Senator Jen Metzger Newsletter
Monday, July 22, 2019
The 2019 legislative session is over! It was incredible to be part of this historic session and I'm very proud of what we were able to accomplish for the people of New York. 53 of my bills advanced through committee, with 47 of these passing the Senate and 29 passing both houses. It was particularly gratifying that the vast majority of my bills--nearly 75 percent of them--passed unanimously in the Senate, demonstrating strong bipartisan support.
I introduced 87 bills in total this session, spanning a range of issues, including education, mental health, support for our family farms, climate change, rural broadband, campaign finance reform, Lyme disease, the opioid crisis, and more. For those bills that didn't come to the floor for a vote this year, I will be working between now and the next legislative session to lay the groundwork for their passage in 2020--among these, rural broadband access (S5696/A6679A), a ban on corporate contributions to campaigns (S1013A/A5488), a bill that would reduce NY's excessively high utility fixed charges (S6241/A8118), and the Freedom from Fossil Fuels Act (S5200/A7479).
This past week, the Governor signed into law several major pieces of legislation that were passed in the final weeks of the legislative session, including the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, Equal Pay legislation, and the Farm Laborer Fair Labor Practices Act (discussed below). Many bills still await his signature, and may be signed any time between now and December 30. Any left unsigned by the end of the year are effectively vetoed--hopefully, these will be few and far between.
Now that the session is over, I'm looking forward to spending more time in the district and visiting with the many communities I represent! In addition to my regular office hours in our Middletown and Liberty offices, I am traveling around the district to hear from people about what's working and what we can improve, as I develop legislation for the next session. I am also planning a variety of community events, including a Narcan training, which can save a life from an opioid overdose; a legal clinic on tenants' rights; and a series of health screenings in collaboration with local healthcare organizations--all free and open to the public. I'll keep you posted via my website and social media about dates, times, and locations!
It has been, and continues to be, my honor to represent the 42nd District, and I truly thank you for allowing me the privilege. I hope to see you this summer and fall in my travels around the district!
All my best,
Senator Jen Metzger
42nd Senate District
In this Newsletter:
- Legislative News
- Update: CPV Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda
- Meet our Summer Interns
- Welcome To Our Liberty Office
- Upcoming Mobile Office Hours
- Around the District
- Services that Support our Communities
With my Senate colleagues at last week's historic signing of the nation-leading Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law.
The Historic Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act Becomes Law
As I write this, we are experiencing a weekend with a heat index of over 100 degrees. An increase in excessive heat days is just one of the many effects of climate change that we are already witnessing, including dramatic melting of the polar ice caps, more severe storms, prolonged droughts, and other impacts. If we want to leave the world a better place for our children, then we need to reset the course we are on. This year, we did just that in New York, passing the strongest legislation in the nation to address climate change. The Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act (CLCPA) sets a target of achieving a 100% carbon-free electricity system by 2040, and net--zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. You can read the legislation here. The law creates a framework for developing statewide policies and programs that will greatly ramp up clean energy investments in New York's economy, creating thousands of good-paying jobs in the process.
I came to the state legislature with a background in energy policy, and was an active member of the Senate's climate working group that contributed to this legislation. It's hard to believe, but I first began working on this issue nearly 30 years ago, when the first international agreement on climate change was being negotiated. I am proud to have been able to help move this important legislation forward for our state, and I am hopeful that we can make the changes we need to make to protect our children and their children.
The US Women’s Soccer team celebrating their win at City Hall, where the Governor signed into law the bills we passed to address gender discrimination in pay. [Image: Seth Wenig/Associated Press]
Strengthening Equal Pay Protections
Women in New York continue to make less than men--88 cents for every dollar, on average--and when race and ethnicity are taken into account, the gap widens even more (Latinas make 56 cents on every dollar and Black women make 64). The pay gap exists no matter what level of education or industry, and these lost wages mean that women have less money to support themselves and their families, save for the future, and spend on local goods and services. This hurts women, families, and our whole economy.
Last month, I was proud to help pass two important bills that will strengthen equal pay protections and ensure greater pay equity for women. Both bills were signed by the Governor during the ticker tape parade celebrating the World Cup win by the U.S. Women's National Team!
