After reaching a closed door, three-way deal between Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the New York State legislature voted early this morning to ratify the state budget for 2015-2016. Below is a summary of major developments related to HIV/AIDS, drug policy, police reform, housing, and anti-homelessness programs.
Media coverage of the process has highlighted that very few priority issues were resolved. Major issues like increasing the minimum wage, enacting ethics reform to clean up Albany, and education reform were all left unfinished. Importantly, the budget deal also made very little progress on enacting measures to support the Plan to End AIDS in NY by 2020, which were recommended by a Task Force appointed by the Governor in January. Read coverage here about one of our End AIDS rallies in Albany from March.
Nonetheless there were a handful of important victories and steps forward, and we will continue to fight for meaningful reform through the rest of the legislative session:
- VOCAL and allies successfully fought for $27 million in continued funding the NYC's 30% rent cap for low-income people living with AIDS. The budget also contains $4.5 million in funding for homeless youth shelters and $74.5 million for statewide supportive housing programs as part of a larger housing and homelessness package. Read more about it here.
- With our partners at Communities United for Police Reform we helped to stop Governor Cuomo from creating an “independent monitor” to investigate police killings. Our coalition's position is that the governor's proposed monitor would be ineffective, and would not address systemic issues of police killings of people of color. Instead, we're fighting for the creation of a special prosecutor when these tragedies occur. Check out press coverage in The Legislative Gazette, Capital New York, and Amsterdam News.
- Through the End AIDS NY 2020 Coalition we were able to secure $10 million for the Department of Health to support HIV testing, prevention, and other services.
- We made some headway in our campaign to end the use of condoms as evidence of sex work through budget legislation that will ban the use of condoms as evidence for the two lowest level misdemeanor prostitution offenses, and we'll continue working for a comprehensive ban.
- Our campaign to fully decriminalize syringes to ensure safe, statewide access made incremental progress, with an amendment to the criminal syringe possession law to clarify that syringes obtained from harm reduction programs and pharmacies are legal. Check out video from our campaign launch to learn more about the issue and the need to keep fighting.
- Though our actions to expose the impact of hedge fund manager and Wall Street banker campaign contributions got highlighted in the New York Times, Connecticut News 12 and elsewhere, it did not stop a late night addition to the budget creating a tax credit for yachts and private planes. That’s all the more reason for us
to keep up the fight to demand a fair economy where we can fund an end to AIDS, a public health approach to drug use, and an end mass incarceration.
- Though not part of the budget, the state also today released its final medical marijuana regulations, which are already being strongly criticized for ignoring input from concerned community groups and individuals who could benefit.
There's clearly much more work to be done, and we need your help to do it. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to VOCAL today to support community organizing and advocacy led by our members!