Heat Is On

Social Media Smackdown, Climate Priority Problem, Democratic Divide

Good morning from Buffalo, NY. 

Last week, Governor Kathy Hochul officially signed into law two bills restricting how social media companies interact with minors. The first in the nation legislation, the Stop Addictive Feeds Exploitation (SAFE) For Kids Act and the New York Child Data Protection Act, were both priorities for Hochul as part of a broader push with Attorney General Letitia James to address children’s mental health. In a statement, James said, “Addictive feeds are getting our kids hooked on social media and hurting their mental health, and families are counting on us to help address this crisis. The legislation signed by Governor Hochul today will make New York the national leader in addressing the youth mental health crisis and an example for other states to follow.” 

The SAFE For Kids Act, sponsored by Senator Andrew Gounardes and Assembly Member Nily Rozic, restricts technology companies from targeting users under age 18 with algorithmically driven social media feeds and prohibits push notifications for users under age 18 between the hours of 12 a.m. and 6 a.m. Also sponsored by Gounardes and Rozic, the New York Child Data Protection Act requires informed consent before online sites can collect or share the personal data of anyone under age 18, and authorizes the Attorney General to levy a $5,000 fine for every offense. Following the signing, Hochul offered, “By reining in addictive feeds and shielding kids’ personal data, we’ll provide a safer digital environment, give parents more peace of mind, and create a brighter future for young people across New York.”

While data privacy advocates are celebrating their wins, environmental activists and stakeholders in the Legislature are leaving Albany with a bad taste in their mouth after failing to advance any forward looking climate legislation this year. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, passed in 2019, set a bold climate goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050, but many of the component parts needed to reach that goal remain stuck in limbo. Eunice Ko, the Deputy Director for the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, believes it is a priority problem saying, “What we're seeing is just basic climate indifference. Partly what we're seeing is an overemphasis, I think, on affordability from the Governor and the Legislature. I would argue affordable for who? You can subsidize suburban people, I guess, but won't be willing to subsidize caskets in the Bronx when people are dying from extreme heat.” 

Most of the frustration stems from a pair of bills that appeared primed to pass both Houses, until… they didn’t. The NY HEAT Act would have permitted the Public Service Commission to decommission large swaths of the state’s natural gas infrastructure in hopes of catalyzing the transition to electrical energy. The measure would have also ended subsidies for new natural gas hookups and capped utility bills at 6% of monthly income for moderate to low income residents. Opponents of the bill raised concerns about the impact on commercial and residential customers, particularly in Upstate New York, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie ultimately decided the costs outweighed the benefit saying, “We want to make sure that if there’s a transition, that it’s affordable.” The other bill, the Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, aimed to reduce the amount of packaging and disposable waste that accompany consumer products by requiring companies with a net income over $5 million to reduce plastic packaging products by 30% over the next 12 years. 

The Packaging Reduction and Recycling Infrastructure Act, as well as the NY HEAT Act, both passed the Senate, but stalled in the Assembly—a trend pointed out by environmental advocacy groups. Liz Moran, a policy advocate with Earthjustice, said, “This is around the third year at this point where the Assembly has been a roadblock to passing policies to ensure we can meet the climate law, which is the same legislation the Assembly once championed.” The Spring Street Climate Fund is going one step further and supporting primary challenges against two Democratic Assembly Members who they feel are not serious enough on environmental legislation, Assembly Energy Chair Didi Barrett and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto in the Bronx. John Spring, head of Spring Street Climate Fund said, “Until the Assembly starts to put its legislative action where its rhetoric is, we will continue to hold members of the Assembly Majority accountable.” 

