I recently returned to work full-time after taking some time off to undergo surgery for bladder cancer. Being away was difficult, but my recovery was made easier by the great many well-wishers who sent cards, and relayed prayers and positive messages to me. My family and I want to say “thank you” for the overwhelming support during the last few weeks.
Let me also say, I was fortunate that the cancer was detected early. As a long-time proponent for cancer screening, I want to reaffirm the importance of testing. An early diagnosis can lead to the two words you want to hear – treatable and curable.
My return to the Capitol coincides with the final few weeks of the legislative session, a crucial time with a number of significant issues on the agenda. I am keying in on education initiatives, regulatory reforms to aid small businesses, recommendations from the Senate Task Force on Heroin, ethics reform, and several local issues.
Ensuring our students have the tools they need to succeed in the classroom is always on the top of my priority list. I am co-sponsoring a pair of bills which would be a real win for students.
Senate bill 7461 would reduce standardized testing and ensure tests are provided to students, parents, and teachers so that they can be used to improve the manner in which teachers teach and students learn.
Senate bill 7462 would immediately decouple teacher evaluations from test results and direct the Board of Regents to establish a committee to research and develop and alternate, research-based method for teacher evaluations.
As part of the budget and the minimum wage increase, the senate worked to establish a new panel to help examine issues related to New York’s high workers’ compensation costs, unemployment insurance costs, burdensome regulations and more. I am actively reviewing the recommendations with eye toward enacting those which can assist our local businesses and help create an environment for economic growth.
Clearly, everyone at the Capitol and across the state is working to thwart the heroin and opioid addiction crisis which continues to take lives. As a member of the Senate Task Force on Heroin, I have worked to enact a number of new laws, but there is more to be done. The senate has already advanced a number of recommendations with a four prong approach in mind - prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement. I am confident that agreement can be reached with the assembly and the governor to enact many of these senate proposals.
Ethics reform is another issue that remains under discussion. Pension forfeiture for public officials convicted of a felony is one item that must be approved. If someone spends their time in office feathering their own nest there is no reason why the public should fund his retirement. Last year, during budget talks, a three way agreement was reached on this issue. The senate passed the negotiated bill but the assembly failed to come through. I am hopeful that we can get that agreement over the finish line this year.
I have also called for term limits for leadership positions and committee chairmen. Shuffling the deck on occasion, so to speak, helps bring new ideas to the forefront and prevents long-term entrenchment of power. The senate has enacted these limits as part of our senate rules, but ratifying them in law will make certain they continue.
I have also advanced a pair of bills that would protect long-term stability and local management for Hyde Hall in Otsego County and Rogers Environmental Education Center in Chenango County along with measures that would provide funding to counties to cover indigent legal services and mandated salary increases for full time district attorneys.
It is a busy, hectic time at the Capitol. It is also a very important time with key issues that must be resolved to meet the needs of those who live and work in the 51st Senate District and across the state.