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.

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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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Fighting for Health & Mental Health

As a mother, the health and well-being of my family is always a major concern. So, as the 2016 Legislative Session came to a close last week, I was especially gratified to shepherd, support and pass several initiatives that will work to improve health and mental health outcomes for the people of my Assembly District. mental-health

Whether it is a mother, sister, daughter, friend, or yourself, too many of us know someone who has been affected by breast cancer. Early detection is key to fighting this disease and we sponsored and passed legislation that would remove the obstacles of cost and inconvenient hours that keep too many women from getting mammograms. By expanding hours at hospitals and clinics and removing co-pays, women will have better access to potentially lifesaving services that detect breast cancer at an early stage when treatment is most effective.

This session we continued our battle against Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses, an epidemic that has disproportionately impacted our beautiful Hudson Valley region. Legislation we authored and passed increases awareness and focuses on efforts to curb the spread of Lyme disease. Specifically, these bills provide students and teachers with age-appropriate instructional materials, educate the public about simple prevention methods and create guidelines to help residents keep ticks away from their home and property.

The Legislature and governor agreed last week on a package of bills that address the devastating heroin and opioid epidemic that has reached crisis levels in the Hudson Valley and the state. The package includes limiting opioid prescriptions, increasing access to treatment and supporting recovery services. While these are all positive steps in this daunting fight to save lives and curb addiction, much more needs to be done and significantly more resources allocated, especially to support long-term recovery programs and treatment services. I will continue to fight for those resources.

I have long believed that significantly more attention and resources must be focused on mental and behavioral health. I was pleased to provide Dutchess County with $1.5 million in the state budget to support reforms to the criminal justice system that focus more on mental health, drug addiction and special populations. This funding will not only help better serve a vulnerable population, but I have assurances from County Executive Molinaro that these funds will enable the county to reshape mental health services as a model for counties across the nation, while also providing needed tax relief.

While we were able to deliver important funding and legislation that impact the health and well-being of our communities, there is clearly more to be done at the local, state and federal levels.  For one, mental and behavioral health must be treated with the parity it deserves in policy, training and funding across the board; and efforts to eliminate the stigma associated with these conditions, including addiction, demand a major public education campaign. To share your thoughts on these and any other issues, please email our office at barrettd@assembly.state.ny.us.

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On Eleanor Roosevelt and Memorial Day

I gave the following remarks at the War Memorial in Hyde Park, NY on Memorial Day 2016.

Thank you for inviting me to join you today to share in the 2016 commemoration of Memorial Day. As you may know, this holiday began in the late 1860s and was first known as Decoration Day, a day set aside in communities across the country to decorate, with flowers and flags, the graves of those who died in the Civil War. It continued as a day to remember and honor our war dead, but it was not until 1971, that Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. That followed the 1966 naming of Waterloo, NY, which had recorded it’s first observance in 1866, as the official birthplace of Memorial Day.

Having the honor of speaking in Hyde Park today, my first instinct, as it so often is, was to look into what former First Lady and personal heroine Eleanor Roosevelt had to say about Memorial Day. What I found was a number of wonderful “My Day” essays, the series of newspaper columns she published six days a week from 1935 to 1962. However, one especially remarkable column written exactly 70 years ago today — on MAY 30, 1946– speaks as clearly to us today as it must have when it was written.

Seven decades ago today, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote: “This is the first Memorial Day since the end of the war in the Pacific and yet in spite of that fact, many people will say to themselves on Memorial Day: “The world does not seem to be at peace as yet.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

“In this country there will be parades and we will visit graves and cemeteries where lie those who have died for their country in previous wars, and most of us will pray that these years of restlessness may pass and that peace may come again to the world as a whole. I hope, however, that we will do more than pray, because it is going to require a great deal of work … to make of our own country the kind of a country which can … lead the world in its struggles to a peaceful future.

Seventy years ago, she wrote: “When we visit the graves of our soldiers in this country I hope we will think of the cemeteries all over the world where lie our men who died both in this world war and the last, and I hope the panorama of names representing every nation in the world will recall to us that in the United States, our citizens are citizens of the world.

