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Heastie, Cuomo, Flanagan press conference

Image courtesy of North Country Public Radio

After extending the session a number of days, nearly a week and half, the Senate and Assembly ended the legislative session last week, in many ways taking the wind out of the sails of a number of crucial social justice causes, many of which are of key interest for RJV.

East Ramapo: After much hard work and carefully targeted advocacy, unfortunately the East Ramapo monitor bill did not pass the Senate — it didn’t even get a vote. This was a disappointing loss, but that means that we have to keep the drumbeat of justice going for the students and families of East Ramapo. Learn more here.

Education Tax Credit: Although the coalition in support of this measure was very strong, we were pleased that the education tax credit did not become New York State law. RJV worked hard alongside partner organizations to demonstrate our opposition to this measure by participating in press conferences, sending letters to legislators and NYS leadership and many other advocacy avenues. As Reform Jews, we believe firmly in public education and church-state separation, both of which would be compromised if this proposal became law.

Gender Expression Non-Discrimination: Since 2003, it has been illegal in New York to discriminate against someone because of their sexual orientation. However, it remains legal to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity. RJV wholeheartedly endorsed and advocated for the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (A4558A/S. 61A), which would make it illegal for a transgender person to be discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations. GENDA passed the Assembly 90-52, and sadly this year did not get a vote in the Senate.

NY DREAM Act: Earlier in 2015 when the legislature was dealing with the budget process, Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal had tied the NY DREAM Act (A. 4311/S. 1251) to the education tax credit. Once they were separated and lifted out of the budget, this important legislation — allowing undocumented students to access higher education — could be considered on its own high merits. Similar to GENDA, this bill passed the Assembly with a vote of 87-45, but did not come up for a vote in the Senate.

Reproductive Services Act: When RJVers went to Albany on May 4 of this year for our annual Advocacy Day event, we advocated in support of the Reproductive Services Act (A. 6221/S. 4432), although it had already passed in the Assembly. This bill was originally part of the 10-point Women’s Equality Act (WEA). In previous years, the Senate would vote in favor of nine of the ten points, excluding the point about reproductive health, and the Assembly would refuse to split up the measures, voting on all ten or nothing. Possibly due to a new speaker, the Assembly has been passing individual points of the WEA. Unfortunately, this bill was not one passed by both chambers.

Looking back at the 2015 legislative session, it’s clear that we have our work cut out for us for the summer and fall to prepare for next year – to ensure that we work together to create an Empire State of tzedek. Jewish tradition teaches us that helping fellow human beings in need, tzedakah, is not simply a matter of charity, but of responsibility, righteousness and justice. The Bible does not merely command us to give to the poor, but to advocate on their behalf. As we are told in Proverbs 31:9, “speak up, judge righteously, champion the poor and the needy.”