ALBANY - New York state's Senate has recently wrapped up what Sen. Catharine Young called a "productive session."
The Senate met for its 57th and final session this year on June 22. In January, as the Senate was gearing up to begin its sessions, Young, R-C-I-Olean, said it was a chance for members of the Senate to work together, in order to achieve real results for the people it represents. Now that session is over, Young is reflecting on the last six months.
"The easiest decision to make this year was to continue to stand up and fight on behalf of the people in my district," she said. "We have wonderful people and communities, and I will continue to do all that I can to grow jobs, opportunity and prosperity for the people I serve."
state Sen. Cathy Young
There were some tough decisions, too. One of the most talked-about issues was the passage of the SAFE Act in January. The NY SAFE Act was signed into law in mid-January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The controversial law intends to keep guns out of the hands of convicted felons and potentially dangerous mental health patients. Additionally, it bans high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.
"Difficult issues this session included the January passage of the SAFE Act, which I opposed because it penalizes law-abiding firearms owners and doesn't do enough to go after criminals who use guns while they break the law," Young said. "I sponsor legislation for a full repeal of the gun control law."
Young highlighted the legislative successes that she said benefit the residents of her district, especially taxpayers, agriculture, small business and manufacturers. Her top priorities include economic and job growth, as well as tax relief.
"It penalizes law-abiding firearms owners and doesn't do enough to go after criminals who use guns while they break the law."
state Sen. Cathy Young
"The state budget controlled spending while providing significant tax relief to families and seniors," Young said.
"We extended the lowest middle class income tax rate in 60 years, providing 4.4 million taxpayers with $707 million in tax savings. That relief directly helps family budgets."
Additionally, Young said the Senate invested record funding for STAR tax relief, which provides partial exemptions for households that earn less than $500,000 annually. And, Young's Senate Conference pushed for the phasing out of the 18-a assessment, which is a tax on all utilities that consumers and businesses have to pay. According to Young, the tax was increased by 500 percent in 2009-10, which is what her conference aimed to reduce.
Other job growth initiatives Young worked on included $600 million in small business tax relief, and reduction of the manufacturer's tax.
"We need to continue to reform the state's business climate so it is more attractive to employers, we can be more competitive and people can afford to live and work here," Young said.
This year, the Senate also invested in agriculture research, marketing and other programs to strengthen family farms. Young also sponsored and passed a 2 percent agriculture assessment cap, that she said will help farms afford to stay in business.
Education also received a boost of nearly $1 billion in additional funding this year. Young said her local schools received $19 million more than last year, for a total of $554.6 million. She also passed a bill in the Senate to help school districts increase course offerings, by taking steps toward creating a state-wide online and blended learning program.
"These virtual learning opportunities would allow school districts to use innovative technology to provide students with rigorous and unique courses, enabling them to be more competitive in the workforce and when applying to college," Young said.
Other initiatives include expanding telehealth to bring services to rural areas.
"Home care for frail seniors has been greatly reduced, but telehealth is a wonderful way to monitor seniors' health and allow them to stay in their homes and have a great quality of life," Young said. "I recently held a roundtable on the future of rural hospitals to determine what needs to be done policy-wise to keep our rural hospitals operating. It is an issue that literally has life and death consequences, and we need access to quality health care."
Young also sponsored and passed two bills that are part of the nine-point Women's Equality Act that passed in the Senate. Young said her legislation specifically helps domestic violence victims, especially when they have to testify in court.
"Oftentimes, victims are reluctant to testify because their abusers intimidate them during court proceedings.Victims could choose to testify via closed-circuit television, making them more able to share their stories," Young said. "I am excited about the other parts of the women's package, especially the equal pay provisions, and I am hopeful the Speaker will call the Assembly back soon to pass all nine bills."