Written by Assemblyman Charles Lavine Friday, 13 July 2012 00:00
Together with Governor Cuomo, we got important things done this past legislative session that will not only boost New York’s business climate, but will help individual families thrive in the great Empire State. As a result, North Shore families will benefit from numerous new laws that will reduce their taxes, support their educational needs and keep their communities safer.
In March, I helped pass the second consecutive on-time state budget, which closed the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit without any new taxes, fees or gimmicks. This year’s budget included measures to boost the economy and create jobs, all while holding spending under 2 percent. I worked to make sure we funded programs that help hardworking families find good-paying jobs, while rebuilding our state’s crumbling infrastructure and supporting minority- and women-owned business enterprises.
Thanks to the budget we crafted, the new income tax brackets established in December provide middle-class families with the lowest tax rate in 58 years, cutting taxes for 99 percent of New Yorkers. In addition, since April, our families have been enjoying a 4 percent state sales tax exemption on clothing, footwear and other such items under $110.
Additionally, we fulfilled our promise made in December to permanently eliminate the MTA payroll tax for qualifying small businesses with annual payrolls of $1.25 million or less and for those who are self-employed and earn less than $50,000 per year. We also made sure that schools, both public and private, are exempt from having to pay the tax and that many small businesses receive a considerable decrease in the tax, including those companies with payrolls up to $1.75 million. Relieving this tax on small businesses and eliminating it completely for our schools helps create a more business-friendly environment in our communities and lets us focus on providing our children with the best education possible.
Continuing my commitment to give schools in the 13th Assembly District the state aid needed to provide our children with a good education, I helped pass a state budget that increases school funding by $805 million. That funding helped our schools stay within the property tax cap implemented last year. By increasing school aid, we better prepare our students for the jobs of the future and relieve the burden on the property tax. I also helped enact a new teacher evaluation disclosure system that will provide parents with the information they need while protecting teachers’ privacy.
New York’s community colleges are the gateway to a quality education for many young adults. Recognizing that, I helped ensure the state budget increased community-college base aid for the first time in five years, helping hold the line on tuition to ensure that a college education remains affordable.
I also helped pass groundbreaking legislation to overhaul the treatment of over one million of our most vulnerable citizens in state-operated, certified or licensed facilities and programs. The Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs will help protect those with disabilities and special needs, increasing their safety and helping ease their families’ minds. This legislation will work to transform the state’s system of care and treatment for people with disabilities to ensure that abuse and neglect are not tolerated.
Criminals will now have a harder time slipping through the cracks with the expansion of the DNA database, another law I helped pass to better protect families. Ever since its inception, DNA evidence has changed the way criminal investigations are run and it has helped solve thousands of cases that may have otherwise remained open and unsolved. Expanding the state’s DNA database by adding to the list of offenses that require samples from convicted offenders will help our law enforcement keep dangerous criminals off the streets. The law also addresses the concerns and needs of the wrongfully convicted by giving them access to DNA testing and the DNA database, making sure they have the tools needed to exonerate themselves – but also helping law enforcement get the real criminal off the street.
In addition to expanding the DNA database, I fought to keep our children safe from sexual predators by cracking down on online child pornography. A recent court ruling stated that simply viewing child pornography online didn’t necessarily constitute possession of child porn – so we changed the law to reflect advances in technology and made it a class E felony to view child pornography online, making sure those who use the Internet to watch child porn don’t evade the law.
We also enhanced protections for victims of domestic violence this year. The new law better protects victims of domestic violence and cracks down on repeat offenders by establishing the crime of “Aggravated Family Offense” as a class E felony to ensure that defendants with a history of domestic violence who repeatedly commit misdemeanor offenses are prosecuted as felons – because if offenders continuously commit “low level” crimes, they’re able to harass victims over and over again. We also created a new class A misdemeanor of “Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree,” which is when a person causes physical injury to another person or to a family or household member of the person. Additionally, we granted courts the right to consider prior violations of an order of protection when determining the defendant’s bail, ensuring that repeat offenders are subject to harsher penalties – up to four years in state prison – as opposed to the current maximum sentence of one year in the local jail.
Another measure I helped pass was legislation to protect children from bullies. The measure cracks down on bullying and cyber-bullying in our public schools by establishing a mandatory reporting system for all incidents of bullying. It also requires new training for certain school staff. Cyber-bullying opens up a whole new realm for students who are subjected to bullying at school. This new law is a major step in the assembly’s ongoing efforts to improve education and promote a safe and secure learning environment.