New Jersey Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Postponed, But Time is Running Out

Joseph DiNorcia Jr

Is the decision to table the vote on same-sex marriage in New Jersey a strategic move or tactical mistake?

A few
days ago, I sat down and wrote a piece on how we all needed to keep the
pressure on the New Jersey Senate so that it would pass same-sex marriage
legislation and make a statement to the rest of the country—a statement that
New Jersey had the courage to do what is right and respect the rights of gays
and lesbians to marry.  That is the
thought I had on my mind as I went to sleep that night.  But then a funny thing happened.  I woke up to find out that there wasn’t
going to be a vote.  What? 
No vote?

We knew
going in that a vote in the Senate was going to be close.  With 21 votes needed to pass the legislation,
and only one Republican, Bill Baroni, voting in favor, Democrats were going to
need to hold on to at least 20 (of their 23) votes to make this happen
(assuming there is no more hidden Republican support).  And two Democrats, Judiciary Chair Paul
Sarlo and Vice Chair John Girgenti, both voted against the bill in Committee
and are likely do so on the floor as well.  So with the vote close at best, it was tabled.  The official reason: a claim that it
was the Assembly’s place to act first and the Senate would wait on its
colleagues. A little late in the game for this to come up, don’t you think?

Postponing a
vote that you know (or strongly suspect) you are going to lose is not a bad
political tactic.  It can give you
time to regroup, continue negotiating with those who may still be on the fence,
and shore up additional public support. But the thing is, what we don’t have in
New Jersey is time. Chris Christie
takes the Governor’s chair on January 19th and he has promised to veto this legislation and any other that grants same-sex marriage rights.

And now,
with the process re-starting in the Assembly the bill will have to move out of
the Judiciary Committee, go to that floor for debate, and be passed before the
Senate has to step up and take a vote. 
Though the rumblings from Trenton suggest that the bill will have an
easier road in the Assembly, the real question is whether it will have a fast
one.  According to the current
calendar, the Assembly will recess for the holidays at the close of business on
Monday, December 14th. 
In fact, even after next Monday, it will only come back into session for
a couple of days between now and January 19th, those being January 7th
and January 11th. 

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So
essentially, by postponing today’s vote, the Senate has given this bill a grand
total of four business days to get passed the Assembly Judiciary Committee, the
full Assembly, and then back to the Senate for a full floor vote.  Far from seeming like a good political
strategy, today’s postponement seems like strategic wimping out to me.  Now, if and when this bill fails to
become law, it will not be (or at least appear not to be) on the heads of the
Democratic Senators who have been pushing it.  It was timing. It was the Assembly. It was the new
Republican Governor. 

Granted even
if they had held the vote, and even if the Democrats had managed to get to 21
votes, the Assembly would have had to make short order of this legislation in
order for it to become law on Governor Corzine’s watch. We will never know
whether this would have happened, but at the very least if they had held the
vote as scheduled, we would have had the opportunity to see state senators
stand up for what is right and what is just.  Instead they just did what was easy.  So very disappointing.

Still, I
stand by what I said in my last blog. 
Even though this schedule appears as if it were set to kill all of our
hopes, now is the time when voters in New Jersey need to pick up their phones
and start calling their representatives in both houses.  Regardless of the political shenanigans
of the day, we cannot stop putting pressure on until same-sex marriage becomes
law.

News Economic Justice

Paid Family Leave Gains Momentum in New York Legislature

Teddy Wilson

The bill’s Democratic supporters believe that the legislation, which has long been in the works, may finally pass the Republican-controlled state senate and be sent to the governor's desk.

People who work in New York and have a sick family member or a newborn child would be allowed to take paid time off under a bill passed Tuesday by the New York State Assembly.

The bill’s Democratic supporters believe that the legislation, which has long been in the works, may finally pass the Republican-controlled state senate and be sent to the governor’s desk.

