The Senate voted on Thursday to confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, making her the first African American woman and first former public defender to serve on the Court. With Vice President Harris presiding over the vote, Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, and Mitt Romney joined all 50 Democrats to confirm her nomination 53-47. Justice Stephen Breyer has said he will finish out the remainder of the Court’s session before retiring, which means KBJ will start presiding over cases when the Court returns from recess in the fall.
Negotiators for the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, passed in the Senate, and the America Competes Act, passed in the House, were appointed last week before Congressional recess with their negotiations set to take place after their two week break. The legislation aims to improve America’s innovation and domestic manufacturing capabilities, particularly in critical technology that has relied on Chinese and other foreign supply chains. Following the announcement from Speaker Pelosi of a conference committee to iron out the differences in the two bills, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said “Without major concessions and changes from House Democrats, the legislation has no chance of becoming law.”
In New York State…
We have a budget! Despite being 8 days late, the final $220 billion spending measure passed both houses on Saturday. Regarding the budget, the Governor said “This agreement brings us closer to an enacted budget and makes good on our promise of a stronger, safer, more inclusive and more prosperous New York State.” However, not everyone is thrilled with the budget. Progressives, already supporting a primary challenge to Hochul, protested the Governor’s proposed changes to bail reform and publicly criticized her for including public money for a new Bills Stadium– both of which made it into the final budget. As reported by ace reporter Jimmy Vielkind, Senator Diane Savino, when asked her thoughts on the budget, replied “depends on how you spin it. If we lead with, ‘we’re giving you relief at the pump, addressing public safety, record investment in child care and middle-class tax cuts’ then it’s a good plan…I was joking with someone yesterday that if we’re not careful, the story is going to be, ‘Bail fail, Buffalo boondoggle, and booze-to-go’.”
- Bail/Discovery: Arguably the most controversial issue in this year’s negotiations, the budget makes changes to the state’s 2019 bail reform. The final compromise will increase the amount of bail-eligible offenses and give prosecutors more latitude during the discovery process. District Attorneys, law enforcement, and public safety groups had been advocating for these changes while progressive groups vehemently oppose the plan, even prompting one lawmaker to go on a hunger strike. The plan is a political win for Hochul, but does not go far enough for gubernatorial candidate Tom Souzzi and conservatives, while Progressives and candidate Jumaane Williams believe the plan goes too far.
- Buffalo Bills Stadium: The budget includes $600 million to cover the state’s share for a new stadium in Orchard Park, a suburb of Buffalo, following the agreement between Erie County and Pegula Sports & Entertainment. Many lawmakers pointed to the stadium funding proposal, introduced at the eleventh hour, as one of the major hurdles that delayed the budget. Nonetheless, the funding was included and leaders like Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes passionately defended the plan.
- Alcohol To-Go: The pandemic-era provision of cocktails to-go is here to stay and will go into effect on 12/25 of this year. This had been a priority for Governor Hochul even after both houses in the legislature originally rejected the measure. Alcohol to-go will have to accompany a “substantial food item” (though no guidance has been offered as to what constitutes “substantial”-wings??).
- Downstate Casino Licenses: Three additional state casino licenses have been approved in the budget and will be awarded to parties in New York City or the surrounding suburbs. The minimum licensing fee will be $500,000,000 and the license will be valid for at least 10 years, but no more than 30 years.
- Gas Tax Relief: The budget includes a suspension on the state gas tax from June 1st to December 31st and is expected to knock off 16 cents per gallon.
- Child Care Funding: Legislators settled on a $5 billion investment in child care over the next 3 years including $343 million in stabilization grants. The eligibility has been increased to 300% of the federal poverty level which translates to a family of 3 making $70,000 per year or less.
- State Ethics Revamp: The state ethics board, JCOPE, has been replaced with a new commission on ethics and lobbying in government. Hochul and lawmakers hope the new commission will cut back the number of state ethics violations and continue to separate them from the scandal-ridden Cuomo administration. Not everyone approves of JCOPE’s replacement. Reinvent Albany, a New York State ethics watchdog group, denounced the new commission on lobbying and ethics. The group said in a statement “The fundamental reason for weak and politicized ethics enforcement in New York remains: the new commission – like the old – is not independent from the elected officials who it is supposed to oversee.”
- Coverage for All: The budget did not include state-funded health coverage for undocumented, low-income immigrants. This had been a priority for many on the left and has been a major source of tension between the Governor and the left-leaning wing of her party. Democratic Senator Julia Salazar of Brooklyn voted against the budget, tweeting “This state budget is unacceptable. It fails to prioritize the needs of working people and excludes our undocumented neighbors from access to services that the rest of us enjoy.”
- Managed Care Procurement: The Governor’s plan to revamp the Medicaid procurement process was not included in the budget following concerns that the proposal would lead to fewer health plan options for Medicaid recipients.
- 485w/421a: The Governor had proposed 485w, an altered version of the 421a tax credit program which expires in June. The program had been widely criticized for being a giveaway to wealthy New York City developers rather than an effective incentive to build affordable housing. New York City Comptroller Brad Lander said “Lawmakers made the right call in declining to rush through a tweaked version of the 421a tax exemption program”.
Adding to an already chaotic week in Albany, a state appellate judge declined to slow down New York’s Primary Elections following Justice Patrick McAllister’s ruling that the maps drawn by Democrats are overly biased and thus, were drawn illegally. The case is moving through the appeals process and will likely be decided by the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. In the meantime, the Board of Elections may continue to accept petitions from candidates running in the newly drawn districts. The decision allows Justice McAllister to appoint a neutral expert to draw new maps pending the outcome of an appeal. Justice Stephen Lindley said, “The Legislature may begin redrawing the map right now if it chooses to do so, or the Legislature may choose to do nothing and risk the possibility of having to live with the map drawn by McAllister’s neutral experts should respondents lose before the Court of Appeals.”
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