As the Legislature enters the final weeks of the session, politics again in the backdrop as key issues face debate
ALBANY — Lawmakers returned to Albany on Monday after a two-week, post-budget break that saw a mass shooting on the New York City subway and the federal indictment of former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, who resigned in the wake of his criminal charges.
What greets lawmakers in the final 19 scheduled days of the legislative session are clear policy goals from Gov. Kathy Hochul, which come after the passage of a late state budget that was held up over contentious debates on criminal justice issues, particularly proposed changes to bail laws, and with an upcoming primary election in late June.
"We also have some urgent items that need to be addressed," Hochul said earlier this month, following the announcement of a $220 billion spending plan that included some of her policy goals.
The Legislature, Hochul said, should take up items including affordable housing, mayoral control of city schools in New York City, and the “Clean Slate Act,” a measure intended to seal certain criminal records to help former inmates get a good job and be able to more easily function in society.
In this first week back, 537 bills are scheduled to go before committees, which include causes related to the environment, elections, cryptocurrency, evictions and a preview of the public safety platform Republicans are using on the campaign trail.
With the criminal justice focus of the budget talks, which are intended to be based around fiscal issues, very few items have been proposed by members of the Democratic supermajority.
The key bill is expected to be the clean slate legislation sponsored by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn.
The legislation stalled last year in the Assembly but was almost folded into the budget. It was held up after Hochul’s administration wanted more years to elapse after time served before an individual could have their record expunged for certain crimes.
"I found that to be unacceptable," Myrie said Friday in an interview. But, he said, he is "cautiously optimistic that we will get this across the finish line."
Clean slate has support from the criminal justice community, and also from some prosecutors as well as the Business Council of New York State, Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, faith leaders and major labor unions.
Mostly progressive lawmakers, buoyed by criminal justice advocates, are pushing for changes to parole sentencing and eligibility, through bills known as "Elder Parole" and "Fair and Timely Parole." Those bills are not expected to go before a committee this week.
Republican lawmakers have a myriad of public safety proposals, some of which are focused on additional walkbacks of the state’s 2019 bail laws. Included in the legislation is a measure to make certain offenses against law enforcement officers qualify as a hate crime.
Although the bills have a realistically minimal chance of passing either house, they are already a part of messaging the state GOP is sending out for the scheduled June 28 primary.
Separately, Republicans in the Assembly have a bill intended to make it a felony if a package is stolen from a person's property, like a delivery from Amazon or other online retailers.
State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, a Long Island Democrat — who is expected to face a competitive election against former state Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican — put forward legislation related to firearms that would make additional crimes for more serious offenses bail eligible.
Legislation for the governor's two other major issues for Hochul, affordable housing and mayoral control, has yet to take shape and is not scheduled at the committee level.
A key affordable housing question is "421-a," a New York City-centric law that allows for certain tax credits for developers who build housing that is intended to be affordable.
Other legislation on affordable housing, related to accessory dwelling units and "Good Cause Eviction," have not garnered momentum from top Democratic officials as they enter the final month of session.
Hochul had wanted "ADUs" in her budget, but removed it after pushback from suburban moderates and the real estate industry; it also quickly emerged as a key issue other gubernatorial candidates — Republicans and U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-Long Island — are using to criticize Hochul.
"Good Cause Eviction" appears to have stalled, despite support from varying coalitions. It is intended to prevent a landlord from being able to evict someone from a property without a substantial cause. The policy would prevent landlords from being able to use a failure to pay rent if they raised rent by more than 3 percent in a 12-month period as a reason to evict someone, which has been the primary contention point.
Other legislation related to the eviction crisis is going before committees, including technical changes to the rollout of emergency rental relief intended to free up hundreds of millions of dollars.
Legislation on mayoral control also has not been moved forward.
Democrats intend on passing the "Birds and the Bees Protection Act," which failed to pass last year, but is expected to this year despite opposition from the agricultural industry. The legislation would prohibit the sale of certain pesticides normally used for corn and soybean production, but which a Cornell University study found to significantly harm pollinators.
Environmental legislation, including the extension of the state’s bottle deposit law, could move forward — although advocates have called on for a more expansive version.
The issue of cryptocurrency, through the lens of the environment, is also expected to heat up in the remaining days of session.
Progressive lawmakers are calling for a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining operations that use proof-of-work authentication methods, which in some cases are using former coal mines to handle the energy load. Further studies are also being called for by Democrats.
A series of election reforms are expected to pass to better ensure security at the voting booth, including improvements to voting technology and increased training for poll workers. A more sweeping "John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York" could at least make its way through the Senate.
The "Adult Survivors Act" also may be passed, which could open a one-year period people who say they were sexually abused decades ago but were blocked from filing claims under New York's statute of limitations.
Smaller bill packages around student loan relief could also be worked into the fold at the end of session.