Progress Made Despite Botched Process
Legislative Column from Assemblyman Ed Ra
The 2016 session concluded in the early hours of Saturday morning. In many ways, it was symbolic of the legislative process as we have come to know it. It was unprofessionally late, occurred in the dark, and left little time for anyone to read and fully understand what we were voting on with proper time for questioning or public scrutiny. With such an established track record of the same recurring failures, it seems like an almost intentional effort to sneak unfavorable items into 11th hour bills.
Given the unfortunate pattern we have seen in Albany over the past few years, it was important that we finally took a step forward in passing critical ethics reforms, such as pension forfeiture. With the passing of this amendment we can work toward stripping corrupt public leaders of their taxpayer funded pensions after being convicted of wrong doing. By finding common ground, we have made a statement and created a building block for such notable reforms to gain momentum in the future.
Pension forfeiture is a solid first step, but does not go nearly far enough in pursuing an end to the corruption in Albany. I will continue to fight for measures that would enforce term limits for leadership, an end to bid-rigging so that they playing field is level for all voices to be heard, a close review of all political donations, and closing loopholes that corrupt politicians and their allies love to exploit at the expense of a fair process.
My attitude towards ethics reform is largely indicative of how I felt about most of session this year: Optimistic, but not quite content. I am very proud that we were finally able to close the GEA and increase local school aid to ensure that our children have access to a first-class education, enact a tax cut for middle class families that will help so many income earners see more of their paychecks, and adopt the Veterans Equality Bill allowing veterans to buy back their time regardless of when or how their service occurred.
We were also able to pass comprehensive legislation that will help us fight back against the heroin epidemic by providing health insurance reform for better coverage, more beds for patients in need, and better education on how patients should utilize dangerously addictive medications before they’re prescribed to prevent future incidents of addiction.
Going forward, I have many items on my agenda that I will continue to fight for. We took significant steps forward for many areas of our state, but next year we must work on adopting a more transparent process that allows more involvement from rank-and-file members. As representatives of diverse communities around the state, it is critical that we have input on major decisions that impact the way of life for our constituents. Year after year we see that centralized power yielded by three men behind closed doors is far from effective. Egos and politics get in the way of the publics best interest, and in the coming years we must do what we can to change that.
Despite prospective changes and controversy, it was disappointing to see mandated teacher evaluations tied to school funding once again. We need to not only decouple this unfair match, but also revamp the teacher evaluation system as a whole. I had also hoped to see meaningful relief for small business on Long Island. Small businesses play such a crucial role in our local economy, and we must provide them with every resource possible to attract more startups and support those who already have their doors open by making Long Island a welcoming home for entrepreneurs to thrive and prosper.
Overall, I am proud with what we were able to accomplish by the year’s end. However, I will continue to advocate for necessary reforms to establish a new culture of government in Albany and ultimately allow us to best represent the people who have graciously given us the opportunity to do so.