After a tough year plagued by Democratic infighting, the New York legislature will adjourn the 2023 legislature this weekend with few policy wins and a conspicuous failure to address the state’s critical housing needs. expected.
Despite last-ditch efforts, Democrats in control of the State Capitol have failed to introduce or pass legislation to address perhaps the most pressing issue on the policy agenda, the state’s affordable housing crisis. Public backbiting erupted between Congress and Governor Kathy. Hochul.
Still, Democrats, tired of protracted budget negotiations and shortened time to legislation, claimed to have won in other areas.
Lawmakers passed a long-overdue initiative Friday night to seal old criminal records to help rehabilitate those convicted of certain crimes. It also passed a bill to establish a commission to review reparations for blacks, making New York the second state after California to do so, promoting expanded medical services for illegal immigrants.
A broad overhaul of the state’s Prohibition-era alcohol laws did not materialize, but lawmakers agreed on a bill to allow liquor stores to open before noon on Sundays.
Here’s what else I was able to do, and what failed along the way:
Committee to Consider Compensation
Following California’s precedent, lawmakers this week passed a bill establishing a commission to examine the impact of slavery on racial disparities in New York state and recommend remedies.
The commission’s scope is broad, covering not only the history of slavery outlawed in New York in 1827, but also its subsequent impact on housing discrimination, biased police crackdowns, income inequality, and mass incarceration of African Americans. are also expected to be studied.
“Although the effects of slavery in New York State are not echoes of the past, they can still be observed in everyday life,” the bill memo reads. “The impact of slavery on modern New York society has not been adequately researched.”
It remains unclear whether Ho-chol will sign the bill. The committee’s recommendations are non-binding and require the approval of lawmakers.
A similar commission in California last month approved a report recommending a broad statewide reparations program that includes a formal apology and billions of dollars in payments to black residents, which lawmakers will consider. There is a need.
criminal record seal
After years of unsuccessful attempts, Democrats approve a bill that automatically seals the criminal records of people who get out of trouble for a set period of time (eight years for felonies and three years for misdemeanors). bottom.
Known as the “Blank Paper Withdrawal Act,” the bill aims to help those who have paid their debts to society access opportunities to rebuild their lives in a meaningful way.
“This bill is not just about criminal justice. It’s not just about public safety. said Catalina Cruz. “It’s about redemption.”
Despite opposition from minority Republicans, the bill won support from a broad coalition of business and labor groups, saying it would both reduce recidivism and boost the economy.
There are exceptions for the most serious crimes, and most Class A felonies, including murder, kidnapping and terrorism, go unsealed. The same is true for most sex crimes. Drug-related felonies will be sealed.
Ho-chol has previously voiced his support for parts of the bill, but has not publicly said whether he intends to sign it or veto it.
Last Minute Changes to Campaign Finance Reform
In 2019, Democrats moved to limit the influence of special interests in New York state politics by institutionalizing public campaign finance. The program, which provides candidates with funding that matches the small donations received within their constituencies, was praised by good government bodies. They said this would make elected officials more sensitive to voters and help produce more competitive primary and general elections.
But just before the end of the session, Democrats pushed through a series of last-minute amendments, some of which sparked fears among government watchdogs that they were trying to water down the original reforms.
The amendment, which passed Congress and the Senate on Friday, is expected to benefit incumbents and help Democrats fend off challenges from Republicans and the primary.
For example, one change would increase the number of donors within the district required to qualify for the matching fund, and another would expand the public matching fund to larger donations. be.
Democrats defended the change, saying it was intended to clarify the program and prevent abuse by unscrupulous candidates.
“New York State has taken the lead by launching the most ambitious public campaign finance program in the nation,” said Senate proponent of the bill, Zelner Miley. The first year will definitely be a success,” he added.
John Keyney, executive director of government watchdog Reinvent Albany, said Democrats’ move to undermine the country’s laws was “shameful,” especially in the context of national threats to democracy. .
“I think this is an embarrassment to Democrats around the world who are campaigning for free and fair elections,” he said.
housing deal breaks down
A last-minute deal on housing broke down on Thursday, with tenant activists, property developers and political leaders lamenting housing shortages and a lack of action in states facing the highest rents and home prices in the nation.
The measures Democrats were working on included several proposals to boost housing supply, including an extension of the developer tax credit to encourage affordable housing and a proposal to help convert vacant offices into apartments. The proposal was to be combined.
It may also have included measures to protect tenants through measures known as “just cause evictions,” which limited rent increases and prevented many evictions.
In a rare joint statement, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins and Speaker of the House Carl E.
But despite winning a supermajority that overrides the governor’s veto, lawmakers did not introduce any legislation, raising questions about whether they actually had the vote to pass the housing policy. .
Earlier this year, Ho-chol’s proposal for a broader housing plan to encourage housing construction across the state, especially in the suburbs, was met with opposition from lawmakers. The governor has vowed to advance some housing policies through his executive actions, but meaningful action by lawmakers will have to wait until 2024.
Increased voter turnout in local elections
Lawmakers passed legislation to move some local elections in states other than New York City to even-numbered years, aligning them with presidential and congressional election cycles. It affects elections for county officers and county legislators, but does not apply to elections for judges, sheriffs, district attorneys, or county clerk.
According to Democrats, the move aims to boost voter turnout in local elections by consolidating local elections, especially state and national elections, which draw significantly more voters than local elections held in odd-numbered years. and
Republicans vehemently opposed the move, arguing it was a political power play aimed at benefiting the Democratic Party, which had a favorable position in New York in the presidential election.
Lawmakers could also set the date for the 2024 presidential primary on April 2, earlier than the previous two primaries, putting New York in line with neighboring Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Will Ho-chul again veto the ‘wrongful death’ bill?
For the second year in a row, lawmakers passed a bill that would overhaul the state’s “wrongful death” laws to allow claims for “psychological loss” in addition to potential loss of income.
He vetoed the bill after lawmakers passed it for the first time last year, saying it went too far and was passed without seriously assessing its impact. He echoed the concerns of business and medical groups, saying it could lead to higher premiums.
Recognizing the governor’s concerns, lawmakers this year tweaked the bill and made amendments such as shortening the statute of limitations for claims. Ho-chul said Wednesday that he has not yet considered the new law.
what went wrong
Far more legislative initiatives failed to cross the finish line, such as proposals to end natural gas subsidies in the name of climate protection.
One high-profile bill that failed to pass is the Sammy Act, which would allow New York City to lower the speed limit to 20 mph. The bill bears the name of 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed in 2013 by a speeding van on the streets of Brooklyn where he lived. The Sammy Act was passed by the Senate but has not been introduced to the House of Representatives.
A bipartisan effort to rename a bridge connecting parts of Westchester County and Rockland County also failed.
Commonly known as Tappan Zee, the bridge was renamed Tappan Zee Bridge by Gov. Malcolm Wilson in 1994, but after being rebuilt in 2017, former Gov. We renamed this bridge after the governor. . But the resignation of a young Cuomo over allegations of sexual harassment prompted calls for the bridge’s original name to be restored.
A bill to restore Tappan Gyi to the name of the bridge passed the Senate but was defeated by Congress.