This year’s New York State legislative session has been unprecedented due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the recent protests surrounding racial justice, and the impacts of those monumental events on public health, our economy and our society. Over the past two weeks, the New York State Legislature has held committee meetings and passed legislation in a manner similar to what we usually experience in May/June of a typical year at a time we describe in Albany as the “end of session.” Legislators worked (largely virtually) to pass their individual priority bills, resulting in 475 bills passing the Senate or assembly and, of those, 220 bills passing both houses. Among the notable bills passed were those relating to automatic voter registration; the confidentiality of contact tracing information; a school facial recognition ban; a requirement that supermarkets make excess food available to food donation entities; and a limitation on the malpractice immunity granted to hospitals, nursing homes and healthcare workers related to the COVID-19 response. Additionally, the Senate acted on a lengthy list of appointments to the Governor’s administration.
Although the New York State Capitol, the Legislative Office Building and other state buildings remain closed to the public and nonessential staff, the Manatt team has continued to engage legislators and staff throughout this pandemic. It is unclear how long these public buildings will remain closed, but we will continue to “meet” and communicate with policymakers for as long as the shutdown persists. Notably, we expect the legislature to return to pass additional legislation and, possibly, to consider budget cuts or new revenue proposals as early as August and likely before November’s election.
Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that due to the continuing pandemic, New York State is facing a budget gap of roughly $15 billion, and without federal financial assistance to states and municipalities, drastic cuts to the state budget will be required. The Governor has warned that some of those cuts will be directed to education, local governments and healthcare appropriations, and could be as high as 20 percent. The Governor has, as yet, refrained from making these cuts—although there have been delays in distributing public funds—in an effort to give Congress the opportunity to act. We expect that only once it does will the Governor release any adjustments and reductions to the state’s 2020–21 budget.
The Manatt team will continue to provide its clients and friends with updates on the budget, the Governor’s Executive Orders and other directives, agency actions and guidance, and legislative activity—including any upcoming public hearings—as such information becomes available.