Urging Gov. Cuomo to Protect our Hudson River

The following remarks are from our press conference with Sen. Sue Serino, Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper to urge Governor Cuomo to sign A6825a/S5197b. 

Good morning and thank you to everyone who has joined in this concerted effort to fight for critical new protections for our beloved Hudson River, the spine, as well as the soul of the historic Hudson Valley.IMG_2571

The bill we are urging the Governor to sign is another chapter in the long and continuing story of the relationship between humans and the majestic Hudson, often called  “America’s River.”

From the native Americans who inhabited our valley before European arrival and settlement, to those who fought for and founded our young country, to the inventors and industrialists who introduced all kinds of  transportation on and along the river, to the Hudson River School painters, to the 20th and 21st century New Yorkers — who brought bridges and power stations and litigation and pollution — people have long engaged, for better and for worse, with our iconic river.

The past decades have proven especially challenging for the health of the river.  PCB contamination from many years of industrial dumping left fish dangerous to eat, threatened the habitats of critical wildlife and forced communities, activists and our government to stand up and stand together to demand action.  

At great cost and through the committed efforts of environmentalists, legislators, and community leaders and residents, the health of the river has improved and none of us wants to see that massive effort degraded.  Many communities along the Hudson rely on it as the primary drinking water supply and a number have made huge strides in revitalizing their waterfronts, turning the river into a vital community asset. We all benefit from a #HealthyHudson.

By the same token, without appropriate state oversight, any proposal that would open up the river to enormous increases in petroleum vessel traffic or storage in order to transport volatile domestic crude oil poses serious risks to humans and wildlife habitat. New York State must be able to review all federal anchorage proposals with an eye to public health, safety risks and environmental concerns.

I believe that the bill Senator Serino and I were able to move through both houses of the New York State Legislature with nearly unanimous support gives the DEC a new, critical and well-crafted tool to use when making determinations about where they may exercise their existing authority to create “Tanker Avoidance Zones.”

Absent this bill, the state will have missed an opportunity to assert its shared jurisdiction with the federal government and we could not let that happen, especially with so many Hudson Valley communities having made official pronouncements in support of our efforts to pass the bill.

I stand ready to continue to engage in discussions about any future proposals for new petroleum traffic on the Hudson, as well as about the existing anchorage site off Hyde Park.   I believe with the new legislation we’ve passed we have helped put New Yorker’s interests and safety at the forefront of that conversation.  Gov. Cuomo, please sign this bill to protect our Hudson River and the communities and habitats that depend on it.

Thank you all for your efforts and for joining us today.

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Our 2017 Women’s History in the Hudson Valley Booklet

This year, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of  New York State signing woman’s suffrage into law. New York’s legislation became law three years before the U.S. passed the 19th Amendment– which ensured the right to vote for women across the country– and is an example of the Empire State’s ongoing role as a pioneering advocate for women’s rights.  


Fittingly, our 2017 volume of Women’s History in the Hudson Valley: Ten Stories from Columbia and Dutchess Counties includes the story of Lucretia Coffin Mott, a Quaker minister and abolitionist who helped organize the Seneca Falls Convention and fought for women’s suffrage.  Several women included in our booklet this year were activists on other fronts: Gail Webster was an affordable housing advocate; Earline Patrice was a community activist who raised money, collected holiday gifts and prepared meals for her city’s needy residents. Susan Nye Hutchinson and Ida Helen Ogilvie were pioneering educators who taught advanced math and broke ground in science when there were very few women drawn to these fields.  
It has been said that those that record history control what gets remembered.  Our office, in partnership with the Mid-Hudson Library District, produces and distributes these booklets each year as part of Women’s History Month to do our part to ensure that the lives of women and girls from our region that came before do get remembered.  Please enjoy these stories of 10 Hudson Valley women who made a difference.  We stand on their shoulders.  

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Being Fair to all Direct and Home Care Workers

Over the last few years – and increasingly since the #befair2directcare movement kicked off on social media – my office has been at the forefront of advocating for our region’s direct care and home health providers. These are the people who help care for our disabled family members, friends and neighbors, our home-bound elderly, our veterans. They work in our many regional not for profits and they help people with disabilities stay independent and in their homes. As a member since 2012 of the Assembly’s Mental Health Committee and newly appointed Chair of the Assembly’s Task Force on People with Disabilities, I have fought and advocated for this essential workforce and the individuals and families they serve since I was first elected.

