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For immediate release: February 19, 2019
Contact: Press Office
Phone: 518-402-3130

Governor Cuomo Unveils 2019 Women's Justice Agenda


 Bold, Comprehensive Proposals to Improve Reproductive, Economic and Social Justice for All New York Women
Agenda Eliminates Statute of Limitations for Rape Claims; Improves Access to In-Vitro Fertilization by Large Group Insurance Providers; Launches Family Empowerment Community College Pilot Program for Single Parents; and Mandates All Non-Disclosure Agreements Include Specific Language that Employees May Still File Complaints
Builds on Success of 2018 Women's Agenda to Keep Equality Moving Forward
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today unveiled the 2019 Women's Justice Agenda. This bold, comprehensive set of proposals builds on the success of the Governor's 2018 accomplishments to improve reproductive, economic and social justice for all New York women. The full 2019 Women's Justice Agenda is available here.
"No state has done more than New York to protect and advance the rights of women and girls, but with a federal administration intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and other protections, we cannot rest on our laurels," Governor Cuomo said. "Building on the historic progress we've made including securing the strongest sexual harassment laws in the nation and passing the Reproductive Health Act, our new women's justice agenda will serve as a direct rebuke to Washington's assault on women's rights and ensure New York remains at the forefront of this critical fight."
"We made history with the signing of the Reproductive Health Act less than a month ago, something we have fought for years," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who spoke at today's event. "But we still have more work to do to achieve social, economic, racial, and gender justice. Our 2019 Women's Agenda continues our efforts to act in an era defined by extreme conservatives who threaten to roll back our progress. As we look at what achieving equality actually means, we see a new, next generation of the Equal Rights Amendment - a next era ERA - that has evolved, and in many ways this agenda reflects our updated priorities for attaining true gender parity." 
"This is a bold, aggressive agenda, but the Cuomo administration never shies away from a fight. We will do everything in our power to level the playing field and lift women up so every New Yorker can realize their full potential," Melissa DeRosa, Secretary to the Governor and Chair of the Council on Women and Girls, said. "Together we will remove barriers -- real and perceived -- for success, and continue to make New York a model of equality and opportunity for the entire nation to follow. We've already seen with the passage of the RHA the power of collective advocacy and how strong we are when we refuse to take less than we deserve. We will take up each and every fight with the same vigor and to the same result. I know how demoralizing the last two years under President Trump have been for many of us. But it was also the empowering wakeup call we needed. We turned complacency into action, and that action has delivered results. We found our voice, and our backbone, and we won't stop now."
Highlights of the 2019 Women's Justice Agenda include:
Increase Protections Against Harassment in the Workplace
New York is a national leader in the fight against sexual harassment and last year Governor Cuomo signed into law the nation's most comprehensive sexual harassment package as part of the FY 2019 budget. But there is still more to be done to protect workers and hold abusers accountable. Therefore, Governor Cuomo will build on the progress made in New York by advancing legislation to do the following:
  • Lower the high bar set for employees to hold employers accountable under the New York Human Rights Law for sexual harassment by amending the requirement that conduct be "severe or pervasive" to constitute actionable conduct;
  • Protect employees' rights to pursue complaints by mandating that all non-disclosure agreements in employment contracts include language stating that employees may still file a complaint of harassment or discrimination with a state or local agency and testify or participate in a government investigation; and
  • Ensure workers know their rights, by requiring all employers to conspicuously post a sexual harassment educational poster in their workplace. 
Eliminate the Statute of Limitations for Rape
Statutes of limitations on rape cases impose a ticking clock on how long victims are able to come forward if they want to seek charges. For crimes of sexual violence in particular, the clock ticks against the trauma and culture of silence that prevents victims from speaking out. Over the last year, victims who have suffered in silence for decades have bravely spoken about their abuse, and also have laid bare the state's limited ability to prosecute their abusers due to the passage of time. In recognition of this fact, states across the country are lengthening or eliminating the statutes of limitations on crimes of sexual violence. While New York removed the statute of limitations for Rape in the First Degree, a five-year statute of limitations remains for Rape in the Second Degree and Rape in the Third Degree. Therefore, in 2019 Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to remove the statute of limitations for Rape in the Second Degree and Third Degree. Eliminating the statute of limitations for these crimes will allow victims the full opportunity to obtain justice.
