“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
As the calendar turns to the New Year, New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation (NYFRF) is gearing up for another legislative session in Albany. NYFRF is thankful for the opportunity to educate, encourage, and equip Christians for effective participation in New York State government again in 2016, as we have done each year since our formation in 1990.
In this edition of the Freedom’s Alert, we address some big-picture questions. What is going well here in the Empire State? What areas of concern exist? What legislative battles do we anticipate this year that relate to NYFRF’s efforts to protect human life, promote strong families, preserve religious liberty, and proclaim justice and mercy? How might current political dynamics affect those battles?
New York’s Blessings
New Yorkers can be thankful for the many blessings that the Lord has showered upon our state. Tourists from other states and nations flock to New York to visit the Statute of Liberty; Niagara Falls; Rockefeller Center; Yankee Stadium; the George Eastman House; and a variety of museums, parks, and other unique attractions. New Yorkers enjoy a beautiful and varied landscape that includes abundant opportunities for hiking, swimming, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. New York City plays a major worldwide role in finance, culture, and the arts. Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001, our state has been free from terrorist attacks.
When it comes to politics and government, notwithstanding the passage of same-sex “marriage” legislation, the SAFE Act, and the 2013 casino expansion amendment, our state government has made some good choices. In recent years, the state has taken steps to combat human trafficking, and the 2011 property tax cap has imposed a new level of fiscal responsibility upon local governments and school districts. Also, through the efforts of NYFRF and our affiliate organization, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, dozens of damaging bills like abortion expansion, physician-assisted suicide, paid surrogacy, and many others have failed to become law each year. If every bill concocted by left-wing legislators became law, the impact would be devastating.
New York’s Challenges
Christian New Yorkers will have no trouble identifying many of the challenges that beset our state. On pro-life issues, our state badly needs a course correction. Americans United for Life rates New York’s abortion laws 44th in the nation; tragically, New York is one of only four states that voluntarily provide Medicaid funding for elective abortions. Our state began funding human cloning and embryonic stem cell research in 2008. Shockingly, New York law allows abortions to be performed on minors without parental notification or consent. There is much work to be done to re-establish laws and social norms that respect the inherent value and worth of every human being.
New York’s families are under various stresses. Like much of the rest of our nation, our state faces a crisis in family formation; according to the KIDS Count Data Center, as of 2014, 36% of New York’s children were growing up in single-parent families. New York joined the rest of the nation by passing a no-fault divorce law in 2010, and followed that mistake by legalizing same-sex “marriage” in 2011. Thousands of children in foster care need adoptive parents. Sadly, in March 2015, the New York State Assembly’s Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force released a report stating that “[c]hild poverty [had] reached ‘epidemic proportions’ in cities across upstate New York, with rates of 50% or higher among many minority communities.”
Religious liberty in New York is being eroded by two forces: Greedy local governments and the secular Left. Greedy local governments are in search of new and inventive ways to tax churches and nonprofit organizations. The secular Left, on the other hand, seeks to marginalize, punish, and silence Christians who dare to live out our beliefs on issues like abortion and same-sex “marriage.” Currently, the most egregious infringement upon religious liberty in New York is the attack on Liberty Ridge Farm. Liberty Ridge Farm is a family farm in Rensselaer County, New York that sometimes hosts weddings on its property. In the fall of 2012, a woman telephoned Liberty Ridge Farm and spoke with Mrs. Gifford about the possibility of holding a same-sex “wedding” at the Farm. After Mrs. Gifford politely indicated that the Farm did not host same-sex “weddings,” the woman and her partner—who had secretly recorded the phone call—filed a complaint with the Division of Human Rights, claiming that Liberty Ridge Farm and the Giffords had discriminated against them based upon sexual orientation. On August 8, 2014, the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) found for the complainants and awarded a total of $13,000 in penalties and damages against Liberty Ridge Farm. James P. Trainor, Esq., the attorney for Liberty Ridge Farm, was scheduled to argue the case on appeal in November 2015.
