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Climate, transparency, gun laws all on Gov. Cuomo’s State of State agenda

Governor Andrew Cuomo kicked off the 2020 legislative session in Albany Wednesday by delivering his annual State of the State address.

“Making Progress Happen” was the theme of Gov. Cuomo’s tenth address, which outlined dozens of policy initiatives for the upcoming year.

In the weeks leading up to the event, the governor touted three dozen proposals included in this year’s agenda. Unlike last year’s address, which combined the governor’s budget, Wednesday’s speech focused primarily on Mr. Cuomo’s vision for the state, which is facing a $6 billion shortfall. The governor is expected to present the budget separately later this month.

He acknowledged that “daunting challenges” lie ahead for the state but argued that no economic, social justice or any other policy will be “worth a damn if we don’t have a planet to live on.”

From environmental proposals to health care and gun laws, here are several key proposals Gov. Cuomo laid out for the new year.

Less styrofoam—and bolder climate change goals

The governor proposed a “Restore Mother Nature” initiative, a $3 billion environmental bond act that would fund coastline resiliency projects throughout the state. The aggressive plan would restore wetlands, reclaim floodplains, upgrade fish hatcheries and restock millions of shellfish off the coast of Long Island which he said have been “destroyed” by humans.

He also called for continued expansion of renewable energy and a ban on styrofoam food containers. If approved, it would go into effect by 2022. A Suffolk County law recently went into effect that bans single-use plastic straws and styrofoam containers at food establishments throughout the county. A state law passed last year to ban plastic bag goes into effect in March.

More transparency, affordability when it comes to health care

Gov. Cuomo wants to empower New Yorkers by making it easier to compare healthcare costs. He proposed creating a new website, NYHealthcare Compare, to allow consumers to compare the cost and quality of various procedures around the state and provide other resources such as financial assistance options and how to handle a surprise bill.

As the price of insulin skyrockets, Gov. Cuomo has proposed capping insulin co-payments at $100 per month for those with insurance. Diabetics have reported rationing, skipping doses and not filling their prescriptions due to the costs, which averaged $5,705 in 2016, Mr. Cuomo said. In 2019, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis became the first to enact a bill capping insulin costs at $100.

The governor also called on the State Department of Financial Services to investigate “significant spikes” in prescription drug prices and introduced legislation that would require drug manufacturers to justify the increases or face fines and pay restitution to consumers.

Gov. Cuomo’s proposal also calls for the formation of a commission to investigate potential consumer savings from importing drugs from Canada and what a drug importation program would look like.

Stricter gun laws

Gov. Cuomo unveiled a new law that would amend the New York State Penal Law to prevent individuals who commit “serious offenses” out of state from obtaining NY gun licenses. Current state law prohibits individuals from receiving gun licenses if they commit misdemeanors related to domestic violence, forcible touching and other sex offenses as well as unlicensed possession of a firearm. The law does not prohibit individuals from obtaining gun licenses after committing comparable misdemeanors in other states.

The governor would also like to see a ban on “ghost guns” — kits that can be purchased online and assembled at home without a traceable serial number. Gov. Cuomo’s proposal would require all major parts of a gun to hold a serial number and ban individuals from obtaining components of a firearm online. Instead, the parts would have to be shipped to a licensed gun dealer and picked up in person.

Governor Andrew Cuomo delivers his 2020 State of the State Address to the Legislature. (Credit: Darren McGee/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Opioids

Under the governor’s proposal, highly potent synthetic fentanyl analogs would be banned and subject to the same criminal sale and possession penalties as other controlled substances. The legislation would also allow new fentanyl analogs, which are similar in chemical makeup, to be banned as they are added to the federal schedule of controlled substances.

Mr. Cuomo said the legislation would effectively close a loophole, since it is not currently against NYS law to sell an unscheduled fentanyl analog unless it is mixed with a banned substance.

“Last year we saw the first decline in opioid deaths in 10 years. Thank God,” Mr. Cuomo said. Despite the decline, there has been an uptick in fentanyl-related overdose deaths. Just three milligrams of fentanyl can be fatal, according to health officials.

The governor’s proposal also includes several ways to expand access to medication for those struggling with substance abuse, including using telehealth and mobile clinics.

Ban flavored vaping, allow marijuana

“Big tobacco has come back to life in a different wrapper,” Gov. Cuomo said Wednesday as he vowed to ban flavored nicotine vaping products in New York.

The ban would include menthol flavors and restrict advertisements targeted at youth. The bill would also ban unregulated carrier oils, which have been identified as a concern in vaping-related illnesses and deaths.

After the proposal died last year, Gov. Cuomo again called for a legal, safe path towards recreational marijuana. He suggested working with neighboring states that are also considering legal recreational to coordinate the system. 

Last year, state lawmakers took steps to decriminalize marijuana for less than two ounces and expunged the records for those with low-level prior convictions.

Other initiatives

Speaking for more than an hour, the governor highlighted several other priorities for the upcoming year. They included cracking down on robocalls, advancing net neutrality protections, expanding sick leave, allowing paid gestational surrogacy, lifting the “pink tax” on women’s goods and services and revamping the state’s alcohol laws to allow movie theaters to sell alcohol. Under that proposal, adults with tickets to movies rated PG-13 or higher could purchase one alcoholic beverage at a time.

The governor has touted several infrastructure proposals in recent weeks, including a new lodge at Whiteface Mountain, $300 million reimagining of the Erie Canal, and $9 million drone testing facility at the Griffiss International Airport in upstate Rome, New York.

Mr. Cuomo did not address the recently enacted bail-reform laws that have generated bipartisan criticism. Earlier this week, speaking at an event in Manhattan where he unveiled plans to add eight tracks to Penn Station, Gov. Cuomo conceded that the bill needs to be tweaked.

“I am confident that we can do all of this,” the governor told Albany lawmakers. “Yes, this is robust. Yes, it’s aggressive. But we’re going to make it happen.”