5 things to watch as New York lawmakers return to Albany – Spectrum News

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State lawmakers are returning to Albany for a six-month legislative session amid a rapidly shifting economic and political landscape.
A possible economic recession looms, forcing potential debates in the coming budget talks over taxes and spending. Democrats who control all levers of power in state government are at odds over public safety and a contentious confirmation for chief judge of New York’s top court.
Here are five things to watch for as lawmakers begin the 2023 legislative session.
1. Public safety.
Voter concerns over crime hung over much of the 2022 session and into the election season as voters identified public safety as their top-tier concern.
Republicans, including some Democrats from battleground legislative districts, have called for changes to criminal justice measures progressive advocates have backed, including ending cash bail for many criminal charges, overhauling discovery laws and juvenile justice changes.
Pushing for broader changes has also been championed by New York City Mayor Eric Adams and a bipartisan group of elected district attorneys.
Gov. Kathy Hochul last year was able to win some changes to the cashless bail provisions amid pressure during her election bid. Hochul once again identified public safety, in very broad concerns, as an issue she wants to tackle this year.
Top Democrats in the Legislature, meanwhile, have also acknowledged public safety is a key issue for voters. But Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie last month to reporters said the issue can be addressed in a variety of ways beyond the criminal justice reforms in the headlines, such as providing housing support, and tackling root causes of crime.
A possible compromise that has been raised over the last several months: more training for judges for the state’s bail laws.
At the same time, Hochul is also expected to further push for measures to address shootings in New York and continue to push for the removal of illegal guns from the streets.
2. Confirmation battle. 
Little scrutiny is often given to gubernatorial nominations for key judgeships in New York. In the past, the nominations are considered an afterthought, and certainly nowhere near the level of interest that is afforded the titanic struggles at the federal level.
That could change with the nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle by Hochul to lead the state court system and the state Court of Appeals.
Progressive advocates are deeply opposed to LaSalle’s nomination as well as some labor union leaders. Opponents cite rulings they consider to be anti-labor as well as a case involving a pregnancy crisis center. LaSalle’s experience as an assistant district attorney has also been criticized.
Supporters of LaSalle, however, have criticzed Senate Democrats for quickly announcing their opposition before a confirmation hearing is held (Democrats, including state Sen. Brad Hoylman who leads the Judiciary Committee, have said they intend to hold one). LaSalle, if confirmed, would be the first Latino judge to lead the top court in New York.
The fight has been brewing over a court pick after years in which progressives have been dissatisifed with the nominees in prior years, including former district attorneys. The rulings, they have argued, have leaned to the right.
A final straw may have been a Court of Appeals ruling last year rejecting lines drawn by Democratic lawmakers in Albany for new congressional and legislative boundaries during the redistricting process.
Hochul, nevertheless, has signaled she will see the confirmation through for LaSalle amid the mounting opposition, setting up an unusually high-stakes moment over a nomination to the bench.
3. Will Democrats keep Lester Chang in the Assembly?
On Tuesday, Assembly Republicans sworn in 14 new members, including Lester Chang, who took the oath of office on a Buddhist bible.
Chang is one of a few Asian American lawmakers in Albany, but could face expulsion from the state Assembly if Democrats decide he failed to meet residency requirements to be in office. A report on the issue following a hearing last year did not reach a conclusion on whether Chang should remain in office.
Chang reiterated to reporters on Tuesday he would consider legal options amid any bid to oust him.
4. It’s the economy. 
The governor’s budget office has signaled caution over the national economy amid rising interest rates that have made borrowing more expensive as central bankers seek to curb skyrocketing inflation.
Concerns over a potential recession could hit New York hard as COVID-19 relief aid from the federal government dries up. Tax revenue, much of it coming from very wealthy residents and Wall Street, could be the next casualty.
How state lawmakers and Hochul respond to a potential downturn — or even the threat of one — will be closely watched.
A push to increase taxes once again on very wealthy New Yorkers is underway from progressive organizations, as is an effort to raise the state’s minimum wage. Hochul has said she doesn’t want to raise taxes in the coming budget, due at the end of March.
Potential clashes could still be had over how to fund support for excluded workers, including undocumented residents.
There’s still the question of New York’s economy overall. The state is yet to fully recover the jobs lost in the initial months of the COVID pandemic.
New York City, in particular, has struggled to regain lost jobs as many people continue to work from home and stay off mass transit. New York state overall continues to lose population, leading the nation in the last year.
Elected officials and members of the business community have said they want a sustained effort to revive New York’s economy. A slowdown could complicate those efforts.
5. Hochul’s mark on Albany
Hochul has sought to show she’s a different user of power than her predecessors. Albany can be a fractious place. Hochul, in short, has wanted to show there does not have to be too much friction in governing.
That could be challenged this year as her fellow Democrats in the state Legislature seek to flex the muscles of their supermajorities once again.
Hochul was elected last year to a full term after serving out what would have been the remainder of Andrew Cuomo’s time in office. She has a new health commissioner to nominate, and a top budget advisor to find.

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