The bell drop for 2018 brought in a new year, but also brought with it a number of fairly progressive, controversial and some much anticipated new laws to New York. Many of the new laws went into effect on Jan. 1 this year and drastically affect families and youth living in Rochester.
Below are just a few of the biggest laws to hit New York this year, from the Family Leave Act to extensions of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.
Family Leave Act
One of the new laws to hit New York is the Family Leave Act, which provides around 6.4 million people with up to eight weeks of paid leave this year. The law went into effect Jan. 1, and will allow new parents of infants, foster and adopted children; people with a family member who has a serious health condition, and those assisting loved ones with family member on active military duty, paid leave to spend with their family.
Employees of most private employers working over 20 hours a week will be eligible for half their weekly wage with a cap of $652.96, funded through a percentage of employee wages. In 2021, this will increase to 12 weeks of paid leave with a weekly wage cap of 67 percent of their weekly wages, which will be capped at half the New York State average weekly wage. Only three other states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – require paid family leave.
Raise the Age
This is a much anticipated law, particularly since the unforgettable case of Kalief Browder. Browder a 16-year-old New Yorker spent several hundred days in solitary confinement at Rikers Island awaiting his trial for allegedly stealing a backpack. In 2018 New York will cease to be one of two states that automatically charge youth 16- and 17-years-old as adults. On Oct. 1 the age of delinquency will first increase from 16 to 17 years old, then finally fully phase in through on Oct. 1, 2019 when it’s raised to 18. Juveniles who commit nonviolent crimes will instead be sent to family court or family court-trained judges, and no one under 18 will be housed at Rikers Island, which will shut its doors in the next 10 years after media attention to Browder’s suicide in 2015.
“By raising the age of criminal responsibility, this legislation will reduce crime, recidivism and costs to the state, and help us deliver on the New York promise to advance social justice and affirm our core progressive values,” Governor Cuomo said at the signing of the law on April 10, 2017.
There is some opposition to the bill; many believe the shift should be automatic, and that the language of the bill could allow some juveniles to still be housed in adult facilities or jails. Additionally, it’s up to counties to budget the process during the transition. This has long been a criticism of Cuomo who passes large progressive bills but then expects lower governments to foot the bill.
Minimum Wage Hike
As of Dec. 31, most hourly workers in the Rochester area saw their wages increase from $9.70 to $10.40, one of several steps in a minimum wage hike to $15 by 2021.
“If you work full time, you shouldn’t have to live in poverty – plain and simple,” said Cuomo at the announcement of the push in 2015. “Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour will add fairness to our economy and bring dignity and respect to 2.2 million people, many of whom have been forced to live in poverty for too long.”
There is an ongoing fight across New York State to get the minimum wage up to $15 across the state. Activists argue this wage allows people to be more self-sufficient and actually meet the financial needs they face. The wage hike hasn’t come without criticism; several Mark’s Pizzeria closed stating the increase in wages drove them to closing. A Skaneateles Mark’s Pizzeria changed it’s name to Mike’s Pizzeria to avoid the wage hike.
Runaway and Homeless Youth Act
This extension of the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, increases the age homeless youth can receive services from 21 to 25-years-old through a definition change for “homeless youth” in the law. This means individuals who are homeless under the age of 25 can be placed in transitional housing. It also means homeless youth and youth in crisis can receive services from runaway programs until they are 25, up from 16-years-old and 21-years-old respectively.
According to the text in the law, the change is on par with federal initiatives and follows states like Massachusetts, California, Texas, Minnesota and Washington, all of which have changed the age of homeless youth to 24 in the last several years. The change recognizes that many young adults simply aren’t ready to be self-sufficient at 21 and many are left to their own devices- which can result in assault or other harmful activities.
“Many homeless youths in New York State between the ages of 21 and 25 are afraid to access adult homeless shelters provided by the Department of Homeless Services (DHS),” the text of the law states. “These youths report experiencing violence and harassment in the adult shelters currently offered by DHS. The fear of violence, bullying and sexual assaults in adult shelters causes these youths to brave the uncertainty and safety risk of sleeping in the streets and in the subways.”