- Associated Press - Thursday, January 15, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - State Sen. Diane Savino, a Staten Island Democrat who supports abortion rights, said this week that the votes don’t exist for the Senate to pass a stronger abortion bill, and that shouldn’t keep lawmakers from enacting eight other women’s rights measures.

On Monday, the Senate passed bills to guarantee equal pay, workplace accommodations for pregnancy, outlaw sexual harassment at even the smallest businesses, which are currently exempt, and increase penalties for slave labor and sex trafficking. Those and four other bills that languished in a three-year stalemate between the Senate’s conservative Republicans and liberal Assembly Democrats, who have insisted on packaging them with legislation to codify abortion rights set by federal courts.

“We have women who are victims of human trafficking. We have women who are victims of pay inequality, women who are victims of housing discrimination, and pregnancy discrimination, and domestic violence,” said Savino, a former social worker and union official. “And you want to know something? They can’t wait anymore. And while they’re waiting, every single one of them can have a safe, legal abortion in New York state.”

Advocates for women’s rights say each of those individual bills is important, and Albany’s political landscape may be shifting this year to end the stalemate.

The New York Women’s Equality Coalition, whose many members include chapters of Planned Parenthood, NOW and the YWCA, said it supports the eight bills advanced by the Senate and looked forward to addressing remaining inequities in state law, including securing reproductive rights.

“Every legislative session we hit reset, and it’s incumbent on everyone to re-evaluate the landscape,” Sonia Ossorio, president of the state and New York City chapters of the National Organization for Women, said Thursday. “The good news is we’ve started the session talking about women’s rights and the issues that affect women and their families. That, certainly, I’ve never seen before. So it’s cause for optimism. … And we’ve never gotten this type of movement from Republicans in the past.”

The Assembly’s minority Republicans, including avowed upstate conservatives, gathered Tuesday outside their chamber to call for passage of the eight bills.

Ossorio and state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Westchester Democrat, said the Cuomo administration’s effort to package all those bills three years ago did put those women’s issues on the table and into public view. Previously, the bills were orphans, and some had languished for more than a decade, like prohibiting housing discrimination against domestic violence victims and prohibiting workplace discrimination against working mothers. Two others passed by the Senate would allow electronic filing of orders of protection and allow attorney’s fees in winning discrimination cases in employment, credit and lending.

Stewart-Cousins, who leads the Senate’s Democratic Conference, faulted her colleagues in the Republican majority for leaving out the abortion rights bill, which she’s not giving up on enacting, but she voted for the other eight, which passed unanimously. “People are trying to figure out what are the critical things and how do we do them,” she said Thursday.

In the Assembly, which has a two-thirds Democratic majority, Speaker Sheldon Silver said he wasn’t sure they’d have matching bills “until the Senate decides that a woman’s right to choose is part of a woman’s agenda.” However, he acknowledged the Assembly Democratic Conference hasn’t yet taken up the women’s issues this year. “Our conference must make those determinations as to where we proceed from here,” he said.

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