Alessandra Biaggi has served the 34th Senate District for two years, and she’s ready for two more.
The 34-year-old Mount Vernon native had big plans when she unseated Jeff Klein after 13 years in the state senate, and they haven’t gotten any smaller since she moved into his old office.
In the weeks prior to the June 23 election, Biaggi worked with her colleagues in the senate and Assembly to begin the process of repealing 50-a, which kept private the disciplinary files of police officers, firefighters and corrections facility officers.
Advocates for police reform — especially those protesting after the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis — have called for the law’s repeal, saying it protected police officers from public scrutiny, and from facing consequences.
“The NYPD are not policing themselves,” Biaggi said of the New York Police Department. “It’s kind of like, you know the problem they have in the legislature where if there’s an ethics violation it goes to (the Joint Commission on Public Ethics), which is like a joke, basically. It’s political appointees and if you have political appointees overseeing, it just doesn’t work. It’s a conflict of interest.”
The governor signed the repeal into state law Friday, sealing the deal on what Biaggi saw as just the beginning of police reform. And, she said, her track record shows she’s ready to take on the rest.
“When I was campaigning for the seat, about 98 percent — and that’s not just some random number — about 98 percent of the issues that I went into people’s living rooms, knocked on people’s doors, and did all of my campaigning on, have already been passed,” Biaggi said. “Everything from rent reform — which was just historic last year — the environmental bills that we did this year, particularly the (Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act), which was just incredibly monumental as well, our immigrant reforms that we did, passing the Green Light bill.”
Biaggi also has been laser-focused on expanding the rights of victims of sexual abuse, introducing the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for reporting abuse. The law also gave victims a one-year “lookback” window beginning last summer, during which victims could file suit against an abuser no matter how long ago they had taken place.
Three people then filed suit against Stanley Rosenfeld and Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy, saying SAR administrators at the time were aware Rosenfeld was sexually abusing them and failed to step in.
“Lengthening the statute of limitations on sex crimes — rape, criminal sexual assault, incest — to make sure that survivors have the necessary time,” Biaggi said. “It takes longer for people to speak up.”
Making sure victims know when to speak up was another important moment in Biaggi’s first term, she said, when she partnered with Forest Hills Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi on a piece of legislation requiring day care providers to have training in spotting and reporting “adverse childhood experiences.” ACEs, as they’re called, are defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as experiences like violence, abuse or neglect, among other things, that could lead to chronic health problems, mental illness, or even substance abuse, as those children become adults.
“So, if you’re a day care provider, you are required to be trained in ACEs,” Biaggi said. “And that, to me, is everything, because if a child is being abused, or is experiencing or exemplifying symptoms of trauma, and you’re taking care of that child but you don’t even know what to look for, that child is no doubt in a more harmful situation than if someone, obviously, could know what’s going on.”
It might seem like so much has been passed to protect victims of sexual abuse already, that all is said and done. But Biaggi says she has much more in mind if she’s re-elected, including working with Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz on removing a loophole in sexual assault cases allowing defendants to use the victim’s “voluntary intoxication” as a defense.
Of course, there’s more to focus on through the second half of 2020 and beyond. New York City has entered the first phase of reopening last week, slowly moving toward a pre-coronavirus normalcy.
But that norm isn’t enough, Biaggi says, especially in the Bronx where black and Latino communities have been hardest hit by infection rates and deaths. While recent protests that rippled across the city was focused on police reform, Biaggi says it’s hard not to see people marching because of the virus as well.
“At this very moment, I don’t think it’s an accident,” she said. “I don’t think anything is an accident. I think this is showing us how many people are sick and tired of the status quo, and also being ignored and not being heard.”
Biaggi is frustrated watching lawmakers discuss high rates of coronavirus deaths and infections in communities of color, and shrugging their shoulders when it comes time to figure out why.
“That’s crazy, because they know exactly why that is,” Biaggi said. “They’ve under-invested in those communities for decades.”
It will be impossible to return to “normal” as we know it, the senator added, because “we’re in a new world now.”
“So my ask is that everybody shows up for the call to create this new world, instead of trying to put the pieces back for a world that didn’t work for a lot of people.”