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Testimony Before NYC Human Resources Administration: Expand & Strengthen Tenants’ Right to Counsel

Testifying on behalf of tenants’ right to counsel before the NYC Human Resources Agency, November 15, 2018

Testimony by Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried Before the NYC Human Resources Administration’s Office of Civil Justice

                                        Public Hearing on the                                                      Universal Access to Legal Services Program for Tenants Facing Eviction

                                Thursday, November 15, 2018

My name is Richard N. Gottfried.  I represent the 75th Assembly District in Manhattan, which includes the neighborhoods of Chelsea, Hell’s Kitchen, Midtown, and part of the Upper West Side and Murray Hill.  Thank you for this opportunity to testify about the Right to Counsel program.

Right to Counsel (RTC) or Universal Access to Legal Counsel (UATC) in Housing Court became a New York City law in 2017.  With this law, some, but not all, low-income tenants have the right to have a lawyer provided to them if they are sued in Housing Court by their landlord.  Before Right to Counsel was enacted, landlords tried to evict over 230,000 tenants a year.  Most of those tenants were low-income people, and predominantly people of color and immigrants.

The program has quickly made a real difference in the lives of many people.  Since the implementation of Right to Counsel, evictions are down 24 percent from 2014; filings are down 10% from 2014; and shelter entries from evictions are down. The program contributes to preserving affordable housing and stable communities by keeping people out of court and out of homeless shelters.  But there are too many people who cannot access the program because of the income level requirement.  The next step is to expand and strengthen the successful Right to Counsel program.

City Council Members Mark Levine, Vanessa Gibson and Diana Ayala have introduced legislation, Intro 1104-2018,  to increase the income threshold of 200% of the federal poverty level to 400% and to expand the types of cases covered by RTC to include administrative hearings such as those in HPD, and the NYS HCR (Homes and Community Renewal) agency, as well as for cases that are appealed and a portion that land in state Supreme Court.  These would be important steps ahead.

More must be done to increase outreach and tenant awareness.  The City needs to finance efforts by various community organizations to educate tenants about when they are entitled to legal representation.

It continues to be a challenge to get the word out to tenants that the right to counsel in Housing Court exists and how to find out if they are eligible and where to go.  As part of the RTC implementation, New York City’s Tenant Support Unit knocks on doors to advise tenants at risk of eviction that they are entitled to a lawyer.  More tenant outreach and education is needed and can best be provided by neighborhood-based groups with a history of tenant organizing, as well as the Tenant Support Unit. Increased funding to neighborhood-based groups already doing education and outreach would contribute to the effectiveness of the right to counsel program.

Several public awareness efforts, if funded by the City, would help tenants learn of the new right.  Efforts such as subway ads, tele-town halls, mass mailings, email and social media, and a hotline are all possible ways to increase access to the program

After only a year, Right to Counsel has proven its effectiveness.  It should be expanded and strengthened.

 

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New York Daily News: New York State Bill to Boost Prisoner Health Care to be Introduced Following Reports of Treatment That Led to 50 Deaths

By Reuven Blau, November 12

Assembly Member Richard Gottfried plans to create legislation to give the state Department of Health more power over prisoner medical treatment. (Anthony DelMundo/New York Daily News)

Prisoner health care must be significantly improved and staffing levels should be regularly monitored, a state lawmaker said Monday following reports of horrific medical abuses that led to 50 deaths over the past five years.

State Assemblyman Richard Gottfried (D-Manhattan) will introduce legislation to give the state Department of Health more oversight power over prisoner medical treatment. Currently, medical treatment is largely handled internally by the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.

“People in prison and jail, sort of by definition, are not looked at kindly by most New Yorkers,” Gottfried said. “We also have to realize they are human beings. They are in our custody, and we have a constitutional obligation to protect their health, whether they have done wrong or not.”

The Daily News on Monday reported that a state medical review board concluded 50 prisoner deaths may have been prevented had they gotten better health care.

Commission of Correction review panels repeatedly criticized prison medical staff for failing to complete basic checkups and mental health screenings. In multiple cases, doctors and nurses totally discounted prisoner complaints until they were too serious, according to the death probes.

Gottfried’s proposed legislation will also require state officials to study health care staffing in prisons and issue a report on the issue twice each year.

The number of health care practitioners employed by the department shrank by 3%, according to DOCCS. Some doctors are in charge of 500 or more prisoners.

“I think today it is all too easy to ignore inadequate staffing in prisons and jails particularly relating to health care,” Gottfried said. “If DOCCS and the Health Department are required to study and report on it that gets us a lot closer to dealing responsibility with it.”

The legislation was introduced last year but failed to pass the Assembly after it got stuck in the Codes Committee. The bill would also have likely gotten voted down in the GOP-controlled State Senate.

Gottfried believes the Democratic takeover of the Senate will lead to its passing.

In 2009, Gottfried and former State Sen. Thomas Duane passed a similar measure requiring the Department of Health to “conduct annual reviews of HIV and Hepatitis C care” in correctional facilities. That bill, which was signed by former Gov. David Paterson, has been hailed as a success by prison advocates.

