New York State

New York lawmakers address abortion, gun restrictions during sleep-deprived extraordinary session

The Legislature took steps toward amending the state constitution to protect abortion rights and enacting adjusted gun restrictions after two pivotal Supreme Court rulings.

NYS Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on July 1.

NYS Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins on July 1. NYS Senate Media Services

After experiencing delays upon returning to Albany at the behest of the governor, state lawmakers are well on their way to approving new concealed carry gun laws for New York City and adding abortion protections to the state constitution. The state Senate approved the Equality Amendment and gun legislation to create new concealed carry requirements on Friday. The Assembly was expected to follow suit later in the day. 

Following the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that repealed New York City’s century-old law governing concealed carry gun permits, Gov. Kathy Hochul called the state Legislature back to Albany for what is called an “extraordinary session” on Thursday to respond to the decision. She set the agenda with a narrow focus on guns. But lawmakers and abortion rights advocates also pushed to get approved a state constitutional amendment that would guarantee a person’s right to an abortion, as well as contraception, and further strengthen other protections based on sex, gender, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation. It failed to pass before the state Legislature broke for the summer in early June over religious freedom concerns. 

After delays, focus turns to abortion

Early Friday morning, after the previous day ended without any votes or even bill language on guns, Hochul officially expanded the session agenda to include the Equality Amendment. Last minute negotiations over a bill to extend mayoral control of New York City schools had contributed to the delays with a midnight deadline looming for Hochul to sign the bill. But with that resolved, she and lawmakers moved ahead with an additional goal for the session. “Recent Supreme Court rulings have threatened the rights of New Yorkers to make decisions about their own bodies and our right to protect New Yorkers from gun violence, but we refuse to stand idly by, and we must act,” she said in a statement. Several hours later, the Legislature introduced a new Equality Amendment bill with language similar to one already introduced by state Sen. Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Rebecca Seawright. It passed in the state Senate by a margin of 49-14, with seven Republicans voting in favor. 

State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins applauded her chamber’s action on the amendment, which will require passage next year as well before heading to voters for approval. “I’m happy that we’re able to make at least the assurances of people’s rights, in addition to covering so many classes of people that have not been covered by our (state) constitution,” Stewart-Cousins told reporters in Albany. She added that state legislatures have an obligation to “assert (their) power to protect their citizens.” Speaking to reporters, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said his chamber will approve the amendment later in the day. 

Republicans bemoan proposed gun restrictions

The legislation to enact new concealed-carry permitting laws in New York City unsurprisingly drew greater controversy as senators debated restrictions that would enact stricter requirements to receive a permit, including additional training and a review of social media activity, and create numerous “sensitive locations” where people cannot carry. Those locations include schools, public transportation, the entirety of Times Square, hospitals, rehab centers, houses of worship and protests, among many other places. The bill would also require private business owners to affirmatively opt in to allowing guns on their premises, with the default set that guns aren’t allowed. This in particular struck a nerve with Republicans. State Sen. Dan Stec argued that this would place targets on certain properties as easier to rob and make it harder for legal gun owners to protect themselves. “The idea that there should be a presumption that it’s not allowed is contrary to the Second Amendment,” Stec said on the Senate floor.

Heastie, however, expressed confidence that the legislation will stand up to judicial scrutiny. “Anything can be challenged in court,” he told reporters. “We believe what we’ve done in consultation with the Senate will pass constitutional muster.” Stewart-Cousins offered similar sentiments, saying that the delay in getting the legislation approved came in part because she and lawmakers were doing their “due diligence.” The measure passed in the state Senate with a party line vote Friday afternoon. “Concealed carry cannot be a more fundamental right than your own bodily autonomy,” Stewart-Cousins said, referencing the Equality Amendment while casting her vote on the gun bill.

Separately from the concealed-carry provisions, the legislation also expands the recently signed law banning certain types of body vests in the wake of the Buffalo mass shooting that left 10 people at a Tops Supermarket dead. The new law would not have applied to the type of body armor that the shooter had purchased and used in the attack, drawing criticism for the measure. The new language expands to the definition to include more forms of body armor and bullet-resistance attire.