The post-budget portion of the legislative session is officially upon Albany, as lawmakers return today from a two-week break after the passage of the $175.5 billion spending plan.
The first three months of the session was unusual, considering that it was front-loaded with so many issues that passed following the Democratic takeover of the state Senate — gun control, abortion rights, and LGBTQ protections among them.
In the budget, lawmakers approved criminal justice law changes such as limiting cash bail and setting in motion a ban on plastic bags.
However, there’s a lot more for lawmakers to consider between now and June:
1. Marijuana Legalization
It’s unfinished business from the state budget, but the issues remain myriad as well as complicated. Gov. Andrew Cuomo included marijuana legalization in his budget proposal, along with a plan that would create a new regulatory plan for retail sale as well as pledges to have the proceeds benefit communities affected by prior drug laws. Cuomo also wanted to use some of the sales tax revenue to help raise capital for the MTA.
But lawmakers had different ideas. One legislative proposal would allow New Yorkers to grow small amounts of marijuana themselves. Other lawmakers continue to work about traffic safety considerations surrounding legalization. Despite agreement over the same goal, the impasse may be difficult to break in the post-budget session.
2. Rent Control Extension and Expansion
With rent control for New York City and the surrounding area up for renewal, lawmakers want to expand the current laws. First up will likely include vacancy decontrol and, potentially, expanding rent control outside of New York City pending local government approval and opt-in. Democrats get to control the process entirely this time, but that could still yield complications as affordable housing advocates will pressure lawmakers even more so to expand the existing laws.
3. Aid in Dying
It’s a contentious social issue that has stalled in Albany over the years: Should terminally ill patients have the right to end their own lives? Supporters of the legislation plan to press their case in the coming weeks for the measure, which has been opposed by the Catholic Church as well as some disability rights groups. But Cuomo this month signaled his support for the bill, pledging to sign it if passed.
4. Charter Schools
Cuomo’s office signaled to The New York Post earlier this month he would support raising the cap on charter schools in order to accommodate the long waiting list for students. It’s an issue that’s almost certainly dead-on-arrival for the Democratic-controlled state Assembly. Charter schools and education policy writ large have taken a back seat in recent years after several contentious negotiations over teacher evaluation changes as well as efforts meant to strengthen charter schools as backed by Cuomo.
5. Wild Card
As ever, Albany remains an unpredictable place. A range of issues could still pop up between now and the end of June. Will progressives press forward with stronger campaign finance law changes that are not up to a commission? How will the fight over online rental sites like Airbnb shape up?
The governor and the legislature are on more equal footing outside of the budget process. Still, Cuomo has been able to find points of leverage to get the legislature to do what he wants.