Modernize New York's Pay Equity Law
In 2017 the Governor directed the Department of Labor to issue a report on the gender pay gap in New York and provide recommendations to break the cycle of unfair, unequal compensation. After holding pay equity hearings across the state, the Department of Labor released its report last Spring. Acting immediately upon its recommendations, Governor Cuomo introduced a program bill to expand on his executive orders by instituting a salary history ban that prohibits all employers, public and private, who do business in New York from asking prospective employees about their salary history and compensation. This year, Governor Cuomo will build upon that effort by championing the passage of a salary history ban. In addition, the Governor will advance legislation to expand the definition of "equal pay for equal work" to require equal pay on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender, and expand the requirement that equal pay be provided for all substantially similar work, adding flexibility in recognition of the complexity of the issue.
Improve Access to In-Vitro Fertilization and Fertility Preservation Coverage
In 2017, New York State required that all insurers provide fertility services regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity. In 2018, through the Women's Agenda, Governor Cuomo directed the Department of Financial Services to examine approaches for incorporatinginsurance coverage for in-vitro fertilization (IVF) into the existing infertility coverage mandate.
This year, Governor Cuomo is advancing legislation to expand access to coverage for IVF, as well as medically-necessary fertility preservation services. This legislation will specifically mandate that large group insurance providers cover IVF and will also require large group, small group, and individual insurance providers to cover egg-freezing services for women with certain health conditions, including those undergoing cancer treatment. Additionally, the legislation will include robust non-discrimination language to ensure that New Yorkers have access to these vital services, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Ensure State Boards Are Representative of New York State
In recognition that diverse leaders strengthen our State, in 2017 Governor Cuomo announced bold actions, at the recommendation of the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion, to increase the number of minorities in the State government workforce, including advancing legislation to accelerate the hiring of highly-qualified diverse candidates and expanding access to Civil Service exam preparation and tests. This year Governor Cuomo builds on that progress by setting a goal to ensure that his appointees to major state boards and college councils reach 50 percent female and represent the racial and ethnic diversity of New York State.
To increase the representation of women and people of color, and ensure sustainability of diverse leadership into the future, the Governor will direct his Chief Diversity Officer and Appointments Office to develop best practices and a strategic plan for recruitment of board members. 
The Agenda also includes the following proposals:
Reproductive Justice
Enshrine Roe v. Wade into the New York State Constitution
This year, Governor Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act within the first 30 days of the 2019 Legislative Session, codifying the principles of Roe v. Wade into State law. This law will ensure that people have the ability to access the care they need to protect their health, in addition to their life, and ensure that health care professionals can provide these crucial services without fear of criminal penalty. With the passage of the Reproductive Health Act, Governor Cuomo will advance a constitutional amendment to enshrine the principles of Roe v Wade into the New York State Constitution to protect the right to abortion in New York for good.
Launch Healthy Relationships Education in Middle and High Schools
Governor Cuomo will champion Healthy Relationships Education in middle and high schools, calling on the State Education Department to convene a taskforce in consultation with the Department of Health and the Office of Children and Family Services, medical experts, teachers, students and families to update the State's health standards to include up-to-date, medically accurate, comprehensive information on healthy relationships for grades 6 through 12. Instruction in grades 6-12 shall include information regarding medically accurate comprehensive sex education, the same definition of consent used in the Enough is Enough Law, dating violence, and health in all public school classrooms with parental permission. The new standards would also apply to all residential treatment centers operated or licensed by the Office of Children and Family Services. All of New York's young people must have access to the tools to lower the incidence of sexual harassment, assault, and teen dating violence, to provide young people the knowledge in order to make safe, empowered, and respectful choices.
Reduce Maternal Mortality and Morbidity and Racial Disparities
Building off the successes of the past year and the recommendations of the Maternal Mortality Taskforce, Governor Cuomo will advance a series of policies to reduce maternal mortality and racial disparities in New York State:
  • Launch a comprehensive education and training program to reduce implicit racial bias in health care institutions statewide.
