State lawmakers have returned to Albany for a rare summer session. When I say ‘return to Albany,’ some representatives are doing so virtually by conference calls and online meetings. A regular sitting of the New York State legislature runs from January through June. Like everything else happening in 2020, this year is an exception.
Several pressing issues are facing our state; almost all of it is pandemic related. The 700-pound gorilla in the room is the budget deficit, which began before the COVID-19 virus. This budget shortfall is now worse because of a lack of revenue caused by the quarantine shutdown and extra spending dealing with the virus. Financially, our state is in dire straits.
One would think reducing spending in such a time would be a prudent measure when using taxpayer dollars. Think again. Our state elected officials will be voting on some issues that were left undone in the regular session. Bills such as; naming of highways and bridges; resolutions honoring specific individuals; and some insiders put odds on marijuana legalization to be high on the list (pun intended).
An item that should be on the lawmaker’s agenda, but probably won’t be, is rescinding or reeling in some of the emergency powers given to Governor Cuomo last March. At the height of the COVID-19 fear and frenzy, the legislature gave the governor the power to suspend state laws and, worse, create new ones under Emergency Executive Authority – meaning one-man rule over 19 million people. Just ask any small business owner how well that has worked out.
In the seldom seen summer session, rumors are the legislature – now lead by a majority from New York City – will attempt to raise revenue by taxing billionaires. That particular wealthy and small group of people has the wherewithal to dodge taxes with lawyers or simply move out of state. When that happens, the millionaires will next be in the lawmaker’s sights, and after them, it will eventually be the rest of us who end up on the receiving end of higher taxes.
With a shortfall of sales tax revenue coupled with the governor in control, the legislature has given up oversight of our state’s budget. Come to think of it that may be just what they wanted as this is a legislative election year. None of them wants to tell school districts and municipalities their state aid is likely to be reduced, plus it will be easier to blame the governor for the decrease.
Another reason the legislature, and to some extent the governor, are dragging their feet on making budgetary decisions is they are holding out hope the federal government may have another round of stimulus money coming our way. Even then, all that cash originates with us taxpayers.
While the legislature “clears the calendar” of things left undone because of their hasty retreat due to COVID, here is a list of some things I think they may try to pass into law at the Capitol.
The may be efforts to make absentee voting by mail the new routine, which will be just in time for the November Presidential election. Be reminded that some of the June 23rd Primary Election results are still undecided and contested nearly a month later.
In addition to legalizing marijuana, a betting person might hope that online sports wagering and internet gambling, in general, will become legal. Both vices will add millions in revenue to our cash-strapped state. The problem is, legalizing bad habits usually hurts those who least can afford them.
I’ve heard there were just over 700 bills sponsored by lawmakers that never got a review or a vote during the regular legislative session. Of that 700, approximately 200 will come to a floor vote during the summer session. The remaining 500-plus will remain in committee, which means they will never see the light of day. The majority of those 500 bills held back were sponsored by Republican representatives – almost exclusively from upstate.
Here are some small bills that may become law, mainly because of the political party of the person who sponsored them. We might see laws to make it legal for barbers to work on Sunday; allowing school districts to fall below the 180-day minimum to receive state aid; payment plans for traffic tickets instead of driver’s license suspension; withholding state aid to schools with offensive or racially insensitive mascots, and other political ‘pet projects.’
Finally, there likely will be some defund the police and other anti-law enforcement bills to come forward in addition to those already passed this year. Some legislation I’ve read will indeed make a law officer’s job difficult and possibly more dangerous.
One is to require police officers to purchase and maintain liability insurance while also removing cops from defense and indemnification protections that other state and local employees receive. And there’s a bill to prohibit peace (not police) officers from being armed. That’s a big one because there are lots of peace officers protecting important things and people, namely; court security officers, college campus officers, and officers at gates to military installations, to name only a few groups of peace officers.
It will undoubtedly be an interesting summer session of the legislature; luckily, it’s rare.