NYFRF sees a number of challenges in the areas of justice and mercy in the Empire State. One such challenge is government corruption. According to FiveThirtyEight.com, New York ranks first in the nation in the number of elected officials (2,522) who were convicted on federal corruption charges from the years 1976 to 2010. Along similar lines, the Center for Public Integrity recently gave New York a grade of D-minus in regard to good-government issues. This aura of corruption affects the legislative process in Albany and hampers efforts to address New York’s problems. When it comes to education, the state has made positive steps in regard to school choice; however, despite massive per-pupil spending, New York’s educational outcomes remain middling. New York does not respect its citizens’ right to bear arms; GunsandAmmo.com ranks New York’s firearm laws dead last in the country. A casino expansion amendment was passed in 2013, and four applicants currently await casino licenses from the State. Like addicted gamblers, local governments are chomping at the bit to receive taxes and fees from casinos, with little or no regard for the consequences for their communities.
Despite these significant challenges, all is not lost! There are solutions for New York’s moral, spiritual, and relational problems, as well as its misguided public policies. New Yorkers desperately need Jesus. The people of our state need to experience God’s love, and to allow that love to change their hearts, minds, and perspectives. We also need leaders who are wise enough to know right from wrong, and are brave enough to stand for what is right—even if it makes them unpopular. Finally, our state needs Christians to speak the truth to those in power.
The mission of New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation is much needed and vitally important in 2016. Similarly, there is great need for NYFRF’s affiliate organization, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, to continue to influence legislation and legislators for the Lord Jesus Christ in the coming year.
The 2016 Political Scene
The current political scene in Albany offers slight variations on a familiar theme.
For the past five years, the government of New York State has featured a Democratic governor, a strongly Democratic Assembly majority, and a Senate controlled either by Republicans or by a coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats. During the past year, however, the cast of characters in Albany changed with the arrests of Asm. Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) and Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) on corruption charges. Both men stepped down from their leadership roles and were scheduled to be tried in November 2015; at this writing, no information is available on the outcome of either trial. Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Asm. Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) have taken over as Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the Assembly, respectively. Also, following the July 2016 conviction of then-Senate Deputy Majority Leader Tom Libous, Sen. John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) was selected to fill the post of Deputy Majority Leader. Sen. DeFrancisco, who continues to serve as Chair of the influential Senate Finance Committee, provides regional balance to the Senate’s leadership team (Senate Majority Leader Flanagan hails from Long Island).
Under ordinary circumstances, the fact that both legislative leaders are very new to their respective roles would appear to enhance the power and influence of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2016. However, there is a large complication: U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. Observers have long speculated that Bharara—the driving force behind the prosecutions of Sen. Skelos, Asm. Silver, and other elected officials—may be planning to prosecute the Governor as well. Bharara has investigated both Gov. Cuomo’s Moreland Commission and his Buffalo Billion program for potential improprieties. Only time will tell if those investigations ripen into criminal charges. In the meantime, it appears that Gov. Cuomo’s priorities include pandering to the far Left (by pushing for an ill-advised, job-killing $15-per-hour minimum wage, and by implementing the provisions of the Bathroom Bill through executive action) and making New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s life as miserable as possible.
The Republican Party’s tenuous grip on control of the State Senate could have a significant impact upon policymaking in 2016. The Republicans lost their traditional Senate majority in the 2008 elections; regained it in 2010 following two years of Senate chaos and dysfunction; lost the majority again in 2012 after making the serious error of allowing same-sex “marriage” legislation to pass in 2011; retained shared control of the Senate in 2013 and 2014 through a power-sharing alliance with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference; and retook the Senate majority in the 2014 elections. Following the July 2015 conviction of former Sen. Tom Libous, Broome County Undersheriff Fred Akshar (R-District 52) defeated a Cuomo-endorsed candidate in a special election to fill the seat that Sen. Libous had vacated. The election of Sen. Akshar makes it possible for the Republican Party to begin 2016 as the majority party in the Senate.
Because the Republican Senate majority is so narrow (at this writing, the Republican Conference consists of 33 senators; 32 are required for a majority), the Party has little margin for error in the 2016 elections, and will likely seek to avoid controversial votes in 2016. It is hoped that Christians and conservatives can use this political reality to our advantage by encouraging Senate Republicans not to pass laws that could disrupt their relationships with their conservative constituents.
