Legislation flowing swiftly to Gov
When 2018 midterm elections brought a Democratic majority to the New York State Senate, it produced a trifecta (when one party holds majorities in both chambers of the state legislature and the governorship), a rarity in New York. Voters in the primary election had ousted 3/4s of those who’d been members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group known to add their votes to the Republican side. These results seem to point to a public tired of the lack of legislative progress: seeing bills pass in the assembly only to hit a log jam in the divided state senate. The NY State Senate is no longer divided and as of January 29th eight bills have been signed into law, one more awaits Gov. Cuomo’s signature.
An issue that has been stalled before now is voting rights reform; it has long been a goal for many in the NY State Legislature and the voting public. As progressive a state as New York seems to be, its voting laws are antiquated and have made it a contender for the state with the lowest voter turnout. The New York State Board of Elections calculated only 31.9% of registered voters voted in 2014. On January 24, several historic election reform bills were signed into law by Governor Cuomo that had passed both houses of the state legislature ten days prior. This legislative package includes bills to allow for: early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, consolidation of federal and state primaries, a campaign finance reform bill to close the notorious “LLC Loophole”, same-day voter registration, voter registration transfers, and voter pre-registration.
Senator Brian Kavanagh (District 26) served as the ranking member of the Senate Elections Committee in 2018 and championed voter reform when an assemblyman. “[This legislation] is nothing short of transformative. Until today, our state has had some of the worst election laws in the country, making it unnecessarily difficult to vote and allowing special interests to drown out the voices of millions of New Yorkers by giving unlimited amounts of money to politicians through LLCs. For years, Democrats in both the senate and the assembly, with the Governor’s support, have fought to change this, and as an assembly member I was proud to sponsor and pass nearly all of the bills being signed into law today–only to see them blocked by senate Republicans. … And closing the LLC Loophole — the most egregious defect in our campaign finance system — will cut off an enormous flow of unlimited, often virtually anonymous campaign contributions that have allowed certain individuals and narrow business interests to buy influence wholesale. This is a huge first step in what I hope will be a broader modernization of our campaign finance system,” said Kavanagh.
Then on January 29th long stalled gun reform came up for a vote in the State Senate. Sen. Kavanagh sponsored bill S 2451 having the purpose to prevent individuals from accessing firearms, rifles, and shotguns who have been deemed, through judicial process, likely to engage in conduct that would result in serious harm to themselves or others. Kavanagh spoke during the vote stating that, “Most people who commit these acts do not have current treatment and psychiatric assistance. Laws like this bring these people to light and allow our society to address that.” He further informed on how similar legislation resulted in a reduction of the suicide rate, citing a 13.7% statewide reduction in suicides in Connecticut as an example. After the 2018 election Senator Kavanagh became Chairman of Committee on Housing, Construction and Community Development; a role held by Republican Sen. Betty Little in the previous term.
Freshman Senator Julia Salazar (District 18) took center stage after the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act (CCCA) passed both houses in Albany and said, “We are truly empowering women to have autonomy over our bodies and our destinies.” Salazar is Chair of the Women’s Issues Committee and cosponsored the bill. She also has her eyes on passing Universal Rent Control. The parameters of this were offered by Salazar’s chief of staff, Boris Santos, “where every building is regulated to the extent of the city’s rent regulation system. [In addition to the standard of buildings with 6+ units it would allow regulation of] buildings with 5 units or less including 1–2 family houses,” plus protecting lease renewal and succession rights for starters. Santos mentioned Salazar will introduce a bill in the next couple of weeks (as of this writing) that will prohibit evictions without a just or good cause. She is also looking to establish increase affordable housing opportunities by enabling not-for-profits to apply to the State for grant funding up to $14M.
Meanwhile in the Assembly, there is rejuvenated hope in moving legislation to the governor’s desk for his signature. Assemblyman Joseph Lentol stated in a press release, “I am happy to announce that on Monday [January 28] the Codes committee, which I chair, [took] up critical criminal justice bills. The committee [engaged] in thoughtful discussion with an eye towards passing progressive policies that have long been stalled by the Senate. We have an opportunity to right the wrongs. The committee [took] up bills to increase regulations on guns, ensure that no school teacher is armed with a weapon, and extend the statute of limitation and strengthen protections for child sex abuse victims.” Assemblywoman Maritza Davila’s top four legislative priorities focus on the rent laws and her goals to: end vacancy decontrol, end preferential rents, end vacancy bonuses, and make individual apartment improvements increases temporary. She has also been appointed Chair of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Taskforce, whose primary role is to lead the organization of the two Somos conferences.
Albany is whipping up a whirlwind of legislative progress and it’s a wise strategy for all elements of the trifecta to maintain momentum. The last time the Democrats had a majority in the state senate was in 2009-2010, a slim +2 majority, which only lasted that term. In 2011, the Republicans took back control and held it up until the 2018 election. A deeper look shows Republicans controlled this legislative body for much of the 20th century — between World War II and the turn of the 21st century, the Democratic Party only controlled the upper house for one year.