Highlights of FY 2020-21 State Budget From NYSBA’s Government Relations Team

By Ron Kennedy, Dov Abramovsky & Adriel Colon-Casiano

Capitol Building

NYSBA’s government relations team continues to analyze New York State’s FY 2020-21 budget, which was adopted this past week. Here are some highlights:

Changes to the 2019 Bail Reform Law and Discovery Laws

The budget makes adjustments to the 2019 Bail Reform Law. The adjustments clarify the options available to judges for non-monetary conditions of release, options that can condition release, the ability to require mental health referrals, and make certain offenses bail eligible. Sex trafficking, certain money laundering offenses, child pornography, and crimes that result in death are now bail eligible. Repeat offenders may now also be bail eligible.

The budget extended the period of time in which a prosecutor must provide discovery documents to the defense.

Addressing a Rise in Domestic Terrorism

A new domestic terrorism law is designed to make acts of domestic terrorism motivated by hate into an A-1 felony with a punishment of life in prison without parole. Specific definitions of what constitutes an act of domestic terrorism motivated by hatred as compared to the current treatment of hate crimes have yet to be established.

Commission on Judicial Compensation

The budget provides that the Commission should review compensation of state judges and report later in 2020.

Emergency or Disaster Treatment Protection Act

The budget enacted law to limit the liability of health care providers in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.  The new provisions essentially increase the standard of liability to willful or intentional criminal misconduct, gross negligence, reckless misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.

Some Private Projects Required to Pay Prevailing Wage

The budget places a prevailing wage mandate on private projects that receive a substantial public subsidy. Private projects where at least 30% of construction expenses are paid for through public grants, tax credits, or other state incentive programs will be required to pay a prevailing wage to their employees. Generally, a prevailing wage is a higher rate per hour along with additional worker protections than traditionally offered market rates. Private projects smaller than $5 million are not subject to the new mandate.

Supporting Veterans and Law Enforcement with Suicide Prevention Strategies

The budget appropriates a $1 million pool of money to partner with organizations on suicide prevention efforts for veterans, law enforcement, and first responders. State agencies were also directed to expand suicide prevention strategies for those groups. Under this directive, the Office of Mental Health will roll out a new campaign to reduce the stigma of mental illness. To assist with these initiatives, the state will convene a panel of stakeholders and experts in this issue at the annual Suicide Prevention Conference.

New York Employers Required to Provide Paid Sick Leave

Language in the budget requires most New York employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Under the new law, employers with 100 or more employees are required to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave annually, employers with less than 100 but more than four must provide at least five days of paid sick leave. Employers with four or fewer employees must provide five days of job-protected unpaid sick leave. Employers with existing sick leave policies in conformity with the law may retain their paid sick leave policy.

Prohibitions on the “Pink Tax”

The budget creates new anti-discrimination legislation focused on eliminating inequitable market conduct by requiring price equality for substantially similar or like-kind goods and services. Certain service providers are now required to provide price lists upon request for substantially similar or like-kind standard services, and must give notice that price-based gender discrimination is prohibited.  Penalties can be levied against operators who violate the law.

A 2015 study by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that 42% of the time, products targeted at women were more expensive than those marketed to men. Products aimed at women cost an average of 7% more than similar items for men, and personal care products for women were priced 13% higher than men’s products, according to the study. This difference in prices has become colloquially known as the “Pink Tax”, because of its disparate effect on women’s products, often sold in pink packaging.

Legalizing Gestational Surrogacy

In support those dealing with fertility issues in family planning and LGBTQ families, New York has legalized gestational surrogacy. The law will establish rules for how to hire a surrogate and protect their rights as well as guaranteeing all parties are fully informed and consent. Additionally, the law will create a surrogate’s Bill of Rights to ensure surrogates have control over their healthcare decisions. The bill will also streamline the non-biological parents’ path to adopting the resulting child, also known as “second-parent adoption.”

Bank Investment in Underserved Communities

Over the next five years, the budget has appropriated $25 million to the New York Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI). CDFI recipients are often small, regional financial service providers, usually focusing on low income and minority communities. This funding will be used to generate an aggregate $30 million in lending to underserved and underdeveloped communities across New York. Additionally, the plan will create a new office based in the Department of Financial Services, the Office of Financial Inclusion and Empowerment. The new office’s purpose is to help low, and middle-income New Yorkers across the state get access to better banking and lending.

Medicaid Redesign Team II

The Legislature approved proposals of the Medicaid Redesign Team II, intended to restrict eligibility and save state funds.  One significant provision will allow a 30-month look back relating to the transfer of assets prior to application for Medicaid-funded community care.  The transfer of assets during the look-back period will result in a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits.

Legalizing E-Bikes in New York

As of February 2019, New York State categorizes e-bikes as motorized vehicles and requires they be registered with the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. At the time however, New York’s DMV did not permit the registration of e-bikes, so they were illegal to ride on city streets. The new budget seems to address this issue by allowing e-bikes and e-scooters to be considered motor vehicles. Specific language on how this will be implemented is forthcoming. It is likely to be phased in over the course of the next year with the possibility of some townships or cities to get waivers.

Relief for Debt Collection of Student Loans

The new budget has created the Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program, a first in the nation program, designed explicitly for need-based loan forgiveness for students. This program, done in conjunction with the Excelsior program, will make New York the most higher education friendly state for consumers in the USA, with many students getting free tuition and many others having their loans forgiven. The budget has also added new standards to help regulate the student debt relief industry. These services have been accused of not providing real relief to students and charge substantial fees. Student debtors can now receive actual debt relief services via state programs at no cost.

Authorized the Creation of a $3 Billion Restore Mother Nature Bond Act

The budget authorizes the creation of a Bond Act to fund critical environmental restoration and climate mitigation projects in every corner of the state to ensure New York is able to adapt to the intensifying impacts of climate change, and reduce emissions.

Permanently Banning Hydrofracking

The enacted budget codifies the ban on the Department of Environmental Conservation approving permits that would authorize an applicant to drill, deepen, plug back or convert wells that use high-volume hydraulic fracturing as a means to complete or recomplete a well. In addition, it places a moratorium on future gelled propane hydrofracking applications until the department can conduct an analysis of the impacts of this completion method.

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