Making Government More Effective: A Civil Liberties Agenda for the 2011 NYS Legislative Session

A letter from NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman and NYCLU Legislative Director Robert Perry:

In his State of the State address Governor Cuomo challenged legislators and administrators to make government work better: more efficient, more accountable and less costly.

The NYCLU’s legislative and policy recommendations are consistent with this charge. Indeed, good law and sound public policy respect civil rights and civil liberties.

Our legislative and public policy agenda for 2011, if enacted into law, would significantly advance protections of individual liberty and social justice. Following is an overview of the NYCLU’s legislative priorities:

Safe Schools, Good Schools. Last year, passage of the Dignity for All Students Act marked a victory 10 years in the making that mandates training, mediation and counseling to counter bias and school bullying. We call on the Cuomo administration to effectively implement this crucial anti-bullying law. We’ll also push for legislation to ensure that students are afforded protections against discrimination in the state’s Human Rights Law, and that all educational institutions must uphold that law.

Criminal Justice. Groundbreaking 2009 reform of the Rockefeller Drug Laws authorizes judicial discretion in sentencing for drug offenses and allows for rehabilitation and drug treatment as an alternative to incarceration, yielding better human outcomes and significant savings. Realizing these benefits depends on effective implementation. We call on Governor Cuomo to create a senior-level position to facilitate these reforms, and to convene a task force of mental health, public heath, substance abuse and vocational/educational experts to guide the state’s new drug policy.

Work and Family Rights. Federal law permits 12 weeks of unpaid family leave, but the state’s most vulnerable workers often cannot afford the economic sacrifice. The proposed Paid Family Leave Act, administered via Worker’s Compensation programs and funded by small weekly payroll deductions to provide a modest benefit for up to 13 weeks, imposes no new costs on employers or the government. The Legislature should enact paid family leave to protect New York’s workers.

Voting Rights and Fair Elections. We will endorse legislation that limits the influence of politics in the drawing of electoral districts. Governor Cuomo has been an outspoken advocate for such reform. Before the November elections, Senate majority leader Dean Skelos and the Republican caucus pledged to create an independent redistricting commission. We will work hard to capitalize on this opportunity to restore integrity and political neutrality to redistricting in 2011.

Civil Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender New Yorkers. The NYCLU strongly supports legislation to establish full, fair marriage rights for all New Yorkers. In addition, we will fight for passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which will extend civil rights protections to transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers.

Reproductive Rights and Medical Privacy. The Reproductive Health Act will strengthen New York’s abortion laws and safeguard the rights of women in New York to make private medical decisions – essential legislation in a climate where actions by states and the U.S. Supreme Court threaten the protections guaranteed by Roe v. Wade.

That’s an ambitious agenda, but there’s even more to work for:

  • Pass the Healthy Teens Act to provide our children comprehensive and age-appropriate sex education.
  • Increase transparency in crime reporting through legislation that would require local police departments to provide the state data on misdemeanor arrests.
  • Adopt the Farm Workers’ Bill of Rights , which will provide our state's migrant farm workers basic labor protections.
  • Expand the Voting Rights Notification and Registration Act to restore voting rights to approximately 100,000 people on parole.
  • Protect patients’ privacy as the state transitions to a system of electronic medical records.

In 2009-2010, we saw something of a legislative revolution (by Albany’s standards) in advances for civil liberties.

As always, the success of our agenda depends on the support and advocacy of our members.
Please tell your elected officials that you support the civil liberties agenda, and we will make history together again this year.

Thank you for all that you do,

Donna Lieberman,
Executive Director, New York Civil Liberties Union

Robert Perry
Legislative Director, new York Civil Liberties Union