Advocacy Report: June 2015 from Mike Neppl, Director of Government Relations and Advocacy
The 2014 legislative session is drawing to a close here in Albany, with the final day of legislative activity scheduled for June 17th. Though this year has provided several strategic challenges, it has been a historically productive session for the library community. We secured the largest year-to-year increase in library aid in seven years ($5M), as well as a hard-won permanent exemption for public libraries and library systems from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority payroll tax. As NYLA focuses on our remaining legislative goals for this session, it is worth detailing the new landscape in the legislature as we begin to turn our attention towards next year.
New York State Senate
Following a near-sweep in the November 2014 elections, the Senate Republicans gained outright control of the chamber heading into this past January. Previously forced to partner with the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), and Democratic (who continues to caucus with the Republicans) Sen. Simcha Felder (D – Brooklyn) to form a majority coalition, the Republicans electoral wins brought a degree of predictability to our Senate strategy. This proved short-lived, however, as Senator Dean Skelos (R, C, I – Rockville Center) resigned his leadership post in early May, and Senator John Flanagan (R, C, I – East Northport) ascended to Majority Leader. This touched off another leadership change of significance to the library community, as Senator Flanagan selected Senator Carl Marcellino (R – Syosset) to succeed him as Chair of the Education Committee. Education issues figure to be a primary focus of the Governor and Legislature next session, which is an election year, and we will continue to push library issues as a core part of our state’s education infrastructure.
New York State Assembly
Speaker Carl Heastie (D – Bronx) emerged from a six-member scrum to succeed former Speaker Sheldon Silver, shortly after Silver’s indictment by the US Attorney in January. With the elevation of Speaker Heastie, he selected former Libraries Committee Chair Fred W. Thiele, Jr. (I, D, WFP – Sag Harbor) to become Chair of the Committee on Small Business, and Assemblyman Thomas J. Abinanti (D – Greenburg/Mt. Pleasant) to become Chair of the Committee on Libraries and Education Technology. Assemblyman Abinanti has been an excellent advocate for library issues this session, and his partnership with Speaker Heastie on library issues should continue to prove fruitful heading into next session. Two important institutional partners in the legislature also have new Chairs: the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force is now chaired by Assemblyman Marcos A. Crespo (D – Bronx), and the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators is chaired by Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes (D – Buffalo).
The library community had an extremely successful legislative session this year, and we still have a few session days left this year to accomplish our legislative goals. But it is never too early to look ahead and chart a path to success for next year. Navigating the new and evolving landscape will continue to provide challenges. As always, the effectiveness of our efforts is proportional to the level of engagement we get from our advocates throughout New York. Continue inviting legislators into your libraries; communicate the services and value you provide to their constituents; and use the messaging and tools NYLA provides, while keeping us informed of your efforts.