2014 Legislative Session Overview
NYSAC’s Legislative Team has been carefully analyzing bills passed by both the State Assembly and Senate during this State Legislative Session. A brief overview of actions that may impact counties is below; a more detailed report will be released in the coming weeks.
Over the course of the just-concluded State Legislative Session, state lawmakers passed a total of 2,603 bills. Since January 1, 2014, the Senate passed 1,460 bills. Assembly passed 1,143. Of these, 658 passed both houses; 500 of which passed in the last two weeks of the legislative session.
Post-Budget Legislative Action
The post-budget legislative priorities for the Governor and Legislative Leaders included:
1) Public Financing of Campaigns
2) The DREAM Act, state-financed tuition assistance to undocumented NY children
3) Women’s Equality Act (all 10 planks)
4) Minimum Wage increase
5) Heroin and Drug Abuse Legislation
6) Legalization of Medical Marijuana
7) Changes to the common core and teacher evaluation requirements
The first four items on the list were not passed, and as the session drew to a close the Governor focused his efforts on garnering agreements on the final three items. The package of 11 bills to address the heroin abuse epidemic in New York and the legalization of medical marijuana will impact county government operations. The full effect will not be known until regulations are put into place to define these two programs.
Heroin and Drug Abuse Legislation
A package of 11 bills has been signed into law. The package is designed to increase criminal penalties for selling heroin and related drugs, provide a statewide public health and safety education campaign about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse, increase resources to assist law enforcement and substance abuse and public health officials in dealing with the epidemic, and also modify state insurance law to require coverage of certain substance abuse inpatient and outpatient detox and rehabilitation.
Each of these elements will have an impact on county public health, mental health, public safety operations as well as impacting counties as employers due to the new health insurance mandate.
Legalizing Medical Marijuana
A comprehensive bill that legalizes the use of medical marijuana was passed by the Legislature and agreed to by the Governor. The bill requires regulatory standards and public safety systems be put in place before any marijuana derivatives are available for medical purposes. The bill controls the types of illness that can be treated with medical marijuana and lays out a strict enforcement and distribution system for manufacturing and dispensing the drug. The bill envisions at least 18 months before any medical marijuana is dispensed.
The bill does provide revenue-sharing to counties that host marijuana manufacturing facilities or dispensaries. The law provides for five in-state manufacturers that may each operate up to four dispensaries. To support the regulatory, health monitoring, licensing, and security infrastructure necessary to implement the law, a 7 percent excise tax will be imposed on the retail cost of the drugs (not to be paid at point-of-sale by the consumer). Of the total excise taxes collected:
* 22.5 percent is to be set aside and distributed to counties that host a manufacturer of medical marijuana;
* 22.5 percent is to be set aside and distributed to counties that host a medical marijuana dispensary;
* Funds are distributed based on a county’s proportionate share of the manufacturing and dispensing total statewide.
Home Rule Authority
The 2014 Legislative year does not encompass the major sales tax renewal period for most counties, which occurs every other year, but a handful of counties required renewal of local revenue items (or sought authority to establish new revenue options) including the mortgage recording tax, hotel occupancy tax, personal income tax for NYC, wireless public safety surcharge, real estate transfer tax and red light or speed cameras. This is in addition to dozens of other home rule bills which may or may not have had a revenue impact for counties.
As has been the case in recent years, bills establishing new or increasing existing local revenues have been difficult to get through the State Legislature. Extensions of local revenue authority have been adopted more regularly, but even these bills can face challenges for counties. About 10 bills sought to establish a new, or increase an existing, revenue option (outside of sales tax) over the last two years, but only three were passed by both houses in 2014: two were related to establishing a $.30 cellular surcharge to support 911 public safety operations and the other authorized Nassau and Suffolk to install speed cameras in school zones.
NYSAC’s 2014 Fall Seminar: September 22-24
The 2014 NYSAC Fall Seminar will take place September 22-24 at the Hyatt/Buffalo Niagara Convention Center in Buffalo (Erie County). Further details and registration will be available soon.
In Other News
Court of Appeals ruling: A local government can ban oil, gas mining activities
On June 30, New York State’s highest court ruled that local governments have the home rule authority to ban oil and gas mining. This case includes a local government’s ability to locally ban hydraulic fracturing.
The 5-2 decision upheld the lower court ruling allowing the towns of Dryden and Middlefield to ban these actives through local law stating- as currently written – state laws pertaining to oil and gas mining law do not supersede a local government’s home rule authority.