2024 is an election year for all state lawmakers in Albany. The conventional wisdom holds that, in years where lawmakers are running for re-election, they are more hesitant to pass important legislation. But with an incredibly consequential election looming, and with many important measures left on the table in 2023, state lawmakers must use the 2024 legislative session to ensure every New Yorker’s rights are protected and their basic needs are met. This is not the time for timidity, backtracking, or kicking the can down the road. Legislators must take bold, courageous action this year to safeguard our future. In the midst of deep uncertainty at the national level, and with New Yorkers demanding action from the people who represent them at the statehouse, lawmakers must meet the moment.
CREATE A STRONGER AND MORE INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY
A.CREATE A STRONGER AND MORE INCLUSIVE DEMOCRACY
The right to vote and the right to serve on a jury are the cornerstones of our system of self-government and represent Americans' most significant opportunities to participate in the democratic process. However, restrictions on democratic participation—at the ballot and jury box—have diluted the voices of people of color.
For decades, New York lagged behind the majority of U.S. states, failing to update an outdated system of voting rules and regulations. While we have seen significant progress in recent years, there are many reforms that our state can, and still needs to, adopt in order to improve its democratic process. The state must not only adopt practices to aid in the orderly administration of elections, but it must also remove barriers to the ballot.
Establish a New York Voting and Elections Database and Institute
Data on voting and election administration in New York are scattered across thousands of entities statewide, making it difficult to analyze how our state's democracy is operating. The New York Voting and Elections Database and Institute, originally part of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, recognizes that increasing transparency into election administration statewide would allow the public, election officials, and legislators to make a more informed assessment of what measures should be taken to protect the voting rights of New Yorkers. This bill would establish a database and institute that collects county, city, and school board elections data, and provides a center for research, training, and the provision of information on voting systems and election administration. Election data would be made publicly available free of charge.
Allow for Election Day Registration
Voter registration was, in part, established to prevent Black and working-class people from voting in the late 19th century, and it continues to act as a barrier to the ballot box today—disproportionately denying Black and Brown qualified voters from casting a ballot. Today, 22 states and the District of Columbia allow qualified voters to both register and vote either throughout the entire early voting period and/or on Election Day through a process known as same-day registration (SDR), and one state (North Dakota) does not require voter registration. States and territories have been able to effectively implement SDR and, in New York, a recent change in election law actually established a single day of SDR—on the first day of early voting. Jurisdictions that have created opportunities for qualified voters to both register and vote on the same day—throughout the entire early voting period or on Election Day—consistently are among those with the highest rates of political participation.
Currently, the New York State Constitution requires that voters be registered at least 10 days prior to an election. A constitutional amendment to remove this restriction would allow New York to improve voter participation and provide SDR, including on Election Day.
Join a Multi-State Voter List Maintenance Organization
States are required to conduct what is known as voter list maintenance—a practice that updates voter rolls to establish the most accurate list of voters as possible. One mechanism that states use to identify voters who have changed their residence is joining multi-state voter list maintenance organizations, with the Electronic Registration Information Center (“ERIC”) being the largest interstate data-sharing program. Legislation to require New York to join one of these programs before August 2025 is pending before the State Legislature and would aid New York in maintaining accurate voter lists, thus appropriately allocating election resources.
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—making New Yorks law more punitive than the majority of states, including states like Florida and Louisiana.
Jury disenfranchisement serves no legitimate purpose and has acute racial impacts in New York. Racial disparities in policing, prosecution, and sentencing mean that New York's jury disenfranchisement law shuts thousands of Black residents out of civic engagement and strips people of their right to be judged by a jury of their peers.
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 legislation to restore the right to vote for 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 for people with felony convictions upon release from prison.
FURTHER HOUSING AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
A.FURTHER HOUSING AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE
Our state must ensure that people have basic necessities, including housing and access to the internet. These are things New Yorkers need to be able to function in society and they are core to our basic economic rights.
Protect Tenants from Unjust Evictions
One simple way to reduce unfair evictions is to require that landlords have a reason to evict a tenant from their home. Renters, housing advocates, and many legislators throughout New York State are united behind passing the Good Cause Eviction bill.
