New York: A State of Firsts

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York's capitol building is a place where history is made, where legislators pass laws that not only change things for the state, but for the rest of the nation.

In Jan. 2013, New York became the first state in the country to pass gun control measures after the shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school left more than two dozen students and teachers dead.

"Let's at least be able to say to people yes, we went through terrible situations, but we saw, we learned, we responded and we acted," said Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York. We are doing something about it. We are not victims."

One day after Cuomo signed the SAFE Act,  President Obama unveiled a set of executive actions aimed at reducing gun violence.

There are plenty of other examples through New York's history. After the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory killed 146 people in 1911, New York passed a series of workplace safety bills, and one of the leading organizers of the worker safely movement, Frances Perkins, became the first female federal cabinet member when she was appointed secretary of labor.

New York enacted the nation's first seatbelt use law in 1984. The percentage of people buckling up quickly went up, and 48 other states now have similar requirements.

Historian Bruce Dearstyne said it's not a coincidence that the Empire State has repeatedly led the way. 

"New York, until relatively recently, was the most populous state, historically, arguably, the most important state. A leader in business, commerce, agriculture, transportation, what have you, and so New York encounters big issues earlier than the rest of the country, and therefore has to deal with them earlier and more effectively than some of the rest of the country," Dearstyne said.

New York's diversity and its political complexity have made it difficult for Albany at times to get things done, but when lawmakers finally do act, the rest of the nation often follows.