2019-03-06 / Political Page

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SIMOTAS BILL BROADENS HARASSMENT, DISCRIMINATION PROTECTION: NYS Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx) and Assembly Member Aravella Simotas (D-Queens) have introduced legislation, drafted in conjunction with the National Employment Lawyers Association of New York (NELA/NY), that will broaden harassment and discrimination protections for employees in New York State. Assembly Member Nily Rozic (D-Queens) is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

New York State working individuals who experience unlawful harassment must overcome “significant and unwarranted legal barriers” according to NELA/NY, when they attempt to come forward and seek justice from their employers. For example, the Faragher/Ellerth defense enables many employers to avoid liability when supervisors harass employees, but no “tangible employment action” follows.

Under the proposed legislation:

 A hostile work environment based on sex, race or another protected class, is unlawful even if the conduct is not “severe or pervasive”

 Employers are held responsible for the conduct of their supervisors

 Employers are faced with the prospect of punitive damages in order to change behavior

 Eliminates distinctions between sexual harassment and discrimination and other forms of harassment and discrimination.

The bill also expands protection to independent contractors, domestic workers, and employees of small businesses. It provides for the payment of attorney fees to victims of all forms of discrimination who prove their cases.

“This common-sense legislation to update the legal standards applied to these cases is long overdue…Changing a culture of harassment is a challenging and complex task, but only when we are willing to confront the fundamental systems that allow these abuses to permeate can we begin to build workplaces where all employees feel safe and respected,” said Assembly Member Simotas.

New York State Human Rights Law is “woefully insufficient” to protect New York employees and in fact, protects employers and harassers, according to NELA/NY, which explained in a statement that under the current law, making blatant and repeated sexual comments, even when combined with sexual touching, are often not enough to meet the extremely high “severe or pervasive” standard. Employers are rarely held responsible for supervisors who sexually harass others. New York employers also escape liability because they are often held to be not responsible for hostile work environments created by their low-level and mid-level supervisors. Under current state law, the only exception is in the rare situation where the employee can prove that the employer encouraged, condoned, or expressly or implicitly approved the supervisor’s conduct. The lack of punitive damages makes for empty “victories.” Unlike federal law and New York City law, the New York State Human Rights Law does not allow punitive damages to be awarded against employers. This means that even where employees successfully prove their cases, the amount of damages awarded is often so low that employers may choose to accept the damages as a cost of doing business, as opposed to terminating “popular” harassers or changing workplace culture.

MILLER HELPS PASS ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LEGISLATION: Assembly Member Mike Miller helped pass anti-discrimination legislation, including a measure expanding the city’s sexual harassment laws to help ensure no one feels threatened or unsafe in the workplace. “The #MeToo movement has helped ensure that victims of discrimination and harassment are no longer relegated to the shadows,” he said. “As New Yorkers, we understand that our shared progressive values and the inherent strength of our diverse communities demand we take action against senseless hate and give a voice to everyone. This legislation will help ensure that intolerance has no place in the Empire State.”

While last year’s budget included important sexual harassment statutes, the Assembly legislation would expand and clarify these protections. The bill would establish a model policy and model training program to prevent discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, military status, familial status, marital status, predisposing genetic characteristics or domestic violence victim status (A. 5976). In addition, the bill would require a public employee to reimburse a public entity within 90 days of it awarding a discrimination claim to ensure the perpetrator is held financially responsible for the misconduct.

The Assembly legislation would also accomplish the following, among other things:

 Prohibit mandatory arbitration clauses related to workplace discrimination

 Require companies involved in a competitive public bidding process to have a written policy on discrimination prevention

 Authorize the state attorney general to bring a civil action or prosecute cases of discrimination

The Assembly also passed a measure to extend anti-discrimination protections of the state’s Human Rights Law to all public schools (A. 3425). Ambiguity in the current law and a recent decision from the state’s highest court has led to the protections pertaining only to private schools, rather than all educational institutions, noted Miller.