This legislation establishes 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. The bill does not cover owner-occupied homes of four units or less, so it will not burden small landlords who may need more flexibility. Critically, the Good Cause Eviction bill provides tenants 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. This legislation would dramatically cut back on unjust evictions.
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. While New York State issued an eviction moratorium to prevent individuals from being removed from their homes if they were experiencing hardships in paying rent due to the COVID-19 pandemic, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have received eviction notices since the moratorium ended on January 15, 2022. Data from the New York State Unified Court System show that in 2021 there were 69,375 eviction filings in the state—a number that spiked to 193,986 in 2022 (an increase of more than 179 percent). New York is currently on track to surpass that number in 2023.
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 ensures no one is denied an attorney because they can't afford one. Access to counsel is proven to reduce evictions: when New York City began a pilot to provide the right to counsel in certain City neighborhoods, evictions declined more than five times 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 leveling the playing field and making sure that no one loses their home without the opportunity for legal representation.
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 communicate 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, more than 24 percent of New Yorkers do not have a broadband subscription.
Predictably, the digital divide disproportionately affects people who live at the intersection of poverty and structural racism. Forty-five percent of New York City households living below the poverty line do not have broadband internet access. And about 35 percent of Latinx and Black New Yorkers lack broadband internet access. 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 all New York households have equitable, affordable access to this critical utility. Access to broadband internet should be a universal right, not a privilege for the few.
SECURE JUSTICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
A.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 and disparaging 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; and
- Ensure students can continue to learn even if they are removed from school.
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 a major roadway.
In 2022, the Legislature passed the SIGH Act, but Governor 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 Access to Health Care for Young People
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. This care allows them to excel in school and beyond. Most young people involve parents in their health care decisions, and indeed, parent and family support is a primary predictor of a young person's wellbeing. But not all young people have healthy, safe family relationships. In many cases, and in particular for sensitive care, young people will not seek care if they are required to involve a parent, or if 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 allows 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 support young people in unsafe family relationships by allowing young people to consent to their own care. Importantly, this would only apply to young people who are mature enough to understand the need for, nature of, and foreseeable risks and benefits involved in their care. In order to make young people's access to health care a reality, New York must also lift the cost and confidentiality barriers that keep this care out of reach for too many.
Deliver Comprehensive Sex Ed
There is currently no requirement that New York schools provide any sex education. Of the public schools in New York State that do offer sex education, the curricula are often inaccurate, incomplete, or 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 orientation and gender identity, sexual health, or pregnancy.
Without comprehensive sex ed, young people are at risk. Among New York high school students surveyed in 2021, only 38 percent reported using a method to protect against pregnancy and infection. About 10 percent of New York teenagers reported experiencing sexual dating violence, and LGBTQ+ youth were more likely to experience mistreatment at school or to 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. For these reasons and others, 89 percent of likely voters believe it is important to have sex education in middle school, and 98 percent believe it is important to have sex education in high school.
The comprehensive sex education (CSE) legislation would require that public and charter school students receive medically accurate, age-appropriate, and inclusive sex ed. Comprehensive sex ed supports young people to make healthy decisions and have healthy relationships. Students who receive comprehensive sex ed are more likely to delay sexual initiation, and when they do become sexually active, they are more likely to engage in risk-reduction behaviors. It is the only upstream tool we have for preventing sexual violence and sexual harassment before they occur. It also helps to create inclusive school communities by showing LGBTQ+ youth that they are not alone and showing their peers that they exist. By requiring comprehensive sex ed in public and charter schools in grades K-12, we can ensure that New York's youth have access to information to make informed choices about their health and relationships as they move into adulthood.
Teach Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander History
According to the 2020 Census, there are 20.6 million people who identify as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander (AANHPI), including at least 10 percent of New York State's population. Yet our state's social studies standards only scratch the surface of AANHPI history. With recent surges in incidents targeting AANHPI communities and individuals, New York can take steps to promote greater inclusivity and to reduce discrimination against AANHPI New Yorkers. This includes passing legislation to fully integrate AANHPI history into school curricula. This curricula would include the history of the AANHPI diaspora, the movement and policies that brought AANHPI communities to the United States, the structures and historical events that have limited and harmed the community, and contributions made by AANHPI individuals.
