It’s A Wrap: Week Sixteen Of The Legislative Session

This week’s Wrap-up from New York Families Action covers issues such as abortion, drug policy, sexuality and gender identity, and religious freedom.

April 15, 2024

Gov. Hochul Signs Budget Extender

On Monday, April 15, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a budget extender that was set to expire on April 18, 2024. The Governor also held a press conference at which she proclaimed that the “parameters of a conceptual agreement” had been set in regard to the entire state budget. Gov. Hochul’s rather odd pronouncement was met with pushback from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx), Deputy Senate Majority Leader Mike Gianaris (D-Queens), and other legislators who denied that a final budget deal had been reached.

April 16, 2024

Abortion Insurance Mandate Lawsuit Heard by New York Court of Appeals

The New York Court of Appeals, New York’s highest state court, heard oral arguments on April 16 in Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany v. Vullo, a pro-life constitutional challenge to the state’s abortion insurance mandate. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of First Bible Baptist Church in Hilton, New York; Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Colonie, New York, and a group of individuals and entities connected to the Roman Catholic Church.

The lawsuit, which has a complex seven-year procedural history, centers on an executive action taken by the state of New York in 2017. At that time, the state mandated that abortion be covered without copays, coinsurance, or deductibles for anyone whose medical insurance is governed by New York law. This anti-life mandate was codified by the Legislature in the 2022-2023 New York state budget. While the state exempts “religious employers” from the mandate, its narrow definition of “religious employer” excludes faith-based charities and other employers that may object to paying for insurance that includes abortion coverage. Forcing these employers to pay for abortion coverage violates the First Amendment. As plaintiffs’ attorney Michael L. Costello, Esq., explained in a legal brief, “‘the mandate plainly burdens the Religious Objectors’ religious exercise, as it requires them to provide coverage for abortions – an act they consider a grave sin.’”

A decision from the Court of Appeals is expected in May. While it is hoped that the court will uphold the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, the court’s liberal tilt makes such an outcome unlikely. Let’s pray for the Court of Appeals to respect both the sanctity of life and the constitutionally-guaranteed religious freedom of New York’s churches and faith-based charities.

DASA for Nonpublic Schools Bill Approved by State Senate Education Committee

The State Senate Education Committee voted on April 16 to approve Bill S.3180-Hoylman-Sigal/A.1829-Jean-Pierre, a bill that would apply the misleadingly-named Dignity for All Students Act (DASA) to nonpublic schools. This dangerous legislation could receive a vote on the Senate floor as soon as early May.

The DASA for Nonpublic Schools Bill is generally referred to as an anti-bullying bill; however, its true purpose is much more ominous. Properly understood, this bill is an attempt by pro-LGBT politicians to force Christian schools and other religious schools to either submit to state control or close their doors. First, the bill would empower the New York State Education Department to investigate complaints at nonpublic schools. Second, the bill would subject nonpublic schools to intrusive data collection and reporting requirements. Worst of all, the bill would mandate that nonpublic schools—including Christian schools and other religious schools—affirm and accommodate the stated sexual orientations and gender identities of their students. No school can remain truly Christian while also affirming behaviors that the Bible clearly defines as sin. This bill must be stopped.

NOURISH New York Expansion Bill Advances

On April 16, the State Senate Agriculture Committee voted 9-0 to approve Bill S.8690-Hinchey/A.9259-Lupardo, the NOURISH New York Expansion Bill. This bill previously passed the State Assembly on March 9 by a 144-0 vote. The bill has advanced to the Senate Floor Calendar and could receive a vote in early May.

Developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NOURISH New York program helps food-insecure New Yorkers and farmers. Specifically, it empowers “emergency food providers to continue to purchase surplus products from New York farmers and dairy manufacturers and deliver it to New York families in need.”

God calls upon His followers to feed the hungry (Isaiah 58:10) and to care for the poor (Deuteronomy 15:11). Accordingly, New York Families Action has supported the NOURISH New York program since its inception. The NOURISH New York Expansion Bill would add milk to the list of agricultural products provided by the NOURISH New York program. NYFA supports maximizing the healthy food options provided through this program and calls upon the Senate to pass the NOURISH New York Expansion Bill forthwith.

