Taking the Oath of Office

My remarks after January 2019 Swearing In:

I want to thank each of you from the bottom of my heart for joining me, Alec, and my Team today to celebrate our — and I mean all of us when I say our — win in November.  Each of you, as you canvassed, called, rallied and recruited, helped bring us to victory in what was, yet again, a tough race in this truly challenging, “purple” district.

I am especially grateful to my friend and colleague in state government Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — a former member of the NY State Assembly — for joining us today to administer the oath of office and for his tremendous support throughout the campaign. Tom personifies what it means to be a public servant. And he “gets” the politics that allow us to be the public servants we want to be.  

Tom headlined our fundraiser at Love Apple Farm last year and rang doorbells with me in the dark that first week of November after daylight savings ended.  At that point he was pretty much ricocheting across the state as the closer for many tight legislative races in the Hudson Valley and Long Island — this he did even as he was running his own reelection campaign, which as you know, he solidly won.  

I will admit to you that four years ago after the 2014 election when I was ahead on election night by only 130 votes and ultimately won by a mere 500 plus votes in the end, Comptroller Tom Di Napoli greeted me in Albany on the first day of session with “If it isn’t  Landslide Barrett” and a big grin. While I was flattered — then just starting my second term — that the NYS Comptroller had followed my race that closely, this was not how I wanted to be known, and I vowed at that moment never to have such a close race again. And I am counting on all of you to help make sure that I never do!

Special thanks to my son Alec, who much to my delight shares my passion for public service and who is also representing my daughter Annabel, who is currently on set in LA shooting her second Indy film this year.  And thank you to my friend and colleague Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli of the 129th Assembly District, who generously made time throughout the campaign to drive, canvass and share his hard-earned wisdom, even with his own race this year.   

And thank you to my team — Tom and Pavan — who deftly alternated between keeping the district offices going and shifting into campaign mode throughout the long summer and fall; and welcome to Rebecca who has just joined our Legislative team after running Antonio Delgado’s Hudson operation this fall. Speaking of shifting into different modes,  thank you so much to Peter (of Columbia Land Conservancy fame) and Charlene Paden and The Wicker Creek Band for keeping our toes tapping. And to Patricia Jean, Michel Jean and the Stissing House staff for hosting us in this handsome and historic site.

Even now, as I launch my fourth full term as a member of the New York State Assembly, I  continue to believe that ours is one of the most beautiful districts in the state of New York. It may also be one of the “hippest districts” as a longtime lobbyist described it earlier this week.

I never tire of being a passionate advocate for our magnificent Hudson Valley region with it’s iconic cultural, historic, natural and agriculture resources; its picturesque viewsheds and engaged communities and it’s legacy of innovation and environmental activism.

I’m very proud to continue that environmental advocacy, working with extraordinary partners like Scenic Hudson, National Young Farmers Coalition and Riverkeeper to ensure we finally clean up and protect our historic Hudson River; keep our farmland in farming and accessible to the next generation of farmers; and battle the crisis of climate change by incentivizing agricultural practices that take carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the soil where it helps productivity.  I hope you saw that our Carbon Farming Act was one of “11 climate change policies to fight for in 2019” included in a terrific Washington Post piece last week.

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the 2018 campaign was the phenomenal activism that was unleashed not just in this region, but across the state and country. Fighting climate change, ending our dependence on fossil fuels, scaling up renewables — we need to to harness that activism and channel it now! Writer Alice Walker’s comment,  “Activism is the rent I pay for living on this planet,” couldn’t be more appropriate or timely.

This week as we returned to Albany, I assumed the chairmanship of the Assembly Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs. I am honored to be in a position to advocate for both our longtime military veterans and our younger returning service men and women and their families. I particularly look forward to pushing hard and publicly to erode the stigma that has kept Vets and their families from accessing critical mental and behavioral health services, as well as focussing greater attention on better supporting our returning Women Veterans.  

Just yesterday I attended the very moving military funeral of 36 year old Major James Brophy, born and raised in Dutchess County, father of two young children, who was one the six Marines killed in the aviation accident off the coast of Japan early in December. By the end of the service I felt I knew Major Brophy with his infectious smile and powerful work ethic. In an emotional eulogy, the commanding officer talked about “wanting to be part of something bigger than themselves,” as a reason some enlist and I couldn’t help but think that same desire motivates so many of us to engage in the things we do, whether it’s public service, activism, or joining the Marines.  

I have often said that one of my main reasons for running for office was that I wanted girls growing up to see that this is what an elected official looks like. To let them know that they too should be at the table when decisions impacting them are being made. When I was first elected to the New York State Assembly six years ago there were 36 women in the whole legislature.  This week we returned to a legislature with 70 women — 50 in the Assembly and 20 in the Senate and two women — Andrea Stewart Cousins and Crystal Peoples Stokes — both savvy and experienced and women of color — became the first female Majority Leaders in the Senate and Assembly respectively. Half the Committee Chairs in the Assembly are now women as are half the statewide elected officials — the Lt. Governor and the Attorney General. This, as I just became chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, a unique bipartisan, bicameral body.  I look forward to working with all my colleagues to explore and model how women govern and lead as we are now a State Legislature that is more diverse in age, gender and cultural backgrounds than ever in state history.

