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Column: What could happen in state government in 2024

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A look at major policy items “on the table” for the coming year in NYS

By Bob Confer

Being able to predict what New York’s lawmakers will do during their legislative sessions and budget workshops is increasingly difficult. So far, the 2020s and all its struggles (Covid, social unrest, learning loss, inflation, supply chains, mass immigration, and more) have really upended what the expectations for government are – by it and the people. It has been somewhat of a mess.

2024 is going to be no different. Here are some of the things we can expect in the year ahead:

Another stab at the housing crisis: Heading into the 2023 session, Governor Kathy Hochul made housing a major goal of hers, shooting for the stars with hopes for 800,000 new units built over the next decade. Nothing happened after a rather aggressive back-and-forth with the legislature that left a bitter taste with all involved in the budget process and the two months of legislating that followed its passage. But, unlike last year, there’s a big motivator for Hochul, the Senate, and Assembly to get things done – and that’s finding someplace to house the tens of thousands of asylum seekers being bussed and flown to New York. Some things we should expect to see are tax breaks for constructing affordable housing, and mandates, resources and funding for cities, towns and villages to increase their housing supply.

Attempts to address the migrant crisis: In the two weeks before Christmas, 7,000 asylum seekers arrived in New York City, taking the total, going back to the spring, to 158,000. It’s going to be a raucous session as the urgency of the crisis forces legislators to buckle down to find answers for employment, benefits, healthcare, education, onboarding and more to address this sudden, significant need and pressure. I used the word “raucous” because, right now, potential solutions being offered are few while finger pointing is being exercised in volume between both parties, the city and the state, and Albany and Washington DC. There’s a lot of salesmanship going on and not much in the way of statesmanship. That needs to change, quickly.

An updated bottle bill: 2023 marked 40 years since the passage of New York’s bottle bill, which put a 5-cent return deposit on bottles and cans. 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. There was a push by environmentalists to update it for its anniversary, but, oddly, there was little legislative urgency to get it done. This may be the year, especially on the heels of Attorney General Letitia James leveling a lawsuit against PepsiCo for pollution from its bottles. Proposals would double the deposit to 10 cents and place even more beverage containers under the return umbrella (water bottles were the last addition…way back in 2009).

The Extended Producer Responsibility Act: Not only will the bottle bill’s proponents be emboldened by James’ lawsuit, so will lawmakers who have tried to make EPR a reality in recent legislative sessions. Under EPR, producers of plastic and paper/cardboard packaging and the manufacturers who use it would be required — depending on what variation of the proposed law is passed — to cut back on its usage in defined regular increments and/or contribute to a fund that would pay for recycling and reuse. Also, a state office would be created to oversee what producers are doing. Similar laws are in place elsewhere, like California, Colorado, and Maine.

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 2024. One has to figure they’ve got to do something like this to keep alive the trend of employment-related laws that have seen, in recent years, higher minimum wages, paid leave, paid sick days, covid leave, sexual harassment training, salary disclosures, lactation protections, and mandatory retirement plans.   

Many more items will be discussed in Albany, everything from further solidifying the path to addressing the state’s obligations under the Climate Act to ironing out a long-term agreement with the Seneca Nation.

2024 is going to be a wild session, for sure.

Fasten your seat belt.

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