Policy traffic jam in Albany
With only 12 legislative days until the scheduled end of the session, state lawmakers face an increasing “policy traffic jam”: New issues are being added to an already packed end-of-session agenda. Here is what the scrambled Albany political landscape looks like as of now:
The courts have tossed the Congressional and state Senate political district maps drawn by the Legislature and will replace them with ones drawn by a court-appointed Special Master by May 20th. Will the Legislature then have to redo candidate petitioning and other rules that determine who will be on the ballot for the new primary pushed forward two months to August 23rd? Moreover, will legal challenges result in the state Assembly’s newly drawn lines also getting tossed?
Will Governor Hochul and state lawmakers move all of the primaries – including those for governor – from June to August in order to save taxpayer dollars? (It costs about $30 million to run a primary. Obviously two of them are more expensive than one.) If so, what other changes will be needed to qualify candidates for that new deadline?
And there is the issue of how to replace Congressional Representative Delgado once he is sworn into his new job as Lt. Governor. Under New York law, the governor has a short window of time to announce a special election. Will that be part of the current June primary vote? Will she wait until later in the summer?
The recent leak of a draft US Supreme Court decision to overturn abortion rights in America has also roiled Albany. Lawmakers are expected to develop a raft of new legislation to respond to this possible change. Expect a number of new legislative initiatives to be added to state lawmakers’ end-of-session list.
And those two issue areas are loaded on top of an already-packed list of important bills expected to be taken up in the waning days of session. For example, lawmakers are debating issues over how to adjust the state’s housing code to reduce global warming greenhouse gas emissions by requiring new buildings to solely rely on electricity for power, whether to place a moratorium on certain cryptocurrency activities that increase those emissions, as well as deciding whether to act to reduce excess packaging to meet Governor Hochul’s promise to put the reduction onus on producers of packaging waste, not taxpayers.
There are other, lower profile, but important issues too. For example, how should the state combat the growing public health threat caused by the rise of antibiotic resistant infections?
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 35,000 Americans will die and another 2.8 million be made sick by exposure to antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infections. Those numbers translate into New York State seeing more than 164,000 serious illnesses and 2,000 to 9,000 deaths in the next year. These infections include MRSA, urinary tract infections, salmonella and others that are increasingly dangerous since antibiotics may no longer work against these illnesses.
Controlling resistance requires both strong antibiotic stewardship measures in medicine and reducing antibiotic use in animals. In the U.S., approximately 65 percent of medically important antibiotics, i.e., those that are important for human medicine, are also sold for use in food animals – cattle, pigs, turkeys, chickens – typically raised in large-scale industrialized operations, but on smaller farms, too. Surprisingly, most of the animals getting antibiotics aren’t actually sick. Instead, antibiotics are routinely administered to the animals at subtherapeutic levels daily, mixed into their food and/or water, so that they can survive often unsanitary, overcrowded living conditions and unnatural diets.
Last week, legislation was introduced to combat the threat of antibiotic-resistant infections. The legislation, introduced by Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, would be the first in the nation to take the comprehensive "One Health" approach recommended by the CDC. The legislation was supported by thirty consumer, public health, animal welfare, and environmental groups.
Of course, there are many other important issues that may be addressed as well. In a “typical” end of session, during the last few weeks lawmakers approve roughly half of the total number of bills that they have acted upon during the entire six-month session – hundreds of bill are likely to get passed in this end of session blitz.
Lawmakers are heading down the final stretch of this legislative session; how they manage the increasingly large number of policy items and whether they take action on issues important to all New Yorkers will determine whether the session was successful.
Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.
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