ALBANY — State lawmakers have nothing on their legislative calendar for the remainder of the 2020 session but advocates for a wide variety of causes hope to keep it from staying a blank slate.
Among measures they hope Senate and Assembly members will tackle over the remaining eight weeks are ones that would provide a one-year look back window for adult survivors of sexual assault to sue their abusers in civil court after the statute of limitations has expired.
Also sought are stronger protections for tenants so they can’t be evicted for a positive diagnosis for the COVID-19 virus and consideration to a measure that would allow for the parole of elderly inmates regardless of the seriousness of the crimes that put them behind bars.
“From the North Country to Long Island, New Yorkers are grappling with ill loved ones, lost jobs, and the anxiety provoking uncertainty of this new normal,” organizations including the Human Services Council and the New York Immigration Coalition said in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
Since early March, several lawmakers have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, though the two chambers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo managed to put the finishing touches on a final state budget early this month at about the same time the national and state economy were rocked by the pandemic.
While Cuomo has suggested the legislative session is “effectively over,” good government groups and those joining in the call for more action at the statehouse suggest lawmakers can use technology to act on bills remotely.
“If service providers with 1,000-plus staff can figure out how to move to remote systems and continue helping the most vulnerable populations, the 213 members of the Legislature can, too,” said Susan Lerner, director of Common Cause/New York, a government reform group.
Legislative leaders aren’t ruling out the idea of embracing technology to take up legislation.
But they aren’t tipping their hand as to their priorities.
“These are unprecedented times and the Legislature has a job to do, and we will be back in session shortly with a robust agenda that will deliver for the people of New York in these uncertain times,” said a spokesman for Stewart-Cousins, Michael Murphy.
Heastie’s spokesman also provided no definition for the game plan.
“No decisions have been made,” said Michael Whyland. “The Assembly remains in session at the call of the Speaker.”
In the days leading to the conclusion of budget negotiations, Cuomo had contended it was imperative lawmakers come to Albany, even as the virus was spreading from neighborhood to neighborhood in the downstate region.
The governor has been relatively quiet regarding the Legislature over the past few weeks, instead focusing on the pandemic and what he says is the need for a massive infusion of aid to New York from the federal government.
Assembly GOP members, who have no say on the legislation that advances in Albany due to being greatly outnumbered by Democrats, are proposing a variety of relief measures to help farmers.
Among other proposals, they are calling for a one-year suspension of a 60-hour overtime threshold for farm laborers, a measure that was included in last year’s farm labor legislation. They are also asking for a suspension of highway use tax, highway tolls and special hauling permit fees for vehicles hauling milk and other agricultural products.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org