State Senator James L. Seward’s nearly three decades of service as a state senator cap a lifelong interest in politics, public affairs, and state government. A native of Otsego County, Senator Seward attended Oneonta public schools and graduated from Hartwick College with a B.A. degree in political science. He also studied at the Nelson Rockefeller Institute of SUNY Albany. In 1999, Hartwick College honored Senator Seward with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
Senator Seward was elected to the state senate in 1986 and was appointed chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee, where he developed a reputation as a skilled negotiator and effective spokesman for the senate majority on statewide energy issues.
He won enactment of the “Power for Jobs” program, which has helped retain and create thousands of jobs in New York. Seward worked to ensure that the state’s telecommunications industry remained competitive, and introduced legislation to restrict minors’ access to electronic obscenity. In 1990, he negotiated key reforms in the 1986 Low Level Radioactive Waste Siting Law.
In 1999, Seward assumed chairmanship of the Senate Standing Committee on Insurance, where he immediately set out to develop state policy that helps consumers and ensures New York’s leadership in this vital segment of the state’s financial services industry, employer of thousands of New Yorkers. Seward has fought to broaden health insurance coverage and reform, and the writing of auto and property/casualty policies in a free, but fair, market that is sensitive to consumers’ needs.
Seward has pushed wider availability of health insurance for the uninsured and to reduce pressure on health insurance costs for workers and small business owners. He won passage of legislation in 2002 that extends group health insurance offered by chambers of commerce to sole proprietors of businesses, and in 2008 secured legislative approval of a bill to provide short term health insurance policies to young adults and college students. He sponsored the “Health Insurance Premium Integrity Act” to boost the percentage of premium dollars spent directly on health care, and was responsible for broadening health insurance coverage for voluntary firefighters and EMTs by letting them purchase policies through their municipalities.
Seward won statewide recognition for his “Freedom Plan” to match simpler, lower cost health insurance policies with federally authorized health savings accounts. The legislation is considered an innovative approach to addressing the rising cost of health insurance for employers and their employees. Seward has led the fight in New York against auto insurance fraud, a significant factor in rising auto insurance premiums. He is serving as immediate past president and nationally recognized leader in the National Conference of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL).
Senator Seward has also served as a member of the New York State Senate Joint Task Force on Heroin and Opioid Addiction since its inception in 2014. As a task force member, Seward has worked closely with local health care professionals, addiction experts, law enforcement officials and concerned citizens to develop a multi-prong strategy to battle this deadly epidemic which has taken its toll on every segment of the population. His legislation to improve access to insurance coverage for individuals seeking substance abuse and dependency services was part of a comprehensive package of new laws now in effect aimed at helping save lives and prevent the tragic deaths that have occurred due to heroin addiction.
In 2015, Seward won legislative approval for his landmark legislation to include pregnancy as a qualifying event for women to enroll in a health insurance plan. The legislation clears insurance hurdles to help pregnant women access vital prenatal health care to ensure the well-being of both mother and child alike.
Senator Seward is also a key member of the senate leadership team, currently serving as Chairman, Majority Program Development Committee. The position allows Seward to work closely with senate leadership in establishing priorities and directing important legislation to the senate floor.
Previously, as chairman of the Senate Task Force on Volunteer Emergency Services, Seward was instrumental in establishing a low interest loan program for the capital needs and equipment purchases of voluntary fire departments and emergency squads in 1994. He has won funding increases for the program and for the state fire academy in order to improve training for firefighters. He has also served as chairman of the Senate Task Force on State and Local Emergency Preparedness following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington.
Senator Seward has been a consistent advocate for education, securing state aid for local districts to offset rising taxes and to support technology and special education initiatives within his schools. He strongly supported enactment of the STAR school tax relief program and has championed property tax relief.
Seward is an advocate for more jobs and business growth. In his district, Seward is a partner in local economic development. He works to save and create jobs in his district through state grants and loans to businesses and partnerships with local economic development agencies and local governments.
As a member of the senate agriculture committee and a consistent recipient of the “Circle of Friends” award from the New York Farm Bureau, Senator Seward is well aware of the importance of farming, economically, and, as a way of New York life. The highly successful New York Rollover Protection System (ROPS) Rebate Program is among the specific initiatives Senator Seward has helped foster. The program enhances farm safety, saves money, and helps keep the family farming tradition alive.
Responsiveness to his constituents through personal contact and district office hours is one of Senator Seward’s strengths and his highest priority. He has been recognized for his advocacy and responsiveness by the Farm Bureau, the Alliance for Affordable Health Care, local chambers of commerce and many community organizations.
Senator Seward is a former Milford town justice and former chairman of the Otsego County Republican Committee. He was a delegate to the 1976, 1980, and 1988 Republican National Conventions and an alternate delegate in 1996.
Long active in community and civic affairs, Senator Seward is a regional advisory board member of Community Bank, NA, a trustee of Glimmerglass Opera, serves on the boards of directors of Pathfinder Village and the Catskill Symphony, and is a member of the Milford United Methodist Church.
Senator Seward and his wife Cynthia (née Milavec) reside in Milford. They have two grown children and two grandchildren.