  • Expand Community Health Worker (CHW) programs in key communities across the state to provide needed social support, information, and advocacy.
  • Enact legislation to create a statewide Maternal Mortality Review Board.
  • Create an innovative data warehouse to provide near real-time information on maternal mortality and morbidity as well as racial disparities to support targeted quality improvement efforts by the State, hospitals, health care providers, and improve maternal outcomes throughout the state.
  • Governor Cuomo will instruct the Department of Health to convene, in partnership with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), an Expert Workgroup on Postpartum Care to develop recommendations targeting the critical time immediately after birth. 
Promote Rural Telehealth Services for Perinatal Care
Governor Cuomo will direct DOH to launch a comprehensive telehealth initiative to increase access to appropriate health care services, including specialists for high risk pregnant and post-partum patients in rural New York. DOH will implement the following strategic four-point plan to incentivize the development of regional networks of obstetric providers in rural areas of the state.
  • Make $5 million available to regional perinatal centers and other health care providers to expand their telehealth capabilities in rural communities.
  • Form a Perinatal Telehealth Workgroup with national experts to outline key strategies and barriers for obstetric providers to expand telehealth services and consultation and consult with key rural communities around the state on their specific needs.
  • Engage hospitals participating in the Rural Health Care Access Development Program to encourage expansion of perinatal telehealth initiative.
  • Create a pilot project to establish a Project Echo tele-mentoring initiative to engage and enhance the skills of obstetric providers serving a select rural area. 
Ensure Breastfeeding is Respected in the Workplace
Governor Cuomo will introduce legislation to make absolutely clear that lactation is a pregnancy-related condition covered by the New York Human Rights Law, and that breastfeeding and lactation are protected rights that employers must make reasonable accommodations for in the workplace. If an employer fails to do so, it is considered discrimination under New York law and the employer will be liable.
Protect the Educational Rights of Pregnant and Parenting Students
In order to ensure that the protection against pregnancy discrimination is extended to the school environment, Governor Cuomo proposes to codify and expand on Title IX protections for pregnant and parenting students in State law, and encourage schools to examine board policies regarding school absences, so that pregnant and parenting students can graduate on time.
Continue Know Your Rights, Get the Facts Campaign
In 2018, Governor Cuomo directed DOH to launch the Know Your Options Public Awareness Campaign to connect New Yorkers to accurate reproductive health care, including family planning, pregnancy care, and abortion services. Comprehensive clinical guidelines are the gold standard for family planning services, and it is vital that each woman in New York knows about available services in their geographic area. In 2019, the Governor will extend this multifaceted, strategic awareness campaign across the state. New York refuses to go backwards and jeopardize the rights and healthcare of New Yorkers. This public awareness campaign is designed to combat the insidious spread of misleading, medically inaccurate information about reproductive health and to ensure all New York women know all their options without judgment.
Launch Uterine Fibroids and Endometriosis Research and Public Outreach Campaign
To expand awareness and research around uterine fibroids and endometriosis, the Governor is launching the following initiatives:
  • First, Governor Cuomo will call on the State University of New York to conduct research on the diagnosis and treatment of uterine fibroids and endometriosis.
  • Second, Governor Cuomo will direct DOH to convene an expert roundtable and distribute best practices guidelines to ensure high standard of care in the diagnosis and treatment of endometriosis and fibroids and promote equal access to treatment throughout the state.
  • Third, DOH, in conjunction with the Council on Women and Girls, will convene community listening sessions about the barriers women of color face in accessing gynecological services and the solutions to reduce racial disparities and support gynecological health.
  • Finally, DOH will support women's health and maternal health programs in promoting access to quality community health services through providing community-based organizations education to help them increase awareness, accessibility, and utilization of comprehensive gynecological and primary care health services in addition to reproductive health services including family planning, pregnancy, fertility, and promote positive provider-patient communication and respect, including information on the right to a second medical opinion. 
