We Are Writing the Blueprint for Our Greatest Potential Yet

By Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins | June 11, 2023

We returned to Albany this year to lead New York’s first ever back-to-back supermajorities in state history. Voters had sent us here once again to continue addressing the most pressing issues of the day, with the same level of tenacity and resolve that we’ve demonstrated since winning the Majority in 2019. We were tasked with formulating timely solutions that not only alleviated the symptoms, but rooted out the disease. We spent this session fighting at every turn for the best interests of middle and working class families. We opened strong with pro-democracy, and pro-choice legislation to counter national rollbacks. We used our purse to craft an historic budget that funds resources and opportunities from the middle out and bottom up, creating a more affordable New York for all. And now, we’re closing with robust policies that carry this year’s momentum to unlock our greatest potential for generations to come. The rest of the nation looks to us to set the example. That’s why the work we do here carries enormous weight. Because the path we clear today will be the road that others take tomorrow.

As some seek to upend the pillars of our democracy and claw at the heart of our American values, New York continues to stand as the breakwater. Per our tradition since taking the Majority, we started this session by advancing a new slate of voting reforms and election protections that pay homage to the people who sent us here, and ensure that they always have the final say in these halls of power. We expanded ballot access, strengthened anti-suppression measures, and took steps to join the ERIC database that will keep voter registration information up to date across state lines. We also rejected the draconian attacks on our reproductive freedoms by advancing the second passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, which codifies reproductive care and gender equality in the State of New York. We further strengthened provider protections and increased access to services, solidifying New York as a destination state for ANYONE in need of reproductive care. And we held ourselves accountable by enacting much needed judicial reforms, ensuring that arbiters of justice are beholden solely to the law.

Our state was founded by those fleeing oppression in search of the freedom we hold dear. That’s why we took proactive steps in this year’s legislative budget to allocate $1.3 billion for asylum seeker support, and will continue to work with our state and federal partners in addressing this situation with humanity and grace. We also passed the Coverage for All legislation that will help provide healthcare to our immigrant brothers and sisters without burdening our state taxpayers. New York will look to champion the values we were built upon. But we can only do that if our own foundation is rock solid. That means continuing to make New York an affordable state where families can settle down and raise their children without being priced out of their livelihoods. This session, we helped make that a reality by raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation to make it a true living wage. We also continued supporting working families by expanding the child care tax credit eligibility to kids under five. No parent should have to choose between raising their child or making a living.

We looked to make the everyday cost of living a lot cheaper by passing ratepayer protections, capping the price of insulin, prohibiting price gouging of medicine, and last week, passing the NY HEAT Act. With these measures, we’re making it more economically possible to stay in the place you’ve always known, keeping New York excellence right here at home. Reinvesting in New York communities is fundamental to the continued growth and success of our state as a whole. That’s why, in addition to supporting households, we have also taken steps to bolster local resources. We prioritized public transportation and infrastructure by continuing to fund MTA services that result in better service, including a pilot program for five free buses throughout the city boroughs. We implemented recommendations from the Task Force on Limo Safety to make commercial rentals safer and more reliable. And we passed the first ever railroad safety package in our State’s history to prevent future calamities–like the one in East Palestine, Ohio–from happening in New York.

We will always invest in the best when it comes to our communities by creating opportunities at every turn. For many, that starts with education. I am so proud that this year, for the first time, we are fully funding Foundation Aid for our public schools, finally ensuring that no one is boxed out of a brighter future because of the zipcode they live in. And, we are guaranteeing that all students eat at least two free meals during the school day. In a world where many children receive the majority of their nourishment at school, this is groundbreaking. We halted any increases to in-state tuition for SUNY and CUNY. And continued our investment in our public higher education system by providing $3 billion in capital investment. We know that in order for people to make good choices, they need to HAVE good choices. That’s why we’ve strengthened after school programming, with expanded investments in activities dedicated to the arts and youth athletics. And last week, we passed a bill to enact the school anti-violence education act, aimed at reducing gun violence among children.

I remain a firm believer that public safety and justice reform can work together. This conference has never been a one and done shop, so we clarified the bail law to ensure it is working as intended by providing judges greater discretion, and put greater funding towards gun violence reduction and mental health treatment. And we are prioritizing second chances. I am so proud that during our final day of session we passed Clean Slate, which will remove barriers that have prevented too many from reintegrating into society after they’ve fully paid their debts. Now we can tap into the talent and potential that has been needlessly withheld from our communities due to perpetual punishment. In that same effort, we passed the landmark Wrongful Convictions Act, which grants citizens a meaningful review of their case to redress wrongful convictions–even in guilty pleas. We also began the process to fully outlaw forced labor as a punishment for crime–the well-known 13th amendment loophole that has allowed legal slavery to flourish throughout U.S. prisons. Our bill “No Slavery in New York” is a monumental step towards stamping out our nation’s original sin, and accounting for the ways it still permeates our everyday lives. Our conference is committed to correcting the mistakes of the past so they are no longer the playbook of the future. That’s also why we are finally advanced a commission on
reparations which will be tasked with studying the effects on how New York’s status as an economic and cultural hub of the world has been built and shaped by slavery. And how we can atone for the generational trauma it has incurred. These are crucial steps towards building a strong and more equitable New York. But as I so often say, we cannot reap the true reward of these efforts if our earth is uninhabitable.

Just last week New York was the center of the world as we led the planet in worst air quality by hundreds of points–shattering all records since the EPA first started keeping track as a result of Canadian wild fires. We’ve often heard the refrain, “It’ll never happen in New York.” But we as leaders know better. Whether it be reproductive freedom, or gun control, or climate action, we see now that the only guaranteed protections are the ones that we secure ourselves. The stakes have never been higher. That’s why I am not only so proud of the nation-leading climate action we’ve enacted in the past, but of our continued efforts to make good on climate promises in the CLCPA while reversing the damage that’s been done, because we no longer have to imagine how bad the alternative will be. We finished this Session strong on our commitments by getting the Build Public Renewables Act done, and passing the Climate Superfund Act, which requires our biggest polluters to pay up on the costs of adapting to climate change. It also has the teeth necessary to ensure our clean, green, infrastructure of the future is union-made right here in

Our conference implements ground up reforms that not only target the urgent needs of our citizens and state, but do so in a way that generates growth and prosperity throughout all levels of society. The challenges we face are really opportunities lying in wait. As this deliberative body passes common sense solutions, we are writing the blueprint for our greatest potential yet.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins is President Pro Tempore and Majority Leader of the New York State Senate. She represents Greenburgh, Scarsdale, and parts of White Plains, New Rochelle, and Yonkers.