The Island's Legislators Off to Busy Start

January 20, 2019

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for our elected representatives that has included important work on gun reform, expanding hate crimes to include transgendered people, and bringing New York into the forefront on reproductive rights. Our electeds consist of Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, State Senator Jose Serrano, Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright, and City Council Member Ben Kallos, all of whom represent Roosevelt Islanders in their various bodies.


Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney


The Census


Congresswoman Carolyn B. Maloney has been a leader in the effort calling on the Trump Administration to remove questions on citizenship from the 2020 Census. She is urging Trump to accept the recent lower court decision establishing that including a citizenship question on the 2020 Census is a violation of the constitution. She believes an undercount of immigrant populations, especially in immigrant-friendly states like New York, could drastically hurt federal funding allocations and alter the distribution of House of Representatives seats and Electoral College representation.


 Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney at FDR Four Freedoms Park in 2017


Congresswoman Maloney is co-chair of the House Census Caucus, author of the Census IDEA Act to remove the citizenship question legislatively, and led an Amicus Brief of 126 former and current Members of Congress in support of the lawsuit to remove the citizenship question from the 2020 Census. The brief argued that both Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution and the 14th Amendment make clear that the census is intended to count all people residing in the United States - both citizens and non-citizens alike.


Gun Control


Maloney reintroduced legislation to fund research at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on firearms safety and gun violence prevention. Last year, doctors and public health officials across the country came out in support of such research and affirmed the need to address gun violence as the health crisis that it is.


“Gun violence is a public health crisis and we need to start treating it that way,” said Maloney. “Just as we would study any other epidemic that takes 100 lives a day, nearly 40,000 in 2018, we need to study firearms safety and gun violence prevention. This legislation can save lives by finally giving our nation’s top public health researchers the funding they need to develop new ways to prevent gun violence.”


State Senator José M. Serrano


Adding Transgender New Yorkers to the State’s Hate Crimes Law


Senator Serrano supported the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression and adds transgender New Yorkers to those protected by the state’s Hate Crimes Law. It recently passed.


In the same spirit, the Senate also passed legislation (S.1046) prohibiting mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation-change efforts, known colloquially as “conversion therapy,” with a patient under the age of eighteen years.


"Today’s vote sends a strong message that New York will not stop until everyone in the LGBTQ community is treated with dignity and respect. By officially including gender identity and expression under our human rights laws, we have taken the long-overdue step of protecting transgender and gender non-conforming individuals from harassment and discrimination when it comes to all essential services. In addition, I am heartened that we passed legislation prohibiting so-called “conversion therapy," ensuring that no minor in New York will be exposed to this dangerous, cruel, and discredited practice.”


 Senator José M. Serrano with RIRA President Lynne Shinozaki

Election Reform


On the first full day of the 2019 Legislative Session, Senator Serrano and the Senate Majority Conference passed a series of bills that will enable early voting and no-excuse absentee voting, modernize and expand voter registration, extend Primary Election voting hours, impose limits on LLC contributions, and ensure uniformity throughout the state.


"For far too long, archaic election laws and disenfranchisement efforts have undermined the democratic process throughout our state and nation,” said Senator Serrano. “New York has consistently had some of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country. By cutting through red tape, modernizing voter registration, and enabling early voting, today’s historic actions will make it easier for New Yorkers to make their presence felt and exercise their right to vote for government representatives that reflect their needs and values."


Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright


Opposes Federal Takeover of NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority)


Seawright signed on to a letter to Dr. Ben Carson, head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who seeks federal control of NYCHA. The letter asks for consideration of continued local control for the agency in order to restore operations for the more than 400,000 NYCHA residents.

 Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright at the Roosevelt Island Halloween Parade, 2017


Reproductive Health


The Reproductive Health Act (RHA), an effort to codify Roe v. Wade into New York State law, is being addressed by Assembly Member Seawright, a cosponsor on the legislation. As the federal government seeks to roll back protections for women, action on the RHA has become critical and has earned the support of the Assembly, Senate, and the Governor. There has been a commitment from leadership to pass the RHA, and accompanying contraceptive coverage bills, in the first 30 days.


The RHA will legalize abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, or after that point if a woman’s health or life is at risk or if the fetus is not viable. It will repeal outdated and unconstitutional criminal statutes prohibiting abortion, and it moves the regulation of abortion into the public health law, important because that will ensure that New York State law treats abortion as health care, not as a criminal act.


With its passage, New York State will be a national leader in protecting abortion access, ensuring that decisions about reproductive healthcare are the sole responsibility of a woman and her medical providers.



City Council Member Ben Kallos


Retirement Security


Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his intention to move forward with “Retirement Security for All,” previously announced on February 25, 2016. City Council Member Ben Kallos re-introduced legislation, along with Labor Committee Chair I. Daneek Miller, that would allow every private sector worker in New York City to save for retirement even if their employer did not offer a 401K.


“Every New Yorker should be able to save for retirement. It's hard to imagine that Republicans are all of a sudden against Americans taking 'personal responsibility,' but stopping retirement savings for all was at the top of the Trump administration's list in 2017 and even passed the Republican Congress," said Council Member Ben Kallos who is an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) attorney. “Thank you to Mayor Bill de Blasio for taking this bold step to help millions of New Yorkers save for retirement. I can't wait to help millions of New Yorkers save for retirement and upset the Trump agenda all at the same time.”


Council Member Ben Kallos and PS/IS 217 Principal, Mandana Beckman attend the Cornell Tech ribbon-cutting ceremony


School Bus Nightmares


At the start of every school year, some of New York City's students are stuck on buses for hours, leaving parents wondering where their children are. Council Member Ben Kallos introduced two bills that passed the council on January 9, as part of the STOP Act, to give parents the opportunity, before the school year starts, to review and challenge routes and require bus companies to test routes with dry runs.


"No parent should wonder where their child is or when their child is finally getting home from a school bus ride gone off track. Parents would rest assured knowing when and where their child’s school bus is by using an app on their phone," said Council Member Ben Kallos. "Sometimes the biggest problems have simple solutions, I am confident this package of legislation will make a real difference in the lives of kids and parents throughout our City.


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