The Nation: “Richard Gottfried’s Health Care Crusade Is Paying Off”

Two posters hang on the door of New York State Assembly member Richard Gottfried’s Albany office. One has a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., underneath a quote: “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” The other says “Healthcare is a Human Right!” and urges the reader to “Pass the New York Health Act.”

Gay City News: New Push to Decriminalize Sex Work in New York State

More than 20 groups — including several LGBTQ organizations — and a handful of local politicians are joining forces with DecrimNY, a new coalition of sex workers and advocates focused on “decriminal­izing, decarcerating, and destigmati­zing” their lives and livelihoods. The coalition kicked off on Monday during a press conference with advocates and politicians.

The Appeal: ‘The Police Act Like We Are Nothing’

Part of the group’s approach involves pushing for legislation in Albany, with allies like State Senators Jessica Ramos, Julia Salazar, Brad Hoylman, and Assembly Member Richard Gottfried. Those lawmakers plan to introduce a comprehensive decriminalization bill to remove criminal penalties for “consensual sexual exchange between adults.” The coalition also urges quick passage of two bills already introduced in the state legislature that are getting newfound support.

Single-payer healthcare campaign kicks off in Albany

A broad coalition of seniors, people with disabilities, caregivers, home care providers and advocates joined the bills’ sponsors, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and Sen. Gustavo Rivera, as they kicked off a 2019 New York Health Act push at the state Capitol on Monday.

WXXI: Single-payer sponsors release new, revised plan

Sponsors of a measure to create a single-payer health care system in New York have offered a revised bill, but its future is uncertain. Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state might not be able to afford it.

Assembly sponsor Richard Gottfried, who has championed the issue of single-payer
for several years, said the bill, known as the New York Health Act, has now been amended to include coverage for long-term health care, including home health aides and nursing homes.

Times-Union: NY lawmakers voice vaping, single-payer concerns

ALBANY — New York’s top health officials told lawmakers Tuesday they are unsure how an unexpected $2.3 billion state budget shortfall next year might impact their budgets.

PRESS RELEASE – Governor Signs GENDA

Protecting the Right to Gender Identity and Expression:
Governor Signs “GENDA”

Statement by Assembly Bill Sponsor Richard N. Gottfried

“Today is an historic day,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried,Assemblysponsor of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA,” A747/S2017).  “Governor Cuomo took strong action in 2015 when he issued statewide regulations under the State’s Human Rights Law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and transgender status.  But adding gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Law and the Penal Law will give proper recognition, protection against repeal of these regulations, and add protection under the State’s Hate Crimes Law. With an administration of bullies in Washington, New York is standing up for common sense, fairness, and justice.”

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Press Release: Protecting the Right to Gender Identity and Expression – “GENDA” Passes Assembly and Senate

Debating GENDA on the floor of the Assembly, January 15, 2019

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (“GENDA,” A747/S1047), which protects transgender people under the State Human Rights Law and the hate crimes law, was approved by the Assembly and Senate today and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. The bill also protects people who are gender non-conforming (non-binary) and other gender identities or expressions.

“Today is an historic day,” said Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, Assembly sponsor of GENDA. “The Assembly has passed the bill 11 times, but the Senate’s Republican Majority refused to let the bill have a floor vote. Today, the new Democratic Majority has joined us in protecting the rights of New Yorkers regardless of gender identity or expression. I look forward to Governor Cuomo signing GENDA into law.”

“The passage of GENDA – 16 years in the making – will codify our progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation are treated equally and with respect,” said Senator Brad Hoylman, Senate sponsor of GENDA. “As the Trump administration continues to roll back protections for LGBTQ Americans, today’s victory sends a strong message to LGBTQ people across New York: you are loved, understood, and protected by your state government. We will not let you down.”

Transgender and non-binary people – whose gender identity, appearance, behavior or expression differs from their genetic sex at birth – face discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodations and other areas of life, and they are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes.

