By John Celock
The top Democrat in the New York State Legislature has used his opening day address to outline a progressive agenda for his state.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) outlined a platform that include a focus on raising the minimum wage, codifying abortion access, making paid family leave state law, ethics reform and growing the state economy. Heastie’s agenda though comes as the Republican-controlled state Senate is likely to push back in what will be a competitive statewide election year and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who has embraced a more progressive platform in recent years, looks to focus on infrastructure policy.
“As a nation we rank dead last among developed countries for family friendly public policies,” Heastie said in his address to the Democratic-dominated Assembly.
Heastie, who took office last February, after the indictment of his predecessor, Democrat Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side), said that ethics reform is also a top priority. New York state government has been reeling from the convictions late last year of both Silver and former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on corruption charges. In recent years, former Senate Majority Leaders Malcolm Smith (D-Queens) and Pedro Espada (D-Bronx), former Senate Minority Leader John Sampson (D-Brooklyn) and former Deputy Senate Majority Leader Tom Libous (R-Binghamton) have also been convicted of corruption charges.
Heastie said that he wants to see more ethics and campaign finance reforms enacted by the Legislature. Among the areas he said he wants to address is a provision in New York campaign finance law that allows unlimited contributions by LLPs, saying he wants to look for “new solutions to restore public trust.”
Heastie said that among the areas he plans a focus on is “equality and fairness” noting work on women’s health and equality, housing affordability, small business growth, healthcare and infrastructure. He called for state legislators to codify the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision into state law, along with boosting education funding.
“Fairness is our mission,” Heastie said.
The speaker also discussed the statewide tour he conducted last year that took him to all corners of the state. He said that the tour gave him a new background in the economic development issues facing New York.
“We must strive to give small businesses and MWBE what they need to go and thrive,” Heastie said.
Heastie also called for raising the minimum wage statewide to $15 an hour. Last year, Cuomo raised the minimum wage for state employees and appointed a wage board that approved the wage hike for fast food workers. Cuomo has also outlined a plan to raise the minimum wage for employees at the State University of New York.
Mike Durant, the New York State director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, took to Twitter to criticize Heastie’s call for raising the minimum wage, saying it will hurt small businesses statewide.
— Mike Durant (@MPDurant) January 6, 2016
Heastie also said that paid family leave needed to pass, a move likely to be opposed by Senate Republicans.
“Paid family leave should not be considered an unfunded mandate, it is essential for productivity and growth,” Heastie said.