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. Following last 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 every proposed rate increase by Con Ed 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 took several actions at the State Legislature to hold utility companies accountable; they include:
- 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.
- Finally, I sponsored legislation, S557A, that will require the Public Service Commission to change the way it evaluates requests for rate increases and put the consumer first. This bill was passed by the Senate last session and I have high hopes it will pass the Assembly and be signed by the Governor next year. At its core the bill is about consumer protection. It requires “regulated utilities” (electric, gas, steam, water) to adopt two financial metrics that are more consumer-friendly.
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.
New York is home to more than 800,000 veterans, approximately 100,000 of whom live in Westchester County. These veterans and their families have given so much, and I work hard to ensure they receive the services, support and recognition they need and deserve. I have created a Veterans Advisory Committee that provides me ongoing feedback about how we can best serve veterans and their families. With the leadership of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Chair of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs Committee Senator Jessica Scarcella Spanton, in Albany we hosted the inaugural Korean War Veteran Recognition, which was an idea that came out of my committee’s work. We also honored the 50th Anniversary of U.S. troops returning home from the Vietnam War with a Senate Resolution proclaiming March 29 as Vietnam Veterans Day in New York State. In addition, I sponsored legislation (S. 2328-A/A2793-A Otis), which although it was rejected by the Governor, would have strengthened the protections surrounding military monuments. I intend to fight for it again this year.
I deeply appreciate all our veterans have done in service of our nation, and I committed to doing all I can to ensure they can live full and rewarding lives.
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.