New Year’s Policy Goals at the New York City Bar – by Carey R. Dunne

The new year is often a time for people to reflect upon personal and professional goals. It is no different at the New York City Bar Association, and I would like to take this opportunity to share with you our policy goals and resolutions for City Hall, Albany and Washington in 2014.

This year brings New York City a new Mayor – its first in 12 years. Recognizing that this is a pivotal time for our city, this past spring we held a forum for the candidates and issued a report, “Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor,” so that we could weigh in, during the campaign season, on issues of importance to our committees. The report, representing a collaborative effort of 27 committees, was also designed to serve as our primary platform for goal-setting and advocacy over the first several months of the new mayoral administration.

In the report we recommended, among other things, that the new Mayor encourage and empower City residents and commuters to reduce their carbon footprint; remove barriers to access faced by New Yorkers in need of subsistence benefits; reform the teacher disciplinary hearing process; support programs and initiatives to assist the tremendous number of unrepresented litigants in civil cases affecting housing, jobs and consumer debt; champion policies to reduce crime recidivism; strengthen the City’s commitment to punishing perpetrators of human trafficking; strengthen the foster care system and promote greater child wellness; and study how to create a rational and fair property tax system. We also urged that the new Mayor maintain the merit-based independence of his judicial appointments to City courts, including by continued reliance on evaluations by our own Judiciary Committee, and I am pleased to report that Mayor Bill de Blasio has agreed to do so.

Over the coming months, with the assistance of the New York City Affairs Committee, we will communicate these and other recommendations to the new governmental leadership in the City: Mayor de Blasio, Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Corporation Counsel Zachary Carter, and other newly appointed policymakers, so that the City Bar can project its public voice in the most effective way possible.

In Albany, 2013 brought quite a bit of negative press regarding certain state lawmakers, but our hard work paid off as we saw 15 bills supported by our committees pass both houses of the legislature. Through our committees, we issued 77 new legislative reports, updated and reissued 27 reports, and proposed four new bills. These reports provide the basis for our 2014 state legislative agenda. Here is a sample of what we’ll be working on: supporting legislation that would bring public campaign financing to New York and institute stronger ethics laws; supporting legislation that would allow properly certified patients to gain easy access to medical marijuana that meets standards for growth and sale under the law; updating New York’s Uniform Commercial Code; supporting the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act so that gender identity and gender expression are included as protected classes under the New York Human Rights Law; supporting efforts to update the sex offender risk assessment tool; protecting the inheritance rights of posthumously conceived children; and analyzing and speaking out against legislation that would lessen consumer protections vis-à-vis questionable debt collectors, payday lenders and so-called budget planners.

Our committees have drafted four bills that we will try to advance in Albany. The first would clarify and expand the category of claimants under the Unjust Conviction and Imprisonment Act so that individuals are not unreasonably barred from bringing claims; the second would allow assignment of counsel for the purpose of preparing vacatur petitions on behalf of trafficking victims so that previous prostitution convictions can be removed from their criminal records; the third would create a statewide program to provide mortgage bridge loans to homeowners under certain circumstances; and the fourth would amend the Arts and Cultural Affairs Law to better protect art authenticators against frivolous lawsuits. We are in the process of working with the drafting committees to create and carry out effective advocacy campaigns for these measures.

Finally, among our many efforts on the federal level, we continue to advocate in Washington to limit the effects of the sequester and other budget pressures on funding for legal services for the poor and on funding for the federal court system. We have also advocated extensively for meaningful immigration reform, working with both houses of Congress, and have advocated for legislation ranging from providing more presidential authority in the relocation of Guantanamo detainees, to opposition to the Defense of Marriage Act, to opposing legislation that would limit states’ ability to regulate the manufacture of agricultural products. In the regulatory area, our financial services committees continue to monitor and comment on implementation of the Dodd-Frank and JOBS Acts.

We will keep you updated on all of these efforts, as well as on any new issues that arise, as the year progresses.

Carey R. Dunne is President of the New York City Bar Association