State Budget comes with a slew of progressive reforms

Albany Capitol

Senate Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) proudly touted on Monday about the on-time $175 billion budget that was passed over the weekend by the Democratic stronghold in the New York State Legislature.

The historic budget that was approved on March 31, included reforms for criminal justice, the environment and voting in the Empire State. It also promised a larger budget for education, helping struggling homeowners and assistance to entrepreneurs, according to Gianaris’ April 1st announcement.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris

“Our New York Senate is responsible for the most historic and dramatic reforms to our troubled criminal justice system, including realizing the bail reform many of us sought for years,” said Gianaris.

The enacted law will eliminate cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies to ensure that no New Yorkers are incarcerated simply because of their inability to pay a fine, according to the budget.

The elimination of cash bail for low-level criminal offenses comes nearly four years after Kalief Browder, a Bronx native, was incarcerated from 2010 to 2012 after being falsely accused of stealing a backpack. His family could not afford to raise $3,000 to get him out of bail and he ended up spending two years in solitary confinement. In 2015, he committed suicide by hanging.

Single-use plastic bags will be banned from cities and counties across the Big Apple to make way for reusable paper bags that will cost five cents, according to Gianaris’ office. The funds will go towards local efforts to provide the bags, to low and fixed-income consumers who may not be able to afford the bags and to aid the state’s Environmental Fund with $300 million.

“The Senate Majority supports efforts to protect New York State’s environment and natural resources,” according to a statement from Senate Democrats. “With a federal government run by climate change deniers, the Senate Majority will work to have New York State serve as a national and international leader in the fight against climate change.”

People in upstate New York will now have the opportunity to vote as early as 6 a.m., $10 million will go towards early voting in the state, volunteer grassroots organizations will no longer have to be forced to register as lobbyists and voters will get three hours paid time off to vote so they won’t get penalized for exercising their constitutional rights, according to the Senate Majority.

There will be a more than $1 billion investment in public school education, according to the budget. Approximately $618 million will go to Foundation Aid, an organization that ensures that all students in public schools are receiving a sound basic education and that their institutions are funded fairly regardless of their zip code.

New Yorkers who may be facing foreclosure will be able to access $20 million in services to prevent them from losing their homes, according to the Senate Majority.

The Workforce Business Development will receive $4 million to provide services to entrepreneurs and $365,000 will be allocated to the Minority/Women-owned Business Development and Lending Program.

“This budget also makes substantial down payments on the promise of a more progressive future, though our efforts are only beginning, as we must keep working to ensure the enactment of a robust public financing program and full funding to provide a sound basic education for our children. I look forward to keeping up the fight on these and other issues,” said Gianaris.