ALBANY, N.Y. — Money and lobbying hold enormous sway in the State Capitol, but there are few pressures like an old-fashioned deadline to get major legislation over the finish line.
With New York’s yearly legislative session scheduled to conclude June 2, state lawmakers are racing to put finishing touches on a wide range of legislative packages, from efforts to strengthen gun laws and reproductive rights to a deal to renew New York City’s authority over its schools.
The Legislature, controlled by Democrats, has already passed a steady stream of legislation in recent weeks, including a landmark bill to allow adult victims of sexual assault to sue their abusers, and legislation to ban the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. The Senate has passed bills to crack down on monopolies and cap the cost of insulin, though it remained unclear if the Assembly would follow suit.
Consensus on other hot-button legislation seemed even less certain, with many legislators already eyeing re-election campaigns and grappling with the chaos of new district lines that have led to a harried game of musical chairs.
Here’s a look at five of the most contentious issues facing lawmakers in their final week of session.
Raising the age to buy AR-15-style weapons
New York already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, but lawmakers want to further strengthen them, something they had been discussing even before the massacres in a Buffalo supermarket and a Texas elementary school.
The recent shootings, each involving 18-year-old suspects, only added momentum for new gun policies: Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, declared on Wednesday that she would seek legislation to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of AR-15-style weapons, and perhaps other firearms.
Currently, anyone over 18 can purchase a long gun in New York as long as they pass a background check; permits to obtain a long gun are required in New York City, but not elsewhere in the state.
Raising the age for the purchase of at least some rifles, a step that other Democratic-led states have taken, appears to have support among Democratic lawmakers, even though it could be challenged in court by the gun lobby, which prevailed in California recently.
Lawmakers are discussing other gun-control measures, including a proposal to “microstamp” semiautomatic pistols to help law enforcement officials trace cartridge cases to the guns that discharged them.
State lawmakers are being cautious about the type of gun legislation they take on, wary of not passing any laws that the Supreme Court could use in its looming decision over the state’s concealed carry law, which many Democrats fear will be struck down. The law imposes limits on carrying guns outside the home.
“We don’t want to tip off any Supreme Court clerks who might be drafting an opinion and citing New York legislators trying to pre-empt their eventual opinion,” said State Senator Brad Hoylman, a Democrat who sponsored the microstamping legislation. “So there’s a lot of unease but also calculation that these bills don’t touch that area of concealed carry.”
Lawmakers may have some leeway in their timing: Ms. Hochul said this week she was prepared to call a special legislative session to pass bills in response to a Supreme Court decision, which is expected sometime in June.
Lawmakers weigh environmental impact of crypto mining
Two environmental bills are facing hurdles: One would impose a two-year moratorium on the most energy intensive cryptocurrency mining, while the other would task the New York Power Authority with building wind and solar plants with the goal of energizing the renewable energy market.
Proponents of both bills say they are critical to meeting goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019, a landmark law that mandated the state be 70 percent renewably powered by 2030, and carbon neutral by 2050. As of this week, New York received less than 3 percent of its power from wind and solar renewables.
“If the private sector is too slow to help us comply with C.L.C.P.A., which as of now it seems that we’re moving too slowly, we have a public entity that can help accelerate the pace,” State Senator Michael Gianaris, the Democratic deputy majority leader, said of the public utility bill, a top priority for progressives.
Opponents say that the bill is not necessary, given how many private-sector renewable projects are in the pipeline, and will lead to increased costs for consumers.
But it is the cryptocurrency bill — the first of its kind in the nation — which has received the most attention.
The bill would temporarily block new permits from being issued to facilities that are mining the digital currency using nonrenewable energy sources. The legislation is a direct response to the environmental concerns over old fossil-fuel power plants that have been converted into crypto mining facilities, especially for Bitcoin, across upstate New York.
The bill passed the Assembly in April, but the cryptocurrency industry — a newcomer in Albany politics — has mobilized to try to block the legislation in the Senate, where the chamber passed a broader moratorium last year.
The industry has argued that banning the operations would hurt the nascent industry in New York and open the floodgates for similar regulations by Congress and other statehouses. Ms. Hochul said this week that she was “open-minded” about the legislation, but wanted to balance the creation of upstate jobs with the environmental impact of the facilities, a concern echoed by other lawmakers.
“I think there is a way to make crypto mining fossil-free without using the stick, and instead using carrots to get there,” said State Senator Todd Kaminsky, a Democrat from Long Island.
Will Mayor Adams retain control of New York City schools?
New York City mayors have trekked up to Albany on a regular basis to renew the city’s control over its public schools ever since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg first convinced lawmakers to grant him so-called mayoral control.
While local boards oversee schools in the rest of the state, lawmakers have typically granted the city authority over its schools in increments of anywhere from one to seven years.
Mayor Eric Adams, with the backing of the governor, has asked to extend mayoral control four more years, which is longer than any extension that his predecessor, Bill de Blasio, had received.
John C. Liu, who leads the State Senate’s New York City Education Committee, said he believed that four years was too long of an extension. He suggested that he would be open to a multiyear agreement, provided that certain issues like class size, and representation for English as a second language students, and those with disabilities, were addressed.
The broader question of school governance remains open, however, with Mr. Liu, a Queens Democrat, saying he believed the state should commission a study on how city schools had fared under two decades of mayoral control and how they compared to those in other large American cities.
Abortion legislation in the works
Democratic lawmakers have been working on a package of bills that would strengthen New York’s already robust protections for abortion, following a leaked Supreme Court opinion indicating the court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Some of those efforts have been focused on shielding providers from liability for patients coming from states where abortion has been criminalized. Others seek to protect patients who travel to New York for sexual health care.
Democrats are also working to enshrine the right to an abortion in the State Constitution, a move Ms. Hochul has expressed support for. It remains unclear, however, whether lawmakers will advance language focused narrowly on abortion, or put forth a more ambitious bill, which would provide comprehensive protection from discrimination.
A real estate tax break about to expire
Democratic lawmakers appear poised to let expire a divisive tax incentive program that New York City developers have used for five decades in the construction of most large residential projects.
Both Ms. Hochul and Mr. Adams have pushed for the renewal of the much-debated subsidy, known as 421a, or a revamped version of the program, which is meant to help subsidize the construction of affordable housing.
But there has been little appetite to renew the program among progressive Democratic lawmakers who have cast the subsidy as a tax giveaway for developers in exchange for too few units of below-market rental apartments.
“If we’re going to have a program that grants such generous tax benefits, we need to make sure that the public benefit is commensurate with the tax revenue we’re foregoing,” said State Senator Brian Kavanagh, the chair of the housing committee. “I think we have an opportunity to do that in the future. It’s not something that needs to happen by next Thursday.”
The impact of the subsidy’s expiration on June 15 is not expected to be felt for years. Ms. Hochul said the state could revisit the program in the future, even as some lawmakers made last ditch attempts to assemble a package of housing bills that could include an extension of the program.
Lawmakers appeared to be nearing consensus on another housing front: legislation to help salvage New York City’s deteriorating public housing system, home to more than 400,000 low-income residents.
The legislation, which Mr. Adams has lobbied for, would create a Public Housing Preservation Trust aimed at unlocking federal funds to finance the repairs to thousands of public housing units suffering from leaks, heat outages and mold.