Political Odds & Ends, Nov. 16, 2021

Chalk loudspeaker and inscription odds and ends on black chalkboard
Black chalkboard with drawing of a loudspeaker and inscription odds and ends

AG James Urges Protections Against Toxic “Forever” Chemicals

Attorney General Letitia James

New York Attorney General Letitia James yesterday led a coalition of 19 attorneys general from around the nation in urging the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) to strengthen public health and environmental protections against “forever chemicals.”  

These chemicals — a class of highly toxic chemical compounds known as poly- and per-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) — are widespread, persistent contaminants in the environment, including in drinking water, in New York and in many other states. 

In a letter addressed to EPW leadership, the coalition argues that the serious dangers posed by PFAS, combined with the tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that coalition states are currently spending to protect residents from these dangers, is grounds for swift congressional action. 

“When it comes to the health and safety of New Yorkers, every level of government must act swiftly and decisively,” said James. “These toxic ‘forever’ chemicals endanger the wellbeing of communities across our state, and we need the U.S Senate to join the House to immediately combat this threat. We strongly urge Congress to take swift action to give our states the tools we need to address the dangers these chemicals pose to our communities.”

Joining James in sending the letter to the Senate EPW Committee are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

Myrie Releases Final Report on Election Reform & Voting Rights

State Senator Zellnor Myrie
State Senator Zellnor Myrie

Senator Zellnor Y. Myrie (D-Brooklyn), chair of the Senate Elections Committee, yesterday released a comprehensive report on improving New York’s system of election administration and protecting the rights of voters. 

The report includes a historical overview of how New York’s elections have developed over time along with recent issues impacting voters, a review of the Committee’s statewide hearings, and recommendations to improve election administration and strengthen democracy in New York.

In June 2021, after a highly-publicized tabulation error by the New York City Board of Elections, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Westchester) called for hearings on election reform and legislative action to improve elections and protect voting rights. Over the next several months, Myrie and the Elections Committee held five hearings across the state, collecting testimony from over 100 individuals to determine the major issues facing voters and potential solutions to those issues.

The Committee’s major recommendations are:

Structural Reforms

Restructure the New York City Board of Elections

Reform Local Boards of Elections Outside of NYC

Change the Relationship Between the State Board of Elections and local Boards of Elections

Operational Reforms

Reform the Selection Process, Qualification and Accountability Structure for Election Commissioners

Raise Poll Worker Standards, Improve Recruitment and the Poll Worker Experience

Additional Improvements to the Voter Experience

“Over the past several months, we’ve traveled the state to hear directly from voters, poll workers, advocates and elections administrators themselves about the deep, structural problems with New York’s elections. These problems are not new, but in an era where the legitimacy of elections has come under attack across the country, it’s more important than ever that we solve them. This report summarizes what we heard, and provides a roadmap toward improving election administration and strengthening voting rights in New York,” said Myrie.

Read the complete report here.

Gianaris, Hoylman Lobby Hochul on Court of Appeals Appointment

Senator Michael Gianaris
Sen. Brad Hoylman

Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) sent a letter signed by many of their colleagues to Governor Kathy Hochul urging her to choose a nominee to fill the forthcoming Court of Appeals vacancy with experience representing those traditionally disempowered in the legal system. 

Gianaris and Hoylman are specifically advocating for the choice of Timothy Murphy or Corey Stoughton.

“Court of Appeals judges must be defined by a lifetime of legal excellence, but that cannot be limited to people in just a few, select fields,” said Gianaris. “For the Court to reflect the values of our entire state, its jurists should represent that excellence in different areas of the law and a commitment to serving others. I am grateful to the Commission for including recommendations such as these and urge Governor Hochul to think creatively about the professional lives and lived experiences of the person she nominates to New York’s top court.”

“It’s crucial we diversify the New York Court of Appeals with qualified individuals who understand the needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, such as public defenders or those who’ve represented clients historically disadvantaged by the legal system,” said Hoylman.

“Two applicants for the upcoming vacancy on the New York State Court of Appeals selected by the Commission on Judicial Nomination share this background, Timothy Murphy and Corey Stoughton. I join Senator Gianaris and my colleagues in respectfully urging Governor Hochul to consider nominating one of these candidates to fill this important seat on New York’s highest court,” he added.

Timothy Murphy is the Assistant Federal Public Defender in the Appeals Unit of the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Western District of New York; and Corey Stoughton is the Attorney-in-Charge, Special Litigation and Law Reform, The Legal Aid Society.

Court of Appeals judges serve 14-year terms when nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the State Senate. Interested candidates apply to the Commission, which then vets applications, and presents the Governor with a list of qualified potential nominees for him or her to choose from.

Suozzi Stands up Against Human Rights Abuses in Northern Ireland

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi

U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Long Island/Queens) led a bipartisan group of Congressmembers in addressing a letter to United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to speak out against proposed amnesty for human rights abuses committed by both state and non-state actors during the “troubles” in Northern Ireland.

The “troubles” was a 30-year violent sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland that ended with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. This past summer, the United Kingdom announced plans to introduce legislation that would result in de facto amnesty, ending all prosecutions for troubles-related killings up to April 1998. The proposed amnesty represents a major setback for thousands of victims seeking justice for nearly 50 years.

In the letter to Secretary Blinken, the Members of Congress express their concern “at the continual undermining of the rule of law, Good Friday Agreement and the ongoing process of peace and reconciliation.” 

The letter, which is supported by Amnesty International, was led by Suozzi, Congressman Richard Neal and Congressman Mike Kelly, co-chairs of the Friends of Ireland Caucus, and signed by a bipartisan group of 21 lawmakers, urged Blinken to call on the UK government “to abandon this unilateral action and establish mechanisms to deal with the legacy issues of the past that will discharge the UK’s human rights obligations.”