How New Yorkers Could Put Albany to Work Again

The New York State Capitol in Albany.

There are nearly twice as many registered Democrats in New York State as Republicans. Word, however, hasn’t reached Albany.

In 2011, a small band of elected Democrats broke from their caucus and called themselves “independent,” giving Republicans de facto control of the State Senate and allowing them to kill all manner of needed reforms through a mix of Albany jiu-jitsu, old-fashioned gerrymandering and, until recently, a dash of help from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Now, all but one of these ersatz Democrats appear ready to rejoin their party’s fold. New Yorkers this election season will have a chance to turn the Senate over to Democratic hands — the best shot at enacting a backlog of humane, necessary legislation blocked by Senate Republicans for more than half a decade.

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Credit...Andrew Seng for The New York Times

First on the agenda should be enacting early voting, to make it easier for millions of working people to cast their ballots. It’s notoriously hard to vote in New York, where party machines have for years successfully depressed turnout to keep incumbents in office. Registering voters automatically would help, and early voting — at least a week in advance — would bring the state into the 21st century.

A working Democratic majority in the Senate could show political courage by taking on the state’s campaign finance laws, essentially one giant loophole that helps promote Albany’s dysfunction. They could start by ending New York’s L.L.C. scam: As the rules stand, a donor can brazenly contribute as much as he or she wants to a candidate by creating multiple limited liability companies that separately funnel money to a single campaign. The Democrats should also enact comprehensive public financing of campaigns, a measure Senate Republicans have blocked that would encourage competition in state elections.

More vigorous gun safety laws are also vital, as is the Child Victims Act, which would extend the statute of limitations for New Yorkers who were sexually abused as children and give a one-year window for anyone to seek justice in court, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

It’s long past time to eliminate cash bail, which unfairly punishes poor black and Latino New Yorkers, shamefully crowding our jails with people who pose no threat to others and haven’t been convicted of a crime but cannot afford bail. The roots of cash bail in this country wind back to a set of laws created after the Civil War that criminalized black Americans and led to generations of plunder and servitude.

New York lawmakers should also be ready to stand by the rights of women, under assault by Washington lawmakers seeking to roll back access not only to abortion but even to contraception.

Senate Democrats are also more likely to push much-needed changes to Section 50-a of the state’s civil rights law, which Mayor Bill de Blasio and others say prevents them from making public the disciplinary records of police officers without judicial approval.

In special elections next Tuesday, voters will go to the polls to decide 11 legislative seats — but only one race, in the 37th District, in Westchester County, could affect the makeup of the State Senate. Two gifted women are competing for the seat vacated by George Latimer, who was elected county executive in November. The race has become intense and ugly, with Democrats accusing the Republican of being a Trump surrogate, and Republicans accusing the Democrat of failing to do enough to support abused women while she worked in Albany. Both accusations are overblown.

The Republican, Julie Killian, a former Rye City councilwoman, is moderate enough to support “common-sense gun laws,” although she is hesitant about bail reform and her fight to lower property taxes is a more local issue than one for the Senate.

The Democrat, Assemblywoman Shelley Mayer of Yonkers, has a better grasp of how to use the culture of Albany to deliver fair funding to local schools, address climate change and pollution in the Hudson River, promote criminal justice reform and tackle the corruption and abuses of power that she has seen and resisted firsthand.

For voters of this strangely shaped district in Westchester and for the benefit of all New Yorkers, we believe Ms. Mayer is the better choice.

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