Promote Fairness in College Admissions
Access to quality post-secondary education is a key component to reducing the racial wealth gap and a way to help address centuries of systemic and institutional racism. Young people of color in New York are more likely to be impacted by policies like redlining and school segregation and more likely to go to less well-resourced primary and secondary schools. One mechanism to make sure that those students have the opportunity and upward mobility that a college degree can help provide has been affirmative action.
However, in June 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively gutted the practice of affirmative action in college admissions, striking down an important mechanism for ensuring greater diversity in post-secondary schools. This decision, however, did not touch admissions practices that greatly benefit white and wealthy students, such as legacy preference, which provides preferential treatment in the admission process to applicants related to an alumnus. Eliminating college admissions mechanisms designed to address racial biases and discrimination and increase campus diversity while maintaining ones that will exacerbate racial disparities on campuses represents significant backsliding. New York can resist this backsliding by eliminating legacy preference.
The Fair College Admissions Act would prohibit legacy admissions policies at colleges and universities in New York. This legislation would declare such practices and policies inequitable and discriminatory. This means that any higher education institution in New York that is granted authority to confer degrees by the State Board of Regents would not be allowed to consider an applicant's relations to an alumnus as a factor in admissions decisions. Higher education institutions will still be able to ask applicants about their relation to an alumnus as a means of data collection and reporting but would only be able to do so after an offer of admission and financial aid has been accepted.
PROTECT IMMIGRANT NEW YORKERS
A.PROTECT IMMIGRANT NEW YORKERS
New York has long been a place where immigrants from across the world come to make a home. Just in the past year, our state has welcomed thousands of new Americans, many who have fled from hardship or violence and come to the U.S. seeking asylum. Yet in many ways, New York has failed to live up to its ideals in treating our new neighbors with dignity and protection, despite the critical contributions that immigrants make to communal, economic, and cultural life of our state.
Now is the moment for New York to proudly honor—not shy away from—its long tradition of welcoming immigrants. If we are to truly live up to our ideals, New York must take proactive measures to end complicity in the U.S. Immigration and Customs' (ICE) deportation agenda, guarantee due process for vulnerable noncitizens, and ensure that everyone has access to critical government services regardless of their immigration status.
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 spreads fear and confusion within immigrant communities and makes New York complicit in tearing people away from their families, livelihoods, and communities.
With the federal government's continued failure to fix our broken immigration system and another presidential election looming, now is the time when New York must take a stand against conspiring with federal immigration enforcement. 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 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. Stable support for immigration legal services is critical at a time when so many new Americans are choosing to make New York their home.
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 legal 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 jailing immigrant New Yorkers.
The Dignity Not Detention Act would work together with other immigrants' rights legislation to curtail the deportation pipeline. It would prohibit state and local agencies or actors from contracting with ICE to detain immigrants, and require those that already have contracts to terminate them.
Ensure Health Care Coverage for Everyone, Regardless of Immigration Status
No New Yorker should be denied access to critical, life-saving health care simply because of their immigration status. While New York has for years gone further than other states in extending state-funded health insurance to certain immigrants, many people across the state continue to go without coverage due to exclusions for people without proof of status. Coverage For All would provide state-funded health insurance to tens of thousands of New Yorkers who would not otherwise qualify for government-funded comprehensive coverage.
REDUCE THE HARM AND SIZE OF OUR CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM
A.REDUCE THE HARM AND SIZE OF OUR CRIMINAL LEGAL SYSTEM
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. New York directly contributes to this mass incarceration epidemic—with incarceration rates higher than all but six foreign nations. However, our country's addiction to mass incarceration does not make us safer. Despite this, there are still calls from reactionary forces to put more and more people behind bars. New York should resist those appeals.
