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It ain't over 'til it's over: The legislative session isn't quite done

A week ago Saturday, both houses of the Legislature seemed to have wrapped up their sessions. In many ways the session was like pre-pandemic versions. The Capitol and the Legislative Office building were open to the public; committees were held in public and in-person; hearings were held; lobbyists wandered the halls, buttonholing lawmakers and pleading their cases.

Yet as lawmakers cast their final votes on June 10th, the first evidence emerged of a changing dynamic: the state Assembly approved far fewer bills than they did the previous year, while the state Senate increased theirs.

Both houses agreed on 839 identical bills that passed both chambers. That is the lowest number (other than the pandemic-truncated session of 2020) since 2018, when the Democrats took over control of both houses. The reason for the numerical decline was directly the result of far fewer bills passing the Assembly – 964 – the smallest amount that that house had approved (other than 2020) in nearly three decades.

When the Assembly left the Capitol on June 10th, immediately there were rumors that the members would have to return. Last week the Assembly Speaker made it official: the house’s members would return for two days this week. The reason? While no justification for return was clearly articulated, it had to be said that too many members were frustrated that their bills had been stopped short of passage during the regularly-scheduled session.

The upshot it seems is that the numbers were borne out and the Assembly majority chose to reconsider more bills.

There were a number of bills that had been under active consideration when the Assembly turned out the lights on June 10th. But will they return to tackle issues other than those “teed up” for action?

Here are a few of the active issues expected to be considered this week:

  • Legislation to allow a group of individuals or nonprofit organizations to represent the interests of residential and/or small business utility ratepayers in Public Service Commission (“PSC”) ratemaking and other regulatory proceedings.  The legislation allows those groups to obtain funding for their work as intervenors. With spiraling electric, gas and water rates, this legislation will help raise consumer voices in regulatory proceedings.
  • Legislation to prohibit credit reporting agencies, including Transunion, Experian, and Equifax, from including medical debt in consumer credit reports.
  • Legislation that would essentially prohibit the state from purchasing wood products harvested from tropical rain forests. 
  • Legislation that ends the practice of anonymous ownership of Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) and requires the disclosure of the identities of owners and publishing their names in the state's publicly searchable business entity database.

While those issues – and presumably others – have merit and are important to lawmakers and their constituents, big issues that have been festering, or are emerging, seem likely to be ignored.
One example is the rapidly eroding financial situation of the state. Last week, the Hochul Administration released its financial plan for the state. According to the Administration, shrinking tax revenues have forced it to project greater budget deficits in the upcoming years beyond those anticipated just two months ago.

The Administration expects that the projected budget gap for the fiscal year starting on April 1, 2024 has grown from $5.1 billion to $9.1 billion. Moreover, the Administration expects the deficit for the following fiscal year (starting on April 1, 2025) to be $13.9 billion and $13.4 billion in FY 2027. Those massive deficits may, of course, shrink or grow over the upcoming months, but don’t expect action this week on how to handle that issue.

Also, another dark cloud over the state’s finances is the result of the worsening climate. It is expected to cost tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to deal with the rising sea levels, more dangerous storms, hotter temperatures, and – most noticeably as of late – the rising pollution levels, including those from smoke resulting from unprecedented Canadian wildfires.

The state Senate did act on that one, by approving legislation to require the oil companies to earmark $3 billion annually to cover New York’s rising climate costs. Despite significant support for the Assembly version of the legislation, the Assembly leadership blocked the measure in its house. Whether they are willing to send a climate invoice to Big Oil will be one of the questions facing the Assembly this week.

With the Assembly returning to finish up its work, will lawmakers tackle the big issues facing the state? Time will tell.

Blair Horner is executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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