There’s no getting around it: The COVID-19 pandemic made 2021 another tough year. My focus as your representative is finding ways to tackle this pandemic while preserving and rebuilding the Mohawk Valley economy. To that end, I passed legislation to protect jobs, help businesses grow, and secured critical funding to boost our schools and infrastructure. Between working with local business owners to better understand the problems they face, bolstering protections for nursing home residents and strengthening veteran rights, I’ve fought to make our community a better place to call home and helped ensure everyone has the resources they need during these trying times.
During the 2021 legislative session, I sponsored and passed a law that gives Vernon Downs Casino greater flexibility to use additional gaming revenues for operating purposes, protecting hundreds of jobs at the facility and the local racing industry (Ch. 143 of 2021). I also brought forward and passed a law that allows the Masonic Medical Research Laboratory in Utica to apply for financing from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) (Ch. 139 of 2021). To support our New York businesses looking to grow, I sponsored and passed the Marketing and Expanding Export Trade – New York (MEET-NY) Act, which would assist businesses that are looking to expand or enter the export market (A.1177). In addition, a bill I sponsored would commission research on antimicrobial materials, such as copper and silver, to help ensure that they are a feasible and cost-effective way to address public health threats (A.998-A). As we approach the 2022 legislative session, I’ll continue working to pass legislation to establish criminal and civil penalties for unlawfully disseminating a personal image, a measure that was crafted in honor of Utica resident Bianca Michelle Devins (A.1121).
It is vital to our state and our nation that we always support our service members, veterans and their families. My bill, which has been signed into law, allows the spouse or dependent of an active-duty service member who is assigned elsewhere after an assignment in New York to be deemed an in-state resident for the purpose of SUNY and CUNY tuition rates (Ch. 604 of 2021). Another law I helped pass will increase the number of veterans treatment courts in the state and allow criminal cases against veterans in counties without this type of specialized court to be transferred to neighboring counties that do (Ch. 91 of 2021).
Seniors and those with disabilities have been particularly affected by COVID-19, which is why I passed legislation that safely allowed visitation to resume at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and that designated October as Disability Employment Awareness Month (Ch. 89 of 2021; K.291). I also helped increase funding for schools that serve students who are deaf, blind or severely physically disabled, like the New York State School for the Deaf in Rome, by $2 million. Additionally, I secured $15 million for a new digital inclusion program to address the statewide digital equity gap and restored funding for numerous other student programs. This includes $250,000 for dyslexia screenings and a $500,000 increase for Independent Living Centers.
As we negotiated the state budget, I advocated for a spending plan to help our students thrive by providing $3.1 billion more in state funding for the 2021-22 school year over last year, including an increase of $1.4 billion for Foundation Aid, for a total of $19.8 billion. I also helped secure a total of $94.2 million in the state budget for public libraries, including $34 million for library construction grants. The budget also made smart investments into Mohawk Valley communities, including $538.1 million in funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) and $150 million for PAVE-NY, which is a $50 million increase over last year. Additionally, I introduced and passed legislation to maintain and increase Erie Canal tourism (A.7044, introduced in the Assembly, A.7045, passed the Assembly).
Throughout the year, I also remained active in our community while continuing to be a strong voice for our families in Albany. This included:
- coordinating farm tours for Assembly members from across the state as part of my efforts to support local farmers and connect upstate farms with the downstate market to increase access to food grown and produced in New York;
- hosting virtual and in-person town halls to stay connected with constituents and hear their thoughts and concerns during these difficult times;
- arranging several public recognition events throughout the year to thank and recognize first responders, food pantry workers, nurses and other essential workers who helped keep the community safe during the pandemic;
- organizing my second annual hat and mitten drive in coordination with the Utica Comets and the Utica City Football Club; and
- being appointed to the Committee on Education and the Joint General Government/Local Assistance Budget Committee.
And in June, I worked with New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli to host an unclaimed funds event and encourage community members to claim any money that’s rightfully theirs.
While we are working together to overcome this public health crisis, I’ll continue doing whatever I can to rebuild our state and ensure that the Mohawk Valley can thrive. I look forward to continuing our work in the upcoming legislative session. If you have any questions or concerns about the previous or upcoming legislative session, please feel free to reach out to my office at 315-732-1055 or ButtenschonM@nyassembly.gov.