The Coming Legislative Battles
New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation and New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms anticipate a variety of legislative battles in 2016 that relate to protecting human life; promoting strong families; preserving religious liberty; and proclaiming justice and mercy—the four policy areas upon which our efforts are focused.
Protecting Human Life
• Physician-Assisted Suicide
In recent years, pro-life New Yorkers have concentrated (successfully) on fighting off Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s late-term abortion expansion proposal. At this time, it appears that the primary life-related debate in New York in 2016 will involve physician-assisted suicide. NYFRF and NYCF strongly oppose this destructive proposal. Defeating physician-assisted suicide is a top priority in 2016.
On October 5, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill making the Sunshine State the fifth state in the nation to allow physician-assisted suicide. The legalization of physician-assisted suicide in California has led to calls for New York to follow suit. There is a coordinated nationwide push for physician-assisted suicide, and a misleadingly-named organization called End of Life Choices New York—formerly known as the Hemlock Society—is ramping up its advocacy efforts in preparation for 2016. However, New Yorkers can rest assured that opponents of physician-assisted suicide are also preparing for the legislative battle.
Clearly, assisting someone in committing suicide is a sinful act that flies in the face of the Biblically-based belief in the sanctity of human life. Aside from this basic moral understanding, however, there are many other reasons to oppose physician-assisted suicide. Leaders and commentators across the political spectrum have decried physician-assisted suicide for its corruption of the physician-patient relationship; the potential for patients to be pressured by relatives or medical professionals into taking their own lives; the implied assumption that the lives of terminally ill persons are not worth living; and the inherent incentive for insurers to promote assisted suicide as an alternative to costly medical care. The State should protect terminally ill persons from pressure to take their own lives.
Two physician-assisted suicide bills—Bill S.5814 (Bonacic)/A.5261-B (Paulin) and Bill S.3685 (Savino)/A.2129-A (Rosenthal)—are now pending in the State Legislature. These bills would allow physicians to prescribe lethal drugs to patients whose illnesses will likely cause them to pass away within six months. This language bases a life-or-death decision upon a medical prediction; in so doing, the bill’s sponsors presume that doctors are omniscient. An incorrect evaluation by a physician as to a patient’s life expectancy could well result in the physician-assisted suicide of a person who could otherwise have lived for several more years. This possibility is disturbing and unacceptable, and certainly does not reflect true compassion for persons with terminal illnesses. Palliative care provides compassionate, effective, and ethical methods for easing the suffering of terminally ill patients and others.
• The Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (Bill S.6013-Bonacic/A.8135-Cahill)
It is bad enough that President Barack Obama has imposed the conscience-crushing Obamacare birth control mandate upon businesses and nonprofits across the country. Now, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is trying to bring his own brand of the Obamacare birth control mandate to Albany.
Attorney General Schneiderman’s Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA) would require all group insurance policies issued or renewed after January 1, 2016 to cover abortion-causing drugs, voluntary sterilization procedures, and all other FDA-approved contraceptive devices without restrictions, copays, or cost sharing. This bill would apply not only to insurance enrollees, but also to the covered spouses, domestic partners, and dependents of those enrollees. The bill would even require insurance companies to allow a year’s worth of contraceptives to be dispensed to a patient at one time.
The CCCA displays callous disregard for human life by including a requirement that New York’s employers provide no-cost coverage of abortion-causing drugs. Research demonstrates that so-called “emergency contraception” does not always function in the way that its name would indicate; rather, it sometimes causes the death of an embryo. It is deeply disturbing that abortion-causing drugs have been made widely available; expanding insurance coverage for them is unacceptable.
• Abortion Expansion Act (S.4432-Stewart-Cousins/A.6221-Glick)
Barring unexpected personnel changes that result in a mid-year Democratic Senate takeover, NYFRF does not expect late-term abortion expansion legislation to make any headway in 2016. Initially unveiled in Gov. Cuomo’s 2013 State of the State Address, late-term abortion expansion legislation was grouped together with a variety of pro-woman measures in a 10-part package known as the Women’s Equality Act (WEA) in an effort to gain support from Republicans who would otherwise oppose late-term abortion expansion as a stand-alone measure. For two years, the pro-abortion Assembly majority refused to pass any part of the WEA unless late-term abortion expansion was included; this resulted in gridlock for all 10 bills. In 2015, however, the Assembly relented and began passing the 10 bills on an individual basis, while the Senate Majority continued its principled stand against abortion expansion. Gov. Cuomo has now signed the non-abortion-related portions of the WEA—including common-sense measures like the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act, additional protections against workplace sexual harassment, and accommodations for pregnant employees—into law. Pro-abortion forces have therefore lost their best hope for passing a late-term abortion expansion law in the near term.
