Guns, abortion, voting rights: 5 things to watch as NY's Legislature ends session
With just a day left in this year’s legislative session, New York lawmakers are scrambling to nail down measures on abortion rights, gun reform and voting changes before their time in Albany ends.
The session has been dominated by a number of high-profile, controversial issues, some influenced by nationwide events. Lawmakers passed last-minute budget measures on bail reform and the Buffalo Bills stadium earlier this spring, followed by a leaked draft indicating that the Supreme Court may strike down the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
In the midst of crafting legislation to protect abortion rights under state law, a pair of mass shootings in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas in May precipitated a swift push for tighter gun control in New York, which already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.
Here’s what the legislature is considering in its final days in Albany. Some of these measures have already been passed by either the Senate or the Assembly. Legislation must pass both chambers and be signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul before it becomes law.
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The racially-motivated killing of 10 people at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo on May 14, followed by a massacre at a Texas school 10 days later spurred a wave of anger among New York officials and calls for action at the state and federal level.
“I’m peeling back all the layers, all the barriers, and saying we’re going to be able to stand here and tell every New Yorker, ‘There’s nothing more we can do to protect you, we’ve done everything we can.' And I don’t feel that right now," Hochul said last week, as she introduced a proposal to raise the eligibility age to purchase an AR-15-style rifle to 21 in New York. It is currently 18.
Both suspected gunmen in the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings were 18.
A slate of legislation introduced this week, if approved, would require licensure for semiautomatic rifles, which is already a requirement for handguns in the state.
The package would also expand the definition of a firearm in New York, require law enforcement agencies to report the recovery of any crime gun within 24 hours and make it illegal to purchase body armor — worn by the suspected shooter in — unless the buyer works in an eligible profession, such as law enforcement.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is looking at New York’s law that requires residents to provide “proper cause” for needing a concealed carry weapon. New York City Mayor Eric Adams said a ruling against this measure could have "a major impact" on "a densely populated community like New York."
The court is expected to decide on the case in June. If the law is struck down, Hochul has left open the possibility of calling the Legislature back to session this summer to consider legislation in response.
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A bombshell draft Supreme Court opinion, leaked in early May, showed the Court’s potential aim to overturn 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision, which codified abortion rights into federal law. A draft opinion does not reflect the Court’s final decision, which will come this summer.
But Democratic states like New York sprung into action in response, immediately promising abortion care to out-of-state residents whose home states may make abortion illegal if Roe is struck down.
New York’s Reproductive Health Act codified abortion in state law in 2019. But the legislature is considering amending the State Constitution to protect abortion rights, a move that would need voter approval by referendum.
Other bills would protect New York abortion providers from liability, should they perform procedures on people from states where abortion may soon be criminalized, and provide funding to support providers, low-income and out-of-state residents seeking care, and security efforts at New York abortion clinics.
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The Senate this week passed the John R. Lewis Voting Rights of New York, which notably launches a “preclearance” program requiring local governments with records of discrimination to prove that proposed voting changes will not harm voters of color.
The package of bills would expand language access in the voting process for those with limited English proficiency, and help establish a statewide hub for election data and demographic voter information.
Earlier this year, the Senate passed bills that accounted for people who mistakenly vote at the wrong polling location, and allowed residents to cite COVID-19 concerns in requesting an absentee ballot through the end of 2022.
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Affordable housing, good cause eviction
The 421-a property tax program, which allowed millions in tax breaks for developers to build multi-unit housing projects in New York City if they included affordable housing, expires this month.
Hochul wanted to tweak and expand the program during state budget talks, but the proposal hasn’t been popular among Democratic lawmakers, who panned it as being a corporate tax giveaway for wealthy developers.
The governor is still pushing for its consideration, but the program seems unlikely to be renewed.
Meanwhile, housing advocates are mounting a last-ditch effort in Albany over good cause eviction, which, if passed, would protect tenants from unjust evictions and rent hikes. Similar legislation was considered but voted down in Rochester earlier this year, while the Cities of Albany and Newburgh passed good cause eviction laws in 2021.
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Parole, Clean Slate Act
Advocates for criminal justice reform are pushing a pair of bills that would loosen the state’s parole laws, offering parole to low-risk incarcerated individuals and those over 55 who’ve served at least 15 years in prison. These bills came up before the Legislature last year but didn’t go anywhere.
Up for consideration as well is the Clean Slate Act, which would seal criminal records after a certain amount of time following a person’s sentencing, provided they are not convicted of other crimes in the meantime. This would allow them to more easily get jobs and housing opportunities, helping them reintegrate back into society, advocates argue.
The records would be sealed three years after a misdemeanor offense and seven years after a felony. About 2.3 million New Yorkers could see their criminal records sealed if the bill passed.
The measure was almost approved as part of the budget, but lawmakers disagreed with Hochul on the timing of sealing the records.
Sarah Taddeo is the New York State Team Editor for the USA Today Network. Got a story tip or comment? Contact Sarah at STADDEO@Gannett.com or on Twitter @Sjtaddeo. This coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Please consider becoming a digital subscriber.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Guns, abortion: 5 things to watch as NY's Legislature ends session