Hochul and her partners in the Legislature have pointed to climate-related initiatives that did get done this year, both in the budget process and in regular legislative session. Katy Zielinski, a spokesperson for Hochul, said, “Since taking office, Governor Hochul has implemented some of the nation's strongest actions on climate, including securing a $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act, advancing zero emission new construction, and making historic investments in large-scale renewable energy and transmission infrastructure.” Zielinski also highlighted the $400 million for the Environmental Protection Fund and $500 million for clean water infrastructure that was included in the final state budget as evidence of Hochul’s commitment to the environment. Lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate have touted the passage of 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, but not everyone is convinced it is the win that lawmakers are claiming. Michael Gerrard, faculty director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said, “Nobody should be counting on paying for things with that money. Maybe it'll happen, but it's still speculative on several counts,” referencing the pending legal challenges. Of course, much of the climate angst is underpinned by Hochul’s last-minute “pause” on the implementation of congestion pricing, a policy that many advocates believed was key to reducing vehicle emissions in New York City.

While any environmental impact from the decision may be some time off, the reversal is causing immediate fiscal problems for the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s capital projects. The MTA has stopped construction work at the Second Avenue subway station, and more stoppages are looming in the near future according to Jamie Torres-Springer, the MTA’s head of construction and development, who said, “There are a lot of projects that we will not be able to build, and we’ll be focusing on state of good repair.” The dedicated revenue that was expected to flow to the MTA from congestion pricing tolls was scheduled to serve as New York’s matching funds for nearly $10 billion in federal funding for transit upgrades, as well as finance new train cars, accessibility upgrades, and signal modernization. In the midst of this chaos, proponents of congestion pricing won a significant legal victory last week in a case that predates “the pause.” A federal judge dismissed a lawsuit claiming that federal officials did not undertake an adequate environmental review, citing the 45,000 page administrative record that was produced during the four-year review period. The decision eliminates at least one legal hurdle should Hochul decide to eventually move forward with the beleaguered tolling program. 

A new poll released from Siena College last week spells trouble for New York Democrats in 2024 and potentially beyond. President Biden only holds an 8 point lead over former President Trump in New York, despite beating him by over 23 points in 2020. While Biden is not in danger of losing New York, the apathy towards Democrats could severely hinder down ballot House candidates as they try to retake the five seats the GOP flipped in 2022. To make things worse for the Democrat’s chances of retaking the House—which very may well depend on New York—independents choose Trump over Biden by a 45-28 margin. Independents and those not enrolled in either major political party make up the state’s second largest voting bloc and they are increasingly turning to Republican candidates. Freshman Republican Member of Congress Mike Lawler, who is running for reelection in the Hudson Valley said, “It’s no surprise that New York Democrats’ support for open borders, higher taxes, cashless bail, and congestion pricing has resulted in a collapse of support from independent voters. Now, more than ever, New Yorkers want common sense and reasonable policies, which is why Republicans are poised to win in swing districts all across the state.” Things are not any better for New York’s high-ranking Democrat as she eyes a 2026 reelection campaign. Hochul’s favorability rating has dropped to 38 percent—the lowest since taking office in 2021. Among independents and unaffiliated voters, that number drops to 28%. Hochul’s decision to pause congestion pricing, however, is supported by a plurality of voters, with 45% of voters supporting the delay. 

The majority of the Monday Morning Memo readers who participated in our poll last week disapproved of the pause on congestion pricing. Scroll down for results and comments.

Giving Democrats hope is a decision by a State Appellate Court that a proposed amendment to New York’s Constitution barring discrimination based on “pregnancy outcomes” and “gender identity” will appear on the ballot in November. Democrats are hoping that the measure will help drive turnout for their candidates as similar reproductive rights ballot measures did in other states in 2022. 

In other news, November remains five months away and that is a long time in such a volatile political environment.

New York will hold Democratic and Republican Primary Elections this Tuesday—you can find your polling place and check your voter registration here

Read up on some of the hot races for Congress and the NYS Legislature: 

One of the most heated Democratic primary contests is the race for New York’s 16th Congressional District between incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Westchester County Executive George Latimer. The race between Bowman and Latimer is emblematic of the larger divides within the Democratic Party. Bowman, a Progressive and member of the Democratic Socialists of America, boasts prominent allies such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar and Senator Bernie Sanders and has been one of the leading critics of Israel following the October 7th attack.