Launch Statewide Safe Sleep Campaign to Prevent Infant Deaths
Governor Cuomo will direct DOH and OCFS to launch a new joint initiative to further reduce preventable infant deaths. Firstly, Governor Cuomo will designate May as Infant Safe Sleep Month to raise awareness about safe sleep and preventable deaths from unsafe sleep environments. OCFS and DOH will launch a new public awareness campaign that will include radio, television, and social media, as well as postings on public transit and in major transportation hubs. The State will also conduct a statewide media campaign to educate parents, grandparents, and caregivers about best practices in safe sleep.
In collaboration with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, DOH will also expand outreach to medical providers, including pediatricians and obstetricians. Secondly, OCFS and DOH will expand the distribution of safe sleep kits to reach nearly 10,000 families. Safe sleep kits include a door hanger with safe sleep information, a baby book about safe sleep, and an infant sleep sack, which is a safe alternative to a blanket that can suffocate the baby. This effort will target regions where unsafe sleep practices may be more prevalent and where the incidences of infant mortality due to unsafe sleep practices are high. Kits will be distributed to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, runaway and homeless youth shelters, mother/baby programs, home visiting programs, and community-based programs serving pregnant and new parents.
Social Justice
Pass the Equal Rights Amendment
With Washington's recent attacks on gender equality, the failure to remedy this decades-old wrong and to ensure that New York's constitution represents New York's values is more troubling than ever. Therefore, this year Governor Cuomo will again push to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to add sex as a protected class to Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution. With this change, Section 11 of Article 1 of the New York State Constitution will read: No person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws of this State or any subdivision thereof. No person shall, because of race, color, sex, creed or religion, be subjected to any discrimination in his or her civil rights by any other person or by any firm, corporation or institution, or by the State or any agency or subdivision of the state.
Pass the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act
While Jenna's Law currently permits judges to administer indeterminate sentences to survivors in some circumstances, it does not go far enough. Jenna's Law requires that the offense was committed against an abuser, that the abuse was a factor in causing the offense, and that the abuser was a member of the offender's family or household. This fails to account for offenses committed due to coercion by an abuser and offenses committed against or at the behest of an abuser who does not share a household or family with the survivor. To address these concerns, Governor Cuomo will advance the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which will build on Jenna's Law to include more meaningful sentence reductions and encompass crimes committed not only against, but also at the behest of, abusers. The Act will also permit a small population of eligible incarcerated survivors to apply for re-sentencing and earlier release due to their prior victimization. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act will allow New York to take critical steps toward addressing the years of injustice faced by survivors whose lives have been shattered by abuse and make it less likely that survivors will be re-victimized or re-incarcerated.
Establish a New Model for Domestic Violence Prevention
Governor Cuomo will advance legislation to abolish the out of date policy which requires some victims of domestic violence to shoulder a portion of the cost of domestic violence shelter, and eliminates the requirement that victims of domestic violence must apply for public assistance when seeking shelter. There should be no strings attached to receipt of emergency services, like a safe place to shelter. The Governor will also direct state agencies to conduct a full review of domestic violence funding with the goal of making the State's efforts to eliminate the scourge of domestic violence the most responsive, efficient, and effective in the nation. Governor Cuomo will also direct the consolidation of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the Office of Victim Services, and the Office of Campus Safety. This consolidation will remove statutory barriers that needlessly restrict the operations and funding streams of each agency, provide a permanent structure for initiatives that currently do not reside within an agency, and allow the State to fully leverage federal funding opportunities to facilitate outreach efforts to raise awareness of victimization and provide greater services for victims.
Finally, to ensure the continuation of reforms in upcoming years, the Governor will appoint a task force made up of State agency representatives and local stakeholders to review the domestic violence service delivery system in New York State and make recommendations for improvement. This task force will be charged with streamlining State funding for domestic violence wherever possible in order to allow domestic violence service providers to more adequately address both the causes and effects of domestic violence, meet the needs of victims, and realize efficiencies. This restructuring will reduce reporting burdens on providers and State agencies, allow the State to create an overall funding strategy based on best practices, grant providers the flexibility to meet the individual needs of domestic violence victims, and enable more effective program evaluation.
