More Good News from Albany
At the beginning of the month, I wrote an op-ed for the Albany Times-Union challenging the conventional wisdom that the year's legislative session was largely a failure. I pointed out that on issues important to most current and aspiring middle-class New Yorkers, Albany has made significant progress: hundreds of thousands of low-income kids are becoming eligible for state health insurance, underserved schools are finally getting resources they've needed for decades, and new groups of employees are eligible to organize themselves for a fair deal at work. I argued that by minimizing these substantial policy victories for ordinary New Yorkers, we risk feeding into dangerous myths that nothing of substance is ever accomplished in the state capitol.
Now, of course, the papers are filled with even worse news out of Albany. The Spitzer Administration is mired in scandal, even as inquiries persist into allegedly improper behavior by Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and aides to former State Comptroller Alan Hevesi. One would be forgiven for thinking the political infighting had swamped any hope of progress or reform. Yet the fact is, a steady stream of little-heralded, but nonetheless promising initiatives continues to flow from the New York State government.
The New York Times today highlights a new state law that will allow people coming out of prison to be automatically enrolled for Medicaid benefits. This simple, common-sense measure will have a tremendous effect on the lives of former prisoners who are trying to get their lives on track after serving their time. See, for example, DMI Fellow Zeke Edward's great blog post describing how the risk of death among former inmates during the first two weeks after their release was 12.7 times that of other state residents, and a lack of health coverage and continuity of mental health care was a major reason. While the study looked at Washington State, the results are relevant to New York as well, and the situation will be improved by this legislation. But the new law will also impact the broader communities that prisoners are returning to, preventing the spread of infectious diseases and enabling former prisoners to get the drug treatment and mental health services they need will keep many of them from committing new crimes, inflicting more mayhem on their communities, and ultimately going back to prison.
Another piece of legislation traveling far under the radar would help any New Yorker injured in an accident. It closes a loophole that currently permits insurance companies to dodge payment of legitimate claims after an accident. It also includes provisions enabling injured parties to make an informed decision about whether to take their claim to court. While the legislation is highly technical, the effect on injured New Yorkers who will be able to get the payouts they deserve from their insurance companies is very real. The bill has been passed by the Senate and Assembly and Governor Spitzer is expected to sign it into law.
Finally, consider the legislation DMI Fellow Maureen Lane highlighted earlier this week, which would channel people receiving public assistance into jobs that would actually keep them out of poverty, rather than the seemingly endless series of dead-end positions. This bill, too has passed both houses of the state legislature and awaits Governor Spitzer's signature.
We cannot ignore the serious issues that the current crop of scandals raises about the use of public resources for political or private gain. We need a state government with integrity. But we also need one that gets things done for New Yorkers. And scandal-plagued as it is, Albany continues to deliver.