This first week of the legislative session had a lot happening: State lawmakers were back and Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave his 10th State of the State address. Here are three things we learned this week, and one thing we didn't.
1. Cashless bail law is a key issue
We kind of already had a guess Republicans would continue to hammer Democratic lawmakers over the issue of cashless bail, but the division among Democrats over whether the law — which ends cash bail requirements for misdemeanors and non-violent offenses — should be changed was also on display.
State Democratic Committee Chairman Jay Jacobs said it was a mistake for lawmakers to not include a provision allowing judges to determine whether a person is too dangerous to be released. Attorney General Letitia James has also opened the door to changes, as has Cuomo.
Not on board with any changes is Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. Remember: Criminal justice law changes were a key issue for him last year. Lawmakers wanted to end or at the very least curtail the cycle of people going to jail pending trial and languishing there for months — sometimes resulting in suicides.
But Republicans and law enforcement officials have highlighted instances in recent weeks of people being released who are accused of crimes like manslaughter and robbery. And, as a result, some Democrats from suburban and upstate districts are now pushing for a change.
2. Democrats can still get what they want
When they agree, which has for now been more often the case than not, Democrats have been able to notch key accomplishments since taking majority control of the state Senate.
The Democratic-controlled Senate on Thursday approved a package of election law changes that bolster the measures backed in 2019 — including automatic voter registration. Assembly Democrats are expected to follow suit.
Democrats were also able to mount a two-way deal on limousine safety measures — an agreement that will include seat-belt requirements for the vehicles.
3. Cuomo's vision poster
Look, the governor designing a poster based on the turn-of-the-century political campaigning methods of William Jennings Bryan is unusual. But the poster, a visualization of where Cuomo sees New York in 2020 — a tempest-tossed ship on a sea of intolerance — also had the effect, for me at least, of humanizing the governor in a way I hadn't expected.
I've covered Cuomo for more than a decade and he can be an interesting person to cover. People in public office often lead highly scripted and predictable lives. The poster was the opposite of that.
What we don't know: Do you have $6.1 billion to spare?
Cuomo's State of the State, as usual, focused on big-picture themes while rolling out a series of policy plans. It lightly touched on the $6.1 billion budget gap and the $4 billion Medicaid shortfall. Where is that money going to come from? It's not entirely clear, though Cuomo made a vague reference to local government Medicaid spending, setting some fiscal hawks and local government advocates on edge.