Lawmakers Head for the Exit, Will They Return Before the End of the Year?

Posted by NYPIRG on June 10, 2024 at 7:32 am

Last week both houses of the Legislature wrapped up their official sessions.  In many ways it was a return to the pre-pandemic sessions.  The Capitol and the Legislative Office Building were open to the public; committees were held in public and in-person; issue and budget hearings were held; lobbyists wandered the halls, buttonholing lawmakers and pleading their cases face-to-face. 

And when the dust had settled after lawmakers cast their final votes on June 7th in the Senate and the early morning of the 8th for the Assembly, the trend continued with the state Assembly approving far fewer bills than they did the previous year, while the state Senate increased theirs. 

Both houses agreed to a bit more than 800 identical bills.  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 appears to be directly the result of far fewer bills passing the Assembly – 960 – the smallest number that that house had approved (other than the covid-impacted 2020 session) in nearly three decades

But the end of the official scheduled session doesn’t necessarily mean the Legislature is done for the year.  When the Assembly left the Capitol on June 8th, immediately there were rumors that the Legislature would have to return.  The most likely reason?  That would be that the governor’s scheme to block implementation of the “congestion pricing” program slated to begin in New York City at the end of this month forced lawmakers to use up valuable end-of-session negotiating time to figure out how they wanted to respond. 

At the end of the day, they chose to do nothing, but not until precious end-of-session hours had been spent in closed-door meetings as they plotted their responses.  That loss of time jammed up time to negotiate as well as time to debate bills.  As a result, bills that had been expected to be approved were not, leaving many members frustrated that their bills had been stopped short of passage during the regularly scheduled session.

An example: legislation designed to plug a loophole in the state’s lobbying law.  Last year, overwhelming bipartisan majorities approved legislation that would have defined “lobbying” to include advocacy to influence gubernatorial appointments.  Current law requires the reporting of lobbying to influence laws, executive actions, agency decisions, efforts to influence local governments, and some – but not all – appointments, for example appointments to the state Board of Regents – but not for efforts to influence the governor’s appointments to agencies or the courts. 

Legislation to close that loophole was approved last year but vetoed by the governor.  This year similar legislation was approved in the Senate, but the Assembly version was a casualty of the “clock” running out on the Assembly session.

Of course, that does not mean that nothing was accomplished during the session.  One of the more notable accomplishments was passage in both houses of legislation dubbed the “Climate Change Superfund Act,” which – if approved by the governor – will require that the companies most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions (Big Oil companies) would be on the financial hook for a chunk of the state’s climate costs. 

The legislation has garnered the support of hundreds of community, environmental, labor, religious, and youth organizations.  It passed the state Senate.  One hundred local elected officials support it.  Seventy-six Assembly Democrats are sponsors of the Climate Change Superfund Act, a huge majority of the 101 Democrats in that chamber (and an overall majority of the Assembly).

In an end-of-session surprise, the Assembly moved the bill to the floor for a vote.  After more than two hours of debate, the bill was approved by a vote of 95-46 at 3:22 a.m. in the marathon last day of session.

The major hangup had been concerns that the annual $3 billion Climate Superfund assessments would be passed on to the public.  Those concerns should have been allayed by a consideration of America’s system of marketplace economics.    The fact that the bill’s assessment would not impact the public was echoed by an independent economic paper published by the respected Institute for Policy Integrity at the NYU School of Law. 

The Climate Superfund’s fate in New York now turns to whether the governor approves the legislation.  Governor Hochul is co-chair of the U.S. Climate Alliance – a bipartisan coalition of governors supposedly committed to fighting climate change.  Among the commitments of the Alliance is one that promises to build resilience to withstand the impacts of climate change.  Unless the governor approves the legislation, the entire costs of climate change – which already total billions of dollars annually – will be borne solely by New York taxpayers.  The bill shifts some of those costs to the companies most responsible for our worsening climate.

Looking ahead, lawmakers may return this year to tackle legislation that fell through the cracks at the end of session.  In the meantime, the governor and her staff will be rolling up their sleeves to figure out her position on 805 bills.  One of them could help save taxpayers big bucks in the coming years as well as build a safer infrastructure to better protect New Yorkers from a worsening climate. 

It makes sense for her to approve it.  Time will tell.