Albany Beat — June column

Legislature Wraps Up Session On Shabbos

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By: Marc Gronich

State lawmakers wrapped up the 238th legislative session over Shabbos, which prevented observant Jewish lawmakers, few as they are, from voting on some of the most important measures of the session. Most lawmakers left Albany around 3 p.m. Friday to be home with their families for Shabbos.

One lawmaker who probably couldn’t care less was Assemblyman Phillip Goldfeder (D – Far Rockaway, Queens), who announced earlier this month that he would not seek re-election. Goldfeder served five years in the Assembly. He told The Jewish Press, “This is not where I want to be at this time in my life.”

The 35-year-old Queens native recently welcomed his third child, a boy named Gabriel. Almost every night while in Albany Goldfeder could be seen saying goodnight to his children on his laptop via video chat and voice call services. On his Facebook page Goldfeder wrote, “This was a difficult decision, but I am looking forward to the next chapter in my career and hopefully spending more time at home with my new son and entire family.”

This session was particularly uneventful for Goldfeder, ranked 95 on the seniority list out of 150 members, and he leaves a legacy of bills languishing in various committees. Of the 31 bills he sponsored this year, 23 were one-house bills, which means there was no Senate sponsor and no hope of going any further other than sparking copy for a news release. Four other bills passed the Senate but Goldfeder could not get those measures out of various committees. Three other measures were held in committees in both houses and Goldfeder managed to get one bill passed in the Assembly but that was held up in the Senate. While he is known for being focused on constituent issues, he had a zero batting average this year in the legislature.

It should be noted that he did have three bills signed into law by the governor last year.

Let’s face it – the frustration of not being able to produce meaningful legislation is enough to make anyone want to retire early from the legislature.

In other news, an agreement on the oversight of the East Ramapo school district’s academic and fiscal improvement program will be going to the governor’s desk for approval. A team of monitors appointed by the state education commissioner will not have veto power over decisions made by the board. Three million dollars has been appropriated by the legislature and the governor to pay for the costs associated with the monitors and school-related expenses.

The state education commissioner will have the final decision over all matters relating to the school district, which is controlled by parents who send their children to yeshivas and other private schools.

The one-year experiment will shorten the school budget timeline by a month for planning a fiscal plan.

“We see as more positive way in a way,” bill’s sponsor Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D – Suffern, Rockland County) told The Jewish Press. “It’s not an everyday kind of veto, which the Board was very uncomfortable about. This is about the major, important issues of fiscal responsibility, collaboration, and guidance. Hopefully, all that working together will bring the community together.”

The East Ramapo school district comprises several Orthodox Jewish communities including parts of the towns of Haverstraw, Ramapo, and Clarkstown. The portion of the town of Ramapo that includes the East Ramapo schools are the municipalities and communities of Spring Valley, Kaser, New Square, New Hempstead, Wesley Hills, Pomona, Monsey, Airmont, and Hillcrest. The hamlet of New City in the town of Clarkstown is included in the school district.

The board members are Yehuda Weissmandl, president; Harry Grossman, vice president; and Yonah Rothman, Jacob Lefkowitz, Moshe Hopstein, Yakov Engel, Pierre Germain, Sabrina Charles-Pierre, and Bernard Charles, Jr.

“I feel comfortable moving forward with this,” State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia told The Jewish Press. “We will have the final say on a budget plan (before it goes to the voters) as well as the use of the funding that is being put into the district by the Legislature and the governor, on construction, contracts and sales of any buildings. I’m very concerned to make sure that we move forward in East Ramapo and have things in place that can support all those students.”

There are approximately 8,000 students and faculty in the East Ramapo Central School District. The district is one of five in New York state where more students are enrolled in private schools than in public schools.

A package of bills to attempt to combat the opioid and drug crisis in the state passed both houses of the legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.

The measure mandates physicians and other health care providers to continue medical education on pain management, mandates insurance coverage for needed in-patient treatment services, limits opioid prescriptions from 30-day supplies to seven-day supplies, and requires pharmacists to provide additional education and counseling to those receiving opioids.

Assemblywoman Diana Richardson (D – Crown Heights, Brooklyn), said she was concerned with an injustice she sees with the bill.

“There are racial disparities here,” Richardson said from the floor of the Assembly. “When there was a drug issue in the African-American community, we were prosecuted, we were put in jail, children were put in foster care, families were ripped apart. It was treated as a criminal justice issue. We had Rockefeller drug laws, our jails were filled with men and women that looked just like me. Now, we have an opiate issue. It has affected another demographic and now it is a health issue.

“Now we have to put money into diverting individuals from prison and into treatment. So what is missing from this package is a restorative justice package for all those individuals that were jailed and for all those families that were ripped apart and for the individuals who have criminal records because they had addiction issues just like the people who are suffering. More needs to be done here.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Assemblyman Charles Barron (D – East New York, Brooklyn).

Another bill that could impact residents of Boro Park, Crown Heights, and other Jewish communities is a ban on advertising for certain apartment dwellings if the tenant is not present. The measure is known as the “Airbnb” bill.

Since housing and rental space is scarce and expensive in Boro Park and Crown Heights opponents say this measure would prevent people from earning income, curtail tourism, and stymie economic development.

Assemblywoman Pamela Harris (D – Coney Island, Brooklyn) said her community, an entertainment mecca in her view, is harmed by banning advertising for these apartment rentals in New York City.

“My constituents have now been able to turn their beautiful homes into a place of economic development,” Harris told fellow lawmakers on the floor of the Assembly. “I have to make sure that my district thrives and the only way it thrives is through Airbnb.”

In 2010 state lawmakers prohibited rentals of fewer than 30 days in multi-dwelling housing, absent the leaseholder. Now lawmakers have approved a measure that would prohibit advertising the illegal activity. If prosecuted, the violation will cost up to $7,500 under this measure.

About the Author:
Marc Gronich is news director of Statewide News Service. He also operates the website JBizTechValley.com. He has been covering government and politics since 1981. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press.