Senate bill S6549 prevents employers from asking job applicants about prior salary, so that future salary is not based on that. When employers base women’s wages on what they made in the past, it can, and often does, perpetuate a cycle of pay inequity.
Senate bill S5248B expands the law requiring equal pay for equal work, preventing wage discrimination based on an individuals’ age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, military status, marital status, and domestic violence victim status.
Passing a Nation-Leading Bill to Regulate Hemp Extracts in NY
When Congress essentially legalized hemp extracts in December 2018 as part of the Farm Bill, it opened a new and fast-growing market for CBD products. However, because federal CBD regulations have not yet been developed, this industry exists in a legally gray area that is neither good for the industry, which lacks regulatory certainty, or for consumers, who lack the product safety protections they need. In this session, I teamed up as Senate Agriculture Chair with my counterpart in the Assembly, Donna Lupardo, on a pioneering bill that positions New York as a national leader in regulating the hemp extract industry. The bill, which unanimously passed both houses, establishes a regulatory framework for the production, extraction, manufacturing, and sale of hemp extracts in New York. The bill also updates the hemp permitting process--regulating the extract industry through testing and labeling, which protects farmers and consumers. I'm particularly proud of a provision requiring in-state sourcing of hemp extract, which will expand opportunities for our farming community to diversify into this high-value crop. The bill awaits the Governor’s signature.
Supporting our First Responders
This session, we made important strides in passing legislation that will benefit our first responders. I was particularly proud of my bill, Senate bill S4207A, which passed the Senate unanimously and would increase the maximum annual amount that a municipality may pay into a retirement fund (known as a Length of Service Awards Program or LOSAP) for volunteer firefighters and ambulance squad members. The current cap is $700 and the legislation would raise it to $1,200. Offering higher benefits will help with recruiting and retaining these volunteers who fulfill such a vital role in keeping our communities safe.
Another bill I was proud to help pass for our first responders is Senate bill S3685B, which would allow volunteer fire departments the option to recover costs for providing emergency medical services.
There is more that we need to do to support our emergency services, which have seen a decline in volunteers over the years. Between now and the next session, I will be meeting with first responders to hear their ideas for ways we can give them the support they need and expand the base of volunteers in our communities who do this vital work to protect us and keep us safe.
Protecting Manufactured and Mobile Home Owners from Excessive Rent Increases
Manufactured homes are an important affordable housing option in our rural communities, particularly for seniors and others living on a fixed income. Earlier this session, I joined Assemblywoman Didi Barrett in introducing a bill to protect owners of mobile homes and other manufactured housing from unreasonable lot rent increases. I was very pleased that we were able to win this and more protections for these homeowners as part of the omnibus Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019--the strongest affordable housing and tenant protections legislation in our state’s history. For mobile and manufactured home owners, the law caps lot rent increases at three percent, with an upper cap of six percent if the landlord can justify the additional increase, and requires that all leases contain a rider with a Tenant's Bill of Rights, among other provisions.
Hearing testimony from farmers and farm workers at a public hearing on the FFLPA at SUNY Morrisville.
The Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act (FFLPA) Becomes Law
For many years, the Assembly passed a bill to expand rights to farm workers that have long been enjoyed by other workers, such as a day of rest, collective bargaining, and overtime, but the legislation was never able to pass the State Senate. This year, the legislation was introduced again by long-time Assembly sponsor Cathy Nolan, together with Senator Jessica Ramos, who Chairs the Senate Labor Committee. Although the bill was not assigned to my committee, I sought as Agriculture Chair to play an active role because I understood how significantly it would affect agriculture in New York. Only ten states have collective bargaining provisions for farm workers and even fewer, just four, have mandatory overtime. In my view, we needed to make sure that the legislation would protect farm workers while also sustaining the diversity of small- and mid-sized family-owned farms that comprise most of our state's agricultural sector. It is a difficult balance to achieve, but I always believed it was possible, and worked hard toward that end. I began by inviting Senator Ramos to hold joint public hearings with me in farming communities to get the widest possible input. We held three hearings together, toured a number of farms, and held other small-group meetings and roundtables.
