Assemblywoman Buttenschon Hosts Virtual Town Hall to Update Mohawk Valley Residents on COVID-19 Measures, State Budget

Assemblywoman Marianne Buttenschon (D-Utica/Rome) held a virtual town hall meeting Thursday afternoon that addressed current state issues, including the COVID-19 outbreak and the recently passed 2020-21 state budget.

“As we face uncertain times, I want to assure Mohawk Valley residents that I’m always here to provide help when needed,” said Buttenschon. “While social distancing is keeping us from meeting face-to-face, one of my top priorities is to keep our families up to date on the latest measures my Assembly colleagues and I are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19, as well as how tax dollars are being spent. Thank you to all those who joined me this afternoon and I encourage everyone to keep reaching out with any questions they may have.”

During the meeting, Buttenschon discussed the local impact of COVID-19 and the measures the Assembly has taken to support New Yorkers during this difficult time. As of Thursday afternoon, there were 317 positive cases in Oneida County, 54 positive cases in Herkimer County and 263,460 cases statewide. The outbreak has affected every facet of New Yorkers’ lives and the Assembly has been working hard to provide help to those who need it and ensure vital services remain accessible, Buttenschon noted. Earlier this year, Buttenschon helped pass legislation that provides sick leave and other benefits to all New York employees directly affected by the coronavirus, including expanding paid family leave and temporary disability benefits (Ch. 25 of 2020). Buttneschon also helped secure $40 million in emergency funding to combat COVID-19 in early March.

Additionally, Buttenschon discussed the 2020-21 state budget, which, while it includes several measures that provide support for local communities and families, fails to properly invest in school districts across the state. The budget effectively freezes Foundation Aid at 2019-20 levels despite additional funding provided to the state by the federal CARES Act. The stimulus funding is being used to offset a planned cut in state support with the “Pandemic Adjustment” resulting in more than $3 million in cuts for Herkimer County school districts and more than $14 million for Oneida County school districts. The budget also gives the governor the ability to make periodic state budget adjustments throughout the year as the state deals with the effects of COVID-19, which could lead to additional funding cuts for school districts. Further, the budget authorizes the governor to close correctional facilities without legislative approval as he determines necessary for the cost-effective and efficient operation of the correctional system – a measure that could put the safety of our communities at risk, Buttenschon noted.

The final agreement, however, does provide funding for local communities to address infrastructure needs, including restorations to the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) and Extreme Winter Recovery, as well as clarifies family farm compliance with the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act. It also creates the Restore Mother Nature Bond Act, which needs to be approved by voters in November’s general election and would provide critical flood mitigation funding for the Mohawk Valley.

To help protect public safety, the state budget also included much-needed amendments to the bail and discovery reforms made in the 2019-20 budget, such as including additional crimes to the list of bail-eligible offenses, allowing bail to be set in some cases where there are repeated arrests and extending the time prosecutors have to provide initial discovery. Changes also gives more time to law enforcement to assemble surveillance footage when the material is voluminous and makes 9-1-1 calls and certain victim and witness information presumed confidential unless the court determines there is a need to share the information.

“The safety of our families should always be the top priority of our criminal justice system,” Buttenschon said. “The reforms made last year put our communities in jeopardy, while also putting undue pressure and hardship on law enforcement and prosecutors, making their jobs more difficult. While this year’s budget is far from ideal, the changes we made to these reforms is a step in the right direction toward protecting the well-being of all New Yorkers.”