GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL has less than three weeks left to make up her mind on whether to sign or to veto the remaining bills passed by the legislature this year. They range in scope, from the highly targeted (should the town of Niskayuna offer a retirement plan to four police officers?) to the sweeping (should New York become the first state to require consumer electronics to be easily repairable?).
We compiled a list of the hundreds of bills she hasn’t yet acted on — 265, as of Monday — with some comments below on the dozen we’re watching most closely.
A Zero-Emission Fleet (link)
In her State of the State last January, Hochul promised to “electrify the state’s light-duty fleet by 2035.” This bill, sponsored by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and Senator Kevin Parker, would set some formal milestones on the way to fully decarbonizing the state’s fleet. It would require a quarter of state vehicles to be zero-emissions by 2025 and half by 2030. It would also require all new vehicles the state buys to be zero emissions from starting in 2030, five years ahead of the deadline for private cars.
A companion bill would add a “Buy American” provision, requiring that the state buy only US-made zero-emission vehicles to the extent possible.
Alexander Flood, a spokesperson for Fahy, said her office had been in touch with the governor’s and that indications are positive she will sign the bills. —Colin Kinniburgh
When it comes to protecting workers, the state legislature has been playing catchup with the New York City Council. In 2017, the city’s landmark “Freelance Isn’t Free Act” went into effect, establishing a set of rights — to a written contract, to timely payment, and to damages and legal assistance if an employer violates those rights — for freelance workers. And this year, the city implemented its wage transparency law, which requires employers to post salary or wage ranges in job descriptions. In early June, both chambers in the legislature passed state versions of both of these bills, sponsored by Jessica Ramos and Andrew Gounardes in the Senate and Latoya Joyner and Harry Bronson in the Assembly. —Chris Gelardi
Suing Landlords for Repairs (link)
This fall, Syracuse resident Ericka Johnson got a FaceTime call from her 15 year-old son, the local news publication Central Current reported. “Mom, the ceiling fell down and there is water everywhere,” he said. Johnson and two dozen other tenants had been trying to reach their landlords for months to get them to address leaks, rodent infestations, broken doors and windows, and malfunctioning heating systems. The landlords refused to make repairs, so the tenants refused to pay rent. In October, a judge intervened — not to order repairs, but to evict Johnson from the apartment.
A bill sponsored by Senator Rachel May and Assemblymember Bill Magnarelli would give upstate tenants like Johnson a less risky avenue to compel landlords to make repairs, currently only available to New York City tenants: a simplified process to sue landlords for illegal housing conditions in local courts and authorize judges to order landlords to make repairs and waive rent. Given that good cause eviction failed to make it through the legislature, the bill is the most consequential tenant legislation on Hochul’s desk. —Akash Mehta
Reversing the Courts on Foreclosures (link)
In 2021, New York’s highest court issued a unanimous ruling that placed thousands of homeowners statewide at risk of foreclosure by extending the time frame for lenders to sue people who’d fallen behind on mortgage payments. Many affected homeowners had already won their cases, but were placed in jeopardy again as lenders moved to reopen their suits based on the extended timeframe. Lawyers for the lenders who brought the suit bragged that it would help lenders proceed with foreclosures worth billions of dollars statewide. This bill, which passed in May, would overturn that ruling and restore the previous status quo, protecting the homeowners that the high court placed at risk. —Sam Mellins
A Right to Repair (link)
In June, New York became the first state to pass a “right-to-repair” bill for consumer electronics. The bill would make it easier to repair most electronics sold in the state, requiring manufacturers to provide manuals and parts. Consumer and environmental advocates have been pressing for such legislation for years, but have faced stiff pushback from big tech companies. Apple, Charter, Google, AT&T, and pharmaceutical giant Bayer — which makes medical devices — were among those to lobby against the legislation in Albany this year, but it overcame their opposition.
The governor’s office has been negotiating with right-to-repair advocates, manufacturers, and Federal Trade Commission staff over the details of the bill and potential chapter amendments that could weaken it, sources told New York Focus. —CK
Banning Discrimination Against Immigrants (link)
A straightforward immigrant rights bill would add “citizenship or immigration status” to the list of reasons for which employers, landlords, real estate brokers, and others aren’t allowed to discriminate against prospective applicants. The bill passed both legislative chambers in May, sponsored by Senator John Liu and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz. —CG
Reimbursing Kidney Donors (link)
Four hundred New Yorkers will die in the next year for lack of a kidney, stuck on one of the longest waitlists in the country, as New York Focus reported last year. Legislators want to reduce that number by making New York the first state to reimburse organ donors for costs associated with their surgeries. According to estimates based on similar programs in other countries, a bill on Hochul’s desk is poised to save 100 lives a year for a net cost of just $1 million.
