Last Wednesday, Common Cause New York hosted a conference call to urge the state legislature to address a myriad of issues through legislation, including expanding absentee voting for the June primary election.
Other advocates and organizations, such as TenantsPAC, Drug Policy Alliance and survivors of child sex abuse, have also requested legislators to stay in remote session to address issues like housing reform, marijuana legalization and extending the Child Victim’s Act look-back window.
“The legislature has the technology to work remotely,” said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause NY. “Lawmakers really just need to use it, staff has to set it up.”
According to the group, both the Assembly and the State Senate have passed resolutions and rules changes that allow legislators to vote remotely.
“Democracy doesn’t pause,” Lerner said. “It adapts.”
Last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that all New Yorkers can cast an absentee vote for the presidential primary and special elections set for June 23.
Though issuing the executive order is an important step, Lerner said there are more details that need to be filled in through legislation.
“We don’t want to see New York have an election debacle the way Wisconsin did,” she said.
Lerner said one of the advantages of expanded absentee voting is that it’s not a new system, and that voters are already familiar with it. However, she acknowledged that there will need to be extensive voter education about the changes.
Bronx State Senator Gustavo Rivera assured that the legislature will continue the rest of session.
“It’s important for us to have a presence in our policymaking and legislative capacity,” he said.
One of his top priorities will be passing the New York Health Act, a bill to create a single-payer health care system in the state. Rivera said unless the state can secure access to health care for every New Yorker, health crises will continue to occur.
“If the current crisis doesn’t give us a sense of why this is so important, I don’t know what does,” he said. “I believe it’s time to have that discussion.”
Hudson Valley State Senator James Skoufis said there is a “tremendous amount” of work remaining in the months ahead, including dealing with the fallout from the virus.
“Once we get through this roughest period, our attention will turn toward how we deal with the rubble this virus has left us,” he said.
Skoufis said there are still local issues that need to be taken up and addressed in the legislature. So far, most of that has been “in suspension.”
“The people who elect us expect us to work and lead by example,” he added. “We are full steam ahead.”
Assemblyman Ron Kim said in the conference call that lawmakers should be discussing what revenue bills to pass, including how to tax ultra-millionaires in the state.
“I see remote voting not as a challenge, but as an opportunity to leverage our technology to be more transparent,” he said, “to work in partnership with the public.”