(New York, NY, Monday, December 4, 2023) – The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (“WBASNY”) has adopted its Legislative Priorities for the 2024 Legislative Session.
Our list of priorities includes important issues identified during past legislative sessions and that align with WBASNY’s mission statement. Our priorities will serve as a roadmap for the year ahead but will by no means preclude WBASNY from identifying other issues of importance for our members and our mission.
This year, our legislative priorities include:
- Passage of the Grieving Families Act: WBASNY strongly supports amending the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law, (EPTL) § 5-4.3 with the passage of the Grieving Families Act. Currently, and for the past 110 years, the law recognizes mostly pecuniary injuries, which are primarily based upon a working male’s age, health, earning capacity, and life expectancy as a measure of damages for wrongful deaths in our State. Excluded from the calculations is the actual value of someone who works in the home (home-makers), infants, women who often earn less than their male counterparts, minorities who often earn less than their white counterparts, the infirm, mentally ill, disabled, and elderly. Adoption of the Grieving Families Act in New York would right the wrong of historical discrimination. WBASNY strongly encourages Governor Hochul to sign the Grieving Families Act into law this year.
- Increasing the Hourly Rate of Assigned Counsel: WBASNY’s commitment to the fair and equal administration of justice includes a sustained commitment and support for the long overdue wage increase to assigned counsel, who frequently represent indigent women, children, and families. We were pleased to see the Governor and Legislature included a measure to increase the rates last session, however, we ask that this year, a cost-of-living adjustment is included to ensure that assigned counsel attorneys are paid at a competitive rate. Assigned counsel attorneys are on the front lines, representing children and adults in multi-faceted cases where families are in turmoil. Individuals involved in these cases are often facing the loss of liberty or involuntary separation and require competent counsel to represent them. These attorneys also represent a large population of women who are survivors of abuse. WBASNY believes the State is responsible for ensuring the right to effective assistance of qualified counsel, who possess the requisite skill, training, knowledge, experience and expertise in their field of law. Currently, there is a crisis in our court system as there has been a mass exodus of qualified attorneys willing to take on assigned counsel work because assigned counsel rates have not been increased in nearly twenty years. WBASNY strongly encourages including a cost-of-living adjustment for the assigned counsel rates in the 2024 New York budget.
- Increasing Judicial Security: WBASNY supports actions to ensure the increased safety and security of judges, court officials, and their families in the State of New York. Criminal threats of violence, intimidation, harassment, and inappropriate communications against judges and court officials have increased in recent years which requires critical legislation to strengthen policies and protocols. Judges must be able to make decisions without fear of retaliation or retribution. The safety of the judiciary, court personnel and their families, is vital to not just an independent judiciary, but also to the rule of law and the protection of our democracy. WBASNY supports any enhanced measures to ensure the protection of our judges, court personnel, and their families.
- Ensuring the Addition of the Equal Rights Amendment to the New York State Constitution: WBASNY was thrilled that the Legislature oversaw the successful passage of an ERA. WBASNY urges New York State policymakers to do all they can to ensure that the ERA is successfully passed as a ballot measure in the 2024 election. Gender bias is pervasive in our social structure. Advancing constitutional protections against discrimination and ensuring equity in the administration of justice has WBASNY’s full support. Adopting an ERA in the State of New York is long overdue. Constitutional guarantees are needed at both the State and Federal levels to prevent sex/gender discrimination from impeding the full participation of women in the law and society. WBASNY looks forward to working with policymakers to ensure that the ERA is successfully passed in the 2024 election.
- Support for Increased Protections and Access to Reproductive Health: As an organization whose mission is to promote the advancement of women in society, WBASNY adamantly supports a woman’s fundamental right to make her own reproductive health decisions and supports all legislation at both the State and Federal levels that helps to advance this goal.
- Supporting Legislation Related to the Migrants Specifically Dealing With Women and Children: Our mission statement to promote the advancement of women in society applies to all women in society, and to that end, WBASNY strongly supports any and all legislation that seeks to provide support and resources to those immigrating to America. Currently, New York is seeing a large increase in migrants cross the border. These individuals frequently find themselves sent to various localities across our state with little input and at times, little support. To that end, WBASNY supports any and all legislation and budget expenditure that will ensure migrant women and children, who are often overlooked or at a disadvantage, are protected and supported as they start their life in New York.
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The Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY) is the professional membership organization of choice for nearly 4,000 attorneys throughout New York State and the largest statewide women’s bar association in the country. For more than four decades, WBASNY has been a singularly important resource for women lawyers, providing professional networking, continuing legal education programming, leadership training, and advocacy for the rights of women, children, and families. Through involvement with WBASNY’s 20 regional chapters and its 40-plus substantive law committees, WBASNY’s members collaborate with one another on a variety of issues and perform public and community service, in furtherance of its mission to promote the advancement of the status of women in society and women in the legal profession; to promote the fair and equal administration of justice; and to act as a unified voice for its members with respect to issues of statewide, national and international significance to women generally and women attorneys in particular. WBASNY holds United Nations NGO status with the U.N.’s Department of Public Information, and Special Consultative status in association with the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). WBASNY is also a founding member of the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations.