The start of the 2020 Legislative Session—and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State Address—is a week and a half away. Cuomo has already announced thirteen proposals in advance of his address. These proposals include: a high speed rail panel to dust off old plans for a line from Albany to New York City; the New York Buy American Act requiring all structural steel and iron used in State bridge and road projects be made in America; net neutrality protections; a cap for prescription drug payments; and a mandate for automatic recounts in close elections. For a full list of the thirteen State of the State proposals that have been announced so far, click here.
What else could be in the Governor’s Address next Wednesday? Here are the issues to watch for in the State of the State and throughout 2020 Legislative Session.
- Reining in a Massive Budget Gap—New York State faces a $6.1 Billion budget gap this year, primarily driven by a $4 billion Medicaid deficit. While Cuomo has crowed about capping spending at 2% throughout his tenure, the State has often met that cap through some sleight of hand including moving spending off budget and creative book keeping. As the Citizens Budget Commission pointed out, that means spending was not really capped at 2%. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has said he doesn’t want to see cuts, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has been less direct on how she wants to remedy the gap. Cuomo will try to focus his State of the State Address on policy rather than fiscal matters. Nonetheless, this will come up on day 1 and in more detail in the subsequent Executive Budget proposal by January 21st. Expect a passionate and heated battle about how to cut, spend, and deliver health care up until the April 1st budget deadline.
- Adult Use Marijuana—The Legislature and the Governor failed to reach an agreement last year on Adult Use Marijuana. They did agree to bills decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and a comprehensive framework on hemp regulation. However, the Governor has said that the framework for “Adult Use Marijuana,” and moving the regulation of all cannabis under and overarching Office of Cannabis Management are a priority for this year. Earlier this month, he also appointed a Director of Cannabis Programs.
- Sports Betting—Since former Governor Chris Christie (pictured, right) legalized mobile sports betting, New Jersey has seen record revenues as New Yorkers travel across the border to place bets on their mobile devices. New York State hired a firm to conduct a comprehensive market study that will likely touch on sports betting. While Gaming Chairs Senator Joseph Addabbo and Assembly Member Gary Pretlow punted on the issue last year, the potential revenue and the deep pockets of the gaming players will keep this issue front and center for 2020.
- Downstate Casinos—In 2013, a Constitutional Amendment created four Upstate casinos also authorized three casinos in New York City “seven years after its passage” (at the time New York also issued a ten-year moratorium on downstate gaming until 2023.) Though Cuomo ruled out the idea of shortening that moratorium earlier this year, as 2023 gets closer, expect the conversation, and the pushing from advocates, to get much louder. The Assembly and Senate Gaming Committee Chairs are supportive. Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed deep skepticism but has not closed the door entirely. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has not publicly stated a position. Speaker Heastie—and the Assembly Majority Conference more generally—has not been high on the idea in the past.
- Regulating the Gig Economy—With more and more New Yorkers working in the “gig economy,” state lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session will be jockeying to offer bills that will give these workers, who include Uber and Lyft drivers, benefits like unemployment and workers compensation insurance as well as minimum wage protections. Senator Diane Savino and Assembly Member Marcos Crespo have a bill that is currently being amended as a result of hearings throughout the Fall, and Senator Robert Jackson and Assembly Member Deborah Glick introduced a similar bill earlier in the year. Reining in the gig economy was also a priority mentioned in the Governor’s 2019 State of the State Address that was never followed through on. However, after California passed sweeping regulations earlier this year expect the Governor to push harder as well.
- Definition of Public Works—A prevailing wage bill that would have better defined public works that qualify under the law in Long Island and Upstate, while exempting New York City, which has its own prevailing wage law, failed at the end of Session last year. The Governor blamed the state Assembly for the failure of the bill, vowing to take it up again this year.
- Gestational Surrogacy—A bill to allow paid gestational surrogacy agreements passed the Senate and was a priority for the Governor but failed in the Assembly. New York is one of only three States in the country that do not allow paid surrogacy agreements. The bill would have allowed couples to enter into a contract with a surrogate. It is an important priority of many in the LGBTQ community. It was opposed, however, by some advocates and legislators who raised concerns about exploitation of potential surrogates, particularly from low-income backgrounds.
- New York Health Act—The proposal to bring a universal single payer system to New York State has passed the Assembly and continuously been a priority for Assembly Health Chair Dick Gottfried, though it failed to move in the Senate, where it was a non-starter for Senate Republicans. When Democrats took over both Houses in 2019, the bill was still not at the top of the list. Senate Health Chair Gustavo Rivera (pictured, right) said the bill needed more consideration in his Conference, and both Houses held a number of hearings over the summer in efforts to tighten the bill. The Governor still has a number of concerns on the bill, including the amount of overhaul that would be required in the State’s insurance, healthcare, and tax codes.
— Jack O’Donnell
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