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Politics and Government

Busy week in Albany includes early voting measures, transgender rights

Karen DeWitt
WRVO News (file photo)

The Democratic-led New York State Legislature is set for a big week.

Action is planned on Monday to implement early voting in the state, and on Tuesday to grant more civil rights to transgender New Yorkers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo also will release his budget proposal.

The newly Democratic-led state Senate has set votes on Monday afternoon for bills to expand the times that New Yorkers can vote — from just one Tuesday in November to 10 days leading up to Election Day, including weekend days.

Freshman Sen. Zellnor Myrie, who has been appointed chair of the Elections Committee, will spend his second full day in the Senate presiding over the legislation, which he said is long overdue.

“Our state, we like to fancy ourselves as this progressive beacon,” Myrie said. “But the truth is, is that when it comes to voting and access to the ballot box, we are really behind the rest of the country.”

He said 37 other states already allow some form of early voting.

Myrie said the estimated cost to open local polling places for more days is about $7 million. But he believes those costs can be offset by another measure that would consolidate the state’s separate federal and state primaries into one election.

An additional bill would eventually allow voting by mail in New York. But it requires a change to absentee ballot laws set in the state’s constitution. That process requires approval by two consecutively elected state legislatures, and then a vote by the public on the next Election Day. If all of those steps are successful, the earliest election that mail-in voting would be permitted in New York is in 2021, after the next presidential election.

Myrie said Senate Democrats also plan to vote to end a loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws that permits businesses and individuals to set up limited liability companies to skirt donation limits.

“I ran, and I refused to take LLC money, and I was outspent by my opponent (former state Sen. Jesse Hamilton), who took advantage of the LLC loophole,” Myrie said. “But we won a pretty sound victory because voters are tired of that.” 

Democrats who lead the Assembly plan to pass identical bills on Monday.

The Legislature’s ambitious agenda includes a Tuesday vote on a measure to grant equal rights to transgender New Yorkers. And Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, speaking on the Senate floor on the first day of session, said that on Jan. 22, both houses plan to enact the Reproductive Health Act, which codifies the abortion rights in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade into state law.

Cuomo said in December that he backed many of the proposals and planned to include them in his state budget. The governor originally intended to release his spending plan at the end of January, but has now moved up the date two weeks and will release it on Tuesday.

Cuomo spoke to reporters on the first day of session after Stewart-Cousins released the timetable for voting on bills. The governor said he’s not concerned about the Democratic Legislature running away with the agenda.

“I’m not afraid of the Democrats going too far,” Cuomo said. “I don’t think they can go too far, from my point of view.”

The governor has traditionally been more fiscally conservative than some Democratic members of the Legislature, who seek additional taxes on the wealthy and more spending on public schools. Cuomo believes the newly elected senators from highly taxed suburban districts will hold the line on new taxes and spending.

Stewart-Cousins already has said she hopes to lower taxes on the middle class and turn a property tax cap from temporary to permanent.

Meanwhile, Cuomo has started to release some of his legislative proposals for 2019. On Saturday, he proposed raising the minumum age to buy tobacco and electronic cigarette products from 18 to 21. Cuomo said New York has made "great strides" to stamp out teen smoking, but new products threaten to undo progress. 

On Sunday, Cuomo proposed to ban single use platic bags, like those found in grocery and convenience stores, as well as an epanded bottle bill, which would make most non-aloholic bottles and cans eligible for 5-cent redemption. 

Cuomo will expand on these propsals and others during his combined State of the State and budget messages on Tuesday. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.