THE 2023 NYCLU LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
Our democracy stands at the precipice. We are staring down threats to the liberties that make New Yorkers’ civic participation – and our democracy – possible.
New York must be a safe haven and model of progress in the face of a nationwide attack on rights.
At the ballot this November, more than 200 candidates who doubted or denied the results of the 2020 election won races across the country. In New York, the NYCLU fought and overcame attempts to upend absentee voting and to use the courts to sow electoral confusion.
Yet we don’t only face fights over voting rights. We are staring down threats to the liberties that make New Yorkers’ civic participation – and our democracy – possible.
For the first time ever, the Supreme Court has wrenched away a long-held, fundamental right, and the Court has signaled it is coming for more than abortion, with contraception, and marriage equality next in their sites.
New Yorkers cannot fully contribute to decisions about our government and society if we cannot even make decisions about our bodies, health, and lives.
Our state also faces a well-funded and relentless misinformation campaign against recent reforms to the state’s bail and discovery laws, the age of criminal responsibility, and the use of long-term solitary confinement. These reforms made the system fairer, helped keep families together, and made long-overdue progress toward ending decades of racial bias in our criminal legal system. Unraveling these reforms would keep thousands more legally innocent people in dangerous jails, including the deadly disaster of Rikers Island.
We face renewed calls for police to be the catch-all answer to complex social needs, like homelessness, poverty, mental illness, and school discipline that they aren’t suited to handle. At the same time, those pushing for more policing have little interest in transparency and accountability to limit misconduct, abuse, and bias.
We also continue to suffer immigration enforcement practices that discourage New Yorkers from living openly. We endure a child welfare system that separates and traumatizes families – particularly Black and Brown families – without adequate due process. We face entwining crises of inaccessible child care, unaffordable housing, and inadequate workplace protections. And the digital traces we leave online remain far too vulnerable to misuse by government and private actors.
New Yorkers cannot fully participate in our democracy if we cannot keep our families and communities together, provide for ourselves, or protect our personal lives.
New York lawmakers have taken important steps to meet some of these needs. Just last year, lawmakers passed the most comprehensive state voting rights act in the nation, achieved first-passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in an extraordinary session, and enacted new oversight of the East Ramapo Central School District to protect the education of students of color – among other advances.
Now, New York leaders must build on this progress, recognize the wider danger, and meet our moment. It isn’t only that New Yorkers need Albany to rally to protect democracy from death by thousands of cuts – Americans also need New York to be a safe haven and to model progress in the face of a nationwide attack on rights.
This legislative session, state leaders must:
- Protect reproductive justice by passing an Equality Amendment to the New York Constitution, establishing a state fund for abortion access, ensuring that hospitals are transparent about the services they offer, and ensuring protections for reproductive health providers.
- Create pathways to economic justice by supporting universal child care, ensuring fair access to housing for all, universal high-speed internet, ending the criminalization of massage work, and protecting gig and other misclassified workers.
- Respect personal autonomy over medical, sexual, and family matters by transforming the family regulation system, decriminalizing sex work and HIV transmission, protecting gender-affirming care, advancing the health and rights of people grappling with addiction, and allowing medical aid in dying.
- Secure justice for young people by providing solutions not suspensions, delivering comprehensive sex ed, and protecting students’ health and ensuring that every child has access to the free, secular public education they need to survive and thrive in 21st century America.
- Protect immigrant New Yorkers by creating a New York for all, guaranteeing access to representation in immigration hearings, and enabling immigrants to obtain licenses necessary to participate in New York’s economy.
- End mass incarceration by reforming New York’s parole system and sentencing laws, decriminalizing drugs, embracing harm reduction, and eliminating barriers to successful reintegration into society.
- Protect human rights in jails and prisons by ending exploitative labor practices, enshrining in our state constitution the abolition of slavery without exception, and ending gender identity-based mistreatment in that system.
- Stop abusive policing by getting police out of mental health crises, ending no-knock raids, demilitarizing police, ensuring independent and transparent discipline, banning rogue DNA databases, and protecting the reproductive rights and health of pregnant people in law enforcement custody.
- Safeguard our digital privacy by protecting our personal information online, banning biometric surveillance, and outlawing keyword and geofence warrants.
PROTECT REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE
New York has always been a leader when it comes to access to reproductive health care. We legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade and hung billboards on the borders advertising that abortion was legal, safe, and accessible here. After the Dobbs decision, we are again called on to be an access state for all those who seek abortion care. While New York’s 2019 Reproductive Health Act removed abortion from the criminal code – putting it in the public health law where it belongs – and authorized advanced practice clinicians to provide care within their scope of practice, there is so much more New York must do to shore up access within our borders. We must create robust pipelines for provider training and expand access by ensuring that medication abortion is accessible on college campuses.
Pass the Equal Rights Amendment a Second Time
Our State Constitution sets forth the fundamental rights that are protected against discrimination. But New York’s existing equal protection clause (Article 1, Section 11 of the New York Constitution) is more than 80 years old and only contains limited and symbolic protections. Lawmakers must take steps to pass a constitutional amendment that bars discrimination based on a person’s race, national origin, disability, and sex – expressly including pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
After the Supreme Court overturned Roe in June 2022, legislators came back to Albany and passed the Equal Rights Amendment. This bill lays the groundwork for protecting the equal rights of all New Yorkers, including pregnant people, in our state constitution. But our work has only just begun. All proposed amendments to the New York Constitution must pass the state legislature twice before they can be put before the voters at the ballot. Lawmakers must show their commitment to reproductive and equal rights by passing the Equal Rights Amendment again at the beginning of the 2023 legislative session. New York needs to step forward as a national leader and actively protect all New Yorkers, including pregnant people.
Establish a Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund
Even in parts of the country where abortion is still legal, the right to abortion is only theoretical for too many Americans. Many people across the country and in New York lack the money necessary to pay for abortion care and to cover the costs of travel, lodging, child care, and other expenses required to obtain that care. New York must step in to fill these financial gaps to ensure that no person is turned away from care in this state because they cannot afford it.
The Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund would create a comprehensive, sustainable state program to invest in providers and fund abortions and logistical support for anyone who needs financial assistance. This funding mechanism would operate through the New York State Department of Health to provide grants to abortion providers, abortion funds, and logistical support funds – the organizations that make the right to care a reality for people seeking abortions.
Protect Our Abortion Providers, Helpers, and Seekers
Ensuring our reproductive rights are secure and breaking down barriers to care will not be enough. Some states are already considering passing laws that prohibit their residents from traveling for abortion care, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As anti-abortion states threaten to force pregnancy within their boundary or jurisdiction and bar abortion access beyond them, we must protect New York providers who are delivering care, those who support the delivery of care, patients who seek care, and those who seek to end their own pregnancies.
New York must strengthen and expand legislation that protects abortion care – for providers, helpers, and seekers. We must build on our laws to extend new safeguards against professional discipline to all who provide abortion care, including advanced practice clinicians. And we must close legal loopholes to ensure our laws are as strong and protective as possible. New York must also take steps to protect individuals’ privacy when they use the internet or mobile applications to manage health information or seek care, as states that want to restrict reproductive rights could try to use this information against patients or providers. In addition to these critical steps, New York will need to remain alert for emerging threats from hostile states throughout the legislative session.
Increase Hospital Transparency
No one should be turned away from a hospital when they need health care. Yet, hospitals often deny care based on the bureaucratic decision-making of non-medical personnel rather than sound medical science. This leaves patients in regions of the state without access to reproductive health care, end-of-life care, gender-affirming care, and other types of sensitive health care. To make matters worse, because information about what services hospitals provide is often impossible to access, patients cannot determine whether their local hospital provides the care they need. The Hospital Transparency bill would provide New Yorkers with the tools to determine whether their hospital provides the care they seek prior to admission and to identify communities where particular services are completely unavailable. In doing so, the bill lays the groundwork to expand access to care in health care deserts around the state.
