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New laws for 2020 aim to help some immigrants, farmworkers

Members of the New York state Senate discuss

Members of the New York state Senate discuss legislation in the Senate Chamber at the state Capitol on June 20 in Albany. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — Two of several new laws effective Jan. 1 are aimed at helping people in the country illegally make their American dreams come true.

The Sen. Jose Peralta New York State Dream Act is a $27 million program to provide college financial aid to immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children.

After years of fierce, partisan fighting in Albany, the Dream Act was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Democratic majority of the State Senate. It will provide those immigrants with access to state financial aid available to other students and will allow their families to save for their education with the state's College Tuition Savings Program. 

"This essential piece of legislation will create new pathways to higher education for our bright undocumented students who form an important part of our American family," said Sen. Luis Sepúlveda (D-Brooklyn), who sponsored the bill. "Through the Jose Peralta New York State Dream Act, our shared American dream becomes a reality for thousands of deserving young immigrants.”

Another new law adopted in a year featuring many victories for progressive Democrats now in control of the State Legislature is a watershed moment for the labor movement.

The Farmworkers Fair Labor Practices Act will provide laborers — many of them immigrants who are hired on dairy farms, produce farms and vineyards — with many of the basic rights of other workers. The act authorizes farmworkers to join unions, receive extra pay for overtime work, enjoy a day of rest and receive disability insurance and unemployment benefits.

The law also includes a sanitary code for housing provided to laborers. Farmworkers long have been carved out of labor laws because of heavy lobbying by the agriculture industry. The measure in different forms has languished in Albany for 20 years.

The law's sponsor, state Sen. Jessica Ramos (D-Queens), said the act will improve the lives of the 80,000 to 100,000 farm laborers who are part of the state's multibillion-dollar agriculture sector.

"We are correcting a historic injustice, a remnant of Jim Crow era laws, to affirm that those farmworkers must be granted rights just as any other worker in New York," Ramos said after the vote earlier this year.

Other major laws effective Jan. 1 will use tax credits to encourage television producers to hire women and minorities and require insurance companies to cover contraceptives at no charge for customers.

A new $5 million tax credit aims to encourage the hiring of women and minority writers for television by companies already benefiting from the state’s $420 million tax break for TV and movie productions done within the state.

One writer hired under the program could mean a $150,000 tax credit for the production company. Overall, the new tax credit could equal 30 percent of qualified salaries.

Another measure effective Jan. 1 will require health insurance providers to cover all contraceptive drugs, devices, sterilizations, emergency contraception and products approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Health care providers will also have to cover follow-up services and counseling, all without requiring copays.

A religious employer could request an insurance policy without coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives if they conflict with the employer’s religious beliefs.

Another new measure,

Brianna’s Law, will require all boaters to take safety courses to combat the more than 200 boating accidents a year. The law is named for 11-year-old Brianna Lieneck of Deer Park, who was killed in a boating accident in 2005.

Brianna's Law will require all boat operators 10 years old and older to take an eight-hour course on boater safety. The course costs $29.50. Previously, state law required safety courses only for boaters born after May 1, 1996.

“If it avoids one accident, it’s worth it. If it saves one life, it’s worth it,” said state Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford). He sponsored the bill that was fueled by the emotional testimony of parents whose children died or were injured in boating accidents.

“They are the real heroes of this bill,” Brooks said in an interview.

Brooks recalled years in which the measure failed to gain approval.

“What do you say to somebody? The delay in passing this legislation victimized them several times over,” Brooks said.

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