PRESS STATEMENT: 2019 Legislative Session – Significant Wins on Long-Standing Issues Good for Low Income New Yorkers

Eòghann Renfroe June 21, 2019


For Immediate Release: June 21, 2019

Contact: Kristin Brown, 518-852-5766

[read the PDF here]


“This legislative session brought progress on so many long fought issues that will be good for low income New Yorkers – it was a sprint from the first days of session all the way to the end,” said Kristin Brown, Vice President for Policy and Government Relations. “From early success on GENDA, the transgender rights bill, and budget victories that continued funding for legal services for homeowners and immigrants, multiple domestic violence and child care related victories, homeowners protections from scams and more, Empire Justice saw victories on many pieces of legislation we worked on for years.

“We are especially proud of our work to pass several hard fought bills to do with worker rights, sanctions on public assistance recipients, extending the protections of the Human Rights Law to public school students, drivers licenses for immigrant New Yorkers, and preserving the right to call 911 for domestic violence and crime victims. One keen disappointment, however, was the failure to pass several bills that would have protected college students from the predatory behavior of some for-profit colleges. We will continue to build support for those bills leading up to next year. In the meantime, we will push for Governor Cuomo to sign these and all of our legislative victories into law.”


Worker Rights

As the legislative session drew to a close, workers secured an important victory with the passage of Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) (A.0486/S.2844). Wage theft is a widespread problem in New York State, affecting industries across the state, including construction, agriculture, restaurants and dining, home health care, and many others, resulting in over $1 billion in stolen wages per year. This means New York State loses over $1 billion of valuable income that could be used to stimulate consumer spending, boost tax revenues, and keep people off of public assistance, but is instead being pocketed by unscrupulous employers – giving them a massive, unfair advantage over honest businesses.

“SWEAT creates a set of tools that will help ensure that when a court rules that wage theft has occurred, workers will be able to collect the wages they are owed,” said Kristin Brown, Vice President of Policy and Government Relations. “Empire Justice thanks bill sponsors Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Jessica Ramos for their leadership in ensuring that this important bill finally passed both houses.”


Protections for Low Income and Disabled New Yorkers

In 2014, a new state law dramatically improved the process by which public assistance recipients can respond to an allegation that they have failed to comply with a welfare work requirement. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the statewide bill was modified to apply only to New York City. The passage of A.2455/S.3840 brings low income New Yorkers outside New York City one step closer to a fair process to reducing all erroneous and harmful welfare sanctions.

“Having participated from the inception of the campaign to change the punitive welfare sanction rules, it is gratifying to see these protections poised to extend statewide, as they were meant to,” said Don Friedman, Senior Attorney. “A disproportionate number of people who are sanctioned for noncompliance with work rules have serious physical or mental health disabilities that were not identified by DSS, or barriers such as limited English proficiency or domestic violence – issues that are out of their control. Sanctions cause incredible hardship for people already living at the margins. Once signed into law, this bill will require districts to apply fair and reasonable measures to ensure all public assistance recipients in New York have the opportunity to participate in appropriate activities and limit the risk of unwarranted punishment. We thank Assemblymember Hunter and Senator May for bringing this bill across the finish line.”


Discrimination Protections for Public School Student Rights

Seven years ago, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that the Division of Human Rights did not have jurisdiction over public schools because of its interpretation of the Real Property Tax Law, leaving millions of public school students without the same protections against discrimination as private, non-parochial school students. A.3425/S.4901 solves this disparity by closing the loophole in law which led to the 2012 decision, extending protections against discrimination back to public school students.

“Empire Justice Center is thrilled with this huge win for educational opportunity,” said Eòghann Renfroe, Policy & Government Relations Coordinator. “Discrimination, bullying, and harassment are issues that plague many students from marginalized backgrounds, especially for kids who are disabled, are queer or transgender, immigrants, poor, or people of color. A lack of accountability in educational institutions ends up leading to disproportionately severe disciplinary actions, unsafe learning environments, and lower educational achievement over all. We thank Assemblymember Dilan for passing this important bill numerous times in the Assembly, and Senator Mayer for finally breaking past the logjam in the Senate to pass the bill in her house this year.”



In an exciting and heartfelt win for immigrant families across the state, the Green Light NY bill (A.3675/ S.1747) also passed this session. Empire Justice is proud to have been a part of the coalition that pushed for this essential bill, which restores the right for all qualified drivers to obtain drivers licenses, regardless of immigration status.

“The Green Light Bill is a major victory for New York’s immigrants and their families, and a step forward for all New Yorkers,” said Cheryl Keshner, Senior Paralegal. “Now immigrants will be able to drive to work, school and medical appointments without fear of arrest or deportation  for driving without a license. We thank Assemblymember Crespo and Senator Sepúlveda for their leadership on this important bill. We will all be safer on the roads as a result of this common sense legislation.”


Protections for Students of For-Profit Colleges

Unfortunately, some important measures did not move forward this year, despite strong advocacy. Among those are several bills that would have protected New York students from the negative effects from the bad players in the for-profit college industry: enhanced financial disclosures from for-profit schools (S.5799A/A.7769); requirement for-profit schools to spend at least 50% on student instruction, support and career counseling (S.5800/A.7763); and prohibition on Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funds going to for-profit schools (S.5607).

“The need for strong accountability measures for for-profit colleges has become a big issue, especially in light of federal roll-backs of protections this past year,” said Kirsten Keefe, Senior Attorney. “We were very pleased to see several strong bills introduced this session that would have prevented public funding from going to failing schools, required for-profits to spend more on student instruction than marketing, and provided transparency of spending of for-profits similar to what’s required for publics and non-profits. We were disappointed none of these measures or other proposals passed, but hope to continue to work with leaders to develop solutions.”

Only 4% of college students in New York State attend a for-profit college, but over 40% of New Yorkers in default on their loans attended a for-profit school. That is why, despite our disappointment that these helpful bills did not move forward that we are pleased that two other bills (S.5562/A.8119 and S.5581A), which would have had negative consequences for New York students, also did not move forward this year. We are looking forward to working with the legislature this coming year to increase understanding of the issues and collaborate on effective solutions for all parties.


Domestic Violence

This session provided a number of important victories for victims of domestic violence, including the passage of the Right to Call 911 bill (A.2665 /S.4657). This bill will provide New Yorkers with protections from overly broad local nuisance ordinances that place housing and safety at risk.

“Residents across New York State, particularly victims of crime and intimate partner violence, should be able to call the police for help without fear that their local laws will then be used to threaten, harm or penalize them,” said Amy Schwartz-Wallace, Senior Attorney. “We applaud Assemblymember Lavine and Senator Hoylman for their leadership in passing these protections that will finally undo legally problematic and deeply unjust practices that occur throughout our state.  As these ‘nuisance ordinances’ directly undermine public safety and confidence in our justice system, we hope that the Governor will quickly sign this important bill into law.”


To learn more about our policy and legislative advocacy, and the next steps we will be taking to ensure all of these legislative victories are signed into law, sign up for our monthly newsletter, Policy Matters.


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Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy, public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. Empire Justice protects and strengthens the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised through: systems change advocacy, training and support to other advocates and organizations, and high quality direct civil legal representation. Empire Justice has offices in Albany, Rochester, Yonkers, White Plains and Central Islip on Long Island.