This is not easy work and the dedication of direct-care workers is unparalleled. Yet, they are among the lowest paid workers in the state. These low wages, and new constraints on the organizations that they work for, mean that many of the committed and compassionate individuals who have done this challenging work in the past are now making the choice to take jobs at fast food businesses, for example, with their higher minimum wages.  This has resulted in tremendous turnover and instability in a sector that serves people who really need continuity and security from their caregivers.

To help address this crisis, the Assembly has included $45 million in its budget proposal to support this vital industry. This funding will support a living wage for these workers, which will, in turn, help ensure patients receive the experienced,  consistent personal care that they need and deserve. Further efforts are needed to address transportation challenges for care workers in rural communities and to help “professionalize” this service work  – often dominated by women and immigrants – to ensure it is valued appropriately. Indeed a recent story in the NY Times noted the field of home health aides “is expected to grow 38% by 2024, faster than most other occupations, thanks in large part to the aging baby-boom population.”

To be as informed and responsive as possible to the needs of patients, workers, and agencies, our office has convened a new Human Services Advisory Council, chaired by former Anderson Center for Autism CEO Neil Pollack, which includes representatives from local direct-care agencies. The number one issue discussed at our initial meeting was workforce stability. This cuts across all agencies and impacts thousands of individuals in our region. The Assembly has taken a first step in addressing the problem by providing funding in its budget proposal, but this funding must be included in the state’s final budget, which is due on March 31st.

This wage issue is also hurting the growing consumer-directed personal assistance program which allows those with physical disabilities to recruit, hire, supervise and, when necessary, terminate his or her own caregiver. This workforce also faces long hours, high stress, and low wages; oftentimes these individuals are caring for family members or loved ones. The Assembly has addressed this issue in the budget by ensuring Department of Health funding is directed to the workers where the money is needed most.
The state has a responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable of its citizens – including those with physical or developmental disabilities – have access to quality, consistent, accessible care. The Assembly has lead through our budget proposal and my office will continue to work hard over the next two weeks to ensure this funding is included in the state’s final budget. I hope you will join me in this fight.

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Embarking on a Third Full Term in Government

The following are the remarks I gave at my Swearing-In Celebration, officiated by Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul on January 28, 2017 at the Hudson Opera House.

Thank you all for being here to celebrate with me, my family and our team.  I am especially grateful to Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul for joining us today.  While I first met Kathy when she was in Congress, I have delighted in getting to know her as our wonderful Lt. Governor and have loved joining her on visits to my district,  whether we were checking out the family bedrooms at FDR’s home; posing with pictures of Eleanor Roosevelt at Val-2017swearing-in-picKill; sampling the wares of the Culinary Institute of America or window shopping right here on Warren Street.  She has been a gracious ambassador for state government; she has taken the word “peripatetic” to dimensions Aristotle could never have imagined; and she has been a welcome partner and collaborator with our growing but still too-small cohort of women Assemblymembers.  There are now 45 of us,  not yet one third of the chamber of 150.

Many thanks, as well, to my dear friends at the Hudson Opera House, an extraordinary institution of art, community and history — Susan B. Anthony, among others, visited twice.  The Opera House has been rightfully credited with being a catalyst for much of the rebirth of the City of Hudson and is now poised to embark on a fabulously exciting next phase as it opens the stunningly restored second floor great hall, thanks in large part to New York State support.

How about those adorable Children of the Promise Neighborhood! I never tire of boasting about the Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood, a cradle to career initiative based on the Harlem Children’s Zone model.  It’s footprint is the Hudson City School District, which in addition to the City of Hudson, covers parts of six other Columbia County towns, many quite rural. The Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood is one of only a handful across NY State and it has been a remarkable force for community, opportunity, social change, creativity and good, here in Hudson.