• Other pro-life bills of interest in 2016 include abortion clinic safety regulations (S.2128-A-Golden/A.3048-A-Malliotakis); a proposed ban on the sale of fetal organs for profit (S.6043-DeFrancisco); the Butler Amendment (an annual budget amendment that attempts to remove Medicaid funding for elective abortions); a measure to defund Planned Parenthood (A.5503-DiPietro); and a ban on sex selection abortion (A.6545-Crespo).
Promoting Strong Families
• Paid Surrogacy (S.2765-Hoylman/A.4319-Paulin)
Recent reports indicate that Gov. Cuomo may offer his support for legislation that would make it legal for women to be paid for acting as surrogate mothers. Surrogate mothers are women who become pregnant and bear children with the intention of turning those children over to others. Typically, in the United States, surrogacy involves the use of in vitro fertilization to form an embryo that is implanted within the uterus of the surrogate mother. Currently, it is legal to act as a surrogate mother in New York; however, it is illegal to receive financial compensation for doing so. According to the New York Post, the paid surrogacy proposal is “a top priority of gay-rights advocates following the legalization of same-sex marriage.”
Proposed legislation to legalize paid surrogacy has already been introduced. This legislation, known as the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA) (S.2765-Hoylman/A.4319-Paulin), goes far beyond legalizing paid surrogacy. The CPSA would fundamentally redefine the word “parent”; damage the rights of biological parents; reduce women’s reproductive capabilities to the status of contracted services; and treat children as consumer goods. Ironically, New York’s existing ban on paid surrogacy agreements was signed into law by the late Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1992. The elder Gov. Cuomo got it right on this issue, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be well advised to follow in his footsteps. This pernicious legislation cannot be allowed to become law.
• The Adoption Tax Deduction Bill (S.2026-Hassell-Thompson/A.6575-Crespo)
For the past two years, New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms pushed for the passage of the Adoption Tax Deduction Bill. This legislation is designed to offer families a state income tax deduction for fees and expenses incurred in connection with the adoption of a child from the foster care system. Sadly, Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently vetoed the Adoption Tax Deduction Bill for the second year in a row. In his veto message, Gov. Cuomo took issue with various aspects of the legislation and contended that this bill should be considered in the context of the New York State Budget. (It should be noted that NYCF advocated for this bill during budget season in March 2015, but our calls went unheeded.)
Despite this setback, the pro-family community will continue to push for this bill and other pro-adoption measures in Albany. Specifically, Bills S.4121-Ritchie (providing a tax deduction for parents who adopt special needs children) and S.2688-Felder (requiring a report on the impact of an adoption tax deduction) should receive the support of Christian New Yorkers.
• Anti-family bills that could advance in 2016 include the Healthy Teens Act (S.700-Rivera/A.1616-Gottfried) (providing a public funding stream for Planned Parenthood and similar organizations to conduct sex education in schools) and the mandatory HPV vaccination bill (S.509-Hoylman/A.1822-Paulin).
Preserving Religious Liberty
• The Counselor Coercion Bill (S.121-Hoylman/A.4958-Glick)
The Counselor Coercion Bill, which would ban mental health professionals from helping minor clients to overcome same-sex (homosexual) attraction, has passed the New York State Assembly in each of the past two years. Despite the effectiveness of change therapy with motivated clients who wish to overcome same-sex attraction, the sponsors of the Counselor Coercion Bill wish to punish mental health professionals that engage in such therapy with minor clients; under this bill, such professionals could have their professional licenses suspended, revoked, or annulled. The legislation also allows for other penalties, including community service and fines of up to $10,000.00 per charge.