“The Assembly has now passed GENDA for eleven consecutive years under the leadership of Assemblymember Gottfried, and I’m grateful for his persistence,” said Hoylman. “After years of Republican opposition, I am proud to be part of a Democratic Majority that works to safeguard the rights of all New Yorkers. Thank you to Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins and my colleagues in the Democratic Majority for leading the charge to protect our LGBTQ community. I am also deeply grateful to the previous sponsors of GENDA in the Senate, Senators Tom Duane and Daniel Squadron. ”

“Governor Cuomo took strong action in 2015 when he issued state-wide regulations under the State’s Human Rights Law that prohibited discrimination on the basis of gender identity and transgender status,” said Gottfried. “But adding gender expression and identity to the Human Rights Law and the Penal Law will give the community proper recognition, protection against repeal of these regulations, and add protection under the State’s Hate Crimes Law. With an administration of bullies in Washington, New York is standing up for common sense, fairness, and justice.”

“The Trump Administration’s attack on the rights of transgender people, as well as taking steps to literally erase our existence in federal guidelines and legislation, has made the passage of a state transgender civil rights bill imperative,” said Juli Grey-Owens, Executive Director of Gender Equality New York. “It is time to pass explicit and permanent protections from discrimination against transgender and non-binary New Yorkers. Further, it is time to fight transphobia and send the strong message that New York State supports the free expression of gender identity and the right to be our authentic selves.”

“Today our state has taken a powerful step forward in the journey towards equality and justice. New York stands for vision and opportunity, embracing diversity and the potential we each have to thrive. With the passage of GENDA we are a safer place for more of us to achieve our potential and live our lives with greater security and freedom,” said Gabriel Blau, Chair of Equality New York. “Transgender people, especially those of color, are among the most attacked in our nation, facing discrimination, verbal and physical attacks, and murder. Today’s passage of GENDA will go down in history as a major milestone on our journey, a tribute to the people whose work over decades has led to a safer and stronger New York.”

“I have been advocating to get GENDA passed for over 15 years,” said Kiera St. James, Executive Director, New York Transgender Advocacy Group. “Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman have worked tirelessly year after year to get it passed, never giving up. I am so grateful to celebrate this win with them and my Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) community. Passing GENDA will change the lives of so many TGNC New Yorkers because they are finally given the protections they deserve.”

“Today is a landmark day for transgender and gender non-confirming citizens of the State of New York,” said Judy Sennesh, Board Chair of PFLAG NYC and founder of PFLAG NYC’s Trans Families Project. “PFLAG NYC families and allies are immensely grateful for the many years of hard work and persistence of GENDA’s sponsors and all legislators who’ve supported this incredibly important bill from the beginning. My son and the children of so many families I’ve come to know over the years are now protected by law in our state, and can live, work, and learn with the civil rights and dignity they deserve. We are all delighted and relieved and want everyone to remember that without a “redesigned” State Senate this couldn’t have happened. Every vote counts!”

“In the face of the Trump administration’s constant attacks on the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people, passing GENDA could not come at a more critical time,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We applaud Assembly Member Gottfried and Senator Hoylman for shepherding this bill through to ensure that all New Yorkers are protected. Albany is sending a clear message that the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers are not up for debate and will not be at risk of being thrown by the wayside with changing political winds.”

“That the Senate and Assembly have passed GENDA at the very beginning of this session fills me with a joy and gratitude that’s hard to fully express,” said Kristen Browde, President of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater NY; Co-Chair of the National Trans Bar Association; and Director of Trans United and Equality NY. “It’s a sign of immense progress in protecting all New Yorkers that because of the blue wave that flipped the Senate and the tireless work of Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblyman Dick Gottfried – as well as the full support of Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Speaker Carl Heastie, we’re now seeing the dawn of an era in which all New Yorkers can feel protected under our law against the rollbacks and right-wing attacks from DC. As a proud transgender New Yorker, I have the deepest gratitude for all those who got us here. Governor Cuomo – we can’t wait for you to sign this bill!”

