Advocates for Public Policy: The NYJL Committee That Advocates for Change

Since its founding in 1901, the New York Junior League has been a powerful force for legislative change for the betterment of women and children in New York City and New York State. The focused and determined efforts of our Advocates for Public Policy (APP) committee have spurred legislation that includes the protection of children against child abuse, anti-stalking, mental health insurance coverage, the removal of toxic cleaning products from New York City buildings, human trafficking, and domestic violence.

History of Advocacy

In 1903, during the earliest years of the New York Junior League, Eleanor Roosevelt showed future U.S. President Franklin Delano the immigrant settlement houses on the Lower East Side where she worked alongside NYJL volunteers to improve living conditions, introducing him to a world he had never known. This event was the earliest known connection between New York Junior League volunteer efforts and legislators in public policy.

NYJL advocacy continued through the 1970s, when efforts expanded to focus on education rights for children, volunteerism, historic preservation, domestic violence, equal rights, and pro-choice advocacy.

Significant for the committee in the early 1990s, APP officially joined forces with the New York State Public Affairs Committee of the Junior League (NYSPAC), the advocacy group which represents over 21 Junior League chapters located throughout New York State at the state and federal levels, and coordinates public affairs action and trains volunteers in advocacy skills. Together with the New York Junior League, NYSPAC was instrumental in the fight to regulate hot water in apartment buildings in New York City. In 1996, the Scald Burn Bill passed on the city level and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed the bill forcing landlords to turn down the heat in buildings’ water pipes.

Between 1997 and 1999, APP supported anti-stalking legislation and in 1999, the Clinic Access and Anti-Stalking Act went into effect. The law was an enormous success for domestic violence advocates, and expanded on and made illegal the harmful conduct that was previously legal under earlier statutes.

In 2004, APP and NYSPAC began work to support Timothy’s Law, a legislation that would create mental health parity in health insurance coverage, which ensured financial requirements and treatment limitations for mental health benefits were no more restrictive than the predominant limitations to medical benefits. The organization’s efforts were rewarded when Governor Pataki signed legislation to enact Timothy’s Law in December 2006.

Throughout 2005, APP successfully supported two environmentally focused laws: Intro 552 and Intro 428A. Intro 552 supported removing toxic cleaning products from New York City buildings, intended to result in improved indoor air quality in City Buildings, including New York City Public schools. The bill was signed in December 2005. Intro 428A, designed to reduce the emission of pollutants from vehicles that transport children to and from school. The bill was signed into law in May 2005.

Beginning in 2006, APP began an extensive effort to bring human trafficking to the forefront of NYSAPC’s legislative agenda, with APP and NYSPAC working together to urge volunteers of the New York State Assembly and Senate to enact a strong, comprehensive state law that recognizes human trafficking as a crime, punishes traffickers and establishes services for victims.

In 2008, continuing the New York Junior League’s long-standing support for domestic violence issues, NYSPAC and APP successfully advocate for the provision of funding for domestic violence shelter services for victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. Governor Spitzer signed the legislation into law in September that year.

Today’s Advocacy

This year, APP and NYSPAC are continuing their work to combat human trafficking as part of the Trafficking Victims Protection and Justice Act (TVPJA) which seeks to address child sexual abuse and exploitation, including forcing minors into prostitution, in a comprehensive way by enhancing protection for trafficking victims. A portion of that legislation was passed in 2014 and as a result, criminal courts are now required to treat persons 16 and 17 years old who commit prostitution offenses as Persons in Need of Supervision, rather than treating them as adult criminals. Because of this legislative change, it is now possible to engage some of this very young segment of our New York community toward intervention from human trafficking.

NYJL APP volunteers will return to Albany this year in April 2015, to continue to advocate on behalf of trafficking victims and in support of the TVPJA.

Advocates for Public Policy committee invites all NYJL volunteers to learn more about how to participate in our advocacy efforts. Volunteers interested in learning more about APP may contact Volunteers may also help victims of human trafficking by encouraging your state legislator to pass the TVPJA before the current legislative session ends on June 19, and lend your voice in support that #peoplearenotforsale.