In the end, we agreed on important amendments to the bill that recognize the unique weather-dependent conditions of agriculture, and the particular economic challenges that farm businesses face, many of which barely make enough to sustain the farm as it is. The two most significant changes to the legislation were: 1) the threshold for overtime pay, which was extended from an eight-hour day/40-hour week to 60 hours averaged over a week to account for weather and seasonal conditions; 2) a right to collective bargaining that prohibits strikes and requires mandatory arbitration, instead, similar to public sector unions. The no-strike provision recognizes that a farm's entire annual income could be wiped out in a strike during harvest time, which is a very different condition from other industries. The legislation also establishes a Wage Board comprised of three members--an AFL-CIO representative, a Farm Bureau representative, and one member appointed by the Labor Commissioner--which is responsible for reviewing the impact of overtime provisions and making recommendations for future changes.
There were some eleventh hour amendments made during negotiations with the Assembly and Governor that I don't agree with, such as accelerating the schedule of the Wage Board's report and leaving insufficient time to accumulate data; and defining "family" employees narrowly to exclude extended family. The family definition makes little sense in the context of our multi-generational farms, which are often worked by aunts, uncles, cousins, and other extended family members, and I intend to look at opportunities to resolve these issues in the next legislative session.
We need to do more to support a thriving and diverse agricultural economy, and in the same week that we passed the FFLPA we also passed legislation sponsored by Assembly Member Donna Lupardo and I to create an Agricultural Investment Task Force, charged with examining workforce and economic conditions and developing policy and budget recommendations for the next budget cycle. If signed into law by the Governor, the Task Force will report to the Governor and Legislature in November.
The Continued Fight on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases
Every year hundreds of thousands of people are bitten by ticks and become ill from Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses (there are now about a half-dozen, in addition to Lyme, in the northeast). Climate change extends the lifecycle and range of ticks, threatening to increase the incidence and spread of these diseases, but there is a lot we can do to stem this tide with public awareness, education, and early intervention. As someone who has been diagnosed with Lyme five times, this issue is a personal one for me, and addressing this public health crisis is a top priority of mine.
This session, I introduced Senate bill S5873, which directs the Department of Agriculture and Markets to implement a public awareness campaign focused on the farming community so that farmers and farm workers, who are at particular risk of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, better understand how to protect themselves and their livestock from these potentially debilitating diseases. While this bill passed the Senate unanimously, it was not carried in the Assembly. I plan to reintroduce this bill next session and will continue to advocate for its passage in both houses.
I was also proud to have secured $250,000 in state funding to support institutions and organizations that are doing invaluable work advancing our understanding of Lyme and ways to prevent it, including research conducted by the Cary Institute, University at Stony Brook, Cornell Cooperative Extension, and Columbia Medical Center's Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Research Center.
We took a major step toward justice this session by passing a bill that decriminalizes small amounts of cannabis--two ounces and under--and establishes procedures to expunge records for past convictions for this amount. (Possession of two ounces or less is now subject to a fine--that’s a $50 fine for possession of under one ounce and a $200 fine for possession between one and two ounces.) We can no longer ignore the unequal nature of cannabis-related arrests, and the devastating impacts that incarceration and a criminal record have on people's lives. Decriminalization also frees up law enforcement to focus on the opioid problem as well as address more serious crimes. While New York State continues to consider legalizing adult-use cannabis, decriminalization was an important immediate step we could take to increase fairness in the criminal justice system and prevent unnecessary and socially costly arrests.
Last week in Middletown, delivering my testimony at a public hearing on CPV’s application for a Title V air quality permit.
UPDATE: CPV Valley Energy Center in Wawayanda
This past week, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation held public hearings on CPV’s application for a Title V air quality permit for its 680-megawatt gas-fired power plant in the town of Wawayanda, in Orange County. The plant has been operating without a valid permit since the DEC denied renewal of a state air quality permit in August of 2018 and required that the company apply for the more stringent federal Title V permit.
