Big Staff Turnover in Senate as Legislative Session Nears in Changed Albany; Advocates Watching How Assembly, Senate and Cuomo Interact

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The 2019 New York State legislative session will get underway in less than a month with a major change in the cast of characters including the new Democratic Majority in the Senate.   Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins was elected the Majority Leader and she will have a big job trying to set the tone with fifteen new members of the Democrats 40 members.    They will be able to move many bills that have been stopped by the Senate Republicans in the last several years.   The Majority Leader will have to make key decisions about who will lead various committees.  Senator Sue Serino who had been chair of the Aging Committee will be replaced by a Democrat.  Long-time Senator Kemp Hannon who chaired the Health Committee for many years was defeated.   Senator Gustavo Rivera was the ranking Democrat on that committee but it is unclear if ranking members will all take over to chair their committees.

A big concern for lobbyists and advocates will be the new faces on the Senate staff.   There is a big turnover of staff who are the people they have been dealing most on a day to day basis.  Many staffpersons who have worked on the Senate majority staff are losing their jobs and Democrats have to quickly hire many new staffpersons for committees and for central staff including budget and finance staffpersons.

Democrats will continue to have the majority the Assembly and there will be just the normal turnover with some new members.   Program and budget staffpersons  in the Assembly do not know now who all their counterparts will be on the Senate staff who they will need to interact with on a daily basis.

Advocates and lobbyists as well as the media and public are trying to figure out how the Assembly, Senate and Governor Cuomo are going to interact, especially if the two houses stake out more liberal positions than the Governor.   Cuomo will be tested to see if he will support many of the reform measures new members and both majorities in the houses want including voting and ethics reforms.  Democrats are expected to push  for legislation to enact early voting and ending a loophole allowing corporations to donate huge amounts of money.   Democrats led by Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried will again push hard for  a state single payer health system with his NY Health bill.

 

Older Persons Discuss What Role Robots Can Play in Elder Care as Tech Companies Address Artificial Intelligence and Emotions

What is the relationship between artificial intelligence and emotion?  That is a big question that is the subject of much discussion in Silicon Valley as big technology companies are on the cusp the next sweeping change in society that could transform everyday life as much as the computer and internet  did in the 1980s and 1990s.   This subject was also discussed by a group of seniors and professionals in Albany recently following a workshop some had attended at the national meeting of the Village to Village Network in San Diego in October.   Presenters there described how robots in the form of pet animals are keeping older people company as well as other robots providing reminders throughout the day to take medications at certain hours and other inquiries.  Nursing homes are beginning to use the robots too to assist with some tasks.

Of course, the most recognizable form of artificial intelligence for many persons is the personal assistant such as Alexa from Amazon which answers questions and gets information with a voice command.  Robots though can be super Alexas and personal assistants who have the ability to be programmed to do things that humans sometimes can’t do, such as helping an immobile older person in a wheelchair being able to more quickly retrieve something or finding something for a person with limited vision.

The issue of emotion though is one that is getting a lot of attention.  In the group discussion in Albany, some were uncomfortable with the idea that a robot would replace human contact.  After all, a robot cannot assess a living environment or a person’s full social and service needs.  Yet, many older persons who have been using the robot animals became attached to them as they would a pet because the robot was always there and had been programmed to provide conversation.

Many of us want to learn more about this evolving technology and it is probably a good idea in every community to arrange workshops with local health providers and technology companies representatives to discuss issues.  We probably should all keep an open mind.  We probably are all uncomfortable with the idea that machines will be able to replace humans with many tasks but human contact and human direction remains most important while using technology as an aid not a master.