ALBANY, NY — Money and lobbying have a huge influence on the state capitol, but there’s little pressure like an old-fashioned deadline for major finish line legislation.
With New York’s annual legislative session slated to end on June 2, state lawmakers are racing to put the finishing touches on a wide range of legislative projects, ranging from efforts to strengthen gun laws and reproductive rights to an agreement to renew New York’s authority over its schools.
The Democratic-controlled Legislature has already passed a steady stream of laws in recent weeks, including a landmark bill allowing adult victims of sexual assault to sue their abusers and legislation banning the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. . The Senate passed bills to crack down on monopolies and cap the cost of insulin, though it’s unclear whether the Assembly would follow suit.
Consensus on other hot legislation seemed even less certain, with many lawmakers already considering re-election campaigns and grappling with the chaos of new district lines that led to a harassed game of musical chairs.
Here’s a look at five of the most contentious issues facing lawmakers in their final week in session.
Increase the age to buy AR-15 type weapons
New York already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, but lawmakers want to toughen them further, something they discussed even before the massacres at a Buffalo supermarket and a Texas elementary school.
Recent shootings, each involving 18-year-old suspects, have only added momentum to new gun policies: Governor Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, said Wednesday she would seek legislation to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of AR-15 style guns, and possibly other firearms.
Currently, anyone over the age of 18 can purchase a long gun in New York City as long as they pass a background check; permits to obtain a long gun are required in New York, but not elsewhere in the state.
Raising the age for purchasing at least some guns, a move taken by other Democratic-led states, appears to have support from Democratic lawmakers, though it could be challenged in court by the gun lobby, which recently prevailed in California.
Lawmakers are discussing other gun control measures, including a proposal to “microstamp” semi-automatic pistols to help law enforcement officials trace casings to the guns that discharged them.
State lawmakers are cautious about what kind of gun legislation they pass, fearing they won’t pass laws that the Supreme Court could use in its impending decision on the state’s concealed carry law, which many Democrats fear being overturned. The law places limits on carrying firearms outside the home.
“We don’t want to warn Supreme Court clerks who might write an opinion and quote New York lawmakers trying to preempt their possible opinion,” said State Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who sponsored the legislation on the microstamp. “So there’s a lot of unease, but also calculations that these bills don’t hit that concealed carry area.”
Lawmakers may have some leeway in their timetable: Ms Hochul said this week that she was ready to call a special legislative session to pass bills in response to a Supreme Court ruling, which is expected in June.
Lawmakers Assess the Environmental Impact of Crypto Mining
Two environmental bills face hurdles: One would impose a two-year moratorium on the most energy-intensive cryptocurrency mining, while the other would instruct the New York Power Authority to build wind and solar power plants with the aim of boosting the renewable energy market.
Supporters of both bills say they are key to meeting the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019, a landmark law that required the state to be 70% powered by renewable energy by 2030. and carbon neutral by 2050. As of this week, New York has received less than 3% of its electricity from wind and solar renewables.
“If the private sector is too slow to help us comply with the CLCPA, which right now it looks like we’re moving too slowly, we have a public entity that can help pick up the pace,” said the State Senator Michael Gianaris, Democratic Congressman. Majority Leader said the Public Services Bill is a top priority for progressives.
Opponents say the bill is unnecessary, given the number of private sector renewable projects underway, and will drive up costs for consumers.
But it is the cryptocurrency bill – the first of its kind in the country – that has received the most attention.
The bill would temporarily prevent new permits from being issued to facilities that mine digital currency using non-renewable energy sources. The legislation is a direct response to environmental concerns about former fossil fuel power plants that have been converted into crypto-mining facilities, particularly for Bitcoin, in upstate New York.
The bill passed the House in April, but the cryptocurrency industry — a relative newcomer to Albany politics — rallied to try to block the legislation in the Senate, where the chamber adopted a broader moratorium last year.
The industry has argued that banning operations would harm fledgling industry in New York and open the floodgates to similar regulations by Congress and other states. Ms Hochul said this week she was ‘open-minded’ about the legislation but wanted to balance upstate job creation with the environmental impact of the facilities, a concern echoed by d other legislators.
“I think there’s a way to make crypto mining fossil-free without using the stick, and instead using carrots to make it happen,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island.
Will Mayor Adams retain control of New York’s schools?
New York mayors have visited Albany regularly to renew the city’s control over its public schools since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg first convinced lawmakers to grant him so-called mayoral control.
While local councils oversee schools in the rest of the state, legislators have generally granted the city authority over its schools in increments ranging from one to seven years.
Mayor Eric Adams, with the support of the governor, has asked to extend the mayor’s control for another four years, which is longer than any extension his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, had received.
John C. Liu, who heads the New York City Education Committee in the state Senate, said he thinks four years is too long an extension. He suggested he would be open to a multi-year deal, provided issues such as class size and representation of ESL students and people with disabilities are addressed.
The broader question of school governance remains open, however, with Mr Liu, a Democrat from Queens, saying he thinks the state should commission a study into how the city’s schools have fared over two decades. of mayoral control and how they compared to other major US cities.
Abortion legislation in the works
Democratic lawmakers have been working on a package of bills that would bolster New York’s already strong abortion protections, following a leaked Supreme Court opinion saying the court is set to to quash Roe v. Wade.
Some of these efforts have focused on protecting providers from liability for patients from states where abortion has been criminalized. Others seek to protect patients who travel to New York for sexual health care.
Democrats are also working to enshrine the right to abortion in the state Constitution, a move Hochul has expressed support for. It’s unclear, however, whether lawmakers will advance language narrowly focused on abortion, or introduce a more ambitious bill that would provide full protection against discrimination.
Property tax relief set to expire
Democratic lawmakers appear poised to let expire a tax incentive program that has divided New York City developers and used it for five decades to build most major residential projects.
Ms. Hochul and Mr. Adams have both pushed for the renewal of the controversial grant, known as 421a, or a revamped version of the program, which aims to help subsidize the construction of affordable housing.
But there has been little appetite to renew the program among progressive Democratic lawmakers who framed the subsidy as a tax giveaway for developers in exchange for too few below-market rental apartment units.
“If we’re going to have a program that provides such generous tax benefits, we need to make sure the public benefit is commensurate with the tax revenue we’re forgoing,” said State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, chairman of the housing committee. . “I think we will have the opportunity to do so in the future. It’s not something that needs to happen by next Thursday.
The impact of the grant expiring on June 15 is not expected to be felt for years. Ms. Hochul said the state may revisit the program in the future, though some lawmakers have made last-ditch attempts to piece together a package of housing bills that could include an expansion of the program.
Lawmakers appeared to be closing in on a consensus on another housing front: legislation to help save New York’s deteriorating public housing system, home to more than 400,000 low-income residents.
The legislation, which Mr. Adams has lobbied for, would create a Public Housing Preservation Trust aimed at releasing federal funds to pay for repairs to thousands of public housing units suffering from leaks, heat failure and mold.