Albany

Lawmakers Back Bill Regulating Hemp Extracts

Increasingly popular hemp extracts like CBD will be regulated under a bill approved at the end of the legislative session.

The measure, which lawmakers approved in the waning hours of the session, is meant to both regulate production and promote hemp extracts like cannabidiol, or CBD.

The extracts are sold in a variety of forms, including tinctures, capsules, salves, dietary supplements, beverages, and other products.

“While many hemp farmers have chosen to grow hemp for fiber and grain, many others are growing the type of hemp that produces extracts like CBD,” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, the chairwoman of the Assembly Agriculture Committee. “Because of increasing consumer demand and interest from farmers, processors and manufacturers, specific guidelines are needed to guarantee the safety of the complete supply chain.”

The bill was approved after lawmakers declined to take up a broader bill to legalize marijuana in New York, which would have set up a taxation and retail system for cannabis products.

Instead, lawmakers approved the hemp legislation as well as a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana which included provisions that expunge the records of marijuana related offenses.

The hemp bill in particular is seen as a potential boost for farmers in the state.

“Hemp cultivation offers a tremendous opportunity for our local and small farms in New York to diversify into this high-value crop,” said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Jen Metzger.

“This legislation provides a regulatory framework that will give our farmers and our nascent hemp industry the confidence they need to invest and take advantage of this enormous market opportunity, while also creating standards for CBD products that consumers can trust.”

A Year Of Progressive Goals Come To Pass

From the Morning Memo:

The state Legislature wrapped up its 2019 legislative session in the early hours of Thursday morning, concluding one of the more consequential years for Albany in recent history.

The year saw a flurry of activity that began in January as Democrats gained control of the state Senate, with pledges to not squander power like the party did a decade ago during its short, unhappy stint in the majority.

Empowered by comfortable majorities in both chambers, the Legislature approved bill after bill that Democrats had long pushed for, only to be stymied each year: Measures meant to make it easier to vote in New York, a strengthening of abortion rights and gun control, environmental measures, allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses and state tuition assistance, a ban on plastic bags, protections for transgender individuals, a law that makes it easier for abuse victims to file lawsuits, sexual harassment law changes, a congestion pricing toll plan for New York City, an increase in the smoking age and new labor rights for farm workers.

They didn’t get everything: A bill to legalize marijuana fell short of support and a gestational surrogacy measure promoted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not get a vote in the state Assembly. Ultimately they settled for a bill decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana possession and expunging records of marijuana-related offenses.

And the session still ending like it often does: Bleary eyed lawmakers putting the finishing touches on bills after a marathon night of voting, an omnibus “big ugly” bill introduced after dark. Cuomo also got a last-minute approval for his budget director, Robert Mujica, to sit on the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

Still, Democrats wielded power this year in ways they had not been able to before in Albany. Taken together, the accomplishments represent changes to the lives of everyday New Yorkers.

Automatic Voter Registration Bill Is Yanked

From the Morning Memo:

A bill that would have created a system of automatic voter registration in New York amid “significant” flaws with the way the measure was written, top lawmakers on Thursday evening said.

In a statement issued by Assembly Speaker Carl Heasite and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, lawmakers indicated they will introduced a revised bill.

“We will pass this updated bill at the next available opportunity when we are in legislative session,” they said. “This action will not impact the implementation of this corrected legislation because, like the original legislation, it does not go into effect until 2021.”

The bill would have automatically registered people to vote when they interacted with a state agency, like applying for a driver’s license or fishing permit.

Backed by government reform advocates, the measure was seen as a way of registering more people to vote in New York and boosting turnout. The bill had previously been approved on Wednesday in the state Senate.

Republicans in the state Assembly earlier in the day had first noticed problems with the bill, which they said stemmed from inconsistent language surrounding non-citizens checking off a box to register to vote.

Further technical problems were also identified, with the state Board of Elections being able to determine additional agencies that could fall under the automatic voter registration, creating the concern the board could, in essence, impose new fiscal requirements on an executive branch agency.

“We found numerous inconsistencies, including a box that requires you to check it if you want to opt out of not being registered to vote and a subsequent section of the bill that says non-citizens are not allowed to check that box,” said Republican Assemblyman Colin Schmitt. “I mean, this is sloppy.”

