This week, the State Assembly returned to Albany following the Easter and Passover Holidays to begin work on important legislative priorities of the 2014 Legislative Session. The legislative session continues in Albany until the end of June.
Some of the key proposals and activities happening in the Assembly this past week include:
Legislation to Protect Domestic Violence Victims
Seeking to stem the prevalence of domestic violence incidents and repeat omestic violence offenses throughout the state, the Assembly passed a legislative package aimed at strengthening protections for victims of domestic violence and enhancing health care professionals’ ability to aid these victims in the recovery process.
The package also includes measures that would:
* Strengthen the enforcement of orders of protection by permitting victims to recover non-economic damages from any or all defendants found liable for failure to obey or enforce domestic violence orders of protection or temporary orders of protection (A.899);
* Require hospitals to maintain policies to effectively aid victims of domestic violence (A.2562-A);
* Require police to promptly translate domestic violence incident reports that are filled out in a language other than English, as well as provide the notification of victims’ rights in such victim’s native language (A.9251);
* Include the unauthorized tracking of an individual, with a GPS or other device, within the meaning of “following” in the crime of stalking in the fourth degree (A.7720B);
* Require wireless telephone companies to allow victims of domestic violence to opt-out of shared or family plans without incurring any penalties (A.7964-B);
* Enact a Domestic Violence Escalation Prevention Act, which makes it illegal for an individual to possess a firearm if he or she has committed a family offense (A.6390). Earlier this legislative session, the Assembly passed legislation that would prohibit discrimination against victims of domestic violence in employment while also requiring reasonable accommodations for victims (A.898, Weinstein) and would require the interpretation of orders of protection in court proceedings where an interpreter has already been appointed (A.1084-A,).
Maximum Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) Award Increased First Time in 14 Years
For the first time in 14 years, New York State will increase funding for the maximum Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award. With this increase, New York State has allocated more than $1 billion for grants and scholarships for New York students who pursue higher education at a public or independent college or university in the State. Last year, TAP served nearly 400,000 students across the State.
The maximum TAP award is now $5,165, available to New York State residents who attend any public or private college or university in the State. This represents a $165 increase in the maximum award, from $5,000 per student since 2000.
Additionally, students who qualify as an orphan, foster child or ward of the court for the purposes of federal student financial aid programs will now be considered dependent students for the purpose of determining their TAP awards, making them eligible for the maximum award. This means some of the highest-need students will receive an additional $2,140 per year.
In 2012-2013, more than 372,000 New Yorkers attending college were awarded $931 million in TAP funds to help pay their college tuition costs, averaging $3,049 per student. To learn more about New York’s Tuition Assistance Program and other scholarships, grants and loan forgiveness programs offered by the State, visit the HESC website at HESC.ny.gov.
Women Legislators Rally for Raising the Minimum Wages
Assemb. Jacobs joined dozens of women legislators and labor leaders this week in Albany for “RaiseupWomen” to call for the passage of legislation that would allow local governments to increase the minimum wage. Citing data that show women disproportionately represent minimum wage workers, allowing local governments in New York State to increase the minimum wage would particularly benefit women. Women represent 53% of all low-wage workers in New York State and 40% of workers paid less than $15 an hour are also women. Men make up 34% of workers earning less than $15 per hour. The bill is currently being considered by the Assembly Committee on Labor.
Compassionate Sentencing for Domestic Violence Survivors
Assemb. Jacobs joined members from the Legislative Women’s Caucus, domestic violence survivors and key women’s rights and criminal justice organizations this week to urge passage of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (A.4314-c/S.3337-C). The bill, co-sponsored by Jacobs, would allow judges to reduce sentences and in some cases offer alternatives to incarceration for survivors convicted of crimes directly related to domestic violence. The bill also allows currently incarcerated survivors to apply to the courts for re-sentencing.
According to advocates of the legislation, 126 women’s organizations, domestic violence groups and criminal justice organizations support the bill. Currently, the bill is pending in committee in both the Assembly and the Senate.
Nichols is a legislative aide to Assemb. Rhoda Jacobs (D-Brooklyn) 42AD, the assistant speaker of the State Legislature.