Advocating in the Heat of the Legislative Session

By Eli Cohen, Communications Associate

The New York State Legislature – with only eleven session days remaining on the calendar – is conducting its business at a frenzied pace. Hundreds of bills show signs of movement. The City Bar, in addition to its ongoing work commenting on newly proposed measures and otherwise supporting its 2019 Legislative Agenda, is actively engaged in promoting the long-standing positions of its members on issues that now appear to “have new legs.”

Old bills on enduring issues resurface for many reasons. In every case where the City Bar has an existing position, we take every step to ensure that the City Bar’s voice is added to the chorus that galvanizes new legislative activity. Bills not previously passed are often reintroduced in the Legislature each year, unadorned, for another shot at passage. A bill seeking to ban the use of wild animals in circuses and a bill to ban the use of restraints on children in family court, are two such measures. Reintroduction triggers our recirculation of the City Bar’s positions to the bill sponsors, outreach to City Bar committee stakeholders who in turn share with their networks, and an update of our web postings so that public-facing resources are up-to-date. If and when a bill on which we have commented is substantially revised, the drafting committees revisit and revise the positions to reflect the changes. Reintroduced bills, like the one to increase the monthly cash allowance provided to the homeless, often have new sponsors who may not have heard from the City Bar on that issue. We make sure that City Bar positions get into their hands as they give renewed energy to a piece of legislation.

Some measures develop out of the public eye, but spring into focus at the confluence of circumstance and timing. This is often the case with bills that originate with the Office of Court Administration. The City Bar’s input often is solicited in the early stages, when the measure is a yet-to-be introduced legislative proposal. This year, two Trusts & Estates measures that originated this way, and on which the City Bar originally commented in 2016 and 2017, have been introduced in the Legislature as full-fledged bills. Still more bills lacked political viability in the past, but have found avenues to passage under the new composition of the Legislature: a bill to curb employment discrimination against those with criminal records wasn’t politically salient at the time the City Bar first supported it in 2009. It languished but has found new viability and the City Bar has updated and reissued its now decade-long support for this important measure.

The last days of session also mean we must keep pushing to advance our City Bar-proposed bills.  We coordinate with legislative staff, other interested organizations and our involved committee members to ensure we are advancing a bill that reflects as much input and support as we can garner. Even though we are approaching the end of session, bills continue to get introduced, which was the case in the past week when two of our proposals were introduced: one to to modernize the administration of class actions and one to provide a presumption that credit shelter bequests be construed to set aside the maximum amount that may be shielded from both federal and New York state estate taxes.

The City Bar is keeping pace with the Legislature’s busiest season. Working with committees and their networks to amplify our reach, we work to keep City Bar positions in clear view to stakeholders and the public alike.