CREATE PATHWAYS TO ECONOMIC JUSTICE
The COVID pandemic revealed stark inequities that run across race, income, disability, and gender lines in nearly every aspect of New Yorkers’ lives, including access to health care, housing, education resources, employment, child care, and beyond. The pandemic has heightened the public’s consciousness around issues of structural and systemic racism, and as we rebuild, we must do so with true equality at the core of our policies and institutions. We must ensure that all New Yorkers have robust labor rights; equitable access to health care and vaccines; affordable, universal child care so caregivers can participate in the workforce; and universal access to high-speed internet. Lawmakers must embrace this opportunity to make New York a more equitable place for every community.
Ensure Fair Housing for All
Stable housing provides a foundation for employment, civic participation, health, education, and childhood well-being. For all these reasons, the NYCLU believes housing is a civil and human right – and protecting people’s right to stable housing requires fair rules and due process before that right is taken away.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are at risk of losing their homes to eviction, one of the primary drivers of families into the shelter system. Evictions are traumatic, disrupting children’s education and tearing apart family stability. Eviction proceedings are also complex and nearly impossible to navigate alone. Evictions disproportionately impact Black and brown tenants, with women facing the greatest burdens.
In March 2020 during the height of the pandemic, New York enacted an eviction moratorium and expansion of financial support for renters, causing New York City’s family homeless shelter population to decrease to its lowest numbers seen in over a decade. But that moratorium ended in January 2022 and now eviction cases are rising, and legal services organizations are raising the alarm about their inability to represent renters at risk of losing their homes.
New York State’s already devastating eviction crisis will only get worse if we don’t enact permanent solutions that strengthen tenants’ rights and empower tenants to fight for their homes. Legislators must urgently invest in legislative reforms that protect the rights of tenants by guaranteeing them an enforceable right to counsel in housing court, require good cause for any eviction, and ensure that tenants can raise substandard conditions in their homes without risking retaliation or eviction from landlords.
Establish a Right to Counsel in Housing Court
Outside of New York City, nearly all landlords across the state have lawyers, while the vast majority of tenants do not. This creates an imbalance of power in the courts and results in far too many tenants losing their homes. With over a million households behind on rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hundreds of thousands of eviction cases pending across the state, New York tenants need a right to counsel. Lawmakers must pass a statewide Right to Counsel bill that guarantees all New York State tenants the right to have a lawyer when facing an eviction, and ensure no one is denied an attorney because they can’t afford one.
The right to counsel is proven to reduce evictions: when in its pilot phase in certain New York City neighborhoods, evictions declined more than five times faster in those neighborhoods than in others. Following New York City’s full citywide implementation of the right to counsel, evictions have decreased by nearly 40 percent. Nationally, the seven cities that now have the right to counsel have seen up to a 77 percent reduction in evictions. State lawmakers must act urgently to stop the slide into a deeper eviction crisis by evening the playing field and making sure that no one loses their home without the opportunity for legal representation.
Protect Tenants from Unjust Evictions
One simple way to reduce unfair evictions is to ensure that landlords must have a reason to evict a tenant from their home. For this reason, renters, housing advocates, and many legislators throughout New York State are united behind passing the Good Cause Eviction bill this legislative session.
The Good Cause Evictions bill means just that: if you’re a renter in New York State, your landlord must have a good reason to evict you. These reasons include a failure to pay rent, violating the terms of the lease, and creating a nuisance, among other causes detailed in the bill. It doesn’t cover owner-occupied homes of four units or less, so it won’t burden small landlords who may need more flexibility. Critically, under Good Cause, tenants have the right to a lease renewal and their landlords must justify any rent increase of more than three percent or 150 percent of the consumer price index, whichever is larger.
Following in the footsteps of similar laws in California and Oregon, Good Cause would extend protections to about 1.6 million renters throughout New York State, nearly half the state’s renters, and dramatically cut back on unjust evictions.
Provide Universal Child Care
Child care is a necessary support in normal times. Without access to high-quality care, parents cannot work. For single parents and for women, who are often the primary caretakers of their families, the lack of accessible child care can have dire consequences for their income, job retention, and children’s educational outcomes.
Yet New York State ranks among the most expensive states for child care in the nation. The average cost of child care exceeds rent and college tuition, child care is unavailable for undocumented children, and almost two-thirds of New Yorkers live in child care deserts where they are unable to find quality care in their neighborhoods. Moreover, for those who perform child care work – traditionally women of color – the work is so undervalued and underpaid that almost 60 percent of the families of people who care for young children participate in public income support programs.
Although last year’s state budget contained a starting investment in child care, it was only enough to slightly expand eligibility for New York’s poorest families. But this is nowhere near enough to get New York families on the path to truly universal child care. The COVID crisis made clear what working families with children have long known: trusted, accessible, quality child care is critical to public health and economic stability. Lack of child care is a gender, race, economic, and educational justice issue. If our state is to provide all New Yorkers with a pathway to achieve their full potential, universal child care must be a priority.
Ensure Universal High-Speed Internet
Universal and reliable access to the internet is essential to nearly every New Yorker’s ability to live in the modern world. Many people rely on the internet to work, attend school, go to the doctor, seek entertainment, and visit with loved ones. Unfortunately, New Yorkers do not all have the high-speed internet that would allow us to participate in these necessary elements of our lives. This is a statewide problem; large swaths of rural New York lack the infrastructure to provide affordable broadband to residents – and in New York City, between 17 and 20 percent of New Yorkers lack internet access.
Predictably, the digital divide most affects people who disproportionately live at the intersection of poverty and structural racism. Forty-six percent of New York City households living below the poverty line do not have home internet access. About 30 percent of Latinx and Black New Yorkers lack broadband internet access, compared with 20 percent of white New Yorkers. This means that as more of our brick-and-mortar life shifts online, ensuring universal online access is a core racial justice issue. Too many families lack adequate internet access or the devices they need to connect.
The Legislature must work to ensure that New York households have equitable access to the resources we have now by mandating affordable access to this critical utility. And it must work to create pathways to expand our existing broadband infrastructure to reach every underserved community. Access to broadband internet should be a universal right, not a privilege for the few.
Study and Repair the Impacts of Slavery in New York
We will never achieve racial justice if we do not examine the impact of slavery and its legacy – and make strides toward achieving reparatory justice. Structural racism and white supremacy are deeply embedded across laws and policies in New York. While the state is recognized as being the first in the nation to abolish slavery, its history of sustained systemic oppression for descendants of enslaved Africans has left a legacy that continues today through the racial wealth gap, de facto segregation, disparities in health, mass criminalization and incarceration, education inequity, and environmental racism.
Reparations are not a symbolic act – they are a real and necessary demand for justice that can serve as a baseline for a more just and equal future. And true reparative justice will mean not only the consideration of payments to make up for past economic theft from Black communities, but also confronting and dismantling systems that enable racial discrimination to continue today.
No amount of material resources or monetary compensation can ever offer full restitution for the physical, economic, cultural, emotional, and spiritual damage inflicted on enslaved African Americans for the enrichment of the United States. But to begin to reckon with the impacts of slavery, lawmakers must create a commission to study the impact of slavery on the descendants of enslaved Africans and those from the diaspora, and provide remedies to past and ongoing harms.
New York should strengthen workers’ rights
New York has a proud reputation as a strong labor state – but now more than ever, working New Yorkers are struggling. Lawmakers must ensure that workplaces are safe and that fundamental labor protections cover all employees, including gig workers who are not independent contractors and agricultural workers who are still excluded from standard overtime laws.