This diverse intergenerational body will pass the Reproductive Health Act this month, codifying rights that I personally have advocated for my entire adult life. We will pass Voting Reforms; we will pass GENDA; we will pass criminal justice and bail reforms and other important legislation. I hope we will also see our way to fund a robust Census 2020 program, particularly investing in our libraries to be navigators,  as New York State stands to lose at least two members of Congress and potentially billions in funding if we are undercounted.

I thank you again for joining us today and for your ongoing vote of confidence in me as your voice in Albany.  It is an honor and a responsibility that I never take for granted. As I gain more seniority and more leadership opportunities I am reminded of Gloria Steinem’s comment when asked about “passing the torch” to the next generation.

She said: “I explain that I’m keeping my torch, thank you very much — and I’m using it to light the torches of others.”

Thank You! Excelsior!


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Libraries Matter!

I was honored this year to be appointed Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Libraries and Education Technology. As a lifelong library fan, I have particularly delighted in working with the l6 local libraries in my 106th Assembly District–all part of the terrific Mid-Hudson Library System. 

The committee I now chair was created in 1997. It has jurisdiction over legislation affecting public, academic, school and private libraries. Its jurisdiction includes legislation affecting the administration and funding of libraries and library systems across the state and it helps libraries in sustaining and upgrading their infrastructure and staff resources.

Libraries Matter pic

New York State has over 7,000 libraries – some among the largest and the best in the country.  In fact six of the forty largest libraries in the United States are in New York, more than any other state.  New York’s largest library, the New York Public Library, contains over ten million volumes and is among the top research institutions in the world.

Libraries are an integral part of the education and cultural development of New Yorkers. They are also essential community hubs in rural regions like mine as well as urban areas where people are both in need of access to and increasingly isolated by technology. I am very aware that in challenging economic times libraries, in fact, play a more critical role in their communities, throughout the state.

Libraries today are some of our most forward thinking of institutions — think laboratories or “labraries.”  I know some of our libraries, as well as the NY Library Association are working on ways to not only be more sustainable, but to lead on sustainability.  This means not just energy efficiency and recycling, but also economic sustainability, empowered communities and social equity — libraries are arguably also our most democratic of institutions.  Our library systems are pioneers of shared services, adaptive reuse and the Think Local movement.

In more than two-thirds of New York communities, public libraries are the only source of free Internet access.  For many low-income families, the local library is the primary source of Internet access.  Without such access, many New York residents would find it difficult or impossible to have story time with their toddlers,  get through school, apply to college, find employment opportunities, file their income taxes, and become informed voters.

The recent repeal of federal rules that protect consumers’ unfettered access to internet content, has significant implication for libraries.  With the repeal of the neutrality rules, ISPs could charge more for content and/or for faster service for that content.  Libraries are already under tight budgets and the prospect of having to pay more for the access they currently have may be more than they can handle.  I see this as possibly the biggest statewide challenge for our library systems and I’m proud to co-sponsor legislation to codify net neutrality policies in NY State.

As we approach the 2020 Census, I also see a key role for libraries both in the planning and execution of the census process. The census count is transitioning from regular door-to-door outreach to survey citizens to now more people submitting their surveys online. This shift could very well disenfranchise both rural and urban communities, resulting in undercounts in immigrant communities and communities of color where there may be limited access to computers and the internet. In many of these neighborhoods and towns, libraries are uniquely positioned as a place of trust and accessibility and could well become the place to be counted.

As we continue working on the 2018-19 state budget you can be sure I will be advocating for increased funding for our libraries and recognition of the essential work they do in our communities. #LibrariesMatter






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Our Veterans: From Pearl Harbor to the Hudson Valley

As we gather on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month to honor our nation’s veterans, I feel privileged to share a very special experience I had when colleagues and I from the Veterans Affairs Committees in the NY State Legislature recently visited Pearl Harbor in the state of Hawaii.  We are just now coming to the end of a year of commemoration marking the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor and six other military bases on the island of Oahu — December 7, 1941 — a day that thrust a decidedly more naive America into World War II, changing our country forever. It is stunning to imagine what it must have been like to be on that idyllic Hawaiian island on a beautiful Sunday morning — whether you were in the service or a civilian — when the planes started attacking.  USS Arizona

Most moving of the sites we visited is the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the once mighty battleship sunk almost instantly during the Japanese surprise attack.  It is the final resting place of most of the 1,177 sailors and Marines serving on and killed on the USS Arizona that morning.  Additionally, we toured the USS Missouri, site of Japan’s formal surrender to the Allied Forces on September 2, 1945, ending World War II; and the Punchbowl National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, serenely located in a dormant volcano crater.  We also had an extraordinary visit to a Navy SEALS training site, where some of our boldest and bravest take part in some of the most grueling military exercises imaginable.

