New York State

What to expect in the 2021 state legislative session

Will a Democratic supermajority and newly elected left-wing lawmakers shake up Albany?

What should you expect from Albany in 2021?

What should you expect from Albany in 2021? John Bilous/Shutterstock

New limits on solitary confinement. Higher taxes on the wealthy. The legalization of recreational marijuana. Democrats in the Legislature have big ambitions about what they can get done in the state legislative session that begins Jan. 6. This will be the third straight year of one-party rule in Albany, and state lawmakers appear more emboldened than ever, now that they control more than two-thirds of the seats in the Assembly and the state Senate. “We recognize the mandate we’ve been given by voters,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters at the Capitol in late November. “We will assert ourselves accordingly, as we work with our colleagues in government.” That suggests an eventful year is coming up. 

RELATED: The 7 top issues facing the 2021 state Legislature

State lawmakers are aiming to push the political envelope on health care, criminal justice reforms and labor rights, but factors like an $8.7 billion state budget deficit, a centrist governor and outstanding differences within their own legislative ranks complicate the political equation.

The state budget is the biggest challenge. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers hope the federal government provides billions of dollars in new funding, but some combination of spending cuts and tax increases appears necessary to fully plug the budget gap. Limited resources also mean less money to spend on new social programs or longtime priorities like funding for local school districts. That is one reason why many state lawmakers are pairing policy proposals with potential revenue sources. New taxes on the wealthy could finance new services like an unemployment fund for undocumented people ineligible for other aid programs. Telecommunications companies might end up footing the bill for expanding broadband to every student, ages 5 to 21, across the state. 

“We recognize the mandate we’ve been given by voters. We will assert ourselves accordingly.” – state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins

New taxes could get approved even before 2021 gets started, if state lawmakers reconvene in the coming weeks. But there are no guarantees Cuomo will support higher taxes on the wealthy anytime soon, despite his recent comments about supporting tax increases in principle. He is still holding out for federal aid that would clarify just how much money the state needs to cover its deficit and he has previously warned that high earners would leave the state to avoid higher taxes. 

The governor has formidable emergency powers during the pandemic, and constitutional budgetary authority that keeps state lawmakers from adding things to the budget. While that makes him the most powerful of the “three people in the room” who ultimately make the big decisions in state politics, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Stewart-Cousins both have supermajorities, a first for Democrats in the state Senate. In theory, two-thirds of each chamber can override a gubernatorial veto. In practice, more moderate members of the state Senate who hail from swing districts would be unlikely to combat Cuomo from the left. The legalization of recreational marijuana, single-payer health care and criminal justice reforms could make moderate Democrats nervous in the coming months.

But on votes requiring just a simple majority, both leaders have plenty to spare. Back when Democrats had a 39-member majority (later 40 members) in the state Senate, they would need the votes of at least a few suburban moderates from the New York City suburbs in order to pass tenant-friendly rent reforms and a bill allowing undocumented people to get driver’s licenses. By flipping five state Senate districts historically held by Republicans in the 2020 elections, as many as 11 Democrats could vote against a bill and it could still get a majority in the 63-seat chamber. While the Assembly Democratic conference is the same size as before, it too has less reason to worry about the political needs of moderate lawmakers, now that a half-dozen establishment liberals from the outer boroughs will be replaced by an incoming class of leftist freshman members. 

This all suggests big things could be coming for ongoing efforts to limit solitary confinement, cancel rent, pass tax increases and legalize recreational marijuana once and for all. 

Stewart-Cousins and Heastie have led their respective conferences by emphasizing consensus among their members instead of leaning on the strong-arm tactics of past legislative leaders like former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. But that doesn’t mean that Democratic lawmakers will agree on everything. They come from upstate and downstate, New York City and its suburbs, blue and purple New York (if not red). Some are urban liberals while others represent suburban and rural areas. There are democratic socialists in both chambers and plenty of political centrists. 

Legislative leaders have not revealed what bills they want to tackle in the coming weeks, and the governor has not yet announced his policy priorities for budget season. Republicans, who controlled the state Senate as recently as two years ago, have said they intend to thwart the Democrats when they can. Nonetheless, with the 2020 election results, Democrats are more powerful than ever at the state level and one of their own is entering the White House, so they have reason to be optimistic about what the next legislative session will bring. 

NEXT STORY: Ideas for a new New York

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.