The 2020 legislative session has begun like none that we have ever experienced. From the get-go, the State Legislature has been enacting one reform package after another: the Child Victims Act, strengthened gun control laws, access to abortion, college tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants, the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations, gender discrimination, ballot access and limitations on campaign contributions. In the few days of January’s legislative session, the Legislature has enacted more significant legislation than is typical for an entire legislative session. More is to come. The Legislature hasn’t been this breathless since the State’s fiscal crisis of 1974.
The legislative committees are also working at a breakneck pace. Typically, in January, there are few if any committee meetings. This year, by contrast, many committees are meeting, and they are meeting with lengthy agendas.
It is all as though a dam has burst. And, in political terms, a dam has burst. What we are witnessing is the release of the pent up decades-long aspirations of Democrats for control of the State government. With the Senate Democrats overwhelming victories in November, they have a sixteen vote majority in the Senate. This is not like ten years ago when Senate Democrats took brief and precarious control. Democrats are now in full control. Not only are we seeing the Senate Democrats in charge of their house, we are seeing that Assembly Democrats, who for years have controlled their house by overwhelming numbers, were anxious for the Senate Democrats’ success. The common wisdom in Albany has long been that each house went about its business, almost oblivious to the other. Turns out that is not the case. Each house stymied the other. What we thought was indifference was actually a wary diffidence. Now, with Senate Republicans swept out of the way, Assembly Democrats are working in concert with Senate Democrats, resulting in this outpouring of legislation.
You may or may not like the particulars of any of this new legislative unity. What cannot be denied, though, is that the Legislature is proving that it can be productive.
Why is this important for NYSADA’s members? First, if a bad idea gains traction in either house, it will be more difficult to stop. Divided government meant that the two houses acted as checks on one another. The check is gone. What we are also seeing is that Senate Democrats are looking at numerous bills that have previously passed the Assembly but that were never seriously considered in the Senate. Many of these one-house bills never received much attention because they were regarded more as political statements rather than actual efforts to achieve passed legislation. That has changed virtually overnight. NYSADA, like many other groups which can be affected by legislative action, now find that these “political statement” one-house bills must be regarded as serious legislation. They are being introduced in the Senate, and garnering significant consideration. For NYSADA, this means that a principle legislative priority this session will be to prevent the passage of bad legislation, and there is a lot of it out there.
Ensuring that NYSADA’s views will be heard will be doubly difficult this year because of the large number of new legislators in both houses. There are 17 new members in the Senate alone, more than a quarter of the house. Almost twenty-percent of Assembly members are new. All these new members underscore the need for NYSADA’s members to get to know their legislators. When legislators know their dealer constituents, they begin to understand the business. When legislators understand the business, they are much less likely to support legislation that harms the business.
Not all will be defense. The Doc Fee has been too low for too long. Raising the Doc Fee is NYSADA’s highest priority. NYSADA has been working for the enactment of a regulatory amendment to increase the Doc Fee for several years. With the State’s regional associations, we are about to make the final push with the Governor and the Department of Motor Vehicles to see that the Doc Fee is raised this year. In the Legislature, NYSADA will continue the fight for fair dealer compensation when manufacturers issue stop-sell orders. New York must join the other states that have recognized the inequity of this situation. There are real costs to dealers. Dealers deserve compensation. NYSADA is working to see that you get it.