So with treasures like these, as well as a wealth of arts and cultural talent; new wineries, craft distilleries and breweries; glorious viewsheds, world class farms, compassionate service organizations, and very cool people, you can understand why it has been a true joy to represent the beautiful, innovative and historic 106th District in the NY State Assembly!

I embark on my third full term in government at a particularly strange and unsettling moment for our country, state and region. While I am, of course, happy to have won on November 8th, I am also haunted by the sharp divisions not only in our country, but also in this district.  Hillary Clinton won the two counties I represent,  but only by the smallest of margins. Donald Trump won a great many of the towns in my district.

Like you, I fret over the policies being introduced by this new administration and how they stand to negatively impact both our country and our region in profound ways: Our majestic Hudson River, finally regaining its health after decades of abuse, is at serious risk of spills and explosions from an increase in rickety oil trains, overloaded barges and unsightly anchorages as a result of what appears to be a newfound commitment to fossil fuels.

We all know the high costs and the havoc that would result from repealing the Affordable Care Act, especially with not replacement plan.  In addition, both Upper Hudson and Mid-Hudson Planned Parenthoods, targeted for defunding, are the primary health care providers for thousands of women and men in our communities — college age and older —  providing birth control, testing for sexually transmitted infections and screening for breast cancer. In fact, most federal funds to Planned Parenthood are simply reimbursements through Medicaid for services to low income patients.

Our Hudson River Valley was home to Frederic Church, Thomas Cole and America’s first major art movement and vital and vibrant organizations, colleges, libraries, museums and public radio stations throughout the region depend on the National Endowments for both the Arts and Humanities for support. Eliminating these endowments, as has been threatened, would have a devastating impact on the creative, cultural, social and intellectual environment — much greater than the savings of less than $300 million on the federal budget.

And the targeting of immigrants and unimaginable threats to religious freedom strike at the very core of who we are.  Our region was settled by immigrants seeking these freedoms: Dutch and German farmers — the names of our towns tell their story. Our cities and villages were built by Italians and Irish, and African Americans escaping the Jim Crow South; now our neighbors may be from Bangladesh, the Caribbean, India, Mexico, South or Central America. We also know that Women’s Rights and LGBT Rights and Disability Rights are all Human Rights.  Our diversity is what truly makes America great and I believe most Americans value that. I, for one, will never give up fighting for those Four Freedoms our own President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke so eloquently about on January 6, 1941.

If the empowering marches many of us joined in last weekend were any indication, women and men of all ages and all ethnic backgrounds are ready to stand up to fight for OUR America.  I’m thrilled that some half dozen young women have said to me in the last two months: “I feel like I need to run for something!”  Yes!!! Do it!

I love that throughout my district small groups of neighbors are gathering, strategizing and studying the “Indivisible” play book for next steps.  As Gloria Steinem said, “sometimes just pressing “Send” is not enough.”  President Obama challenged in his Farewell Address — “Show Up  Dive In!”   And I would add: Be prepared to stay in it!  This is not a time to expect quick fixes.

Earlier this week, a friend said about today: “I hope that in your remarks you will tell us about accomplishments you are proud of — women never talk about their own accomplishments,” she said. So, here are a few:

I am very proud that in just four years in office, we introduced 24 bills that were signed into law.  Several specifically effect our local communities like creating inland waterway status for local creeks to make them eligible for public funding.  Others have statewide implications: In one, we improved health care options for Lyme and tick-borne disease patients and another made early screening for breast cancer much more accessible.  I’m especially excited about a new bill we introduced just last week which is truly groundbreaking.  Our Carbon Farming Bill would create a tax credit for farmers who engage in practices to sequester carbon, or put carbon back into the soil; these include no-till systems, planting cover crops, managing compost application and planting more trees in pastures.  This work is being done by pioneering farmers in our region and this bill would make NY the first state to use this “carrot” rather than “stick” approach to carbon — supporting and incentivizing our farmers while helping the state reach its climate goals.

