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Gov Hochul says there's a "mountain" of work to do as session draws to a close

 New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021

The legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday, and New York Governor Kathy Hochul and the Legislature hope to accomplish several major issues, including further protecting abortion rights and more gun safety measures.

There are just three scheduled days left in the session, but lawmakers are not expected to conclude until well into the weekend. Governor Hochul says there are a number of issues yet to be finalized.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Hochul said. “But it is not unusual to have a mountain of work to do in the final weeks. That is the nature of Albany.”

In the wake of two mass shootings this month in Buffalo and in Texas, Hochul has prioritized anti-gun violence measures. The suspects in both incidents were 18 years old and had recently purchased assault rifles. The governor is seeking to raise the age on the purchase of automatic rifles to 21.

“I don’t want 18-year-olds to have guns,” Hochul said. “At least not in the state of New York.”

The governor also wants to strengthen the state’s red flag law, which allows a judge to order weapons to be seized from people believed to present a danger to themselves and others. The law was not invoked when the alleged Buffalo shooter threatened to commit a murder-suicide at his high school in 2021.

Hochul wants to make it mandatory for police to activate the red flag process whenever they encounter someone who is making violent threats.

Hochul also wants to tighten some loopholes in the state’s gun control laws to include what are known as AOWs, or any other weapon. She says the weapons are essentially guns, but are deliberately designed to evade the laws.

The governor also wants to require microstamping on all semi-automatic pistols to create a “fingerprint” on the bullets to help crime investigators track the guns and potentially link the weapons to other crimes.

Another priority for Hochul and Democratic leaders of the Legislature is to respond if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. The move is expected after a draft opinion that would overrule Roe leaked earlier this month.

New York has already codified the rights in Roe into New York state law, but lawmakers, including Senate Finance Committee Chair Liz Krueger, would like to go further and include those rights in the state’s constitution.

The proposal would add new categories of protection, including sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ethnicity, age, disability, and sex, which Krueger says includes pregnancy.

“The right to privacy and nondiscrimination in pregnancy and in pregnancy outcomes,” Krueger said. “Whether it is your choice to continue a pregnancy or not to continue a pregnancy.”

If Roe is overturned, it’s expected that people from states where abortion would be banned would come to New York to seek the procedure. Krueger is sponsoring bills to protect New York’s abortion and reproductive health care providers against legal actions from authorities in those other states.

There are a number of criminal justice reforms under discussion, including a measure known as Clean Slate. It would allow some people convicted of some crimes to have their records sealed if they’ve completed their time in prison and post-release supervision or parole.

Supporters, who held a rally, say it would enable them to move forward with their lives, and get jobs and housing.

“We are robbing people of opportunity simply because we are a society of revenge and not rehabilitation,” said Senate Sponsor Zellnor Myrie.

Another criminal justice measure would allow elderly inmates who are ill to be released early from prison.

Lawmakers are also weighing a two-year moratorium on cryptocurrency mining in New York. Cryptocurrency companies require vast amounts of energy to run thousands of computers to “create” the bitcoins. A former coal-burning plant on Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes is already in operation, and more are planned in locations including North Tonawanda in Niagara County.

The governor says she can see both sides, and that there is a “balancing act” between environmental concerns and the need for jobs in economically depressed areas. She says she will take the Legislature’s lead on the bill.

Some items may not get resolved before the session ends, including revamping an affordable housing tax credit for real estate developers known as 421-a. Critics have said the program is a tax giveaway to developers and does not create enough affordable homes.

Hochul says whatever does not get resolved in the next few days will be taken up again in January. Still, she says she expects most key items will be settled.

“I’ve got all my pens ready to go,” said Hochul, who said she’s prepared for some bill signing ceremonies once the session concludes.

The early June end of session may not be the final meeting of the Senate and Assembly this year. Hochul says she may call a special session to deal with another gun-related issue. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide on a challenge to New York’s laws prohibiting the carrying of a concealed weapon. The governor says concealed carry in the state could further increase the rising rate of gun violence, and she will propose new laws to prevent that.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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