ALBANY — New York lawmakers have put the finishing touches on the first session in 12 years without Andrew M. Cuomo.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, who took office in August when Cuomo resigned, presided over an, at times, bumpy session. It didn’t have some of the high-profile issues from the last two years, but much of the governor’s agenda eventually was approved.
One analyst called it “inelegant, but productive.”
From the time the Senate and Assembly returned to the State Capitol in January until their adjournment Saturday, lawmakers grappled with a range of New York problems and issues. But the homestretch was largely governed by national issues — especially guns and abortion.
Here are some takeaways from the just-concluded 2022 legislative session:
National issues change session, campaigns
The final month of the legislative session was driven by another spate of mass shootings and news the U.S. Supreme Court might soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion-rights decision.
And in doing so, they provided some issues that generally help Democrats in New York. Instead of crime and inflation dominating the election conversation, abortion and gun safety are in the mix, too.
Hochul and the Democratic-led Senate and Assembly approved a series of abortion protection bills, including one seeking to prevent New York physicians from being prosecuted in states that might enact strict abortion limits.
In a strong abortion-rights state, Democrats now have a “wedge” issue that breaks in their favor, experts have said. Republican candidates might no longer be able to shrug off abortion as a federal issue.
The mass shootings spurred Democrats to approve a series of gun-safety laws, including one to raise the purchasing age for semiautomatic rifles to 21. Like abortion, gun safety is supported by a majority of New York voters.
Republicans offered a package of laws they said could reduce shootings. It included bolstering mental-health programs and increasing penalties for gun crimes — but it didn’t include anything to reduce access to guns.
Hochul had victories, some criticism
The new governor not only got abortion and gun bills done but also saw record spending on schools, an environmental bond act and a tweak of bail laws.
She also persuaded an initially skeptical Legislature to quickly change state election law to remove from the ballot a candidate who has been charged with a crime — in this case, Brian Benjamin, the lieutenant governor she initially appointed.
In the first scandal of Hochul’s tenure, Benjamin was indicted on bribery charges, long after Democrats endorsed him at their state convention, and it appeared he would be stuck on the June primary ballot. By changing the law, Benjamin (who resigned) is off the ballot, which might eliminate or at least alleviate a major campaign headache for Hochul.
She also persuaded Democrats to add more crimes to the list of bail-eligible offenses. It won’t stem criticism from Republicans and Democratic candidate for governor Rep. Tom Suozzi, but it “broke the fever,” said Bruce Gyory, a political analyst and former gubernatorial adviser.
Hochul also won approval for an $850 million subsidy for a new NFL stadium for her hometown Buffalo Bills. Republicans and some Democrats criticized it as a massive giveaway, but some were happy to see a deal to keep the team in New York.
Further, Hochul sprung her bail and stadium proposals on her allies with little time for debate or discussion, angering some. But she got both approved.
“This wasn’t a pretty session, but when you look at it through the ability to get something done … she delivered,” Gyory said.
NYC gets partial wins
New York Mayor Eric Adams wanted a lengthy extension of the law giving his office control of city schools. Instead, he got two years. And it came with a related bill to force the city to reduce class sizes, which the mayor opposed as an unfunded mandate.
Adams also wanted broader changes in bail laws. But the city did get a broad expansion of speed cameras and an accelerated schedule for opening casinos in the metro area.
Some issues fall by the wayside
Some controversial items of the session failed to cross the finish line.
For instance, a bill to renew “421-a,” a tax break for developers if they set aside some units for affordable housing, died. So did the “Good Cause Eviction” bill, which would have capped some housing rents and made evictions harder.
Though the two weren’t technically tied together, sources said that once the pro-developer bill fizzled, so did the likelihood of a pro-tenant bill.
Democrats also dropped bills to change local elections (town and county, for example) to even-numbered years from odd-numbered and another to prevent fossil fuel hookups for certain buildings beginning in 2024 (the so-called “All Electric Buildings Act”).
NY makes history, maybe
One of the final bills approved by legislators would enact a two-year moratorium on certain types of cryptocurrency mining.
Environmental groups around the state strongly backed the measure, saying cryptocurrency miners use “exorbitant” amounts of energy and use old fossil-fuel plants for power. The industry has opposed the bill.
New York would be the first state to impose a moratorium — if Hochul signs the bill. She has yet to signal her intent, saying she wanted to “balance” needs.