Position Statement – 2021
Governor Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal
NY State Fiscal Year 2021-22
The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”), an organization comprising 4,400 attorneys and judges from across the state in private practice, government, academia and the courts, is dedicated to the advancement of women in law and society. WBASNY has reviewed various sections of the Executive Budget Proposal for State Fiscal Year 2021-22 that we believe would impact women and children. Our positions and discussion on these sections are addressed below:
PUBLIC PROTECTION AND GENERAL GOVERNMENT
ARTICLE VII LEGISLATION
Part C – Establish a Domestic Violence Misdemeanor
WBASNY opposes Part C, which would establish a conviction for “domestic violence”. WBASNY opposes this Part because the current penal law already provides that the people may serve upon a defendant and file with the court a notice alleging such offense was committed against a member of the same family or household as the defendant. Thus, it appears this Part is duplicative of current penal law.
Part D – Require Domestic Violence Abusers to Pay Housing Costs
WBASNY opposes Part D because we are concerned that it will be impractical to enforce and may yield harmful results. By creating an on-going financial relationship between the abuser and the abused, the legislation would allow the abuser to retain a measure of control over the victim, which may result in additional harm. However, WBASNY supports the intention of the legislation and recognizes that many victims of abuse lack finances to find housing independent of their abuser. WBASNY would welcome the opportunity to explore alternative ways to secure this necessary financial support for victims.
Part E – Domestic Violence Tracking
WBASNY supports Part E as it will provide statistics regarding the number of Criminal Orders of Protection issued by courts, at all levels. This information will be useful as stakeholders can use this information to offer services in those areas of need.
Part F – LGBTQ Fairness in Child Custody
WBASNY strongly supports this legislation, which would amend the domestic relations law to state that, in determining the best interests of a child, the court shall not (1) consider the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression of the parties nor (2) prohibit a party from undergoing gender reassignment. This legislation is essential to ensure the equal and fair administration of justice for all parent-litigants, particularly transgender parents who are greater risk of encountering bias in legal proceedings.
Part H – Remove the Label of Incorrigible in Law
WBASNY supports removing the label of “incorrigible” from use in Family and Children’s Courts throughout the state. Labeling a child “incorrigible” declares that the child is “incapable of being corrected” and is “not reformable.” In other words, it declares that such a child is a “lost cause” and therefore unworthy of the time, effort, and resources that might be expended on other children. Use of this label is harmful and antithetical to the underlying goals and principles of the juvenile justice system. For nearly a century, the “incorrigible” label has been used, to great detriment, to punish children, especially young girls of color, when their actions may be interpreted as not conforming to stereotypical notions of “feminine” behavior. WBASNY agrees that discontinuing use of this label will help to modernize, and improve, the justice system. While WBASNY supports this legislation, it urges State Legislators, and the Governor, to consider additional reforms to the Persons in Need of Supervision (PINS) Statute.
Part I – Protect Judges and their Families from Threats
WBASNY supports Part I. The safety of the judiciary is vital to an independent judiciary, the rule of law, and our democracy. WBASNY fully supports these enhanced measures which will help ensure the protection and safety of all of our state and federal judges.
Part AA – Provide a variable market-based interest rate on court judgments and accrued claims paid by public and private entities
WBASNY strongly opposes the Governor’s budget proposal that provides a market-based interest rate on court judgments and accrued claims, and replaces the provision of the CPLR that provides for nine percent per annum interest on judgments for damages (except where otherwise provided by statute). This provision would have a devastating effect on the less-monied spouse in a matrimonial action, which unfortunately will harm women and children more often than men.
EDUCATION, LABOR AND FAMILY ASSISTANCE
ARTICLE VII LEGISLATION
Part L – Comply with Federal Family First Prevention Services Act Requirements
WBASNY strongly supports Part L, which would enact changes to comply with the federal Family First Prevention Services Act regarding the placement of youth in a qualified residential treatment facility (QRTP). The Family First Prevention Services Act was designed to limit placement of children in group homes and encourage placement in family homes with additional services. Not only will this bill ensure State compliance with federal requirements, thereby ensuring that New York will retain federal funding for foster care, but it will encourage efforts to return children home when possible and will require Family Court review and approval of placement in a QRTP.
