As a society, we spend a lot of our time squabbling about the big picture — abstract, often controversial, ideas that might only impact us once or twice in our lives. Meanwhile, the issues that impact us every day — housing, transportation, education, public health and safety — are frequently pushed aside or only discussed as a societal afterthought.
For most of us, however, our daily conversation revolves around what pundits call “kitchen table” issues: Potholes which never seem to get fixed, buses which never seem to have a seat and are always late, or how overcrowded classrooms might be hurting our kids’ education.
Everybody who has met me knows that these kitchen table issues are what get me up in the morning. I have never been one for flashiness or pomp and circumstance (although I do love attending school graduations every year). When we do the state budget every spring, when we discuss various legislation among colleagues — even when we are forced to respond to some travesty that the current occupant of the White House has committed — I always think about how this will impact the roughly 130,000 people who live in the 81st Assembly District.
Getting results has always, and will always be, better than getting a headline.
I have never been so excited and proud of what we were able to accomplish as I was this year. We passed more than 900 bills through the state legislature, including a personal-best 28 bills that I authored (which happens to be more than all but two other members of the 150-member Assembly), and people in the Naorthwest Bronx will feel the positive impact of these accomplishments in their daily lives.
Here are some of the examples of why your “kitchen table” conversation might change because of this historic year in Albany:
• Tens of thousands of families in the Northwest Bronx now have more tenant protections than we have had in more than a generation. Our omnibus housing bill wrapped together many longtime priorities of the Assembly for tenants.
That includes two of my own bills, which extended the overcharge lookback period for tenants to be able to contest their legal rent amount with the state and in housing court, and repealing a surreptitious anti-tenant feature of the infamous 1997 legislation which required mandatory rent deposits during housing court proceedings.
• Starting this year, children are now safer from preventable diseases because of a law I authored eliminating all non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirements. This was one of the most controversial bills in Albany all year.
I introduced this legislation four years ago after California wisely eliminated all non-medical exemptions in response to the Disneyland measles outbreak of 2015, where there were 131 confirmed cases.
• For decades, children in public schools have been taught about “stranger danger.” Unfortunately, that was not nearly enough. Thousands of children in the Northwest Bronx (and throughout the state) will soon be better prepared to prevent and react to childhood sexual abuse.
Erin’s Law recognizes that most sexual abuse and exploitation is perpetrated not by strangers, but known and trusted adults. I introduced Erin’s Law in the Assembly in the 2012 legislative session. While it regularly passed the state senate, it was bottlenecked in the Assembly.
But Erin Merryn and I never gave up. I am thrilled that we were finally able to get my bill through the Assembly and signed into law.
• Our democracy in New York State is now better supported by an improved electoral system. Our very first day this year, we passed a phenomenal package of election and voting reform bills. This includes my bill for voter portability, meaning that if you move anywhere within the state, your voter registration will move with you.
On that same first day, we enacted early voting, no-excuse absentee ballots (which has to be passed again in 2021-22, and ratified by popular vote to amend our state constitution), closed the infamous limited liability corporation loophole, and a lot more.
• Getting around the Northwest Bronx will soon get a little easier. For many years, I strongly opposed congestion pricing, and to be honest, I still have my reservations.
But by holding my ground and refusing to write a blank check to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, I was able to secure three tangible commitments that will benefit people right here in our communities: accelerated accessibility improvements at subway stations, investment in outer borough bus service, and the creation of a toll rebate for Bronxites crossing the Henry Hudson Bridge starting next year.
The list goes on. This was truly a historical session in Albany. Yes, my focus as the Assemblyman for this district has always been on our neighborhoods — and each of the issues I outlined above affects each of us in our neighborhoods.
But while the incredible successes of this year may lead you to wonder, “Is there anything left to get done?” — the answer is a resounding “yes.” And we should start with the New York Health Act.
I have been at this job for a while, but I am more excited, more charged up and more energetic than ever. I love spending time in the district, but I can’t wait until the new legislative session starts in January.
We have lots and lots to do.
The author is the Assemblyman representing the 81st district, which includes Riverdale, Kingsbridge, Van Cortlandt Village, Kingsbridge Heights, Marble Hill, Norwood, Woodlawn and Wakefield.