The 2019 Women's Justice Agenda

by Daniel A. Nelson

It’s been a busy month of production. A part of this story we thought would never come to fruition has gained a lot of traction.

On February 19, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda. The Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (S1077 / A3974), a piece of legislation Kim has been fighting to pass for a decade, is included in the agenda.

But let’s backtrack a few months. In December, Governor Cuomo unveiled the 2019 Justice Agenda, “urging the legislature to act in the first 100 days of the next legislative session,” which runs from January to June. This was the first mention of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act (DVSJA) from Cuomo’s office since we began this project. To be honest, this was something we never thought had a chance of passing when we started production in early 2017.

A month after Governor Cuomo announced his agenda, he outlined the 2019-2020 executive budget, which again, included the DVSJA. We had been reaching out to the Cuomo camp since the Governor’s race last November in hopes of asking Governor Cuomo a couple of questions about the bill. After months of phone calls and emails, we finally heard back.

Three days before our most recent shoot, someone from Cuomo’s office called to extend an invitation to Kim. The invitation was to attend the unveiling of the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda. After some quick production planning, Kim came down to New York City from Rochester to attend last week’s event.

Julianne Moore was in attendance representing Time’s Up.

Kim watches the announcement of the 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

The event lasted all of 90 minutes and included speeches from Chairwoman of NYS Council on Women & Girls Melissa DeRosa, Actress and Advocate Julianne Moore and Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. As the speeches ended and media flocked to the speakers, we debriefed with Kim who had mixed feelings. She felt positive about the event overall, but was upset that no one had mentioned the DVSJA specifically. We deliberated for a few minutes about what to do next. Our producer Natalie Pattillo and I asked Kim if she wanted to join the media scrum on the opposite side of the room and try to speak with the Lieutenant Governor about the bill. Just as we posed the idea to Kim, a press secretary from the Governor’s office walked right up to Kim and said, “I don’t know what your plans are now, but would you like to speak one-on-one with the Lieutenant Governor for couple minutes?” It was almost like we willed the idea into existence.

Kim with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

Kim with Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul.

We gathered our equipment and walked into the hall next door. Lieutenant Governor Hochul greeted Kim and the two immediately started talking about the DVSJA. The first words out of Kim’s mouth were, “Do you support our bill?” It was a simple question, but one that warranted asking. The DVSJA has been in existence for 10 years, and up until now, it seemed like not many legislators cared enough to get it passed. Lieutenant Governor Hochul responded, “Finally, a decade of waiting, with the change in the Senate, we can get this done.” The two continued the conversation and Kim shared her experiences in prison and why this bill matters so much to survivors.

Kim with Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Advisor to Governor Cuomo.

Kim with Ruth Hassell-Thompson, Special Advisor to Governor Cuomo.

After Kim’s exchange with the Lieutenant Governor, she ran into an old friend, former State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson who now works in Governor Cuomo’s office. Hassell-Thompson was the original sponsor of the DVSJA. As the two caught up, Kim pointed to the booklet and said, “Our bill. It’s right here. Can you believe it,” to which Hassell-Thompson just repeated, “Our stuff, our stuff, our stuff,” as she pointed back.

It’s rare to have an opportunity to track this kind of progression in real time, but we’ll be there every step of the way with new updates about the DVSJA as they become available.

-Dan