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How a Bill Becomes a Law in New York

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Dan Clark: We tell you about a lot of legislation on this show, but usually, we're telling you when a bill passes or becomes law, and there's a lot that happens before that moment. Any bill that passes the legislature has to go through a specific process carved out in state law. That's why when lawmakers introduce a bill in Albany, it usually takes a bit; days, weeks, or months for it to get a vote on the floor, if it does at all. In this story, reporter Alexis Young explains how it all works at the state capitol.

Alexis Young: What happens when the rubber meets the road, when the pen meets the paper, or when the constituent meets the lawmaker? How does a bill become law in New York? How does a bill become a bill? To study the law-making process in New York State, it's best we examine a law. Take the Digital Fair Repair or right to Repair Act, for example. It mandates that manufacturers provide information on how to repair their products. When people have broken cell phones or computers, they can get affordable service from third party repair shops. The bill passed in June, 2022, just one of 1,007 bills passed during the 2022 legislative session, but before the Right to Repair Act saw its triumph on the floor, it was just an idea, yet to face opposition, to die in assembly, or even be drafted. Sponsors Senator Neil Breslin, an assembly member Patricia Fahy, know how arduous the trek from idea, to bill, to law can be.

Patricia Fahy: Right to Repair as we call it, but the Digital Fair Repair Act, and it's one, it's a bill that's actually been around for about 10 years in the New York Assembly.

Neil Breslin: Every bill begins with an idea. The Right to Repair Act, it really started with some people talking to us about all of these iPhones being thrown into the water because they couldn't be repaired. And then that started talking about, well, why don't we look and see if there's anything that's been done legally.

AY: Once the idea is made clear, the bill drafting commission gets to work. The legally trained specialists draft ideas into bill form, yet special interest groups can hire their own attorneys to draft legislation as well. For the Right to Repair Act, Senator Breslin said he...

NB: Turned it over to bill drafting. They come up with a number. It's, it doesn't automatically get on a calendar.

AY: Then the bill can be introduced by an assembly member or a senator. From there, it's assigned to the committee that reviews similar bills. The Right to Repair Act was assigned to the Consumer Protection Committee. Sometimes, lawmakers have to fight to get certain bills on the committee agenda. The solution is making a motion for committee consideration. Though each house has their own rules for filling that motion, the success of the motion ultimately results in a vote. Either way, the entire committee system is designed to filter through bills introduced during legislative session.

PF: We had work to do just to get it out of the committee, again, because of the opposition. So every step of the way, over the years this bill had, had opposition. And again, really pleased that we were able to move it this last year.

AY: Once the bill successfully passes through committee, it must age and be added to the calendar. The three day aging process allows lawmakers to fully examine the bill, and come to an informed conclusion.

PF: And some of that goes back to days gone by, because it was physical, a physical need for members to be here to vote. Now it is just the ability to be able to read and process that legislation. The only exception to that, in simple terms, is when the governor issues a message of necessity, which we have seen happen, especially during the budget.

AY: If the bill doesn't get starred, or forced back to committee for revisions by the sponsor or the majority leader, it'll reach the order of the third reading, which makes the bill eligible for debate, discussion, or explanation. In other words, it's headed to the senate floor, where the bill will be put to a vote. the Right to Repair Act, got its start in June, 2021. It passed in the Senate with 49 votes, but died in assembly in January of 2022. Lawmakers changed it, and got more votes on it. And it finally passed in the assembly that following June in 2022. Because of that, the Senate had to repass the bill just a few days later.

PF: We had some tough negotiations at the end of the year. The bill passed in June of 2022. We didn't, the governor did not sign it until just a couple of weeks ago before New Year's when hundreds of bills were signed, by the way.

NB: You get a call, and usually right between Christmas and New Year. And it's an attorney from the governor's office and said, "Your bill." number such and such "has been signed into law."

AY: And if the Right to Repair Act hadn't passed, the Senator would get a different type of phone call.

NB: Well, but I also get phone calls from the same attorney at times that they say, "I'm sorry to tell you, this particular bill has been vetoed by the governor." And there's any number of reasons. She doesn't think it's fitting, doesn't, thinks it's too expensive to the citizens of our state. But she, the governor's the ultimate boss and decider, although there is some provisions in the legislature we can overrule by a vote, which rarely happens.

AY: And the only way to overrule the ultimate boss, is if two-thirds of the members of each house, agree to overturn the Governor's veto. But in the case of the Right to Repair Act, the solution for what assembly member Fahy calls, "The prohibitive $250 price tag on cracked screens," is now law. For "New York Now," Alexis Young.

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New York NOW

How a Bill Becomes a Law in NY

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Get the inside scoop on NY law-making process with Alexis Young.