After agreeing to a package of historically tough rent protections (without the "help" of Governor Andrew Cuomo), the State Assembly and Senate are currently hammering out a slew of other important bills that weren't included in the state budget.
The lawmakers have a deadline: Monday at 11:59 p.m., which allows for the legally mandated, three-day "aging process" required of all legislation, so that a vote can be taken on Wednesday, the last official day of the legislative session.
Of course, Governor Cuomo could call for a special session to give lawmakers more time, or sign a "message of necessity" to waive the three-day period for a piece of legislation, but Cuomo told reporters on Wednesday that he's only inclined to insert himself into negotiations "when I can make a difference."
"On measles, I believe I can make a difference," Cuomo said, referring to a bill that would remove the religious exemption for vaccination, and calling the outbreak a "public health crisis."
Everything else? Legislators may be on their own. Here's how the big ticket items you have read about this year are faring.
Once a top priority in Albany, Governor Andrew Cuomo has spent the last month downplaying expectations for marijuana legalization, telling reporters yesterday that he’s “not extraordinarily hopeful” it can get done. But some state lawmakers disagree, including State Senator Liz Krueger, who insists that a newly-amended Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act—which more closely resembles the framework put forth by the governor earlier this year—is gaining traction.
In addition to legalizing recreational marijuana for anyone over the age of 21, that bill would empower a new Office of Cannabis Management to regulate medicinal pot and hemp products like CBD. It would also seal (though not fully erase) the records of state residents convicted of low-level marijuana offenses, reinvest 50 percent of marijuana revenues in communities hit hardest by the drug war, and provide $3 million in training for cops to spot stoned drivers.
While the legislation is likely to pass the Assembly, its success in the Senate will hinge on a handful of Democratic State Senators; a recent tally by LoHud found the bill is at least two votes shy, largely due to ambivalence or outright opposition among suburban Democrats in Westchester and Long Island. Krueger has accused Cuomo of not doing enough to pressure the fence-sitters, arguing that legalization depends on his “willingness to use political capital.”
In response, Cuomo Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi told Gothamist on Thursday that “this is a different tune from earlier in the session... The Governor wanted to do it in the budget but the Legislature wanted it to be passed outside of it.” (It’s unclear what that has to do with Cuomo’s efforts to convince fellow Democrats to support legalization).
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio has directed the NYPD to stop issuing criminal summonses to most people caught with a small amount of weed. But a recent analysis found that cops arrested 674 New York City residents in the first four months of this year for low-level marijuana possession, while another 500 have received the non-criminal unlawful possession charge.
“Decriminalization has failed to prevent this devastation and only continues the damage done to our communities,” Anthony Posada, Supervising Attorney of the Community Justice Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement to Gothamist. “With the time that we have left in the session, Albany must enact the revised Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act to legalize marijuana, expunge past convictions, and to invest in the communities that have shouldered the brunt of prohibition.”
Green Light Bill
A bill that would allow undocumented New Yorkers to obtain driver's licenses unsurprisingly passed the Assembly yesterday, but still only has 25 sponsors in the Senate (it needs 32 to pass). The bill is currently being discussed in the Senate.
Thanks to some private conversations from the governor and one of his close allies on Long Island, Democratic Senators there are reportedly hesitant to sign on, for fear of angering their constituents.
Publicly, Cuomo reiterated his support for the bill on Wednesday, though stopped short of saying he'd apply more pressure, a la vaccines.
"I supported it when Eliot Spitzer first proposed it, as Attorney General. I support it, and I hope the Assembly passes it, and the Senate passes it," Cuomo said.
Surrogacy/Ban The Gay Panic Defense
One of the thornier items on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s end-of-session checklist is a bill to legalize gestational surrogacy for same-sex parents and infertile couples. The proposal, which has the backing of LGBTQ advocates and at least a dozen Congressional Democrats, passed in the Senate earlier this week. But some long-time progressives in the State Assembly have pushed back, echoing an early feminist position that sees surrogacy as a form of oppression.
Deborah Glick, the first openly gay member of the State Assembly, told the Times this week that she considered the reproductive assistance option to be a “troubling” form of “commodification of women,” while suggesting that the “well-heeled” surrogacy industry might be behind the push. In response, advocates of the measure have noted that New York is one of just three states that currently bans gestational surrogacy, depriving LGBTQ people of the basic right to start a family.
