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NYS Civil Liberties Activists Aren't Giving Up on the Legislative Session Despite Lack of Action

Karen DeWitt

Progressive groups, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, say they are frustrated that action on left-leaning issues has stalled in New York in the final weeks of the legislative session.

They held a rally to get Democrats who lead the State Senate and Assembly to move faster on items like granting drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants and workers’ rights for farm laborers, and they are hopeful those measures will pass before the session ends on June 19th.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says the first legislative session to be run by Democrats in a decade has already seen many successes. They include passage of the Reproductive Health Act, which codified the rights in the landmark US Supreme court decision Roe v Wade into New York State law. Also, approval of the Dream Act, which grants access to college aid for the children of undocumented immigrants, strengthened voting rights, and bail reform .

“After decades and decades of being kind of do nothing- ish in the New York State legislature , we have a legislature that was elected to do something to fight for justice,” Lieberman said.

But she and other advocates say there is still unfinished business before the session ends, including what’s known as the Green Light campaign to permit undocumented immigrants to obtain standard driver’s licenses.

It’s time to reverse the ridiculously harmful and unsafe policy of denying people driver’s licenses based on their immigration status,” Lieberman said.

Other measures include granting more rights to farmworkers, like the right to collectively bargain and to be paid for over time work.

Students in the NYCLU’s teen activist project also spoke at the rally.

Anna Bedell, a high school student in New York City  spoke in favor of the Healthy Students Healthy Schools bill, which would mandate better sex education for the state’s teenagers.

Most of the time, the sex ed that we are taught is between straight, cys couples, when in reality many teens do not fit this narrative,” said Bedell. “Who do LGBTQ plus identified students go to when they have questions about their sexuality and relationships when the curriculum excludes them?”

Ben Rothstein spoke against the increasing use of identifying software technology in schools, saying students no longer have any “expectation of privacy”.

“I swipe my ID, so school administrators know exactly when I enter and leave. Cameras line the hallways, assiduously tracking my every move,” said Rothstein. “Despite my school having also no disciplinary incidents.” 

Rothstein and other teenagers at the rally support a bill that would ban facial recognition and other bio surveillance technologies out of public schools. He says there are better ways to ensure students’ safety.

Since the state budget was approved in late March, action  has stalled on a number of issues, including the drivers’ license and farm worker’s bills, as well as on legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use.  Supporters of  the measures say they have not given up hope. Lieberman says it might actually be a good sign that lawmakers seem to be deliberating and considering the bills more carefully.

“There’s still, as we go around and talk to people, a lot of energy and commitment to get things done,” Lieberman said. “And a lot of our issues are in play.”

After all she says, a lot can happen in the five weeks remaining in the session.