Sunday, November 10, 2013

New York's Women's Equality Act

Last year, New York Governor Cuomo used his positive agenda control to push the Women’s Equality Act through New York’s legislative process and receive a final vote. This ten-point bill—which included stronger laws against human trafficking, income inequality, sexual harassment in the workplace, and abortion rights—passed through the Democrat-controlled Assembly, but the Senate used their negative agenda control to separate the ten points into ten separate bills, so that the Senate could choose to vote on them individually. The Senate subsequently passed nine of the ten proposals, but blocked a major abortion rights proposal from reaching the floor “due to lack of support.”

When the legislation returned to the Assembly for a vote, the Democrats in the Assembly then used their own negative agenda control and refused to allow a vote that would lead to just a partial victory. Because the Democrat-controlled Assembly refused to pass only nine of the ten proposals, as opposed to the full ten-point bill, the abortion rights proposal essentially acted as a killer amendment: the full ten-point bill would not pass through the Senate when it included an abortion rights proposal, even though the Senate supported the other nine proposals.

Now, the Women’s Equality Act coalition is restarting for the 2014 year, and they plan on using grassroots campaigns to win the support of constituents who can then apply pressure to their Senators to pass this bill in full. They created a new website, produced a video, and connected with supporters via social media to spread the word about the Women’s Equality Act, in hopes of creating a heightened sense of accountability for Senators to vote in support of their female constituents.

In an interview with the New York Times, spokeswoman Melissa DeRosa stated: “In the end, the public will hold individual legislators accountable if they stand in the way of finally achieving equality for women in New York State.” This suggests that supporters of the Women’s Equality Act believe that legislators could lose their seats if they vote against the bill. But if Senate leaders continue to use their negative agenda control to keep the abortion rights proposal off the floor, voters will have difficulty pinpointing individual legislators to blame for the Women’s Equality Act failing once again. To complicate accountability further, the group responsible for gatekeeping in the Senate is a coalition of both Republicans and independent Democrats, making it difficult to place blame entirely on the Republican Party. Plus, the Democrats are responsible for gatekeeping in the Assembly, which have prohibited the nine other proposals from passing, so both parties are blaming each other.

If this trend of negative agenda control in the Senate continues, accountability will be difficult to enforce, and I believe the Assembly will fold and allow nine of the ten proposals to pass in the 2014 year. This means the Democrat-controlled Assembly will ultimately achieve a partial victory to pass the nine widely supported bills that strengthen laws against human trafficking, income inequality, and sexual harassment in the workplace, while relying on Roe v. Wade to continue to protect reproductive health rights for women in their state.

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  1. I wonder why, exactly, the Senate was so staunchly opposed to the abortion proposal? And, as important as it may have been, why the Assembly chose to not vote on the rest of the proposals because the abortion provision wasn't included? This seems like a good example of the way negative agenda control can lead to gridlock, as nothing has been passed yet. Furthermore, the discussion of accountability is particularly interesting, as not passing the 9 proposals could make those legislators more accountable to a frustrated public than the Senators who chose not the pass the abortion provision.

  2. I think that refusing the pass the other 9 amendments could be a strong political move if opponents for the 10th amendment value the 9 amendments more than the 10th. However, since abortion is a strongly divisive and political issue, this may not be the case. I would be interested in knowing more about the popularity and content of each individual amendment.

    However, if the Senate does value these 9 amendments more than voting no on the 10th abortion one, the Assembly made a wise move in rejecting the amendments. They have clearly signaled what they will agree to pass and the Senate will then take this into account when sending them a bill. This is similar to the veto model we learned earlier in class. Sometimes Congress sends a bill to the President that gets vetod because the Congress did not fully understand the President's preferences.

  3. The Women's Equality Act reminds me of the fight to pass gay marriage in New York state a few years ago. Governor Cuomo really went to bat on that issue and staked his reputation on it. Gay marriage also faced a fight in the state legislature (I think we had divided government back in 2011, too), but Gov. Cuomo made it his issue and pulled together an aggressive lobbying campaign that was ultimately successful. I think it's interesting to consider the circumstances under which a governor will get seriously involved in a particular legislative issue and whether or not Cuomo will step up on women's issues.