The New York State Bar Association’s 2023 Government Relations Legislative Update
The New York State Bar Association’s Government Relations Department had its most productive legislative session in years during 2023. Significant NYSBA priorities were signed into law, including a major increase in hourly rates for attorneys in 18b/assigned counsel cases, the Clean Slate Act, amendments to Notary Requirements, and the formation of a commission to study reparations. Additionally, 2023 saw a major step towards amending the NYS Constitution to include an Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). This was all in connection with robust advocacy by NYSBA President Richard C. Lewis, our government affairs staff, and our amazing volunteer leadership.
When 2023 New York State legislative session came to an end on June 8th, the Bar had seen a number of bills that NYSBA supported pass both the Assembly and Senate. Over the summer and into the fall, the Government Relations team continued to work to ensure our members’ voices were heard when it comes to the policies they care about, as we advocated for the Governor to sign key pieces of legislation. Ultimately the success of the 2023 Legislative Session continued with the Governor signing many of the Association’s legislative priorities into law.
State Legislative Victories/ Bills Signed by the Governor
- The Clean Slate Act (7551/A.1029) was signed by the Governor on November 16th, 2023. NYSBA has long supported this initiative to seal the records of New Yorkers who complete their sentences and remain out of trouble for a set amount of time – three years for those convicted for misdemeanors, and eight years for those convicted of eligible felonies. This important improvement for justice will take effect in late 2024. Regardless, sex crimes, murder and most other class A felonies will not be eligible for automatic sealing.
- Affirmations (S.5162/A.5772). On October 25, 2023, the Governor chaptered an act to amend the CPLR allowing an affirmation by any person, wherever made, in a civil actions as of January 1st, 2024. As a result, litigants in a civil case may file affidavits and other sworn documents without getting them notarized, eliminating unnecessary delays and needless costs in civil lawsuits.
- The Equal Rights Amendment (S.108-A/A.1283). The Senate and Assembly has now twice passed a resolution to place a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2024. If adopted, more protections will be added to NYS’s constitution. If New York’s voters approve the ERA, the Constitution’s list of protected characteristics that the government cannot discriminate against a person based upon will be expanded ensuring protections from discrimination based on a person’s ethnicity, national origin, age, disability, and sex — including their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, and pregnancy outcomes. It will also protect against government actions that curtail a person’s reproductive autonomy or their access to reproductive health care. The fundamental rights of women continue to be under attack in the United States, along with other discrimination by the government, and adequate protections do not exist. Understanding this reality, the NYSBA has supported this amendment as a priority and is pleased to see it will be making its way to the public ballot in 2024.
- Establishing New York State Community Commission on Reparations Remedies (S1163-A/A7691). The Task Force on Racism, Social Equity, and the Law strongly supported this legislation to establish a Community Commission on Reparations Remedies. The new commission will study and make recommendations regarding appropriate actions to attempt to close New York’s racial wealth gap for descendants of American slaves in our State.
Assigned Counsel Pay Increases
NYSBA’s longstanding policy and advocacy for increased rates for assigned counsel attorneys proved successful in 2023. As a result of policy included in the enacted budget, effective April of 2023, the rates for AFC (attorneys for children) and 18b attorneys have been raised to $158 per hour, and the caps on the applicable cases have been raised to $10,000. NYSBA is sensitive to the fact that ongoing state funding is not guaranteed beyond State Fiscal Year 2024. The New York State Bar Association will continue to advocate that the State ensures renewed funding in the upcoming fiscal year, without placing excessive burdens on local governments. See the Association’s report regarding this issue here.
Along with this advocacy, the Association commenced a lawsuit in November 2022, seeking to compel an increase in the rates of compensation for assigned counsel equal to the federal rate and to provide a mechanism for continued increases. That lawsuit is ongoing.
The Repeal of Judiciary Law 470
NYSBA has been advocating for the repeal of the physical office requirement for lawyers in New York State since 2019 when the House of Delegates, the association’s governing body, approved a proposal to repeal the antiquated statute. The repeal of this law would allow lawyers with a NY license who do not reside in the state to practice in the state without a physical office.
Due to the Bar’s intense advocacy efforts, legislation to repeal Judiciary Law Section 470 (A2218/S3261) passed both houses during the final days of the 2023 legislative calendar. Ultimately, however, in the final days of December 2023, the bill was vetoed by the Governor. In the Governor’s veto message, she expressed that “The State has a responsibility to ensure adequate oversight and regulation of all attorneys practicing in this state…It is important to ensure that New Yorkers have adequate access to representation, including requiring offices to be physically located in New York. Therefore, I am constrained to veto this bill.”
NYSBA’s position has been and remains that the Repeal of 470 will increase access to legal representation for all New Yorkers, particularly for those in rural areas of the states where there is a shortage of lawyers. Repeal of 470 provides the benefit of removal of unnecessary regulation, facilitating commercial and business transactions in New York and assisting access to justice for underserved communities. NYSBA is looking forward to working with the legislative sponsors of the bill to continue to advocate for this important change during the 2024 legislative session.
