Empire Justice Center 2017 State Legislative Priorities

Kristin Brown, Eòghann Renfroe April 28, 2017

Promoting Strength, Protecting Justice

As New Yorkers, we unite around the concepts of liberty, equality and opportunity.  Now we face the most significant shift in policy perspective at the federal level that’s been seen in a generation, but opportunities for New York to uphold our shared values are everywhere.  In 2017, Empire Justice Center’s top priorities will be focused on identifying and fostering ways to strengthen New York’s laws, our communities, and each other, to protect justice for ALL New Yorkers.

WAGE JUSTICE: Loopholes in existing New York State law give bad faith employers the opportunity to engage in wage theft without facing consequences – allowing them to transfer assets so that even if a court judges against them they can continue their business under a new name, hide property and assets in the name of family member, and avoid paying what they owe to both employees and the state.  This harms honest business by allowing unfair, illegal competition to continue without redress.  Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) is legislation that would create tools to give employees and New York State a better chance to collect the money they are owed after a court judges in their favor, and remove unfair competition for law-abiding businesses.

SOLUTION: Pass SWEAT (A.628/S.579) and give both employees and New York State a better chance to collect the money they are owed, and level the playing field so honest businesses have a chance to compete fairly in the marketplace.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PREVENTION: No one should be afraid to call 911 when they have been the victim of a crime, but all across the state, crime and domestic violence victims are faced with an impossible choice – stay silent or lose their homes.  The right to call 911 must be protected from nuisance ordinances that place consequences on tenants rather than on perpetrators of domestic violence or other crimes.

SOLUTION: Pass the Right to Call 911 bill (A.2919/S.405) and create a statewide carve-out allowing crime and DV victims to call 911 for help without fear of being evicted.

PROTECTIONS FOR STUDENTS: Currently, New York’s public school students are not protected against discrimination or harassment on the basis of their race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, military status, sex, age or marital status by the state’s Human Rights Law (HRL).  Only students at private, non-parochial schools – who make up a very small proportion of New York’s students – can seek protection under the HRL.  It has only been since 2012 that the state’s nearly 3 million public school students have been left without these protections.  No student should have to pay for access to basic human rights – all students deserve the same protections in New York State.

SOLUTION: Passage of legislation that would restore protections for New York State public school students under the Human Rights Law.

LANGUAGE ACCESS AND SPOUSAL SUPPORT IN ORDERS OF PROTECTION: When domestic violence impacts families, civil and criminal orders of protection are one of the most valuable and effective tools to help keep victims and children safe.  With more than 150 different languages and dialects spoken in New York State, it is extremely important that limited English language speakers are able to access orders of protection in the right language so they can understand an order’s detailed terms and conditions, and keep their families safe, but all too often survivors are only given orders of protection in English.

SOLUTION: Passage of legislation that will ensure access to orders of protection in appropriate, commonly spoken languages, to ensure limited English proficiency is not a barrier to the effectiveness of orders of protection issues by New York courts.

DRIVER’S LICENSES FOR NEW YORK STATE RESIDENTS: In many parts of the state, especially upstate and Long Island, the only way to get to work is by car.  Immigrant labor is essential to many industries in New York, especially agriculture, but New York makes it impossible for many immigrants to legally drive.  Eleven other states allow driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status, increasing safety on the roads by ensuring all those who must drive are doing so with proper training and certification.

SOLUTION: Passage of legislation allowing driver’s licenses for New York State residents regardless of immigration status.

DEED THEFT: Homeowners with significant debt, or who are in foreclosure, are increasingly becoming the targets of scammers who offer to help refinance or pay off their mortgage, but instead illegally transfer the ownership of the deed, effectively stealing their homes out from under their feet.  Once their deed has been stolen, victims of deed theft are no longer the legal owners of the homes they have lived in, sometimes for decades or even generations, and are left with no clear legal recourse.  Over the past several years scammers have developed new methods to target vulnerable homeowners, especially the elderly, minorities and homeowners in gentrifying areas.

SOLUTION: Passage of legislation that addresses loopholes in law and other issues that leave homeowners vulnerable to deed theft.

REVERSE MORTGAGES: Reverse mortgages have become an emerging trend in home refinancing, but they come with risks about which many older homeowners are unaware or uninformed.  Although they can help some seniors stay in their home and pay off debts, they do this by using up home equity.  Many seniors do not find out they have used all the equity in their home until they need to tap into it in order to move out of the home or into a nursing facility, and discover they cannot afford it. They also face increased risk of foreclosure, either from an inability to keep the house in good repair, falling behind on taxes and fees, or even their loans coming due if they are forced to spend an extended time in an assisted living facility while recovering from health problems.

SOLUTION: Draft and introduce legislation dealing with issues resulting from reverse mortgages.

MEDICAL RECORDS ACCESS: Although low income New Yorkers are supposed to have access to copies of their medical records free of charge, in practice many are forced to pay fees they cannot afford, or simply do without.  For disabled New Yorkers trying to apply for Federal disability benefits, the costs can become astronomical, with hundreds of pages of medical records needing to be submitted.  New Yorkers in need should be able to access appropriate medical records free of charge.

SOLUTION: Passage of legislation guaranteeing that New Yorkers in need are able to access their own medical records, free of charge.

For more information:
Kristin Brown
(518) 852-5766

Eòghann Renfroe
(518) 935-2856