Last week, the State Legislature approved new political maps, teacher evaluations, a new pension system, expanded the DNA laws and paved the way for the possibility of expanded casino gambling, and crafted a plan that will, hopefully, bring about independent redistricting in the future. The set of bills represent Gov. Cuomo’s priorities for 2012 and were all adopted prior to consideration of the state’s 2012-13 proposed $132.5 billion budget.
For many months, Assemblyman Oaks has worked as a member of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment that recommended new lines for Senate and Assembly Districts to reflect the 2010 Census. Adjustments to the original plan were accepted by Gov. Cuomo, and the Legislature completed the first passage of the constitutional amendment to establish a new redistricting process. It requires the appointment of an independent redistricting commission whose composition will ensure the responsibilities of drawing future district lines by non-legislators, with a balance of party affiliations. The amendment will need to be passed a second time by the end of next January, and it will be put on the ballot statewide for approval by the voters in November of 2013. The constitutional amendment will reform the redistricting process permanently beginning in 2020-22.
With the approval of the new district lines for this year, Assemblyman Oaks will have the opportunity to run in the new 130th Assembly District, which will remain largely the same as the present 128th district except for the addition of the towns of Aurelius, Montezuma and Sennett in Cayuga County. It also will include the village of Cayuga, which is in the Town of Aurelius.
Tier VI Pension Reform
Tier VI is estimated to save the state and its local governments more than $80 billion over the next 30 years. The new law puts in place a new pension plan for workers hired after April 1, 2012. Existing employees and retirees retain all of their present benefits. The new law includes new employee progressive contribution rates to ensure that lower paid state and local workers are less affected by the changes. It also increases the retirement age from 62 to 63 and includes penalties for early retirement. There also are provisions to readjust the pension multiplier and protect local governments from any future state pension sweeteners.
The bill signed into law makes New York State the first "all crimes DNA" state in the nation, by requiring DNA samples be collected from anyone convicted of a felony or Penal Law misdemeanor. In addition, the new law also significantly expands defendants' access to DNA testing and comparison both before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, as well as to discovery after conviction where innocence is claimed. Law enforcement representatives throughout the 128th Assembly District and New York State are in support of the bill and believe it will increase safety across New York.
A new principal-teacher evaluation system is being put into law that provides clear standards and significant guidance to local school districts for implementation of teacher evaluations based on multiple measures of performance including student achievement and rigorous classroom observations. The legislation follows through on New York’s commitment to establish real and effective teacher evaluations as a condition of the $700 million granted through the federal Race to the Top program. The legislation significantly tightens the scoring system to ensure student achievement and teacher performance are both properly taken into account for teacher ratings.
The Legislature voted to add 17 words to the state constitution with the goal of legalizing commercial casino gambling. The amendment would allow non-Indian casino gambling at no more than seven facilities in yet unnamed locations. Before any of the casinos can be built, next year’s state Legislature also must adopt the measure, and then it would be voted upon by the public in a referendum.
Continuing the whirlwind pace in Albany, budget conference committees have begun meetings to work out differences between the Senate and Assembly budget resolutions and the governor’s $132.5 billion proposal. Significant progress is being made in negotiations making it likely that the final 2012-13 state spending plan will be passed ahead of the April 1 deadline.