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State Legislature acts to combat child marriages, wage theft

ALBANY – The State Legislature raised the legal age for marriage to 18 years old to combat coerced child weddings, acted to continue to regulate commercial fishing off Long Island and protected construction workers’ wages, among several measures adopted this week.

The bills will be sent to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his signature or veto.

The marital measure was prompted by concerns over a 2017 law that, while raising the legal marriage to 18, allowed 17-year-old youths to marry as long as they had parental consent. The new law eliminates the exception for 17-year-olds.

Often child marriages result in youths dropping out of school and falling into poverty and some are forced marriages of girls, according to the bill sponsored by Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Brentwood).

The bill passed by the Senate and Assembly Wednesday cites studies that show that some women who marry young face a higher likelihood of physical and mental health problems and are more often subject to violence and coercive sex.

"The United Nations has declared child marriage to be abuse, mainly of women," Ramos told Newsday Thursday. "We attempted to do this some years ago and there were mixed feelings about it and it was negotiated down. It still permitted child marriage loopholes where a child could be coerced into marriage."

Another measure adopted this week protects construction workers who do their work, but are not paid by subcontractors.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate Labor Committee chairwoman Jessica Ramos (D-Jackson Heights), said the bill simply assures "an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work."

The measure will make general contractors on a project responsible for making sure workers employed by separate subcontractors are paid. If the subcontractor doesn’t pay its workers, the general contract would have to. The bill also provides general contractors with more oversight of subcontractors pay records to assure laborers are being paid.

The measure aims to "protect construction workers from the hundreds of millions of dollars that are stolen from them every year by unscrupulous contractors and subcontractors," said Ramos.

The state Business Council called the measure unfair to general contractors who have no control over subcontractors’ payrolls

"This dramatically shifts the blame from unscrupulous subcontractors to another segment of the industry rather than focusing on those best suited to investigate and enforce wage theft: The Department of Labor, New York State Attorney General’s Office, and local district attorneys," the business group stated. "This potential for liability would drive up the cost of doing business in New York state for this segment of the industry."

Labor leaders, however, called the passage "a monumental victory for working people."

"This legislation was all about putting the interests of working people ahead of those of unscrupulous contractors in the construction industry," said Gary LaBarbera, president of the New York State Building and Construction Trades Council.

The Legislature also approved bills to allow the state Department of Environmental Conservation to continue to regulate commercial fishing of scallops and monkfish, primarily off Long Island.

Monkfish, a deep-water fish, is a popular because of its tender, mild flavor. The state’s authority to regulate fishing of monkfish expires Dec. 31, but would be extended to 2024 under the measure co-sponsored by Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford).

The scallops bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown), would protect the resurgence of the delicacy found primarily in the Peconic and Gardiners bays at the eastern end of Long Island. The measure extends state management that would have ended Dec. 31 into 2024.

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