On Wednesday, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo renewed his vow to legalize recreational use of marijuana in New York, proposing a new office to regulate the market and licensing opportunities for communities most affected by differing drug law enforcement.
“I think that should have been left out years ago,” Mr Cuomo said in a video briefing. “We need funding this year and a lot of people in New York are struggling. This year gives us momentum to cross the goal line. “
The promise represents Mr. Cuomo’s third attempt to legalize marijuana; similar efforts have unfolded every year since Democrats took control of the legislature in 2019, mainly as a result of disagreements over how to distribute lucrative tax dollars from marijuana sales and drug sales licenses.
But efforts to legalize marijuana are likely to gain much more momentum in 2021, given the deep fall in the coronavirus epidemic.
In fact, New York state leaders on Wednesday kicked off a new legislative session with a unique, one-generation challenge: how to save a state in an epidemic-driven crisis.
Tax revenues dried up, leading to an estimated deficit of nearly $ 63 billion over the next four years. Budgetary constraints have given new impetus to measures that could increase revenue, such as raising taxes on the rich, mobile sports betting and legalizing marijuana.
This year, Democrats will also enjoy a super-majority in both chambers after the party expanded its majority in the State Senate in November, allowing lawmakers to pursue left-wing measures aggressively, without fear of Mr Cuomo, the centrist Democrats, fearing a veto. .
Here are some overviews of some of the main topics of the mid-June legislative session.
Did New Jersey force New York’s hand to legalize the pot?
Democratic lawmakers in New York have predicted weed legalization over the past two years. Year after year, their high hopes clashed with the messy reality of legislation in the state’s capital, Albany.
But legalization could gain momentum as several states legalize weed growth and put more pressure on New York to exploit the potentially multi-billion dollar economic activity from cannabis sales.
In November, neighboring New Jersey voters approved the legal use of recreational marijuana, raising the prospect of it becoming one of the country’s largest marijuana markets.
“People know it’s a‘ when ’and not a‘ if ’issue because it’s related to marijuana legalization,” Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the Democratic majority, said in an interview.
Robert Mujica, the governor’s director of budget, said Mr Cuomo’s legalization proposal could generate around $ 300 million in tax revenue a year, although much of that money will only be realized if the rules and regulations are fully implemented over the years.
Part of my log focused on what to do with the proceeds from bank sales. Many progressive lawmakers are in favor of directing tax revenues to low-income and minority communities disproportionately affected by the drug war. But during last year’s negotiations, Mr Cuomo wanted the executive to have more control over revenues.
“This is still the sticking point that we haven’t discussed and resolved yet,” said Liz Krueger, a Upper Manhattan Democrat who supported a legalization bill in the Senate. “I think that’s what governors always want.”
Will the epidemic violate the governor’s promise without new taxes?
For one thing, everyone can agree that the state needs money. Thanks to a triple of lost jobs, lost taxes, and large bills related to the coronavirus response, budget holes remain that can only be solved in one of four ways: raising, lowering, borrowing, or begging.
Of these, the progressive branch of the legislature has a clear preference: new taxes for the rich, an idea previously adopted in stark contrast to Mr Cuomo, who argues that such taxes would crowd out high-income people from the state.
But desperate times seemed to alleviate his situation, with the governor proposing in December that new taxes could exist.
“We are trying to avoid further pain for so many people in New York who have obviously already borne the brunt of the pandemic,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins said. “It leads us to taxing millionaires and billionaires, and it’s a matter of common sacrifice and part of the solution.”
On Tuesday, groups seeking new taxes gathered in front of the Manhattan governor’s office and enforced six different tax laws targeting high-income earners and corporations. The wealthy’s multiple tax increases have previously passed the General Assembly – namely, Albany’s two chambers are more liberal – but it could also gain new momentum in the Senate, where Ms Stewart-Cousins has expressed general support for tax plans.
And if Democrats are on the verge of regaining Congress, begging is not absolutely necessary; Mr Cuomo was optimistic about the possibility of a cash infusion from Washington that could help close the state budget gap.
Do you want to gamble? It could be a lot easier soon.
For gamblers, New York often stood in the shadow of New Jersey, where Atlantic City dominated the East Coast casino market for decades, and where more recently, mobile betting interfaces have allowed players to place sports bets anywhere in the state.
New York legalized sports betting in 2019, but only in state-licensed casinos. This deal has disappointed proponents of such bets, including State Senator Joseph Addabbo, chairman of the Competition, Gaming and Betting Committee, who sees the game expansion as a big revenue winner.
“We’re the disabled car in the right lane and watching the other cars fly past us,” Mr. Addabbo said on Wednesday. – New Jersey is taking our money.
But that could change with the new support of Mr Cuomo, who announced on Wednesday that he is aiming for mobile reception at the state’s address next week.
What other significant changes are possible?
New York became nationally ridiculous when election officials took longer than almost any other state last year to calculate the flood of missing votes caused by the epidemic and postponed results for weeks in some key contests.
This year, lawmakers could boost efforts to reform the electoral council and pass legislation to speed up the counting process. Suggestions for improving voter registration were also raised. And in November, voters will be able to vote on a constitutional amendment aimed at permanently extending absentee voting to all voters, as opposed to public health emergencies.
Another one-touch issue surrounds the aftermath of mass demonstrations last summer following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The legislature was asked to approve the adoption of a number of changes in police practices, including a ban on the use of bumper holders and the repeal of a decade-long law that kept police disciplinary records secret. (Nevertheless, the police will continue to find ways to protect the records.)
But activists and liberal lawmakers are pushing for an even broader criminal justice agenda for 2021, which includes some earlier proposals, such as limiting the length of solitary confinement for people in prison and allowing certain people over the age of 54 to be released on parole. regardless of the offense or punishment.
The first day of the session was very different.
The day, which was usually a magnificent affair when the halls of the State Capitol were full of lobbyists and activists, was much more restrained this year.
Closing the Capitol to the public was the prestigious building eerily quiet and empty, with empty offices and a skeleton of staff and security personnel. Most lawmakers attended remotely, swearing in from the living room or district offices.
Carl E. Heastie, chairman of the assembly, and Ms. Stewart-Cousins were elected to office mostly on Wednesday in empty chambers. Mr Cuomo, a Democrat in the third term, will present his 2021 agenda on Monday in the state of the state, which he says will be practically kept.