Gov. Kathy Hochul delivered her annual State of the State address in the Assembly chamber on Tuesday after rolling out various initiatives over the week prior. It represented a shift from years past, when she largely kept details about her agenda close to the vest until officially giving her speech. Hochul kicked off her State of the State previews with her plan for consumer protection and insulin affordability – a relatively niche plan compared to some of the high-profile cornerstones for her past State of the State addresses. It set the tone for her full agenda this year, which is comparatively pared back compared to her first two, particularly in regards to housing and the migrant crisis, two of the biggest crises facing the state.
Hochul’s housing plan is far less ambitious than last year’s, and did not set significant housing growth goals like she did in 2022, offering a much more rolled-back proposal after failing to achieve her agenda last year. And her State of the State offers no new solutions or funding stream potentials to address New York City’s migrant crisis, which Mayor Eric Adams (who was in Albany for the address) has consistently pleaded for. Hochul instead highlighted plans for addressing mental health and public safety in the state, both of which she has focused on in years past as well. Last year, she held up the budget for a month to win further rollbacks to the state’s bail reform laws, although her 181-page State of the State agenda, released to press ahead of the address, doesn’t mention a desire for any additional changes this year.
Leading up to the speech itself, Hochul also unveiled proposals to change how literacy is taught in New York, to expand access to pools and encourage state agencies to utilize more artificial intelligence tools. Here are some of the key takeaways from her full agenda.
The governor led her agenda with a series of proposals to address mental health across the state’s population, from people in acute situations to young people on social media. She wants to build on last year’s goal and further expand the number of inpatient beds for psychiatric patients by 200, including 15 beds for children. The governor is focused on the point where people with mental illness interact with the criminal justice system, and she’s proposing to expand court programs that connect defendants with treatment and “mental health navigators” – specialists who can help get them resources and housing. For people with serious mental illness who are repeat offenders, Hochul is proposing specialized housing with “residential staff.”
The governor is also focused on youth mental health, and wants to expand mental health interventions in schools. She is also planning to hold social media companies accountable for their role in declining teen mental health – throwing her support behind the SAFE Act that would regulate social media algorithms to make them less addictive and another law to prohibit the sale of kids’ data.
Following GOP attacks suggesting Democrats are “soft on crime” and a recent rise in hate crimes, Hochul has plans to advance legislation that would protect New Yorkers from violence, theft and lessen the risk that New Yorkers enter or reenter the criminal justice system.
Hochul will look to expand the definition of hate crimes, already on the rise following the pandemic but seeing another spike since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war.
To combat high domestic violence case dismissal rates, Hochul will expand the Domestic Violence Strategic Threat Alert Team, first developed by the Queens district attorney’s office, across the state. The teams are used to more quickly track down evidence and apprehend domestic violence suspects.
Hochul is also making retail theft a focus this year. Hochul plans to create task forces within the State Police dedicated to combating organized retail theft and will increase funding for district attorney’s offices and local law enforcement to combat the crimes. Additionally, tax credits would be introduced for small businesses to offset security costs and she plans to propose legislation that would make the facilitating the sale of stolen items illegal.
Revamping the court system which has been pilloried for its case backlogs will also be a priority for Hochul as she plans to advance a constitutional amendment that would eliminate the cap on state Supreme Court judges. To cover the shortfall, the state judiciary often appoints acting state Supreme Court judges because currently, there is a limit of one judge per 50,000 people.
Hochul plans to increase services for at-risk youth to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system. For those already in the criminal justice system, Hochul plans to expand college education to all state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision facilities and increase transitional housing opportunities for the formerly convicted.
After the collapse of her marquee housing plan last year, speculation abounded about what Hochul’s new pitch would look like to tackle the state’s housing affordability crisis. Whereas it served as the cornerstone of her agenda last year – and served as a major part of her 2022 agenda as well – the governor offered a far more subdued plan for 2024. Gone is the ambitious pledge to build 800,000 new units of housing over the next decade with growth mandates for municipalities. Instead, the only concrete number Hochul provides is “unlocking” the potential for 15,000 new units at state sites, building upon an executive order she issued last year directing state entities to review whether their properties could be used for housing needs.
Although she did not offer specifics, Hochul said that she will “propose to enact legislation” that would serve as a replacement to the expired 421-a developer tax break meant to incentivize the construction of affordable housing. In 2022, she laid out specifics on what that replacement would look like, but after lawmakers rejected it, Hochul last year did not offer her own version and instead said she would work with the Legislature to find a compromise they would support. That too did not materialize last year. Her agenda also seeks to provide incentives to convert commercial office space into housing, relatively low-hanging fruit in the grand scheme of housing creation.
Hochul includes a subsection in her State of the State book entitled “Standing Up for Tenants and Homeowners,” but it does not include any new tenant protections that both tenant advocates and lawmakers have called for. Both state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie have reiterated their commitment to including tenant protections in any housing package they approve this year, a prospect that Hochul has continually resisted. However, the governor does once again include a proposal to give New York City a pathway to legalize basement apartments. She will also direct the state Division of Human Rights to partner with state and New York City housing agencies to create an enforcement unit to crack down on Section 8 housing voucher discrimination.
After facing criticism from climate advocates last year for attempting to make changes to the state’s landmark climate law that they said would have gutted it, Hochul in her State of the State this year has decided to back at least part of a major climate priority. Her agenda includes a version of the NY HEAT Act, which activists have pushed her to include in her budget, that she dubbed “The Affordable Gas Transition Act.” It would eliminate a subsidy for new gas hookups within 100 feet of an existing hookup that shifts the cost from the utility company to ratepayers, a move that would save New Yorkers money and disincentivize new gas hookups. Hochul also proposed a new program she dubbed “Statewide Solar for All” that would expand on the existing Energy Affordability program designed to ensure low-income New Yorkers don’t pay more than 6% of their income on energy bills. The NY HEAT Act would codify that requirement. Under the new proposal, those already enrolled in the affordability program would receive a new electric bill credit. However, Hochul’s proposal did not yet get into specifics, which may ultimately differ from the language of the NY HEAT Act.
Hochul’s agenda includes a pitch for what she’s calling the Renewable Action Through
Project Interconnection and Deployment (RAPID) Act that would streamline the approval process for renewable energy infrastructure projects. She also committed to planting 25 million more trees over the next decade and said that state agencies would launch a study into establishing a clean transportation standard for New York to help the state reach a zero-emission transit sector by 2050.
Hochul said she will work to improve New York’s health outcomes by bolstering the health care workforce and making health care more affordable. She also outlined efforts to protect hospitals from cyberattacks.
She said she will pursue funding from the federal government to help recruit and retain health care workers through a variety of measures including student loan repayment schemes and increased training.
Hochul announced the creation of the Healthcare Safety Net Transformation Program in her agenda, saying she would pursue a federal waiver to help fund the program that would smooth regulation and increase funding for health clinics and facilities for low-income patients. Hochul also plans to get behind legislation that would expand Medicaid coverage to children six and under.
Hochul also plans to establish the Paramedic Telemedicine Urgent Care program, which would use rural emergency medical technicians to deliver medicine and care to lower-risk patients to reduce the burden on emergency rooms and facilities. Also, to lower emergency room visits, Hochul plans to advance legislation that would authorize health care facilities to make in-person visits for Medicare patients.
Hochul will also push for new measures that reduce the maternal mortality rates like expanding health care for pregnant New Yorkers to include doulas and creating safeguards to reduce unnecessary c-sections. Mental health for mothers-to-be will also be addressed by Hochul via increased education for psychiatrists. She is also pitching prenatal paid leave.
This is a developing story.