New York state lawmakers were scheduled to be back in Albany next week to resume the 2020 legislative session, but amid the coronavirus outbreak, neither the state Senate nor the Assembly plans to hold session next week.
“We have lots of work to get done and plan on being back in session. We prepared for this situation and passed a resolution that has allowed us to hold session remotely,” Mike Murphy, a spokesman for State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to serve the people of New York in this unprecedented time."
A spokesperson for the Assembly said while there is no scheduled session next week, members “remain at the call of the Speaker.” The Assembly has also arranged for its members to vote remotely if necessary, but it’s unclear if they would have to be physically in Albany to do so, even if they are not in the Assembly chamber.
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Earlier this month, Governor Andrew Cuomo declared that the 2020 legislative session was “effectively over,” which prompted pushback from individual members who said that was “news” to them. Only legislative leaders have the power to determine when they go back to Albany or vote on bills.
Cuomo’s comments came just hours after he and state leaders had finished negotiating a state budget. The fiscal year budget is the biggest piece of legislation state leaders work on each session. Normally, lawmakers take a break after it passes and then return to Albany to finish the remaining business on the legislative calendar, but now that remains uncertain.
Good government groups have urged state leaders to return and continue working through the scheduled end of the legislative session in early June.
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In a statement, Susan Lerner of Common Cause New York said, "Democracy doesn't pause, it adapts. While the Governor continues to triage the COVID crisis, the Legislature must take advantage of existing technologies to continue doing the people's business remotely. Public services is a matter of moral leadership, and New Yorkers need our elected representatives to commit to staying in remote session now more than ever.”
Others agree that the legislature has unfinished business. Michelle Jackson is the acting executive director of the Human Services Council. She says when lawmakers passed paid sick leave earlier this month, it did not include funding for organizations like hers that are doing contract work with the state, including support services at homeless and domestic violence shelters. That amounts to what Jackson calls an “unfunded mandate.” She would like the legislature to provide that funding through a supplemental appropriation.
“We certainly are very concerned around the nonprofit sector,” said Jackson.
The legislative session was set to conclude the second week in June.