(There’s also a third perspective here, laid out in Sophie Lewis’s recent book Full Surrogacy Now, that calls for increased rights for surrogates and a radical realignment of kinship in which baby-making, like sex work, is treated as labor. This argument does not appear to be present in the current discussions happening in Albany).
In any case, negotiations on the Assembly bill are believed to be currently happening behind the scenes of the capitol, though as of now there’s no floor vote scheduled.
There is also a second outstanding piece of legislation related to LGBTQ rights, which would ban the gay and trans panic defense as a viable defense strategy in court. That bill passed the Senate this week, and is expected to become law before the session’s end.
Repeal 50-a/Police Transparency
The administrative trial of NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo wrapped up last week, but the public may never know whether he’ll face any discipline for killing Eric Garner. Such is one consequence of a decades-old state civil rights statute known as 50-a, which shields police misconduct and disciplinary records from public view to an extent not seen anywhere else in the country.
Police transparency advocates and some progressive officials have long attempted to change this, while law enforcement unions, the courts, and conservative lawmakers have repeatedly stood in their way. The governor, despite his professed focus on criminal justice reform, has been notably silent on the subject.
Still, with Democrats firmly in control of both legislative houses, this was supposed to be the year that the long-stalled push for repeal made it across the finish line. That effort picked up momentum in January, after an independent report from two former U.S. Attorneys blamed 50-a for "a fundamental and pervasive lack of transparency" within the NYPD. Police Commissioner James O’Neill subsequently came out in support of state legislation to reform the law, insisting that the NYPD would not “bristle at accountability.”
And yet, it’s far from assured that lawmakers will actually manage to overturn 50-a this session. The proposal is not among Cuomo’s listed priorities, and there’s little indication that Mayor de Blasio or Commissioner O’Neill have seriously lobbied the state to make the change, despite promising to do so.
On Wednesday, a coalition of more than 100 organizations traveled to Albany to make their case for the Safer NY Act--a package of legislation that includes the repeal of 50-a, as well as other police transparency measures. Gwen Carr, Eric Garner’s mother, was among those at the rally, calling on the state to pass the law “so that my family and other New Yorkers have access to basic information related to the killings of our children by police.”
Kesi Foster, a leader of Communities United for Police Reform, tells Gothamist she is “cautiously optimistic” about the statute being repealed. But certainty remains elusive; the bill’s sponsors in the Senate and Assembly--Jamal Bailey and Daniel O’Donnell--did not respond to Gothamist’s inquiries.
The Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA)
Having passed the Assembly for years, the question of whether the CCPA would pass this year again rests on the Senate. The legislation sets a deadline to end New York’s use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2050, and directs 40 percent of clean energy funds to be invested in low-income, and minority communities.
The bill has yet to be voted on in either house, but if you believe Manhattan Senator Liz Krueger, things are looking good.
So, according to @LizKrueger:
1. She's "damn" proud of rent. They will pass on Friday.
2. 39 Senate Dems support Sen version of the #CCPA
3. Senate is conferencing Recreational Marijuana today. @CapPressRoom
— Susan Arbetter (@sarbetter) June 12, 2019
On Brian Lehrer earlier this week, Cuomo said he didn't want to “play politics with it,” then proceeded to question the wisdom of the bill. On Wednesday he said that it was still being negotiated.
Ending The Religious Exemption For Getting Vaccinated
According to a State Senate release, as of June 10 there were 922 confirmed cases of measles in New York State, 588 of them in New York City, and those sickened overwhelmingly identified themselves as ultra-Orthodox. A poll released earlier this week showed that 84 percent of New Yorkers support ending the religious exemption to get vaccinations.
To address the public health crisis, the package of proposed legislation would eliminate the exemption, establish a vaccine awareness program, and give immunization and health responsibilities to legal custodians to
Shortly before this story was published, the Assembly passed the legislation, over the loud objections of anti-vaccination protesters.
Bill passes 77 to 53. Activists not happy. pic.twitter.com/sWa9hXsdeo
— rachel silberstein (@RachelSilby) June 13, 2019
The Senate has vowed to also pass the legislation later today.
Update: The Senate passed the legislation.
With additional reporting from Fred Mogul.