State lawmakers return this week for the remainder of the legislative session, which runs through June 19. The post-budget session typically tackles expiring issues, policy matters outside of state spending. Here are five issues to watch over the next few weeks.
1. Marijuana legalization: An amended marijuana legalization bill, incorporating aspects of what Gov. Andrew Cuomo sought earlier this year, was introduced on Friday by sponsoring lawmakers.
But will it be enough? The bill includes Cuomo’s proposed Office of Cannabis Management, which regulate commercial and medical marijuana as well as hemp products. At the same time, the bill includes language that would expunge the records of those who have committed marijuana-based offenses in the past. But reservations remain among some lawmakers, who worry about traffic safety and have pointed to county governments that have chosen to preemptively opt-out of the marijuana business.
2. Rent control: How far will rent control be expanded and strengthened? With Democrats in control of both chambers of the legislature, that’s the overriding question as lawmakers consider ending vacancy decontrol, placing new requirements on building upgrades and potentially expanding the policy to upstate communities, which would have to opt in for the regulations.
So far, the Senate and Assembly have been holding separate hearings on the issue, even as there appears to be a general agreement on the direction they want to head in. Affordable housing advocates, after years of Republican control in the state Senate, are hopeful to make major gains this session.
3. Driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants: Assembly Democrats say they have the votes for the measure, known as the Green Light Bill. The provision revives a long-standing debate over whether to provide access to driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants living in New York, an issue that engulfed Eliot Spitzer’s short tenure as governor.
The state Senate, meanwhile, is still counting the votes, making it unclear if the bill can move forward in the chamber by the end of the session. Republicans have in the past used the issue to effect in elections for suburban and upstate Senate districts. Supporters this year want to make a financial argument: More driver’s licenses means more insured drivers on the road, which also means more people being able to drive to work and their kids to school. But immigration remains a red-hot emotional topic on the federal level, stoked in part by President Trump.
4. Gestational surrogacy: Cuomo has urged lawmakers to make this an end-of-session priority. The measure would legalize commercial gestational surrogacy, making New York one of the last states to do so.
The proposal has been opposed by the Catholic Church and some women’s advocacy groups, but has been backed by LGBT organizations and couples who have had trouble conceiving.
5. Sports betting: A bill working its way through the legislature would allow betters to place wagers on their phones and mobile devices for the outcome of sporting events, a measure enabled by a Supreme Court ruling allowing sports betting to go forward.
The bill is being put together as a compromise measure with casinos and would likely lead to servers being placed in the gambling halls in order to satisfy constitutional concerns, which have been raised by the Cuomo administration.