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Advocates Seek Governor's Signature On Bills They Say Are Critical During Pandemic

The New York State Capitol in Albany
Lucas Willard
The New York State Capitol in Albany

Advocates for Black and Brown communities in New York are urging Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign four pieces of legislation passed earlier this year.

Advocates are highlighting legislation they say is particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a virtual press conference Wednesday organized by the New York Civil Liberties Union, advocates focused on four separate bills – including the Contact Tracing Confidentiality Act.

Marvin Mayfield is an organizer with the Center for Community Alternatives.

“This is critical to ensure that contact tracing is effective. If New Yorkers do not believe their private information is protected, they will refuse to participate in contact tracing – as we have already seen,” said Mayfield.

The Act would prohibit law enforcement or immigration authorities from obtaining contact tracing information except for permitted purposes.

Alice Fontier of the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem said there is a wide sense of distrust in contact tracing – and what the government will do with personal information. 

“The police and ICE have earned the distrust of our communities. Mere words and promises are not enough to overcome that distrust. This bill does nothing more than protect confidential health data from misuse from outside authorities,” said Fontier.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a New York City Democrat, compared the Contact Tracing Confidentiality bill to steps taken in the early days of the HIV epidemic.

“That if we wanted people to come forward and get tested and get treated, we had to provide them with extra statutory protection for their privacy and confidentiality,” said Gottfried.

Gottfried points to recent news reports that 80 percent of recent coronavirus cases in New York City did not have a clear source of infection – a sign that infected individuals are not communicating with contact tracers.

“They did say that 80 percent they want to contact don’t give them the information they need. That sounds like a failure to me. And we have no idea of whether the state program is doing any better – although I think it’s pretty clear that if the state program was doing any better they would be telling us in press releases,” said Gottfried.

In Albany County, as one example, County Executive Dan McCoy said Thursday more than 50 percent of COVID-19 cases in the last week did not have a clear source of infection.

Other bills advocates are asking the governor to sign are the Protect Our Courts Act, which would prevent federal authorities from arresting people at courthouses without a warrant; The Drivers License Suspension Reform Act, which would prevent New York from suspending a person’s license due to an unpaid traffic fine; and the Proximity Bill, which would require the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to move incarcerated parents to the facility closest to their children after security, health, and programming needs are considered.

Richard Azzopardi, a spokesman for Governor Andrew Cuomo, responded to the push from advocates that the governor take action on the bills:

“These are among the more than 400 bills that passed both houses of the legislature and some of them aim to merely codify what is current practice. They remain under review by counsel's office.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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