Package of local laws will confront disparities in government services with the goal of making our community more fair, equitable and just.
Erie County Legislature Chair April N. M. Baskin has introduced a package of local laws, dubbed “The Pathway Forward” that is intended to tackle systemic inequalities in our community. The local laws will address disparities in health care, impose greater transparency on the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, modernize the county’s Minority and Women Owned Business legislation, increase the languages used on county materials and provide funding for local artists.
The Greater Buffalo Racial Equity Roundtable released a report in November 2016 called the Racial Equity Dividend. The report details the consequences of division by race in the Buffalo Niagara region and found disparities in four key sectors: Education and Job Readiness, Criminal Justice and Safety, Quality of Life and Neighborhoods and Income and Wealth.
“We have to make structural changes to Erie County’s policies if we want to provide opportunities for upward mobility,” said Chairwoman Baskin. “Taken comprehensively, the Pathway Forward will increase opportunities for communities that have been chronically underserved. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the vast differences in healthcare outcomes between residents in different parts of our community, which is why I am proposing the creation of an office that will focus solely on improving healthcare for individuals who have suffered neglect under our current system. I also wanted to open up new opportunities for entrepreneurs and local artists, who have traditionally faced hurdles when bidding on county projects. I am also asking that the Sheriff’s Office provide better care to individuals with mental health issues. And we must do a better job of providing immigrants and refugees with better access to county services if we want to successfully integrate them into our community.”
The five local laws that comprise the Pathway Forward are:
The Erie County Office of Health Equity Act: The COVID-19 exposed many flaws in our systems and greatly exacerbated the existing disparities between race, income, and gender in our society. This local law will address those disparities by creating an office whose sole responsibility will be to ensure Erie County’s health programs and policies address inequities and are executed in an equitable manner.
India’s Law of Erie County: India Cummings experience and unfortunate death exposed the need for real reform in our local criminal justice system. This law seeks to expedite the mental health evaluation process and increase transparency for families when their loved one suffers a serious mental health episode in Erie County’s jails. It is vital to the safety of all residents that we provide the proper care and treatment and hold people to the appropriate locations while they are incarcerated.
The Erie County Minority and Women Enterprise Equality and Modernization Act: This law will consolidate the 5 local laws that currently govern contracting with minority and women business enterprises into one law, strengthen minority and women owned business hiring by updating the goals to address current disparities, and introduces a workforce hiring component to ensure workers on Erie County projects reflect the diversity of our population.
The Erie County Language Access Act: The Language Access Act will provide Erie County the opportunity to engage with some of our most vulnerable residents, English Language Learners. Many of our English Language Learners are from Erie County’s vast refugee community, where they escaped oppressive regimes and dangerous situations. The Language Access Act will support pro-active engagement with our English language learning community and show some of our most vulnerable residents they are welcomed, safe, and supported here in Erie County.
The Erie County Percent for Public Art Act: As Erie County continues to strengthen its public infrastructure, it is important we grow our public art portfolio. This law seeks to increase investment in public art by funding art projects via large-scale public works projects. As we transform our roadways and bridges and restore and redesign major buildings, this law will projects not only fulfill our practical needs, but also our visual and inspirational needs.