Monthly Column: State Assembly must change its course of inaction on important issues
By: Michael H. Ranzenhofer
With only a few days left in the 2014 Legislative Session, many bills already passed by the State Senate are awaiting action by the State Assembly.
The State Senate has been working diligently on legislation to end pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and also to prevent the tragedy of human trafficking. In particular, two pieces of legislation dealing with both these issues passed the State Senate first in 2013 and again as recently as last week.
Workplace discrimination against pregnant women threatens the health and economic security of women and their families. Recent court decisions have not helped either, resulting in confusion as to what protections pregnant women can rely on while on the job.
Senate Bill S5880 would end pregnancy discrimination in the workplace by requiring employers to provide appropriate accommodations in a supportive workplace environment for employees with pregnancy-related medical conditions. Some pregnant workers require modest adjustments on the job for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth in order to stay healthy.
For example, employees may require a stool to sit on, a transfer away from hazardous duties, or a temporary reprieve from heavy lifting. In a bi-partisan manner, the State Senate voted unanimously to pass the bill, yet the State Assembly has not brought the bill to the floor for a vote.
Another initiative the State Assembly has failed to pass is the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act. Senate Bill S5879B would save lives by preventing the exploitation of children and adults who are victims of human trafficking.
This bill would toughen penalties against those who buy and sell young women, men and children, as well as strengthen the investigative tools needed to make a case against traffickers. Among its provisions: raising the penalty for sex trafficking to a Class B violent felony and creating the offense of “aggravated patronizing a minor.”
One State Assemblywoman, representing the County of Westchester, has been pushing her colleagues to act on these two important proposals. It is my hope that she will be able to convince the State Assembly Leadership to take action.
Lastly, the Joint Senate Task Force has recommended a comprehensive legislative package of 23 bills to address issues surrounding the rise in heroin and opioid addiction. The legislative package aims to prevent drug abuse and overdoses; increase the availability and efficacy of addiction treatment; and enhance the tools provided to law enforcement to keep heroin off our streets. Too many tragedies have occurred for the State Assembly not to take action.
These examples illustrate that the State Assembly, led by Sheldon Silver, has not shown leadership on these important issues. The State Assembly must change its course of inaction on each and every one of these important legislative proposals. I will be working with my colleagues in the State Legislature to call on the Leadership in the State Assembly to put these bills to a vote.
Senator Ranzenhofer's monthly column appeared in the Amherst and Clarence Bee on June 18.