Protect Gig Workers
Most workers in our economy are, and should be treated as, “employees” entitled to the protection of core labor standards. However, employers often misclassify employees as independent contractors to evade responsibility for their workforces.
When employees are misclassified as independent contractors, they are robbed of basic labor protections, including workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, wage and hour protections, workplace health and safety standards, and the right to collective bargaining. Recent studies suggest that as many as one in every 10 employees in New York is misclassified as an independent contractor. Unfortunately, current legal tests for determining worker status are inconsistently applied. This long-standing problem is exacerbated by the growth of app-based businesses.
The Fair Play in Employment Act would create a clear and predictable independent contractor test for businesses and workers. It uses an existing model that has proven successful for addressing misclassification in the construction and commercial transportation industries. Workers who don’t meet the independent contractor test would be clearly defined as employees and afforded appropriate labor protections.
Employee misclassification hurts New Yorkers across many industries – from bike messengers and for-hire drivers to construction workers, tutors, nail salon workers, and hospitality workers. New York should preserve its place among the most progressive labor states and pass the Fair Play in Employment Act this year.
Decriminalize Massage Work
While there are nearly three dozen licensed professions in New York, massage workers are one of the only two professions where unlicensed workers are routinely arrested. Over 90 percent of those arrested are Asian women. Many are non-citizens, who are functionally excluded from obtaining massage licenses due to cost or limited English proficiency. Arrests often involve law enforcement seizing the cash or other personal effects of the workers, and police frequently use the precarity of criminalization to exploit workers. Many massage workers report officers demanding sexual favors in exchange for leniency, though in many instances these workers are arrested on felony or misdemeanor charges anyway.
The Massage License Decriminalization Act removes criminal penalties for the practice of unlicensed massage. This brings massage into parity with other professions, where the criminal law is rarely if ever used. Moreover, it prevents police from seizing the property of workers. The bill does not erase distinctions between licensed and unlicensed massage work, nor does it remove noncriminal sanctions. Rather, it enables massage workers to live without the fear of criminalization.
RESPECT PERSONAL AUTONOMY OVER MEDICAL, SEXUAL, AND FAMILY MATTERS
New York law far too often criminalizes New Yorkers’ decisions about how we live, how we build or maintain our families, how we die, how we grapple with addiction, and how we have sex. The state also operates a system that inserts itself into the personal lives of families, particularly those who are Black or Brown, because of economic circumstances that are often not choices at all. These are the most personal, difficult, and intimate aspects of our lives – and policing them, rather than ensuring that people have autonomy, information, and access to support and care – is cruel and counterproductive to public safety. We must insulate New Yorkers’ most personal decisions and relationships from government intrusion by transforming the family regulation system, decriminalizing sex work, protecting access to gender-affirming care, advancing the health and rights of people grappling with addiction, preventing non-consensual drug testing, and allowing medical aid in dying.
Protect Family Rights in Child Protection Investigations
The past couple of years have brought new and welcome scrutiny over the role of police, particularly in Black and Brown communities. Yet in many of those same communities, child protective services can have a similarly intrusive and harmful impact, surveilling families’ personal lives and separating children from their parents. Families of color are disproportionately reported, investigated, and brought to court over allegations of child neglect – often for dubious reasons that have more to do with poverty than maltreatment.
A knock on the door from a child protective investigator can lead to a parent’s children being taken away for months – if not years – of supervision by local authorities. Despite these high stakes, parents are not entitled to a “Miranda warning” like they would receive in the criminal context. Many parents are therefore confused about their rights in such situations and are coaxed into making statements or agreements against their own interest.
In 2020, lawmakers took an important first step towards reforming the child protective system by passing legislation in the state budget to mitigate the collateral consequences associated with child maltreatment reports and make it simpler for parents to clear their names. This session, the Legislature must pass legislation requiring child protective workers to give parents notice of their rights when they initially investigate families, including the right not to make statements or sign releases and to consult with an attorney.
The Legislature should also pass legislation to prohibit anonymous reports to the State Central Register. Anonymous calls are often used to harass or threaten parents, and the inherent lack of accountability in anonymous reporting casts doubt on the reliability of those reports. By requiring confidential, rather than anonymous, reporting, lawmakers can help reduce unnecessary family intervention without compromising child safety.
Protect Access to Gender-Affirming Care for Providers, Patients, and Helpers
Gender affirming care is under attack across the U.S. Since 2020, more than 20 states have restricted access to gender-affirming care or are considering doing so. Under these laws, health care providers and even supportive family members can face severe penalties for facilitating life-saving gender-affirming care, including criminal sentences, professional discipline, civil lawsuits, and family separation. Support for a young person’s care is perversely characterized as child abuse by some states. New York must stand up to these attacks by passing laws barring the state from participating in attempts to stigmatize or punish providers, patients, or those who support them. These laws must include protections against criminal process, professional discipline, adverse action by insurers, and, importantly, family regulation consequences.
For decades New York has been a beacon for people all over the country seeking gender-affirming care. We must take steps to ensure we continue to be a point of safe access for those who can no longer get the care they need in their home state.
Support Overdose Prevention Centers
The opioid crisis has had a devastating impact across the United States and here in New York. Epidemic levels of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths have overwhelmed communities, with deaths from drug-related overdoses reaching record high levels in recent years, hitting Black and Latinx communities the hardest. In 2021, New York City became the first jurisdiction in the United States to adopt a proven harm reduction tool that prevents overdose deaths, and increases access to drug treatment and preventative health care. It opened two overdose prevention centers (OPCs). OPCs offer evidence-based harm reduction services by allowing people to use pre-obtained drugs in a clean setting under medical supervision, where staff can intervene to treat and reverse overdoses or other medical complications. While New York City now operates the first and only OPCs in the nation, OPCs have a long and consistent record of success around the world. In more than 30 years, no one has died of a drug overdose at any of the more than 100 OPCs operating in over 60 cities worldwide. And just six months into their operation, New York City’s OPCs had already successfully reversed 314 overdoses that could have otherwise resulted in death.
New York can build on these successes and prevent even more deaths statewide by enacting the Safer Consumption Services Act (SCSA). The SCSA would allow the State Department of Health and local health departments to authorize and regulate OPCs in communities across the state. By doing so, New Yorkers will have access to these facilities’ life-saving interventions and their ability to provide connections to other medical, educational, and social services. OPCs offer a critical, evidence-based tool for saving lives and reversing the trend of increasing overdose deaths in New York.
Decriminalize the transmission of STIs
New York makes it a crime to have sex if you have a sexually-transmitted infection. This crime carries no intent requirement and no transmission requirement, and open disclosure to one’s partners is no defense. Defense attorneys report that New York prosecutors have weaponized these statutes to prosecute people living with HIV who have sex.
This is bad public policy. Laws that criminalize people living with HIV/AIDs and STIs discourage disclosure, ignore science, harm patient relationships with counselors and doctors, and perpetuate stigma. Recognizing these realities, 12 states have amended or repealed their laws criminalizing HIV/AIDS since 2014. In 2023, New York must join these states by repealing its crimes for simply having sex.
Decriminalize Consensual Sex Work
The enforcement of laws against the sale and purchase of adult, consensual commercial sex in New York is deeply racialized. Approximately 90 percent of those arrested are Black or brown, and LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted. Arrests are often violent, and police use charges or the threat of charges to coerce sexual favors and to denigrate sex workers.
