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Policy Matters – May 2024

Amanda Agallipeau May 31, 2024

Welcome to the May edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition, we discuss legislative advocacy to protect funding for civil legal services, creating meaningful consumer protections, a contracting bill that would address the delays in funding for nonprofits, removal of burdensome notarization requirements, our work to reduce childhood poverty, updates on the latest news, including a bill that would pilot a public bank in Rochester, as well as staff recognition. We hope you enjoy!

 

2024-25 Legislative Advocacy

May has been busy at the Capitol — we’re working to get legislation that will serve our clients and our community across the finish line before the end of session. Below are some highlights of recent press events and advocacy days.

Protecting our Civil Legal Services 

S.9130 Ryan/A.10253 Solage comes out of the way IOLA funds were redirected in the final budget and is a top priority to get done this session. Our President and CEO, Kristin Brown spoke out in support of the bill saying that it would help to ensure that IOLA funds are used only to support civil legal services, their sole intended purpose. As described in our previous issues, Interest on Lawyers Account (IOLA) funds are a crucial funding source to provide civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers. The money in the IOLA fund is interest earned on lawyer trust accounts, not taxpayer dollars. This year, for the first time in the 40-year history of IOLA, IOLA funds were transferred for another use – in this case, to fund the Homeowner Protection Program and eviction defense services.

Protecting New York’s Consumers and Small Businesses  

The governor kicked off Budget season with a press event and a promise to protect New York consumers, as part of her Consumer Protection & Affordability Agenda. As she said at the time, “If the last two years have been about putting more money in New Yorkers’ pockets, this year is about keeping it there and that starts with safeguarding people’s hard-earned cash.” Language to strengthen Consumer Protection was in both the Executive Budget and the Senate one house bill, but it didn’t make it into the final budget.

Post budget, we continue to push to pass the Consumer and Small Business Protection Act (S.795 Comrie/A.7138 Weinstein) before the end of session. New York is one of the few states that does not prohibit “unfair” and “abusive” practices in addition to deceptive business practices. This bill would correct that. On May 15, advocates from across the state met at the Capitol for a press event and lobby day on the bill. Senators Thomas and Ryan along with Assemblymembers Weinstein and Dinowitz, expressed their commitment to getting the bill passed. Empire Justice Center’s Policy and Communications Director Alex Dery Snider spoke with Spectrum about why the bill is necessary. Tell your representatives you want to protect New York’s consumers!

Contracting with New York State

Another priority bill, which addresses delays in state contracting is moving through the legislature. The bill, (S.4877A Mayer/A.2740B Paulin), defines as “noncompliant” state agencies with delayed contract executions and would require reporting of delays to the Comptroller and impacted agency as well as information about what is being done to address the delays. Empire Justice Center – and our civil legal service and nonprofit peers – struggle with multiple issues with the state contracting and payment process, including delayed execution of contracts, delayed payment, and inconsistency across agencies. This bill is an excellent first step. We look forward to working with the executive and legislature to make the contracting process fairer and more equitable for non-profit organizations, that provide critical services as an extension of the state.

Notarization 

Building off of our work last year to remove the burdensome notarization requirement, (S.9032 Ryan/A.9478 McMahon) clarifies the intent of 2023 changes to the notarization law by allowing any person to submit an affirmation under penalty of perjury in lieu of an affidavit in an administrative proceeding.

Additional bills we are advocating for:

  • The Bank of Rochester Act (S.9326 Brouk/A.10134 Bronson): Establishes municipal bank for cost savings, strengthens local economy, supports economic development, and addresses infrastructure and housing needs.
    • The public bank would partner with local financial institutions and is restricted from engaging in retail banking
    • Read our memo of support for more information.
  • The Decoupling Bill (S.8152A Brisport /A.8878A Hevesi): Provides equitable access to child care for children whose parents work non-traditional hours; it was previously vetoed;  we continue to push for this version to pass the legislature and be signed into law.
  • The Child Support Enforcement for Children Placed in Foster Care bill (S.7054A Hoylman-Sigal/A.4027 Kim): Limits the practice of suing parents whose children are placed in foster care for child support. The financial burden of paying this support disparately impacts people of color at higher rates and jeopardizes a family’s ability to afford basic necessities, exacerbates financial instability, and drives families deeper into poverty. These costs delay and prevent parents from regaining custody of their children.
  • The Town and Village Courts Bill (S.139 Ryan/A.1358 Thiele): Require judges with a high-volume caseload to be a licensed attorney and have five years’ experience. This bill helps ensure people retain their right to due process and that they have their case heard by someone with a greater understanding of the law.

 

Give OUT Day  

May 30 is Give OUT Day – the only national day of giving for organizations that provide services to the LGBTQ+ community. We ask that you please consider supporting our LGBTQ Rights Project, which advocates for the queer and transgender community by engaging in systems change, providing legal training and technical assistance, and providing direct representation and legal counsel to community members.

 

Suffolk County Bar Association Pro Bono Foundation

Congratulations to Senior Staff Attorney, Amrita Khan and Senior Immigration Attorney, Julia Kudlacz for who were recently honored for their contribution to the Suffolk County Bar Association Pro Bono Foundation. Thank you for all of your hard work and dedication!

 

Women of Excellence 

On May 14, Chief Legal Officer, Maggie Robb received the award for Rochester Business Journal’s Woman of the Year! We congratulate Maggie on this much-deserved honor!

 

Toast of Gratitude

Empire Justice Center, along with fellow Telesca Center for Justice partners hosted “Toast of Gratitude” at the Telesca Center. We were joined by firm and business partners for the event, all in support for the wonderful work of the agencies at the Telesca Center for Justice.

 

Thank You For Reading

If you’d like to keep up with our policy work, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or visit the Policy Central page on our website.

If you need civil legal help, you can email us.

 

We Are Hiring! 

Are you a dedicated, determined and passionate advocate who wants to make a significant impact on the lives of low-income New Yorkers? Check out our open positions!

 

The Empire Justice Policy Team