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Assembly staffer Elizabeth Nostrand honored at legislative session

ALBANY -- It was just one of hundreds of bills approved amid the hubbub of the final week of the legislative session.

But after passing a measure regarding prematurely born babies, the State Assembly paused its proceedings briefly to honor the staffer who helped galvanize support for it but didn’t live to see it enacted: Elizabeth Nostrand, a St. James woman who died unexpectedly two weeks ago.

“She was the one who helped pull all of the bill’s concepts together,” said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), who choked up talking afterward about his late legislative director. “It really struck a chord with her.”

At issue is a bill that would mandate Medicaid coverage for the costs of donor breast milk, which is needed to treat prematurely born, very-low birth weight infants in instances where the mother isn’t producing sufficient breast milk. Lack of breast milk can result in “necrotizing enterocolitis,” a potentially fatal condition, said Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont), who sponsored the bill along with Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City). In a memo, they said just 1.5 percent of infants born in New York likely would be effected by the legislation. One of the conditions for eligibility is the infant must weigh 1,500 grams (roughly 3.3 pounds) or less.

Both houses approved the bill Wednesday.

The sponsors dedicated the bill to Nostrand, 57, who, according to Englebright, suffered a fatal heart attack and died May 31. After the Assembly gave the bill final passage late Wednesday afternoon, legislators stood and recognized Nostrand’s efforts with a round of applause.

Though Nostrand was part of Englebright’s staff for the last 12 years working on dozens of bills, she identified Solages as someone who “could be a particularly effective advocate” for the bill, Englebright said.

“We all trusted her judgment,” the assemblyman said. Solages became the primary sponsor, shepherding it through the Assembly.

The bill will go to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo later this year for signature or veto.

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