NYS Legislative year ends with many bills still on the table
“The bills are dead,” sources murmured on Thursday night, shortly before the New York State Senate gave closing remarks and headed home for the summer.
Negotiations over a criminal justice reform bill and an MTA bill fell apart on the last night of session, despite rumors that a deal had been reached Thursday afternoon.
The “Clean Slate” bill would have sealed the records of those who have been incarcerated after a certain period of time. Advocates argue this would help these individuals secure employment and find housing.
However, there was hesitance even from Democrats, who said this bill would have prevented background checks on special education teachers and those who work with people with disabilities.
“We have a whole agency called the Justice Center that was created because of abuses that happened over a decade ago,” Assemblyman John McDonald said. “So I think those issues have to be addressed in the bill and I don’t know if they’ve been addressed yet. I’m not saying it shouldn’t happen, but we need to really focus on the fact that when it comes to individuals working with those who are vulnerable, whether it’s children or the elderly, whether it’s disabled, we need to make sure there are proper protections in there.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not rule out the possibility that lawmakers could reach a deal and return in the summer to pass the Clean Slate bill.
“Nothing is completely dead,” Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins said. “We’re always trying to work and get the right answers for all New Yorkers.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s bill that would restructure top MTA leadership was also tied to the Clean Slate bill since due to a technical error, it would have needed a message of necessity from the governor to pass.
Lawmakers tried to flex their supermajority muscles by originally turning down the MTA bill that would have split the roles of MTA Board Chair and CEO, but according to numerous sources, the Clean Slate legislation was set to pass along with the MTA bill before negotiations abruptly ended Thursday night.
Assembly members still plan to pass the restructuring bill before gaveling out some time Friday morning and Senate leadership said they are ready to return if needed.
The “Less is More” bill did pass both the Senate and Assembly. This bill will eliminate most technical violations that might send someone back to prison, for example, showing up late to meet with parole officers. And allows earned time credit for periods without violations.
The end of the legislative year usually means fierce negotiations between Governor Andrew Cuomo and the two legislative leaders.
But with numerous scandals facing the Governor including sexual harassment allegations and a potential cover-up of COVID-related nursing home deaths, behind-the-scenes critics said the governor was not as involved in the usual back and forth.
When asked, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins said that she worked closely with all parties during virtual negotiations.
“It’s always been three parties involved in this and it was no different this time around,” Stewart-Cousins said.
The State Senate did pass a bill however that will set aside funding for potential impeachment proceedings against Governor Cuomo. The Assembly is expected to pass that bill as well before they head home for the year.
Numerous bills were still left on the table including the New York Health Act, which would provide universal health care coverage, the Climate and Community Investment Act, and a bill that would allow restaurants to continue to serve alcohol-to-go.
Two other parole reform bills also did not make it through.
The Elder Parole bill would give incarcerated individuals who are at least 55 years old and who have already served 15 years in prison a chance to go before a parole board. The Fair and Timely Parole bill would change the standards of parole, centering release on a person’s rehabilitation while in prison, not on the original crime.
Both of these bills will most likely have to wait until next January, the start of the 2022 legislative year, before they see any potential action.
Yet many of these bills had broad Democratic support. For example, the New York Health Act had more co-sponsors on the bill than votes needed to pass the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
“Any bill that does not come to the floor begs the question why not,” Assemblyman Zohran Mandani said. “And with the NY Health Act specifically, there are 86 co-sponsors. It takes 76 votes to pass a bill. So there are more cosponsors than required to put this into law.”
Now that almost 70% of eligible adults have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and the number of COVID-19 cases has dropped significantly, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt criticized lawmakers for allowing the governor to keep the state of emergency in place.
“We’re going to leave here, maybe for the rest of the year, allowing the governor to determine when the end of the state of emergency is,” Senator Ortt said, “which means he gets to determine when his broad extraordinary powers end. That is not what we were elected to do.”