April 17, 2024

Cyberattack Temporarily Disables Bill Drafting Commission

On April 17, 2024, the New York Legislative Bill Drafting Commission fell victim to a cyberattack. According to Spectrum News, the LBDC is the system utilized to print the New York State budget. The cyberattack caused the system to crash temporarily, thus affecting the finalization of the budget. In the wake of the cyberattack, Gov. Kathy Hochul informed New Yorkers that the state was forced to utilize an older system dating back to 1994 to process budget legislation. The Governor also reassured the public that “‘one of the top cybersecurity teams in the entire country’” was working on the problem. Maybe if the Governor had brought that cybersecurity team in sooner, the cyberattack could have been prevented from occurring in the first place.

Drug Contaminant Testing Bill Clears Senate Health Committee

On April 17, the State Senate Health Committee approved Bill S.4880-B-Fernandez/A.7487-A-Kelles; the bill will proceed to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration. The summary of this bill states that it would establish “a drug checking services program to allow individuals to bring drugs or controlled substances and have them tested for contaminants, toxic substances, or hazardous compounds.” The program to be created under this bill would allow people to submit their illegal recreational drugs for testing without being prosecuted.

In recent years, fentanyl—an incredibly potent and dangerous drug—has claimed the lives of thousands of Americans. Sometimes, a drug user may overdose because he is unaware that another drug he is using has been laced with fentanyl. The sponsors of this bill propose to address this serious problem by letting drug users have their drugs tested for contaminants by the government.

While New York Families Action appreciates the sponsors’ concern for the lives and well-being of drug users, we believe that the approach taken by this bill is ill-advised. First, this bill evinces disregard for the rule of law. Second, and more importantly, we fundamentally disagree with the “harm reduction” approach to drug abuse and addiction that is displayed in this bill. There is no way for the government or anyone else to make it “safe” to abuse drugs. Rather than enabling drug users to continue their self-destructive behavior in a “safer” manner, the Legislature should focus its attention on enhancing access to life-saving drug rehabilitation programs.

State Senate Passes Bill to Establish New York State Constitution Day, But Picks the Wrong Day

Also on April 17, the State Senate passed Bill S.280-Gounardes by a margin of 59-0. This bill would establish April 20 as New York State Constitution Day. New York Families Action acknowledges the Senate’s effort to promote respect for our state constitution; however, we respectfully suggest that a different date would be preferable. For many New Yorkers (including Gov. Kathy Hochul), April 20 is associated with marijuana use.

April 18, 2024

State Budget Deadline Extended Again

On April 18, the State Legislature passed a one-day budget extender that was signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul.

April 19, 2024

Newspaper Reports on Proposed Legalization of Psychedelic Mushrooms in New York

On April 19, The New York Times published an in-depth article on efforts to legalize psychedelic mushrooms (often referred to as “shrooms”) in New York. Unfazed by the buffoonish, shambolic rollout of New York’s 2021 recreational marijuana law and its disastrous effects, advocates of drug liberalization are now trying to push their agenda even further. (Is anyone surprised?) “Shroom” supporters contend that psychedelic mushrooms can help people with various physical and mental health problems, and some even claim that they facilitate religious experiences.

The Times article mentions two bills that would legalize “shrooms.” The first, Bill S.3520-A-Fernandez/A.3581-A-Burke, would allow for the medical use of psychedelic mushrooms. The second, Bill A.114-Rosenthal, would allow for “shrooms” to be used for non-medical purposes, but would not allow them to be sold. While the likelihood that either bill will pass this year appears slim, New York Families Action will keep a close eye on each of them and will communicate our opposition to members of the Legislature.

April 20, 2024

State Legislature Finally Finishes Passing Budget Bills

The State Legislature finished passing the 2024-2025 state budget on April 20. A detailed analysis of the budget will be made available in the coming days.