By Bill Parry
As lawmakers returned to Albany for the new legislative session Monday, state Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) announced she was appointed to head the powerful Administrative Regulations Review Commission by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. The commission is a bi-partisan watchdog over every state agency’s rules and regulatory activities to make sure they are legal and effective.
State agency regulations and rules have the force of law and dictate how an agency carries out its mandate. This can and does have a powerful impact on small businesses, on people from all walks of life and on the economic and environmental health of communities, according to Simotas.
“It is an honor to serve as ARRC’s chair and I thank Speaker Heastie for this appointment,” she said. “My goal as chair is to make sure that state agency rules are rational and that agency operations serve the public interest, not special interests or administrative convenience.”
It is also the job of the commission to weigh in when agencies’ rule-making is done unfairly, without consulting stakeholders or is done in a manner that hinders public comment. The commission’s work touches virtually every state agency and program.
ARRC will closely monitor changes happening in Washington, D.C. under the Trump administration. Simotas believes the new administration could have far-reaching effects on New Yorkers.
“I will work to ensure that New Yorkers do not suffer the consequences of ill-advised policy changes coming from federal agencies,” she said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) introduced legislation Wednesday that would add immigration status to the list of protected classes in the state’s human rights and civil rights laws. Gianaris’ proposal would make it a violation to discriminate against a person based on their immigration status and would expand current civil remedies for bias-related crimes to include those targeted due to their immigration status.
“Immigrants are under siege like never before and we have an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of those who came to our country seeking a better life,” said Gianaris, whose own parents came to the United States from Greece.
New York’s human rights law protects people from a wide range of discrimination on the basis of age, race, sexual orientation and gender among other categories. The law provides a remedy for those discriminated against in the provision of several services, including but not limited to housing, employment and public accommodation. Current civil rights law, which would also expand to include immigration status under this legislation, provides the opportunity for victims of hate crimes to bring civil actions against their attackers.
“With our president-elect threatening to deport millions of immigrants who came to America to build a better life for themselves and their families, this bill is one way to resist the hate and stand up for a free New York,” New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.
Following the election, documented incidents of hate crimes, harassment and intimidation soared throughout the country as well as in western Queens. Gianaris joined civil rights groups to condemn hate crimes.
Steven Choi, the executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition, commended Gianaris on introducing the bill calling to include “immigration status” in the definition of “national origin” in anti-discrimination law.
“Given the current political climate that has been marked by an increase in hate crimes, it is more important that ever that we ensure that New Yorkers, including undocumented New Yorkers, legal permanent residents, visa holders and others, are equally protected,” he said.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr