It’s early in the 2020 state legislative session as elected officials get used to being back in Albany after six months off. Oyster Bay’s state assemblymen took time out of their busy schedule to chat briefly about what’s currently happening in the state capitol and what they are working on.
One of the main focuses early on for state officials is the budget proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. District 15 Assemblyman Michael Montesano said that his priority with the budget is keeping in place programs that help senior citizens and young people. He has listened to the ideas that Cuomo has but is wondering how they can achieve them by monetary means. He specifically focused on the governor’s push for legalized marijuana.
“He’s talking about the legalization generating $300 million in tax revenue,” said Montesano. “I would like to know what he is basing that revenue on. We also know there’s going to be a hefty sales tax he’s going to put on there. We know that retailers are going to have to pay permit fees and licensing fees. But in California, since they have legalized marijuana, the cost on the retailer and the sales tax have been so burdensome. It has made the price of marijuana so exorbitant that people are going back to illegal dealers again.”
Another major focus for Montesano is bail reform. He acknowledged that there needed to be a fix to the current bail laws, but he feels like the execution has been disastrous. He believes that additional discretion for judges must be put back in place.
“They’re letting people walk out with misdemeanors and low-level crimes, but that includes manslaughter,” said Montesano. “That’s a dangerous situation. And some of these people are repeat offenders. They get arrested, they get out and they are repeating that cycle three or four times. Let the judge conduct the hearing at the arraignment of the defendant and consider his past record, the crime they just committed and if they poses a threat to themselves or the public.”
Other aspects of Montesano’s current agenda include getting tax credits for employees who are disabled, establishing an office of the Advocate For People with Disabilities, taking some of the tax burden off of small businesses and creating the Nassau Water Authority to take control of the assets of American Water. Recently, he also successfully advocated for funds to repave Rt. 109, along with State Senator Kevin Thomas, State Senator John Brooks and Assemblyman Michael LiPetri.
Like Montesano, District 13 Assemblyman Charles Lavine has his eye on the state budget, which will need to be passed by both legislative houses by the end of March. Lavine said his main focus in forming the budget is on schools and the health of the state’s residents.
“We are going to have to figure out how to address the [$6 billion] deficit,” said Lavine. “At least $2 billion represents a federal cutback, or a ‘Trump cutback,’ in health care spending. At the same time, the Trump administration wants to eliminate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for needy families. That is a lifeline for approximately 250,000 Long Island families that suffer from hunger and inadequate nutrition. This is a serious issue because our state government is responsible for the health of our citizens.”
The assemblyman currently is one of the state officials who have sponsored the Holocaust education bill. Lavine has said that the epidemic has gotten worse over the last three years.
“We have seen people who hate feel entitled and enabled to act out on their primitive instincts,” said Lavine. “We will address that. We are all fighting against that.”
As chairman of the election committee, Lavine remains on a mission to make it easier for New Yorkers to vote. Moving forward, his focus will be on automatic voter registration as well as automatic recounts in elections.
“We want to make sure we have money in our budget to provide for online registration and automatic voter registration,” said Lavine. “We also want to see how early voting worked. I am very pleased that Nassau County led the state in early voting numbers, but our concern is that we need to make sure our county boards of election are not unduly swayed by some county executives who want to suppress votes. We want to make ensure there is an equitable distribution of poll sites.”
Lavine is also focusing on capital funding in SUNY and CUNY universities, which is an issue that the state government was unable to pursue last year and will make a major priority this year. He also encourages residents to register for the census because that is critical in deteremining the amount of federal funding the state gets.