A wide range of Civil Liberty and Civil Rights bills were introduced into the State legislature. Not many bills were passed in 2011, but one of the most influential pieces of legislation that New York passed was A 8354 on marriage equality. This bill paved the way for same-sex couples to get married and they now receive the same benefits as hetero-sexual couples. During 2012, many more pieces of legislation were proposed. Starting with S 5560A, a bill that requires any designated offender to provide a sample of DNA for testing and inclusion in the state’s DNA index. Previously, only those convicted of felonies and a limited number of misdemeanors are legally obligated to provide samples. Even though Governor Cuomo pressured the Democratic Assembly into passing the bill, the Chairman of the Committee on Codes, Joseph Lentol said that his colleagues will only pass a so-called “all-crimes” DNA bill that includes “protections for the innocent.” The bill easily passed in the Senate, 49-10. The bill then did not pass the Assembly, as it died in committee. Another bill that relates to DNA testing is and it requires all persons convicted of a misdemeanor to provide DNA samples.
Continuing with its trend of addressing civil liberties and civil rights, but also expanding civil rights and freedoms of expression, the Senate passed a bill authorizing the use of public school property for religious meetings and worships, known as S 6087 A. The bill passed the Senate 54-7, but when sent to the Assembly for passage, it did not pass in committee. In addition, A 5039 prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Although this bill passed the Assembly, it died in the Senate committee when the legislative session ended.
In early January of 2011, Assemblywoman Michelle Schimel proposed a bill to the Assembly that would be passed in the Assembly in May of 2011. The bill did not pass in Senate committee. In June of 2012, the same bill was passed in the Assembly, and just as before, the bill died in committee. This bill, A 1157B, requires firearms to have microstamping technology to further improve ballistics testing. Speaker Sheldon Silver said “Gun violence has caused great harm to many in our communities. This legislation would help law enforcement to bring the perpetrators of these violent crimes to justice and offer some measure of closure to the victims of these heinous acts." Opponents, mainly consisting of the gun industry, believe that microstamping is ineffective and its costs too much money. It is believed that the proposed system would unfairly focus on legal gun owners when most crimes are committed with illegally obtained guns.
After the federally mandated Census of 2010, New York was forced to potentially re-draw its Congressional District lines because of the changed population in the state. In early 2011, the Senate passed S 3331, a bill that submits a constitutional amendment to the voters to create a non-partisan redistricting committee. This bill would authorize an apportionment commission, instead of the census, to readjust or alter the Senate and Assembly districts. It would also prohibit drawing a district for the purposes of favoring a political party, incumbent legislator or other person or group. The commission would consist of five members, none of whom may be past or current public officials or past or current office holders in any political party. The bill passed in the Senate, 35-24, but the Assembly did not take action to pass the bill. The next year, the Assembly proposed a new bill to alter the state senate and assembly districts, A 9525, which passed both chambers on March 14, 2012, and signed by Governor Cuomo the next day. The Governor’s original attempt to redraw lines was to commission an independent panel to make the lines. However, legislators in the Assembly submitted a redistricting bill that was on the verge of expiration. The Republican-led Senate, with intentions to make the districts extremely unfavorable to Senate Democrats passed their version of the bill. The bill was passed in both chambers: 98-44 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the Senate. All but 4 members of the Democratic Caucus did not vote.
Expanding Gambling and Gaming has been an issue of state and national importance, as it provides an opportunity for states to tax casinos to increase state revenue. The intent of the Assembly Bill, A 9556, is to pass a bill that submits a constitutional amendment to the voters that authorizes the establishment of no more than 7 casinos within New York. The bill was passed in both the Assembly and the Senate on March 14, 2012. Although both chambers passed this piece of legislation, according to the New York State Constitution Article XIX the state legislature needs to pass the resolution in two consecutive sessions and then submit the proposed amendment to the people of New York in the form of a referendum. The earliest possible date for this vote is November of 2013.
Throughout the course of each session, labor laws have been a topic of heated debate in Albany. In early 2011, a bill was proposed by the Assembly to establish wage protections for independent contractors who do not receive agreed-upon payments from clients. A 6698A, the proposed bill, would authorize the Department of Labor to investigate complaints, make claims for compensation, assess liquid damages, civil penalties and criminal penalties and authorizes the award of attorney fees and liquidated damages. The bill passed the Assembly, 84-58, with most of the Democratic Caucus backing the legislation. Proponents of the bill believe that since a majority of independent contractors have difficulty collecting their owed wages at some point in their careers, unlike traditional employees, they lack any labor protections to ensure they get paid for completed work.
As there is much controversy surrounding the struggling retirement system, Senate bill, S 6735, passed both chambers on March 12, 2012. It passed the Senate by a measure of 32-5 with only Republican support, and in the Assembly with a 92-46 passage. Two days later, on March 16, Governor Cuomo signed the bill into law. This amendment increases the retirement age for police officers and fire fighters from 55 to 63, and 60 to 63 for all other state employees. In April of 2011, A 6130 cleared the Assembly floor. It serves to prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee on the basis of sex, race, or national origin by compensating the employee at a lower rate than one paid to employees of the opposite sex or a different race or national origin for the same job. This bill died in committee in the opposite chamber.
Another labor issue that was addressed, passed and signed into law in the 2011 legislative session was that authorizing an increase in the number of Taxicabs that serve the City of New York. A 8496, introduced in June of 2011, authorizes the New York City Taxi and Limousine Agency to issue up to 1,500 more taxicab licenses. However, 569 of such licenses would be restricted to vehicles that are accessible to individuals with disabilities. This bill also authorizes the Limousine Commission to issue permits to livery cabs authorizing them to pick up passengers by street hail. Proponents of this measure argued that livery cabs have been picking up passengers on the streets illegally for decades and they want the Governor to “recognize the valuable contributions of this industry [livery service] to New York.” Opponents counter by arguing that the plan “would devastate 50,000 hard-working taxi drivers by flooding the market with new taxis.” The bill was signed by the Governor into law in December of 2011.
Finally, A 9148 is an Assembly bill that would increase the minimum wage in the State of New York. The proposed legislation would increase the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.50 an hour. This bill passed the Assembly by a measure of 98-49. The bill also states that the minimum wage would be adjusted each year, depending on inflation. Supporters say that a minimum wage increase would help bring low-income families out of poverty, stimulate economic growth and spur job creation. Opponents of the bill state that it could hurt low-income earners and small businesses, by raising the cost of doing business, which could lead to layoffs. The bill never reached the Senate floor for a vote because it died in the Senate Labor Committee.
Daniel Warner is a student at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in Government. He is currently interning with Project Vote Smart.