Activist state

An Interview with State Senator Sue Serino

The advantages of Rokosz: This recut thing has really been a doozy. You have lost approximately 147,000 of your former constituents. But you won Columbia and Greene counties.

State Senator Sue Serino: So now it’s Hyde Park North. Putting Columbia and Greene counties together made a lot of sense because there’s so much they share. But the way they cut Dutchess and Ulster makes no sense. I grew up in Wappingers. So I lost where I grew up. My mother lives in Poughkeepsie. And my mother-in-law too. They can’t even vote for me.

More: Do you see any similarities between the commercial corridor from Wappingers falls to Fishkill on the 9 and here in the city of Ulster on the 9W or the 9W around Highland. I suspect that as a Republican you will focus your energies in areas with the busiest business communities, but also away from downtown areas that tend to vote Democrat. Is this a fair assumption?

Serino: I go everywhere and talk to everyone. I think it’s so important… I always say I govern by listening and I’ve never asked anyone what party it was. I think it’s so important, especially today, with all the divisions that exist. And no one can put me in a box. I have a reputation for standing up for our neighbors and never being afraid to do so. That’s why it’s important for me to hear from everyone. I don’t care what party. The party doesn’t matter.

More: There was a letter written by Senators Gallivan and Ortt that you seemed to support very strongly, criticizing the state Department of Labor for an interest assessment surcharge. Can you explain what it was about?

Serino: It’s about how businesses have struggled to survive during the pandemic. It was like winners and losers with the way businesses were chosen to be shut down and it just went on too long. And then it’s a slap in the face, hitting them with the surcharge. We should do everything we can to support our small businesses. They are the fabric of our communities.

They imposed a tax on unemployment insurance. It’s $27.60 per employee. Like other states, we received money from the federal government to pay it back. Other states have chosen to use this money. Our state, which is not business friendly, decided to give business owners a slap in the face and we had a conversation with NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business] and they said it could take up to eight years for companies to pay for that.

More: Here is a question close to my heart. You introduced a bill to clarify the time an agency has to respond to a FOIL [Freedom of Information Law] request. I would be interested to hear about it.

Serino: You see this all the time. You know, when people file a pull request, they want to be able to retrieve those responses. And I’m thinking of Governor Cuomo for the nursing home, resident data during Covid. These are things you need to know. The Department of Health and the Governor’s Office are simply not responding to you. Put the Covid people that everyone was scared to death with the elderly and look what happened, over 15,000 elderly people. No answers and no surveys. You know, we sent a letter to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Health. Absolutely deplorable.

More: It seems that you have spent a little energy being rather activist, introducing a law providing for a mechanism for dismissing elected officials. You called Letitia James to investigate the local government. You introduced legislation to force the disqualification of jurors appointed by the governor. I guess I have to ask, do you have it for the governor?

Serino: No, it’s bribery. It is a matter of transparency and good government for elected officials. I mean, we put them there. Because we trust them. You know they work for us, really, for our taxpayers’ money. It is so important to have this transparency.

I think some of the bills you mentioned were actually about corrupt legislators. Look what happened with Governor Hochul with the corporate tax scandal – another $286 million to buy from a political donor. It’s absolutely deplorable, especially when you think about what’s going on.

We were talking earlier about going to the neighborhood and talking… In every corner of this neighborhood, people are suffering. And they’re really worried about what’s going to happen this winter. With rising costs and fuel oil, that money could have gone a long way to help those in need in our state.

More: If you add that to the amount of money she paid for the football stadium, it’s a billion dollars.

Serino: It’s a billion dollars. You are quite right. That’s a lot of money. And you split that among 62 counties.

More: You also tabled a bill, I believe it stalled in the Senate, in the Finance Committee, but you wanted to set up an innovation program in childcare and early childhood education?

Serino: Sure. You know, when I was a single mom, I started a daycare through Dutchess County Daycare. So I was able to stay at home with my son, who was then one and a half years old. And, and it was a great opportunity for me to be with my son and also to take care of other children.

And I just think that’s so important, because right now, especially after the pandemic, you’re seeing a lot of child care centers closing. It’s really, really hard for people to find affordable, quality child care. So my idea during the pandemic was to use the American bailout [ARPA] money to fund new niches for these child care providers.

More: You also tabled a bill to establish a tax credit for grocery donations to food pantries, more common sense. And, once again, it stalled within the committee?

Serino: They are vital to our communities. People of all income levels are really hurting, because of the cost of everything. And the pantry needs help, because when the economy isn’t doing so well, it doesn’t get the donations it would normally get. So, and I believe that version was passed in the budget. But you know, it’s a larger conversation about how we get food to where it’s needed most. Lots of common sense ideas, right?

More: Yeah. It’s necessary. OK. Yeah, that kind of pivots to your opponent, senator [Michelle] Hinchey, because I interviewed her and we largely focused on agriculture. I saw that you had three or four bills directly on this subject in the area of ​​agriculture, to my knowledge. And for some reason, there seems to be this back and forth between renewable energy and agriculture. A bill you were trying to make involved agricultural districts being converted to solar power without penalty?

Serino: Farmland should be the last option for solar. When you think about it, look at all the buildings we have. They can put solar energy on buildings. We did something in Beacon in my district, they had an old garbage dump. And what they did was that the land could never be used again because that’s where all the garbage was.

We have to think outside the box and we really have to find a balance when it comes to these things. And it must be local control. This shouldn’t be Albany once again telling everyone what to do. I am a firm believer in local control. And especially when it comes to solar, I think it’s really important for local communities to be able to make their voices heard. So I think that’s the most important thing when it comes to this discussion of solar power.

More: When you say local control, are we talking about the county level? Is that where it’s done with the county executive? Or are we talking about towns and villages?

Serino: We have local towns and villages that have worked really well together, where they can have these round tables, have these discussions and talk to people. The governor had an executive order to rescind local control. It’s not correct. So it’s just to further an Albany agenda. Which, you know, doesn’t include people who are here in our community. So when I say local control, I mean what’s best for our community here.

More: OK. I was just trying to figure out what the boundaries of a community were. But you said, but you been up there, seven years in Albany, so you know

Serino: What do I not only have this experience but I have life experience, right? Starting a business, being a member of city council, being a legislator, I really learned about all the different aspects of government. I’m still learning. It’s me spending time in the community because so often people don’t think to call a senator’s office about it, it could be an array of ideas or if they have any issues. And I think Covid has taught us a lot about that.

And Covid has shown, you know, especially to our constituents, that we’re here for them. We have helped over 5,000 unemployed people. We were calling old people every day to check on them, because old people are the last to ask for help. They grew up in a time when they didn’t, they just took care of themselves and now they need help more than ever.

So for me, this job is about being in the community every day and it’s not just an election year for me. Every year people see me and I want to be available to have those conversations with people because this job is about helping people.