New NY Senate passes long-stalled LGBTQ protections, progressive bills

State Senator Brad Hoylman is congratulated by colleagues last week after two of his bills, GENDA and a ban on gay conversion therapy, are passed. (Photo courtesy of State Senator Brad Hoylman)

By Sabina Mollot

Last week, two LGBTQ rights bills that were long-championed by State Senator Brad Hoylman — and long ignored by what was a Republican majority until now — were finally passed. They included a ban on gay conversion therapy and GENDA (The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act), which expands the laws on discrimination to include gender identity and expression.

Additionally, the Child Victims Act, which would lengthen the amount of time victims of sex crimes have to file suits, was included in the governor’s proposed budget. The bill has seen some opposition from religious institutions, including schools and the Boy Scouts of America, and a story in the Times Union recently noted a potential loophole that could exempt public schools.

In response, Hoylman said while he is confident there is no such loophole, the bill will be reworked before it is reintroduced this legislative session to prevent there being any questions about this.

GENDA, meanwhile, is expected to go into effect within 30 days of being signed by Cuomo, while the gay conversion therapy ban would go into effect immediately. Part of the GENDA bill would go into effect in November to give local law enforcement agencies time to catch up and also make paperwork changes.

Considering how long these bills and other progressive measures Hoylman has pushed have been collecting dust, the state senator admits to having pinched himself more than once.

“I have a lot of sore spots on my person,” he said, chuckling. “It’s pretty wild.”

The governor also included Hoylman’s legislation to allow commercial surrogacy, which is currently outlawed in New York State, in his budget. The local law has meant that in order to expand his own family, Hoylman had to find surrogates in California. The senator has two young daughters with husband David Sigal, both via surrogates, seven years apart. Asked how this process complicated things as opposed to finding a local surrogate, Hoylman said his own experience required “a lot of logistical planning” and additional costs related to traveling to California.

“Flying across the country for medical appointments is not an easy thing to do, but you want to be there to support your surrogate,” he said. “To provide the kind of attention given the importance of the process.”

His bill however would only apply to what’s referred to as gestational surrogacy, which is when the surrogate uses eggs for the pregnancy that are not her own. In what’s referred to as traditional surrogacy, there is a genetic connection between the surrogate and the baby.

On district related issues, the governor has expressed support for congestion pricing, which Hoylman has also called for, saying it would bring in a few billion dollars for MTA funding. But costs still need to be worked out as well as other details, like possible exemptions for low-income and disabled commuters who don’t have the option of biking to work. Hoylman said he is also prioritizing increasing bus speeds (“Bus speeds are the slowest in the city in our senate district”) as well making improvements to bicyclist safety.

After a long push for voting reform, some of the state’s notoriously restrictive voting regulations have been lifted to allow for early voting of up to 10 days and portable voting registration (so voters who move within the state will be automatically registered at their new addresses). Additionally, state and federal primary elections will be combined to one election date in June and 16 and 17-year-olds will be allowed to pre-register.

“This is only the beginning,” said Hoylman, as far as getting long-stalled progressive laws passed. “Next we’ll be codifying Roe v. Wade, which is a long time coming.” (On Tuesday, following this interview, the Reproductive Heath Act was in fact passed by the State Senate.)

Additionally, last week, the legislature passed a measure to close the LLC Loophole, which currently allows nearly limitless financial contributions by shadowy limited liability companies to Albany’s elected officials.

As for rent regulations, Cuomo has reiterated an earlier commitment to strengthen the rent laws, which expire this June. Specifically, he mentioned supporting repealing vacancy decontrol, repealing preferential rent and limiting building and apartment improvement-based charges.

On this, Hoylman said he suspected the changes wouldn’t go into effect by the time the budget is supposed to be finalized in April.

“It’s too complicated to do in the next couple of months,” said Hoylman. “It’s a good message from the governor, but a lot of what the governor has in the budget may not be voted on in the budget. It may be voted on separately.”

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