Currently, more than 30,000 people languish in state prisons and more than 16,000 people are incarcerated in New York jails. Discriminatory practices—including policing, prosecution, and sentencing—have created significant racial disparities throughout our legal system, with people of color comprising 75 percent of the state prison population and 90 percent of the jail population.
It is well past time to acknowledge that our criminal legal system targets Black, Indigenous, and Brown people, incarcerates them at disproportionate rates, and treats them as less than human while they are behind bars. We must shrink our state's incarceration footprint through sentencing reform, decriminalization, diversion, and the adoption of reforms that allow people to more effectively challenge wrongful convictions, as well as parole practices and other mechanisms that allow for early release. We must also protect the rights and dignity of individuals at the time of interrogation, pre-trial, and during any period of incarceration, and reduce the harms exacted by the criminal legal system that trap people in debt and create obstacles to successful re-entry.
Entry into System
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 or remove noncriminal sanctions, rather, it enables massage workers to live without the fear of criminalization.
Decriminalize the Transmission of STIs
New York makes it a crime to have sex if you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). 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 people from learning and disclosing their status, 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. New York must join these states by repealing its law that criminalizes people with STIs 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. Criminalization 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 sale 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 that 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, researchers, harm reduction organizations, Amnesty International, and many sex-worker led organizations as the best way to reduce violence, STI transmission, and coercion from police, and to empower sex workers.
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 is 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.
Reducing Harms and Promoting Successful Re-entry
Provide Youth a Right to Counsel in Interrogations
When questioned by law enforcement, young people are biologically more likely to tell law enforcement officers what they think that officer wants to hear in order to end a stressful encounter. This is the case whether what they're saying is true or not. The youth interrogation bill requires that a child under the age of 18 speak with an attorney in person, by phone, or by video before any police questioning. This will provide children a better understanding of their rights, allowing them to make informed choices about whether or not to speak with police officers before being placed in more coercive environments.
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. This has immense consequences for the most marginalized New Yorkers, including young people, non-citizens, LGBTQ+ people, and other people with limited resources. Survivors of violence, particularly Black and Brown women and LGBTQ+ people, 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 those seeking the orders, 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, those filing for protective orders would be entitled to notice of these hearings, but 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.
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 being incarcerated.
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
Over two decades of neurological research shows that most young people's minds are still developing into 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. However, our criminal legal system does not currently recognize this reality.
The Youth Justice and Opportunities (YJ&O) Act recognizes these basic biological realities and lets young people re-enter society without the black mark of a permanent conviction. It recognizes that criminal convictions can have a debilitating, life-long impact on young people as they begin to establish themselves.
The YJ&O Act enables more young people to replace criminal convictions with youthful offender or young adult adjudications. These adjudications carry a maximum sentence of four years, do not create permanent criminal records like convictions do, and allow judges to consider alternatives to incarceration—such as treatment and rehabilitative programs. The YJ&O 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.
Increase New Yorkers’ Ability to Challenge Wrongful Convictions
In New York and across the country, many innocent people plead guilty because they are coerced, do not think they can win at trial, or face incredibly harsh penalties if they elect to go to trial. This is borne out in the facts: in the last several decades, nearly 350 New Yorkers have been exonerated—the third-most of any state—and, according to data from The National Registry of Exonerations, over seven percent of those exonerated had pled guilty. Despite this fact, New York currently allows New Yorkers who pled guilty to challenge their conviction only if new DNA-related evidence is uncovered.
The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act recognizes that principles of justice and our basic humanity require that those who are wrongfully convicted be granted an opportunity to clear their name. This bill allows a conviction to be challenged when there is credible, new, non-DNA evidence of a wrongful conviction, such as an expert backtracking on their testimony or a technological advancement that calls into question a prior piece of evidence. It would also provide a right to counsel for those with wrongful conviction claims. Presently, New York is one of just five states in the U.S. that does not provide indigent people a right to an attorney in post-conviction cases, trailing states like Texas and Alabama.
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 over-incarceration epidemic. These laws were passed during the 1970's Rockefeller Drug Era, when tough-on-crime rhetoric was coupled with racist fearmongering 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 excessive 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 harsher 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 incarcerated New Yorkers 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.
Provide People Meaningful Opportunities to Earn Good and Merit Time Credit
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 their sentences for successful participation, but it also provided incarcerated people with skills and services they could use to successfully re-enter society at the end of their sentence.
The Earned Time Act would allow all incarcerated people to earn “good time” and “merit time” credits that provide time off 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 do not currently offer them. Participation in programming is a powerful way to incentivize prosocial behavior for incarcerated people and to aid in successful rehabilitation and re-entry 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. We must revisit our parole practices and policies to ensure people are provided with meaningful opportunities for release.
Provide Parole for Older People
Decades of draconian prison sentences during the so-called wars on drugs 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 will not reoffend. Instead, they remain behind bars, with limited access to health care while their health deteriorates.
New York should pass the Elder Parole Bill so that older people in prison have a chance to be free. 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.
Research shows that prison 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.
Create a More Just Parole System
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.
The Fair and Timely Parole Bill would ensure that parole decisions are based on evidence that a person has been rehabilitated and their current risk to public safety. The bill could make up to 12,000 people eligible for consideration for release.
End New York's Punitive and Unjust Carceral Labor System
People incarcerated in New York State are forced to work for pennies on the dollar, often in unsafe conditions and in jobs that do not set them up for successful re-entry into the workforce upon release. Refusal to work can result in serious repercussions, including the loss of family visits, time in solitary, and extended periods of incarceration. It is far past time to reform the system of forced labor in New York's carceral institutions.
Abolish Slavery and End Forced Labor in New York Carceral Institutions
The modern-day system of forced prison labor was created in New York State. For 150 years, New York has been dependent on the exploitation of incarcerated people—disproportionately Black, Brown, and Indigenous—forcing people to work for 10 to 65 cents an hour, sometimes in unsafe conditions, under threat of punishment like solitary confinement, delayed parole, or the revocation of family visits.
The No Slavery in New York Act is simple and straightforward. It would establish that no one in our state would be compelled to provide labor against their will, and it would prohibit people from being punished or threatened with punishment for refusing to work.
Provide Labor Protections and Job Opportunities 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 DOCCS that is 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. The Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act will end this manifestation of modern-day slavery in New York for good by providing incarcerated workers a fair wage, labor and health protections, and the right to unionize. It would also create a prison labor board staffed by multiple agencies and individuals—including people who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated and re-entry professionals—to ensure that people are provided meaningful employment opportunities that support in successful re-entry upon release.
STOP ABUSIVE POLICING
A.STOP ABUSIVE POLICING
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. It must also include creating stronger mechanisms for the public to identify abusive officers and hold them to account when they engage in misconduct. New York should stop relying on police as mental health responders, end no-knock raids, ensure that police disciplinary proceedings are transparent and independent, and ban rogue DNA databases.
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. This 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.
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 is 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.
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. 50-a became 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.
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. 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 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 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.
SAFEGUARD DIGITAL PRIVACY
A.SAFEGUARD DIGITAL PRIVACY
New York should protect our medical and personal information, ban biometric surveillance, and update our warrant protections to be in line with technological advancements.
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 do not 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. And as other states move to ban abortion and gender-affirming care—and to use personal information that private companies harvest to prosecute people for seeking, providing, or helping others to obtain that care—the stakes have gotten higher. 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, 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—and let us control—when our personal information is collected, how it is used, and where it goes. 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, in housing, in transit, and in places of public accommodation. 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.
Protect Against Warrant Overreach
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.
Furthermore, New York's warrant protections remain woefully outdated: Law enforcement has long been taking advantage of inadequate privacy laws to turn mobile phones into tracking devices and to access emails, documents, and text messages without proper judicial oversight. The Legislature must require law enforcement to obtain a search warrant before it can physically or electronically access digital information.
