A Look Back: Despite COVID-19, a Productive 2020-21 NY Legislative Session

NY State Government: Week in Review

The New York State Senate and Assembly adjourned last week, as scheduled, and concluded an unusual year of lawmaking, but one in which the legislature still passed hundreds of bills. The legislative session, which began in early January, saw many legislators participating remotely at first, with an increasing number of legislators attending in-person as the session advanced and COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted. The State Capitol remained closed to the public throughout, however, although expectations are that it will be reopened in time for the start of the 2022 session in January.

The hybrid method of participation did not slow the legislature, as the Senate passed 1,559 bills this session, the Assembly passed 1,054 bills, and 771 bills passed both houses and have been or will be acted upon by the Governor (either approval or veto) in the coming months. This production is consistent with pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, for instance, the Senate passed 1,555 bills, the Assembly passed 1,099 bills, and 935 bills passed both houses. Several notable initiatives were enacted as part of the 2021–22 state budget or passed earlier this session, including legalization of adult-use cannabis, nursing home reforms and mobile sports betting. Since then, the legislature has jointly passed legislation to limit fees consumers pay for gift cards; the NY HERO Act, which requires employers to adopt a plan to prevent airborne disease; an opioid settlement lockbox; legislation to eliminate duplicative and redundant filing requirements currently required of nonprofit organizations; the Housing Our Neighbors with Dignity Act, which would allow the state to finance the purchase and conversion of distressed hotels and vacant commercial office space into affordable housing; the Less is More Act, which identifies a list of parole violations that would warrant incarceration; legislation to promote the adoption of language translation technology by all state agencies; and an extension of residential and commercial eviction moratoriums.

A number of high-profile bills did not pass the legislature, such as those establishing a single-payer health care system; providing a one-year window for the revival of time-barred lawsuits based on sex crimes against adults; requiring conviction records be sealed for those who were previously incarcerated; affording greater benefits to gig workers; providing data privacy protection and liability; legalizing alcohol-to-go; and instituting fees on emitters of greenhouse gases and pollutants economy-wide to fund climate change programs.

The legislature can always reconvene—either at the call of the Governor or on its own initiative, and there are suggestions that at least the Senate may be returning later this year, but time will tell if and when that may happen. It is possible that the legislature could come to agreement on various outstanding issues that were not resolved before last night, and Senate Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins has already expressed a willingness to return if agreements are reached on outstanding matters. In the interim, we will continue to monitor and alert you to any legislative activity, including any new bill introductions and legislative hearings.

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