Ruth Hassell-Thompson To Join Cuomo Administration Leaving A Rich Legacy As A Law-Maker

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571a2cde0829d.image_Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, who served the Senatorial District 36 which includes parts of the Northeast Bronx and Mount Vernon will be leaving office in July and join the Cuomo Administration. She will serve as a Special Advisor for Policy and Community Affairs of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, leaving behind a rich legacy as a legislator.

Changing Drug Policy in New York State
It is very rare for a law-maker to introduce legislation that is signed into law and consequently changes the future of the State. But this is the case with Ruth Hassell-Thompson as she leaves an impressive legacy of law-making that now has, and will have, a direct impact on every New Yorker for the foreseeable future. Changing New York State’s criminal justice system was a starting point. In 2009, Senator Hassell-Thompson, Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry and then Senator Eric Scheiderman, co-authored and passed into law the Rockefeller Sentencing Reform package which mandated defendants be screened for addiction services as a possible alternative to incarceration. The idea was to deal with the reason “why” individuals committed crimes and drug addiction was determined to be a major cause. The immediate result of the new law was to divert hundreds of people into residential and out-patient drug therapy programs and over time, the inmate population dropped below 55,000 after peaking in 1999 at 72,584. More importantly, in 2016, repetitive cycles of drug related crimes are down, drug treatment programs are saving hundreds of addicts from a revolving door of crime and scarce tax revenues are now free to be used for property tax relief or other state services and projects.


Champion of WMBE Programs
Senator Hassell-Thompson has served on successive WMBE Task Forces under Governors Pataki, Patterson and Cuomo. In 2010, Governor David A. Paterson signed four ground-breaking bills into law, including legislation that established a level playing field for Minority and Women-Owned Business Enterprises (MWBEs). Sen. Hassell-Thompson said “These bills intend to bring our State procurement process into the 21st Century by removing barriers that have historically prevented women and persons of color from reaching full economic parity with respect to contracting opportunities in this State”. The package included, for the first time, opening state pension and retirement funds to WMBE financial experts. In many instances, Governor Cuomo’s 20% goal of including women and minorities into sharing state contracts has been satisfied or exceeded.


Leading The Way In Matrimonial Reform
Senator Hassell-Thompson also sponsored New York’s No-Fault Divorce Law, which permitted the involved parties the opportunity to divorce without the aggression and pain associated with fault-divorce. She held Senate hearings to obtain testimony to secure the data needed to reach fair and just conclusions. Medical experts testified that no-fault divorce was advisable for the long term stability of children understandably troubled by the break-up of their parents. In an effort to fully transform New York’s matrimonial law, Senator Hassell-Thompson overhauled New York’s Alimony Laws so that, for working people, the law was made consistent and predictable. More importantly, every day working people were given a mathematical formula akin to child support guidelines to estimate the ultimate cost of spousal support. Legal experts called it the most dramatic change in matrimonial law in the last 50 years.


Protecting The Right To Counsel
In 2010, responding to a series of violations against the right to counsel, as reported in the Report of the Kaye Commission,Senator Hassell-Thompson and Assemblywoman Weinstein passed legislation that created the Office of Indigent Legal Services. This independent office, headed by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, ensures that the constitutional right to counsel is protected from state infringement. Senator Hassell-Thompson efforts were integral in the passage of Case Caps for Public Defenders in New York City, limiting the number of cases a public defender could handle to ensure effective representation in criminal proceedings. Her work earned the Senator recognition from the Obama administration and an invitation to the White House.

Her work continued. In 2016, she co-sponsored legislation which requires the State of New York to ensure that the complete costs for public defenders are paid by the State of New York. This bi-partisan bill passed both houses and was sent to the Governor fortis signature or veto. Legal experts stated that her work advanced the principles of Gideon v. Wainwright, a United States Supreme Court decision which established an individual’s right to counsel in criminal cases.

Fixing Civil Legal Services
Having addressed the criminal justice side of the equation, Senator Hassell-Thompson started to look at the lack of representation for people unrepresented in civil court. She conducted public hearings throughout the state to hear testimony regarding the lack of legal representation for the poor and working people. Together with Court of Appeals Chief Jonathan Lippmann and Assembly Judiciary Chair Helene Weinstein, they created stable funding streams for Civil Legal Services in the State of New York, to ensure that lawyers were available to citizens who needed help with foreclosure proceedings, unemployment benefits, disability benefits and similar legal matters. During this same time period, Senator Hassell-Thompson also demanded and succeeded in saving IOLA, a state grants program that provides legal services to working people who need representation in civil courts.