Because sex work is considered a “crime involving moral turpitude,” a conviction can make someone deportable, or make it difficult for sex workers or those profiled as sex workers, to adjust their immigration status. The result of criminalization is that it pushes sex work deeper into the shadows, which makes it more difficult for sex workers to screen clients, employ harm reduction strategies, report violence against them, and be safe from police surveillance and violence. Criminalization makes consensual sex workers less safe, and it also makes survivors of trafficking and coercion less safe, as they are often criminalized as if they were consensual sex workers.
The Stop Violence in the Sex Trades Act (SVSTA) removes criminal penalties for the consensual sales of sex between adults. It does not remove penalties from trafficking laws that criminalize coercion or force. Further, the SVSTA vacates prior sex work related convictions. Convictions can prevent people from securing employment, housing, child care, or immigration relief. The inability to access these necessities can make someone more economically dependent on sex work, even if they would like to leave the profession.
The SVSTA’s decriminalization model is recognized by leading scientists, researches, harm reduction organizations, Amnesty International, and many sex-worker led organizations as the best way to reduce violence, reduce STI transmission, reduce coercion from police, and to empower sex workers.
End Non-Consensual Drug Testing
Pregnant people in New York State are often subjected to medically unnecessary drug and alcohol testing by their health care providers without their knowledge or consent. Indeed, testing deters some pregnant people from seeking vital pre- and perinatal medical care. These tests result can cause an avalanche of unwarranted and devastating consequences, including a report to Child Protective Services (CPS), family separation, loss of housing and employment, and more
Largely conducted at the discretion of health care providers, and accordingly subject to their unconscious bias, drug and alcohol testing disproportionately targets Black and Latinx pregnant people in public hospitals, despite similar rates of substance use by white patients in private facilities. Women of color already suffer from disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and family separation by CPS. Nonconsensual and medically unnecessary drug and alcohol testing exacerbates these inequities.
New York must center birth justice and equity by ensuring that pregnant people have access to quality health care. Policy makers must recognize the harm to families caused by discriminatory drug testing in health care settings, which can lead to family separation and poor health outcomes for both children and parents. New York must pass legislation to ensure all pregnant patients give written, informed consent before drug testing.
Allow Medical Aid in Dying
The right to make decisions about one’s own medical care is vital, particularly for those nearing the end of life. Patients diagnosed with terminal illness often endure extensive, sometimes painful treatment. When the limits of such treatment are reached, many wish to have control over when and how their death occurs. The New York State Constitution guarantees the right of every individual to make their own medical decisions, including whether to accept or refuse medical treatment, and the law must also recognize the right of terminally ill patients to end their lives on their own terms.
The Medical Aid in Dying Act would give terminally ill people the legal right to make these critical decisions in consultation with qualified physicians. Patients could be prescribed medication for the purpose of ending their lives if they have been found by two physicians be mentally competent, making a voluntary and informed request, and suffering from a terminal illness with less than six months to live. The legislation includes multiple layers of safeguards to ensure that the decision to accelerate death is not subject to coercion.
SECURE JUSTICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
New York should divest from a punitive education system and invest in the health and wellbeing of all kids. Our public education system rewards the privileged, while disregarding Black and Brown students and those with greater needs. But education is a right, not a privilege.
Promote Solutions Not Suspensions
New York must pass the Judge Judith S. Kaye Solutions Not Suspensions Act to support schools in creating positive, inclusive classrooms. In New York, students lose hundreds of thousands of days of learning each year because of suspensions, often for normal youthful behavior. Students suspended are disproportionately Black and Latinx and those with disabilities. Across New York State, Black children are two to five times more likely to be suspended than their white classmates. Students who are suspended have higher likelihoods of involvement with the criminal legal system than their peers.
Suspensions limit academic achievement by using education as a reward for good behavior. Students in New York can be suspended for an entire school year, and they are not entitled to continue their regular lessons, homework, or courses during that time. New York is an outlier in allowing students to be removed from school for such long periods.
Instead of suspensions, schools should use positive discipline techniques like conflict resolution, restorative practices, and social-emotional skill building. The Judge Judith S. Kaye Solutions Not Suspensions Act will:
- Encourage the use of age-appropriate school discipline strategies
- Eliminate out-of-school suspensions for minor infractions
- Limit the use of suspensions for students in grades K-3
- Cap long-term suspensions at 20 school days
- Ensure students can continue to learn even if they are removed from school
Deliver Comprehensive Sex Ed
New York must require comprehensive sexual health education in all public schools. Currently, schools across New York provide a patchwork of sex ed lessons that can be medically inaccurate, incomplete, and biased. Some schools provide no sex ed at all. As a result, many students never receive a single lesson on issues like consent, intimate partner violence, sexual and gender identity, or sexual health and pregnancy.
Without comprehensive sex ed, young people are at risk. Among New York high school students surveyed in 2017, half had engaged in sex, but only 11 percent reported using a method to protect against pregnancy and infection. About 10 percent of New York teenagers reported experiencing dating violence, and LGBTQ youth were more likely to experience mistreatment at school or feel unsafe there. Comprehensive sexual health education is a proven tool for building a culture of inclusion and consent and preventing sexual assault and violence.
More than 93 percent of U.S. parents place high importance on sex ed in middle and high school. New York must require public schools to teach medically accurate, age-appropriate K-12 comprehensive sex education that reflects national standards and best practices.
Protect Students from Highway Pollution
For years, the Environmental Protection Agency has warned states that children who attend school within 500 feet of a major road have a significant chance of suffering dire consequences, including an increased likelihood of developing asthma, asthma attacks, and emergency nebulizer use.
Yet, New York has more students who attend schools near major roadways than any other state in the nation. About one-third of New York’s students go to school near a major highway. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming 88 percent of those schools teach a predominately Black and Brown student population. New York City bears the brunt of those impacts, with over 250 schools near major highways.
The Schools Impacted by Gross Highways "SIGH" Act requires New York to protect students from air pollution by prohibiting the future construction of schools within 500 feet of each other.
In 2022, the legislature passed the SIGH Act, but Gov. Hochul vetoed the bill. This session, lawmakers and the governor must heed the calls of directly-impacted Black and Brown students and residents who have organized for years against the systemic racism that the SIGH Act would help dismantle. This legislation would allow students and their parents to focus on their education without worrying about the quality of the air they breathe.
Ensure Young People's Access to Health Care
It is imperative that all young people have access to health care when they need it. Timely treatment and preventative care are critical for young people’s health and wellbeing and to excelling in school and beyond. Involving parents and guardians in a young person’s health care decisions is ideal and parent and family support is a primary predictor of a young person’s wellbeing. Yet not all young people have healthy, safe family relationships. In many cases, and in particular for sensitive care, young people will not seek health care if they are required to involve a parent or their confidentiality is compromised.
Because New York recognizes the necessity of timely access to health care, the state already permits all young people to consent to certain types of confidential health care and permits certain categories of young people to consent to all types of health care. However, this patchwork of laws leaves some young people without a path to receive needed care.
New York must fill these gaps and provide for young people in unsafe family relationships by allowing decision-capable young people to consent to their own health care – that means young people who are mature enough to understand the need for, the nature of, and the reasonably foreseeable risks and benefits involved in contemplated care, as well as any alternatives. In order to make young people’s access to health care a reality, New York must also lift the cost and confidentiality barriers related to care.
PROTECT IMMIGRANT NEW YORKERS
New York should shield immigrants from the draconian federal immigration system.
New York has long been a place where immigrants from across the world come to make a home. Yet in critical ways, our state legislature has fallen short when it comes to protecting the rights of immigrant New Yorkers in the face of a callous and unyielding federal immigration enforcement regime. If New York is to truly live up to its ideal as a welcoming state for immigrants, it must take proactive measures to end complicity in ICE’s deportation agenda, guarantee due process for vulnerable noncitizens, and give those who have come here seeking a better life the tools and support to make that possible.
