Early on June 21st, the NYS Assembly and Senate concluded the 2019 Regular Legislative Session. In many regards this was considered a historic session with all three branches of State government controlled by Democrats and the first women of color among the highest levels of leadership in both Houses. Additionally, this session has been the most active in recent history with a significantly greater number of bills passing both Houses.
Despite the challenges of assuming the Majority, the Senate Democrats have been largely successful in advancing a progressive agenda and balancing the interests of a diverse Conference by partnering strongly with the Assembly leadership and working with the Governor to advance mutual political and policy priorities.
The momentum started early – even prior to the passage of an on-time State Budget in April- with the Legislature passing the Child Victim’s Act, the Women’s Reproductive Rights Act, the Dream Act, and numerous voting reforms. The pace did not let up and in spite of an unexpected revenue shortfall, the 2019-20 NYS Budget was on time and included many progressive initiatives.
Progress continued through the final months of Session as major pieces of legislation, previously stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, were approved by both Houses. These include a comprehensive climate change bill, the granting of labor rights to farm workers, substantially strengthening the State’s sexual harassment laws, abolishing the “gay panic defense,” and a measure permitting undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Additionally, the Legislature significantly bolstered tenant protections under rent regulations, offered the expansion of rent control to upstate cities, and permanently extended the program.
Although there was general support and much dialogue, an agreement could not be reached prior to the end of Session on the legalization of recreational marijuana. However, a bill decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and vacating certain low-level marijuana convictions did pass both Houses.
The Legislature is expected to remain ” at the call of the Majority Leaders” for the remainder of 2019 and will return to Albany after the New Year. In the meantime, advocacy will focus on the Governor and his deputies throughout the remainder of the year as they review the 935 bills that passed both Houses and consider his approval or veto of each.