I am proud of being a strong and effective advocate for this region.  From my first months in office, I have brought the resources of the State to our communities. First it was a panel of state commissioners and emergency services who met with 300 Columbia County residents at the West Ghent Fire House right after the terrifying TCI fire in 2012. Then we convened several dozen county commissioners and mental health providers working with schools, seniors, veterans and the substance abuse community to discuss shrinking local mental and behavioral health services with the Chair of the Assembly Mental Health Committee. And over the last two years, we addressed aging in a pair of community roundtables with state leaders — one on Aging as a Woman’s Issue and the other on Aging in Place in a Rural Setting. And every March for Women’s History Month we produce a booklet telling the stories of 10 women from our two counties who have changed history.

I am also proud to be a passionate proponent of our local farmers. I have made sure my NYC colleagues understand that it is our small and midsized Hudson Valley family farms that feed their constituents every week through Farmer’s Markets and CSAs, so they, too, need to be concerned about our issues: Farmland preservation, clean water and healthy soils, or transitioning the next generation of young farmers. Recently I began working with members of the NY City Council to secure funding in the city’s budget to protect Hudson Valley farms, ensuring a source of healthy fresh food for their communities, much the way they protect the NYC watershed.

I want to thank you again for your friendship and your continuing support.  This will always be a challenging district. I’ve already heard there is a fellow in Dutchess County making noises about challenging me in 2018.

But we are so blessed to live in this very special place. We know we have our work cut out for us as we fight for the values we share, the diversity and differences we have long celebrated, the natural resources we cherish and the history and culture we embrace. We also know it’s worth it.  I look forward to meeting up again at a Diner near you!

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Hugs as Criminal Justice Reform

Criminal justice reform can take many forms and include a range of policies: Raising the Age, sentencing and bail reform, revisiting solitary confinement, or increasing alternatives to incarceration, as in the new Stabilization Center in Dutchess County. It can also be something as seemingly small as allowing an incarcerated parent to touch, hug and kiss their child.


Typically, contact visits between incarcerated parents and their children might include a hug and kiss at the beginning of the visit, but then the rest of their time together is spent on opposites of a barrier. The Greater Hudson Promise Neighborhood (GHPN), in partnership with the Osborne Association’s NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, has developed a pilot program with the Columbia County Jail to allow incarcerated parents who are in good standing with the jail expanded bonding visits with their children with no barrier between them. This program is designed to help maintain the family connection during a traumatic time, alleviate the stress and anxiety a child may feel while their parent is incarcerated and reduce recidivism. Since these enhanced bonding visits with family are not open to every incarcerated parent – there is a screening process done by the jail administration – it incentivizes good behavior and creates a positive atmosphere inside the facility.

When a person is incarcerated it is easy to say “lock them up and throw away the key.” But when a person has children, that thinking ignores the trauma that incarceration, including the arrest and trial, has on an innocent child. Mom or Dad is still Mom or Dad to a child whether their parent is in jail or at home and those familial bonds remain vital. The mental and emotional well-being of children is severely impacted by the abrupt removal – sometimes in front of the child – and absence of a parent, as well as the stress and stigma associated with having a parent in jail. Because of this, the GHPN program includes more than just visits.

The GHPN, based on the Harlem Children’s Zone, utilizes a cradle to career model in the services it provides to Hudson City School District students, and layered within that model is the Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents. In addition to the jail visits, the program focuses on education and outreach; data collection which allows them to accurately analyze the impacts on this vulnerable population; advocacy for the rights of children of incarcerated parents; and mentorship programs.

This initiative is the result of a remarkable partnership. It took a local organization to notice and advocate for a hidden population and a county corrections system willing to be open-minded. Corrections officers had to be trained, a new space in the visiting room developed and trust established between the GHPN, Columbia County Jail, the CO’s, incarcerated parents and children. That may seem like a lot, but the impacts and results have been life-changing. While this initiative is currently only at the Columbia County Jail, I believe the model can and should be replicated across the state. If we are committed to breaking the cycle of incarceration and ending the enormous social, emotional and financial toll it takes on our communities, we must think “outside the box” and look to efforts like this innovative and compassionate program.


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Our Vets: How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm

At a recent Veterans Day commemoration in Ancram, the Hudson Valley musician/singer Mark Rust led the packed room in a rousing chorus of the World War I era song “How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (after they’ve seen Paris”).  