Further, the New York State Constitution currently only protects against discrimination based on race, color, creed or religion. To expand protections and help make full women’s equality a reality, the Assembly once again passed an amendment to the state constitution to guarantee equal protection to persons on the basis of sex: the NYS Equal Rights Amendment (A. 271).

In addition, Miller helped pass legislation which clarifies that lactation is a pregnancy-related condition and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations in the workplace (A. 5975).

WEPRIN OPPOSES CONGESTION PRICING: Assembly Member David Weprin issued the following statement on the proposed congestion pricing: “I am happy to see that the governor’s and mayor’s new agreement for funding the MTA includes two additional new revenue streams, but still oppose the imposition of congestion pricing as it eliminates a 100-year-plus alternative for middle class drivers and small business to get into Manhattan without paying a fee. With this new plan, the state cedes all future toll setting authority to an unelected commission, the TBTA, which I also oppose. As such, I cannot support a plan that asks New Yorkers to hand over an even larger percentage of their paychecks to the MTA and plan to continue to oppose this rehashed congestion pricing proposal.”

GIANARIS BILL TO PROVIDE PROPER BURIAL FOR UNCLAIMED VETS: NYS Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris announced that the State Senate passed his legislation (S. 2145) which gives New York’s veterans a dignified burial. The bill, which passed unanimously, requires affected counties and the city of New York to work with a veteran service organization to provide for the burial of any veteran whose remains are unclaimed. “No one is more deserving of a respectful funeral and burial than the men and women of our armed forces,” said Sen. Gianaris. “For those who sacrificed for our country, it is important our communities work to deliver the appropriate honors. The ‘New’ New York Senate is proud to support our veterans.”

Senator Gianaris’ legislation ensures unclaimed remains of veterans are afforded a dignified funeral and burial, even when veterans do not have a next-of-kin or the means to provide for their own burial. Local governments would work with a local veterans service organization which would contract with a funeral home to provide these services.

KOSLOWITZ REQUESTS DOE ‘INTERVENE’ AT FOREST HILLS HS: Council Member Karen Koslowitz released the following statement regarding allegations about conditions at Forest Hills High School: “I was absolutely stunned and dismayed to read the allegations in the newspaper concerning incidents at Forest Hills High School (FHHS). The allegations in essence claimed that the principal of FHHS was condoning and engaging in practices that compromised the health and safety of students and staff. I have lived in my neighborhood for 56 years, and I can tell you FHHS has enjoyed a reputation for being a highly desirable school. My two daughters graduated from FHHS. Parents moved in to the neighborhood so their children could attend FHHS. I have been in the school countless times and I can tell you that what I read in the newspaper is nothing like the fine school that I experienced in those visits. I am asking that the DOE immediately intervene at FHHS to ensure that all laws, rules, regulations and policies are being adhered to. With respect to the principal, I am not rushing to a judgment based on a newspaper article. Those disciplinary matters will take their due course. But, the health and safety of the students must be guaranteed and guaranteed without delay. With the necessary corrections in place, FHHS will continue to enjoy the excellent reputation that it has deservedly maintained through the years.”

MOODY’S UPGRADES CITY’S CREDIT RATING: NYC Comptroller Scott M. Stringer released the following statement on Moody’s Investors Services: “I am thrilled with Moody’s vote of confidence in New York City’s economy. A higher bond rating means lower borrowing costs for the city, which means additional resources to help fund our city schools, parks and other critical services, as well as more money to help us weather whatever economic challenges may come our way. That said, maintaining the city’s fiscal strength is a full-time job, so while we celebrate today’s good news, we at the Comptroller’s Office remain doubly committed to continuing our progress through careful oversight of the city’s budget and economy.”