Building Re-Entry Programs
Senator Hassell-Thompson navigated several pieces of Re-Entry Legislation, through the Legislature. Her goal was to create second chance opportunities for citizens returning home from prison. Together with Assembly Partners, Aubry, Lentol and Weinstein, she has passed laws to amend the Alcohol Beverage Control Law to allow individuals with minor convictions to have access to entry level employment, a law providing birth certificates to prisoners leaving prisons and jails in order to allow them to obtain proper identification, a law that allowed prisoners the right to petition Family Court for a downward modification of child support payments, a law that provided copies of “rap sheets” to ex-offenders, a law that removed certain convictions from the Inmate Look-Up Web-Site after five years, a law (co-sponsored with Schneiderman) that required that inmates be counted as residents of their home communities for the purpose of the United States Census, and a law that improved laws regarding Certificates of Good Conduct and Relief From Civil Disabilities.


Gun Control
Senator Hassell-Thompson worked with Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith to create the SNUG Program, an anti-gun initiative modeled on Chicago’s Operation Cease Fire. This concept makes use of former inmates, gang members, law enforcement and community volunteers to diffuse street violence and is still being employed in several regions throughout the State of New York.


Domestic Violence Reform
Senator Hassell-Thompson chaired the New York State Senate Task Force on Domestic Violence. With the support of her General Counsel Alison Green, the Task Force recommended several bills which were signed into law by Gov. Paterson. Flowing from the work of the Task Force, Senator Hassell-Thompson worked to bring “bullying”, human and sex trafficking, violence against teenage, females and date rape to the public discussion and was successful in navigating several legislative initiatives into law.


Raising Money for Local Communities
During her 16 year tenure with the New York State Legislature, Senator Hassell-Thompson has brought millions of dollars to the Bronx and the City of Mount Vernon. These monies have improved conditions and the infrastructure in the district’s fire departments, elementary Schools, HIV/AIDS Programs, the Bronx Zoo, the Botanical Gardens and scores of organizations dedicated to improving the quality of life in those communities.


Unfinished Criminal Justice Reform
The Senator worked up to the last minute of the last day of the 2016 legislative session to pass a package of Criminal Justice Reform bills, including but not limited to, the Special Prosecutor Bill, The Misdemeanor Sealing Bill, The Domestic Violence Justice Survivors Act, the Child Victim’s Act, and Pretrial Criminal Discovery Act. While the legislative session fell short on these issues, the Senator worked to Raise the Minimum Wage and voted to create the Paid Family Leave Act.


Nursing and other Health Concerns
While the Senator worked to successfully secure monies for HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis C Programs, she was unsuccessful in winning passage of the Safe Staffing Act, a bill that would regulate the number of cases assigned to nurses. The Senator commented that it was her hope that there would be a solution to the AIDS crisis by 2020 but that it was equally important that medicines and treatment be accessible to all patients. The Senator also voted for passage of a package of bills which respond to the heroin crisis. The bill increases insurance benefits and expands prevention programs. The Governor signed this bills into law.

As Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson moves on to the next phase in her political career, Black Westchester Salutes the Senator for all she has done for the Northeast Bronx and the City of Mount Vernon.

More About Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson: First elected to the New York State Senate in 2000, Ms. Ruth Hassell-Thompson brought years of public service and community involvement to her post as the Senator of the 36th Senatorial District. She represented parts of the Bronx and Westchester Counties. In 1993, Ms. Hassell-Thompson was elected to the Mount Vernon City Council, serving as Council President and Acting Mayor. In this position, she was Vice chairperson of the Urban Renewal Board; a voting member of the Board of Estimate; Vice chairperson of the Real Estate Board and Chairperson of the Capital Projects Board. Among her other committee responsibilities was oversight of all Council committees, which included Legislation and Public Works; Human Resources; Finance and Planning; Public Safety and Codes. Ms. Hassell-Thompson continues to balance her public responsibilities with other important community and business-related endeavors in the district. A retired nurse/counselor for Mount Vernon Hospital (1963-1998) specializing in pediatrics and helping women with substance abuse issues, she is the Founding-President/CEO of “The Gathering,” a volunteer-staffed women’s center in Mt. Vernon that provides counseling and support services.

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