Outlaw Revenge Pornography
Governor Cuomo proposes to build upon his previous legislative efforts to criminalize the disclosure, or threat to disclose, sexual images or videos with the intent to cause harm to an individual's well-being or reputation. First, this new legislation will prohibit the unlawful publication of sexual materials consensually shared when the person had a reasonable expectation that such material would not be disclosed. Specifically, the crime will be a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or three years of supervision for any person who disseminates images or videos of intimate sexual nature. Second, the new legislation will provide victims with a new ability to seek a court order requiring the private images to be removed from a website along with money damages for the unlawful publication. In sum, the Governor's actions will further protect vulnerable New Yorkers from unacceptable forms of abuse and bring perpetrators who violate the intimacy and privacy of others to justice.
Extend Human Rights Law Protections to All Public School Students Statewide
In a 2012 decision, the New York State Court of Appeals found that only private schools were covered under the Human Rights Law, and the State Division of Human Rights lost its ability to investigate reports of bullying, harassment, or other forms of discrimination against public school students. Governor Cuomo will again advance legislation to amend the Human Rights Law to remedy this injustice and protect all public school students and institutions from discrimination. All students in the State of New York must have the right to pursue an education free from discrimination or harassment.
Remove Gaps in Rape Shield Law
Rape shield laws provide crucial protection to victims of sexual violence from having their own sexual histories used against them when they seek justice in a court of law. However, New York's current rape shield law suffers gaps that leave many out of its protections, particularly those who are too often at high risk of victimization. The current law does not apply to victims of sex trafficking crimes and it does not shield victims from having their own convictions for prostitution used against them. To ensure that all people are given the protection they deserve from sexual violence, Governor Cuomo will propose legislation to close these gaps in 2019. 
Economic Justice
Modernize New York's Pay Equity Law
In 2017 the Governor directed the Department of Labor to issue a report on the gender pay gap in New York and provide recommendations to break the cycle of unfair, unequal compensation. After holding pay equity hearings across the state, the Department of Labor released its report last Spring. Acting immediately upon its recommendations, Governor Cuomo introduced a program bill to expand on his executive orders by instituting a salary history ban that prohibits all employers, public and private, who do business in New York from asking prospective employees about their salary history and compensation. This year, Governor Cuomo will build upon that effort by championing the passage of a salary history ban. In addition, the Governor will advance legislation to expand the definition of "equal pay for equal work" to require equal pay on the basis of race, ethnicity, and gender, and expand the requirement that equal pay be provided for all substantially similar work, adding flexibility in recognition of the complexity of the issue.
Create the Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency to Shine Light on New York Values
To ensure that all companies that do business in the state embrace New York values, in 2019 Governor Cuomo will empanel a Task Force on Representation and Corporate Transparency. The Task Force will consist of business and community leaders who will convene to determine the most effective state intervention to ensure corporate transparency on key issues such as workforce diversity, pay equity, and diversity in corporate leadership To inform the Task Force's recommendations and future state action to encourage diverse leadership in the private sector, Governor Cuomo will direct the Department of State and Department of Labor in consultation with the Division of Human Rights to conduct a study to systematically examine the current gender and racial inequity on the boards of companies doing business in New York State. The Task Force will provide their recommendations by the end of 2019 so that any necessary legislation can be considered in 2020. 
Invest in New York's Child Care Infrastructure
This year, Governor Cuomo will take a series of actions to increase access to reliable, affordable child care for all New Yorkers. Together, these proposals will stimulate local economies and help increase labor force participation, while simultaneously guaranteeing high quality care and education for the youngest New Yorkers.
  • Ensure Access to High Quality Child Care: In an effort to ensure that households in receipt of a child care subsidy are afforded continued access to high quality child care, Governor Cuomo will invest an additional $26 million to increase the value of the subsidy. This increase will help low-income families access affordable, regulated child care.  
  • Invest in Regional Strategies: As the drivers of New York State's economic strategic planning, Governor Cuomo tasks the Regional Economic Development Councils (REDCs) to include child care as a priority in their 2019 Strategic Plans. The 2019 REDC Guidebook will require each region to consider the child care needs of the region and the important impact access to affordable child care can have on the region's economy and to develop a regionally-specific strategy to increase access to quality, affordable child care.