Seven decades ago, she wrote: “We have no room in this country for racial prejudice because our people come from every race and were brought together by an idea — and are made strong as a nation by the fact that we believe in certain democratic ideals.

“There is no room in this nation for religious prejudices either. Men of all races and religions fought the war and died side by side. The men who came back and are now struggling together to make the peace, have a right to equal economic opportunity, to equal justice before the law and to equal participation in our government.

Seventy years ago she wrote: “We are all citizens of the United States and as such dedicate ourselves on Memorial Day to an effort to give to all our soldiers the returns that they are entitled to for the sacrifices which they have made.

“As far as possible, we must insist that our government try to give them the housing and the education which we promised them and then forgot to plan for. Our government must see to it that they have jobs, and above all, that medical care which they may need for many years to come, is available at all times.

And seventy years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote this: “On this Memorial Day too, we might remember to shed a tear for the women in other lands who mourn their dead and their sacrifices, and who perhaps have less cause for hope of better things in the near future than we have. Let us on this Memorial Day hold out a helping hand to all women throughout the world and agree to cooperate with every agency of our government so that another Memorial Day may see us all more securely established in a peaceful world.”

How powerful and how very timely to hear those words written seven decades ago by the former First Lady and human rights activist: “We have no room in this nation for racial prejudice and religious prejudice.”

How prescient to remind our government what we owe to returning veterans — and to recognize government’s failure to this day to prepare adequately for Housing, Education, Jobs and Medical Care for those men and women returning from active duty. I would add that we need to do a better job, as well, providing Mental Health Care for our veterans and their families.

How sensitive to understand the challenges that women across the globe struggled with seventy years ago and how heartbreaking to know that too much hopelessness remains today.

As we pause to remember those men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, as well as their families and friends who NEVER forget them, let us also remember the hope of Hyde Park neighbor, Eleanor Roosevelt: “That another Memorial Day may see us all more securely established in a peaceful world.”

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Women’s History: Ten Hudson Valley Stories

Girls growing up today have to look hard to discover the stories of women and girls who came before them. Often primary research is required — seeking out long hidden diaries and well-creased letters, interviewing elderly relatives and neighbors, sleuthing over the handwritten notes on the backs of fading photographs. Women’s stories of bravery, dedication and triumph may be shared in family lore, but they rarely make it into history books and official records.2016 Wms Hist

Equally rare are portraits of these women, especially as we go back in time. For example, there is no known image of Madam Catheryna Brett, a successful 18th century businesswoman whose gracious Dutch-style homestead in Beacon is the oldest existing house in Dutchess County.

Over the centuries, many extraordinary women lived in or traveled through the historic Hudson Valley region, their marks forever inscribed on our nation. Margaret Beekman Livingston bravely carried her family through the Revolutionary War, persevering even when British troops burned her house to the ground. After rebuilding Clermont, now a NY State Historic Site, she went on to host President George Washington and First Lady Martha Washington at her Hudson River home.

One of the 20th century’s major literary figures, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, made Austerlitz her home the last 25 years of her life and her estate, Steepletop, where she is buried, has become a much-loved destination. Pioneering scientist Maria Salmon Mitchell became the first woman astronomer in America and the very first faculty member hired by Vassar College. And more recently, civil rights activist Cecelia Magill led the effort to end employment discrimination from her base in Poughkeepsie.

In celebration of Women’s History Month 2016, I am proud to present our third annual volume, Women’s History in the Hudson Valley: Ten Stories from Columbia and Dutchess Counties, which captures the historic narratives of ten remarkable women who made their homes in Dutchess or Columbia counties. They were artists, activists, scientists and educators. Their stories are part of our region’s history, New York State’s history and American history. Their stories are our stories.

We are pleased to again work with the Mid-Hudson Library System, local school districts and school librarians during Women’s History Month to distribute our booklet.  We thank them for their help and encourage you to stop by your local or school library to pick up a copy and read about the extraordinary lives of these women. Please share these stories with a girl in your life. Girls growing up today deserve to know the important role that women have played throughout our history.  Also, please share the stories of historic women from your community with our office for future volumes!

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