ALBANY — New York lawmakers were slated to wrap up this year’s legislative session late Thursday and early Friday following a flurry of actions on abortion, gun laws, mayoral control of city schools and voting rights.
In the wake of recent mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas, the Democrat-led Legislature sought to strengthen the state’s gun laws with a package of bills that includes a ban on the purchase or possession of a semi-automatic rifle for anyone under 21.
Other priorities included bolstering legal protections for abortion providers as the Supreme Court eyes a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade and the passage of the New York version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for the late civil rights activist and congressman.
Like a measure that failed to pass at the federal level, the voter protection bill will prohibit deceptive and suppressive voter practices, establish a voting and elections database, and make electronic election interference a misdemeanor.
“New York must lead the way in ensuring that everyone has equal access to political participation,” said sponsor Assemblywoman Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn). “This legislation sends the message that here in New York, your right to vote is protected.”
While national issues dominated the final days of the half-year legislative session in the State Capitol, lawmakers also addressed local concerns as both the Senate and Assembly approved a two-year extension of mayoral control over city schools.
After petitioning for a lengthier extension, Mayor Adams voiced his displeasure with the final bill blaming “professional naysayers” for legislation he claims will “water down” his administration’s power over city schools.
Albany lawmakers worked into the night Thursday, voting on hundreds of measures and avoiding an omnibus piece of legislation often crammed with unrelated policy items and known as the “Big Ugly.”
The Dem-backed gun bills prompted heated debates in both chambers as Republicans pushed back on a ban on selling body armor to people outside law enforcement and a new tax on ammunition sales.
“If you’re going to bother with legislation and you’re going to jerk around 19 million New Yorkers, millions of gun owners that own their weapons lawfully, first thing you should be familiar with the topic you’re going to author legislation on,” Daniel Stec (R-Glens Falls). “Second, it should be enforceable and understandable.”
Amid the final push to vacate the Capitol, lawmakers did appear poised to leave several measures on the table, including criminal justice bills and tenant protections sought by progressive lawmakers and advocates.
The Challenging Wrongful Convictions Act, which would give those who pleaded guilty to a crime they didn’t commit a chance to prove their innocence, passed the Assembly late Tuesday. As of Thursday evening, the bill was not scheduled for a vote in the Senate.
The Senate approved a measure that would seal New Yorkers’ criminal records three years after sentencing for misdemeanors and seven years for felonies, known as the Clean Slate Act, but its fate in the Assembly was unclear.
Similar discrepancies remained on environmental bills that would place a moratorium on cryptocurrency mining and a separate measure to expand public renewable power.
Lawmakers also allowed a controversial tax abatement meant to incentivize the building of affordable housing, known as 421-a, to expire and did not take up the long-sought “good cause” bill expanding tenants’ rights to renew leases.
Separately, a constitutional amendment that would enshrine abortion rights and gender equality appeared unlikely to gain approval before voting concluded.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) a day earlier didn’t rule out a return to Albany over the summer if lawmakers failed to finalize the language.
The proposal being floated would amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion rights and prohibit discrimination based on national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex, including pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes.
Such changes to the constitution need to be approved by lawmakers in back-to-back legislative session years before going before voters.
“If we get to that right place, I don’t think anybody would be opposed to coming back if we don’t resolve it now,” she said.