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New York's legislative session winding down

New York state Capitol
Jim Levulis
The state capitol in Albany

From Governor Kathy Hochul’s election to a full term to the dramatic rejection of her first choice for chief judge to an overdue state budget, it has been an eventful few months in New York politics. Now, the legislative session is down to its final days, with a number of outstanding issues still on the table.

Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt spoke with WAMC's Ian Pickus.

Well, June is here. What are the big things left on the table for lawmakers?

Well, I have to tell you, after you just described all the exciting things that have happened in the last few months, the end of the session is looking to be kind of a dud. There's not a whole lot on the table. The governor and legislative leaders this week would only confirm that they're close on one item. And that's known as clean slate, it would seal the records for certain criminal offenses, so that once someone has served their term, it's easier to get housing or a job. It's backed by the Business Council. They've been amending the bill in recent days, that's always a good sign. But other than clean slate, no one can confirm that anything else might pass. And this week, reporters including me got a chance to question Assembly Speaker Carl hasty, Senate leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and we kind of went through a laundry list of questions and issues. 'Is this going to happen?' 'What about this one?' They were pretty noncommittal about the whole thing. Governor Hochul didn't make herself available to Capitol media at all this week, which I don't know if that's a sign that she doesn't want to talk about what's happening or not happening too.

Is the reason there won't be that traditional 'big ugly' the fact that so much was in the New York state budget or is there just simply not an appetite to take up more big issues before they leave?

Well, that's part of it, the budget was a month late. So that cut into a lot of their time, there was a lot of policy in it, including tweaking, once again, the controversial 2019 bail reform laws. And also, Hochul after the budget was late for a couple of weeks pulled one of her big ambitious plans to build 800,000 new housing units in the next 10 years, she kind of had to withdraw it because suburban lawmakers just weren't going to go for it. There was a provision to allow the state to override local zoning laws, which they didn't like. You also had progressive Democrats, they wanted more tenant protections, something known as the Good Cause Eviction laws, and the moderate Democrats didn't want to go for that. So the leaders, the governor, they keep saying that they're talking about housing, they need more buy in from stakeholders. But meanwhile, there's a big unresolved affordable housing crisis that's going on in New York. And it looks like it's not even going to start to get resolved until a year from now, which is kind of a long time to wait.

Governor Hochul said this was the start of a conversation and to be continued, so is that issue really tabled until the next state budget?

It kind of seems like it is I mean, at this point with one week left, if they say they're just talking about it, that means that they don't have any agreement. I guess it's putting the best spin on it. They're not abandoning it. But you know, they're not, it doesn't seem like there's going to be any action in that. Although I have to give the caveat that a week and Albany time couldn't be as long as a year. Sometimes there are things that crop up at the last minute, that could get done. And certainly, there's a lot of groups pushing for all kinds of things like the Aid in Dying bill allowing terminally ill people to choose to end their own lives, selling wine in grocery stores, plastic packaging reduction, that bill is being amended right now. But it just doesn't feel like there's that kind of momentum that you usually get the penultimate week of the session, which has just occurred and going into the last week of the session, it just doesn't seem like there's a lot of momentum to get anything major done.

Who got most of what they wanted of the three leaders: Heastie, Stewart-Cousins and Hochul this year?

You know, that's a good question. I think really, the theme is suburban lawmakers are getting what they want. Because they pretty much killed the housing proposal, as I mentioned, because many suburban dwellers don't want more housing it where they live, they like it just fine the way it is. There were also some taxes that the MTA wanted to impose on commuters downstate, and that ended up not in the budget. And the underlying crisis or controversy is Long Island, where Republicans and Democrats are struggling for control. For many years, Republicans had control over Long Island, and now Democrats have won back some seats. They lost some seats in 2022. It's a real battleground between the parties. So, I think in a way, they're being more cautious for these marginal lawmakers. They don't want them to lose their seats. So, I think that seems to be kind of the underlying thing that's going on right now. And the other is Governor Kathy Hochul, she, I think she lost some of her power when she put out a chief judge that people didn't want, Hector LaSalle. And she kept pushing for him to be the chief judge, the Senate Democrats didn't want it. She I don't think she has as much political capital to get things done the way that she would like to get them done. Maybe she's still learning the ropes, but she doesn't seem to have as much influence with the legislature. And that's why we've kind of ended up with a stalemate at the end of the session.

It's been interesting watching Governor Hochul, who obviously came in under unusual circumstances almost two years ago. Have you seen any change in her since she was elected in her own right to the position from that first August 2021 period?

People are still trying to figure her out, I think. I mean, as we've mentioned pushing for a chief judge when it was clear that the Senate was just not going to vote for them. The housing proposal, not really getting stakeholders lined up, just kind of putting the proposal out there, and not doing kind of the legwork to get people together. I mean, it's also so much different because we all remember the last guy, Andrew Cuomo, he was in charge of everything. He was always, you know, making deals, manipulating people, certainly bullying at times, he was a huge force of nature, and mostly what he wanted to get done, if he focused on it, it got done. And Governor Hochul in some ways, frankly, it looks like she's kind of muddling through at times. But I've thought about this. And I thought, you know, Andrew Cuomo and his people, they were muddling through at times too, but they just put such a bigger, stronger face on it like they were in charge, that I really do think that the whole culture of Albany is still kind of reeling from this void, that you don't have this really, you know, strong kind of autocratic leader in charge and that, Governor Hochul she's more like how a regular person would be governor and people are adjusting to that.

What about her Lieutenant Governor Antonio Delgado, the former Hudson Valley Congressman? There's been a lot of coverage of his first anniversary in that position, perhaps a position we need to pay more attention to than we have in the past, given the fact that the last lieutenant governor became governor. What kind of profile do you see him building?

Well, you know, I have to say, as a broadcast person, I always do make sure that I get a few interviews with whoever is Lieutenant Governor, and so that we have something to run if something happens to the governor, which I've seen happen twice in the last dozen or so years, but it kind of seems like they're on the outs. Antonio Delgado has not really been a presence in Albany. It doesn't seem like Governor Hogan was giving him anything substantive to do. He's made speeches kind of does ribbon cuttings. But that's kind of typical of Lieutenant Governor's, it really does end up being a junior position. He was a talented congressman so perhaps his skills aren't really being used, but then it always ends up that there's some kind of tension and they really just kind of have to play very secondary role.

So just lastly, looking ahead a little bit, the lawmakers are supposed to be done as of June 8; there is not an election to look forward to this fall. So, what happens in planet Albany between now and the next session?

Well, I don't want to jinx things, Ian, but maybe we'll have a quiet period. I mean, we've gone through the COVID pandemic, when New York was the epicenter, the rise and fall of Andrew Cuomo, last year at this time, there was that horrible shooting at the supermarket in Buffalo. There were two major U.S. Supreme Court rulings overturning Roe v. Wade and overturning New York's concealed carry gun laws. And then there was a primary going on for governor as well. So maybe we will have a few months of peace. But who knows? I wouldn't. I wouldn't hold my breath on that.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.