“I was in the room when GENDA was born, in Albany, in December 2002, with Joanne Prinzivalli and Charles King,” said Melissa Sklarz. “But the real beginning goes back to 1998, when Sylvia Rivera called a trans community meeting to address gay and lesbian civil rights language that excluded gender identity and expression. The trans community of New York owes a debt to hundreds of people, hundreds of meetings, hundreds of community groups, and 25 different strategies, to arrive at this special moment. I personally wish to thank Senators Tom Duane, Dan Squadron, Brad Hoylman, David Paterson, and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried for fighting this political battle in Albany for the last 20 years.”

GENDA is supported by New York State United Teachers, the New York Civil Liberties Union, Housing Works, dozens of LGBT organizations, a broad range of religious and faith communities, the New York City Bar Association, and numerous labor unions including the NYS AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, AFSCME District Council 37, United Auto Workers Region 9A Metro NYC CAP Council, CSEA, Screen Actors Guild, and Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union.

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WAMC (Audio) – Many Unanswered Questions On Marijuana Legalization In NY

AUDIO HERE

By Karen Dewitt, January 5, 2019

Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to release details of a plan to make recreational marijuana legal in New York when he outlines his state budget proposal later this month. But the Democrat concedes that there are many unanswered questions about how to proceed.

Cuomo, who less than two years ago called marijuana a “gateway drug,” says he still has some questions and concerns about legalizing the drug for recreational use. But he says he’s working with a panel of experts, including law enforcement, and health officials who have determined it can be done safely, and that the “benefits outweigh the risks.” The governor says his position has also been influenced by the neighboring states of Massachusetts and New Jersey that have legalized marijuana or are in the process of doing so.

“You’ll just force people to drive to Massachusetts or drive to New Jersey and then come back into this state and use it in this state,” Cuomo said.

The governor says he’s working out a lot of the details right now on how to implement the program, including what the age requirement should be to gain access to the drug.

“How old, how many stores, how much marijuana do you sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” Cuomo said. “The devil is in the details.”

There are many ideas on how to best use the revenue from the sale of marijuana, including one to help fix New York City’s subways.  

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes is sponsoring a bill she says would help right the wrongs created by the decades of marijuana prohibition. Peoples-Stokes, who is African American, says arrests for using the drug have fallen disproportionately on black and Hispanic New Yorkers, while white residents have rarely been punished. Her measure, which is sponsored by Senator Liz Krueger in the state Senate, would dedicate 50 percent of revenues raised from taxing marijuana sales to a Community Grant Reinvestment Fund, directed at neighborhoods most affected by prohibition. It would fund programs like job training, afterschool activities and reentry programs for people coming out of prison. Peoples-Stokes says it’s very important that legalization of marijuana include reparations for communities most negatively affected.

“It’s critical,” Peoples-Stokes said.

She says it will save the state money because fewer people will be in prison on minor drug charges, and will instead be able to be home to take care of their families. 

Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, who chairs the Health Committee, sponsored the law to implement medical marijuana in New York a few years ago, and supports legalizing the recreational use of the drug.  

Gottfried says he does not necessarily back dedicating sales tax revenues to a specific fund, though he does want to end inequities in the state’s criminal justice system over past enforcement of the prohibition of the drug.  

“One reasons why I hate the term ‘recreational use’, is that this is not about people having a good time at parties,” said Gottfried. “This is about undoing and preventing the damage that our prohibition system does.”

Gottfried says he’d like to see past criminal records for marijuana related convictions erased.   

The Assemblyman credits Cuomo and his staff for reaching out to supporters, and stakeholders, like marijuana growing businesses to get ideas on how to craft the bill. Gottfried says he does not want to see sales and distribution of the drug come under the control of big businesses, with existing distributors of medical marijuana having a greater influence than smaller startup companies.

And he also supports allowing New Yorkers to grow a limited amount of marijuana at home.

“In some product areas we do allow home production. If you want to brew beer or wine in your basement you’re free to do that,” Gottfried said. “Just don’t try to sell it to your neighbors.”

Not everyone is in favor of legalizing marijuana in New York.

The New York State Association of County Health Officials issued a statement, saying they have “serious concerns” and urging that legalization be approached “thoughtfully and with extreme caution.” 

