New York’s Democratic-controlled Legislature closed its session by passing bills that tighten the state’s gun laws, strengthen its abortion protections and bolster its voting rights to expand access to the polls.
It was all part of a flurry of activity to close a six-month legislative session that also saw a first-of-its-kind moratorium on new cryptocurrency mining at fossil fuel plants sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her consideration.
And that wasn’t the only win for environmentalists. The Legislature also advanced a bill that would facilitate improved energy and water efficiency standards for appliances and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with buildings.
Longtime Albany observers pointed out that the end-of-session rush was less intense than a typical year. Bill Hammond, senior fellow for health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, noted that of the 860 bills passed so far this year, 35% received final approval over the last week. That figure was 52% last year, by comparison, he added.
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Legislation passed and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul by the end of this week will raise the age to buy a semi-automatic rifle in New York to 21 and require a firearms license to do so.
For instance, a bill that designates John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital as a safety net provider, which helps protect the Buffalo facility from Medicaid cuts and opens the door to additional funding opportunities, flew under the radar and was passed weeks ago by the Legislature.
Still, some measures appear to have been left out, including legislation that would have made it harder for landlords to evict tenants.
Here’s a round up of how this legislative session wrapped up:
With a Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade looming, the Legislature passed a package that strengthens the state’s abortion protections.
That includes legislation that would protect abortion service providers from professional misconduct charges solely for performing, recommending or providing reproductive health services to patients residing in states where such services are illegal.
Another bill that passed would provide judicial protections to abortion providers, such as prohibiting law enforcement from cooperating with or providing information to any out-of-state agency related to legal abortions in New York. Courts and county clerks would also be prohibited from issuing subpoenas for such out-of-state proceedings.
News that the Supreme Court is poised to overturn its landmark 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in this country is sparking a strong response locally and nationally.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Democrat, said in a statement that the legislation will protect providers in New York from other states “looking to impose their policies on New Yorkers and punish providers beyond their borders.”
Some states with Republican-controlled legislatures have restricted abortion recently. For example, Oklahoma’s Republican governor in late May signed what is considered the nation’s strictest abortion ban.
Hochul, who less than a month ago announced a $ 35 million investment to support New York abortion providers, said she intends to sign the bills into law.
“Make no mistake: For as long as I am governor, New York will be a safe harbor for all those who need abortion care,” Hochul said in a statement.
The Legislature also passed a bill meant to bolster access to the polls, just months after the US Senate failed to pass voting rights legislation.
The state legislation would create a pre-clearance program that would mandate localities with a demonstrated history of discrimination against voters to “preclear” all voting and election law changes through the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau or a state Supreme Court.
The legislation, officially the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, would also prohibit any laws, policies or practices that would result in voter suppression or vote dilution of members of a particular race, color or language-minority group.
“While states across the country have worked overtime to restrict voting rights, the New York VRA will strengthen protections for all voters, especially those who have historically been disenfranchised,” Sen. Zellnor Myrie, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the Senate Elections Committee, said in a statement.
The Legal Defense Fund, a longtime national civil rights law organization, called for Hochul to sign the bill into law, noting that the governor expressed support for strengthening voting rights in her State of the State address in January.
The Legislature passed a bill that would establish stricter efficiency standards for appliances. It also calls for incorporating greenhouse gas emission reduction standards into building codes to combat climate change.
The Advanced Building Codes, Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards Act covers products including TVs, printers and computers. The legislation calls for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to update energy and efficiency standards for seven products already regulated by the state, and to set new standards for 30 other products, including air purifiers and electric vehicle chargers, the Appliance Standards Awareness Project said.
The new standards “will deliver a projected $ 15 billion of total utility bill savings by 2035 for New York consumers, including an estimated $ 6 billion in total utility bill savings for low-to moderate-income households,” according to a summary of the legislation.
The bill would also allow regulators to set energy codes for new homes and commercial buildings that would exceed national model codes, the group said.
“Better appliances and building codes mean better-performing buildings, which is essential to making them more affordable and better for the environment,” said Samantha Wilt, senior policy analyst for the Climate and Clean Energy Program at Natural Resources Defense Council.
Moratorium on cryptocurrency mining at fossil fuel plants
In recent years, cryptocurrency mining companies have flocked to upstate New York, capitalizing on the state’s cheap energy for its power-guzzling computers and, in some cases, restarting mothballed industrial plants that burn fossil fuels.
A bill that has now passed the state Legislature is primed to slow that boom, a move cheered by environmentalists, but opposed by cryptocurrency supporters who believe the legislation will stall economic development and the state’s position in an emerging industry.
Cryptocurrency companies already have a footprint in Western New York – which some would like to enlarge.
The bill targets energy-intensive proof-of-work cryptocurrency mining that uses fossil fuel power plants, placing a two-year moratorium on new and renewed air permits for those specific kinds of operations.
It also requires the state Department of Environmental Conservation to complete a comprehensive environmental study that evaluates the impacts of cryptocurrency mining operations that use proof-of-work authentication methods.
“With this bill’s passage, the Legislature has rightly said fossil fuel power plants can’t get a second life in New York just for private industry gain, which would fly on the face of the state’s climate mandates,” Liz Moran, New York policy advocate for Earthjustice, said in a statement.
The state is aiming to reduce New York’s greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050.
Oishei Children’s Hospital is in line to become an enhanced safety net hospital, a designation the Buffalo facility has been chasing for a few years.
A bill that adds freestanding children’s hospitals in the state within the safety net definition passed the state Legislature last month.
Getting the designation will offer a safeguard to Medicaid cuts, while also opening the door to additional funding for Oishei, which had a thin profit margin of 1% to 2% before the pandemic hit and turned those slight gains into losses.
Becoming a safety net hospital would offer a safeguard to Medicaid cuts while also opening the door to additional funding for a facility that, in a good year, has a razor-thin profit margin.
Getting its Medicaid reimbursement preserved is a big deal for Oishei, since more than 70% of its patients have Medicaid. That percentage jumps to more than 90% when looking at its primary care and women’s health center visits.
“Achieving the safety net status will support our ability to sustain and enhance our services,” Oishei President Allegra Jaros said in a statement. “The children of the community deserve this level of support, and I am proud that we collectively have prioritized them.”
Inaction on tenants rights
The story was more about inaction on landlord-tenant matters.
Lawmakers did not act on legislation championed by progressives, known as the Good Cause Eviction bill. That would have capped annual rent hikes at 3%, and made it more difficult for landlords to evict market-rate tenants for not paying rent if it increased by more than that, unless they could prove “good cause” for doing so in court, such as for violating other terms of the lease agreement.
The bill had been strenuously opposed by landlords and developers, who complained that it would allow tenants to get away with not paying rent for months during any legal proceedings, and would prevent wholesale redevelopment of buildings.
The State Legislature also failed to extend a popular tax break in New York City known as 421-a, which provided benefits to developers for building new housing in the city with a proportion of units that qualify as affordable. Both Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams are supporters of the provision, and are expected to try again next year.