VALLONE CALLS FOR DISCLOSURE OF SEX OFFENDERS IN HOMELESS SHELTERS: Council Member Paul Vallone announced on February 26th that he is drafting a New York City Council resolution calling on New York State to pass legislation that would require the disclosure of sex offenders who are being housed in homeless shelters. Vallone explained that sex offenders in New York State have a long list of reporting and registration requirements that allow residents and families to be aware of their presence. These requirements are particularly strict for Level 3 offenders who are considered to have a high risk of committing another sex crime. Unfortunately, current New York State Social Services law restricts a social services agency from divulging that a sex offender is being housed in a temporary homeless shelter.

“If the city brings a homeless shelter with over 200 transient men to any community, then those residents must be able to know if there is a registered sex offender at that location. The proposed site in College Point, a result of profit hunting and failed policies, continues to show why it is a clear threat to the safety of over 3,000 students and the quality of life of the community at large. Whether you’re placing a registered sex offender in our communities for one year, or even one day, then we have a right to know,” said Council Member Vallone.

In 2007, the State Assembly and Senate passed legislation that would have closed any loopholes that allow confidentiality when homeless sex offenders are placed in temporary housing, but it was vetoed by Governor Eliot Spitzer who cited privacy and implementation concerns.

“This is not a privacy issue, it is a safety issue and there is no reason that sex offenders should be living within close proximity to a school,” said Vallone. “The state must expand restrictions on sex offenders living within a few blocks of schools.”

“Allowing sex offenders to be homed in the shelter system without any notification to a community is completely unsafe, irresponsible, and unacceptable. The furthest school is five blocks away and the closest is two blocks away. This could place approximately 3,000 children in harm’s way,” said Jennifer Shannon, Queens Chair of the Five Boro Coalition. ”The Five Boro Coalition has created a 10-point plan that will help end the current shelter system. Sex offenders being allowed to hide in the shelter system is one of the points being extensively covered. This must not continue!”

BILL REQUIRES IMPACT STUDY BEFORE SITING A SHELTER: As more and more homeless shelters are popping up in communities across the city, NYS Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. and Assembly Member Stacey Pheffer Amato have introduced a bill that would require the city to release a neighborhood impact statement prior to creating a homeless shelter in a community.

Several communities within Addabbo’s district, most recently in Rockaway, have been selected for homeless shelters with little to no community outreach with the public or local elected officials, or consideration of other factors, such as infrastructure and public transportation in the area or community concerns.

“In order to deal with the city’s homelessness crisis, the mayor has decided to do away with cluster apartments and create large-scale homeless shelters in local communities,” Sen. Addabbo said. “While each community wants to do their part to help with the crisis, there needs to be a practice where the community is involved in the early stages of the selection process and the concerns of residents can be addressed before a site is finalized.”

Bill S. 3997 would require the city to conduct and release a neighborhood impact study for the area where a homeless shelter would be created. This study would document the number and locations of daycare centers, schools, parks, playgrounds, senior centers, infrastructure and other information that the City Council deems relevant.

Pheffer Amato introduced a similar bill in the NYS Assembly. “The mayor’s proposal to address homelessness is misguided and irresponsible – placing vulnerable individuals in an area with no resources to support them, without inclusion of community stakeholders, is a failed plan for everyone,” Assembly Member Pheffer Amato said. “The city must include us in the conversation – and this bill seeks to do just that.”

Addabbo also noted that in order to tackle the complex issue of homelessness, the government must put forth policies that address the long-term issues that sometimes lead to homelessness, such as affordable housing, job creation, and mental health treatment along with alcohol and substance abuse rehabilitation.

RALLY AGAINST CUTS TO 9/11 VICTIM COMPENSATION FUND: FDNY Uniformed Fire Officers Association President Jake Lemonda, and FDNY Uniformed Firefighters Association Vice President LeRoy McGinnis, joined elected officials and activist Jon Stewart in a rally/press conference on February 25th at the Capitol Visitors’ Center in Washington DC for the permanent authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. Officials and victims discussed the major cuts of federal funds for September 11th first responders, many of whom have been diagnosed with chronic illnesses and disabilities linked to their work at Ground Zero. Hundreds of first responders and workers from 9/11 have been stricken with respiratory diseases, life-threatening cancers and other illnesses from exposure to toxic fumes and waste in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and on Flight 93, which crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congress Member Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Congress Member Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Congress Member Peter King (R-NY) will be introducing legislation.