At the hearing, I called for denying the new permit on the basis of 1) reported health impacts to residents in the vicinity of the power plant; 2) the state's recent commitment to more aggressive clean energy targets; and 3) the questionable suitability of the applicant, given the corruption that tainted this project during the earlier approval process. As part of my written submission, I included the results of the CPV health impacts survey that my office conducted between February and March of this year. You can view my testimony here.
The public has until July 29 to submit written comments and can do so by email: [email protected] or by mail:
NYS DEC - Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor, Albany, NY 12233-1750
District staff and interns at our Middletown office following intern orientation day!
Meet our Summer Interns!
Meet Caroline, Leif, Treasure, Ayushi, N'Senga, and Vidar, our new interns who will be working with us this summer in our Middletown and Liberty offices. We are incredibly fortunate to be working with such a bright, talented, and civic-minded group of young people!
Chatting with constituents during our Liberty office opening.
Welcome to our Liberty Office!
Earlier this summer, we opened our Liberty office, which serves constituents in and around Sullivan County, and is led by our Constituent Services Manager, Ari Mir-Pontier, who is the former Director of the Sullivan County Human Rights Commission. Ari has a deep knowledge of and passion for our Sullivan County communities, and is available to provide assistance in both English and Spanish.
The Liberty office is located at 59 N. Main Street (on the third floor of the Left Bank Art Gallery) and is accessible by elevator. Hours of operation are Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm. During operating hours constituents can call (845) 292-0215 to speak with a member of staff or email [email protected].
Holding mobile office hours at the Walton Farmers’ Market where I caught up with Walton Town Supervisor Joe Cetta and my friend, Kathleen Hayek.
Upcoming Mobile Office Hours
If you’re in need of assistance and would like to meet with a member of our constituent services staff, I encourage you to stop by one of our upcoming mobile office hours:
WHEN: Thursday, July 25 / 10:00 am - 5:00 pm
WHERE: Roscoe Free Library / 93 Main St, New Paltz
WHEN: Saturday, August 3 / 8:00 am - 1:00 pm
WHERE: Middletown Farmers’ Market / Erie Way between Montgomery St. & Cottage St.
WHEN: Tuesday, August 6 / 2:00 pm - 6:00 pm
WHERE: Ellenville Public Library & Museum / 40 Center St, Ellenville
WHEN: Thursday, August 8 / 10:00 am - 4:00 pm
WHERE: Delhi Village Hall / 9 Court St, Delhi
WHEN: Monday, August 12 / 11:00 am - 2:00 pm
WHERE: Monticello Farmers’ Market / Ted Stroebele Recreation Center, 10 Jefferson Street, Monticello
WHEN: Sunday, August 25 / 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
WHERE: New Paltz Open Air Market / Church St, New Paltz *Between Main St. & Academy St.*
Around the District
Presenting the State Senate’s highest civilian honor, the Liberty Medal, to Walton Central School student, Rachel Trimbell, for her heroic actions in rescuing a younger schoolmate who was choking on a piece of candy while riding the school bus. Rachel quickly took charge in this frightening emergency situation, making use of her first-aid knowledge by successfully performing the Heimlich maneuver and saving the young child’s life. I visited the Delaware County Sheriff’s office (that’s Rachel and Sheriff Craig DuMond pictured above) to deliver the Liberty Medal and recognize her for her courage.
Spending part of a beautiful, sunny Saturday at the 169th Annual Firefighters' Parade in Port Jervis, which happens to be the oldest continuous parade of its kind in the state (and possibly the nation). Another notable fact about Port Jervis: it’s the only city in New York with an all-volunteer fire department!
Delivering a grant to Dulce Esperanza, a summer enrichment program in Pine Island that provides an invaluable support system for farm workers and their children. I had a wonderful time chatting with the children and staff and took home a stack of letters from children who learned about what we work on in the State Senate. I look forward to writing them back!
Touring an incredible school-based health program at Delaware Academy (Delhi's public school for Pre-K through HS). The program, administered by Bassett Healthcare Network, meets the needs of the whole child--both mental and physical health care--and they even have a dental hygienist right in the school! I had the chance to demo the Telemedicine Program with pediatrician Dr. Chris Kjolhede, which enables students to get the medical services they need, using video and other forms of telecommunications technology with the support of an on-site nurse practitioner. This kind of program would benefit many schools in our rural and underserved communities.
