2022 WAS A BUSY YEAR for New York lawmakers. The state legislature passed 1,010 bills — a record since at least 1995, the first year with readily available data — and Governor Kathy Hochul signed 841 into law, another record. Even before being elected to her first full term, Hochul signed major gun safety and abortion rights laws and approved the state’s largest-ever budget.
After the election, she signed a number of bills that had become political flashpoints — a partial moratorium on new crypto mines, for example — and others that flew under the radar but were nevertheless subject to tense negotiations. In the second half of December alone, Hochul signed more than 160 bills, including 12 of 13 New York Focus highlighted. Legislation creating a “right to repair” for electronics, stepping up oversight of state contracts, reimbursing kidney donors, and requiring carpet recycling all survived intense last-minute haggling to be signed into law long after most New Yorkers had tuned out for the holidays.
But Hochul also wielded her veto pen with newfound vigor in 2022, axing 165 bills (as well as 33 line items in the state budget). That marked a noticeable departure from 2021: Having then just taken over for Andrew Cuomo, she largely avoided vetoes in favor of negotiating “chapter amendments” with the legislature.
Last year, she did both, extracting amendments to 115 bills in addition to those she vetoed. Only Cuomo, in 2019, exercised his influence over a larger share of bills after they passed.
Hochul cited financial constraints in almost half of her vetoes, arguing that legislation would introduce costs not accounted for in the state’s current financial plan and would be more appropriately addressed in the budget process. The argument raises the question: Will Hochul revisit those bills in this year’s budget? Or was she just dodging? We’ll soon find out: Her executive budget is due early next month.
For now, here are a few highlights among the dozens of bills Hochul vetoed in 2022. You can also browse the full list yourself.
In the spring, lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill aiming to protect upstream water sources by vastly expanding the state’s oversight of its waterways. But Hochul vetoed it last month, arguing that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) doesn’t have the resources to enforce it.
Some questioned the sincerity of Hochul’s argument. A wide range of industry groups, as well as local highway officials, have opposed the bill for years and lobbied Hochul hard even after it was passed. It’s unclear how much this swayed her decision. What’s clearer is the problem of understaffing at the DEC, which advocates and some agency staffers say has hampered its ability to make good on a growing list of climate and environmental mandates.
Leading advocates for the bill saw a silver lining in Hochul’s veto message, with its nod to the next budget, and they plan to renew the stream protection push in the coming months. – Colin Kinniburgh
For her second-to-last veto of the year, Hochul rejected a bill that would have given a Native American review committee the discretion to handle Indigenous people’s remains uncovered on private property. Sponsored by Leroy Comrie in the Senate and Steve Englebright in the Assembly, the bill passed both chambers unanimously and would have mandated a practice already common in many states: to halt ground-disturbing construction upon the discovery of human remains, allowing time for identification and determination of next steps.
Hochul wrote that while she “recognize(s) the need for a process to address the handling of unearthed human remains” in a respectful manner, “any process … that also involves the private property of New Yorkers must appropriately protect both interests.” She proposed amendments allowing developers and property owners to remove remains after 60 days if they deemed the committee’s progress insufficient.
Hochul’s changes would have made the bill “useless,” said Harry Wallace, Chief of the Unkechaug Nation and a spokesperson for Honor Our Indigenous Ancestors, “because all the developer had to do was wait out the 60 days.” His group, along with the Shinnecock Graves Protection Warrior Society and Honor Our Indigenous Ancestors, called the amendments “unjustified and unpalatable” in a statement.
“What we need to come up with is a strategy to overcome her veto,” Wallace told New York Focus. “We’re not going to allow developers unfettered discretion to remove bodies.” – Maia Hibbett
“If you are not a citizen of the United States, you may become deportable … based on a conviction by plea or verdict.”
A bill, sponsored by Senator Brian Kavanagh and Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, would have mandated that judges offer the above warning to all criminal defendants before they enter into a plea deal. If they weren’t properly warned, it would have given defendants an opportunity to appeal their convictions. The seemingly straightforward legislation had been in the works for years, and earned the support of immigrant rights groups, defense organizations, and the New York City and state bar associations. And though it caught some pushback from district attorneys — who wanted it vetoed largely over concern about retroactivity clauses inviting a flood of superfluous appeals — advocates told New York Focus that they were ready to amend the bill to address prosecutors’ main worries.
Yet talks with the governor’s office stalled this fall, the advocates said, and Hochul vetoed the bill before they ever got to that point — another casualty of New York’s chaotic annual tradition of taking final action on a year’s worth of legislation in the 11th hour. – Chris Gelardi
New York has a big trash problem. Reducing the waste that New Yorkers produce is a key element of meeting the state’s climate goals, since rotting garbage releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. And the communities that host the state’s massive landfills suffer severe quality of life issues, like pungent odors and respiratory problems, as the landfills continue to grow.
But over the past decade, the state has failed to make a dent in its yearly garbage output. In fact, it’s done the opposite, going from four pounds of garbage per person per day in 2010 to five in 2022.
A bill sponsored by Senator Kevin Thomas and Assemblymember Steve Englebright set a goal of recycling 85 percent of the state’s garbage by 2032, and would have required the DEC to conduct a study on how to achieve that goal. It passed unanimously in the Senate, and with only one vote against in the Assembly.
Hochul vetoed it along with a host of other bills setting up studies, task forces, or commissions, claiming that they would have collectively cost $40 million, overtaxed agencies’ staffing capacity, and in some cases created unnecessary bureaucracy. – Sam Mellins
New York has a utility debt crisis. As of last May, electric and gas customers in the state owed their utilities a record $1.91 billion. We know this because those utilities are required to send the state monthly reports on how many customers are falling behind on their bills.
Water utilities, however, face no such requirement — despite evidence of mounting debts among their customers, too. A bill passed in June aimed to address that, adding water utilities to the list of those monitored by the state’s Public Service Commission. But Hochul vetoed it the day before Thanksgiving, along with dozens of other bills creating commissions and task forces to study a wide range of issues. – C.K.
Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assemblymember Harry Bronson’s Freelance Isn’t Free Act would have established rights to a written contract, to timely payment, and to damages and legal assistance for freelance workers across the state. A local version of the law went into effect in New York City in 2017, and labor organizations saw the Albany bill as a natural extension of that campaign. But Hochul vetoed it.
In her veto, the governor claimed that she supports “efforts to ensure that New Yorkers are paid for their hard work.” But “without appropriate funding,” she wrote, the bill “would create significant staffing and programmatic burdens” on the state Department of Labor — underlining her reluctance to expand the duties of government agencies outside of the annual budget process.
Hochul will release her proposed budget in a month. Will she give agencies the resources they need to do the things she says she supports? – C.G.