submitted by Lindsay Heckler, Esq.
Intro: The Community Must Become Involved in the Legislative Process
The growing crisis of substandard care in nursing homes and adult care facilities is not new and has existed prior to the pandemic. New York has ignored the challenges older adults and people with disabilities have faced living in nursing homes and adult care facilities, such as abuse and neglect from insufficient staffing and lax infection control practices. For too long, older adults and people with disabilities have been forced to reside in institutionalized settings due to lack of affordable and accessible home and community based supports, and a system that makes it easier for individuals to remain in nursing homes instead of the community.
In order to bring about change, it is up to the community to collectively speak up and voice the need for change. It is our hope that the below information is useful in empowering members of the community to directly engage in the political process and effectuate positive change in long-term care for every resident of New York State.
The Legislative Process
The New York Legislature is comprised of the Senate and the Assembly. Each legislative session begins on the first Wednesday after the first Monday of the New Year. The legislative session for 2021 begins January 6, 2021.
In order for piece of legislation (also referred to as a bill) to become law, it must go through the legislative process:
Step 1: Introduction of new bill
The bill must be introduced by an Assemblymember or a Senator. Prior to this occurring, the Assemblymember or Senator has usually met with constituents or organizations who are calling for a new law, or revision to a current law. As such, it is important that members of the Legislature, hear from their constituents both during and outside of the legislative session. They need to hear directly from their constituents what issues matter to them, the problems they are experiencing, and proposed solutions.
- To find your State Senator: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator
- To find your State Assembly Member: https://nyassembly.gov/mem/search
Step 2: Bill goes through the committee process
After introduction, the chamber’s leadership (Speaker in the Assembly; Majority Leader in the Senate), refers it to the appropriate standing committee. Next, the committee will discuss, can conduct public hearings, and decide the bill’s future by voting to take an action. These actions are:
- Defeat the bill;
- Report the bill to the full chamber (Assembly/Senate) for vote;
- Refer the bill to a second relevant committee for consideration;
- Hold the bill for consideration.
If the committee voices to hold a bill for consideration, that bill is effectively dead for that legislative session. A bill can go through this process in more than one committee.
Whether a bill goes before the full Assembly and/or Senate for vote depends on the bill making it through the committee process. As such, it is not only important for constituents to know what committees their Assemblymember and Senator serve on, but the chairs of the pertinent committees, for example, the Health Committee. Voicing support (or opposition) for a bill that is in a committee is a big factor as to whether that bill makes it out of committee.
Step 3: Bill is sent to full chamber(s) for vote
Once a bill has made it through the committee process, it is sent to the full chamber, whereby the full membership of that chamber will vote on that bill. If the majority of the chamber approves the bill, it is sent to the other chamber. For example, a bill that is approved by the majority of the Senate, is then sent to the Assembly. If the bill is approved in the Assembly without amendment, it sent to the Governor.
It is also at this step, the constituent’s voice can have an impact and it is important to contact your Assemblymember and/or Senator to voice support (or opposition).
Step 4: Bill is sent to the Governor
Once a bill is sent to the Governor, the Governor has ten days to sign the bill into law or veto the bill. If Governor vetoes the bill, it is returned to the chamber that first passed it. (For example, the Senate, in our above example.) A vetoed bill can be overturned and become law if two-thirds of the Assembly and the Senate vote to override the veto. If the Governor does not act within the ten days, the bill becomes law automatically.
Because the fate of a bill, rests with the Governor, it is also important the public to contact the Governor’s office to voice support (or opposition) to a bill that is on his desk for signature.
To contact the Governor:
- https://www.governor.ny.gov/content/governor-contact-form ; or
- The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Tips for Advocacy:
Any legislation that was not passed by both the Assembly and Senate, and signed into law by the Governor in 2020, will need to be introduced in the 2021 session that starts in January. As such, if there were bills that you supported during the 2020 legislative session, that did not become law, for example Senator May’s visitation bill, it is important to contact your Legislators and become active in the legislative process.
We offer the following tips:
Share your story (experience) with your Legislators
Take the time to write out the following: what happened, the impact on you and/or others (i.e. harm), what you would like to see changed, etc. The purpose of taking the time to fully write out your story is to clearly show the Legislator the problem you, the constituent, experienced (or are experiencing) to demonstrate why and what change is needed.
Meet with your Legislator and/or their staff
It is important to remember that Legislators want to hear from their constituents. Don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting to discuss your experience, your proposed change, or support (or opposition) to a bill.
If there is a bill you support, it is important you stay informed about the bill’s status. This way you know where the bill is in the legislative process, and who to contact. The New York State Senate has a citizen guide that can help you stay informed https://www.nysenate.gov/citizen-guide. The Assembly also has a section of its website dedicated to legislative information https://nyassembly.gov/leg/.
The Center for Elder Law & Justice is available to answer questions you may have on a bill or the legislative process, and we want to hear what issues matter to you and your experiences. We can be reached at 716-853-3087 or firstname.lastname@example.org.