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Stalled State Senate Imperils Progressive Legislation

Alex Kane Jun 26, 2009

With Albany, after two weeks of stalling, still engulfed in political power plays and petty infighting, important progressive legislation remains tabled.

Before Senators Hiram Monseratte (D-Queens) and Pedro Espada, Jr. (D-Bronx, or is it Mamaroneck?) threw the State Senate into disarray when they switched to the Republican side, there was hope that the Democrats would deliver on some of the legislation that they were elected to pass.

Is that hope squashed?

Monseratte, after considerable pressure from labor unions, Al Sharpton and others, has been brought back into the Democratic fold.  But that still leaves the Senate deadlocked at 31-31.

The legislative sessions in the Assembly and Senate ended last Monday, but Governor David Paterson has repeatedly ordered the Senate back for extraordinary sessions that have produced nothing.  Now, both Democrats and Republicans have said that they will spend the next few days negotiating, and come back to session on Monday.  But truthfully, I’m not holding my breath for that to come true.

Here are some of the stalled bills that progressive New Yorkers were pushing to get passed:

Marriage Equality:  The LGBT community across New York was hoping that this state would become the latest to legalize gay marriage after a string of states did just that.  According to the New York Times, Paterson has pledged to “make sure that the State Senate votes on same sex-marriage legislation before it breaks for the summer.”  But this is a complicated political issue, and the Democrats are weighing their options.  If the vote is brought to the floor, Sen. Ruben Diaz (D-Bronx), a staunch opponent of marriage equality, may bolt from the Democratic caucus.  On the other hand, some have floated the idea that Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan), who is openly gay, might join the Republicans to force a vote on gay marriage.

Domestic Workers Bill of Rights:  One of the only groups excluded from federal and state labor protections, domestic workers, led by the grassroots group Domestic Workers United, have made considerable progress with this bill that would grant them basic labor rights.  The votes are there from both sides of the aisle, and Paterson has said he would sign the bill.  In the latest issue of the Indypendent (June 26), Jacquie Simone writes:  “The uncertain power-sharing agreement between Democrats and Republicans in the New York State Senate could jeopardize the passage of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which is designed to improve working conditions for some 200,000 domestic workers in New York.

The bill would ensure overtime pay, advance notice of termination, annual cost of living increases, healthcare and protection against discrimination, as well as paid sick days, personal days and vacation days. Domestic workers are not protected by the National Labor Relations Act or similar labor legislation…The bill (A1470/S2311) has been approved by the Assembly and Senate Labor Committees and is waiting to be debated on the floors of both chambers.”

Rent Reform:  In February, a package of pro-tenant bills were passed by the State Assembly, including a repeal of the “Urstadt Law,” which stops New York City from passing stronger rent regulations than the state.  The Senate has not taken those bills up.  The real prize for tenant advocates remains a repeal of “vacancy decontrol.”  Steven Wishnia, writing for the Indypendent in the Feb. 27, 2009 issue, explained: “Enacted in the 1990s, it lets landlords deregulate vacant rent-stabilized apartments if the rent can legally be $2,000 per month or more. (Rent stabilization covers buildings with six or more apartments built before 1974, or buildings where the owner accepted it in exchange for tax breaks.) Once an apartment is deregulated, there are no restrictions on rent increases and the new tenant has little to no housing rights. The bill to repeal vacancy decontrol, S. 2237, has 23 co-sponsors.”

The New York Times recently reported on the bleak outlook for rent reform:  “Mr. Espada, as chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, had assured Democratic leaders he would take up the bill, already passed by the Assembly, but repeatedly blocked it, citing technical objections and scheduling issues. Last Monday, after he defected to the Republicans and ascended to the Senate presidency, he announced he was opposed to the legislation.

His move has all but assured that the bill will die this year.”

The Times article notes that, Espada Jr., in violation of state law, has not disclosed how much money he got from landlords.  But it’s clear that the campaign contributions he received from the landlord lobby have influenced him.

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