Change Has Arrived In New York

The new state Senate promises big progress in the Empire State.

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Change and progress have finally begun in the New York State capital as, after years of gridlock and dysfunction, Democrats finally have the votes to pass much-needed reforms.

For many years, The New York State Senate was controlled by Republicans who prevented many important progressive reforms. This past November, people across the state made their voices heard at the ballot box, as a blue wave washed over New York and gave the Democrats control of the State Senate.

Last week, immediately after the new Senate class was sworn in, legislators got to work to take action to improve the lives of New Yorkers.

One of the first and most needed reforms made was to New York’s antiquated voting system. Lawmakers voted to allow ten days of early voting, which New York had been one of only a dozen states to prohibit. They also voted to allow same-day voter registration and no-excuse absentee ballots (in which anyone can get an absentee ballot for any reason).

I am so happy that these laws were put into place, for they will enable our state to make sure that more people who want to vote have the opportunity to do so. A few months ago, I wrote an article for the Garnet Mine about the difficulties some of my classmates had in registering to vote. For the state to allow initiatives like same-day registration means that more people, especially youth, will have the opportunity to vote.

The new Senate also passed a series of laws to protect LGBTQ+ New Yorkers. They banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity and made crimes perpetrated against transgender New Yorkers hate crimes.

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They also took the much-need step to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. Conversion therapy is a medically unsupported practice that attempts to “cure” members of the LGBTQ community. This dangerous practice is run under the scientifically unfounded assumption that being gay or transgender is a choice and that people can “change.” In order to “cure” them, conversion therapy programs incorporate physical and emotional abuse, often justified with religious teachings. Nearly every major association of mental health professionals have condemned this practices, which leaves participants feeling hopeless and ostracized and instills in them the sense that they are abnormal, unloved, and weak — often leading to high rates of suicide and depression.

For New York to ban this immoral and dangerous practice sends a strong message of tolerance in New York State. This was best put by State Senator Brad Hoylman who said, “Conversion therapy has always been a form of child abuse, leveled against LGBTQ kids who others refuse to accept. We’ve always known that our children are born perfect. Now the law recognizes it, too.”

Image result for reproductive health act new yorkOver the next few weeks, Albany is expected to put forward many more much-needed reforms, including extending the statute of limitation to report child sex abuse and passing the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v Wade’s abortion rights protections into state law.

New York has always been a place of progress; however, for the past few years, our state government has lagged behind. This week, I am prouder than ever to be a New Yorker and to call this state home.