State lawmakers in the coming days are expected to consider a range of bills that could affect the lives of New Yorkers, from how the state is combatting climate change, overhauling criminal justice laws and policing, to new gun control measures, as well as who should serve on the state's highest court.
Looming over it all are the continued controversies facing Gov. Andrew Cuomo, multiple investigations and a potential impeachment. There isn't a lot of time, either: The Legislature is scheduled to finish its work June 10.
Here are five issues lawmakers are facing as they wrap up the final days of the 2021 session:
1. Criminal justice and policing.
Advocates hope lawmakers will take up changes to New York's parole system, allowing older people who are incarcerated an easier path to release through parole and making it easier to gain parole overall. At the same time, the Legislature is considering a bill that would seal and eventually expunge many criminal convictions. Sponsors of that bill say it is meant to boost employment prospects for people who have found it difficult to gain a good-paying job once their sentence has been served.
On the law enforcement reform front, lawmakers are also being pushed to pass a bill ending qualified immunity, opening police brutality cases to civil suits statewide. Attorney General Letitia James is also pushing the state Senate and Assembly to take up a bill restricting use of force by police as a last resort in many instances.
Democratic lawmakers who gained full control of both chambers of the Legislature in 2019 had already started a push for criminal justice law changes, with the murder of George Floyd a year ago only adding to the impetus for action. Floyd's killing last year led to a package of changes, culminating with repeal of a measure that shielded police disciplinary records from public view.
These changes are being discussed amid concerns over rising crime in American cities, which could stymie support on the federal level for changes.
2. Gun control.
A bill that would make it easier for people to file civil lawsuits against firearm manufacturers would be the latest in a parade of gun control measures to be approved in Albany in recent years. The measure is one of several gun control-related bills the Legislature could take up in the coming days as gun control bills have moved through legislative committees in the lead-up to the final week of the session.
The bill is under consideration in the final days of the session after lawmakers have recently sought to crack down on a range of illegal firearms in New York, including firearms printed using 3-D technology and a bill meant to restrict the flow of weapons lacking serial numbers.
New gun control measures are nothing new for New York, of course. The state was one of the first to approve a sweeping package of gun control laws known as the SAFE Act in 2013, weeks after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The passage of the bill was a signature legislative victory for Cuomo, but ultimately cost him support from Republicans and many upstate voters. Republicans, who controlled the state Senate at the time, became less willing to take up similarly ambitious legislation.
3. Climate change.
The Legislature is being pushed to take up bills that advocates argue will help the state meet the required goals of reducing emissions and switching to renewable fuel in the coming decades.
The bills include proposals meant to boost electric vehicle ownership in New York, from encouraging charging stations to making it easier to buy one. Lawmakers are also being called on to take up a bill that, among other provisions, would place a new tax on polluters. The measure has been staunchly opposed by business organizations in the state.
4. Judicial nominations.
The Democratic-controlled state Senate will be considering two nominations by the governor to the state Court of Appeals, the equivalent to the federal Supreme Court. These nominations and confirmations are often pro forma exercises. But the state's highest court, despite the lack of broad public scrutiny, often makes decisions that can affect millions of New Yorkers, from LGBTQ rights to the environment.
Nassau County District Attorney Madline Singas and Administrative Judge Anthony Cannataro are the two pending nominations by Cuomo to the court. The nominations come amid the ongoing push to overhaul the criminal justice system in New York, as well as the potential of the court presiding over Cuomo's impeachment amid an Assembly investigation into a cascading series of controversies for the governor.
5. The wild card.
It's not known when the attorney general's office will release a highly anticipated report into the allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct that have been leveled against Cuomo by multiple women. At the same time, the Assembly-led impeachment investigation, which is also drawing in the issues facing nursing home fatality reporting, the governor's $5.1 million book deal, the construction of the Mario Cuomo Bridge and other issues, remains open-ended.
The release of James's report would have the potential to throw the final days of the session into a new realm of uncertainty. The Democrats who have called for Cuomo's resignation may what to take more assertive steps in ousting him depending on the contents of the report.
No session ends neatly, though no pressing deadlines facing lawmakers this year. In a deadline-driven place, that can make all the difference.