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Gov. Hochul has a busy week

New York’s 2023 legislative session is nearly complete – six months after lawmakers left Albany. The state Legislature normally meets during the first six months of the year. During that time, they approve a budget and typically pass hundreds of bills covering a wide range of topics.

This year, lawmakers approved nearly 900 bills, of which more than 600 were approved in June, the last month of the session. The fact that the vast bulk of legislation was approved at the end of session is not unusual, it is typical. 

Under the state Constitution, once the bills have passed both houses, they are sent to the governor for her approval. The rules that you learned in civics class are clear to that point, but in Albany things get murkier when it comes to how approved legislation is managed once the Legislature acts. 

In New York, the legislative house that approved the legislation first controls when it goes to the governor. In order to keep the governor’s office from being overwhelmed, there is an informal agreement that the governor requests batches of bills when her staff is ready to review them. Under the law, all approved legislation must go to the governor by the end of the calendar year. 

As a practical matter, the governor’s office often holds back on its requests for legislation to be sent if her staff are concerned about aspects of the legislation, or they expect that they will have to veto a bill that has popular support. 

Thus, December is the big month for gubernatorial action. Vetoing popular legislation is best done when the public is not paying attention – like during the holiday season. 

As of December 1st, 728 of the 896 bills that were approved had been acted upon – approved or vetoed – by the governor. It became clear that December would once again be the critical month for important action. So far, that has been the case. 

During the past week, the governor has been busy. She approved 46 bills, some noteworthy. Governor Hochul approved legislation to move election day for some local offices from odd-numbered years to even-numbered ones. Her justification was that voters are more likely to go to the polls in even-numbered years and therefore making the switch would boost voter participation in local races (she’s right). The governor also approved a bill that establishes the New York State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies to examine New York’s history with the institution of slavery, the subsequent racial and economic discrimination against African-Americans, the impact of these forces on living African-Americans, and to make recommendations on appropriate remedies. 

The governor also approved the so-called “birds and bees protection act,” which limits the use of a certain insecticide that can cause harm to bees, birds, and other pollinators. She also approved legislation that requires the disclosure of the “beneficial owners” of limited liability companies (LLCs). Currently, those LLCs are businesses whose owners are often secret. The legislation requires that the LLCs disclose those entities who own the companies. Both of those last two bills were approved by the governor, but only after she secured promises of significant revisions to the legislation. For example, under the LLC legislation approved by the Legislature, the information about the owners would be made publicly available in a searchable database. The governor insisted that the requirement be removed. As part of the agreements, the changes will have to be approved during the next legislative session. 

During that same week, the governor vetoed 43 bills. She vetoed a bill that would have prohibited “non-compete agreements and certain restrictive covenants.” Non-compete agreements are sometimes required by employers, and they prohibit or restrict employees from getting jobs with businesses that compete with the company they work for. The governor also vetoed legislation that would have restricted state agencies from purchasing tropical hardwoods, since such purchasing leads to the destruction of important natural resources. The governor cited cost concerns. She also vetoed a bill that would have required the reporting of lobbying to influence the appointment of public officials subject to state Senate approval. Ironically, that last veto was framed as a way to protect those who were spending the money to influence gubernatorial appointments while the governor stated her commitment to transparency. 

As the year draws to a close, there are only four bills left, the most notable is legislation to change New York State’s “wrongful death” law, which has been on the books with little change since 1847. Wrongful death cases are what they sound like: lawsuits brought after someone dies due to the negligence of another. The bill modernizes the definition of family to one more consistent with that found in 2023 and allows recovery for the emotional losses of surviving loved ones, as is the case in 48 other states. In addition, the governor hasn’t yet acted on legislation to change the new voluntary system of public financing for elections. This bill makes changes in the program that just started last year. The legislation has been roundly criticized by civic groups who are urging a veto. 

With a handful of bills left, the governor’s work will be done – just in time. Lawmakers return in two weeks. And the process will start all over again.

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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