Many New York City firefighters, police officers and emergency workers have died since 9/11 as a result of illness following September 11th, 2001. There are over 2,077 confirmed cancer (cases) caused by toxins breathed in by first responders at Ground Zero, which has lead to the deaths of over 200 firefighters since 9/11. Outside of the department, there are 9,300 cancer conditions related to 9/11 among first responders and civilians according to a statement by the two FDNY unions.

“There are thousands of brave firefighters in the Fire Department of New York who have suffered tremendously because of their heroism on the fateful day of 9/11. Cancer and other chronic, lifethreatening illness are a reality, for not only the firefighters and emergency response personnel, but also their families and friends. Though money doesn’t replace the victims’ lives cut short or adversely impacted by 9/11, it does help ease the tremendous burden of financial distress caused by the loss of life or the chronic injuries sustained by first responders. It would be unconscionable for Congress to allow this to expire and immoral to leave families without the very little compensation their loved ones earned on one of the most tragic days in American history. September 11th wasn’t only an attack on New York, it was an attack on America – and New York’s first responders heroically answered. Still today, the actions of terrorists continue to attack New York’s first responders, and America and the United States Congress need to answer,” said Gerard Fitzgerald, president, Uniformed Firefighters Association.

MENG’S ACT EXTENDS VA BENEFITS TO ATOMIC CLEANUP VETS: On February 26th, Congress Member Grace Meng (D-NY) and US Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) reintroduced the bipartisan Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act which would bring critical health care benefits to “atomic veterans” who were exposed to high levels of deadly radiation when assigned to clean up nuclear testing sites in Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands during the late 1970s.

“I’m pleased to reintroduce the bipartisan Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act this Congress,” said Rep. Meng. “I want to also thank Senators Smith and Tillis for their leadership on this issue and for introducing the Senate version. This common-sense bill will provide much-needed care to the veterans who participated in nuclear cleanup of Enewetak Atoll. These veterans served our nation with honor and distinction. It is long past time that we address the failure of our system to help them; it is simply the right thing to do. This bill is named after my good friend, the late Congressman Mark Takai, who passed away in 2016, and I hope this bill will quickly move through Congress.”

National Association of Atomic Veterans National Commander Keith Kiefer said, “Despite the fact that the mission was titled ‘Enewetak Atoll Radiological Cleanup Project,’ and the mission was to remediate the islands so the native islanders could safely return to their homeland, and this mission failed, the VA (Veterans Administration) and DTRA (Defense Threat Reduction Agency) in concert deny these veterans ionization radiation exposure status. Despite contamination of the islands with plutonium, strontium, cesium and other toxic materials from years of testing 43 atomic bombs, the veterans did not have proper PPG (personal protective gear) or monitoring during removal and transportation of approximately 110,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil, these bureaucracies continue to deny any exposure and proper care associated with that. About 4,000 veterans were part of this project. Of these, we have found about ten percent alive. Most of the survivors have cancer(s); at least one suffers with six unique cancers. These men are in their late 50s to 60s.”

Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands was the site of more than 40 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958. The service members who participated in its nuclear cleanup between 1977 and 1980 suffer from high rates of cancers due to their exposure to radiation and nuclear waste, but are currently unable to receive the same treatments and service-related disability presumptions that other “radiation-exposed veterans” receive. The Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act would tackle this issue by extending key VA benefits to those who helped clean up the Marshall Islands, which remain partly uninhabitable due to high levels of radiation.

The legislation is named after the late Rep. Mark Takai—a veteran of the US Army and Hawaii Army National Guard who passed away in 2016—who originally introduced the bill in the 114th Congress. Since the 114th Congress, Meng has fought for passage of this bill. She reintroduced the Mark Takai Atomic Veterans Healthcare Parity Act, H.R. 632, in the 115th Congress, where it received 238 cosponsors.