LET NEW YORKERS ACCESS TREATMENT AND EXERCISE PERSONAL AUTONOMY
A.LET NEW YORKERS ACCESS TREATMENT AND EXERCISE PERSONAL AUTONOMY
New York law far too often criminalizes New Yorkers' decisions about how we live, how we die, and how we grapple with substance use. These are among the most personal and difficult 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. New York must expand pathways for evidence-based interventions that enable people to make decisions about their own health and well-being that are rooted in compassion and a respect for personal dignity and autonomy, including through advancing legislation to expand access to overdose prevention centers and to allow for medical aid in dying.
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. Deaths from drug-related overdoses have reached 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. New York's OPCs have already successfully reversed hundreds of 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 upward trend of overdose deaths in New York.
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 to 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.
ADVANCE GENDER, PREGNANCY, BIRTH AND FAMILY JUSTICE
A.ADVANCE GENDER, PREGNANCY, BIRTH AND FAMILY JUSTICE
This moment in history is an inflection point that calls on feminist movements to show up with force. After the fall of Roe v. Wade, and amid a wave of attacks on abortion access nationwide, New York must lead. And while abortion access is critical, it is just one piece of a whole. Caregivers and pregnant people, women and families, and those at the intersection of gender, race and class discrimination, need us to do more. This moment demands a broad vision for a future where we value equity, autonomy, accountability, community, and caregiving. From child care to abortion access, these policies lay the groundwork for the transformation necessary to heal from the wounds inflicted by our violent history and form a society that supports inclusive, lasting gender justice.
Protect Family Rights in Child Protection Investigations
The past few 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. This system of family regulation—often referred to as “the new Jane Crow”—has deep roots in legacies of slavery, under which enslaved Black women were forcibly denied the right to parent their children. The echoes of this history live today in the racist stereotypes that permeate the family regulation system, informing and controlling who is and is not considered deserving of parenthood.
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.
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.
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. Lawmakers 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.
End Non-Consensual Drug Testing of Pregnant People and Newborns
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. Testing deters some pregnant people from seeking vital pre- and perinatal medical care. These tests 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. Tests are usually conducted at the discretion of health care providers, and subject to their unconscious bias. Unsurprisingly, 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. Non-consensual 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.
Provide Universal Child Care
Universal access to high-quality child care is a necessary support to enable parents to work and fully participate in their communities. For single parents and for women, who are often the primary caregivers of their families, the lack of accessible child care can have dire consequences for their income, job retention, and children's educational outcomes. 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 most 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 pandemic 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.
Protect the Reproductive Rights and Health of Pregnant People in the Criminal Legal System
Every pregnant person—including those who are incarcerated or in law enforcement custody—has a right to be treated with dignity. They are also entitled to information and resources that enable them to exercise agency in their reproductive decision-making. But these fundamental rights are denied to far too many, especially pregnant people in the criminal legal system. For years, New York has prohibited correctional personnel from using shackles or restraints on pregnant individuals during labor and post-pregnancy. 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 recently pregnant people any time they have their freedom of movement significantly restricted by law enforcement. This includes in settings such as 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.
Additionally, lawmakers must make life easier for pregnant and recently pregnant people who are incarcerated. They need access to critical resources to facilitate breastfeeding and lactation. They need extended time with their child in a nursery. They must be able to give birth in safe, dignified, well supplied settings with access to a support person. Pregnant people who are incarcerated should also have access to a trained professional who can lay out their pregnancy options, including their right to an abortion.
These commonsense measures would constitute an important step towards upholding the reproductive health, rights, and dignity of incarcerated pregnant and parenting people.
Establish a Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program
Even in parts of the country where abortion is still legal, the right to abortion is only theoretical for too many. People in New York and across the country 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.
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 would help the state 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.
Protect Health Data Privacy
It is impossible to have an abortion—or to help someone obtain one—without leaving a digital trail. There will be search histories, email exchanges, phone records, travel itineraries, or Fitbit or period-tracker app data. The list goes on. In fact, electronic health data has already been used to prosecute people for supporting others to access abortion care. The New York Health Information Privacy Act will give New Yorkers control over the electronic health data generated when they use apps, devices, and digital tools like Fitbits, smartwatches, and period tracking apps. This bill is what New Yorkers need to broadly protect their electronic health data.
