Legislation failed to pass NYS Assembly this session; sponsors aim to try again
By Tim Rowland
A bill that would have required diversity training for front-line state tourism employees in the Adirondacks failed to pass the New York Assembly this session, but is likely to be reintroduced next year, or earlier if the Legislature reconvenes in 2021.
The training would be developed in cooperation with ORDA and would much resemble sexual harassment training that has become a familiar workplace standard, said Phil Giltner, director of Albany relations for the legislation’s author, Sen. Brian A. Benjamin, a Democrat from the 30th District in Harlem.
The bill, while not inspired by any specific antagonism in the local tourism industry, is partly an answer to growing racial tensions nationwide, and also is intended to serve as a welcome mat for minorities to a predominately white area. ORDA manages major tourist destinations including alpine ski runs at Whiteface and Gore mountains and a new mountain coaster at Mount Van Hoevenberg.
It’s a piece of a relatively new initiative to make the Adirondacks a more accommodating place for a more diverse population not just for the benefit of minorities, but for the park itself, which is seen in need of a younger and broader base.
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Adding to the park’s constituency would “be helpful to small businesses that depend on tourism,” Giltner said. Adding racial diversity would also give the park more political clout when environmental issues are debated in Albany.
The training would be held annually, and would be performed online — face-to-face would be preferable, but is more costly, Giltner said. It would be extended to employees of ORDA, the Department of Environmental Conservation and state contractors who have immediate contact with the public.
The legislation builds on work done by the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, whose mission is a more inclusive Adirondack Park, and “is a reflection of the great need for a more welcoming community in the Adirondack Park,” said Kevin Chlad, director of government relations for the Adirondack Council.
The bill was originally drawn so as to apply to the state as a whole, but was scaled back to include just the Adirondack Park, which generated some local opposition. “This issue certainly is an issue of concern across the state, so why specifically have it home in on one area?” said Dan MacEntee, director of communications for Sen. Dan Stec, who represents the 45th District that includes a large portion of the park.
Giltner said the bill was narrowed as a practical matter, because a statewide plan would have been more cumbersome and harder to implement all at once.
Some private groups, including the Adirondack Mountain Club, have taken on the issue as well, noting that bias isn’t always intentional, but can be conveyed simply because of a lack of knowledge of what others might find offensive.
The Adirondacks has also traditionally attracted a whiter, older group of people, accentuating the need to become younger and more diversified. That means attracting tourists from more urban areas and treating them well when they get here.
“The tourism industry in particular is driven by attracting people from other locations and cultures, but … mistreatment not only ruins the experiences of the people involved, it also discourages others from visiting,” the bill summary says. “Having a properly trained and culturally sensitive workforce in the tourism industry is a necessary condition for economic development in New York State.”
Training, said Chlad, is an important way for employees to take a few minutes to reflect how their actions are seen by others. “There is recognition that so much more work needs to be done,” he said. “We have a long road ahead.”
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