A 03870, sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Queens), would allow the state’s workers to take paid leave because of injury, sickness, or pregnancy. People benefiting from the program would receive up to two-thirds of their regular pay, which would be funded through a “disability benefits fund” and an employee contribution of 45 cents per week.

The bill was passed by a 97-48 vote, mostly along partisan lines with one Republican voting in favor and one Democrat voting against.

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Republicans were critical of the legislation and charged that people who work would abuse the benefit. Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-Chautauqua) raised concerns that it may hurt companies and corporations.

“We need to be very careful that we don’t put ourselves in a situation where we punish those employers,” Goodell said, reported the Associated Press.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) last week appeared with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden during the launch of the “Strong Families, Strong New York” campaign for paid family leave.

“There are times in life when family comes first—like when a child is born, a loved one is sick, or a parent is dying—and I believe everyone deserves the right to be there in those times,” Cuomo said, reported United Press International.

Cuomo during his state of the state address in January said that the legislature should “pass family leave this session,” and endorsed 12 weeks of paid family leave “paid for by employees.”

However, the legislation passed by the assembly differs from Cuomo’s original proposal. The governor’s plan would have provided workers with up to one-third of their regular pay, and be funded entirely by the workers through a weekly payroll deduction of 60 cents.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told Politico New York in January that lawmakers would work to bring the bill closer to the governor’s proposal in the assembly.

“It’s a little different than what we believe paid family leave should be,” Heastie said. “That’s been a signature thing we’ve passed as a conference, and we’ll look to have it look like the way we prefer it to be.”

Amy Traub, senior policy analyst at Demos, a public policy organization, told the Public News Service that the vast majority of people who work in New York would benefit from paid family leave.

“There are 6.4 million New York workers who don’t receive paid family leave from their employers,” Traub said. “That’s a tremendous proportion of the state’s workforce that just don’t have this critical family support.”

Rhode Island, New Jersey, and California have implemented similar family leave laws to the proposal that was passed by New York Democrats, and those laws have greatly benefited people who work while having a minimum impact on businesses, according to a policy study co-authored by Traub.

The study found that when paid leave is available, mothers are less likely to drop out of the labor force when they have a baby, and that their family’s income increases. “We also find that paid leave improves child health outcomes, including reducing infant mortality rates, and it’s associated with better health outcomes among new mothers, as well,” Traub told the Public News Service.

People who work are guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid family leave under federal law.

Eric Williams, campaign director for the New York Paid Family Leave Insurance Campaign, told the Public News Service that there may be the votes to pass the bill in the the state senate, where the Republican majority has repeatedly blocked similar legislation.

“The majority leader and the labor chair said they’re open to seeing a paid family leave bill done,” Williams said. “So, we want to work with everybody and get a strong bill passed that works for all workers around the state.”

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) told WRVO that he’s open to discussing paid family leave and prefers Cuomo’s original proposal to have the program funded by people who work. “It’s a good start,” Flanagan said. “A lot of our members care very deeply about that.”

The bill has been referred to the New York State Senate Labor Committee, where it awaits further action.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: New York Takes on Condoms-as-Evidence, and the FDA Approves New Use for HPV Test

Martha Kempner

This week, New York state lawmakers took on a policy of using condoms as evidence of prostitution, a plan to sell condoms in middle and high schools in China met some skepticism, and the FDA approved a panel suggestion about HPV test. Plus, happy Masturbation Month!

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

An End to New York’s Condoms-as-Evidence Policy?

As Rewire has reported in the past, New York City police officers have historically used possession of condoms—especially a large number of condoms—as proof of prostitution, as is the case in some other cities as well. Officers would even confiscate condoms from people suspected of selling sex. From a public health perspective, this policy makes no sense; it discourages sex workers from carrying condoms and, in some instances, takes them away, thereby preventing sex workers from protecting themselves. Thankfully, a new law working its way through the state legislature would get rid of this policy once and for all.

