A slew of new laws took effect when the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1.
Sweeping progressive reforms by lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo came after Democrats took full control of the state government from the Republicans in the 2018 general election.
In addition to highly-publicized bail and discovery reform, adoptees can now access birth certificates and minimum-wage earners will see a 70 cent hourly increase in pay.
Criminal justice reform
Beginning Jan. 1, defendants charged with most misdemeanors and class E felonies will no longer have to provide cash or bond to the court and will be released from jail while awaiting trial. The change is meant to no longer penalize poverty-stricken defendants who cannot afford bail.
Instead of bail, a defendant can be released with a variety of other conditions such as travel restrictions, being prohibited from owning firearms, being required to have frequent check-ins with probation and wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet, which can limit the distance the defendant travels and includes a curfew.
On Tuesday, the Columbia County Bail Fund announced on its Facebook page it would temporarily stop seeking donations as it is in discussions about its future as a result of the reforms.
“I feel very good that our agency is prepared for these changes,” State Police Capt. David Kolb said in a recent interview.
Changes to discovery reforms mean information collected by authorities as a result of the arrest must be presented to the defense within 15 days.
“[With] regard to these new changes, our agency got out in front of it early,” he said. “The superintendent convened a working group in Albany and they worked tirelessly on this... not only our division counsel office. And they’ve taken input from the field. From where I sit, we are as prepared as we can be going into the new year.”
District attorneys and other law-enforcement officials have made headlines in the past several months for speaking out against the reforms. While many law enforcement officials acquiesced they are in favor of criminal justice reform, they are concerned about releasing victim contact information to the defense, that judges will no longer be able to assess flight risk, that they will have to track down defendants, and possible risks to public safety in cases where defendants are released in alleged cases of burglary, assault or aggravated harassment.
New Jersey, which enacted laws similar to New York, has experienced no significant increase in the number of defendants failing to appear in court, according to a report by The Washington Post News Service. But, unlike New Jersey, New York will not have hearings to assess whether it is safe to release a defendant.
Among several voting reforms that took effect in 2019, including early voting, 16- and 17-year-olds will now be able to pre-register to vote before they turn 18. Once a New Yorker turns 18, they will be automatically registered to vote after pre-registering. However, pre-registration does not change the voting age, which remains 18.
Adoptees can get birth certificates
A new law going into effect Jan. 15 will allow adoptees to access their birth certificates after turning 18. The measure will allow adoptees to ascertain information about their biological parents and medical history.
As part of the 2016-17 state budget, Cuomo signed legislation enacting a statewide $15 minimum wage plan, which would affect more than 2.1 million workers statewide. In upstate New York, workers will see their minimum wage increase 70 cents, from $11.10 to $11.80 per hour.
Safety requirement for boat operators
Those born in 1993 or later are now required to take a safety course to operate a motorboat in New York as part of “Brianna’s Law.” All age groups will eventually be required to take the course by 2025. Previously, only those born after May 1, 1996, were required to take the course before operating a boat.
Gina Lieneck advocated for the law after her 11-year-old daughter, Brianna, died in a boat crash off Long Island in 2005.
Expanded rights for farm workers
New labor laws enacted for farm workers include the ability to unionize, an 8-hour work day, and time and a half in overtime pay after 60 hours. Workers would also be entitled to a full day’s rest, but can choose to work a full week if they’re paid time and a half on the seventh day. Farm owners are not allowed to penalize workers for unionizing.
Faced with declining prices and federal trade disputes, the state’s Farm Bureau expressed opposition to the law, saying it would contribute to the decline of the state’s agricultural market.
To reach reporter Amanda Purcell, call 518-828-1616 ext. 2500, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or tweet to @amandajpurcell.