History was made Wednesday, the first day of the legislative session in Albany, with the installation of the first woman to lead the state Senate. Andrea Stewart-Cousins pointed to the conference’s ambitious agenda as part of her speech.
“We are going to tell the rest of the country that New York is about opportunity,” Stewart-Cousins said in a speech from the Senate chamber. “Not walls, not barriers. How are we going to tell them? We’re going to tell them by making democracy work.”
Senate Democrats are taking the reins of the chamber with a diverse conference with many firsts, including the first Iranian-American, the first Indian-American, and first Muslim in the chamber. Sen. Brad Hoylman says the diversity will lead to new legislation impacting all New Yorkers.
“I think you’ll see a state Senate that is responsive to the people of New York because we look like New York,” Hoylman said.
This year lawmakers are expected to pass legislation that will make it easier to vote, strengthen abortion laws, and new gun control measures. But they also plan to challenge Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Sen. James Skoufis, who will chair a committee with subpoena power, has signaled a willingness to review areas potentially sensitive to the governor’s administration.
“My feeling is there’s a ripeness for the first time in a longtime to act as a co-equal branch of government,” Skoufis said.
There’s been long-standing tension between Cuomo and legislative Democrats, heightened in part last year by the decision of a pay commission decision granting legislative salary hikes, but with stipulations that stipends and outside pay be curtailed in the process.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says that will evaporate as lawmakers and the governor come together on a budget deal in March.
“I believe that when it comes down to the final hours of the budget, we will come together and let the rest of the nation know what a functioning, well-run government looks like,” Hochul said.
And in the Assembly, Speaker Carl Heastie says lawmakers are more focused on working with Democrats in the Senate after years of Republican rule.
“I think members are probably speaking from the point that there are many ideas that were not supported by the Republican-controlled Senate and in that vein, I think people are looking forward to working with the Senate,” Heastie said.