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Major Issues Are Down to the Wire As the 2024 NYS Legislative Session Draws to a Close

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The New York State Capitol Building
New York NOW

The last scheduled week of the legislative session begins Monday. But, as Karen DeWitt with the New York Public News Network reports, so far there is no agreement and a lot of disconnect on items -including combatting climate change and regulating kids’ social media feeds.

Governor Kathy Hochul is making a push to ban tech companies from using harmful algorithms to influence children’s social media feeds. She cites data that shows increased use of social media by children and teens is linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

“And this darkness lives on platforms like Instagram, TikTok,” Hochul said. “These are ruled by addictive algorithms designed to draw the young people deeper and deeper into that darkness over and over."

The SAFE Act for Kids would restrict companies from using the algorithms without parental consent. The Child Data Protection Act would prohibit online platforms from collecting and sharing children’s personal data without consent.

Hochul says they are the only bills that she is pushing for, as the session ends.

But Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says Hochul has not yet spoken to her about the measures. But she says the staffs are trying to work out the details.

“I don't want to make it sound like there are no conversations, but she has not personally reached out to me,” said Stewart-Cousins. “We're continuing to do our work to try and get legislation over the finish line.”

The Senate and Assembly, both led by democrats, are also not on the same page when it comes to several environmental measures. The Climate Change Superfund Act has passed in the Senate, but not the Assembly.  It would require fossil fuel companies to pay for climate change mitigation.

The NY HEAT Act , which would end the practice of allowing utility ratepayers to subsidize the cost of new gas line hook ups,  was also approved in the Senate, but has stalled in the Assembly.

Advocates protested outside the Assembly chambers.

“Hey hey ho ho , fossil fuels have got to go,” they chanted.

Meanwhile, the Assembly has advanced a bill to reduce plastic packaging by 50% , while the Senate is considering weakening the measure, to require a 30% reduction in packaging instead.

The two houses also disagree on how to fix a legal loophole that resulted in the state’s highest court overturning the rape conviction of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The court ruled that the prosecutor erred when he included testimony from three women who also said that Weinstein sexually assaulted them, because the alleged incidents were not part of the charges against Weinstein in the trial.

The Senate passed a bill to allow the testimony in sexual abuse cases, but some Democrats in the Assembly objected. That led the Assembly sponsor, Amy Paulin, to warn that Weinstein, who will be retried on the charges later this year, and others like him, could go free in the future.

“I was devastated, because I believe that without this change serial rapists will not be convicted in New York as easily as they should be,” Paulin said.

Opponents, including the Legal Aid Society, say the bill, as written is “overly broad” and could lead to more wrongful convictions.  

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie says some of his democratic members need more time to think through a fix, and don’t want to agree to anything that could have adverse consequences.

“We're never going to apologize for being a deliberative house,” said Heastie who said at least 20 attorneys who are also assemblymembers expressed concern about the bill.

“We all want to protect sexual assault victims,” he said. “But they also believe in the law and believe in the Constitution, and in equal protections of the constitution. So it's not something that they take lightly.”

Even though there are few final agreements yet, deals at the Capitol often come together at the last minute. Speaker Heastie says there is still plenty of time.

“We still have five and a half more days,” he said. “Which in Albany time is a lifetime.”    

The session is scheduled to end June 7th, but lawmakers could work into the weekend if they believe they are close on major bills.