A guide to the most powerful state Legislative committees

What are the various committees in the state Senate and Assembly? How do they work?

While everyone patiently awaits the appointments of the legislative committee next year, City & State put together a guide on some of the most powerful legislative committees and their function.

While everyone patiently awaits the appointments of the legislative committee next year, City & State put together a guide on some of the most powerful legislative committees and their function. NYS Senate Media Services

As the 2023 legislative session quickly approaches, state lawmakers, staffers and stakeholders are eagerly anticipating the official announcement of who will chair committees. Those chairs help shape the legislative agenda for the year and can wield significant power if appointed to coveted committees.

The state Senate currently has 41 committees, while the Assembly has 39 standing committees and various subcommittees. The legislative leaders in each chamber – Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins – have the authority to decide committee appointments. The seniority and expertise of a lawmaker may be beneficial when being considered for chairmanships – although the leaders don’t have to explain why they choose who they do. All are chaired by Democrats, the party in power. 

At one time in the not-so-distant past, committee chairs came with a coveted bonus – extra pay in the form of what were called “lulus” (named for “payment in lieu of expenses”). The more important the committee, the more cash you got. Lawmakers did away with the system in a bid to reduce corruption in Albany, but even without the monetary incentive, chairing coveted committees still comes with its share of power and influence.

Committees’ responsibilities vary from the mundane to the highly controversial. No bill makes it to the floor of either chamber without making it through at least one committee first, more than one if the bill is particularly complicated. And debate can get heated. Outside of their regularly scheduled meetings, the committees also have the authority to hold public hearings on anything from sexual harassment to public power. In fact, the Assembly Judiciary Committee will soon have a hearing to determine the eligibility of Member-elect Lester Chang amid questions raised about Chang’s residency. While session only takes place for half the year, committee hearings are not constrained by the calendar.

But not every committee is created equal. And notably, a handful of the most powerful committee chairs in the Assembly are vacant heading into the new 2023 session. Names like Assembly Members Amy Paulin and Andrew Hevesi have been floated as potential candidates for the Health Committee, while Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal could be in line to become the new housing chair. While Albany-watchers patiently await the appointments to the legislative committees in the coming weeks, City & State put together a guide for the most powerful legislative committees and their functions.

Health Committees

The state Senate and Assembly health committees are tasked with addressing the health issues affecting the state. For the past two years, the health committees have worked on legislation to protect New Yorkers dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on residents and the health care workforce. Assembly Member Richard Gottfried, the longest-serving member of the state Legislature, has been at the helm of the Assembly Health Committee for more than three decades, but will be retiring at the end of the year, leaving an opening. 

Finance and Ways and Means Committees

The state Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee have oversight over fiscal-related legislation and play a pivotal role in the state’s budget process. They both hold a series of annual hearings on the top budget issues and hold incredible sway over the state’s yearly finances, making the committees among the most powerful in the state. State Sen. Liz Krueger has chaired the finance committee since 2018 and Assembly Member Helene Weinstein is the first woman to chair the Assembly Ways and Means Committee.

Labor Committees

The state Senate and Assembly labor committees are responsible for addressing issues with workers across New York, including minimum wage, fair pay, workforce safety and unemployment insurance. This has been an especially tall order recently, with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic still being felt in most industries. Labor issues are among the biggest in the state, especially with the influence of major unions on policy, politics and elections.

Rules Committees

The state Senate and Assembly rules committees are essential for the bill-creation process. The committees are responsible for determining the order on the calendar of bills, general housekeeping of the Legislature and ensuring all staff members are maintaining standards. The committees are always chaired by the Senate majority leader and Assembly speaker, the only ones that leadership head up.

Codes Committees

The state Senate and Assembly codes committees focus on legislation relating to the state’s justice system – including criminal procedure law, penal law and civil practice law. The committees are also responsible for addressing and implementing changes to laws relating to rights or property. Criminal justice issues, like bail reform, have been some of the highest-profile topics – and the most controversial – since Democrats won back control of the state Senate in 2018.

Energy Committees

Any legislation relating to energy is reviewed by the state Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and the Assembly Energy Committee. The committees have considered legislation that amends energy law, sets electric and gas rates across the state and affects energy availability. Although influence over utilities in New York has always been important, the committees play an even more pivotal role now as the state seeks to hit its ambitious climate goals, which requires significant changes to how it creates and disseminates power.

Judiciary Committees

The judiciary committees in the state Senate and Assembly review all legislation relating to state and local courts. The committees oversee any amendments to relevant state law, from civil rights to estate powers and procedures. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s nominee for the next chief judge of the Court of Appeals will be reviewed by the judiciary committee before the state Legislature votes on the pick.

Housing Committees

All housing legislation, whether it’s the controversial lapsed 421-a tax break for developers or renewing rent regulations, first must make its way through the chambers’ housing committees. With a statewide housing crisis, lawmakers’ responses have been kept under close observation, both by members of the real estate industry and tenant advocates, who are generally at odds. The real estate industry also spends significant amounts of cash both lobbying lawmakers and on elections.