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NY's legislative session winds down with gun control bills and a first-of-its-kind ban on crypto mining

The top of the New York State Legislature building, next to a red tree.

State lawmakers concluded their 2022 session by working to pass several gun control and abortion rights bills, as well as a first-in-the-nation two-year ban on cryptocurrency mining.

The state Senate and Assembly methodically worked through mounds of bills as they tried to make their self-imposed deadline to end the session.

In the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo and Texas, lawmakers acted on bills to tighten the state’s gun control laws and close some loopholes. Among the 10 bills approved, no one under 21 would be allowed to buy a semi-automatic rifle, and body armor sales would be banned except to law enforcement and other professionals who are at risk.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said New York cannot “stand idly” by as mass shootings continue. She said she hoped the “common sense” measures will help.

“What we want to do is disrupt a culture that has created a horrific and scary present and future, if we are not willing to say that we are unwilling to continue down this path,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt represents a western New York district and lives 25 minutes from the Tops grocery store in Buffalo where the mass shooting occurred. He said while some of the measures are well-intentioned, they infringe on New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights.

“This has always been the agenda for some of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle. There’s an aversion to gun ownership,” Ortt said. “They want owning a firearm to be a hassle, they want performing your Second Amendment rights to be a hassle.”

Despite that, a handful of Republicans voted for some of the measures.

Hochul, saying she "values life more than guns,” promised to sign the bills very soon.

“This is a moral moment for the people of New York but also for the rest of the nation,” Hochul said. “Follow what we did in New York, and we’ll finally start the beginning of the end of all this gun violence and the massacres that are occurring every day in our country.”

Also approved were bills to protect abortion care providers and patients if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through with a leaked draft opinion and strikes down the 1973 abortion rights decision Roe v. Wade. The measures also provide funding and protections for people who come to New York to get the procedure from states where abortion would be banned.

A constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights to a number of groups and the right to an abortion fell off the table over difficulties on how to structure the amendment.

Stewart-Cousins has not ruled out a return to the Capitol later in the summer to pass the amendment.

“It’s not as easy as you would think,” she said.

In the final hours of the session, the state Senate approved a bill that already passed in the Assembly that would impose a two-year moratorium on some types of crypto mining. The process of creating bitcoin relies on large amounts of energy, and plans to revive old coal-burning plants in the state to power crypto mining have been controversial.

In the Finger Lakes region, there has been significant opposition to using a former coal-burning plant on the shore of Seneca Lake for crypto mining. While the moratorium does not apply to such existing plants, Yvonne Taylor with Seneca Lake Guardian said the measure is still a victory.

She urged Hochul to sign the bill and use her powers as governor to take more steps.

“We need Governor Hochul to go even further and adopt a moratorium on all proof-of-work crypto mining,” Taylor said.

She added using nonrenewable energy sources to power bitcoin mining is “not a viable solution.”

Hochul, who has been endorsed in her run for election by a union that supports jobs at the crypto mining plants, has said she is undecided about the issue.

A pro-tenant measure known as Good Cause Eviction protections did not reach the floor of either house. Housing advocates called its exclusion a “moral failure.”

In addition to a possible summer session to achieve first passage of the equal rights amendment, Hochul has said she may call a special session if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the state’s prohibition on concealed carry weapons. A challenge to that law is now before the court, and a ruling is expected soon.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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