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Session canceled Monday; Senate deputy leader says lawmakers working to limit time at Capitol

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Karen DeWitt/WXXI News
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Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris, D-Queens, updates reporters on how the Legislature is preparing to meet in light of the coronavirus at the State Capitol on Monday.

The state Legislature postponed its session until at least Wednesday to figure out how to conduct its business safely under new regulations released by the Centers for Disease Control regarding human density in light of the spreading novel coronavirus.

Two Assembly members have the virus and are recovering. Both the Assembly and Senate said they are working out ways to have members come to the Capitol to vote on legislation, but to also stay safe and help prevent the spread of the illness. One of the ideas is for 10 or so members to come to the chamber to vote, then return to their offices, so the next 10 could come in and cast their votes. 

Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris, who was at the Capitol, said lawmakers will try to agree on as much as they can remotely, including many items in the state budget, and then come in to vote. But he did not rule out leaving some big-ticket times, like legalizing marijuana, for later.

“We’re trying to be incredibly effective this week, to only come in as necessary,” Gianaris said. “But in that short time do as much as we can to move the state forward.”

Gianaris said a big challenge will be closing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit that could grow as the state spends more health care dollars treating those sick with the virus. He did not rule out a proposal on raising taxes on the wealthy to help pay for it. 

The public is barred from the Capitol for now, for safety reasons, so lobbyists and protest groups can't come to offer their views on the spending plan. 

Gianaris said many of the issues have been discussed for months, and the varying positions on many of the issues are already well-known. And, he said, there's always phone and email.