The bill is sponsored by Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, the chairs of their chambers’ health committees. Josh Morrison, executive director of the kidney donation advocacy organization Waitlist Zero, said he had an “encouraging” recent conversation with the governor’s office on the legislation. But there’s still a decent chance Hochul vetoes it on the grounds that bills that cost the state money should be passed in the annual budget; if so, Morrison says, it’s incumbent on the governor to include it in her executive budget. —AM
Equitable Pollution Siting (link)
Pollution isn’t spread evenly throughout the state; some neighborhoods, many of them poor and with large communities of color, have borne a disproportionate burden. This bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and J. Gary Pretlow in the Assembly, would require the state to weigh the “cumulative impacts” of existing polluters in a given area when deciding whether to allow a new, potentially polluting facility. The bill is backed by a wide range of climate and environmental justice groups, and passed the legislature near-unanimously in April after floating around for more than a decade. —CK
Grieving Families (link)
The Grieving Families Act, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, would reshape New York’s laws governing wrongful deaths. Currently, under a law that dates back to 1847, family members of the deceased can only sue for the financial loss that they’ve suffered due to the person’s death. The act would allow plaintiffs to seek cash compensation for emotional losses as well, such as grief and loss of companionship. The law could prompt lawsuits from families of nursing home residents who died during the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic — many of whom currently have little motivation to sue, since the deaths of nursing home residents has low economic impact for their families. The insurance industry has strenuously opposed the bill, claiming that its enactment would cause premiums to rise dramatically. Forty-seven states currently have laws that allow recovery for non-economic loss in similar suits. —SM
‘Complete Streets’ (link)
Will the federal infrastructure law passed last year advance climate efforts and street safety — or set them back? That decision is largely up to the states. The choice between expanding highways or funding more public transit, bike lanes, sidewalks, and electric vehicles will determine whether the federal spending increases or decreases US carbon emissions on net, with hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 hanging in the balance.
A bill sponsored by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and Senator Timothy Kennedy would help New York tip the balance toward safer and more sustainable modes of transit. It would help municipalities bridge the gap between federal funding and the total cost of any infrastructure project that includes “complete street” design, requiring the state to cover 87.5 percent of the balance (up from 80 percent now).
Jacob deCastro of Transportation Alternatives, which has been leading the charge for the bill, says the group is still “optimistic” Hochul will sign it after signing other safe-streets legislation this year. But she has also vetoed a number of funding-related bills, arguing that they should be addressed in the budget, and Flood, of Fahy’s office, said this bill appeared to be headed toward the same fate. —CK
Watchdogging State Contracts (link)
During and after the omicron wave, the Hochul administration paid a major campaign donor well over half a billion dollars for Covid-19 tests that other companies were selling for a fraction of the price. The purchases were made using emergency powers that circumvented review by the state comptroller’s office. In the 2010s, a much wider set of contracts — tens of billions in state dollars spent by the state Office of General Services, SUNY, CUNY, and related entities — were also signed without the comptroller’s review, thanks to legislation passed early in the decade. That may have contributed to the Buffalo Bills bid-rigging scandal, which landed close associates of Governor Cuomo in prison and spurred him to agree to give Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli some of his review powers back.
Urged by DiNapoli, the legislature this year overwhelmingly passed a bill to codify that handshake agreement into law and to go beyond it, restoring much of the review authority that the comptroller’s office enjoyed for a century. But SUNY has protested that the bill will tie projects up in red tape, and Hochul has indicated she’ll push for amendments that will increase the threshold at which review kicks in. The bill is sponsored by Senator Elijah Reichlin-Melnick and Assemblymember Kenneth Zebrowski. Reichlin-Melnick said he’s still waiting to hear from her team, but that, as with most executives, “there is a desire from the governor to try to hold on to as much of the authority as she can.” —AM
Land Conservation (link)
Last week in Montreal, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the international community to end an “orgy of destruction” fueling mass extinction of species around the world. Guterres and delegates from hundreds of countries are currently in Montreal for COP15, a conference on biodiversity analogous to the better-known climate summits like the one that just wrapped up in Egypt. At the center of the talks is a target known as “30×30”: conserving 30 percent of land and sea by 2030.
New York passed its own version of this target in May, in a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Patricia Fahy and Senator Todd Kaminsky. The bill passed with overwhelming support and reflects the legislature’s commitment to addressing a crisis that many argue is as important to the future of life on earth as climate change. The bill is not just symbolic — it would require New York to increase protected land area by more than 50 percent, with only about 19 percent of the state currently conserved.
Flood, of Fahy’s office, said he expects the governor to sign the bill with only minor technical amendments. —CK