Support the Economic Security of Pregnant New Yorkers
Most New Yorkers do not have the ability to take time off of work to address serious health needs without putting their job and economic security at risk. New York’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program provides benefits to New Yorkers who need time off from work to tend to their own health needs. But it does not include job protection and it has been capped at $170/week since 1989—far below cost of living in 2023. Adding insult to injury, while a worker who needs time off to recover is forced to make impossible choices, under New York's Paid Family Leave (PFL) program, their partner is eligible for job-protected time off and a portion of their normal wages while they take care of them.
The status quo is particularly harmful for Black, Brown, and Indigenous pregnant people, who experience disproportionately high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity. These New Yorkers would especially benefit from job-protected time off to keep themselves and their pregnancies healthy, and to keep them from being plunged into poverty.
New York must support workers who need to take time off to attend to their own health needs, including pregnancy, pregnancy loss, and neonatal loss. Lawmakers should pass legislation to raise the Temporary Disability Insurance benefit cap, align it with Paid Family Leave benefits and ensure that people using Temporary Disability Insurance can keep their jobs. The Legislature should also allow low-wage workers to recoup a higher portion of their salaries when they need either Paid Family Leave or Temporary Disability Insurance. This will enable low-wage workers to actually take leave when they need it.
Finally, lawmakers should further expand Paid Family Leave to include an updated definition of “family” that reflects the varied family structures that exist in New York, including chosen family. This is particularly important for LGBTQ+ New Yorkers, who may be less likely to have a traditional nuclear family.
PROMOTE TRANS JUSTICE
A.PROMOTE TRANS JUSTICE
2023 saw a record number of political and legislative actions across the country targeting transgender, gender non-conforming, nonbinary, and intersex (TGNCNBI) people. But while New Yorkers are right to feel grateful that none of these bills have gained traction here at home, New York must be a beacon for trans justice and a leader that other states can look to. Yet, New York falls short of being a place where transgender people's rights are fully respected and protected. This is especially true in jails and prisons. And while lawmakers took steps last year to protect many of the people who provide care for TGNCNBI individuals, they must go further.
Legislators must meet this moment, not only by passing the legislation below but also by supporting bills mentioned elsewhere in this report that have major implications for trans justice. These include hospital transparency, so that TGNCNBI people can identify whether a hospital provides gender-affirming care before going through invasive and stigmatizing intake calls, and the New York Health Information Privacy Act, because electronic data can be used to criminalize people for accessing and providing gender-affirming care just as it is used to criminalize abortion care.
Protect the Rights of Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Nonbinary, and Intersex Individuals in New York Prisons and Jails
Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Nonbinary, and Intersex (TGNCNBI) New Yorkers are 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. Most 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 involuntary protective custody—which is functionally the same as solitary confinement—for extended periods of time.
New York must pass the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety (GIRDS) Act to keep TGNCNBI people safer when they are incarcerated. The bill requires prisons and jails to presumptively house people consistent with their gender identities, unless they opt out. It also mandates that staff respect a person's gender identity in all contexts, including name and pronoun use and during searches. Finally, the legislation mandates that people have access to clothing, toiletry items, and grooming standards consistent with their gender identity, and puts limits on the use of involuntary protective custody.
Protect Gender-Affirming Care
Gender-affirming care is under attack across the U.S. In 2023 alone, more than 137 bills have been introduced in at least 34 states targeting medically necessary health care for TGNCNB people. Twenty-six of these bills have become law.
New York must stand up to attacks on gender-affirming care by passing laws that prevent our state from participating in attempts to stigmatize or punish providers, patients, families, or those who support them. The state took important first steps in June 2023 when it enacted some protections for providers, patients, helpers, and family members. Legislators must return in 2024 to finish the job by passing legislation that would clarify that New York courts have jurisdiction over families who move to New York or come to New York so that a child can receive gender-affirming care. They must also extend protection to cover all providers who offer gender-affirming care, including therapists and speech pathologists, among others.
For decades, New York has been a beacon for people all over the country seeking gender-affirming care. We must be a place where people can go when they can no longer get the care they need in their home states.