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NYS legislature ends 2022 session with focus on guns and abortion

The New York state Capitol building and gardens
Daniel Case
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The front side of the state Capitol building in Albany, New York.

State lawmakers concluded their 2022 session early Saturday morning, working to pass several gun control and abortion rights bills, as well as a first-in-the-nation two-year ban on cryptomining.

“The house stand adjourned, ” said Speaker Carl Heastie as he gaveled the Assembly out of session shortly after 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, after an all-night marathon of bill passing.

In the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas, lawmakers acted on bills to tighten the state’s gun control laws and close some loopholes. Among the ten bills approved, no one under 21 would be allowed to buy a semi-automatic rifle, and body armor sales would be banned, except to law enforcement and other professionals who are at risk.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says New York cannot “stand idly” by as mass shootings continue, and she hopes the “common sense” measures will help.

“What we want to do is disrupt a culture that has created a horrific and scary present and future, if we are not willing to say that we are unwilling to continue down this path,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt represents a western New York district and lives 25 minutes from the Tops grocery store in Buffalo where the mass shooting occurred. He says while some of the measures are well-intentioned, they infringe on New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights.

“This has always been the agenda for some of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle, there’s an aversion to gun ownership,” Ortt said. “They want owning firearm to be a hassle, they want performing your Second Amendment rights to be a hassle.”

Despite that, a handful of Republicans voted for some of the measures.

Governor Kathy Hochul saying she ‘values life more than guns,” promised to sign the bills very soon.

“This is a moral moment for the people of New York but also for the rest of the nation,” Hochul said. “Follow what we did in New York and we’ll finally start the beginning of the end of all this gun violence and the massacres that are occurring every day in our country.”

Also approved were bills to protect abortion care providers and patients if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through with a leaked draft opinion and strikes down the 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. The measures also provide funding and protections for people who come to New York to get the procedure from states where abortion would be banned.

A constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights to a number of groups and the right to an abortion fell off the table over difficulties on how to structure the amendment.

Lawmakers also imposed a two-year moratorium on some types of cryptomining. The process of creating bitcoin relies on large amounts of energy, and plans to revive old coal-burning plants in the state to power crypto mining have been controversial.

Yvonne Taylor is with Seneca Lake Guardian in the Finger Lakes, where a crypto mining company has restarted an old power plant, urges Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the bill, and to use her powers as governor to go take more steps.

“And that is why we need Governor Hochul to go even further and adopt a moratorium on all proof-of-work crypto mining,” said Taylor.

Hochul, who has been endorsed in her run for election by a union that supports jobs at the crypto mining plants, has said she is undecided about the issue.

The session ended without action on some criminal justice bills.

The Senate approved a measure known as Clean Slate, which would seal the records of people convicted of some crimes if they’ve completed their sentences and parole. But it died in the Assembly.

A pro-tenant measure known as Good Cause Eviction protections did not reach the floor of either house. Housing advocates called it a “moral failure.”

This might not be the last time, though, that the legislature meets for the year. Hochul has said she may call a special session if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the state’s prohibition on concealed-carry weapons.

A challenge to that law is now before the court, and a ruling is expected soon.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.