By Bob Confer
Being able to predict what our state government will do is increasingly difficult.
The 2020s and all their struggles (Covid, social unrest, inflation, supply chains, etc.) have really upended what the expectations for government are – by it and the people.
Also, the one-party rule that came to be in the November 2018 elections had loosened the reins for the Democrat Party, allowing advancement of ideas once thought dead on arrival.
Now, there’s the wild card – Kathy Hochul. Newly-minted as Governor-elect — rather than the “accidental Governor” as some called her — her election will be looked at as a sort of mandate, that voters were pleased with what she and the Legislature were doing, and that more of that will be expected.
If I had to take a stab at what could happen in Albany in the upcoming legislative session, I’d bet on these five biggies…
Bereavement leave: In 2018, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly (61-1 in the Senate, 111-32 in the Assembly) to add a bereavement leave benefit to the state’s paid leave program. Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill that would have allowed up to 12 weeks of paid leave, at two-thirds salary, for someone who lost a family member. Cuomo was against it because it would have been too burdensome on employees (it would have increased the worker-funded insurance premiums) and employers (12 weeks was considered an exorbitant amount of time). I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to the drawing board and pass a leave package in the 3 to 6 week range in 2023.
An updated bottle bill: 2023 marks 40 years of the passage of New York’s bottle bill, which put a 5 cent return deposit on bottles and cans. It was last updated in 2009 to include water bottles. There’s a push by environmentalists to update it for its anniversary, adding a deposit to even more beverages and doubling the deposit to 10 cents. Expect all that to happen. While generally successful (in 2020, the bottle bill helped to recycle 5.5 billion plastic, glass, and aluminum beverage containers), a third of eligible containers in New York still end up in landfills.
Auto mileage taxes: Significant conversations will and must be had about taxing electric vehicles for miles traveled, a revenue that would otherwise be gleaned from gasoline taxes other drivers pay. While electric cars represent just a small portion (98,000) of the 4.4 million personal and commercial vehicles registered in New York State, their number has grown fourfold since 2016 and they are our future: The state will end all gas-powered vehicle sales within our borders in 2035. A dozen years is the blink of an eye, and the state needs to ready itself immediately for the road to that goal and the roads those EVs will drive on.
Salary disclosures: In New York City it’s now in effect that all employers looking to hire must post the salary range for that position as a means to be transparent with applicants and those within the organization. After much debate and struggle, the law, which was supposed to go into effect in the spring, didn’t go into effect until November 1st. This past legislative session, the Senate and Assembly did pass a statewide version of the bill, but I don’t see Hochul signing it into law by the end of 2022. She’ll want to see how NYC employers and workers navigate the first few months of their law. But, after that “testing period” to work out the kinks with the state’s version, I would expect the bill to be reintroduced slightly modified, passed, and signed by the Governor in 2023.
The right to disconnect: In June of this year, a right to disconnect law went into effect in Ontario, which ensures employees are not to be expected to engage in business activity (processing, reporting, calls, emails, or other work-related communications) outside of their designated working hours. Whether in 2023 or 2024, expect New York to follow our neighbors (as well as examples set in Spain, France, and Portugal), especially now with the prevalence of remote and hybrid work which even more blur the lines between home and work balance.
Many more items will be discussed, everything from what to do with the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond passed by voters in November to developing a strategy for the housing crisis Hochul discussed last week to further solidifying the path to addressing the state’s obligations under the Climate Act.
2023 will be a busy session, for sure.