NEWSLETTER: Policy Matters – October 2018

Shannon Sswiatek November 01, 2018

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Policy Matters – October 2018


This autumn hasn’t just been a time for apple picking and pumpkin carving here at Empire Justice Center – we’ve spent the season hard at work moving policy initiatives forward on issues as diverse as access to credit, transgender student rights, and nuisance ordinances, all while continuing to push back on disastrous federal proposals that would have devastating consequences in New York State. Find out more in this edition of Policy Matters


We released a statement strongly condemning the Trump Administration’s newly proposed public charge rule, which targets low income folks and people and of color, including elderly individuals, people with disabilities, and working immigrant families. We are currently engaged in a thorough analysis of the proposed rule and will be submitting public comments delineating its harmful effects. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to join in pushing back against this proposal – more information on how to do so can be found at www.protectimmigrantfamilies.org.

Education & LGBT Rights

Empire Justice has been working to support transgender and gender-nonconforming students in public schools since 2014, when we convened a group of advocates to work with the New York State Education Department (NYSED) on the creation of landmark guidance which was released in July 2015. In May, NYSED released an emergency regulation including illustrative examples of the types of harassment, bullying, or discrimination that must be reported as possible violations of the Dignity for All Schools Act (DASA). In September, after four years of advocacy, that regulation was finally made permanent by the Board of Regents, and went into effect on October 3rd. Empire Justice Policy Coordinator, Eòghann Renfroe, former Empire Justice LGBTQ Rights Attorney, Milo Primeaux, and other advocates will continue to work with NYSED in order to update the statewide guidance so that students, teachers, and administrators all have the tools they need in order to properly implement DASA and ensure transgender and gender-nonconforming students are able to access public education with dignity and safety.


We released our report, Too Big to Fail, Too Poor to Bank, which examines the ways traditional banking services are failing low-income New Yorkers, the ways they’re getting it right, and what steps they can take to better serve working families. Authors Barb Van Kerkhove and Ruhi Maker held several public forums with stakeholders in the Rochester area on the findings and recommendations of the report, and were interviewed by the Rochester Business Journal and WXXI.

We joined other former members of the CFPB’s Consumer Advisory Board (CAB) in releasing a joint statement calling out the lack of diversity and need for greater consumer representation on the new, significantly reduced CAB. As you may remember, Ruhi Maker represented Empire Justice Center on the previous Consumer Advisory Board, which was abruptly disbanded by Acting Director Mick Mulvaney in June of this year, causing considerable controversy.

Domestic Violence

We partnered with NYCLU, the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, and the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV) to FOIL data on nuisance enforcement from 15 cities across New York State. NYCLU analyzed this robust data in new report, More Than A Nuisance: The Outsized Consequences of New York’s Nuisance Ordinances, which reveals these ordinances continue to do considerable harm to survivors of domestic violence, people of color, crime victims, and poor New Yorkers. Meanwhile, the Right to Call 911 bill (A.2919 Lavine/S.0405 Robach) is bipartisan legislation that would solve the unconstitutional nuisance ordinance problem in NYS! Read our joint memo of support with the ACLU and NYSCADV here.

Racial Justice

After nearly five years of monitoring the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD)’s interactions with the Latino community, the SCPD has finally begun to come into partial or substantial compliance in a number of categories being tracked by the U.S. Department of Justice. Our senior paralegal, Cheryl Keshner, was interviewed by Newsday about these developments, and is among the advocates who have been working with the SCPD. She makes it clear that more work needs to be done to implement new policies that have been developed to continue to push the Department in the right direction. 

Language Access

We joined other members the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s (FHFA) Language Access Working Group in a statement commending FHFA for launching the Mortgage Translations clearinghouse, making common mortgage documents available in Spanish and the top five languages used in the United States. Staff Attorney Maria DeGennaro has been representing Empire Justice Center on the working group, which works to expand financial information resources for people with limited English proficiency.

In Case You Missed It

We are proud to be one of the organizations receiving funding administered by NYS Public Safety to provide civil legal services to crime victims in New York State! Our Crime Victims Legal Network project director, Remla Parthasarathy, spoke with the New York Law Journal about this exciting project, which connects crime victims to attorneys providing civil legal services through the newly launched NY Crime Victims Legal Help website.

Prathiba Desai, a staff attorney with our Immigration unit, appeared with other advocates, including our former staff attorney Amanda Doroshow (now with Her Justice), at Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College for a timely and important immigration discussion. The panel, Asylum Seekers/Domestic Violence: Gender, Law, and Activism on the Frontlines, focused on the complex realities of seeking asylum when refugee status in entwined with domestic violence.

Michelle Caldera-Kopf, Senior Attorney and Project Manager, Liberty Defense Project at Empire Justice, continued the discussion on immigration and domestic violence with this informative resource created with the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV): Q&A: Asylum for Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence.

Our Hannah Cohn Equal Justice Fellow, Sujata Ramaiah, teamed up with Jonathan Falk from the Legal Aid Society on Championing Your Child: What Are Your Legal Rights – a presentation focused on teaching parents advocacy tools around issues of student discipline and special education in the Rochester City School District (RCSD).

Senior attorney Susan Antos received the Outstanding Professional Award from the NYS Kinship Navigator for her many years of work in helping caregivers with legal expertise!

Congratulations are also in order for Fiona Wolfe, a Consumer staff attorney in our Rochester office who is being honored as a Leader in Law at The Daily Record’s upcoming 2018 Attorneys of the Year event!


That’s all for now! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to keep track of the latest on issues affecting the legal rights of poor, disabled, or disenfranchised New Yorkers.

The Empire Justice Policy Team