Visiting Pearl Harbor under these circumstances,  it was hard not to reflect back to my district and the remarkable 75th anniversary “Day of Infamy” exhibit recently at the FDR Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, which gave a behind-the-scenes peek at how President Roosevelt and his administration first learned about and then reacted to the Japanese attack halfway round the globe. On display at Pearl Harbor is President day-of-infamy-speech-draft-620Roosevelt’s famous “Day of Infamy” speech, in which he personally scratched out the words “world history” and wrote in the word “infamy” —  opening his speech to Congress with “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date that will live in infamy…”

In the spirit of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and their forward-thinking support for returning G.I.s following World War II, my team and I continue to look for meaningful ways to help our returning veterans reintegrate into the community after deployment. Some of this is through legislation and some through direct constituent service work.

In September, Governor Cuomo signed into law my legislation that strengthens the enforcement of property tax exemptions for veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan. The bill reminds assessors that the Persian Gulf conflicts referenced in the real property tax law include, but are not limited to, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn and Operation Inherent Resolve, ending unnecessary confusion and ensuring that these veterans get the exemptions they deserve.

I want to remind everyone of the $250,000 Veterans Farmer Grant Fund, which was first introduced in the 2016-17 New York State budget thanks to our advocacy, to provide support for returning veterans who want to start or resume farming.  Grants up to $50,000 are available to eligible veteran farmers who are looking to expand and innovate their production, covering costs that would otherwise not be paid by the G.I. Bill. The goal of this initiative is to support veterans returning to New York through work in agriculture while at the same time addressing the widespread need for a new generation of farmers to feed our families. To learn more about qualifications for this grant, check out this link:https://www.esd.ny.gov/new-york-state-veterans-farmer-grant-fund.

As an advocate for parity between mental/emotional and physical health resources and funding, I continue to explore ways we can help veterans manage PTSD, depression, and substance abuse.  I will soon introduce new Outdoor Recreation Heals legislation that would provides state grants for outdoor environmental, ecological, agricultural, and other “ecotherapy” programs as a new resource for veterans and others across our state battling substance abuse, mental and behavioral health issues.

The transition back to civilian life for military personnel and their families is an ongoing process. While we have made some strides for our veterans, there is still important work to do. Whether it is continuing our efforts to end veteran homelessness, increasing access to quality mental and physical healthcare, or eliminating sexual assault and harassment in the military, I will continue to fight for our veterans and their families.

As we thank our veterans, those who served and those who paid the ultimate price for our country, I share this short prayer that Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have kept always, in her wallet: “Dear Lord, lest I continue in my complacent ways, help me to remember that somewhere someone died for me today. And if there be war, help me to remember to ask, “Am I worth dying for?”

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New Yorkers not ATMs for Utilities

This op-ed is based upon the public comments we delivered to the PSC regarding Central Hudson’s proposed rate hike. 

I am honored to represent nine towns in Dutchess County in the state Assembly that are covered by Central Hudson’s gas or electric service. So, as the Public Service Commission (PSC) decides on whether to raise gas and electric rates for Central Hudson customers, I feel a responsibility to urge the PSC to be sensitive to the financial well-being of the Hudson Valley residents.

According to the PSC, gas and electric bills will each see increases of over $8.00 per month, which amounts to around $200 per year for a customer who receives both services from Central Hudson.

This amount is not insignificant for the many seniors who live on fixed incomes, for those not fully employed or under employed, or for residents who are part of still struggling rural towns. Therefore, I strongly encourage the PSC to be conscious of the impact this proposal would have on the household budgets of all ratepayers in our region.

There are some encouraging aspects of Central Hudson’s proposal. This includes the Low Income Discount Program which will provide much needed relief to fixed income and low income residents; replacing old and unsafe pipe is a necessary and important task and promoting energy efficiency with financial incentives to purchase lighting and modern heating and cooling systems is laudable.

Other pieces of the proposal – including devoting money to a new workforce training facility – raise questions. Surely, Central Hudson can accommodate the functions of this facility into existing space and spare the ratepayers this cost. The proposal to increase the frequency of tree trimming and right of way maintenance, which I understand to be a substantial cost and the largest driver of rate increases, is hard to accept for ratepayers who will then see more of their paychecks go to gas and electric bills. I urge the PSC and Central Hudson to take a hard look at this piece of the proposal and what impact it would really have on reducing service interruptions.

Further, New York state utility customers are subsidizing three nuclear power plants through charges to their utility bill, which will cost New Yorkers a whopping $1 billion over the next 2 years. This is effectively another rate hike that consumers pay as part of the delivery cost on their utility bills. The increase, which the PSC voted to implement, makes justifying Central Hudson’s proposal an even tougher pill to swallow.

Simply put, New Yorkers should not be viewed as an ATM for public utility companies, and it is up to the PSC to take a stand for families in the Hudson Valley.

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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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