Perhaps the only people more excited than school kids about the upcoming summer vacation are members of the state Legislature.
Just as the kids are finishing up final exams, so too will New York’s state lawmakers be finishing up their annual legislative session.
And like the school kids, a lot is riding on what they accomplish in the next two weeks.
With just seven official days left in the session before they leave Albany for the summer to campaign for re-election, lawmakers have a lot to do if they want to impress voters with their productivity.
Among the important pieces of legislation still to be addressed is the Child Victims’ Act, which would provide some relief for the victims of child sex abuse by extending the statute of limitations on when criminal charges and lawsuits can be brought. It also would create a one-year window for victims of long-ago abuse to bring their cases forward, regardless of the statute of limitations.
If lawmakers fail to pass this bill, it will be because they’ve succumbed to the big-money lobbying efforts of organizations like the Catholic
Church and the Boy Scouts, who don’t want prosecutors and civil litigation attorneys prying into their closets looking for old skeletons.
This is a vital piece of legislation for victims of sex abuse that’s been batting around the Legislature for about a dozen years. This needs to be the year that it passes.
Another major piece of legislation that needs to pass this year is Jacobe’s Law, which would require that schools notify parents when a child is being threatened by a bully. The bill, sponsored by local state Sen. Jim Tedisco, is named for 13-year-old South Glens Falls student Jacobe Taras, who killed himself in 2015 over excessive bullying at school.
The bill requires that school employees make a “reasonable and good-faith effort” to contact the parents or guardians of the students involved — both the bully and the victim — when they notice bullying occurring.
Jacobe’s parents filed a $9 million wrongful death suit against the school district that was decided last month. The district was found to be negligent, but the jurors concluded that the negligence was not a factor contributing to Jacobe’s pain and suffering or his death.
This law would reinforce the need for school employees to be more proactive in recognizing bullying and sharing that information with parents.
Lawmakers also need to address corruption in government, which they are often reluctant to do.
A number of bills on their June agenda would increase transparency and give citizens and regulators more information by which to judge whether government projects are being conducted legally and effectively.
The so-called Database of Deals would require the state to create a searchable public online database to provide detailed information about public projects and the businesses that receive government support.
The Procurement Integrity Act would restore oversight powers to the state comptroller’s office that were removed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
The independent review would give the comptroller more authority over public authorities, establish more controls over government contracts, and restore transparency to state purchasing and contractual awards.
Given the corruption that has arisen out of the Buffalo Billion economic development project and the failure of other government-sponsored and supported projects to fulfill job creation goals and economic development promises, these two bills would provide vital tools for the public, journalists, prosecutors and lawmakers to evaluate the legality and effectiveness of these projects.
There are a number of other ethics bills that seem to pop up on the agendas of the governor and Legislature every year. But they never seem to close the deal by June.
Perhaps they think the public won’t notice. Or that we’ll get tired of bringing it up and just stop caring.
For instance, lawmakers need to close the state’s so-called “LLC loophole,” a 22-year-old law that allows special interest groups to circumvent limits on campaign contributions and to skirt disclosure requirements in order to contribute tens of millions of dollars into the political campaigns of state officials.
This loophole, which sometimes helps hide the real identity of the actual donor, represents a major opportunity for wealthy donors to influence legislators. It needs to be closed.
We’ve also advocated for limiting outside income for legislators to avoid the kind of malfeasance that allows lawmakers to trade political favors for no-show jobs for themselves, family and friends. Lawmakers also need to pass term limits on leadership positions to prevent one individual from becoming too powerful and isolated. And they need to limit access to government officials by lobbyists, who are often funded by wealthy special interests.
As of today, lawmakers still hadn’t expanded New Yorkers’ access to the ballot box through extended voting, same-day and online registration, no-excuse absentee ballots and other measures designed to get more voters to the polls. They still haven’t enacted bail reform that would help indigent criminal suspects stay out of jail while awaiting hearings. Such legislation should include elimination of cash bail and elimination of pretrial detention for all but violent crimes.
On the issue of legalized online sports betting, we recommended lawmakers take their time and consider all the potential consequences and pitfalls before rushing into allowing it. But given the big money that could be generated for the state’s casinos and for the state government in terms of new tax revenue, this is one bill lawmakers just might squeeze in before summer vacation.
This might seem like a lot to ask of lawmakers in less than two weeks. And it’s only a partial list.
But much of this legislation has been on their radar for the entire session beginning in January, and some of these bills, including the Child Victim’s Act and the campaign finance reform bills, have been around for years.
It’s not a lot to ask our elected officials to do their jobs. And time is quickly running out.