Testimony from the President
New York State Bar Association President Richard C. Lewis provided testimony on several important issues during 2023.
AT AN OCTOBER HEARING of the Commission on Legislative, Judicial and Executive Compensation, President Lewis provided testimony regarding Judicial Compensation. For more than three decades, NYSBA has been a steadfast supporter of appropriate judicial compensation with a clear message that an independent and well-functioning judiciary, accessible to all, is a cornerstone of a democratic society. Salary stagnation has been an obstacle to retaining qualified and experienced judges and attracting the best attorneys to the bench. The President’s testimony highlighted the need for regularly adjusted salaries to reflect the cost of living, referencing a report adopted by the Association in 2011. The full testimony can be found on our Government Relations page here under the NYSBA Legislative Hearing Testimony tab.
AT A PUBLIC HEARING regarding the resources, operations, culture, and outcomes of New York’s Family Court system held by the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary and the Senate Standing Committee on Children & Families held in November, President Lewis, along with Susan Lindenauer Chair of NYSBA’s Committee on Families and the Law, testified on the importance of ensuring the NYS Family Court has the sufficient resources, training, and reforms necessary to ensure fair treatment for all. The NYSBA has a long and deep commitment to addressing legal issues that impact families and children. Among the many Association sections and committees that have been involved in this important work is the Committee on Families and the Law, which released a report last April that looked at family courts across the state and the child welfare system from a historical perspective, recognizing the many challenges – including inherent structural racism – that exist within these institutions and requires a concrete reform effort to combat. The full testimony can be found on our Government Relations page here under the NYSBA Legislative Hearing Testimony tab.
NYSBA’s 2024 Legislative Priorities
Every year the New York State Bar Association prepares its legislative priorities based on submissions from our members for the Government Relations team. Those submissions are reviewed by our Government Relations Team, voted on by our Legislative Policy Committee, and approved by the Executive Committee.
After a successful legislative session in 2023, with many of the NYSBA’s state policy priorities making it to the Governor’s desk and then into law, we have been able to cross some priorities off the list and move forward with new advocacy efforts. Policies we will continue lobbying for in the new session include raising assigned counsel rates and right to counsel in housing proceedings. In addition, we continue to advocate for reforms to notary requirements. The full list with descriptions can be found here on our website.
Along with the Association’s Legislative Priorities, the Government Relations team will continue to keep our committees and sections apprised of policies they may be interested in, and work on advocating for the various interests our members have. Please visit our Government Relations page to find out more about how you can be involved in our advocacy efforts.
NYSBA in Washington DC
In addition to state priorities, the NYSBA works to lobby for policy and our members’ interests at the federal level. We had an extensive list of federal legislative priorities in 2023 including: Support for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC); Firearms and Mass Shootings; Legislative Reform to Address the Crisis in Immigration Representation; Sealing Records of Criminal Conviction; the Equality Act; Women’s Rights and a Federal Right to Abortion; Modernizing Policing at Key Stages; Voting Rights; Cannabis; Student Loan Relief, and the Insular Cases for the Territories. These priorities are key to the mission of the bar to shape the development of law, educate and inform the public, and respond to the demands of our diverse and ever-changing legal profession. Many of the same priorities will be the focus of our 2024 advocacy efforts; see here for the full list.
NYSBA leadership went to Washington DC in April to lobby for these priorities, during the American Bar Association’s annual lobby days in DC. They met with key members and staff of the New York Congressional delegation including Senator Gillibrand and Democratic Congressional Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, as well as Representatives Garbarino, Lawler, Meng, Molinaro, Morelle, Tonko, and Torres. Additionally, they met with Representative Grijalva of New Mexico and Representative Stacey Plasket of the Virgin Islands who are leading the charge on the insular cases legislation.
While in the nation’s capital, NYSBA had the honor of presenting New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries with the ABA’s Special Recognition award in his leadership office in the Capitol on behalf of the ABA. The award was an acknowledgment of his continued efforts to work across the aisle in support of legislation promoting a more fair and equitable justice system.
In 2024, the Association will continue to advocate for legislation to promote equal access to justice for all on both the State and Federal levels.
Check back for updates throughout the 2024 legislative session.
The Department of Government Relations is located at the New York State Bar Center, One Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207. The Department and NYSBA’s state policy is directed by General Counsel, David P. Miranda and federal policy is directed by Policy Director, Hilary Jochmans. For more information, please contact our Government Relations team at:
Hilary Jochmans | Policy Consultant | [email protected] | (202) 669-3585
Lena Faustel | Policy Manager | [email protected] | (518) 487-5675
Maureen (Moe) Whitcomb | Assistant to the Executive Offices | [email protected] | (518) 487-5652
David P. Miranda, Esq. | General Counsel | [email protected] | (518) 487-5524