Notes on the State Legislature

Rebecca Seawright Strikes Twice But The City May End Up Holding The Bags

Peter McCarthy
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright
Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright

The New York State Legislature, a house divided, can provoke frustrating stalls and pleasant surprises. Roosevelt Island's Assembly Representative, Rebecca Seawright again shows off her skills in opening the right doors, but New York's City Council, not so much.

Fresh off a win at securing Public Purpose Funds as an annual event without a sunset clause, Assembly Member Seawright is teaming again with Senator Jose Serrano to pass legislation coveted by Roosevelt Island activists.

Late yesterday, Seawright announced success in shepherding a bill through the Assembly requiring that "the next Chief Executive Officer of RIOC be a resident of Roosevelt Island or become a resident within six months of appointment." Two major hurdles await, both likely to be more challenging.

Senator Serrano has already sponsored the bill in his chamber. The greater challenge is explained by the fact that the Assembly is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans. Both Serrano and Seawright are Democrats.

“Roosevelt Island residents are deeply committed to their community but very disenchanted with its present governance,” Seawright elaborated. “Presently, there are no residency requirements for RIOC board directors or for the President/Chief Executive Officer, who are entrusted with daily life operations on Roosevelt Island.  This bill allows the board to appoint the CEO of RIOC, determine the term of office and requires that the CEO complies with the rules that apply to public officers. It is a pivotal step towards self-governance for Roosevelt Island residents, creating accountability and requiring greater transparency.”

In the Senate, Serrano has demonstrated deftness in getting bills passed despite being in the minority party. If he is able to get the job done for Roosevelt Island again, the bill will next head to the Governor.

The behind the scenes process of discussions and negotiation makes it more complex than it appears, of course, but with Assembly passage, Roosevelt Island activists are at least one big step toward a long sought goal.

Bag Bill May Be Discarded

As reported here last month, after contentious debate in the usually congenial, Democrat dominated City Council, a law was passed that mandates a $.05 fee on most plastic bags used in retail outlets. But the winning Council Members barely had time to relax in the glow of victory before their Albany overseers swung into action, according to a report in the New York Times.

On Tuesday, the State Senate swiftly passed a bill of their own that bans cities from imposing any such "taxes" or "fees" on "carryout merchandise bags."

“New York City is imposing on its residents an unjust and unfair tax — not a fee, a tax,” said Simcha Felder, a Senate Democrat who caucuses with the Republicans.

“It’s unfortunate, but not surprising, that the State Senate would vote to mandate that New York City waste billions of plastic bags each year,” countered City Councilman Brad Lander, one of the bill's original sponsors.

That won't be the last word, however, because the State Assembly balked at passing the Senate measure.

Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed to delay implementation of the local law until a compromise satisfactory to the Assembly can be worked out. That would toss the ball back to the Senate and, if passed, on to the Governor.

The future of the legislation remains uncertain. No need to begin hoarding plastic bags for your dogs yet.

Rebecca Seawright Steps Up Activisim

A freshman in the Assembly, Rebecca Seawright has shown little taste for sitting back and letting her legislative elders take full control. A second bill initiated by her passed on the same day as her RIOC legislation.

Appealing to a wider audience, Seawright's other piece of legislation ambitiously "compels the Secretary of State to compile a list of positions subjected  to the Public Officers Law Section 73-a and a representation of policy-making positions held by women compared to policy-making positions held by men. The compilation will track the length of  time an individual sits in his or her position and compare the amount of positions held by men and women on the Department of State’s website. Making this information  available will allow us to continue to push for equality in government, exposing where more work needs to be done to enable women to achieve leadership positions."

Seawright explains, “No woman has ever served in New York State as governor, attorney general, or comptroller, and less than 30% of members of the New York State Legislature are women,” Seawright said. “It is time to identify where inequality exists in government and pursue the necessary steps to promote equality in our society. I am hopeful that, by tracking this information and making it publicly available, our state will clear the path of inequities and enable all women to achieve their fullest potential.”

Like the RIOC residency bill, this one has a challenging road ahead of it, but every win starts with a first step. Seawright has now made sure it was taken. 

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