  • Launch Child Care Worker Scholarship: Recruitment and retention of child care employees is essential to maintaining access to reliable child care. There are over 84,000 members of the early childhood workforce in New York. However, retention of staff can be challenging due to relatively low wages and opportunities in other child care settings. An estimated 65 percent of child care workers' families participate in one or more public income support programs. To ensure that New York State attracts and retains qualified employees to work in child care center state-licensed child care facilities, Governor Cuomo will launch a child care worker scholarship to cover tuition at SUNY or CUNY schools for part-time students who work at least 20 hours a week in state-licensed child care facility. The ability to achieve higher education while working part-time serves as a win for families and teachers, and helps to create a stable workforce.
  • Establish Common Application for Child Care:  In order to make arrangements for child care, families across New York are expected to call individual providers to inquire about rates and availability. This tedious process relies on parents to take time out of their busy work day to call around to share the same information. To improve this process, Governor Cuomo will direct the Office of Children and Family Services to work with the Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies to develop the first common application for child care in the country, easing the burden of filing multiple applications as families seek child care for their children. OCFS will work to ensure that this application is used across the state. 
Launch Family Empowerment Community College Pilot Program
To close the gender wage gap and neutralize the "sticky floor," Governor Cuomo will launch a pilot program providing customized supports for single parents attending participating SUNY and CUNY community college campuses. This innovative program will support up to 400 parents a year for three years. Participants will receive on-campus childcare, intensive personalized advisement, educational supports including tutoring, career counseling and assistance in transitioning to a 4-year school. These comprehensive systems of support will ensure that single parents are able to access higher education opportunities, and help to move themselves and their children out of poverty.
Expand Empire State After-School Program
Governor Cuomo has expanded the number of safe and supportive locations for kids to go after school through the Empire State After School Program. Over the past two years, Governor Cuomo has provided $45 million to create 28,125 high quality after-school slots in high-need communities. In order to ensure that every child who needs a safe place to go is provided one, the Governor proposes an additional $10 million to create an additional 6,250 slots in high-need communities across the state. This year's grant funds will prioritize funds for areas with high levels of gang involvement, and will focus on serving homeless students and other students who may not have a safe place to go after school.
Continue Investment in Computer Science Education Through Smart Start
In 2018, Governor Cuomo made the largest state investment in computer science, by launching the Smart Start Program. Smart Start works to expand high-quality computer science education by offering teacher support and resources in computer science and technology, especially for the youngest learners, starting as early as kindergarten and creating a continuum through 8th grade. In addition, the Governor also directed the State Education Department to create a taskforce to develop model computer science standards to revitalize the computer science and technology standards for the twenty-first century. In order to continue to close the gender gap in accessing computer science, Governor Cuomo will provide $6 million for FY20 to allow more schools to participate in the Smart Start program. This funding, along with the new computer science standards, and other course access achievements will help ensure that the next generation of girls is ready to succeed in computer science and technology
Create the State's First Ever Youth Council
In order to increase participatory democracy with young people, the Governor will create the State's first Youth Council. The Council will be made up of 62 young people ages 13-21, one representing each county. They will serve for a period of two years, and will advise the Governor and policymakers on key issues facing young people, including outreach and communication strategies. The Council will meet at least three times a year and will provide policy recommendations on education, juvenile justice, the environment, and civic engagement. In addition, in order to address issues specific to young women and girls, especially cyberbullying, sexual assault and harassment, and female empowerment, there will be sub-committees that specifically addresses these issues.
If You Can See It, You Can Be It 2019—Girls in Government
Governor Cuomo will create an opportunity for girls to learn about the impact they can have through politics through the new Girls in Government initiative, a non-partisan program to encourage girls in grades 8 through 12 to get involved in government and public policy. The program will introduce girls to the machinery of advocacy and public policy and teach young girls about public affairs and issues that matter to them personally and in their community. They will witness first-hand the inner workings of state government and meet with elected officials and senior staff. It is important that youth have an opportunity to develop a world view and to understand the principles that underpin civic engagement and help them become global citizens. The program will not only empower young girls to think outside the box, but also will foster youth voices in the decision making process.