Latimer, a moderate Democrat, has said that Bowman’s positions on Israel and race relations in the country are not helping the 16th Congressional District. In a debate earlier this month, Latimer said, “You’re nowhere to be found… You talk about the needs of part of the district, and you completely ignore them. You don’t mention Asians. You don’t mention people who are not Black or brown. There’s a whole district, Jamaal, that you’ve ignored, and the district knows you’ve ignored it. That’s why you only have 31% in the last poll.” Latimer holds a steady lead over Bowman in what is shaping up to be the most expensive House primary ever. More than $23 million has already been spent in commercials and other advertising. 

In Washington, D.C., House appropriators are expected to begin markups on FY 2025 spending bills when they return from the Fourth of July recess, despite not yet having reached an agreement on topline spending totals. Lawmakers will have to decide whether to abide by the funding caps established in last year’s debt ceiling deal—a 1% budget hike for both defense and non-defense programs—or to disregard the caps and start from scratch. Republicans have argued that a 1% increase for the military is not nearly sufficient and most Democrats would agree, however, they would like to see an equal increase for defense and non-defense spending, something Republicans have rejected so far. Expect mostly posturing and messaging until a lame duck session when, depending on election results, some things could happen. 

Other folks are planning for January.  On the Senate side, the Republican Ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, is already holding meetings with his colleagues about the fiscal path forward should Republicans win control of Congress and the White House in November. Republicans would be able to jam through most of their priorities through an arcane process known as budget reconciliation, sidestepping a Democratic filibuster in the process. Senate Minority Whip John Thune hinted that some of their preparations have already started saying, “It's a complicated procedure with multiple steps. And so we’ve got to get cranking early, which means we're gonna have to do a lot of the spade work ahead of time. And that's already underway.” One of the first tests of the budget reconciliation process could be the 2017 tax cuts that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year. House leadership will either come to a negotiated bipartisan agreement, or a one-party plan will be pushed through reconciliation. 

In election news, Republican Congressman Bob Good’s primary race in Virginia is still too close to call. Good, one of the most conservative Congressman in the country, is the chair of the hard-right Freedom Caucus, but lost favor with many GOP voters when he endorsed Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over Trump in the Republican primary. Trump went on to endorse Good’s opponent, state Senator John McGuire, who also enjoyed support from former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who admittedly got involved in the race as retaliation for Good voting to oust him as Speaker last October. 

The first debate between President Biden and Donald Trump will take place on Thursday night in Atlanta. The campaigns agreed on a coin toss to determine the order of closing statements and podium placement. Biden won (tails never fails), and chose the right podium meaning Trump will appear on the left side and will have the last word in closing statements. The debate, which will be hosted by CNN and moderated by Dan Bash and Jake Tapper, will not feature a live crowd and the candidates’ microphones will be muted when it is not their turn to speak. Our Jack O’Donnell will be providing pre- and post-debate analysis on WBEN and for News 4 Buffalo at 10pm. Tune in!

In New Jersey, one of the state’s most influential political power brokers was indicted by the state Attorney General last week. George Norcross, an insurance broker by day, built one of the most powerful political machines in New Jersey, but according to Attorney General Matt Platkin, Norcross’ operation was a “criminal enterprise.” To add another twist, Norcross showed up to Platkin’s public press conference announcing the charges and sat in the front row, even objecting when his lawyers were not called on by Platkin for questions. You can read more about this bizarre story here.

In the United Kingdom, elected officials are dealing with the fallout from a wide-ranging gambling investigation that encompasses figures from Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s bodyguards to Conservative candidates down ballot. 


Political division went into uncharted territory in Vermont after a Republican legislator was secretly videotaped taking out her aggressions on her Democratic colleague.

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Results of the Last Poll

Do you approve or disapprove of Governor Hochul's decision to pause congestion pricing in NYC?

This Day in History

June 24, 2022: U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, eliminating the constitutional right to choose abortion, in a 6-3 vote.


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