It was the perfect segue to remind those gathered that New York State is helping to encourage returning veterans to make their way to the farm — whether they come from a rural background or want to put down roots somewhere new.  Thanks to the advocacy of our office, the 2016-17 New York State budget includes $250,000 to establish the Veterans Farmer Grant Fund. This new program will provide support for returning veterans who choose agricultural work, covering costs that would otherwise not be paid by the GI Bill.

The goal of this initiative is to support veterans returning to New York through work in veterans-to-farmersagriculture while at the same time addressing the widespread need for a new generation of farmers to feed our families. The average age of a farmer today is 57 years old. Our state recognizes that there is a critical need to attract younger men and women to farming, especially as we are seeing a growing, unmet demand for locally and sustainably grown food. Returning veterans can be a natural fit to help fill this gap as farming is increasingly recognized as a therapeutic, rewarding, and community building pathway for veterans transitioning to civilian life.

In the Hudson Valley we know that agriculture is fundamental to who we are — it is our legacy and remains essential to our local economy. In the earliest days of our young nation, this region was the breadbasket.  Now the agricultural sector is diversified to include dairy, livestock, fruits, vegetables — and grains that may just as likely end up in a local craft beer or spirit as a loaf of bread.  

We, as a nation, did much to ensure the Greatest Generation was given the tools to succeed following World War II. After September 11, 2001, many men and women stood up to terror attacks and dutifully served our country, despite the ambiguous nature of the armed conflicts. New York State not only owes them a debt of gratitude, but should provide them, too, with the resources, opportunities and tools to succeed now. This Veterans Farmer Grant Fund is one such effort.

In addition to this grant fund, there are other initiatives helping returning veterans find careers in agriculture. Heroic Foods, right here in Columbia County,  is one such program.  Please share this information with any veteran you think might be interested and feel free to contact our Hudson office at (518) 828-1961 or our Poughkeepsie office at (845) 454-1703 for more information.

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Job Training Initiative to Preserve Historic Treasures

Along with stunning natural resources, the Hudson Valley has a rich cultural heritage. Our wealth of local, state and national historic sites contributes to the region’s growing status as a top tourist destination, while at the same time making it – as we all well know – a very special place to live and work.

Since these historic treasures are so ingrained in the fabric of the Hudson Valley, it is vital we do all we can to preserve them. With this in mind, my office has been developing a historic preservation training and apprenticeship initiative called Our Heritage/Our Future to help prepare the next generation of tradespeople and skilled artisans to restore and preserve state historic properties, as well as to work on the many other historic homes and structures that dot the region.

Our Heritage/Our Future began in our office after numerous meetings with local historic sites that revealed the need for skilled workers to repair and upkeep these sites. We discovered that even the New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) has difficulty finding qualified workers to repair their properties. SHPO shared that they regularly get calls from private property owners looking for recommendations for contractors who know about wooden windows, slate roofs, decorative plaster or other features found in older houses – and they rarely have names to suggest.

We began to reach out to local schools, contractors, carpenters and other stakeholders to start the conversation: How do we find, teach and train the next generation of skilled tradespeople to work on these historic properties? How do we also help them develop business skills so they can stay and raise their families here in our region, where it’s been difficult to retain young people.

There has been widespread and overwhelming support for this idea, especially among industry professionals. Old structures need constant repair and upkeep and both contractors and those who care for state historic sites would love to see more skilled workers trained to handle this work. Both have offered the opportunity for hands-on apprenticeships as part of the training.

To make this initiative a reality, our office has partnered with Dutchess BOCES and Dutchess Community College to develop a local program that could be expanded to other counties. This program would give students hands-on training in carpentry, masonry and woodworking at BOCES, while offering courses at DCC in regional history and cultural studies as well as business skills to help turn this know-how into a viable career.

As chair of the Assembly Subcommittee on Regional Tourism Development, I am committed to ensuring that our cultural and historic treasures are also key economic drivers for our region. In the past, learning a trade was a path to a good-paying job, a solidly middle-class lifestyle and the ability to grow a family and buy a home. Somewhere along the road we lost sight of the important role the trades play in our economy. Through this initiative we can re-energize these trades and attract a new generation to put down roots in the Hudson Valley – at the same time preserving these treasures of history for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

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