Create a New York for All
Immigration enforcement is the responsibility of the federal government, not state and local authorities. Yet over the past two decades, ICE has built its deportation infrastructure on the backs of local law enforcement, relying on police and sheriffs’ departments to disclose information and unlawfully detain people for civil immigration offenses. This collusion between ICE and local government exacerbates the harms of over-policing, spreads fear and confusion within immigrant communities, and misuses local resources to enable ICE cruelty.
The New York for All Act would follow the lead of California, Washington State, Oregon, and many cities and counties across the country by drawing a sensible line between state and local government and immigration authorities. The bill would prohibit the use of local resources for immigration enforcement, end agreements that make local officers deputies of ICE, and protect New Yorkers’ personal information from improper disclosure.
Ensure Access to Representation
For immigrants who have been placed in removal proceedings and are facing the prospect of deportation, losing their case before an immigration judge can mean being uprooted from family and community, or even being put in deadly harm. Unlike in criminal proceedings, a person’s functional right to an attorney in immigration court is dependent on their ability to pay for one. This leaves many immigrants in the unfair and dangerous position of navigating an overwhelmingly complex and high-stakes legal process on their own. Though New York has provided funding for immigrant legal services in past years, that funding is not guaranteed year-to-year, leaving critical access to representation subject to the whims of annual budget cycles. Recent increases in arriving asylum seekers in New York have underscored the need to fully fund immigration legal services.
The Access to Representation Act would create a right to government-funded counsel for immigrants in removal proceedings who are in or have a nexus to New York, including people formerly detained in New York who have been transferred to other states, making sure that no New Yorker faces the threat of deportation without meaningful representation. The bill would guarantee the assistance of counsel not only in removal proceedings, but also other proceedings critical to a person’s deportation defense.
End Local Support for Immigration Detention
Among the cruelest parts of our broken immigration system is the detention of people for civil immigration violations. Across the country, immigrants who have come to the United States seeking a better life are jailed in county correctional facilities that contract with ICE to fill empty bed space. New York is no exception. These detention contracts allow ICE to maintain its massive detention capacity, and allow counties to profit off of the jailing of immigrant New Yorkers.
The Dignity Not Detention Act would work together with other immigrants’ rights legislation to end the deportation pipeline. It would prohibit state and local jails from contracting with ICE to detain immigrants, and require jails that already have contracts to terminate them. The bill would also ensure that private immigration prisons that exist in other states do not come to New York.
Create Economic Opportunity for Immigrant New Yorkers
Many immigrants come to the United States seeking better financial circumstances for their families and they make invaluable – if sometimes unrecognized – contributions to the workforce. Yet many foreign-born New Yorkers are hindered in their ability to make a living by legal obstacles, including arbitrary state laws that require U.S. citizenship or a green card to obtain many professional licenses.
The Empire State Licensing Act would expand economic opportunities for immigrant New Yorkers by making professional, occupational, commercial, and business licenses available regardless of a person’s immigration status. The bill would also remove barriers to licensing for non-English speakers and protect applicant’s personal information from improper disclosure.
REDUCE THE SIZE AND HARM OF OUR INCARCERATION SYSTEM
New York Should End Mass Incarceration and Over-Criminalization.
If locking people up was the best solution for fighting crime, the United States would be the safest country in the world by far. The United States incarcerates more than any other country in the world per capita, but there are still calls from reactionary forces to put more and more people behind bars. New York should resist those appeals, reduce mass incarceration, and fund proven solutions to promote public safety.
Last session, lawmakers passed the Less is More law, which will ensure that no one is locked up for a non-criminal technical parole violation like missing a curfew – but lawmakers must do so much more to reduce our addiction to over-incarceration. More than 30,000 New Yorkers continue to languish in state prisons. About 75 percent of them are Black or Brown. It is past time to acknowledge that our criminal legal system targets Black and Brown people, incarcerates them at disproportionate rates, and treats them as less than human while they are behind bars. Simply shrinking our state’s incarceration footprint is not enough. Lawmakers must also protect the rights and dignity of those who are behind bars, overhaul our dated and draconian sentencing laws, and ensure that the criminal system does not punish New Yorkers for drug possession or because they’re poor.
Our state’s prison population has decreased over the last decade, but the average minimum sentence has climbed to 10 years. A third of New York’s prison population could serve terms of at least 15 years, and 9,000 people currently face life in prison if they are not paroled. We must address mass incarceration at both the front end, before people are put in prison, and on the back end, after they have served a portion of their sentence and are eligible for parole.
Decriminalize Drug Possession
The war on drugs has been raging for more than half a century and we have nothing to show for it other than the devastation it has caused in our communities, especially communities of color. Rather than taking a public health approach that addresses the negative consequences of drug use, the United States has wasted a trillion dollars on policies that have targeted and criminalized communities of color while needlessly swelling jail and prison populations.
Every 25 seconds in the U.S., someone is arrested for the mere act of possessing drugs for personal use. And even though rates of use are similar across racial lines, Black New Yorkers are more than five times as likely as their white neighbors to be arrested on a possession charge. The stigma of a drug arrest can make it harder for people to find work, secure stable housing, maintain custody of their children, or remain in the country. We cannot arrest our way out of the public health crisis posed by opioid addiction – and we cannot fully respond to the true scale of unmet public health needs if the only thing we have to offer people who use drugs is a criminal conviction.
It’s time to end New York’s role in the failed, racist war on drugs and to instead embrace an evidence-based public health approach to drug possession and use. This year, lawmakers must pass legislation that ends the criminalization of life-saving medication like buprenorphine and that decriminalizes all low-level drug possession. Nobody’s life should be destroyed forever because of drug laws.
Ensure Due Process in Protective Orders
During New York Criminal Court arraignment – the first appearance in a case – judges issue full temporary orders of protection (TOPs) as a matter of course on nearly every case where there is a complainant. Judges issue these orders when they have very little information about a case, and these orders frequently exclude people from their homes or jobs, which has immense consequences for the most marginalized New Yorkers. This includes young people, non-citizens, LGBTQ+ people, and other people with limited resources. Survivors of violence, particularly Black and Brown women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, are often criminalized for defending themselves. While a 2021 appellate court decision requires courts to hold a hearing to determine whether these orders are proper, this practice has been inconsistent throughout the state. Unlike most other states and the District of Columbia, New York does not have a codified process for accused persons or protected parties when these orders are issued.
To correct this inequity, the legislature must pass the Promoting Pre-Trial Stability (PromPT Stability) Act without delay. This bill will codify uniform rules throughout the state, standardize notice and protections for complainants, and ensure New Yorkers subject to these orders have an opportunity to be heard promptly after they are separated from their homes, employment, or families. At the hearing, judges would have complete discretion to maintain the TOP, vacate it, or modify it to make it limited, such as by allowing some contact between the parties while making it clear that harassment, threats, or illegal interactions will result in additional criminal penalties.
This bill would permit judges to respond to the unique needs of the parties, including the protected party, and it will enable judges to make decisions as to the propriety of TOPs based on more complete information than they have at arraignment. Importantly, while complainants would be entitled to notice of these hearings, the bill does not require them to appear or testify.
Unnecessary TOPs do not make New Yorkers safer. Rather, they destabilize some of the most marginalized people by making housing, employment, and education even more difficult to keep or obtain.
Eliminate Barriers to Successful Reentry after Conviction
Criminal convictions create lifelong barriers to employment, housing, professional licenses, child care, and other necessities that New Yorkers need to thrive. The inability to access these essentials of daily life frustrates successful re-entry and traps New Yorkers in cycles of poverty and re-incarceration. New York legislators can interrupt this vicious cycle by ensuring that people who interact with the criminal system are not trapped by abusive fines, youth have opportunities to seek rehabilitation, and restoring jury service rights to people who have been released from prison.
