ITHACA, NY (WSKG) – The 2019 New York legislative session saw the passage of a raft of legislation that has been blocked in previous years. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton spoke with WSKG’s Celia Clarke in the Ithaca studio.
She represents Tompkins County and part of Cortland County in the state Assembly.
Lifton spoke about the new farm labor rights, legalization of electrically-assisted bicycles and scooters, and why she thinks marijuana legalization is inevitable.
The conversation begins with Lifton talking what she considers the most important accomplishment of the session.
CELIA CLARKE: It’s been a little bit like a freight train since the Democrats have gotten in control. So, of everything that’s been going on this session, what, to you, was the most important, the most significant for the state?
BARBARA LIFTON: Do I have to choose one? [CC: You can choose two.] There were so many.
BL: But, statewide, and not my bill but I was the first prime co-sponsor on it, the Englebright-Lifton bill, the climate bill. The bill, it’s now called the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. It will require, once it’s signed, the state of New York — people think we have a climate action plan in New York. We don’t.
It will require the state to create a council that basically creates a climate action plan for the state. And it’s gonna be a lot of big gonsa magilla, a lot of work and it’s gonna take time and we’re gonna be eager to get going and really say, how are we gonna bring down greenhouse gases over the next 10 and 20 years. And go to renewable and do the weatherization, energy efficiency and all those things that will, and stop using fossil fuels. We’ve gotta stop, the scientists are screaming at us.
CC: So, the Farmworkers Labor Rights Law. I think that you had some reservations and concerns. Talk about why you decided to support that bill.
BL: Well, I decided to support — I’d always supported the package, and I support labor, I support workers. I went out to a couple of farms. Talked to the farmer who invited me out, talked to his workers.
One of the main frankly, was the overtime issue. I’m good with collective bargaining. I’m great with day of rest. Most of our, of course, we should have a day of rest. Most of our farmers allow a, do have a day of rest already, but let’s put it in law because most farmers are doing the right thing there. But, the overtime one was I thought the trickiest. So we got a good compromise on that.
It’s, it’s, it’s at 60 rather than 40. When we talk about a 40-hour week, totally unrealistic [for farming] I thought. And so I was very glad at the response, they left it at 60.
CC: When it came to marijuana, in general you’re in favor of decriminalization. I recently had the Tompkins County Sheriff, Derek Osborne here in the studio. He said his biggest concern is always public safety and so he’s concerned about those few people who may be impaired and driving impaired. And so, I wonder how you thought through that, the public safety issue, as you were making your decision to support the legislation?
BL: Well, you know, I did, I did, finally, I held off on that, I did finally go on the bill this year — hadn’t gone on it last year ‘cause I had a lot of people bringing concerns to me. People who dealt with drug and alcohol, therapists, counselors who dealt with alcohol and drugs. Ah, but there’s a concern about more access and more use and what does that mean for young people.
And that and the issue of driving, whether or not we had a way to test. With alcohol there’s the test, the road test, and we don’t have a similar test at this point for marijuana. And questions about what that is, what the impairment might be with marijuana. Whether there could be safety issues on the road. So, these were some of the things, there were many issues, you know.
Even though, overall, I think it makes sense to do this. There’s so much legalization [in states] around us, it’s like Prohibition all over again, right? Where it doesn’t really work.
CC: OK. So you think it’s coming back…
BF: I believe it’ll come back next year.
CC: It took until the day after the last day to get through the Senate, was the one about electrically-assisted scooters and bicycles. So, in Ithaca, that’s related to Lime bikes that are already on the streets. You’re in support of that, talk about —
BL: You said I’m in support of the bill. I did go on the bill a few weeks ago, after, I was kind of neutral on the topic. I wasn’t jumping in, I wanted to see where my, I often turn to my local governments when it affects them or could affect them and say, ‘What do you guys think about this? Are you supportive? Do you want this? So, that’s kind of what I do on a case like this, you know. So, it was more that I was taking direction from the city of Ithaca. And, again, it’s permissive, it allows a municipality to do, it doesn’t tell anyone they have to do anything.
CC: Are we gonna see you on an e-scooter any time soon?
BL: I, I, you know, never say never, but, I’m not aching to do that, I have to say.
CC: Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, thank you so much for coming in yet again.
BL: Appreciate your interest.