Unfinished Business

NY Legislation In & Out, NYC Diners & Drivers, Albany Turnover

Good morning from Buffalo, New York.

The 2024 Legislative Session officially came to its scheduled end in Albany early Saturday morning.

The Assembly and Senate passed 805 “same as” bills that will head to Governor Kathy Hochul’s desk for her approval or veto by December 31st. Just as interesting are the items that did not get across the finish line, including a pair of high-profile climate bills and new funding for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s budget hole blown open by Hochul’s late breaking decision to reverse course on congestion pricing in New York City. 

Hochul, along with Attorney General Letitia James, Senator Andrew Gounardes, and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, helped pass legislation aimed at reining in the collection of children’s personal data by social media companies.  The Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) for Kids Act and the New York Child Data Protection Act place stricter standards on the feeds social media platforms can provide to children, increase age verification and parental consent methods, and prevent platforms from sending notifications between 12pm and 6am.

In a statement, Hochul said, “New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies. Together, we’ve taken a historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people.” AG James, whose office will be tasked with enforcement of the new standards, offered, “Our children are enduring a mental health crisis, and social media is fueling the fire and profiting from the epidemic. The legislation my team worked on and supported along with bill sponsors Senator Gounardes and Assembly Member Rozic will help address the addictive features that have made social media so insidious and anxiety-producing.” 

“New York is leading the nation to protect our kids from addictive social media feeds and shield their personal data from predatory companies. Together, we’ve taken a historic step forward in our efforts to address the youth mental health crisis and create a safer digital environment for young people.”

Governor Kathy Hochul

Lawmakers also passed the Climate Change Superfund Act, a bill that requires large-scale fossil fuel emitters to pay a combined $75 billion into a fund to help New York offset the costs of climate change and pay for environmental remediation projects. First introduced last year and modeled off similar legislation in Vermont, the bill finally garnered the necessary support in the Assembly to pass. Under the final language, the largest oil and gas producers that have business in New York State will be required to pay a combined $3 billion a year for the next 25 years, based off of the total share of greenhouse gasses emitted between 2000 and 2018.

The measure was opposed by the American Petroleum Institute, the powerful oil and gas trade group representing over 6,000 fossil fuel producers, who suggested the bill would lead to an increase in gas prices and said the bill “places an unfair burden on domestic companies.” Assembly sponsor Jeffery Dinowitz pushed back on that claim saying, “It’s utter nonsense. That’s the type of scare tactic that [the fossil fuel industry] typically uses when they try to stop good legislation because it may ever so slightly eat into their bottom line. But the real bottom line is that they caused much of the damage of climate change, and they should have to pay for the harm of the cost of addressing it.” 

While environmental advocates celebrated the superfund legislation, two other high-profile climate bills died in the Assembly after passing in the Senate. The New York Heat Act sought to decrease the State’s reliance on fossil fuels and hasten the transition from gas to electrical energy. The bill would have repealed a rule that requires utilities to provide new gas line connections if the location is within 100 feet of an existing line, free of charge. The legislation also caps utility bills for low and moderate income residents at 6% of their monthly income.

Assembly bill sponsor Patricia Fay was hopeful they could reach a compromise on some version of the legislation, but the opposition from Upstate Assembly members was ultimately too much to overcome. Both Democrats and Republicans voiced concerns about the potential price tag that would accompany a full transition to electric energy, with Republican Assembly Member Phil Palmesano saying, “It’s part of a plan to dismantle the affordable natural gas infrastructure supply and delivery system in a march to full electrification. It’s designed take away consumer choice in how you heat your home, cook your food, power your buildings and the car that you drive, and it’s very costly.” 

NYS Senate

Similarly, the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act passed the Senate, but stalled out in the Assembly. The legislation would have required businesses to reduce their use of plastics by 30% over the next 12 years and pay into an organization responsible for collecting and recycling plastic packaging. Proponents lowered the reduction threshold from 50% to 30% in the hopes of assuaging some of the concerns from the business community, but even with the 30% threshold, Republican Senator George Borrello suggested that Heinz and other prominent brands would pull their products from New York if the legislation was enacted.

Senator Pete Harckham, one of the bill sponsors, has pointed to the prevalence of similar laws in other states and in Europe, but opponents say this bill would have gone much further. Ken Pokalsky, the Business Council of New York State's Vice President of Government Affairs said, ”This goes well beyond what those other five states do with regard to source reduction mandates, recycling contents. No other state includes broad chemical and material bans in their packaging EPR legislation, so this is very different than what other states have done so far.” This issue, as well as the NY HEAT Act, will be live again next year.

What were the issues on the table, as the NY Legislative Session raced to a close?

Our Jack O’Donnell talked to the WBEN morning team from Albany about the last-minute scramble.

Listen here.

In response to the slow roll out of three casino licenses in and around New York City, lawmakers passed legislation seeking to expedite the process. The bill sets a deadline of August 31st for interested companies to formally submit their bids and requires the community advisory councils to approve or deny a bid within 150 days. It also sets a December 31st, 2025 deadline for the New York Gaming Facility Location Board to award licenses. The process so far has been plagued by red tape and never-ending land use issues, including trouble for Steve Cohen’s bid for a casino adjacent to Citified and the Bally Links Casino proposal in the Bronx. 