Assembly Approves Limousine Safety Package

From the Morning Memo:

The Democratic-controlled Assembly on the final day of the legislative session approved a package of limousine safety measures that include new insurance and seatbelt requirements.

Both bills, approved by the state Senate previously, will head to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for his approval.

“Limos are often used as transportation for happy occasions or special events. However, there have been too many tragic accidents involving limos that could have been prevented,” said Speaker Carl Heastie in a statement. “This legislation will provide necessary regulations to ensure that all New Yorkers will be safe on our roadways.”

The bills approved come after a stretch limousine crash last October killed 20 people in Schoharie.

The measures include a requirement that stretch limousines registered or sold in the state be equipped with seat belts. The measure would be in effect for limos sold or altered at the start of 2020.

Another bill is meant to increase to bolster insurance requirements for for-hire vehicles like stretch limos by clarifying coverage should include destruction to property or injury.

The Assembly also approved a series of standalone bills that require stretch limos to use commercial global positioning system technology.

Another bill approved have the Department of Motor Vehicles review the driving record of limo drivers on an annual basis and increase the penalties for stretch limo drivers when they make U-turns.

Lawmakers previously this year approved a package of limousine safety legislation that is meant to keep limousines that fail a safety inspection off the road by seizing license plates and create new criminal penalties.

Lawmakers Move To Fix Legislation

As the session winds down at the Capitol, some technical flaws are being discovered in the bills — and lawmakers are moving forward with technical amendments and changes.

State lawmakers on Thursday moved to address a flaw in the package of measures meant to strengthen and expand rent control in New York.

The bill, approved by the state Senate today, is meant to fix language in the rent control legislation that, in effect, would have re-regulated all rental properties that had been built by developers who use the 421a tax abatement.

The initial rent control legislation ending vacancy decontrol.

Meanwhile, Republicans in the state Assembly on Thursday pointed to what they said were problems with a bill that would create a system of automatic voter registration. The bill would automatically enroll people to vote when they interact with a state agency, including obtaining a driver’s license.

“We found numerous inconsistencies, including a box that requires you to check it if you want to opt out of not being registered to vote and a subsequent section of the bill that says non-citizens are not allowed to check that box,” said Assemblyman Colin Schmitt. “I mean, this is sloppy.”

A Democratic official told Zack Fink of NY1, believes the issue raised by Republicans isn’t a problem since the first question an individual is asked when seeking a license is whether they are a citizen.

Lawmakers Approve Changes To Sexual Harassment Laws

State lawmakers approved on Wednesday backed the final passage of a bill that makes changes to the state’s sexual harassment laws following a series of public hearings this year lawmakers held on the issue.

“I apologize to everyone who has been subjected to the harassment, the abuse, the insensitivity, the ugliness of being marginalized, and though it was perfectly OK to do whatever,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins moments before the chamber approved it unanimously.

In her remarks, Stewart-Cousins apologized to abuse victims and survivors.

The bill broadens the definition of harassment beyond the current “severe or pervasive” that supporters of the change say is too narrow to cover a range of misconduct and abusive behavior.

The measure was approved after two public hearings were held by state lawmakers on the issue this year. The hearings were the first lawmakers in New York had held in a generation and came amid a societal reckoning surrounding sexual abuse and misconduct.

The hearings were successfully sought by the Sexual Harassment Working Group, comprised of former legislative staffers who are victims and survivors of sexual misconduct while working in state government.

Several lawmakers on Wednesday cited the working group’s efforts in their floor speeches as they backed the measure.

Meanwhile, the Legislature also approved final passage of a bill that extends the statute of limitations in second and third-degree rape cases.

“With the passage of this legislation, we are saying enough is enough,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “It is time to end this culture of abuse once and for all and I am proud the legislature passed this critical plank of our 2019 women’s justice agenda.”

Cuomo is expected to sign both bills.

Prevailing Wage Expansion Deal Nears

A bill that would expand the prevailing wage to construction projects that are partially funded with public money is coming toward a deal, sources with knowledge of the talks said.

The agreement is set to include a carve out for New York City, which will be given a year for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York and commissioner of labor to develop a plan by May 2020.

