State lawmakers are returning to Albany Monday for one of the strangest budget seasons in memory, with the coronavirus pandemic impacting virtually all aspects of everyday life. New York State Assemblyman John McDonald, a Democrat from the 108th district, says the business of government must go on. He spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus.
Assemblyman, lawmakers are going back to the capitol today, although visitors are not. What is your expectation for what that will be like?
Well, we have work to do. Obviously, we are anticipating passing a paid sick leave bill today. And also we are probably going to be passing legislation to change the filing period for petitions. As you know, the governor issued an executive order this past weekend, stopping petition gathering, tomorrow, March 17, at 5 p.m. And it was thought in the best interests of integrity of the election process to make sure that the petitions are filed in a very timely and expedient manner versus allowing them to linger out there until the end of March into the beginning of April. So our anticipation is that the legislation will be passed this evening and will to open up the petition filing period, until starting tomorrow to 17th through Friday the 20th. The other aspect is, and we had many calls over the weekend with the speaker. We do hold out there's an option that we may be, you know, considering a state budget. That's something that obviously the governor has talked about. The legislature is very concerned about as well. So we think that’s a very good possibility. We'll know more today when we convene at two o'clock whether we will be negotiating a budget through the rest of the week. I can tell you that staff has been working over the weekend, trying to get to a spot but we are in uncertain times. And I think that's part of the challenge.
Two of your Democratic conference colleagues have tested positive for COVID-19. So it's already within the halls of the legislature. How does that factor into the timeline for getting a budget done?
Well, the reality is that, you know, everyone needs to practice the same precautions in regards to social distancing. Many members that may have had close contact are actually going to be contacting your healthcare provider to make sure they're OK. You know, there's a lot of misinformation out there. Just because you're in the same building doesn't mean that you're impacted at the same time. And we want to make sure we exercise do caution. If people are exhibiting the symptoms, they need to be very mindful of that. And they need to be conscientious 24/7. On that same token, as noted by over 80 to 90 voices on the cell phone yesterday there, excuse me on the conference call yesterday, there are many members that are fine, they're anxious to get back to work. I'll be done in a little bit of a different fashion. You will not be seeing mass gatherings of the legislators in a closed conference room. At least that's my thought. You know, there are hearing rooms that are available. Obviously, the legislative office building is open to the legislators and we could go about our business and making sure that the voices are heard, while at the same time making sure that we're not coming into close contact with each other in case somebody might be.
Where are you on that spectrum? I mean, are you concerned that you might have it?
No, I'm not concerned. I, you know, I've always taken an approach that it's kind of interesting. You know, as a public official, we're out in the public on a regular basis. People who know me know, I'm not much of a hugger. So, I'll give a handshake. I've been doing the elbow thing for a couple weeks now. You know, and I'd like to think like many others, we practice good hygiene. You know, this has been a wakeup call for everybody. In regards to the fact that maybe coughing in the hand wasn't a good idea or sneezing in the hand and the elbow is getting a lot more action than ever before. And, you know, I overall, I feel fine. At the same token, like I said, I'm not one that gets too close to people to begin with. And I think everyone's going to keep their distance for a bit.
Back to the state budget for a second, if this is done on some sort of expedited schedule, or there's been this idea floated that maybe it's, you know, more bare bones than we're used to where a lot of policy gets done in the budget, hoping to maybe get this done before the April 1 deadline. The typical scene in Albany is lots of talks going on, you know, into the night and voting happening overnight and so on. So it looks more like an expedited budget more than the usual process. Do you think things like, you know, marijuana and other high-profile items will be left out?
As always, the governor just has a multitude of different public policy items. And of course, the legislature may have a few other pets. They want to try to get through I think a lot but not all are going to be put to the side. And here's the reality. Just philosophically, right? And this is actually important. Those public policy discussions deserve public input. We've locked the capital out to the public. Yes, their voices are heard in part through the legislators that represent them. But those public policy items need to be very thoughtfully, timely discussed. Because, as we know, in the past, and I'm talking about generations, not just this last couple of years, there have been many public policy items that have not been fully vetted in there, you know, the law of unintended consequences, is quite high. So, I think not all will be disbanded, I think most will. And that's a good thing. At the end of the day, we need to focus on making sure that our families are taken care of. We need to focus on protecting everybody and making sure that those who are going to need the care have access to this the governor has done an excellent job in regards to leave Leading us through this process. And most importantly, when I know and I see this as a healthcare professional, this isn't politics. This is listening to the healthcare professionals, listening to the leadership of Dr. Zucker and the large group that he has with him, and then operationalizing, what needs to be done? It's this is what government is supposed to be doing. Now, many people are saying, Well, why is the legislature going back in? Well, at the end of the day, and I've had this philosophy since 2000, when I took over as mayor of the city of Cohoes. Government usually is going to be the last one standing and it should be that's our role. That's our responsibility. We signed up for it now maybe people didn't sign up for this. But the reality is we don't get to pick the issues that we deal with. We have to work through the issues that went that are dealt to us.
Last thing, Assemblyman. People who know you know that you run a pharmacy when you're not in the legislature. I'm just wondering what the scene has been like there over the past couple of weeks.
It's been quite busy. Individuals are understandably concerned about medication supply. Obviously, they're cleaned out all hand sanitizer, Kleenex and alcohol that we've ever had. You know, the next wave of issues that are coming up and I'll be talking more about this publicly is medication supply. You know, most people don't realize that a majority of our medications or raw materials come from China, they've been shut down for a couple months, not much is coming from China, and quite honestly, not getting into international politics, it's not like China's gonna want to be doing any favor for United States at this stage of the game. But then the other aspect is, it's outside of China, it's also India. And then we have just the logistics, right, supply chain management, those are major issues. So it doesn't mean everyone should be running to the pharmacy to clear out their medications to make sure they're able to go into hibernation for three months. But it does mean that we need to be very vigilant and thoughtful. The lines at the pharmacy are going to get longer issues with this. So, you know, I liken this whole process to being at the ocean, the waves are going to keep coming. Some waves are gonna be big, some not so bad. But at the end of the day, we need to be braced for it, prepared for it. And hopefully we can ride this wave out.