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Despite Albany Chaos, AIDS Agenda Goes On

Posted by , March 05, 2010 at 1:17am

Despite Albany Chaos, AIDS Agenda Goes On

AIDS advocates from GMHC and Harlem United before lobbying Sen. Eric Schneiderman

Despite the latest Albany drama, and Governor Paterson in limbo, there are still important AIDS-related bills that need to pass— including 30 percent rent cap legislation and the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act. Both have been held up in the Senate.

At Albany AIDS Awareness Day last Tuesday, some 200 people with AIDS from Syracuse to Buffalo to the Bronx lobbied for these bills and other issues that impact people living with HIV/AIDS. The event was organized by the New York AIDS Coalition (NYAC).

Rumors circulated that the 30 percent rent cap bill might pass through the Senate that Tuesday night, but instead the Senate passed a resolution declaring a Dominican week in New York,and went home. The legislation, which would cap the rent of people with HIV/AIDS in subsidized housing at 30 percent of their incomes, passed in the Assembly this session and needs to pass in the Senate. It passed last session, after an impassioned speech by Sen. Tom Duane.

“It should pass pretty soon,” said Mark Furnish, Duane’s legislative counsel. It passed largely last year, and will pass this year, because it’s the right thing to do.”

The 30 percent rent cap bill would address a cruel disparity, so New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS no longer have to pay more than 30 percent of their public benefits (such as Veterans’ or disability benefits) toward their rent. Because of this policy, many people are living on as little as $12 a day. Analysis shows that this legislation would actually save the City and State money, by limiting money spent in rent arrears.

With Albany in flux—and the Democrats down a member with Monseratte expelled—the Senate leadership is dotting its I’s and crossing its T’s before bringing legislation to the floor

“I think they just want to patiently move forward with the agenda,” said New York City AIDS Housing Network Executive Director Sean Barry. “We’ve gotten a lot of assurances by Sen. Duane and Sampson that this is a top priority.”

Other bills being pushed by the AIDS community last Tuesday were the decriminalization of possession of hypodermic needles with residue; promoting HIV awareness license plates
to provide revenue for transportation for people with AIDS; and the Healthy Teens Act, which would be New York’s first dedicated funding stream to support comprehensive sex education in schools.

And there’s been one victory already! One of the bills on the lobbying agenda, The Family Health Care Decision Act, passed the Senate Wednesday after being stalled for 17 years. The bill has already passing through the Assembly and enables a health care proxy to make medical decisions if a person is incapacitated. New York was one of only two states in the nation that bars family members from making treatment decisions for incapacitated patients.

On the a-GENDA?

Another bill that is definitely cost-neutral is the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA), which would prohibit discrimination of transgender and gender nonconforming people. The bill passed the Assembly twice, and is awaiting passage in the Senate. Advocates are meeting with Sen. Duane tomorrow to discuss the future of the legislation. Duane’s counsel said “we don’t have the votes yet” to pass GENDA.

“The senator’s been lobbying every day on this,” Furnish said. “We need 32 votes, and I believe we’re really, really close.”

This bill has been championed by Housing Works and supported by the AIDS community. Transgender people are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.

“Passing GENDA should be a no-brainer,” said NYAC Executive Director Brittany Allen.

Lobby day

In addition to the stated agenda, advocates also told their personal stories. At a meeting with Assemblymember George Amedor’s office, a woman with AIDS in Troy spoke of being turned away from a hospital when she had a collapsed lung because the doctors didn’t feel they had the HIV/AIDS expertise to treat her—even though her medical emergency wasn’t AIDS-related.

“There’s a lack of HIV/AIDS 101 among rural-area doctors and hospital clinic facilities,” said Scott Daly, a person living with HIV since 1985 and the cochair of the Policy Education and Advisory Committee of the Northeastern NY CARE Network, who attended that meeting.

Daly said his team also spoke about worries with the AIDS Institute’s collapsing funding lines and the lack of HIV prevention education.

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