Welcome to Policy Matters – Empire Justice Center’s newsletter to catch you up on all of our policy advocacy efforts to make the law work for all New Yorkers!
In this May 2019 edition of Policy Matters we’ll be covering a victory for public school students; the release of a new domestic violence report; legislative updates on important bills regarding rights of domestic violence survivors, crime victims, and workers; analysis of several new laws passed through this year’s budget process; efforts to protect the rights of immigrant New Yorkers and student loan borrowers; and some well-deserved recognition for members of our staff!
A Victory for Education Equality
For close to a decade, only students attending private, non-parochial schools have been protected against discrimination under the Human Rights Law. Empire Justice has been working for years to close this loophole in the law and finally the bill (A.3425/S.4901) has passed both houses of the legislature! We will continue our advocacy until the bill is signed into law by Governor Cuomo so that public school students finally have the same rights as students at private schools.
New Domestic Violence Report: Does New York’s Family Violence Option Make A Difference?
In 1998, New York State adopted the Family Violence Option (FVO). Under this program, applicants for welfare are given the opportunity to disclose that they are victims of domestic violence in order avoid application requirements which could expose them to further risk.
Poverty and Violence: Does New York’s Family Violence Option Make a Difference? a new report from Empire Justice Center, assesses the current implementation of the FVO in New York State, provides a series of recommendations that would enhance the effectiveness of the FVO and bring greater safety and stability to the lives of survivors of domestic violence.
State Legislative Updates
It’s been a busy month, with significant movement on several long-standing efforts here at Empire Justice:
The bill protecting the Right to Call 911 (A.2665/S.4657) has passed the Assembly, and has moved through the committee process in the Senate, and is poised to soon move to the floor for a vote. This legislation, spearheaded by the Empire Justice Center, the ACLU, the NYCLU, and the NYS Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV), is a bill that would protect the rights of domestic violence and other crime victims from being evicted from their homes just for calling the police for help.
After years of hard work put in by workers and wage justice advocates, Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) (A.0486/S.2844) has, for the first time, made it through the Senate committee process and the path is clear to move it to the floor for a vote! SWEAT is an important bill that will create the tools necessary to combat continued wage theft in New York State.
We’ve also produced memos of support on a number of other important issues:
- Farmworker Fair Wages Act (A.2750/ S.2837) – For the last 85 years, this class of low wage workers has been unfairly excluded from the most basic labor law protections enjoyed by all other workers.
- Expanding Access to Justice (A.3923/S.4129) – Permit the award of attorney and expert witness fees in appropriate cases.
- Reducing Erroneous Welfare Sanctions (A.2455/S.3840) – Extend the fair processes for reducing erroneous and hurtful welfare sanctions statewide.
- Codify the New York State Consumer Assistance Program (S.5145) – Amend the law to designate a New York State Independent Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) to assist consumers with navigating our complex health care system.
- Expand Protections Under New York State Human Rights Law (S.3817/A.7083) – Eliminate the inequities in legal recourse and remove barriers to asserting rights under the NYS Human Rights Law.
The end of the budget leaves anyone following legislative developments could get buried in an avalanche of information. That’s why we’ve taken the time to do a deeper dive to highlight a few victories that you might have missed:
- Mandatory Notices and Settlement Conferences for Homeowners by Jim Dukette, Paralegal.
- New York’s Student Loan Servicing Act of 2019 by Kirsten Keefe, Senior Attorney.
- Banning Income Bias in Housing in New York State by Don Friedman, Senior Attorney.
Protecting the Rights of Immigrant New Yorkers
Empire Justice Center joined more than 100 other organizations and groups last year to push for the Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176/S.0425), a bill that would protect the sanctity of NYS courts by barring federal immigration officers from making civil arrests in state courthouses without a judicial warrant. We were extremely pleased to see the state Office of Court Administration (OCA) adopt very similar rules several weeks ago, and will continue to push for the legislation, which offers more comprehensive protections.
We got a bit of media attention related to our advocacy focused on providing stronger protections for students who attend for-profit colleges. The disparate outcomes for students who attend for-profit schools compared to traditional non-profit and public schools are striking – you can read about it in the testimony we delivered to the Senate Higher Education Committee here.
Pushing Back Against Destructive Federal Rule Changes
In April, we submitted comments in opposition to proposed SNAP rule changes at the federal level. We raised concerns that these changes would disproportionately and negatively affect childless individuals in financial distress while doing nothing to improve their health or employment.
Senior Paralegal Cheryl Keshner spoke about new Public Charge rule changes and immigrant access to benefits at the Learning Connection in Brentwood, Long Island.
Staff Recognition and Highlights
Congratulations to Jim Dukette, Paralegal in our Rochester Foreclosure Unit and Kristi Hughes, our Vice President for Administration & Development for being awarded the Daily Record’s 2019 Excellence in Law – Unsung Legal Heroes Award!
“This year’s Excellence in Law honorees are exceptional. Not only are they professionally accomplished, but they are committed to making a difference in their community,” said Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, publisher of The Daily Record.
Michelle Caldera-Kopf, Senior Attorney in our Long Island office, appeared on a panel at Stony Brook University called Border Sanctuary: The Movement to Protect Immigrant Rights.
Check out Reflections on Crime Victims Rights Week, a new blog post from our Crime Victims Legal Network Project Leader, Remla Parthasarathy.
And our CEO, Anne Erickson, has been honored by Senator Neil Breslin as one of this year’s Women of Distinction!
Thanks For Reading!
If you’d like to learn more about what we’re working on this legislative session, check out our 2019 State Legislative Agenda.
The Empire Justice Policy Team