June 11, 2021

Legislative session ends with many signs of progress

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
albany capital

In a bizarre legislative session conducted gavel to gavel under pandemic conditions, NYSUT managed to make more significant gains after the state budget was enacted in April.

“The union’s legislative department, team of political action coordinators and grassroots volunteer lobbyists pulled out all the stops in May and June to help pass important bills that will support union members and the people they serve,” said President Andy Pallotta, who leads the legislative operation.

Here are several examples that passed both houses of the Legislature. They require the governor’s signature to be enacted.

Insurance consortia

Since 2015, through a series of legislative extensions, the state has allowed employers/school districts with between 51 and 100 employees to remain in Health Insurance Consortia and Trusts. This allows them to afford better benefits at lower costs. In December of 2022, however, the most recent extension would have expired and caused those districts with experience-rated health insurance plans to lose their consortia and to purchase their insurance in a community-rated market, which would be more costly and likely offer less coverage.

With NYSUT support, lawmakers passed a bill to extend the current December 2022 sunset until December 2025.

Higher Ed teacher prep

Since 2014, students entering graduate-level education programs have been required to achieve a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination and have an overall grade point average of 3.0, both of which severely restrict admission practices and prevent institutions from admitting students they would otherwise deem to be qualified.

NYSUT helped pass a bill that would remove the GRE requirement and provide flexibility in the GPA bar.

Especially as the state faces a teacher shortage, NYSUT advocates maintained, the current law disregards the fact that students and would-be teachers are a diverse group with unique backgrounds, talents and abilities that should be comprehensively evaluated and not be arbitrarily excluded by subjective, rigid, standards that are, quite frankly, poor predictors of quality educators.

Section 80

Both houses of the Legislature passed a bill to provide uniform layoff and job recall protections in civil service law to all public employees throughout the state when government employers seek to reduce the public workforce, including procedures for rehiring based on length of service as a determining factor — last in, first out. Employees who have longer permanent service should have greater retention rights than those employees who are subsequently hired to jobs in the same title.

Lead in schools

Due to their relatively smaller size and rapidly developing bodies, children are particularly susceptible to the deleterious effects of lead in drinking water, which is still found in many older buildings.

NYSUT helped pass a bill in both houses that expands water testing in schools, increases testing frequency, removes testing exemptions, establishes action levels and increases information disclosure requirements.

The bill allows for any expenses, appropriated by the Department of Environmental Conservation, to be reimbursable to the school district from clean water infrastructure funding.

Safety zones

Students living within 1.5 miles of their public school are not entitled to transportation unless they live in designated “safety zones.” With NYSUT support, both houses of the legislature passed a bill to expand the criteria for safety zones to include areas with proven high crime rates and deteriorating vacant buildings. NYSUT showed lawmakers that these conditions present reasonable safety issues for school children in K-12 who otherwise must walk to school.