New York Legislature Adjourns, Leaves Unfinished Business

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ALBANY, NY (WSKG) – The 2021 legislative session concluded in the early hours of Friday morning, with a number of measures left unresolved.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, speaking on the Senate floor Thursday evening as the session drew to a close, indicated  the legislature’ s business is done for the year.

“We’ll be back in this chamber in January,” Stewart-cousins said. “Hopefully all together , unmasked.”

A Senate spokesman says the Senate will return briefly later in the summer to act on some remaining appointments that Governor Andrew Cuomo has sought, including confirming  the head of the state’s new cannabis management office, to implement the state’s new legal marijuana industry.

In a statement, Senator Stewart-Cousins said talks continue on some issues and the Senate would return to act on them if “necessary”.

Among the measures that fell off the table in the final hours is the Clean Slate legislation, which would seal criminal records for those convicted of misdemeanors and many felonies who have already served their time. Attempts for a last minute deal with Cuomo to pass the measure by day’s end failed. The governor was seeking changes to the MTA leadership that would result in the governor having more direct control over the transit authority, but the talks ended with no resolution.

Just one of three parole reform bills was approved, it would make it harder to send parolees back to jail on technical violations. Two other measures that did not get a vote would have allowed inmates 55 and older who’ve served 15 years of their sentence an automatic parole hearing, and for parole board to give more weight to a prisoner’s good behavior when considering granting release.

Anti sexual harassment measures, approved in the Senate, did not come to the floor in the state assembly, leading advocates to accuse Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie of caring more about preserving the institution of the assembly than protecting survivors.

Elizabeth Crothers, with the Sexual Harassment Working Group, which is made up of former employees of the legislature who say they were sexually harassed, spoke before the session ended.

“That the assembly hasn’t passed it is mystifying, unless you look at it as part of a pattern,” said Crothers, whose group says the Assembly has had a poor track record   on handling sexual harassment cases.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples- Stokes, the highest ranking woman in the Assembly, addressed the lack of action on the sexual harassment bills. In a statement Thursday night, she said the assembly has “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment, and while advocates have raised “a number of issues that deserve consideration”, members want to wait and make sure they “do it right”, in a “deliberate and thorough process”.

That led the Sexual Harassment Working Group to call the assembly’s failure to pass the legislation “incredibly brazen”.

“Workers don’t need a bunch of legislators, sitting around thinking about what women and workers in New York go through every day: we need action,” the group said. “Get it together and do your job.”

There were some accomplishments in the final days of the session. Lawmakers passed a bill to hold gun manufacturers liable if the weapons they produce are used in a crime. And they also closed loopholes that allow so called ghost guns to be created when the components are purchased separately, avoiding registration and background checks. Other bills make it easier to vote early and cast absentee ballots.

Governor Cuomo, who was largely absent from the end of session action, and who is embroiled in several scandals, has not said whether he will sign any of the bills.

Republicans, who are in the minority in the legislature, say they disappointed that the legislature did not act to fully rescind Cuomo’s vast emergency pandemic powers, now that the rate of coronavirus infections are waning.

Senate GOP Leader Robert Ortt, spoke on the senate floor.

“I believe that’s a missed opportunity,” said Ortt, who accused democrats of not having the “guts” to stand up to Cuomo.

The state assembly is continuing a months- long impeachment inquiry into sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo, as well as accusations the governor used staff to help him write a book for which he was paid $5.1 million dollars. Cuomo denies the accusations.  The Assembly did not give any time line for when the inquiry might be completed.