Give New Yorkers a Clean Slate to succeed
More than two million New Yorkers have permanent criminal convictions that function as a scarlet letter, preventing them from accessing many of the necessities of life including housing and employment. This is morally wrong and entirely counterproductive to public safety. The overwhelming majority of these individuals are from low-income Black and Brown communities. The inability of these New Yorkers to secure employment and stable housing because of their criminal records only fuels poverty, crimes of desperation, and reincarceration. Unfortunately, New Yorkers have few options to free themselves of prior convictions.
The Clean Slate Act provides automatic record sealing after three years post incarceration for those with misdemeanor convictions, and after seven years post incarceration for those with felony convictions. This will allow those who have successfully reentered society to have a legitimate fresh start and to be able to provide for their families and communities.
Stop Punishing Poverty
Across New York, Black and Brown New Yorkers who are targeted by the criminal legal system for arrest and incarceration endure an additional burden: predatory fees that attach to every conviction and traffic ticket, including the most minor offenses. Many people do not have the money to pay a court fee or fine that can cost hundreds of dollars in one lump sum. For these New Yorkers, missing a court payment can lead to steeper consequences, including having an arrest warrant issued or incarceration.
Civil rights investigations have exposed how local governments raise their revenue off the backs of poor and over-criminalized residents through a myriad of fines and fees. Yet while many places across the country have moved to reduce or eliminate what are essentially taxes on poverty, New York State continues to rely on these regressive fines and fees as a source of revenue. These practices overwhelmingly target Black and Brown New Yorkers, exacerbate economic inequality, and keep people trapped in debt and in the grip of the criminal legal system.
Lawmakers must pass the End Predatory Court Fees Act, which would eliminate a range of mandatory surcharges tied to criminal convictions and registries, mandate fair and reasonable payment schedules for fines, and vacate existing warrants and sentences of incarceration for the failure to pay fines or fees.
Give Youthful Defendants a Chance to Rehabilitate
Criminal convictions for young people can kneecap them just as they are beginning to establish themselves.
The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act recognizes the debilitating impact adult criminal records can have on young people. It enables more young people to replace criminal convictions with youthful offender or young adult adjudications. Adjudications carry a maximum sentence of four years, do not create a permanent criminal records like convictions do, and allow judges to consider alternatives to incarceration, such as treatment and rehabilitative programs. The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act would give judges discretion to consider any criminal defendant up to 25 years old for adjudication instead of conviction. Whether to grant these adjudications is in the sentencing judge’s discretion, based on the facts and circumstances of the individual before them, and the facts of the underlying case.
Over two decades of neurological research shows that young minds are still developing until most people are in their late twenties. One of the last areas of the brain to completely develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for decision-making and impulse control. The Youth Justice and Opportunities Act recognizes these biological realities and lets young people reenter society without the black mark of a permanent conviction.
End Jury Disenfranchisement
New York law permanently disqualifies people convicted of felonies from serving on a jury, no matter the type of offense, how long ago the conviction, or where the conviction occurred. Jury disenfranchisement serves no legitimate purpose, and has acute racial impacts in New York. The practice shuts thousands of Black residents out of civic engagement, and it strips people of their right to be judged by a jury of their peers. A jury system that underrepresents Black New Yorkers inevitably leads to more convictions of Black people.
Jury service is a cornerstone of our system of self-government and, with voting, represents Americans’ most significant opportunity to participate in the democratic process. In 2021, New York passed legislature to restore the right to vote people with felony convictions automatically upon release from prison. In doing so, the State recognized that the voting process is an essential component of rehabilitation and reintegration. The same is true of jury service. For many people convicted of felonies, civic engagement—including through political participation such as voting and jury service—is a critical means to facilitate sustainable reintegration back into society. Lawmakers must act to immediately restore the right to serve on a jury to people with felony convictions automatically upon release from prison.
Overhaul New York's Sentencing Laws
Unnecessarily long prison sentences do not enhance community safety – they destabilize communities. We must work to overhaul New York’s cruel, unnecessary, and counterproductive sentencing regime by eliminating mandatory minimum sentences, giving people a chance to have excessive sentences reviewed for reconsideration, and funding and rewarding programs for incarcerated people that support re-entry into their communities.
Eliminate Mandatory Minimums
Mandatory minimums – or minimum sentences that judges are required to impose by law - are perhaps the biggest catalyst to New York’s epidemic of over-incarceration. These laws were passed during the 1970’s Rockefeller Drug Era, when tough-on-crime rhetoric was coupled with racist fear-mongering to justify more harsh prison sentences.
Mandatory minimums coerce unfair plea deals and result in unduly harsh prison sentences. Further, New York’s two and three-strike laws devastate Black, Brown, and low-income communities by requiring exorbitant or lifelong sentences, even when the initial offense was committed when the individual was young.
The Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act would end mandatory two and three strike sentencing laws, mandatory consecutive sentencing, and plea restrictions that enable prosecutors to coerce accused people to give up their constitutional right to trial because they are scared of receiving a harsh sentence. Importantly, the bill creates a presumption against incarceration, which requires judges to consider mitigating factors and rehabilitative alternatives to incarceration before sentencing someone to prison.
Give Sentencing a Second Look
Thousands of those incarcerated are serving sentences of ten years or longer. While the past several decades have made clear the urgency of our mass incarceration crisis, there are no formal structures for those serving long sentences to petition courts to reduce or reconsider their sentences. The Second Look Act would afford incarcerated people the right to receive a resentencing hearing after serving either ten years or half of their sentence, where they would have the right to an attorney, and where any intervening update to the sentencing laws can be considered. Rather than solely looking at the underlying offense that led to a person’s incarceration, judges will also consider post-sentencing rehabilitation and other mitigating factors. Moreover, the bill creates a presumption that sentences should be reduced for those who were under 25 or over 55 at the time the offense was committed. This provision recognizes the unique health burden prison places on older people, and the evidence that young people continue to develop impulse control and decision-making skills into their mid-20s.
Earned Time Act
As New York enacted more punitive sentencing laws over the past decades, the state also divested from programming in prisons. Not only did this programming enable incarcerated people to earn time off of their sentences for successful participation, it also provided incarcerated people with skills and services they could use to successfully reenter society at the end of their sentence.
The Earned Time Act would allow all incarcerated people to earn “good time” and “merit time” credits - time off of sentences for successful participation in offerings like rehabilitative services, educational programming, or work release. Importantly, the bill includes a presumption that each incarcerated person is entitled to earn these credits, which will incentivize prisons to offer programs if they currently do not offer them. Participation in programming is a powerful way to incentivize prosocial behavior for incarcerated people and to aid in successful rehabilitation and reentry into the community.
Reform New York's Parole System
The New York Parole Board has the authority to release people before the end of their sentences if they demonstrate rehabilitation. But the number of people granted parole by the board has decreased in recent years.
Parole for Older People
New York should pass the Elder Parole Bill so that older people in prison have a chance to be free. Decades of draconian prison sentences during the so-called wars on drugs and crime have increased the number of elderly people in prison. Few are brought before the parole board to be considered for release, despite the fact that most won’t reoffend. Instead, they remain behind bars, with limited access to health care while their health deteriorates. Research shows that prison actually speeds up a person’s aging: A person in prison who is 55 years old has a health profile that is more like someone who is 65, or even older. Giving older people a chance to come home to their families after years in prison can give them more time to acclimate to society and be with the people they love. It will also help reduce the high cost to taxpayers of keeping older people in prison.
