Thursday, June 10, was the last scheduled day of the 2021 legislative session in New York. The Senate concluded their business just after 9:00 p.m. The Assembly worked through the night and adjourned just after 4:00 a.m.
This session was unlike any other year because it was conducted fully remotely. We anticipate that the New York State Capital will reopen soon, but this did not happen before the conclusion of the legislative session. While we were fully remote, the pace and breadth of legislative action was more like a typical in-person end of session. In the final weeks of session, both houses passed hundreds of bills, impacting local issues from sales tax to hotel and occupancy taxes.
The two houses also reached agreement and passed legislation related to several key priorities, including parole reform, new gun control measures, and the creation of an Opioid Settlement Fund. Parole reform included a bill to change how community supervision is mandated and enforced. The new gun control measures will bolster New York’s red flag laws and address the issue of ghost guns. Finally, the new Opioid Settlement Fund legislation will ensure that funds from future settlements will be used for substance use disorder treatment, prevention, and recovery programs.
Another bill that the legislature negotiated and passed will facilitate the conversion of distressed hotels and other commercial buildings into affordable housing. Both houses also reached agreement on a series of election law reforms that will increase early voting locations and make it easier for voters to register to vote. The two houses also passed legislation that will allow a fund designated to pay for lawsuits against the state to also be used to pay for the cost of an impeachment investigation and any subsequent impeachment proceedings.
In addition to the legislation being passed, the Senate also confirmed hundreds of appointments by the Governor to various state agencies and boards that had either been vacant or filled by those with expired terms. Further, the Assembly and Senate confirmed Michael Johnson to be the new chief enforcement counsel at the New York State Board of Elections, replacing Risa Sugarman who vacated the position in January.
Last-minute efforts related to reaching agreement on further parole reforms, gubernatorial appointments to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), and determining leadership of the Cannabis Control Board, which is necessary to begin to develop and implement New York’s recreational marijuana program, did not come together before session concluded. The two houses are still working to negotiate these issues with the Governor, which may necessitate a return to session, perhaps as early as later this month. Aside from the possibility of a return to address these issues, we are not anticipating a broader return to session before the start of the 2022 legislative session (scheduled for Wednesday, January 5, 2022). This could change, but unlike with the uncertainty of last year, there is clarity with the state budget, so there should be no need to return to address mid-year budget issues.
There is a chance that we may see a return before the start of the next legislative session to address any redistricting issues that may arise. The lines for election districts in New York must be redrawn every ten years. Believe it or not, it has been 10 years since the last redistricting, so new lines must be drawn and implemented ahead of next year’s 2022 elections. As a reminder, 2022 will see elections for all state-wide offices including the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Comptroller, Attorney General, all 213 members of the New York State legislature, and all members of Congress. New York will be losing a seat in Congress, so the current 27 New York congressional seats will have to become 26 congressional seats.
After the last round of redistricting, legislation was enacted to create an independent redistricting commission, which will be charged with drafting the new lines based on the 2020 census data. However, if the commission is unable to reach an agreement on the lines, then the responsibility for drawing the new lines returns to the legislature. As a reminder, for 2022, the primary elections will be held in mid-June, so the lines for these districts must be in place in time for the primary petitioning process, which starts in March. The last time there was redistricting, the primary elections were not until September, and the petitioning did not start until June. This time around the timeframe is much tighter, hence the potential need for a legislative return before year end.
We will continue to monitor the executive orders and various rules and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Governor has announced that as soon as New York reaches 70% of adults with at least one dose of the vaccine, many COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted. We believe this means all restrictions related to masks, social distancing, cleaning protocols, etc., but we will share more detail as it becomes available. It is anticipated that the 70% threshold will be met sometime in the next week or so. As a reminder, all currently effective executive orders remain in effect until July 5, 2021. We will let you know if this changes and what orders may no longer be in effect once the 70% threshold is met.
If you have additional questions about this update, please reach out to a member of our Government Affairs practice group for assistance:
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