Viewpoint: Cuomo unveils another ambitious progressive agenda for 2020

Karen Rubin, Columnist

2019 has been a phenomenal year for progressive legislation in New York State, thanks to Democratic control of the Senate and Assembly and a skilled progressive leader in Gov. Andrew Cuomo who seems to be channeling Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt (perhaps into the White House?).

Cuomo’s work in environmental protection and climate action, access to health insurance, massive infrastructure improvements particularly for mass transit, sensible gun safety regulations and, yes, expanding voter access are particularly admirable.

2020 would appear no less ambitious. Cuomo has released, one by one, a dozen State of the State legislative proposals so far (which also should serve as models for what the Congress should be doing):

1. Preventing individuals who commit a serious crime in another state from owning a gun in New York: Builds on New York’s strongest-in-the-nation gun safety Laws (the SAFE Act, Red Flag Law). “This new law will keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and save lives. I’m proud that New York continues to show the country that we don’t have to live like this – that we can and will end gun violence,” Cuomo said.

2. Banning fentanyl analogs to further combat the opioid epidemic: Legislation would make fentanyl analogs subject to the same criminal sale or possession penalties as other controlled substances and expand access to medication-assisted treatment in hard-to-reach communities. The proposal builds on ongoing actions that have resulted in a decrease in opioid overdose deaths and hospitalizations for the first time in 10 years.

3. Mandating automatic manual recounts in close elections: “By establishing clear rules mandating when a recount should be triggered and a process for local governments to follow, we’ll boost confidence in the democratic process and take another step toward transforming our electoral system into a model for the rest of the nation to follow,” Cuomo said.

4. Closing the rape intoxication loophole: Legislation would clarify that a victim’s ability to consent is jeopardized whether they were voluntarily or involuntarily intoxicated. “Our laws must not condone rape as a punishment for consuming alcohol. With this proposal we are taking action to close this nonsensical loophole and help end the culture of abuse once and for all,” Cuomo said.

5. Banning single-use styrofoam food containers: The proposal builds on the historic single-use plastic bag ban, ban the sale of styrofoam packing peanuts and empower the Department of Environmental Conservation to review and take action to limit or ban other packaging materials.

6. Lowering prescription drug prices: New legislation would cap co-payments for insulin, empower the State Department of Financial Services to investigate skyrocketing prescription drug prices and establish a commission to study the feasibility and benefits of a Canadian drug importation program.

7. Advancing the strongest net neutrality protections in the US: Legislation would prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of online content, prohibit “zero-rating” practices which penalize consumers for accessing content or applications that are not preferred by their internet provider. It builds upon a 2018 Executive Order mandating state government only enter into contracts with internet service providers that follow net neutrality principles and Cuomo’s $500 million investment in broadband access.

8. Protecting consumers from abusive debt collectors: Legislation would license and regulate debt collection companies. “We license barbers, home inspectors and used car dealers in New York – so it makes no sense that we don’t have the authority to license an industry that can cause families financial ruin,” Cuomo said.

9. Eliminating the “pink tax”: Legislation would prohibit gender-based pricing discrimination for substantially similar goods and services. “Women shouldn’t be nickel and dimed their entire lives because of their gender – it’s discriminatory and repugnant to our values and we’re putting an end to it,” Cuomo said.

10. Legislation to prevent sexual predators from using social media, dating apps and video games to exploit children: The proposal builds on New York’s E-Stop Law. “We cannot let technological advances become entryways that allow dangerous online predators to identify and prey on new victims. Our laws must keep pace with the world around us and with this measure we will help safeguard those using these web sites and apps, and stop those who seek to harm and exploit our children once and for all,” Cuomo said.

11. Making the “New York Buy American” Act permanent: Requires American-made structural steel and iron be used for State road and bridge projects costing over $1 million.

Legalizing Marijuana

Cuomo also seems to be set on legalizing marijuana. I agree with making medical marijuana available and de-criminalizing recreational use of marijuana and possession for personal use, but not making marijuana a retail product. There’s a big difference between “de-criminalizing” and “legalizing.”

Many states around the country have looked to legalizing marijuana as a justice issue, but even more so, as a moneymaker, much as state lotteries and casino gambling were supposed to foot the bill for public education and senior programs.

But we already have some sense of how things will go: even before marijuana is legal here in New York State, you can’t walk down any street in Manhattan without becoming overwhelmed and nauseated by the thick smell of pot wafting through the air. Major gatherings, like the Village Halloween Parade, are impossible.

It is one thing not to prosecute people, imprison them and destroy lives as if they were heroin dealers rather than marijuana users, it is quite another to inflict upon everyone else this grotesque habit.

We have banned smoking in public spaces, children and others are protected from second-hand smoke; you can’t drink alcohol openly on the street.

Besides the extraordinarily foul nuisance of marijuana, are we likely to determine 10 years from now that there is an equal danger of second-hand smoke or impact on neural development, or even priming a receptivity to drug use, let alone priming young people to indulge? And how would the state prevent very young people from using, even as they do now, but now, with a gigantic cultural OK.

About the author

Karen Rubin

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