NYS Senator Says Session Yielded Big Wins
With the book closed on New York’s legislative session until next year, several items were left on the table, including the legalization of recreational marijuana. One Hudson Valley state senator says a deal was close, but says the session did lead to a lot of big accomplishments.
State Senator Pete Harckham is one of three first-term Democrats in the Hudson Valley who succeeded Republicans, helping to shift the body into a Democratic majority.
“This was just an incredibly productive session; I think it’s fair to say unlike anything that’s been seen in recent history, both in terms of the scope and the volume of legislation passed by the Senate,” Harckham says.
Here’s New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, speaking with WAMC’s Alan Chartock on The Roundtable Monday.
“This has been the robust agenda that has been passed by the state,” Cuomo says. “Virtually all of the issues that were passed I had previously proposed and, in past years, worked for most of them and failed with the Republican Senate.”
However, robust and progressive are not the same.
“In many ways, I don’t think it was progressive enough,” says Cuomo. “What happened, doctor, to discussion of poverty and civil rights and the minority community. How do you have a discussion of criminal justice reform and not insist that you close Rikers Island, the worst jail in the United States of America, which we’ve been talking about closing for years and nothing has happened. It’s pure government apathy.”
Though not necessarily progressive, Harckham highlights pieces of legislation that pertain to local issues, such as the Buchanan-based Indian Point nuclear power plant in his 40th District, which includes parts of Putnam County, northern Westchester and two towns in Dutchess County.
“At Indian Point, we were able to pass legislation in both houses that protects the workers there that mandates that the decommissioning entity has to hire from the existing talent pool and pay them prevailing wage, which is a big win,” Harckham says.
Indian Point Unit 2 is slated to close by April 30, 2020 and Unit 3, by April 30, 2021. Earlier this year, Indian Point’s parent company Entergy announced it would sell the plant after shutting down, to a subsidiary of Holtec International. Jerry Nappi is spokesman for Entergy. Prior to the bill’s passage, he questioned whether such a proposal is necessary, saying Entergy has committed to find positions for any employee who wants to stay with the company and is willing to relocate. At the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s annual meeting on Indian Point June 20, Nappi addressed worker retention and Holtec.
“Well, Holtec has agreed to take the Entergy employees who are part of the first phase of decommissioning and hire them. So, after Unit 3 shuts down at Indian Point, the workers who are going to be part of what’s called phase one — that’s usually about less than half of the employees that are there right now — will be picked up by Holtec because they want that institutional knowledge. They’ve said that publicly,” Nappi says. “They’ve said that they’re going to honor the union contracts that those employees have, which is a very important thing for the community, and it’s going help with the decommissioning of the site to make sure it’s done correctly.”
Harckham voted in favor of the Green Light bill that allows the state to issue driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status. Yet he sees an area that needs to be tackled next session.
“In the bigger counties, the DMV is run by the state. In the smaller counties, it is run by the county clerk,” says Harckham. “And the valid point is that they are going to get a lot of new business because of this law and they need the resources to deal with it. And I agree with them wholeheartedly. And in the next budget, it’s our responsibility if we’re going to mandate this work, we should also provide the funding resources to support that work.”
New York did not pass a bill supporting recreational marijuana, but agreed to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
“That was kind of a fallback as opposed to a compromise,” says Harckham. “I think, I think marijuana will come back probably next year. We were, I thought we were very, very close.”
Harckham, who chairs state Senate Committee on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, says there was progress on helping in the opioid crisis.
“We were able to double the time of treatment from 14 to 28 days before insurance companies can do concurrent reviews. We were able to reduce outpatient copays from multiple to just one per visit,” Harckham says. “We’ve mandated both private insurance and Medicaid need to cover all medically-assisted treatment for opioids, which is huge. We passed a requirement for the jails, medically-assisted treatment for opioids in all of the correctional facilities, both state and local.”
Harckham says a bill is on Governor Cuomo’s desk to implement a 1 percent sales-tax increase in the county with the highest property taxes in the nation — Westchester. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer has said it is a vital way to secure revenue beyond the property tax.