Welcome to 2020 and the beginning of a new decade. Like most people, we are excited about the opportunities a fresh start brings to our individual lives, as well as the work. The 2010’s was a decade that brought us a lot of change. Some of it was really good. We were able to push the state legislator to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and some of it, like the election of Donald Trump, has forced us to take a deep look at the work we’re doing, and re-commit to doing the work that doesn’t just transform policy papers, but the lives of real people all across the state. As we step into 2020, we have some big fights ahead of us, but even bigger goals. Below is our vision for the 2020 legislative session.
After years of organizing, advocacy work and activism, the historic pretrial laws we won during last year’s legislative session finally went into effect on January 1. Thanks to these new laws, thousands of legally innocent people will be home with their families while awaiting their day in court and 43% fewer people will be incarcerated in New York’s county jails. By requiring district attorneys to turn over evidence sooner and eliminating money bail for most non-violent charges, the new bail and discovery laws will protect the pretrial freedom and constitutional rights of every New Yorker. “What we’re looking for is a true justice system that doesn’t target poor and marginalized people of color,” said Jamaica Miles, State Organizing and Training Director for Citizen Action of New York.
Less incarceration will help keep families together and make our communities safer. As state leaders head into the 2020 state legislative session, they need to prioritize the communities harmed most by systemic racism and mass incarceration. Lack of investment in our schools and communities has funneled more people into New York State’s prison system. The crisis of mass incarceration has disproportionately devastated Black, Brown and low-income communities. We need to invest in our communities and focus on expanding living wage jobs, quality public schools and housing for all.
New York State owes public schools $3.8 billion in Foundation Aid to meet the basic educational needs of students in high-need school districts, which are predominantly Black, Brown and low-income. We need to tax the rich to fully fund our schools. With adequate resources, schools will be able to provide students with the support services they need, expand access to enrichment programs, hire enough teachers to lower classroom sizes and make urgent building repairs.
School discipline policies — including suspensions, law enforcement referrals and youth detention — criminalize Black and Brown students and fuel the school-to-prison pipeline. By passing the Safe and Supportive Schools Act, schools would be required to implement a restorative approach to discipline and foster a healthy school community. The Rochester City School District is facing a budget crisis and plans to lay off more than 200 teachers and staff. The mid-year cuts would further deprive students of learning opportunities in a high-need school district, which is already owed $86 million in Foundation Aid from New York State. Every student deserves access to a quality education and supportive school environment.
In every corner of New York State, real estate developers are using predatory rent hikes and unjust evictions to force families out of their homes and neighborhoods. Housing instability and homelessness leads to worse education outcomes, threatens access to jobs and health care, and makes it difficult for families to set aside money for the future. And New York State is in a homelessness crisis, with the number of people experiencing homelessness increasing by 40 percent since 2010 under Governor Cuomo’s watch.
We’re calling on Governor Cuomo and state leaders for a #NYHomesGuarantee that recognizes housing as a human right. In a state as wealthy as ours, state legislators have the resources to end the homelessness crisis and provide a home for every New Yorker. State leaders need to stop arbitrary rent hikes and unjust evictions, invest in public housing — so families can have heat, hot water and a safe living environment — and create thousands of supportive housing units.
Winning a world that we want is possible. Together we can achieve our vision by fighting for social, racial, economic, and environmental justice in our communities. Join the movement for justice!