The 2019 New York State legislative session ended a few days later than scheduled due primarily to the Senate, Assembly, and Governor working to reach a deal on several priority issues. These issues included recreational marijuana legalization and the creation of a prevailing wage standard for construction projects receiving state funding.
In the end, it became clear that a deal on legalizing recreational marijuana could not be reached before the end of the session, so the Governor and the two houses reached a compromise that will decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge the records of those with low level marijuana convictions.
For prevailing wage, no final deal was reached. Both issues will be back on the agenda for next session; perhaps as part of the budget negotiations.
While these issues in particular pushed the official end of session, there were a lot of major issues addressed in the final days, and this session saw more legislation passed through both houses than we have seen in recent history. All told, 935 bills passed through both the Assembly and Senate. For comparison sake, in 2018, 641 bills passed both houses, and in 2017, 606 bills passed both houses.
The large number of bills passed by both houses was in large part a result of the Senate now having a Democratic majority in both houses, and the two houses working to pass legislation that had previously stalled in the State Senate. Several of these legislative items were addressed in the final weeks of session. Those bills included a farmworkers bill of rights that will provide labor protections to farmworkers, a bill extending the statute of limitations for victims of rape, and a bill making it easier for victims of workplace sexual harassment to bring claims.
Other bills of note that passed in the final week of session included the Green Light legislation, which will allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers’ licenses and insurance coverage, comprehensive rent reform which will make rent provisions for NYC permanent and create tenant protections statewide, and the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which will create a climate action council and includes requirements to reduce the State’s carbon emissions by 85% of 1990 levels by the year 2050.
The two houses also passed a bill to ban gay panic and trans panic defenses in Court and a bill to eliminate the religious exemption from vaccine administration to address the measles outbreak that is hitting New York especially hard.
In addition to the items passed in the final days and weeks of session, there was legislation passed earlier in the session codifying the Reproductive Health Act, legislation to create early voting in New York and passage of the DREAM Act, which allows undocumented students to access financial aid and scholarships for higher education. The passage of these legislative bills fulfills many of the campaign promises made last year when there was the push to have the Democrats take control of the State Senate.
While many priority issues were addressed, several issues remained unresolved. Primary among those issues was a push to end solitary confinement in New York, legalize gestational surrogacy, creation of automatic voter registration in New York, and as mentioned earlier, full legalization of recreation marijuana and prevailing wage. We anticipate that these issues will remain active, and the two houses and Governor will seek to address them next session.
The 2020 legislative session should begin on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 with the Governor’s State of the State address. However, for the past few years, the Governor has been changing up the format and timing of his address, so we will see what he chooses to do next year. The first formal day of the legislative session will be Monday, January 13, 2020.
If you have any questions regarding this LEGALcurrents®, please do not hesitate to contact any member of our firm’s Government Affairs Practice Group at 518.434.4377 or 585.232.6500.