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Little wants to pass bills Senate hasn’t been able to

State Sen. Betty Little talks with the Enterprise editorial board at its Saranac Lake offices in October. (Enterprise photo — Aaron Cerbone)

SARANAC LAKE — State Sen. Betty Little campaigns every election season, even if she is not facing an opponent, but this year she is doing it “full scale” because she wants to continue to support northeastern New York’s colleges, schools, libraries and businesses.

It’s also because she faces a challenge from Saranac Lake Democrat Emily Martz, Little’s first major-party challenger since 2006.

The Republican from Queensbury said there are several bills she would like to see passed or just voted on in the state Senate that did not have a change because of the Legislature’s turbulent end to the 2017-18 session with a “bill jam.” The jam occurred when a senator left toward the end of the session, leaving both parties with an even 31 members each and lots of partisan fighting holding back the passage of bills.

One bill would allow first-time home buyers to put $5,000 each into a savings account, like a 529 savings account, which could grow free of taxes up to $100,000.

Little, who is the chair of the Senate Housing Committee, said millennials are renting rather than buying, which she chalked up to the cost of paying off student loans. She said this bill would anchor millennials in the area and would quell the problem of “zombie homes” that lie empty without owners.

The bill passed both houses of the state legislature last year and was backed by real estate industry; however, there were questions about the cost and how many people would use the program. Little said they were faced with a choice: let the governor veto the bill, or amend it after a study.

She agreed to amend it, and the study was supposed to happen in June. It did not, and she is not sure when it will take place. She wants to be there to vote on it when the study is done though.

Another bill would allow the state to sell Camp Gabriels, a former minimum-security prison closed since 2009. Environmentalists claim the now-vacant state land counts as Adirondack Forest Preserve, which the state Constitution says cannot be sold. Little included an amendment to put any money from the sale toward the Forest Preserve. The bill passed the state Senate but not the Assembly. Little said she is working with Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay, to get it passed next year.

Another bill Little is working on with Jones would allow companies to get a tax credit when they hire someone recovering from addiction, the same as if they were hiring a veteran. The employees would have to be in treatment programs approved by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

Little said she wants to get this plan included in the budget this year so it has monetary backing, to keep it from falling apart.

“Anything that you try to pass May or June that costs money falls apart because they say there’s no money,” Little said.

The next session may contain a vote on the long-debated Child Victims Act, which would raise the age an adolescent victim of sexual assault could criminally prosecute their attacker from 23 to 28 and raise the age to 50 for civil prosecution, plus offer a one-year suspension of the statute of limitations. Little said she would now support the act. In 2016 she voted against a version of the bill that was an amendment to a human trafficking hotline bill because she deemed it unrelated.

She had concerns about how the one-year “look back” provision, which allows a one-year window for past victims to file lawsuits, would work, but after researching the one- or two-year look back policies of other states, she believes the evidentiary requirements would be covered by the trial’s rules of discovery.

Little said she would like to add a provision that ensures that the victim gets 90 percent of the award, instead of lawyers taking outsized shares.

The New York Health Act, a single-payer health care bill that is currently in the Health Committee Little sits on, will possibly be debated in the Legislature next session. Little has said she will not support the act because she thinks universal health care should be passed at the national level instead of state-by-state, but she supports increasing access in other ways.

She wants to support and expand awareness of things like Child Health Plus, which provides health insurance for kids; the Essential Plan which is either $20 per month or free, depending upon income level; and Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage, which supplements income-eligible seniors aged 65 and older with their out-of-pocket Medicare Part D drug plan costs.

Little is also waiting for several bills to be passed in the Assembly.

One would give a life-without-parole prison sentence to people who deliberately kill multiple people, including children. She said this bill stemmed from a murder in Glens Falls, where a man slashed the throats of a mother and her 4-year-old daughter. The bill has passed the state Senate, but Little said it is hard to pass penalty increases in the Assembly.

She also has been pushing for a hair follicle bill, which would give social services and Child Protective Services the right to do hair follicle tests on children under the age of 3 who are in the vicinity of someone who is charged with serious drug abuse. If these tests come back positive, Little said CPS would be able to take the child until the parent or guardian is proven to be off drugs.

She said this bill stemmed from several cases of children overdosing because their parents put heroin in their bottles.

“It’s probably more common than you think,” Little said. “If somebody is high on heroin and they have a screaming baby, they probably think, ‘I can make that baby feel better.'”

Little said the district attorney and police would not be involved and that there would be no criminal penalty for offenders.

Little also wants to pass an early voting bill that was held last session, along with moving the deadline for voters to change party enrollment to October right before an election, rather than October of the year before.

Little said she is running a positive campaign and likes to stay focused on people and policy, not politics.

“Election Day ends, thank God, at midnight,” Little said. “I work with whoever got elected because that’s who the people chose, and those are the people I need to work with.”