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No agreement on major bills as the NYS legislative session winds down

A garden and a statute partner a staircase in front of a large building.
New York State Office of General Services
A sunny day at the New York State Capitol.

When New York state lawmakers return from the Memorial Day holiday, they have just seven scheduled session days to complete their work for 2024. A number of key initiatives, including climate change legislation, might be left on the table.

Governor Kathy Hochul says as the session draws to a close, she’s focused on achieving just one thing: regulating social media companies, which she says are harming children through addictive algorithms and by harvesting their personal data.

“These toxic influences could be absolutely devastating,” Hochul said. “And now we have a mountain of data that confirms what many of us have known all along intuitively, that social media is hurting our kids.”

Hochul says the U.S. surgeon general has reported that teens who use social media more than three hours a day face double the risk of depression and anxiety symptoms.

One of two bills that would address these concerns is the SAFE Act for Kids, which would restrict companies from using algorithms on minors' social media feeds without parental consent. The Child Data Protection Act would ban online platforms from collecting and sharing children’s personal data.

There are currently not enough votes in the Senate and Assembly for the bills to pass, and big tech companies are lobbying hard against them.

The governor says she achieved most of her agenda in the state budget, passed in early May, and will not be advocating for any other items, though she says she’s open to talking about them with the Legislature.

Environmentalists are pushing for several bills, including expanding the bottle law by doubling the deposit to 10 cents and adding wine and hard cider containers. They also want to end the practice of allowing utilities to charge ratepayers for installing new gas lines, known as the NY HEAT-Act. A third would reduce plastic packaging by 50 percent over a dozen years.

The plastics bill has advanced in the Assembly but stalled in the state Senate.

Activists in favor of the bill demonstrated recently near Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins' district office in Yonkers.

“We urge you to put people over plastics,” they chanted.

The Senate HAS approved the HEAT-Act, while the Assembly has not. Both houses are led by Democrats.

There’s also support for a bill that would close what’s known as the Weinstein loophole. In April, the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, overturned the rape conviction of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. It ruled that the prosecution improperly allowed testimony from other women about Weinstein’s alleged bad behavior, even though those accusations did not lead to charges against him.

The bill's sponsor, Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris, says federal law already permits the practice, and New York state law needs to change. He spoke on the Senate floor as the bill to fix the loophole was approved.

“What we're doing today is dealing with an ongoing injustice in our criminal legal system,” Gianaris said.

The bill faces blowback from criminal defense attorneys. The Legal Aid Society says the bill language is overly broad and could lead to wrongful convictions.

The measure is stalled in the state Assembly.

The session is set to end June 6, but lawmakers could stay a few days longer if they believe that agreements on any of the items are close.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment and interviews newsmakers. Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.