With the ink drying on the state budget, New York lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul still have a raft of issues facing them in the final weeks of the legislative session in Albany.
But given the pressing political calendar — primary day is June 28; early voting begins June 18 — lawmakers may not have time on their side to get it all accomplished.
“There’s not a lot of time to go, but we do have an ambitious agenda that we still want to get done,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris on Monday.
Here are four issues facing state lawmakers and the governor in the next several weeks.
1. More criminal justice law changes?
For the last several years, advocates and state lawmakers have called for a measure that would seal many criminal records of those who have completed their sentences, with crimes like sex offenses an exception. The measure is meant to make it easier for people who have paid their debts to society to obtain a job or housing. Hochul supported the measure in her initial budget proposal. The bill, known as the “Clean Slate” Act, has received support from corporations like JP Moran as well as labor unions.
But the tide may have turned on criminal justice measures as polling has shown voters rank public safety as a top election year concern for them this year. Lawmakers in the state budget moved to make changes to the state’s law that curbed cash bail requirements, making changes to a long-sought goal of reformers.
2. Inflation woes
Sixteen cents of the per-gallon gas taxes New Yorkers pay when they go to the pump will be suspended starting June 1 until the end of the year. Some lawmakers want to take it a step further as inflation continues to eat into wallets.
There’s little state governments can do other than affect tax policy, however. Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay in an interview on Monday called for further action on consumer-facing sales taxes for everyday goods.
“We can do it for home products, we can do it for takeout food,” he said. “There’s a lot of products that people rely on and give them a little relief.”
3. Housing costs
The disruption caused by the COVID pandemic has continued to create shockwaves through the economic systems. Advocates at the Legal Aid Society of New York proposed a package of policy measures meant to boost access to affordable housing, such as making it harder to raise rent on tenants and evict them, as well as a bill to hasten repairs for public housing.
Both measures fell out of the budget negotiations earlier this month. Meanwhile, a tax break meant to incentivize affordable housing is viewed with jaundiced eyes by Democratic lawmakers for providing too much relief for businesses and not enough for poorer tenants. Changes may be made before it expires.
“With only weeks left in the legislative session, it’s imperative that lawmakers advance key measures that meaningfully address inequality, poverty, housing instability, immigrant detention, prison labor, and other issues affecting vulnerable New Yorkers, especially those from communities of color,” said Adriene Holder, the attorney-in-charge of the Civil Practice at The Legal Aid Society. “Albany failed to take up these critical bills in the budget, and we call on Governor Hochul, Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, Speaker Heastie and legislators to prioritize them before session concludes in early June.”
4. Mayor control of New York City schools
It’s a political football that comes up every year its set to expire, and the special authority Mayor Eric Adams holds over the public school system is once again set to expire at the end of June. He wanted the extension re-approved in the budget, taking the issue out of the basket of concerns facing his administration. Instead, the measure is likely to be considered — and renewed — in the final days of the session.