The state Senate was on the brink of passing a comprehensive set of health affordability bills late today. These proposals include arrangements for the state to engage in contracts with private manufacturers to produce generic drugs and a measure allowing New Yorkers to import medicine from Canada.
These bills, part of Albany Democrats’ overarching focus on “affordability” in this election year, are designed to address the needs of working- and middle-class individuals, according to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. Despite most of these bills having already passed the Senate in 2023, they faced delays in the Assembly.
This pattern of Senate bills facing obstacles in the Assembly has been a recurring theme early in the 2024 legislative session. Both chambers have advanced legislation that had previously been approved solely within their respective houses, such as a voting package from the Senate and a Port Authority reform bill from the Assembly.
However, major two-way agreements, common in past January sessions since Democrats secured the Senate in 2019, have been notably absent. As January concludes, time is running out for comprehensive legislative agreements before the budget, due at the end of March, takes precedence.
While Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins acknowledged ongoing discussions with Assembly colleagues, she indicated that the focus is primarily on budget negotiations. The lack of specific agreements leaves uncertainty about major legislative accomplishments beyond technical amendments and a recent maternal health package.
In other legislative developments, Governor Kathy Hochul signed the ‘Rape is Rape’ bill into law, expanding protections for survivors of rape while holding perpetrators accountable. This legislation broadens the definition of rape to include various forms of sexual contact, addressing shortcomings in the previous law.
Additionally, the New York City Council faced delays in overriding Mayor Eric Adams’ vetoes on two law enforcement bills, with Councilmember Kalman Yeger using procedural maneuvers to impede the process.
Concerns have also emerged over delayed payments to social service providers by the Adams administration, prompting Comptroller Brad Lander to highlight the need for timely payments to vendors providing essential services.
On prison reform, legislators, formerly incarcerated individuals, and advocates gathered in the Capitol to express support for the “Communities Not Cages” sentencing campaign, which includes bills like the “Second Look Act” and the “Eliminate Mandatory Minimums Act.”
SUNY’s office of higher education in prison received a $3 million grant to enhance services for incarcerated individuals seeking a college education. The funds will also support research and program networks through a partnership with the National Association of System Heads.
Environmental advocates called for a “clean fuel standard” for the transportation sector, pushing back on Governor Hochul’s proposed cut for water infrastructure funding. They also advocated for a Climate Superfund-style program targeting fossil fuel companies, which has yet to gain support from the Governor and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
Meanwhile, more than 200 faith leaders signed a letter urging an increase in the Medicaid reimbursement rate for hospitals. This comes as part of a broader push from labor unions and major hospital systems for improved funding to address the chronic underfunding of Medicaid, particularly for hospitals facing financial challenges.
Education advocates, organized under the New York Campaign for Early Literacy, are pressing state and local leaders to take action to boost literacy rates among students. The campaign involves raising awareness about the statewide literacy crisis and advocating for policy changes to ensure more students can read on grade level by the end of third grade.
The cannabis regulatory landscape faces another legal challenge, with a group of women-owned cannabis businesses seeking a temporary restraining order to block regulators from issuing licenses.
This action is related to the allocation of review priorities through a queue system, which the plaintiffs argue lacks transparency and prioritizes certain applicants arbitrarily. The court is set to consider the request for a temporary restraining order on Friday.
These diverse legislative and advocacy efforts reflect the complex and multifaceted policy landscape in New York as lawmakers grapple with issues ranging from healthcare and criminal justice reform to environmental concerns and cannabis regulation.