The 2018 blue wave brought progressive change around the country and its impact was especially powerful in New York. Progressive legislation has stalled for years in New York State (NYS) because of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), a group of breakaway Democratic senators who maintained a power-sharing agreement with the Republican Caucus. In 2018, Indivisible groups and progressive advocates in NY worked hard to replace most IDC members with genuinely progressive Democratic senators.
As a result of this political activism, NYS is a new blue trifecta, meaning Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governorship. Now it’s time to make New York State into a national progressive leader. Our new blue trifecta gives us the power to pass innovative policy and become a bellwether for progressives nationwide. We have a lot of years of stalled legislation to make up for!
Indivisible groups are ready to lead this charge. Some New York Democrats are with us—they’ve been just as frustrated by the IDC and the Republican-controlled Senate as we have, and they’re excited to get to work. Some more moderate Democrats are nervous. They’ll finally have to take votes on progressive issues that have stalled in the Senate for years. It’s up to us to hold them accountable.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through how the New York State Legislature operates. For more information on the importance of state advocacy, what motivates state legislators, and how to get started, check out the Indivisible States Guide.
New York State Legislature 101
Legislative sessions in New York last two years. The current two-year legislative session began on January 9, 2019. This means that legislation introduced in January 2019 can be considered in the legislature until the end of 2020. During this two-year session, the legislature convenes in Albany each January through the end of June.
New York has a bicameral legislature, which means there are two chambers: the Assembly and the Senate. The Assembly has 150 members: 106 Democrats, 43 Republicans and one Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. The Senate has 63 members: 40 Democrats and 23 Republicans, with one conservative Democratic Senator, Simcha Felder, who has historically caucused with the Republicans.
A bill must be introduced by a Senator or an Assemblymember. Bills can also be introduced by standing committees, which are groups of legislators that regularly meet to consider legislation on certain topics. The exception to this rule is the yearly budget, which is introduced by the Governor. (More information on the budget process is below.)
After a bill is introduced, the chamber’s leadership (the Assembly Speaker or Senate Majority Leader) refers it to an appropriate standing committee. For instance, a single-payer health care bill would probably first go to the Health Committee. They may hold public hearings and make amendments to the bill as a part of this process. Ultimately, committees can vote to take a few different actions on a bill:
Defeat the bill
Report the bill to the full chamber for a vote
Refer the bill to a second relevant committee for consideration—this is called dual referral
Hold the bill for consideration, effectively killing it
All bills with a “fiscal note” (which is a required expenditure of state money), must also pass the Assembly Ways & Means and the Senate Finance committees in addition to the standing committee to which they are referred.