ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — The 2021 New York State legislative session began Wednesday. This year, lawmakers will continue to grapple with several challenging issues resulting from COVID-19 like how to fill the state’s $15 billion budget gap.
The hallways of the Capitol were relatively quiet this year for the first day of session. The building remains closed to the general public, and the majority of lawmakers participated remotely rather than in their seats amid health and safety concerns.
Wednesday, they took care of general proceedings. This year, Democrats have a vetoproof supermajority in the Assembly and the Senate.
“I’m proud to have the first supermajority in modern history and the largest majority ever,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.
Heading into the session, progressive advocates and lawmakers have talked about priorities like legalizing recreational marijuana and raising taxes on the wealthy.
“If we can just get a long-term structural change to the way we raise revenue in this state, we can, I think, ultimately save money in the long run but also create that quality of life that people want and turn our upstate cities into magnets for people to come from all over the country,” said Senator Rachel May.
During Wednesday’s press briefing Governor Andrew Cuomo said that creating a system to “oversee and regulate” recreational marijuana will be part of the 2021 State of the State as well as legalizing online sports betting and running it “the way the state runs the lottery.”
“I’m not here to make casinos a lot of money. I’m here to raise funds for the state. So, we have a different model for sports betting,” the Governor said.
Meanwhile, Republicans say their focus is on helping small businesses.
“I think about our economy, our businesses, that have been put on life support with the lockdowns, with the restrictions without a real end in sight,” said Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt.
After Wednesday, lawmakers won’t hold another session day until Monday. That’s also the day the Governor said he will be “starting” his State of the State address.