While some supporters of the Counselor Coercion Bill may (wrongly) believe that the bill is necessary for the protection of young people, this legislation is, at its root, an attempt to suppress speech that is unpopular to leftists in general and LGBT activists in particular. The protections of the First Amendment are not limited to speech that is popular within secular leftist circles. The Christian community led the opposition to the Counselor Coercion Bill for the past two years, and will continue to do so in 2016.
• The Boss Bill (S.2709-A-Krueger/A.1142-A-Jaffee)
The Boss Bill would make it unlawful for nonprofit groups to uphold pro-life conduct policies for employees. The supposed purpose of the bill is to prevent employment discrimination based upon “reproductive health decisionmaking.” The effect of this legislation would be to make it unlawful for pro-life charities to protect and uphold their faith-based missions. The Boss Bill has passed the Assembly twice. The Senate should continue to block this unnecessary bill.
• Pro-religious liberty bills supported by NYFRF include legislation that would exempt churches from paying utility surcharges (S.4411-Ortt/A.3944-Ceretto); a proposal to make court orders unnecessary in some church-related real estate transactions (A.1237-Brennan); and legislation that would respect the freedom of individuals and organizations to decline to participate in same-sex “weddings.”
• Anti-religious liberty bills to be opposed in 2016 include legislation that would make it more difficult for churches to obtain and keep the tax-exempt status of their real property (S.1372-Bonacic/A.1826-Gunther) and a bill that would impose fire district taxes on churches and nonprofits (S.2387-Little/A.1041-Gunther).
Proclaiming Justice and Mercy
• The Bathroom Bill (GENDA) (S.61-A-Squadron/A.4558-A-Gottfried)
On October 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his intention to bypass the New York State Legislature by making “gender identity or expression” a protected civil rights category via regulation. The apparent intent behind the Governor’s action is to implement the provisions of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (also known as the Bathroom Bill), which—due in part to the efforts of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms—has failed to pass the New York State Senate for the past eight (8) years. GENDA would permit persons identifying as transgender to use opposite-sex bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas in places of public accommodation. That is not the only problem with GENDA, however; the bill would also force New York employers to accommodate cross-dressing employees in the workplace.
Following the Governor’s announcement, NYCF has led the opposition to the Governor’s end run. NYCF has been quoted on this issue by a variety of media outlets. Rev. Jason J. McGuire, Executive Director of NYFRF and NYCF, was interviewed on this topic on October 26 on “The Capitol Pressroom,” a prominent radio show that focuses on Albany politics. NYCF’s message has been clear and consistent: The Governor may not usurp the authority of the Legislature as granted by the New York State Constitution, and men should not be granted a “right” to enter women’s restrooms, changing rooms, or locker rooms in public places in the Empire State. The privacy and safety of women and girls cannot be brushed aside in a craven attempt to curry favor with transgender activists.
The battle against the Bathroom Bill is now a two-pronged one. First, the Governor’s regulation must be turned aside. Second, legislative efforts to pass the Bathroom Bill must continue to be blocked. The Bathroom Bill battle promises to be a heated one in 2016.
• Justice and mercy proposals for which Christians should advocate in 2016 include education bills like education tax credit legislation; the Common Core Withdrawal Bill (A.5142-Graf); the Common Core Test Exemption Bill (S.5337-Griffo/A.6777-Nolan); and legislation to prohibit colleges and universities from requiring homeschooled students with high school diplomas to obtain General Education Development Certificates (GEDs) as a prerequisite to admission (S.2175-Robach/A.3678-A-Stirpe). Regarding clean government issues, Christians should support message of necessity reform (S.1086-Marchione/A.1601-Tedisco); pension forfeiture (S.4611-Budget); and legislative term limits (S.3808-Amedore/A.4651-Johns). Christians should also support justice legislation that would create the crime of gang recruitment on school grounds (S.3852-Lanza/A.6840-Crespo), along with mercy legislation that would increase the state earned income tax credit (S.4823-Panepinto/A.4340-Schimminger) and combat unemployment amongst younger workers by allowing a training wage to be paid to minor employees (A.4384-Kolb).
As usual, Christians will have our hands full at the New York State Capitol in 2016. New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation believes that the New Year offers opportunities to advance godly initiatives in Albany, and to frustrate anti-life, anti-family efforts. We covet the prayers and support of our friends and allies as we do God’s work.