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Why New York’s Legislature Matters

Inside the New York State Legislature

This year’s New York State legislative session ushered in a wave of historic change. It happened after New Yorkers voted in new, progressive leadership in the Senate.

The New York Civil Liberties Union secured a ton of victories, many of which we’ve been pushing for for many years. We saw wins for voting rights, reproductive rights, and immigrant rights. We also secured criminal legal system reforms and measures to fight hate and discrimination across New York.

But what can sometimes get lost in the specific wins is the bigger picture of why our state legislature matters. How does what happens in Albany impact New Yorkers in their everyday lives and what lessons should people take from what we accomplished this year to help us achieve future victories?

We asked members of the NYCLU staff about this year’s legislative session and below are some of their responses that help explain some of these larger questions. You can read more of their responses on our Facebook page.

What’s one thing you wish more New Yorkers understood about their state legislature?

“I hope that more and more New Yorkers can connect to the fact that it is, in the truest sense, OUR state legislature. Albany is notorious for corruption, stagnation, and unresponsiveness to the voices of the people of the state of New York, and most New Yorkers seem checked out of legislative politics and activity as a result. But this year has shown that a change in the personalities who represent us in Albany can yield a massive shift in what Albany can produce for New Yorkers – and this power to bring about meaningful change belongs to the people, to us.”

Erika Lorshbough
Assistant Director for Legislative Affairs 


Tell us about one of the bills you worked on this year.

“One of my favorite lesser-known measures this year is a bill that would allow folks who have been subject to any form of trafficking to get rid of any convictions that were related to their experience of being trafficked.

This bill recognizes the fundamental truth that, any time someone is trafficked into any kind of forced labor, they are the ones who are most directly and most severely being harmed, and this is especially true when the underlying “offenses” they “commit” are behaviors like trading sex or possessing illicit substances. Our criminal legal system has to move toward ways of addressing the harms people experience without causing more harm, and this measure is a step in that direction.”

Erika Lorshbough
Assistant Director for Legislative Affairs 


What was your favorite bill you worked on this year?

Green Light! I’m so grateful we passed this bill, working together with amazing organizations like Workers Justice Center and New York Immigration Coalition and more. The ability to drive safely should not depend on your immigration status—and now, that discriminatory barrier is eliminated! It is part of our larger mission of cultivating a state where immigrants have equal access to basic everyday needs as every New Yorker should.”

Drea Herrera


What was your favorite moment at the State Capitol during the session?

“There have been countless moments at Green Light actions where I have looked around at hundreds of people in green rallying, lobbying, educating the public on this issue, and thought: ‘Wow, this is what true organizing is.’ The moment that the bill passed was surreal. The saying ‘Power to the People’ really rang true.

Drea Herrera


Why is our state legislature important?

“There are plenty of people who pay a lot of attention to national politics, but know a lot less about what’s happening in their own state legislature, which is just as (and often more) consequential. One lesson from this session was how constituent pressure and organized advocacy really can move the needle in Albany.”

Zachary Ahmad
Policy Counsel


How do you think the progress New York made this year will affect other states?

“Progress is never a straight line – some states will see what we did here and respond with fear, pushing back toward the oppression of insular thinking; and others will find inspiration and encouragement to push ahead toward a world where there is not a limited supply of freedom and justice.”

Katharine Bodde
Senior Policy Counsel


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