Its the start of a new year, which means the State Senate and Assembly are back in session for the first time in six months. In order to check-in on what is happening in Albany, we sat down with some representatives of the Plainview community to find out what they are working on.
Senator Jim Gaughran
State Senator Jim Gaughran, representing the fifth district, says the main focus early on this legislative session is going to be the state budget that Governor Andrew Cuomo released on Tuesday.
“There’s going to be a lot of negotiations,” said Gaughran. “My main concern is to make sure the Long Island school districts are getting the state aid they need. We’re going to do that on the reality that the current budget is $175 billion and there’s a $6 billion shortfall. We have to figure out how to raise $6 billion. I’m opposed to raising taxes, particularly on middle-class families that I represent. Statistics show and based on what happened last year, the more you raise taxes, the more people leave New York State. Raising taxes might not even generate the revenue that you need.”
In terms of other legislation, Gaughran is focused on fixing the criminal justice reform that has raised a lot of controversy in the last few months, with many of the reforms going into effect New Year’s Day.
“I’ve been pushing for legislation to give judges more discretion on setting bail,” said Gaughran. “The legislation that I filed last year didn’t have a lot of support. Now, it’s starting to get some support.”
Another major push in Albany is the push to have Holocaust education be a requirement in schools. The senator said he supports these measures.
“We need to make sure all of our kids know the horrors of the Holocaust,” said Gaughran. “When I was a kid, we met Holocaust survivors. They made sure we saw the tattoos and that was very powerful. It’s more important now to include it in our education because young people today are separated from that. Fewer and fewer people are around to give direct testimony.”
Assemblyman Charles Lavine
Like Gaughran, the District 13 Assemblyman Charles Lavine has his eye on the state budget, which will need to be passed by both legislative houses by the end of March. Lavine said his main focus in forming the budget is on schools and the health of the state’s residents.
“We are going to have to figure out how to address the [$6 billion] deficit,” said Lavine. “At least $2 billion represents a federal cutback, or a ‘Trump cutback,’ in health care spending. At the same time, the Trump administration wants to eliminate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for needy families. That is a lifeline for approximately 250,000 Long Island families that suffer from hunger and inadequate nutrition. This is a serious issue because our state government is responsible for the health of our citizens.”
The assemblyman currently is one of the state officials who have sponsored the Holocaust education bill. Lavine has said that the epidemic has gotten worse over the last three years.
“We have seen people who hate feel entitled and enabled to act out on their primitive instincts,” said Lavine. “We will address that. We are all fighting against that.”
As chairman of the election committee, Lavine remains on a mission to make it easier for New Yorkers to vote. Moving forward, his focus will be on automatic voter registration as well as automatic recounts in elections.
“We want to make sure we have money in our budget to provide for online registration and automatic voter registration,” said Lavine. “We also want to see how early voting worked. I am very pleased that Nassau County led the state in early voting numbers, but our concern is that we need to make sure our county boards of election are not unduly swayed by some county executives who want to suppress votes. We want to make ensure there is an equitable distribution of poll sites.”
Lavine is also focusing on capital funding in SUNY and CUNY universities, which is an issue that the state government was unable to pursue last year and will make a major priority this year. He also encourages residents to register for the census because that is critical in deteremining the amount of federal funding the state gets.
—Additional reporting by Joseph Wolkin