Civil liberties activists aren't giving up on state legislative session
Progressive groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, say they’re frustrated that action on left-leaning issues has stalled in New York in the final weeks of the legislative session.
They held a rally Monday to get Democrats who lead the state Senate and Assembly to move faster on items like granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and workers’ rights for farm laborers, and they are hopeful those measures will pass before the session ends on June 19.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the first legislative session to be run by Democrats in a decade already has seen many successes. Among them was the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the rights in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into New York state law. The Dream Act, which grants access to college aid for the children of undocumented immigrants, was also approved, along with strengthened voting rights and bail reform.
"After decades and decades of being kind of do nothing-ish in the New York State Legislature, we have a Legislature that was elected to do something to fight for justice," Lieberman said.
But she and other advocates say there is still unfinished business before the session ends, including what’s known as the Green Light campaign, which would permit undocumented immigrants to obtain standard driver’s licenses.
"It’s time to reverse the ridiculously harmful and unsafe policy of denying people driver’s licenses based on their immigration status," Lieberman said.
Other measures include granting more rights to farmworkers, such as the right to collectively bargain and to be paid for overtime work.
Students in the NYCLU’s teen activist project also spoke at the rally.
Anna Bedell, a high school student in New York City, spoke in favor of the Healthy Students Healthy Schools bill, which would mandate better sex education for the state’s teenagers.
"Most of the time, the sex ed that we are taught is between straight, cys couples, when in reality, many teens do not fit this narrative," Bedell said. "Who do LGBTQ-plus identified students go to when they have questions about their sexuality and relationships when the curriculum excludes them?"
Ben Platt spoke against the increasing use of identifying software technology in schools, saying students no longer have any "expectation of privacy."
"I swipe my ID, so school administrators know exactly when I enter and leave," said Platt. "Cameras line the hallways, assiduously tracking my every move, despite my school having almost no disciplinary incidents."
Platt and other teenagers at the rally support a bill that would ban facial recognition and other biosurveillance technologies in public schools. He said there are better ways to ensure students’ safety.
Since the state budget was approved in late March, action has stalled on a number of issues, including the driver’s license and farmworkers bills, as well as on legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.
Supporters of the measures say they have not given up hope. Lieberman said it might actually be a good sign that lawmakers seem to be deliberating and considering the bills more carefully.
"There’s still, as we go around and talk to people, a lot of energy and a lot of commitment to try to get things done," Lieberman said. "And a number of our issues remain in play."
After all, she said, a lot can happen in the five weeks remaining in the session.