Of course, much of the late-session chaos came from Hochul’s eleventh hour decision to delay the new tolling structure for drivers entering parts of Manhattan, known as congestion pricing. Passed in 2019 and scheduled to go into effect on June 30th of this year, congestion pricing would charge a fee on vehicles entering Manhattan south of 60th street in the hopes of encouraging more people to use public transit and to cut down on vehicle emissions in New York City. Hochul had been a vocal supporter of congestion pricing in the past, but reportedly began expressing her concerns privately earlier this year that the plan would deter individuals from coming into New York City at a time when businesses are still recovering from pandemic-era population loss and higher operating costs.

Speaking straight to video, Hochul said, “The closer we got to the June 30th implementation date, I heard from more and more anxious New Yorkers that this would be a real hardship for them.” The reversal creates a big financial problem for the MTA, the transit agency that was slated to receive the funds from the congestion pricing program. The estimated $1 billion in yearly revenue was scheduled to finance roughly $30 billion in bond funding for capital projects, including the Second Avenue subway, new subway cars, and accessibility upgrades for existing stations. In a joint statement, MTA Chief Financial Officer Kevin Willens and General Counsel Paige Graves said, “Modernization and improvement projects like electric buses, accessible (ADA) stations and new signals will likely need to be deprioritized to protect and preserve the basic operation and functionality of this 100+ year old system.” 

Some political observers have noted that many of the suburban communities outside of New York City that would be hit the hardest by the new tolls are also in Congressional Districts that Democrats are hoping to win back in November. At a press conference, Hochul was asked, “Governor, I mean this with due respect, but how stupid do you think New Yorkers have to be to believe that this congestion pricing decision wasn't politically motivated?” Hochul suggested her conversations with everyday New Yorkers influenced her decision offering, “I encourage you to go to the next diner with me and... sit with me and watch the people come over and thank me. That's all I need to know. That is all I need to know.” After listing three diners that she frequents, one reporter visited all of them to check on Hochul’s story and get the patrons’ thoughts on delaying the roll out:

The decision was announced just two days before lawmakers were scheduled to gavel out for the year, leaving little time for a legislative fix to the MTA’s financial troubles. Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris did not shy away in his criticism of the decision saying, “Derailing this important program at the last moment and asking the Legislature to come up with an alternative funding mechanism in less than 48 hours is irresponsible, and inconsistent with the principles of good governance.” The Executive Chamber floated the idea of increasing the payroll tax on New York City businesses to make up the lost revenue, but leadership in the Legislature quickly opted against that proposal, electing instead to take up the issue at a later time. 

Expect much more on this issue through the summer, fall, and into next year.

As the Senate Session came to a close, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins took to Twitter to offer, “While I wish I could continue to highlight every important issue, I know there are those here and at home who wish we could have done more or things different during this time frame. However, just like the sun will come up tomorrow, these seats will fill again in January.” 

Lawmakers may return sooner to deal with MTA funding, but come January, there will be a new cast of characters due to the unusually high turnover in both Chambers this year. 


- Kevin Thomas (D) - SD 6 (Congressional Run) 

- Neil Breslin (D) - SD 46 (Retiring) 

- John Mannion (D) - SD 50 (Congressional Run) 

- Tim Kennedy (D) - SD 63 (Congressional Run) 


- Fred Thiele (D) - AD 1 (Retiring)

- Taylor Darling (D) - AD 18 (NYS Senate Run)

- Jeffrion Aubry (D) - AD 35 (Retiring)

- Daniel O'Donnell (D) - AD 69 (Retiring)

- Inez Dickens (D) - AD 70 (Retiring)

- Kenneth Zebrowski (D) - AD 96 (Retiring)

- Aileen Gunther (D) - AD 100 (Retiring)

- Patricia Fahy (D) - AD 109 (NYS Senate Run)

- Phil Steck (D) - AD 110 (Albany County DA Run)

- Marjorie Byrnes (R) - AD 133 (Retiring)

- Joseph Giglio (R) - AD 148 (Retiring)

- Andrew Goodell (R) - AD 150 (Retiring)

Counsel to the Senate Majority Erik Katz announced he will be leaving after a ten year career in the Senate where he rose to become to body’s top staffer. We wish Erik well! 

It is business as usual for New York City Mayor Eric Adams despite the ongoing federal probe into his campaign’s ties to Turkey and subsequent campaign finance violations. When asked about the recent convening of a federal grand jury to investigate his case, Adams said, “I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer. I’m Eric Adams — the mayor! Ex-cop!” and later added, “They don’t tell me stuff. Let it follow the process… Speak to the counsel.” Ex-Director of Protocol in the Office for International Affairs Rana Abbasova, Adam’s top campaign fundraiser Brianna Suggs, and former Turkish Airlines executive Cenk Ocal all had their homes raided in relation to the investigation though Adams has not been charged or formally accused of any wrongdoing. 

President Biden and much of his senior staff were in France last week commemorating the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 1944. Biden delivered a speech to some of the last remaining D-Day veterans at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial where he warned of the dangers of authoritarianism and the threat posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the first major land war in Europe since WWII. You can watch President Biden’s speech here.  



Fresh off completing third grade, young associate Thomas O’Donnell was spotted in a promotional video for a Buffalo television station. Check it out here!

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