NYS SENATE PASSES ‘REVENGE PORN’ BILL: NYS Senate Deputy Leader Michael Gianaris and the New York State Senate Democratic Majority passed legislation (S.1719- C) establishing the crime of unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image and creates a private right of action for such crime. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Monica Martinez, makes New York the 42nd state to criminalize the dissemination of an intimate image with the intent to cause harm to another individual.

Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said, “The distribution of explicit images without one’s consent is offensive and ought to be illegal. I am pleased the New New York Senate is standing up for victims of this repulsive act.”

The “Revenge Porn” bill passed by the Senate Majority establishes:

 The criminal act of unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image when done with the intent to cause harm to the emotional, financial, or physical welfare of another person when the image was taken with a reasonable expectation that the image would remain private.

 The unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image is a Class A misdemeanor.

 Amends the Civil Rights Law to allow victims of “revenge porn” to seek civil recourse for the damages and victims will have a choice whether to pursue a criminal or civil case, or both.

 Exempts images shared during lawful and common practices of law enforcement, legal proceedings or medical treatment, and those involving voluntary exposure in a commercial setting.

The NYS Assembly also unanimously passed legislation to criminalize the unlawful dissemination and publication of intimate images, first introduced six years ago by Assembly Member Edward C. Braunstein (A. 5981).

Assembly Member Mike Miller noted that revenge porn legislation helps ensure our laws keep up with technological changes. “As our world becomes more technologically connected, our laws need to keep pace, especially when it comes to protecting a person’s privacy. Someone’s most intimate moments should never be strewn across the internet and shared with the world without their consent. The distribution of intimate photos or videos can have devastating consequences for a person’s reputation, employment and emotional and physical well-being and can lead to severe threats, harassment and stalking,” he said.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo released the following statement on the outlawing of revenge porn: “For years I have called for outlawing revenge porn as part of our fight to combat sexual violence in all its forms. This disgusting and insidious behavior, which can follow victims around their entire lives, has no place in New York. I commend the legislature for embracing this proposal, which is a key part of our Women’s Agenda, and empowering victims of this heinous crime to take action. In New York, we will never stop fighting to protect and strengthen women’s rights and opportunity.”

FORMALLY ADDRESS ‘SEXUAL ASSAULT PRACTICE OF STEALTHING’: Congress Members Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) and Ro Khanna (D-CA) asked Attorney General William Barr on Feb. 22nd to clarify the Department of Justice’s stance on non-consensual condom removal, colloquially known as “stealthing.”

The members explained that “Non-consensual condom removal during sexual intercourse is extremely dangerous. It can lead to lasting consequences, such as unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, and is also a violation of trust between two sexual partners…we agree that this clearly meets any reasonable definition of sexual assault.”

In their letter, the representatives asked the attorney general to explain the DOJ’s process in collecting data on stealthing and what, if any, guidance is sent to states about this type of sexual assault.

Specifically the members asked AG Barr:

“Does the Department collect data regarding the practice of non-consensual condom removal? If so, how does it collect this data?

“Is the practice of non-consensual condom removal specifically mentioned in department data collection guidelines and/or protocols for law enforcement? If so, where is it mentioned and how is the guidance communicated to local law enforcement?

“Is the practice of non-consensual condom removal addressed in department resources for victims of crime? If so, how?”

The following excerpt is from the letter: “The department is tasked with providing ‘federal leadership in developing the national capacity to reduce violence against women and administer justice for and strengthen services to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.’ Therefore, we respectfully submit that it is your duty to provide leadership on this issue. Ambiguity about what behaviors are considered sexual assault both confuses law enforcement and endangers victims. Without consistent data on sexual assault across the country, we run the risk of not having the facts necessary to combat it.”