At the same time, the measure is set to include construction work that is done under contract, paid for wholly or in part by public funds, with at least 30 percent of the construction project costs for projects costing $750,000 and above.

Bill language has been circulating for most of the day on the measure and sources believed the broad structure of the measure as drafted will be in the final agreement.

Labor leaders are backing what’s been put into writing, including the New York State AFL-CIO, New York State Building and Construction Trade Unions, New York City Building and Construction Trade Unions, Laborer’s International Union of North America, and the Long Island Building and Construction Trade Unions.

But prevailing wage expansion opponents blasted the year-long carve out plan for New York City.

“This is really a worst case scenario for upstate New York economic development,” said Michael Kracker, the executive director of Unshackle Upstate. “You have the most economically distressed area region of the state being subject to the prevailing wage mandate, meanwhile you get a carve out for economically thriving New York City.”

Source: Marijuana Legalization Bill Is Dead

A bill that would legalize marijuana and set up a retail and regulatory plan for commercial cannabis is not expected to pass as lawmakers close business this week in the legislative session, a source with knowledge of the talks said.

The development was first reported by NY1’s Zack Fink.

The focus will now likely turn to a fall back proposal: a more narrowly tailored bill meant to decriminalize marijuana possession laws and expunge records of those with marijuana-related arrests and convictions.

Lawmakers had worked through the week to reach a last-minute agreement on the broader legalization bill, introducing a series of amendments that would direct revenue toward education programs and law enforcement.

But time was running out for an agreement, which also would have coincided with a close vote earlier this week on a bill that provided access to driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants.

The decriminalization bill was introduced Sunday, allowing it enough time to properly “age” for three days and allow a vote before lawmakers left Albany for the year.

The development is a blow to the lobbyists and advocates who had wanted a more sweeping legalization agreement, which had stalled several times since the state budget talks.

Constitutional Concerns Over Mobile Sports Betting Remain For Assembly

Allowing bets on sporting events on mobile devices continued to stall at the Capitol on Tuesday, as Democrats in the Assembly continue to have concerns over the measure’s constitutionality.

The bill, approved in the state Senate on Monday, would allow sports bets to take place on apps for smartphones and tablets, with severs placed in casinos.

But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie speaking with reporters on Tuesday said his chamber continues to have issues with the bill, putting its approval in doubt for the final week of the legislative session.

“Our counsels still believe there’s some constitutional concerns,” Heastie said. “I believe the governor — even though he may have softened it — still has those concerns and the gaming commission as well. So, I don’t know what’s going to happen with that.”

Supporters of the measure contend approval would shore up revenue for the state that’s potentially being lost to neighboring New Jersey. The major sports leagues have backed the proposal.

As Legalization Of Marijuana Falters, Lawmakers Eye Decriminalization Bill

From the Morning Memo:

As a broader agreement on developing a retail and regulatory system for legal marijuana, state lawmakers are reviewing a second option: Decriminalization.

The bill, introduced on Sunday and amended Monday, would decriminalize marijuana possession and expunge records of non-violent charges and arrests related to marijuana.

The measure, backed by Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Jamaal Bailey, was introduced as the larger legalization bill hit roadblocks over the weekend, including a debate over how much money should be spent on drug education policy and an affirmative “opt in” for county governments.

“It’s something we’ve introduced to make sure it ages in time before the end of session,” Bailey said. “I’m still in support of full legalization. I’m hopeful we get legalization done before the end of session.”

Opponents of the legalization measure on Monday were seen waiting outside of the Senate majority offices waiting to speak to sympathetic lawmakers, with several trying to identify and find Sen. Todd Kaminsky, a Long Island Democrat.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a radio interview on Monday said he hoped legislators could wind up doing both legalization and decriminalization.

“I think we should do it all together,” he said in the interview on WAMC. “I don’t think we should do one component now and then come back and do another component. Let’s just do it. We’ve talked about it, let’s make the hard decisions and let’s make them now.”

On Monday afternoon, Sen. Liz Krueger said she was “cautiously optimistic” the legalization measure could be agreed to and raised the possibility of another bill being introduced.

“We’re still negotiating,” she said. “I’m cautiously optimistic. I’ve been cautiously optimistic for a couple of days.”