Legislative Update

Volume C, No. 5May, 2000

Judy West


Both Houses of Congress have enacted a bill that allows people 65 years of age and older to continue to work while collecting full Social Security benefits. In the past, older workers were subject to penalties if they earned more than $17,000 per year.

Meanwhile, the Social Security trustees released an annual report on March 30 projecting that the Social Security trust fund will stay well-funded three years longer than predicted only a year ago.


The steps of City Hall have traditionally been a public forum, but in mid-1998 the Giuliani administration restricted the number of people who could attend press conferences on the steps to 25. This anti-democratic edict was struck down on April 5, when U.S. District Court Judge Harold Baer ruled that such limitations are unconstitutional because they have been applied arbitrarily. Baer’s ruling, which came in a suit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Housing Works (see President’s column, February Allegro) removes limitations on the size of gatherings outside City Hall.


The cost of prescription drugs – especially for people on Medicare – is one of the hottest issues on the legislative agenda this year. On April 11, the Maine legislature passed a groundbreaking law to establish sweeping price controls on medications sold in the state. A number of bills are pending in state and federal legislatures.

In New York State –

  • The Elderly Prescription Insurance Program (EPIC) provides discounted prescriptions to lower-income seniors. Efforts are being made to pass a bill that would raise income eligibility and lower copayments. Advocates emphasize the importance of expanding the bill to include all people on Medicare and disabled people under 65. Call the co-chairs of the NYS Conference Committee on Health – Assemblymember Richard Gottfried (at 518-455-4941) and Sen. Kemp Hannon (at 518-455-2200) – to urge them to do so.
  • State Senators Marchi and Lafayette have introduced a bill to provide discount prices for prescription drugs for all New Yorkers.
  • Assemblymember Gottfried is helping to organize a bloc of states to purchase prescription drugs in bulk.
  • On May 2, the NY Network for Action on Medicare is organizing buses to go to Albany, so senior citizens can lobby legislators to enact the bills described above. For reservations call Amy West at 212-273-5260 or Lani Sanjek at 212-316-9393.

Of 26 bills introduced in the Congress to date dealing with prescription drug prices, the strongest is the Kennedy-Stark bill, preferred by the Democrats, which provides for some government subsidizing of drug costs.


Two anti-consumer bills have passed the House and are likely to be taken up in the Senate early in May: the Class Action “Fairness” Act (also known as the Interstate Class Action Jurisdiction Act) and Small Business Liability “Reform” Act.

The small business bill would reduce the liability of malpracticing doctors, small gun makers, defective products manufacturers, home builders and food processors. The class action bill would make it much harder to bring class actions in state court; discourage innovative class actions against the tobacco, HMO and gun industries; and be subject to amendments that could make it much harder to use the class action device at all, thereby denying plaintiffs with modest losses any remedy against corporate wrongdoers.

Both bills passed the House, but by very narrow margins because a significant coalition of opposition was built. Urge your Senators to oppose these bills.