‘FTC MUST INVESTIGATE FACEBOOK’S COLLECTION OF HEALTH DATA’: Congress Member Grace Meng (D-NY) sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chair Joseph Simons urging his agency to launch an investigation into Facebook’s collection of personal health data from smartphone users. The letter comes in response to an article in the Wall Street Journal: “You Give Apps Sensitive Personal Information. Then They Tell Facebook,” a story that found Facebook has been collecting millions of users’ most sensitive health data – without the user’s consent, and even if the user has no connection to Facebook.

“I’m outraged over Facebook’s enormous data collection practices that include people’s most sensitive and intimate health information,” said Rep. Meng. “Today, there are millions of smartphone apps that allow people to save incredibly personal data such as their ovulation and menstrual cycles, and heart rate – but this information is automatically sent to Facebook,” without the users’ knowledge, she said, adding, “No one has given consent to Facebook to use such data. This is an egregious violation of privacy, and I demand the FTC open an investigation into Facebook’s data collection practices immediately, and for Facebook to stop these collections.”

DOT, DEP TO ADDRESS GLENDALE FLOODING: This week the Glendale community and the elected officials that represent the neighborhood received a big win when the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced plans to address Edsall Avenue’s ongoing flooding issues. Assembly Member Michael Miller said, “Edsall Avenue between 71st Place and 73rd Street has been a problem for residents of Glendale for many years, especially for those who live there. I, along with other elected officials, past and present, Community Board 5, and the Glendale Property Owners have been advocating for safer conditions for years. Even a little amount of rain would cause flooding, which made it impossible for pedestrians and residents to walk along Edsall Avenue.”

Residents have been struggling with street drainage on this part of Edsall Avenue for years, complaining of serious amount of flooding.

Assembly Member Miller, Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr., former Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and now Council Member Robert Holden held many meetings with DOT and DEP to address the flooding issues which have plagued residents living on Edsall Avenue for years.

“For too long residents of Edsall Avenue in Glendale have suffered from flooding conditions after almost any amount of rainfall,” said State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. “Not only does the water collect between 71st Place and 73rd Place, it has nowhere to go, leading to standing water conditions that can be a mosquito and bug breeding ground during the summer months and frozen ice conditions in the winter.”

MENG SEEKS RECOGNITION OF CHINESE RAILROAD WORKERS: Congress Member Grace Meng (D-NY) introduced a resolution that seeks the House of Representatives’ recognition of the nearly 12,000 Chinese railroad workers who helped build America’s Transcontinental Railroad from 1865 to 1869. May 10th this year will mark the 150th anniversary of the railroad’s completion.

Approximately 12,000 Chinese immigrant laborers worked under extremely dangerous and challenging conditions to help construct the railroad, which connected the nation from coast-to-coast. The workers are credited with playing an integral role in the growth of America, and being an important part of US history.

Rep. Meng said, “In May, we will commemorate 150 years since the end of the railroad’s completion, and providing these laborers with the national recognition they deserve would be an outstanding way to commemorate this milestone. Honoring the sacrifices they made for our nation is long overdue. It is time to finally pay tribute to their legacy and contributions to the prosperity of our country and the Asian American community.”

Meng’s resolution would also honor those workers who lost their lives while working in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In addition, the measure would acknowledge all the risks these laborers faced, while enduring discrimination and unequal pay and treatment, to complete the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Meng, joined by 34 other members of Congress including seven US Senators, recently sent a letter to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee to recommend the issuance of a commemorative postage stamp in honor of the Chinese railroad workers. The Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee recommends and evaluates stamp proposals on behalf of the US Postmaster General.

The nearly 12,000 Chinese railroad workers who helped construct the railroad comprised more than 80 percent of the workforce of the Central Pacific Railroad Company. They were given the most difficult, dangerous jobs, and were paid lower wages than other workers. Nearly 1,200 of them died from the harsh winters and brutal working conditions.

The Transcontinental Railroad has long been considered one of the most remarkable engineering feats of the 19th century. It reduced cross-country travel times from six months to a single week after being completed.

Meng’s resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

—With contributions by
Annette Hanze Alberts

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