ALBANY, N.Y. — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand missed some votes in Washington last week while hitting the campaign trail, where she protested Georgia’s passage of anti-abortion laws. Rep. Tom Reed crossed party lines to support a Democratic initiative to expand civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton introduced a bill to try out ranked choice voting in New York State.

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand hit the campaign trail last week. At the Georgia capitol building on Thursday, she protested the state’s recent passage of strict anti-abortion laws designed to challenge the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling.

“The fight happening in Georgia, Alabama, and states across the country represents the greatest threat to reproductive freedom we have faced in our lifetimes,” Gillibrand said in a press statement. “As president, I will both defend reproductive rights from political attacks and make guaranteeing and expanding those rights a priority.”

Campaigning took Gillibrand away from Washington, causing her to miss six of 10 votes last week. She was absent from Senate votes Monday night, Tuesday and Thursday, bringing her total number of missed votes this year up to 10. Most of these votes were on court judges and lower-level administration nominees, while one was a party-line vote to approve Jeffrey Rosen to be the next deputy attorney general following the departure of Rod Rosenstein, who resigned following the release of the Mueller report. Gillibrand has missed 9% of all votes so far this year. By comparison, during the 115th Congress (from Jan. 2017 – Jan. 2019) she missed just 2 of 599 votes, or 0.3%.

A bipartisan piece of legislation Gillibrand co-sponsored with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R- Iowa) passed with a unanimous voice vote on Thursday. The legislation expands a federal program benefiting law enforcement officers disabled in the line of duty and families of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. The legislation is meant to help 9/11 first responders and their families by adjusting benefit amounts based on when they were awarded, rather than the date of the actual injury, to match the rising cost of living.

Rep. Tom Reed (23rd Congressional District)

Last week the House passed the Democratic led Equality Act by a vote of 236 – 173. The legislation would extend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity and sexual orientation, and is meant to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in areas such as housing and employment. Republicans in the House opposed the measure, citing concerns that requirements under the bill threatened the First Amendment. Rep. Reed split with many of his Republican colleagues in voting for final passage of the bill, but he did vote for a procedural move which would have effectively killed the legislation on the House floor. He was one of only eight Republicans to vote for the measure.

Democrats in the House also introduced a piece of legislation meant to shore up the Affordable Care Act, and they included a provision to lower prescription drug prices in hopes of winning some Republican support. The legislation calls for funding to reverse many cuts to the Affordable Care Act made under the Trump administration such as the program’s advertising for enrollment. Five Republicans broke ranks, but Reed was not one of them, choosing to vote along with fellow Republicans on the measure. The bill passed 234-183, but isn’t likely to be considered by the Republican-held Senate.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (125th Assembly District)

Assemblywoman Lifton introduced a bill last week to allow localities to experiment with ranked-choice voting in the 2022 and 2023 election cycles. The pilot program would give voters the option to list (or rank) their favorite candidates in order from favorite to least-favorite in county, municipality and school board elections in localities that opt into the trial run. The idea is already in practice in the state of Maine.

“New York State, despite recent improvements, still has the ninth lowest voter turnout rate in the country, and as we explore ways to reverse this trend, it’s important that we be open to innovative reforms, like ranked choice voting, that have the potential to strengthen our democracy,” Lifton said in a press release last week.

It’s unclear if the bill will be picked up by the Assembly, where it could very likely pass.

The Assembly is also moving toward reconsidering marijuana legislation after the topic was dropped from budget talks earlier in the session. New bills similar to Cuomo’s initial proposal have been introduced in both chambers and the governor has expressed support for the legislation. He did, however, tell WXXI that he wouldn’t try to force it through the legislature at this point, taking a step back from when he included it in his criminal justice agenda at this start of this year. Lifton was a cosponsor on the original measures to legalize marijuana and has expressed support for expanding access to medical marijuana but has stated some reservations about rolling out legalized recreational marijuana. 

Senator Tom O’Mara (58th Senate District)

Last week, a bill cosponsored by Sen. Tom O’Mara passed the Senate which would require the state Department of Transportation to include bicycle safety as part of the curriculum drivers need to pass to receive a driver’s license.

“With more and more cyclists sharing our roadways, we should take every reasonable step to make all drivers more aware of the need for safety,” O’Mara said in a press release. “This legislation would help make motorists more aware of bicyclists on the road, and help prevent accidents and save lives.”

The legislation also requires motorists to allow three feet between themselves and cyclists when passing on a roadway.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer

The Senate mostly dealt with more nominations for district courts and administration posts again this week. Sen. Chuck Schumer voted against all the nominees except his pick to serve as undersecretary of state in charge of the department’s management.

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...