The county officials say no one under 21 should be permitted to use the drug, and any new rules should fall under the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure children, and other vulnerable populations are not exposed to marijuana use or secondhand smoke. The group also wants toxicology studies conducted to set standards for impaired driving under the use of the drug. The health officials say they are already dealing with the devastation from opioid abuse, and do not want to see the state inadvertently create another public health crisis.

Buffalo News: Key questions remain in New York’s road to legal marijuana

By Tom Precious, 12/25/18

ALBANY – New York officials are moving ahead with efforts to legalize recreational marijuana use, but they are running into a barrage of complicated issues that must be resolved if their end-of-March timetable to act is to be realized.

Among just a handful of lingering questions to be answered: how much will the state tax the sales and where does the money go; who gets to grow, distribute and sell the drug; will homegrown pot be legal; will it be available in a variety of forms, including things like candy bars; how many people will have their marijuana arrest and conviction records expunged and what will the state do to deter a rise in driving while impaired situations?

With Democrats who support marijuana legalization efforts now in control of the executive branch and both houses of the legislative branch, there is no doubt that some sort of major change in the drug law is coming in 2019.

The question is: How extensive will it be?

“It has to be done right. There are a lot of questions. There are a lot of pitfalls,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said during a radio interview last week.

In a speech outlining his top priorities for the first 100 days of the 2019 session that starts next month, Cuomo put marijuana legalization on the list, saying it should be made legal “once and for all.” It’s a sharp turn from only a year or so ago when he talked against legalization of marijuana because it was a potentially dangerous “gateway drug.”

On Friday, during a brief stop in Buffalo, Cuomo offered up just some of the questions his administration is considering on the topic. “How old, how many stores, how much can (a retailer) sell to a person, what are the tax revenues?” he said.

The governor said the state is working with New Jersey, which is preparing to legalize marijuana use, and Massachusetts to ensure there is some uniformity in tax rates so that New Yorkers don’t simply drive across the borders to get cheaper – via lower-taxed – pot.

Behind the scenes in advance of Cuomo laying out his legalization plan more fully in his January state budget presentation, there is a flurry of studying, debating and lobbying underway by drug legalization advocates, health experts, law enforcement officials, local governments and the existing 10 firms registered by the state to provide medical marijuana products to certified patients.

Some involved in the discussions believe Cuomo will try to take a more measured approach, unlike when California legalized marijuana in what some in New York call the Wild West approach to legalization. It is a route he took when he ended his opposition to medical marijuana products and approved such use, but under what at the time was the nation’s strictest medical pot laws.

Local health officials’ concerns

Last week, the New York State Association of County Health Officials, which represents 58 local health departments in the state, raised what it called “serious concerns” about the push to legalize adult marijuana use.

The group urged that sales be banned to those under age 21, that the state spend money for research efforts to identify “unforeseen” effects by legalization of the drug, that marijuana be added to the Clean Indoor Air Act to ensure its use is banned in certain areas and that localities be given additional state money to help fund expanded sales enforcement and public health activities associated with legalizing the drug’s use.

“As public health officials, we must articulate our steadfast opposition to legalization of an adult-use regulated marijuana policy. From our viewpoint of community health and wellness, there are simply too many associated risks including unintentional exposures in children, increased motor vehicle accidents, future addiction to other substances and adverse cardiac and respiratory effects,” said Paul Pettit, president of the group and the public health director for the Genesee and Orleans county health departments.

One of the chief battles underway in discussions between the state and various outside stakeholders is what kind of production, distribution and retail system will be created. In the state’s medical marijuana program, there are 10 state-authorized “registered organizations” mandated to operate in what is known as a “vertical integration approach.” That means they handle all aspects of the system, from growing the plants to running the dispensing sites for qualified patients.

Some want no integration at all, modeled after how the state’s alcohol laws are structured so that there are different companies that produce, distribute and then sell to retailers.

A battle over who gets to grow, sell pot

The firms with those state medical marijuana licenses believe they are best positioned to quickly add recreational marijuana products to their portfolio when New York legalizes pot. If they are excluded, one executive said, the state could have to wait as long as two years before state-sanctioned marijuana products could hit the retail market.

