Hoping for legislative progress in 2019


State lawmakers call it the “big ugly” — a catchall, 11th-hour package of bills that caps the annual legislative session, which runs from January to June. In the waning days of the session, lawmakers rush to pass the small number of bills that they can, and the many more that don’t get individual votes are lumped into the big ugly. Few legislators actually read the measure before they vote on it.

Why? Because lawmakers so often spend January to April focused simply on passing the state budget, which almost always is a tug-of-war between competing interests. In May, the scramble to review key legislation begins as bills wend their way through the Legislature’s serpentine committee system.

Elections — despite the fact that they are the very heart of the democratic process — tend to slow the legislative process. When lawmakers become candidates, they must focus on retaining their seats, investing weeks and months walking their districts, meeting with constituents and talking up their agendas.

With the election now behind us, lawmakers must refocus their attention on what really matters: passing meaningful laws to benefit all New Yorkers. Now is the time for lawmakers to start researching the issues and developing policy proposals in the hope that we can avoid the traditional June ugliness. Here’s what we believe they should be looking at in the 2019 legislative session.

Teacher evaluations

In 2015, the state instituted a four-year moratorium on the linking of teachers’ annual performance reviews with students’ scores on state exams. The moratorium will expire next year, but the Legislature has yet to pass an extension or make it permanent.

In the last legislative session, a bill was proposed that would have extended the moratorium, and it was supported by state lawmakers of both parties, but Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan sought to attach the measure to legislation that would have increased the number of charter schools across the state and loosened academic oversight of yeshivas — both controversial proposals. So lawmakers failed to agree on a decoupling measure.

It is widely agreed that linking teachers’ evaluations to test scores is just bad education policy, because teachers cannot control their students’ ability to perform on standardized tests. The Legislature should act quickly in 2019 to ensure that teacher evaluations are at last permanently decoupled from exam results.

Highway entrance ramps

Democratic Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti, of Westchester County, and Republican Sen. Phil Boyle, of Suffolk, have proposed a measure to require height barriers at the entrances to the state’s parkways. Barriers would prevent trucks and buses from getting onto the parkways, and thus avoid the often horrifying crashes that we have seen in Nassau County when oversized vehicles plow into parkway bridges, which are too low to allow safe passage by trucks and buses.

This past spring, a bus carrying students and a box truck hit the same overpass on the Southern State Parkway in Lakeview, and a tractor-trailer slammed into an overpass on the Meadowbrook Parkway. Let’s get this piece of legislation done — ASAP, before someone gets killed.

Holocaust education

State Sen. Elaine Phillips, a Republican from Flower Hill, and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, a Democrat from Queens, have proposed legislation to require the State Education Department to study the school districts that teach their students about the Holocaust, and how they do so. It’s imperative that children are taught about the 20th century’s darkest chapter, particularly given the increase in anti-Semitic attacks in recent years. This measure is a no-brainer.

Ethics reform

Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers often say they want to pass tougher ethics-reform measures to ensure that lawmakers play by the rules. Yet little gets done. They should start by closing the LLC loophole, which allows donors to funnel enormous sums of money to candidates via limited liability corporations.

Abortion rights

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has vowed to codify abortion rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade within 30 days of being sworn into office in January. With the confirmation of conservative Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and with congressional Republicans continuing to attack reproductive rights, the state should pass such legislation. New York state law does not allow abortions after 24 weeks, even if a woman’s health is at risk, and prohibits abortion in the third trimester, even if a fetus cannot live outside the womb.

Under Roe v. Wade, a woman can have an abortion performed at any time if her health is at risk or if a fetus is not viable. It’s past time that New York update its abortion laws.