The Elder Parole Bill will ensure that every person 55 and older who has served 15 consecutive years or more is considered for release by the parole board. It will also create a pathway to allow older people in prison an opportunity to demonstrate that they are ready to be released back in their community.
Fair and Timely Parole
The Fair and Timely Parole bill would ensure that parole decisions are based on evidence that they have been rehabilitated and a person’s current risk to public safety. The bill could make up to 12,000 people eligible for consideration for release. Our criminal system should not be centered on vengeance. Parole should be granted based on who a person is when they come before the parole board, not on the crimes they have committed.
PROTECT HUMAN RIGHTS IN JAILS AND PRISONS
New York Should Make Our Corrections System More Humane.
Amend Our State Constitution to Abolish Slavery Without Exception and End Forced Labor
The 13th Amendment ended chattel slavery, but with an insidious exception that allows for “involuntary servitude ... as a punishment for a crime.” For 150 years, New York’s penal system has been so dependent on human exploitation that it is akin to modern-day slavery. Currently, incarcerated people – disproportionately Black, Brown, and Indigenous – are forced to work for pennies an hour under threat of punishment like solitary confinement, delayed parole, or the revocation of family visits.
The Freedom from Forced Labor Act is simple and straightforward. It would amend the state constitution to enshrine the abolition of slavery without exception. No one in our state would be compelled to provide labor against their will by force or punishment. The bill would also ensure that incarcerated workers receive the basic labor protections that every other worker in our state is entitled to.
Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers
Instead of providing opportunities for rehabilitation and pathways for employment post release, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) uses the labor of incarcerated workers for cost savings and profits. Incarcerated workers are paid pennies an hour to staff, clean, and maintain the operations of the same facilities that imprison them.
The most flagrant use of prison labor, however, is a multi-million-dollar state revenue source, now a permanent fixture of the state budget. Every year, Corcraft, a corporation run by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision and staffed by incarcerated workers, earns over $65 million for the state by producing items like furniture for New York’s public schools and universities, city garbage cans, eyeglasses worn by New Yorkers receiving Medicaid, and license plates.
The widespread and largely invisible use of prison labor sustains an immoral system founded on the denial of incarcerated New Yorkers’ basic humanity. Enacting the Freedom from Forced Labor Act and the Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act will end this manifestation of modern-day slavery in New York for good.
End Gender Identity-Based Mistreatment in the Correctional System
Transgender, gender nonconforming, non-binary, and intersex (TGNCNBI) New Yorkers disproportionately face food, shelter, and employment insecurity; race-based and gender-based discrimination; and immigration status issues. They are also notoriously policed and criminalized, and as a result, disproportionately likely to be incarcerated.
Incarceration is dehumanizing for anyone, but TGNCNBI people, especially those who are Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, are particularly likely to experience harassment, degradation, and violence. During processing and while in custody, people whose gender expression does not conform to their sex assigned at birth are frequently misgendered and referred to in demeaning ways. Some TGNCNBI individuals are placed in facilities that do not match their gender identities or that otherwise put their safety at risk. Improper housing regularly leads to violence, and when TGNCNBI people are attacked, they are often put in solitary confinement for extended periods of time.
New York must enact measures to help keep TGNCNBI people safe when they are incarcerated by requiring that prisons and jails house and treat people consistently with their gender identities, and by putting limits on involuntary protective custody or solitary confinement.
STOP ABUSIVE POLICING
New York should stop relying on police as mental health responders, end no-knock raids, restrict police use of weapons of war, ensure that police disciplinary proceedings are transparent and independent, and ban rogue DNA databases.
New York must fundamentally transform the role of policing in our state. The Legislature has an opportunity to present a bold new vision for community safety that starts with removing police as the default solution to address mental health needs, housing and food insecurity, and school safety and discipline. That vision must include moving beyond reforms that simply reinforce the role of police officers in the daily lives of Black and Brown communities and people experiencing poverty. And it must include significantly reducing the vast amounts of money spent on surveillance technologies and military equipment that treat entire populations with suspicion.
Police departments across the state have increasingly been using military grade armaments that are often acquired through state and federal grant programs. New York must end military programs and enact state laws to prevent abusive and invasive policing methods.
Help People in Crisis
We must end our over-reliance on police as first responders in every crisis. In March 2020, Daniel Prude was experiencing an acute mental health crisis when his family called 911 for help. He was naked in the street, and posed no risk to any other person. Yet, Rochester Police responded in large numbers, handcuffed him, placed a hood over his head, and held him face down on the cold pavement until he stopped breathing. Daniel Prude was a man experiencing an obvious mental health crisis, and he deserved care and dignity – but he was denied both.
Studies show that up to half of people who become victims of police violence have a disability – and the overwhelming majority of those people have a mental health disability. Tragically, for many New Yorkers, 911 has become the only option for people looking for mental health crisis intervention. Police often arrive at the scene armed with deadly weapons, a lack of mental health training, and an inability to deescalate the personal crises they are so often assigned to handle.
We need policy change that shifts our whole vision of how our community responds to people in crisis. And it starts by treating mental health and substance use as public health issues – not public safety issues for the police. Daniel’s Law would ensure that professionals who have experience with mental health, drug use, and disability set the rules for responding to a mental health crisis. These experts would run regional and state councils that develop training and rules for all calls to dispatch, and all responses to mental health emergencies. The law would ensure that responses to people in mental health crises are driven by evidence-based practices and that trained mental health professionals – not police – are the first to respond to New Yorkers experiencing a mental health crisis.
When our friends, neighbors, or community members are experiencing a mental health crisis, they deserve to be treated with compassion, care, and understanding – not cops and the threat of jail. With Daniel’s Law, the Legislature holds the possibility for real community safety that starts with removing police as the default solution to address mental health needs.
End No-Knock Raids
No-knock and quick-knock warrants and raids have severe and deadly consequences for communities targeted for aggressive over-policing. It’s time for these raids to end. Lawmakers must pass legislation ending no-knock raids for drug and property offenses and demilitarizing warrant executions altogether. The Legislature must also end the practice of police departments and municipal governments profiting from seizing people’s property during these searches and arrests by putting a stop to civil asset forfeiture.
Restrict Police Use of Tear Gas
Americans have a First Amendment right to engage in peaceful mass protest. But police departments across New York spray and gas nonviolent demonstrators marching for Black Lives and other movements, effectively targeting political activism and dispersing peaceful crowds. New York must prohibit police from using tear gas and other chemical irritants against crowds, except as a last resort against imminent mass violence.
Restrict Police Use of Drones
Drones pose serious risks to New Yorkers’ privacy and safety. They can remain aloft for hours and can be used to track huge numbers of people or vehicles over vast areas. Drones can be equipped with biometric surveillance capabilities, object recognition, thermal imaging, and even microphones sensitive enough to hear personal conversations. And their numbers are growing: currently there are 327 police drones in operation across the state. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection used Predator drones – military hardware – to monitor Black Lives Matter demonstrations in 2020. New York should not permit widespread drone surveillance of public events and activities protected by the First Amendment. Legislators should pass legislation that ensures that the use of a drone in a police investigation always requires a warrant, and lawmakers should ensure that drones are not used to intimidate or surveil constitutionally-protected protests and assembly. In addition, legislation must forbid drones from being equipped with facial recognition software, weapons, or crowd control devices; and ensure that all use of drone-collected data, drone-use policies, and drone operator training materials are subject to public oversight.
End Police Use of Acoustic Weapons
Acoustic weapons, also known as long-range Acoustic devices (LRADs) or sound cannons, are devices that deliver very loud sounds over long distances. Police sometimes use these devices to emit loud and painful sounds for crowd control – and this practice must stop. Acoustic weapons were developed for use in war zones, and indiscriminately impact everyone in their general area – including police. While we know that acoustic devices cause pain and hearing damage, and may cause permanent hearing loss, there is little research on the permanent physical impacts of their use. These untested weapons of war have no place at protests in New York.