Since the practice made headlines, in part because of reports written by the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, some law enforcement officials have tried to back away from it. Last June, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes sent a letter to then-Police Commissioner Ray Kelly explaining that his office would no longer use the possession of condoms as evidence of prostitution or “loitering for the purpose of prostitution.” He asked that police in Brooklyn stop confiscating condoms. Prosecutors in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx did not go that far but did tell the New York Times last year that they rarely use condoms as evidence of prostitution.

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Efforts to abolish the practice through state law, however, have been unsuccessful, in part because the New York City Police Department, which makes about 2,500 arrests for prostitution each year, has been opposed to such legislation. But this time the bill has some traction. It was passed by the assembly last year, and advocates hope it will be passed by the state senate when that body reconvenes this month. The current version of the bill is sponsored by Assembly member Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) and Sen. Velmanette Montgomery (D-Brooklyn). A spokesperson for Sen. Montgomery was optimistic about the bill’s chances, saying it “has buzz.” She told BuzzFeed, “The bill has been introduced now for probably over 15 years. Little by little by little, the momentum picked up on this through education. Most people are astounded that this practice is even occurring.”

According the Associated Press, the New York City Police Department announced last Friday that it would review the proposed law as well as its own condoms-as-evidence policy.

China Contemplates Condom Availability in High School

Here in the United States, making condoms available in high school remains controversial, despite years of research that suggests access to condoms does not increase sexual activity among students but does increase condom use. Recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics came out strongly in favor of making condoms available to young people, including in schools. As Rewire has reported, however, even with such professional support, condoms in schools can be a tough sell with parents.

It turns out that this is something parents in the United States share with some parents in China, who are concerned about a move to sell condoms in middle and high schools in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province. The plan, which was approved by provincial officials in February and city officials in April, will allow students in middle schools, which start at age 12, and high schools, which start at age 15, to buy condoms either from the school store or from vending machines that the school would have to install. A city health official who was not named told the local paper, “We’re not going distribute condoms at schools, but we want them to be sold on the premises.”

The official went on to say that the measure was designed to prevent the spread of HIV. The rates of HIV in Xi’an have gone up dramatically in the last few years, with more than 1,100 infections reported between January and October 2013 alone. The local newspaper says that most infections are in young people and manual laborers, and 90 percent of transmission is through sexual behavior.

According to the New York Times, reaction to the proposal has been mixed, with some fearing that having condoms for sale in school will lead to promiscuity. It is unclear, however, if anyone is objecting to the fact that the condoms are only available to students who buy them. This seems to be an unnecessary obstacle, especially if some students can’t afford them or have to ask their parents for spending money. Thankfully, in all of the debate over whether condoms should be available in high schools in the United States, the idea of selling them, as opposed to giving them away, seems to have never come up.

FDA Approves Alternative to Pap Test

As Rewire recently reported, at the beginning of April a committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) voted unanimously to change the recommendations around testing for cervical cancer. Though the Pap test had long reigned as the best screening tool, clinicians have been relying more and more on human papillomavirus (HPV) tests—either in conjunction with the Pap or after an abnormal Pap result. The test in question, called the cobas test, uses samples of cervical cells to detect DNA from 14 high-risk strains of HPV, including types 16 and 18, which are known to cause 70 percent of all cervical cancers.

This week, the FDA voted to accept the panel’s recommendations. According to an FDA press release, the approval expands the use of the cobas test so that clinicians can use it along with the Pap test or on its own as a primary screening tool for cervical cancer. The announcement does not, however, change the guidelines for testing, which are produced by groups other than the FDA.

May Is Masturbation Month!

Finally, here at This Week in Sex, we want to remind you that May is Masturbation Month. We believe that masturbation is one of the best sexual behaviors because it feels good and relieves stress, and can’t get you pregnant or get a sexually transmitted disease. Even better, you don’t have to think about anyone but yourself—as long as you’re having fun, all is good. We hope everyone enjoys this month-long celebration!