WNYT-TV: Brain Injury Patients Rally to Keep Vital Care

See the video here: WNYT News Channel 13

ALBANY – For the first time in its history, the Brain Injury Association of New York rallied at the State Capitol.

The gathering on Wednesday was a final push to convince lawmakers about the need to fund the specialized treatment this group argues, is so vital to their independence and recovery.

The fact that Laura Casellini is here to celebrate her 24th birthday is a milestone that wasn’t assured.

Five years ago the car she was riding in was slammed into by a drunk driver.

Still recovering from a traumatic brain injury, the East Greenbush woman credits the intensive and coordinated services she receives for her recovery.

“I have had a very good recovery,” she noted.

When asked if it would have been as good without the care, she replied, “It would not have been as good. I would have been stuck in a nursing home.”

In New York, services for brain injury patients like Casellini are provided through special waivers. It’s a system of payment and care the governor’s office wants to do away with, transitioning this population to managed care.

“140,000 New Yorkers and of them, 3,000 of them are on traumatic brain injury, TBI waiver,” explained Eileen Reardon, the executive director of the Brain Injury Association of New York State.

Fear about losing services and careful coordination of those services brought the Brain Injury Association of New York State, BIANYS, to the state Capitol for its first ever “Advocacy Day.”

They want to be sure their voices are heard in advance of the April 1 deadline for the state Health Department to release its transition plan.

They’re counting on support from leaders in the state Senate and Assembly.

“However the program is structured, whether it stays outside managed care or moves into it, that the unique, important elements of the TBI waiver are guaranteed in law and protected against tampering,” noted Democratic Assem. Richard Gottfried the Health Committee Chair.

Money to continue the services has been recommended by both the Assembly and Senate Health Committees.

However, anything can happen between now and when the governor presents his budget.

It’s still to be seen what the transition plan looks like when it’s released April 1.

NewsChannel 13’s Benita Zahn will keep you posted.

Calligraphy: A New Book and a Public Exhibition

In my off hours, I have for many years studied and practiced my hand at Chinese calligraphy.  I am delighted that my work is included both in a magnificent new book, 100 New York Calligraphers, and in the annual Society of Scribes public exhibition at the National Arts Club on Gramercy Park in lower Manhattan.

For many years I have been taking a class in Chinese calligraphy at the China Institute on Saturday mornings.  One of my classmates, Cynthia Maris Dantzic, Professor of Visual Arts at Long Island University in Brooklyn, has produced a book, 100 New York Calligraphers, and asked me to contribute some of my work to the volume.  I chose four of my pieces: “Persistence;” “The future is not a gift, it is an achievement” (a quote from the late U.S. Senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy); “All under heaven is for the people” (a Chinese proverb); and “Rise together” (a phrase often used by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio).

A small piece of my calligraphy, “The teacher and the student grow together,” will be be included in the annual exhibition of the Society of Scribes of New York City at the National Arts Club at 15 Gramercy Park South in Manhattan.  The exhibition will run from November 3 through November 27, and is free.  The Club is open to the public Mondays through Fridays (excluding holidays) from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The Club’s building, the historic, architecturally distinctive and beautifully appointed former home of Samuel Tilden (the former New York governor and Democratic nominee for President in 1876), is well worth a visit in and of itself!

100 NY Calligraphers Book

Some of my work is featured in Cynthia Maris Dantzic’s new book, “100 New York Calligraphers.”

 

100 NY Calligraphers RNG pages

My pieces in the book are (clockwise starting at top left): “Persistence;” “The future is not a gift, it is an achievement” (quote from Robert F. Kennedy); “All under heaven is for the people” (Chinese proverb); and “Rise Together” (a phrase used by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio).

2015 LGBT “Equality & Justice Day” at the State Capitol

On Tuesday, April 28, activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights from all across New York State converged on Albany for “Equality and Justice Day,” which was organized by the Empire State Pride Agenda (ESPA).  Hundreds of New Yorkers engaged in face-to-face lobbying, focusing their efforts on two important bills: the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA, A. 4558A), legislation I’ve introduced along with Senator Dan Squadron (D-Brooklyn & Manhattan) to ban discrimination on the basis of gender expression or identity; and A. 4958, a bill introduced by Assembly Member Deborah Glick (D-Manhattan) and Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would prohibit mental health professionals from engaging in so-called “conversion therapy” to change the sexual orientation of minors.  In May, the Assembly will very likely pass GENDA for the eighth year in a row.  This year, we hope the Senate finally takes action on this long-overdue legislation.  Here is a video from ESPA in which several State legislators talk about grass roots activism and effectively engaging elected officials and their staff members.

 

Syracuse Post-Standard: Cuomo wants to pull plug on free website that reveals malpractice info about docs

Syracuse, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to pull the plug on a free state website that provides details about New York doctors’ medical malpractice records, hospital affiliations and other background information.

A two-sentence item buried in Cuomo’s proposed budget says the New York State Physician Profile website should be eliminated because much of the information is available elsewhere on the web. Scuttling the website would save the state $1.2 million annually.

