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Major issues are still up in the air as the 2024 New York state legislative session nears the end

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul advocates for bills regulating children's social media feeds on May 22, 2024.
Don Pollard
Office of Gov. Kathy Hochul
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul advocates for bills regulating children's social media feeds on May 22, 2024.

The last scheduled week of the legislative session begins Monday, but so far, there’s no agreement and a lot of disconnect on items such as combating climate change and regulating kids’ social media feeds.

Gov. Kathy Hochul is making a push to ban tech companies from using harmful algorithms to influence children’s social media feeds. She has cited data that shows increased use of social media by children and teens is linked to increased rates of depression, anxiety, and even suicide.

“And this darkness lives on platforms like Instagram, TikTok,” Hochul said. “These are ruled by addictive algorithms designed to draw the young people deeper and deeper into that darkness over and over.”

The SAFE Act for Kids would restrict companies from using the algorithms without parental consent. The Child Data Protection Act would prohibit online platforms from collecting and sharing children’s personal data without consent.

Hochul said they are the only bills that she is pushing for as the session ends.

andrea stewart cousins standing behind a podium with the New York State Senate seal
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins updates the media on the state budget talks on Wednesday, April 19, 2023.

But Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Hochul has not yet spoken to her about the measures. She said their staffs are trying to work out the details.

“I don't want to make it sound like there are no conversations, but she has not personally reached out to me,” Stewart-Cousins said. “We're continuing to do our work to try and get legislation over the finish line.”

The Senate and Assembly, both led by Democrats, are not on the same page when it comes to several environmental measures.

The Climate Change Superfund Act has passed in the Senate, but not the Assembly. It would require fossil fuel companies to pay for climate change mitigation.

The NY HEAT Act, which would end the practice of allowing utility ratepayers to subsidize the cost of new gas line hookups, was also approved in the Senate but has stalled in the Assembly.

Meanwhile, the Assembly has advanced a bill to reduce plastic packaging by 50%, while the Senate is considering weakening the measure to require a 30% reduction in packaging instead.

The two houses also disagree on how to fix a legal loophole that resulted in the state’s highest court overturning the rape conviction of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The Court of Appeals ruled that the prosecutor erred when he included testimony from three women who also said that Weinstein sexually assaulted them because the alleged incidents were not part of the charges against him in the trial.

The Senate passed a bill to allow the testimony in sexual abuse cases, but some Assembly Democrats objected. That led the Assembly sponsor, Amy Paulin, to warn that Weinstein, who will be retried later this year, and others like him could go free in the future.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meets with reporters on Feb. 27, 2024.
Karen DeWitt
New York Public News Network
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie meets with reporters on Feb. 27, 2024.

“I was devastated, because I believe that without this change, serial rapists will not be convicted in New York as easily as they should be,” Paulin said.

Opponents, including the Legal Aid Society, have said the bill, as written, is “overly broad” and could lead to more wrongful convictions.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said some of his Democratic members need more time to think through a fix and don’t want to agree to anything that could have adverse consequences.

“We're never going to apologize for being a deliberative house,” Heastie said.

He said at least 20 Assembly members who are also attorneys expressed concern about the bill.

“We all want to protect sexual assault victims,” he said. “But they also believe in the law and believe in the Constitution, and in equal protections of the Constitution. So it's not something that they take lightly.”

Even though there are few final agreements, deals at the Capitol often come together at the last minute. Heastie said there is still plenty of time.

“We still have five and a half more days,” he said, “which in Albany time is a lifetime.”

The session is scheduled to end June 7, but lawmakers could work into the weekend if they believe they are close on major bills.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.