Policy Update: 2022-23 New York State Budget Recap

On April 9th the FY 2022-23 New York State Executive Budget was formally adopted. Here is a roundup of City Bar comments on proposed budget provisions and where those provisions ended up:

  • Judiciary Budget and Civil Legal Services Funding.
    The Council on Judicial Administration called on the Legislature and Governor to accept the 2022-23 Budget Request of the Unified Court System in its entirety. The pandemic has severely strained court operations and has only created a greater need for sufficient access to justice. The Judiciary Budget was ultimately adopted.
  • Increase 18-b Compensation. The Council on Children supported an increase in this year’s budget to the rates paid to attorneys who are assigned pursuant to County Law Article 18-B to represent parents and children, and to provide increased funding for parent representation. This would also include increased compensation rates for assigned counsel who represent indigent clients in Surrogate’s Court and Criminal Court. The Council also supported the request of the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to increase the funding for improving parent representation to $9 million from the $2.5 million initially proposed in the budget. 18-b attorneys are currently compensated at a rate of $75/hour – far below the average rate of compensation for attorneys in this state – and have received only two raises in the last 32 years. The Council argued that “failure to adequately fund these services has resulted in further marginalization of the thousands of Black and brown families who depend on court-appointed legal counsel to represent them in matters of the utmost fundamental importance, including the separation of families by the state.” Despite language being initially included in both the Senate and Assembly’s one-house budget bills to increase 18-b rates, the final budget ultimately excluded any of the increases supported by the Council. The City Bar plans to continue to advocate for this much-needed increase by supporting stand-alone legislation (A.6013-A / S.3527-A) outside of the budget.
  • Rolling Back Critical Criminal Justice Reforms. 
    With about two weeks to go before the final budget was due, a proposal from the Governor’s Office to roll back some criminal justice reforms passed in recent years related to bail, raising the age of criminal responsibility and discovery was leaked to the press. The proposal threw a significant wrench into budget negotiations and caused criminal justice reform advocates to jump into action. The City Bar, through its Civil Rights Committee, Corrections & Community Reentry Committee, Criminal Courts Committee, Criminal Justice Operations Committee and Mass Incarceration Task Force, added its voice to the chorus opposing these rollbacks by issuing a statement urging the Governor and Legislators to reject the proposal. The committees argued that the reforms being targeted for rollbacks have been falsely vilified as the source of increases in crime nationwide that began during the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is a need to address concerns about crime and safety, “blaming the wrong cause means we ignore the right solutions.” In addition, making significant policy changes out of public view and during the last week of budget negotiations is not an effective way to address community safety. While the final budget did include some changes to bail and discovery, the rollbacks were more modest than what was initially proposed. The hard work of advocates, impacted New Yorkers and lawyers mitigated the potential harm threatened by the initial rollback plan. We applaud the work of our committees and other advocates and welcome the opportunity to have an open and transparent debate in the normal course of the legislative session about how to address community safety concerns and ensure existing criminal justice reforms are being implemented in ways that are effective and accomplish their intended goals.
  • Reforming Ethics Oversight in New York.
    The Government Ethics & State Affairs Committee has long called for the reform, and ultimate replacement, of the Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE) with a truly independent ethics oversight commission. Following Kathy Hochul’s rise to Governor following Andrew Cuomo’s resignation, she indicated her support for replacing JCOPE and put forward a proposal in her budget to create a new commission. While the proposal had some flaws, the Government Ethics & State Affairs Committee ultimately supported the proposal as “[going] a long way toward addressing the structural flaws that have plagued JCOPE” because, among other things, it removed from elected officials the ability to directly appoint the JCOPE commissioners. After it became clear that the Senate and Assembly had concerns about the Governor’s proposal, the Committee joined with watchdog groups Reinvent Albany, Citizens Union, the Committee to Reform the State Constitution, Common Cause/NY, League of Women Voters of New York State, New York Public Interest Research Group and the Sexual Harassment Working Group to put forward a separate proposal that attempted to respond to concerns raised by the Governor and the Legislature while also maintaining the commission’s independence from the elected officials it is charged with overseeing. Despite extensive advocacy by our groups, the final budget adopted a new ethics commission (the Commission on Ethics and Lobbying in Government) that fails to achieve the independence needed to restore public confidence or to oversee the state’s most powerful elected officials without fear or favor. The new commission was opposed by the City Bar and watchdog groups, along with many news editorial boards. The Government Ethics & State Affairs Committee plans to continue its advocacy in this area to ensure that New York has a truly independent and effective statewide ethics oversight agency. 
  • Permit Hybrid Format Under the Open Meetings Law. The Government Ethics & State Affairs Committee called for the adoption of legislation amending the Open Meetings Law to require open meetings and public hearings to be held in a hybrid format following the experiment of remote meetings during the pandemic. This experiment demonstrated that government agencies were generally able to hold such meetings using these now widely available technologies and that these technologies can make it easier for some members of the public to attend (e.g., those with disabilities, obligations of childcare, or who are unable to leave their place of work at the time of the open meeting). However, since not everyone has access to the resources and know-how to attend open meetings via video conference, the Committee argued that public meetings should be available in a hybrid format, allowing interested parties to attend virtually or in-person. The final budget included a provision to permit open meetings to be conducted by video conference, in-person or both. The provision has a 3-year sunset date so it will be important to monitor developments.
  • Creating Greater Equity in the Medicaid Eligibility Rules. 
    The Legal Problems of the Aging Committee supported budget language that would align Medicaid eligibility limits for older adult New Yorkers and adult New Yorkers with disabilities with those that apply to single adults, childless couples and families under the Affordable Care Act. The Committee supported these changes because they will improve continuity of coverage for Medicaid beneficiaries as, currently, a New Yorker on Medicaid who turns 65 or becomes eligible for Medicare as a result of disability must meet a lower income threshold and an asset test in order to continue Medicaid coverage. These changes will also ensure greater access to healthcare and services for older adults and adults with disabilities, as Medicaid provides financial protection from health and long-term care costs, including costs remaining after, and those simply not paid by Medicare or other health insurance coverage. While the final budget language was different from what was initially proposed, the income limit was raised to the amount supported by the Committee. The asset test was unfortunately not eliminated, but will be higher than it was previously. Finally, the asset limit will be tied to the income limit so when one is raised, the other will automatically be raised as well.

In the end, as happens every year after the budget passes, there is still more work to be done!  We look forward to continuing our advocacy with our dedicated and expert committee members, up to and including the last scheduled session day of June 2. To view the City Bar’s full 2022 State Legislative Agenda, click here.