Only a trickle of lawmakers walked through the New York State Capitol hallways on the first day of session.
Hallways that are normally so packed full of advocates and lawmakers, you have to push through just to make it to the other side.
But this year continues to be unlike typical years, as Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris explained.
“The first day is usually a day of celebration,” Gianaris said. "A lot of crowds, people getting sworn in, so it’s obviously different for good reason this year. But we’re here to do our work, the state has a lot of needs and we’re going to start working on them.”
With COVID-19 cases still on the rise across the state, the empty seats in each chamber served as a stark reminder of the personal and economic loss many New Yorkers faced this past year due to the pandemic.
Re-elected Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins took a moment on the Senate floor to reflect on this past tumultuous year.
“It is chilling to think about what all of us have been through in the last 10 months,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Here in New York, tens of thousands of our family members, friends, colleagues and constituents have died. Businesses have closed, jobs have been lost and people are hurting. We are a changed state, and we are changed nation.”
Senator Stewart-Cousins acknowledged this will be a challenging year, both from a policy standpoint and financially.
When it comes to tackling the budget deficit, the Democratic conference announced they will be pushing to increase taxes on the ultra-wealthy, legalize recreational marijuana, and legalize mobile sports betting.
“This is a bold mandate, and a daunting list of priorities to take on,” Stewart-Cousins remarked. “But bold action is what the times require, and what the people who sent us here demand. And from everything I’ve seen from my colleagues in this chamber over the past year, I know that – working together – we are up to the challenge.”
Due to health concerns, both the Senate and Assembly have rules right now limiting the number of lawmakers in each chamber.
Republican representatives in both houses expressed their displeasure with this arrangement, saying it “stifles debate.”
The next day of session is Monday January 11.