Part M – Require Differential Response Programs for Child Protection and Assessments or Investigations
WBASNY strongly supports Part M, which would require local social services districts to establish differential response program plans to be approved by the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) as part of the Family Assessment Response (FAR) program. The Family Assessment Response (FAR) process is a differential response model that promotes the well-being of children by utilizing a collaborative approach to meeting the needs of families, where there is an accepted report of child abuse or maltreatment, but no immediate or impending danger to the safety of the child or family has been identified. The criteria for cases to be included in FAR are set by the local social services districts in accordance with OCFS protocols which are being amended in this bill to prevent implicit bias in deciding which cases will qualify. This bill attempts to prevent child abuse through services and support rather than registration as “indicated” in the Central Registry of Child Abuse, which may lead to loss of employment and breakup of families. It also contains provisions to prevent implicit bias.
Part R – Expand the Human Rights Law to Include For-Profit Schools
WBASNY strongly supports Part R, which would amend the definition of educational institutions to include for profit schools which are not religious in nature such as career and vocational schools, so that they will be covered by the Human Rights Law’s anti-discrimination provisions which currently only apply to public schools and not-for profit tax exempt non-sectarian schools. This bill protects a larger pool of students from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
Part S – Prohibit Discrimination Based on Citizenship
WBASNY supports Part S, which would amend the Executive law to provide protections against discrimination based on a person’s “citizenship or immigration status”. Protections from discrimination for persons who are not citizens of the United States, in the areas of employment, housing, and education, among others, is long overdue, particularly in New York State, where immigrants have historically represented a significant part of the population.
Part V – Streamline Administrative Process for Transfer of Unclaimed Child Support Collections
WBASNY opposes Part V. According to the memorandum in support, this bill would amend the Social Services and Abandoned Property laws to “modernize existing Child Support processes to establish an efficient, streamlined administrative process by which local social services districts transfer undisbursed child support collections to OSC’s Office of Unclaimed Funds.” (see Education, Labor and Family Assistance Memorandum in Support (ELFA Memo), Part V). The bill provides that after two years unclaimed child support funds held by a social services district will be turned over to the State Comptroller as abandoned where the person entitled to the funds cannot be located after diligent efforts or where the funds were not identified in the remittance. The ELFA Memo reveals that the current law prohibits such funds from being turned over to the Comptroller unless five years have passed with a court order. WBASNY is concerned that changing this current practice may result in depriving families of the child and spousal support to which they may be entitled. The ELFA Memo claims that the bill will “make it easier for parents to claim child support payments or overpayments due by utilizing the established public claims process available on the OSC website,” but it fails to explain how this is so. The ELFA memo also says that the bill will relieve administrative burdens on the social services districts. We think existing law requiring five years and a court order should remain unchanged.
Part W – Provide Paid Leave for COVID-19 Vaccination
WBASNY supports Part W. In the interest of public health, WBASNY supports providing paid leave for employees to obtain a vaccine so that employees do not have to choose between working and obtaining a vaccine.
Part Z – Expand Child Care Affordability and Ease Administrative Burdens on Child Care Providers
WBASNY supports Part Z. Subpart A of this bill would amend the Social Services Law to expand childcare affordability by limiting the co-payment of a family receiving childcare services to no more than 20 percent of their income above the poverty level. We support Subpart A of Part Z insofar as it makes child care more affordable for low-income families and may ease financial burdens on families and, in particular, working mothers. We also support Subpart B of the bill which ease requirements for qualification as a daycare provider. Although WBASNY supports efforts to make childcare more available to low-income families, we believe safety of children must come first. For this reason, we have some questions regarding the reasons for eliminating certain child care worker application requirements, including the types of criminal charges that would not prevent a child care applicant from being approved to work prior to resolution of the charge, as well as any supporting evidence to suggest that the administrative burdens that would be eased by eliminating the requirement to investigate past child abuse reports would outweigh the potential dangers posed to children placed in the care of a child care facility. We are encouraged by the fact that the easing of certain requirements is on the recommendation of the Child Care Availability Task Force, and because background checks do seem to be required under the federal Block Grant requirements. We also support Subpart B because low-income families are so in need of childcare while schools are closed due to Covid-19.
HEALTH AND MENTAL HYGIENE
ARTICLE VII LEGISLATION
Part R – Elimination of Barriers for Gender Designation on Identity Documents and Name Changes for Transgender and Gender Non-conforming New Yorkers
WBASNY strongly supports Part R, which updates the publication requirement for individuals seeking to change the name on their birth certificate and, further, provides for the sealing of papers designating an individual’s sex. The proposed legislation serves as an important update to current law, which requires individuals petitioning for legal name changes to publish not only their present name and address, but their previous name, place of birth, and birthdate in a designated newspaper. Such publication requirements expose petitioners to potential danger, unnecessary embarrassment, and potential discrimination. This legislation removes these excessive and discriminatory barriers on individuals seeking a change in legal sex designation and expands eligibility to seal such records for the protection of the petitioner.