The New York Senate and Assembly were scheduled to return to the state Capitol on Monday to finish up the rest of the legislative session. But that schedule was made before the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers have no firm plans on when to return, and that has government reform groups, and some lawmakers, calling for a remote session to be held.
Legislators approved the state budget -- one of their biggest tasks of the year -- on April 3 and then adjourned. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, speaking one day after the budget was approved, said the chances of the Legislature coming back were slim.
“Is the session effectively over? “Cuomo asked. “It’s up to the Legislature, but I think it’s effectively over.”
When legislators were meeting almost weekly in March, several became infected with coronavirus. Those who became sick have either recovered or are still recovering.
The Legislature granted the governor special powers to make changes to the budget to manage the state’s growing budget deficit on his own, so lawmakers don’t need to come back to make midyear adjustments.
The governor said he’s disappointed that a measure to legalize recreational marijuana for adults failed, and that lawmakers did not have time to work out a package to protect gig economy workers. But he said they accomplished a lot, such as making some changes to the state’s bail reform laws and banning flavored e-cigarettes, under very trying circumstances.
“They did a phenomenal job,” Cuomo said.
In late March, the Legislature approved a provision for individual senators and Assembly members to vote remotely if they had concerns about becoming infected with the coronavirus.
Susan Lerner, with the government reform group Common Cause, said the technology exists for the entire Legislature to meet remotely.
Lerner said schools are closed, but students are still learning remotely, and many employees, though barred from their workplaces for safety reasons, continue to work from home. She said lawmakers can do the same.
“It is not a good look at all in an election year that our state legislators can’t find a way to do the people’s business,” Lerner said. “But yet are expecting that they will all be re-elected.”
Lerner said legislatures in some other states, like Pennsylvania, are continuing to hold committee meetings and vote on bills, all remotely.
Some lawmakers want to come back. They agree that there is a lot of unfinished business.
Sen. Brad Hoylman would like to return to extend the provisions of the Child Victims Act. The law, approved in 2019, opened a one-year legal window of opportunity for all past victims of childhood sexual abuse to sue their alleged abusers in civil court, even if the statute of limitations has passed.
Hoylman said the courts are now effectively closed, leaving victims with just six months to file their claims. He said the window needs to be extended for another year.
“We promised survivors a full 12 months to have their day in court,” Hoylman said. “It’s just simply unfair and unjust to pull the rug out from under them.”
Others, including Senate Deputy Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, would like to meet in session to approve a bill that would offer renters affected by COVID-19 a 90-day grace period for rent payments.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, in an appearance on WNYC’s "The Brian Lehrer Show," said the Legislature is not done for the year.
“We don’t see it as over,” she said on April 13. “There will be a continuation of the work that has to be done.”
She said she thinks the Legislature will figure out a way to do it safely.