The proposal surprised and angered some consumer and patient safety advocates who say the website is an important tool that helps New Yorkers choose doctors.

Citizens Union Endorsement

I’m proud to be endorsed by Citizens Union!  Below is a clip from their 2014 general election endorsements, and here are links to the full press release and my candidate questionnaire:

“Citizens Union Chair Peter Sherwin and Executive Director Dick Dadey today announce Citizens Union’s candidate endorsements in 12 races for the November 4th General Election, and its support for two of the three ballot proposals…

…Citizens Union also endorses incumbents James Brennan (AD 44) and Richard Gottfried (AD 75), who continue to be diligent and thoughtful stewards of reform, and models of elected officials serving the public with integrity and wisdom…”

NYT Editorial: Civil Rights for Transgender People

Reprinted from today’s Ediorial Page of The New York Times:

New York stood for equality by approving same-sex marriage two years ago. It is time now for state lawmakers to extend basic civil rights protections to transgender people. The 2002 state statute that bars discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, education, credit and public accommodations does not explicitly cover transgender people.

Some jurisdictions, including New York City and Suffolk and Westchester Counties, have enacted protections. But in much of the state, people who have had sex-change surgery and others who do not identify with their birth gender can still be denied a job, shelter, credit or access to services because of who they are.

A measure to outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression — the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, or Genda, sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Senator Daniel Squadronpassed the Democratic-led Assembly in April for the sixth time. There is a good chance it would also pass the Senate, with nearly all Democrats and some Republicans voting in favor. The challenge is getting the bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote before the end of the legislative session, scheduled on June 20.

Senator Jeffrey Klein, the Democratic leader in the Senate’s coalition leadership, must insist on a vote. He should tell Senator Dean Skelos, the coalition’s Republican leader, that bottling up bills like this one is not part of their power-sharing deal. It would help if Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a supporter of the bill, would commit political capital to enacting the legislation before the session ends. Sixteen states — including New Jersey and Connecticut — and the District of Columbia have enacted anti-discrimination protections covering transgender people. New York should not lag on this important civil rights issue.

Quinnipiac Poll: legalizing Medical Marijuana supported by 70% of NY voters

The Quinnipiac Poll released today shows that “Legalizing medical marijuana, with a doctor’s prescription, is a good idea, New York State voters say 70 – 26 percent, including 58 – 39 percent among Republicans. Support is strong among all groups.”

Read more here: http://www.quinnipiac.edu/institutes-and-centers/polling-institute/new-york-state/release-detail?ReleaseID=1903

Medical Marijuana legalization passes Assembly, sent to Senate

Patients suffering from severe debilitating or life-threatening conditions could be treated with marijuana under medical supervision under a bill passed by the New York State Assembly today.  The bill, sponsored by Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried and Senator Diane J. Savino, passed by a strong bi-partisan vote of 95-38.

“From Delaware to Maine, almost every state allows medical use of marijuana,” said Assembly Member Gottfried, noting that 18 states and the District of Columbia currently have medical marijuana laws.  “If the patient and physician agree that a severe debilitating or life-threatening condition should be treated with medical marijuana, the government should not stand in the way.  It is cruel to deny treatment to patients who are suffering or turn them into criminals.”

The bill would allow medical use of marijuana under a doctor’s supervision for patients with cancer or other severe debilitating or life-threatening conditions.  It sets up a tightly regulated and controlled medical marijuana system.  Practitioners licensed to prescribe controlled substances could certify patient need, and certified patients would register with the Health Department.  Both the certification process and dispensing of medical marijuana would be included in the I-STOP prescription monitoring system for controlled substances enacted in 2012.

The Health Department would license and regulate “registered organizations” to produce and dispense medical marijuana for certified patients.  They could be hospitals, pharmacies, or other for-profit businesses, or not-for-profit corporations and would be required to comply with detailed “seed to sale” security controls and regulations.  A clinical advisory committee made up predominately of health care professionals would advise the Health Commissioner on clinical matters.

“This bill is much more restrictive than the New York laws regulating highly dangerous drugs like morphine, Oxycontin, or Valium,” said Gottfried.

The bill would impose an excise tax on manufacturing and dispensing medical marijuana.  Half the revenue would be shared with the locality where it is manufactured or dispensed.

“This is sensible, strict, and humane legislation.  The fact that this is not the law in New York is political correctness run amok, at the expense of the suffering of thousands of our fellow New Yorkers,” Gottfried added.

A 2012 Siena poll found that a strong majority of New Yorkers support legalization of medical marijuana, 61%-33%, including 69%-27% among independent voters. [Siena College Research Institute, June 3-6, 2012.  Crosstabs online at http://www.siena.edu/uploadedfiles/home/SNY061112%20Crosstabs.pdf]

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, May 30, 2013, found that 76% of physicians would prescribe medical marijuana to a patient with metastatic breast cancer – including physicians in jurisdictions in which it is currently illegal. [Jonathan Adler, M.D., and James Colbert, M.D., “Medicinal Use of Marijuana – Polling Results,” The New England Journal of Medicine, May 30, 2013.]

For the full text of the bill, go to http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us and enter A6357 or S4406