Visiting Berry Brook Farm in Hamden to congratulate farmers Eleanor and Patrick on receiving the State's Beginning Farmers Grant, which will help these young farmers build a greenhouse and expand cold storage in their barn for the diverse organic vegetables they grow. We were joined by members of the Watershed Agricultural Council (whose easement program enabled Eleanor and Patrick to purchase the property, which began as a dairy over 100 years ago). It’s not easy to begin as a new farmer, and with programs like the Beginning Farmer Grant Program, we can help support our next generation of agricultural stewards, like Eleanor and Patrick, who are helping rejuvenate our rural communities and meet the increasing demand for local products.
Meeting young environmental leaders at Rondout Valley! I was thrilled to visit Rondout Valley Intermediate School to talk about environmental activism with a group of 5th graders who launched a successful campaign to eliminate plastic straws from their school cafeteria. Working together to develop a slideshow presentation and petition, Georgia, Ruby O., Camille, Morgan, Serafina, Evalyse, Ruby P., and Lila impressively earned the support of 317 Rondout students, their school Principal, and the Director of Food Services for their school district!
Services that Support our Communities
Volunteers Needed for Blueberry Gleaning with Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative!
WHEN: Mondays & Wednesdays from 9 am - noon until the end of blueberry season in August
WHERE: Hudson Valley Farm Hub Farm Stand, 2324 US-209, Hurley, NY
Volunteers are needed to help Farm to Food Pantry Collaborative harvest fresh blueberries (donated by the Hudson Valley Farm Hub) for local food pantries, shelters and community meal programs! Interested in lending a hand? Call or text 845-481-0331 or email [email protected].
HEAP Cooling Assistance Benefit Now Available
DEADLINE: County departments of social services will accept applications through August 30 or until funding remains available.
Did you know that the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) offers cooling assistance in the summer months? Income eligible households can apply for a one-time benefit for the purchase and installation of an air conditioning unit or fan. To qualify, you must meet HEAP income limits as well as other guidelines. Learn more about eligibility requirements here.
Retrieve Lost Money through the Sullivan County Treasurer’s Office
New Yorkers can visit the Sullivan County website to find and retrieve lost money owed to them by the County. These funds, which range from $20 to $7,800, may include court and trust proceeds, bail, inmate funds, coroner’s funds, wages and miscellaneous refunds. For more information, contact the Treasurer’s Office at 845-807-0200 or visit www.sullivanny.us/Departments/Treasurer/UnclaimedFunds.
Farmers’ Market Coupons Available for Eligible Seniors
The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provides income eligible seniors (60+ years of age) with $4 coupons to buy fresh produce at participating farmers’ markets. Seniors interested in the program should contact their local Office for the Aging or call the New York State Senior Hotline at 1-800-342-9871 to find out if they qualify to receive a coupon book.
● Ulster County Office for the Aging
DEADLINE: Coupons are valid through November 30, 2019 at participating Farmers’ Markets. For more information, please contact the Office for the Aging at 845-340-3456.
● Delaware County Office for the Aging
DEADLINE: Coupon books (worth $20) are now available for pick up at Delaware County Office for the Aging. For more information, please call the Office for the Aging at (607) 832-5750 or email [email protected].
● Sullivan County Office for the Aging
DEADLINE: Coupon books are valid through November 1, 2019 at participating Farmers’ Markets. For more information, please contact the Office for the Aging at 845-807-0241.
Apply to Receive $1,000 Through CADE’s Mini Advertising Program
DEADLINE: September 15, 2019
The Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship (CADE) will offer 10 farmers $1,000 and professional support to launch an advertising campaign that will help promote their farm business. Awardees will work with CADE to define the goals of the campaign and receive technical assistance to design the campaign including printing and/or social media advertising costs. Awardees will also be invited to an end-of-year roundtable to discuss results and learn about the impact of their advertisement to inform future advertising initiatives.
Eligibility: Any farmer with property in one of the following counties: Delaware, Fulton, Herkimer, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schoharie, Oneida, or Otsego. To apply, your farm must have product ready to sell to the public in 2019.