New York State Senator Craig M. Johnson gave the just-completed legislative session a barely passing grade, with progress muted by halfsteps taken to address important issues and vital legislation that was left unaddressable.
"Much of what was achieved came in small steps that should have been giant leaps," Johnson said. "There is no doubt that the last nine months has been a tumultuous and trying time for New York State government -- but that shouldn't be any excuse. This session was a 'C-'. The residents of Long Island and the rest of this state deserve 'A' work from their Legislature."
Long a cause championed by the Senate Democratic Conference, the Legislature took its first steps toward addressing the subprime mortgage meltdown and subsequent foreclosure crisis. A recent report shows Nassau County at the epicenter of this crisis, having nearly a third of bank-owned properties in the New York metropolitan area.
This legislation will:
• Provide additional protections and foreclosure prevention opportunities for people at risk of losing their homes;
• Strengthen and expand laws to crack down on predatory lenders;
• Establish standards for lenders and brokers to prevent borrowers from being placed in unaffordable loans;
• Register and regulate mortgage loan servicers; and
• Establish strict penalties for those convicted of residential mortgage fraud.
The Senate Majority, however, voted against an amendment from the Senate Democratic Conference to add to the bill a one-year foreclosure moratorium for victims of predatory lending -- a move that would allow up to 125,000 families across the state the opportunity to have their mortgages rewritten and have their homes saved.
The Majority also voted against an amendment that mandates banks to maintain foreclosed properties in its possession. The longer these boarded-up properties sit and become run-down, the more they affect the values of the buildings around them. A report from Deputy Minority Leader Jeff Klein's office shows that values of homes near foreclosed properties drop an average of $5,000. Both amendments also exist in the form of legislation, which Johnson said he will continue to fight for in the coming months.
Both houses did pass legislation championed by Senate Democrats to revamp the state's Brownfields clean-up program.
The agreed upon measure provides:
• Up to half the cost of the site cleanup
• Encourages manufacturing projects up to $45 million in tax credits
• Reduces the red tape to access the benefits of the program
• Allows certain previous applications for Brownfield cleanup to be eligible for the tax credits
Brownfields are sites that once housed factories, gas stations , or similar businesses, are now contaminated, leaving them vacant, off the tax rolls, and without the facilities for new jobs or affordable housing. This measure will be a big boost to the environment in many communities across the state, as well as a catalyst to attract new jobs.
Other notable bills passed included legislation to protect children from dangerous toys, enhance protections for consumers to prevent identity theft, and protect nurses from crippling mandatory overtime that often leaves them exhausted and unable to perform at the high standards they hold themselves to.
Left undone was passage of the the Healthy Teens Act and Paid Family Leave, both of which have bi-partisan support, as well as any real efforts to combat out-of-control property taxes and burdensome unfunded mandates on local governments and schools.
The majority also blocked common sense legislation sponsored by Johnson to guarantee equal pay for equal work, protect tax breaks offered to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers, divest pension funds from companies that do business with the Iranian government, and give the Main Line Communities a say in whether or not the MTA/LIRR's controversial Third Track expansion project is constructed.
"We owe it to our constituents to pass measures that will improve their lives and make their communities better, safer and stronger places to live and raise a family," Johnson said. "The leadership in both houses should not have ended the legislative session with this much work still on the table."