Update on Our Advocacy Work (COVID-19 Response): From the Policy Department

Elizabeth Kocienda,  Director of Advocacy

During this unprecedented and challenging time, we are facing many unknowns and necessary changes, including adjusting to “work-from-home” arrangements.  While our immediate concern is public health and safety, with an unclear timeline for how long this new normal will last, many are wondering how to stay engaged.  Our committees have always been active in undertaking policy work and that is not going to change in the current environment, even as priorities shift. In fact, in just the last week, our members have helped draft multiple statements in response to the COVID-19 pandemic at the local, state, federal and international levels. 

Here, in response to the many member inquiries we’ve received, we write to inform, as best we can, on the current legislative environments in Albany and New York City.

Albany.   While legislative activities continue to take place, the focus has shifted almost exclusively to responding to COVID-19. The Governor is leading the charge to ‘flatten the curve’ and prevent further spread of the disease while the Legislature is both aiding in those efforts and trying to respond with policy solutions to the wide-range of health, social and economic issues that have and will arise as a result of the virus. The State’s budget is due by April 1st; negotiations continue between the Governor and legislative leaders, and it has been reported they are seeking to finish the budget early.  The Senate and Assembly have not released their one-house budget bills as is typical practice, instead opting to work solely off the Governor’s proposal. It is not clear if some of the more controversial items that were being discussed in the context of the budget (i.e. marijuana legalization, changes to the new bail law, legalizing compensated gestational surrogacy, etc.) will be addressed, although it seems safe to assume that most will fall out of the budget if a quick compromise can’t be reached.  Beyond the adoption of the budget, much is unknown. Legislators have already closed their district offices, visitors are barred from the Capitol, in-person meetings have been put on hold until further notice and session days may be cancelled as legislators practice social distancing. The legislative session was scheduled to be on a truncated timeline this year, ending the first week in June, to accommodate primaries.  It is possible that the calendar will change as the facts and impact of the pandemic continue to unfold. We are monitoring events closely and will provide updates as they become available.    

City Council.  The City Council has currently suspended all hearings and staff meetings, with all offices being vacated and staff told to work from home.  The City’s budget is not due to be finalized until June and will certainly be impacted by the COVID-19 response.  All of the same uncertainties and challenges that are present in Albany are also present here.

Advocacy going forward.  For the near future, our top priorities will be responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and facilitating committee reports related to budget items.  Beyond the budget, we will continue to work closely with committees to identify and address COVID-19 related issues and ensure that whatever we say is broadly and effectively distributed.  However, we fully expect and encourage committees to continue their other policy work and perhaps even revisit some older policy positions that require updating. As we get a handle on how the various legislative bodies will be operating, we will be in a better position to identify issues that may move and will shift our advocacy strategies as needed to operate in this new environment.  You can expect a much greater focus on social media and electronic communications, and we will do our best to engage members in those efforts. Please make sure to follow us on Twitter and check the eNews for further updates as they become available.