“I’m hopeful that we don’t err by kind of running full-tilt into a California-style adult use regulated system where there are regulatory challenges in keeping all the cats herded,” said Jeremy Unruh, director of regulatory and external affairs at PharmaCannis, one of the 10 medical marijuana companies operating in New York. The firm grows marijuana plants at a facility in Orange County and dispenses the drug to patients in four locations, including Amherst.

Unruh said the state should let the existing medical marijuana organizations be among the suppliers to help get the program up and running faster and with regulatory controls already in place to safeguard such things as the product that ends up in the consumer’s hands.

“If we don’t want a gap between now and whenever the first new adult licensed retailer opens up then you have to use the existing infrastructure,” he said of the present marijuana growing facilities.

“I fear that folks who don’t really take the time to understand this industry will be the ones who end up setting the policy,” he added.

But some advocates worry that small businesses wanting to get into the marijuana growth and sales sector could be shut out by the already-operating firms doing medical marijuana now. One lawmaker who has pushed for marijuana legalization for years said minority communities have been hit disproportionately hard by law enforcement efforts targeting marijuana arrests, and that there should be special consideration for minority businesses that want to get involved in a New York marijuana economy.

“I think there’s a lot of concern about not wanting to have the existing registered organizations push everybody out of the market. And that’s a valid concern. I don’t have anything against the registered organizations, but we want to try to create a market that is open to all qualified players,” said Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat and chairman of the Assembly health committee.

He said those 10 registered organizations will likely have some role, but the state doesn’t want them to use their existing position “to monopolize” an adult recreational pot market.

Kassandra Frederique, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a leading marijuana legalization advocacy group, urged Cuomo and lawmakers to legalize pot “in a way that ensures equity and diversity while reinvesting in the communities hit hardest by marijuana criminalization.”

The group is among those pushing for, among other things, financial reparations – paid for out of marijuana use tax receipts – in the form of state community investments for those areas that it says have been affected by the “ongoing, damaging collateral consequences of marijuana criminalization.’’

Many unanswered questions

Will New York go like some states, such as Massachusetts and Vermont, that permit residents to grow pot at home? How, then, will it safeguard against people growing not for personal use but more to sell on an untaxed, black market? Gottfried, who holds considerable sway over Assembly positions on health-related topics, believes homegrown pot should be permitted under certain conditions. But the lawmaker, who is in regular contact with Cuomo’s marijuana advisers, said he doesn’t know the governor’s thinking on that issue.

Additionally, will whatever emerges in Albany next year permit localities to have the final say on whether a pot farm or pot store opens in their communities? Will it be OK if a town in Erie County doesn’t want to give a permit for a marijuana retail store?

Those questions are, as yet, unanswered and will become a major debating point as the governor and lawmakers hope to resolve the marijuana legalization matter as part of the 2019 state budget talks due to wrap up by the end of next March. Cuomo will be unveiling his 2019 budget plan sometime in January; that plan is expected to flush out his marijuana proposal.

A key point to address is traffic safety. The topic is an emerging one in states that have legalized marijuana, and the national Governors Highway Safety Administration in October reported that in two states – Colorado and Washington – the number of fatal crashes involving marijuana use by drivers increased after recreational pot use was made legal.

Gottfried, the state lawmaker, said Cuomo’s office is looking at a variety of ways to address the matter.

“Long before breathalyzers were invented, police were able to prosecute people for drunk driving. Even though there is not a convenient way to test for marijuana doesn’t mean police today aren’t able to arrest and get convictions for driving while impaired” under marijuana, he said.

As always, a money fight is expected to be fierce. Will pot tax revenues simply go to the state’s overall general budget fund, or will all or a portion be dedicated to any range of areas advocates are already pressing to become pot tax beneficiaries? In New York City, some are pressing that all of the pot revenues be dedicated to repair the city’s crumbling subway system. That won’t work with lawmakers from, say, Long Island or upstate, however.

About the only question that is already answered: Will New York legalize recreational marijuana and sharply alter part of its criminal justice system in doing so?

“There is a very broad consensus for doing that,” Gottfried said.