End Police Transparency Excuses
In June 2020, state lawmakers took a historic step to end the regime of secrecy that had kept police discipline and misconduct records hidden from the public. For over 40 years, police departments had used Civil Rights Law Section 50-a to conceal critical information on whether and how officers were held accountable for misconduct, with 50-a becoming the go-to excuse for hiding everything from complaint histories of officers who killed New Yorkers to basic data on use of force incidents to footage from body-worn cameras. That came to an end in 2020 when lawmakers fully repealed section 50-a and made it clear that the public is entitled to all police discipline and misconduct records. Unfortunately, police departments across the state are continuing to resist full transparency, with many departments refusing to turn over records of misconduct allegations where the department itself did not ultimately impose discipline on the officer, claiming that records are still secret under police union contracts, and even arguing that records that were created prior to the repeal of 50-a get to remain secret in perpetuity. And although we are continuing to litigate against these denials, some lower state courts have sided with the police departments and against transparency.
The Legislature cannot let its historic repeal of 50-a be undermined by the same forces who have always resisted any measure of police transparency and accountability. In 2023, New York must enact measures to ensure that the repeal of 50-a is fully implemented in practice. Lawmakers can put an end to the bad-faith excuses from police departments and police unions and guarantee that the full universe of police misconduct and disciplinary records must be made public under the state’s Freedom of Information Law.
Ensure Independent Police Discipline
For too long, police departments in New York have fought for the power to hide their misconduct, avoid accountability, and act with impunity. Some state laws give police leadership near total control over all discipline and misconduct proceedings, including Chapter 834 of the Laws of 1940, which prohibits local governments from appointing impartial judges to preside over police disciplinary cases.
In New York City, independent judges preside over disciplinary trials for all public employees except for NYPD officers. When an NYPD officer is accused of misconduct, the NYPD controls the entire process. Police department employees act as judges, hearings take place in police headquarters, and police departments set their own rules. Because of Chapter 834, these proceedings cannot happen anywhere else.
We have seen repeatedly that police departments are incapable of policing themselves. New York must empower localities to independently administer police disciplinary proceedings. While much more work will still be needed, repealing Chapter 834 is a critical and necessary step toward challenging police abuse.
End Rogue DNA Databases
The government’s collection of DNA implicates New Yorkers’ ownership of private and sensitive information – our own genetic code. For good reason, New York law mandates a comprehensive and exclusive set of rules governing testing and data-banking of DNA samples. This existing law balances the rights of individuals and the interests of law enforcement and contains clear provisions designed to limit abuse of our genetic material.
Yet, New York City has developed a sprawling and unregulated DNA database that flouts the state law. There are no privacy protections for individuals whose genetic information is contained in the database, and the database exists without any independent oversight. Reports suggest that the NYPD’s methods of collecting samples for this database have been secretive, racially discriminatory, and have targeted children. The City is now in unregulated possession of the genetic material of people who have never been convicted of, charged with, or even suspected of a crime. The Legislature must act to ban this rogue database, order its data destroyed, and make it clear that state law governs all genetic information held by the government.
Protect the Reproductive Rights and Health of Pregnant People in Law Enforcement Custody
Every pregnant and postpartum person – including those who find themselves in law enforcement custody – has a right to be treated with dignity. This includes the right to be free from shackles or restraints, which are not only degrading, but also endanger the health and safety of the pregnant person and fetus.
For years, New York has prohibited correctional personnel from using such restraints on pregnant individuals during labor and post-pregnancy, and in 2021 the Legislature passed additional measures to promote the rights of pregnant people who are incarcerated. However, much remains to be done to ensure that the rights of pregnant people in law enforcement custody are similarly protected. The Legislature must act to ban the use of restraints on pregnant and post-pregnancy individuals any time they have their freedom of action restricted by law enforcement in a significant way. This includes jails, holding facilities, correctional facilities, prosecutors’ offices, medical areas and hospitals, and anywhere people are held in detention or transported in connection with criminal or juvenile delinquency charges.
SAFEGUARD OUR DIGITAL PRIVACY
New York should protect our medical and personal information, ban biometric surveillance, and outlaw dragnet warrants.
New and invasive technology can pose a serious risk to our civil rights and civil liberties. Companies surreptitiously harvest our personal data for profit. Facial recognition and other biometric technologies collect physically identifiable information in secret. Algorithms used by government agencies foster discrimination while promising neutrality. And law enforcement can access our private digital communications without a judge’s approval.
New Yorkers’ civil rights should extend fully to the digital world. This means ensuring algorithms don’t undermine anti-discrimination laws, guaranteeing meaningful access to and control of our personal data, banning biometric surveillance technologies, requiring tailored warrants to access our online communications and data, and providing equitable and safe technology access to those in most need.
Protect Our Personal Information Online
It is no longer possible to participate in society without providing personal information to private companies and other entities that can reveal the most intimate details of our lives. People often do not know or consent to the ways that companies collect, use, retain, share, and monetize our personal information. And when we try to exert control, we wind up mired in the inscrutable fine print of privacy policies and user agreements.
The consequences of privacy abuses can be profound. Precisely-targeted pricing, advertising, and other automated decision tools are used to exclude people of color, women, and older individuals from housing, credit, and employment opportunities in ways that would be unthinkable in the offline world. Government agencies increasingly turn to automated decision systems to determine everything from teacher evaluations and child custody to sentencing, probation, and parole – and more. Computer-generated decisions have the veneer of objectivity, but these systems are built on human inputs, and they produce biased results. These technologies all too often replicate and amplify harm towards people who already face bias and discrimination.
New York needs comprehensive privacy protections that show us how – and let us control – what is collected, how it is used, and where it goes. A comprehensive privacy bill called the Digital Fairness Act would do exactly that by requiring businesses to maintain our personal information securely and use it only as we intend; placing needed safeguards on the use of our most intimate biometric data; and ensuring that anti-discrimination rules apply fully to the digital world.
Ban Biometric Surveillance
In recent years, New York has seen a rise in the use of biometric recognition technologies – like face, voice, and gait recognition – by police and in housing, schools, and mass transit, and on our roads and bridges. In 2020, the Legislature recognized the threat that biometric surveillance poses to our children, and rightly placed a moratorium on its use in New York schools. It is time to go further.
Biometric surveillance presents an unprecedented threat to our privacy and civil liberties, aiming to track who we are, where we go, and who we meet. Yet, despite its invasive nature, biometric technologies are notoriously inaccurate and racially biased. Numerous studies have shown that face surveillance technologies are particularly inaccurate for women and people of color. In addition, many biometric technologies rely on the remote monitoring and collection of your personal biological characteristics – without your consent or knowledge. Unlike a password or credit card number, this information cannot be changed if it is compromised or stolen.
Lawmakers must pass a ban on biometric surveillance by government agencies, in particular by law enforcement, and in other areas where our fundamental rights are at stake.
Ban Dragnet and Geofence Warrants
Warrants are a central tool for law enforcement investigations, but they need to be narrowly targeted, specific, and based on probable cause. Dragnet warrants, which are often based on overly broad factors like search engine keywords or location, do not meet this baseline standard and harm the privacy and safety of countless people who happen to meet the stated criteria. Broad warrant requests could place hundreds or thousands of unsuspecting and innocent people in the crosshairs of law enforcement, potentially violating their Fourth Amendment rights. As technology providers and data brokers capture ever-more detailed data trails, dragnet warrants must be banned.