DREAM Act latest in flurry of progressive bills to pass Democratic NY Senate

The DREAM Act is named for the late Sen. Jose Peralta, who died in November 2018. Photo Credit: nysenate.gov

The Reproductive Health Act, election reforms and a bill banning discrimination based on gender identity all have passed the chamber this month.

The DREAM Act is named for the late Sen. Jose Peralta, who died in November 2018.
The DREAM Act is named for the late Sen. Jose Peralta, who died in November 2018. Photo Credit: David Handschuh /David Handschuh

The New York State Senate’s new Democratic majority passed the Sen. Jose Peralta DREAM Act on Wednesday, the latest among a number of progressive bills that were stymied under the chamber’s previous Republican leadership.

“Today, I am proud to be an American,” said Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D-Bronx), the prime sponsor of the DREAM Act, which provides greater financial assistance for education to children of immigrants who entered the country illegally. 

Since the swearing in of the new members, the Senate also has passed the Reproductive Health Act, elections reforms and a law banning discrimination based on gender identity. 

“I cannot get over how different it is to be in Albany with a majority filled with real Democrats and the IDC demolished,” State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) tweeted Monday, referencing the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans. Many of the former members lost their re-election bids in the 2018 primaries.

“This sort of thing wasn’t even close to remotely possible when I was first elected,” Hoylman said in another tweet. “Albany was paralyzed. Activists have totally changed the game here by electing a new class of senators.”

Scroll down to learn more about the legislation that has passed so far this year.

DREAM Act

The decade-old effort easily passed the Senate, 40-20, and is expected to find favor in the Assembly and be signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The DREAM Act is expected to cost the state $27 million in a $175.2 billion state budget to provide aid based on financial need for 6,000 to 8,000 students each year.

It would also extend financial aid to recent immigrants on temporary work visas with no commitment to remain in New York, a provision that rankled some Republicans.

“We all came here to this country … Looking for opportunity, looking for that American dream,” said Assemb. Carmen De La Rosa (D-Manhattan), a native of the Dominican Republic.

The bill was named for the late Sen. Jose Peralta, the first Dominican-American elected to the State Senate and who sponsored the Dream Act for years. The senator died in November 2018.

Mayor Bill de Blasio applauded the Senate for passing the bill.

“No student should have to forgo a college education because they can’t get financial aid. For far too long, undocumented students who are New Yorkers have faced this unjust barrier to realizing their dreams,” the mayor said in a statement. “I’m so glad to say that we’re finally tearing this wall down. Equal access to education is a human right and the only way we’ll meet the needs of a 21st century economy is to unleash the talents of all New Yorkers.”

Reproductive Health Act

The Jan. 22 legislation was passed on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade to create protections for women’s health care. The Reproductive Health Act recognizes contraception and abortion as a “fundamental component of a woman’s health, privacy and equality.” Women in New York will now be able to receive an abortion by a licensed medical professional so long as the pregnancy is within 24 weeks, the fetus has been declared unviable, or the pregnancy puts the mother’s life or health at risk. 

The Senate also passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which requires health insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including counseling and services, as well as the Boss Bill, which mandates that employers cannot penalize employees for their reproductive health care decisions. 

GENDA

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which passed on Jan. 15, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. It also expands the state’s Hate Crimes Law to protect transgender individuals. 

The state also passed legislation that bans conversion therapy for anyone under 18 years old. 

“The passage of GENDA — 16 years in the making — and legislation to end so-called conversion therapy will codify our progressive reputation and ensure that all New Yorkers, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation, are treated with dignity and respect under the law,” Hoylman, the sponsor of the bills, said. 

Election reforms

With New York being named “one of the worst voter turnout states in the nation,” the Senate Democratic majority approved election reform bills on Jan. 14 to bring more New Yorkers into the election cycle. The bills focus on establishing an early voting system, ensure that state primary elections are the same day as federal primary elections, allow same-day voter registration, take out the prior requirement that absentee voters disclose why they are not attending a voting site, and adopt policies for 16- and 17-year-olds to preregister to vote.

“No longer will New York tolerate voter suppression and turnout lagging behind the rest of the nation,” Sen. David Carlucci (D-Rockland/Westchester) said. “With this package of bills, we will aggressively break down voting barriers and ensure every New York can have their voice heard.”

It will also hone in on departments and corporations, requiring the Board of Elections to transfer a voter’s registration and enrollment to their new address if they move within the state, and mandating that LLCs have a contribution limit of $5,000 and must disclose contributions made to political committees or campaigns.

With Michael Gormley 

Nicole Brown and Li Yakira Cohen