The NYS Catholic Conference has released the following round-up of the 2021 Legislative Session in Albany which has now adjourned. (Lawmakers may return at some point this summer if agreement is reached on certain legislation.)

Respect for Human Life

PHYSICIAN-ASSISTED SUICIDE: In an important pro-life victory, advocates for the legalization of physician-assisted suicide failed to get a vote on the bill in any committee in either house of the legislature. The Conference, and our allies in the NY Alliance Against Assisted Suicide, were successful in highlighting the many dangerous consequences of such a policy.

STEALTH EUTHANASIA: The Assembly Health Committee advanced a very dangerous euthanasia bill that would allow proxy decision-makers to deny ordinary food and water to patients. The bill was amended under the radar to allow for the denial not only of tube feeding, but oral feeding as well, even if the patient never requested it. Thankfully, the bill advanced no further.

PRO-LIFE PREGNANCY CENTERS: Legislation to require a biased “study” of pro-life pregnancy centers intended to intimidate and silence them advanced to the Assembly floor but did not receive any floor votes. The NYSCC alert on this issue generated more than 12,000 messages of opposition to legislators.

Family Life/Moral Values

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA: The state legislature passed and Governor Cuomo signed legislation to legalize the possession and sale of recreational marijuana, an action strongly opposed by the Catholic Conference.

CHILD MARRIAGE: Legislation supported by the Catholic Conference to raise the age of consent for marriage from 17 to 18, passed both houses of the legislature and awaits action by the Governor.

SEX EDUCATION: Legislation to require all public and charter schools to teach “comprehensive” sex education beginning in kindergarten died in committee in both houses.

PROSTITUTION: A bill to decriminalize prostitution in New York was introduced in both houses but did not advance from the Codes Committee in either house.

HUMAN COMPOSTING: Legislation to allow the composting of human remains was advanced in both houses for the first time, but failed to receive a floor vote in either house. The Conference strongly opposed the measure and worked to educate Catholics about how it fails to treat human remains with reverence and respect. A CAN alert generated about 10,000 messages to legislators.

Criminal Justice

CLEAN SLATE ACT: This legislation would have sealed most criminal convictions after three years (misdemeanors) or seven years (felonies), with few exceptions. We heard from safe environment directors in the (arch)dioceses that this would be very problematic in terms of ensuring the protection of children in our programs, as background checks would not pick up older crimes, including violent crimes against children. We actively lobbied both houses and also activated the Catholic Action Network, which resulted in 8,000 messages to legislators in just over a day. We noted the good intentions of the legislation but insisted it needed to be amended to allow not-for-profits working with children and vulnerable adults to learn about criminal convictions of prospective volunteers and employees. Our message was heard loud and clear and a deal to pass the bill fell apart last night over concerns in the Assembly about language. This legislation is likely to be revived for passage if the houses return to Albany at the end of the month and agree on amendments. We will continue working toward appropriate amendment language that protects children and vulnerable adults.

HALT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ACT: A bill supported by the New York State Catholic Conference to dramatically reduce the use of solitary confinement in state prisons finally passed this session and was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. The Catholic Action Network generated about 4,500 messages to legislators.

Human Services

NOURISH NEW YORK: Legislation we supported to make permanent this COVID-related program to address food insecurity by connecting farmers with food banks passed both houses of the legislature and awaits action by Governor Cuomo.

RENT SUBSIDIES INCREASE: This legislation supported by the Catholic Conference, would increase the value of rent subsidies for families whose lack of adequate housing puts their children at risk of entering the foster care system or delays family reunification. The bill passed in the Senate but, sadly, not in the Assembly.

DONOR DISCLOSURE: Legislation supported by the Conference to protect the privacy of donors to 501(c)(3) organizations passed both houses and awaits the Governor’s action.

Education

STEM FUNDING: The state’s STEM program for religious and independent schools is a first-in-the-nation program that reimburses our schools for a portion of the salaries of our teachers of science, technology, engineering and math. Now in its fourth year, and together with our coalition partners, we secured another significant funding increase, bringing the program to $40 million.

SUBSTANTIAL EQUIVALENCY: There were several positive developments this year in the on-going efforts by lawmakers and the State Education Department to respond to the complaints leveled against some Orthodox Yeshivas for not being in compliance with the “substantial equivalency” statute. First, the Board of Regents withdrew proposed regulations that would have required public schools to review the instructional program of religious and independent schools. Secondly, the Regents embarked on a series of stake-holder meetings designed to gather input on a new framework for enforcing instructional mandates for religious and independent schools. The new framework recognizes the long history of academic success of the overwhelming majority of religious and independent schools as evidenced by such schools being accredited by independent agencies, chartered by the Board of Regents and registered with the State Education Department. Third, legislation was introduced in the Assembly which 1) requires the State Education Department Commissioner to approve accreditation agencies and 2) stipulates that schools accredited by such agencies would be deemed in compliance with the substantial equivalency statute. The diocesan school superintendents support the measure because it permits instructional standards to be measured by independent accrediting agencies as opposed to our schools being reviewed and determined to be “substantially equivalent” to public schools. Although the bill passed the Assembly, there was no action on the measure in the Senate.

MANDATED SERVICES AID – SAVE HARMLESS: Building on the precedent set by the Governor and the legislature in holding state aid to public schools harmless during the pandemic, we were successful in securing a comparable save-harmless provision for MSA. Generally, annual MSA reimbursement constitutes approximately 10% of our schools’ operating budgets, while reimbursement for test administration costs ranges from 10 to 70% of schools’ MSA reimbursement.

FEDERAL COVID RELIEF PROGRAMS: More than $500 million was allocated in the state budget from federal COVID relief funds for two equal rounds of approximately $250 million for Emergency Assistance for Nonpublic Schools (EANS). Given the tight timeline required for implementation, we were successful in securing language in the state budget that permits non-competitive contracts for services and assistance to eligible schools through the State Education Department (SED), BOCES and/or third-party contractors. Conference staff worked with the SED and the Governor’s office in developing the application for the first round of EANS. Applications were received from just fewer than 600 of the 1,800 religious and independent schools. The balance of schools were ineligible for EANS because they received PPP-2 loans. We still await guidance from the US Department of Education on the implementation of EANS-2.

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