New Yorkers may be seeing budget cuts and other policy changes under the new president, and some Democrats worry that the state isn’t ready to push back against these changes because of divisions in the Democratic caucus. From tenants rights to abortion rights, the state will have a big say in how New Yorkers feel the impact of the new administration’s policies.
The New York State Senate has 32 Democrats and 31 Republicans. But because 9 of those Democrats have thrown their support behind the Republican caucus, the State Senate is controlled by the Republicans. Upper West Side state senator Marisol Alcantara is one of those breakaway Democrats, aligning with an 8-member group called the Independent Democratic Conference that has sided with the Republicans. (The ninth Democrat who aligned with the Republicans, Simcha Felder, is not part of the IDC.)
Why does this matter?
New York state government is essentially controlled by three people: the governor, the Speaker of the Assembly, and the State Senate Majority Leader. The governor and assembly leader are Democrats. But because of the breakaway Democrats, the State Senate Majority Leader is a Republican, Sen. John Flanagan of Long Island. And Flanagan decides who runs committees, and what bills will make it to the floor for a vote.
If the next Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, which seems like a possibility based on the names that President Trump has floated as likely nominees, it will likely be up to the states to decide if women there should have the right to get abortions. New York passed a law legalizing abortion in 1970, three years before Roe v. Wade, but that law is now outdated, according to State Rep. Deborah Glick, who introduced a new bill to update the law.
“This update acknowledges that pregnancy termination is a lawful procedure and eliminates undue burdens on women seeking to exercise the right to make reproductive decisions. Under the proposal, any health care practitioner licensed, certified or authorized under title eight of the Education Law may perform the procedure within 24 weeks of pregnancy, when there is an absence of fetal viability or when necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
That bill has passed the assembly, but its future in the senate is again uncertain. Similar bills have been squashed by the Republican leadership for the last several years. (Gothamist has a good primer on the abortion legislation.)
Another bill designed to protect transgender people has also languished in the senate for years despite support in the assembly, notes State Rep. Linda Rosenthal. The GENDA bill would “protect New Yorkers from facing discrimination due to their gender identity or expression in many aspects of daily life including employment, housing and education.”
“We need more and more protection here that might get wiped out on the federal level,” Rosenthal said in an interview.
Tenant-friendly bills have also died in the senate, Rosenthal notes, including one that would roll back “major capital improvement” charges on rent-stabilized tenants once the improvement is paid off. There are other bills too that likely will never see the light of day because the Republicans are in control, a recent Village Voice article notes.
If you are a progressive in the city, and wonder why New York can’t have single-payer healthcare, grow its stock of rent-regulated apartments, or offer tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants, you can blame Senate Republicans.
It’s worth reading that whole piece to understand why New York isn’t really a “progressive” state, and the governor’s role in this issue. (And don’t get us started on the gerrymandering in the senate.)
Asked why she joined the IDC despite its role in keeping some progressive legislation from passing, Alcantara sent the following statement:
I am a lifelong progressive Democrat, but even without the IDC, the Republicans would have a legislative majority in Albany. I would rather make my voice and the voices of all my constituents heard than sit on the sidelines. I will work with all parties and all conferences to ensure positive and progressive outcomes for the people of my district. The IDC has been instrumental in getting results such as a $15 minimum wage and paid family leave, and results are what I was elected to deliver. The IDC is the only Senate conference that is 100% pro-choice, and I personally believe deeply in a woman’s right to choose and in the necessity of protecting gender-nonconforming individuals from discrimination.
Linda Rosenthal suggests people who are concerned about the goings-on in Albany should “put pressure on their state senators and assembly members.”
If you’d like to meet Alcantara, she’ll be speaking at a luncheon at the Franciscan Community Center at 214 West 92nd Street this Sunday from 12 to 2 p.m. To RSVP, call 212-544-0173 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event is hosted by Public Advocate Tish James, who supported Alcantara in her race, and local Councilmember Helen Rosenthal. We asked Rosenthal’s staff why she was hosting the event, given the IDC’s alignment with the Republicans.
“It’s critical that residents know who their elected officials are and how to contact them. Newly-elected State Senator Alcantara reached out to my office to ask if I would help her get to know the residents in the areas of my District that overlap with hers. I welcome that opportunity. Whether you agree with your local elected on an issue or not, its important for them to hear concerns, feedback and perspectives. Please join us on Sunday.”