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2023 legislative session to begin Wednesday, amid some controversies

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New York Now
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The New York State Capitol.

The New York State legislative session begins Wednesday amid controversy over Governor Kathy Hochul’s choice for New York’s next chief judge and a dispute on whether a newly elected Republican Assembly member will be allowed to be seated.

The session opens three days after Hochul gave her inaugural address, beginning her first full elected term.

“And now as I stand before you, humbled by this honor, I’m ready to take on the fight,” Hochul pledged.

The governor gives her State of the State message on Jan. 10, and her budget address at the end of the month.

In the meantime, Hochul, a Democrat, faces pushback from her own party members — Democrats who lead the state Senate — over her choice for the next chief judge of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. About a dozen progressive-leaning senators say some of Hector LaSalle’s rulings as a judge in a mid-level appeals court are too conservative.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman spoke shortly after Hochul announced her choice in late December.

“This is a high bar that we are going to require of this nomination,” said Hoylman, who added LaSalle’s record of opinions, as well as his judicial “vision,” will be examined.

In the State Assembly, there’s another storm brewing over whether newly elected Brooklyn Assemblyman Lester Chang can take his seat.

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Karen DeWitt
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New York State Public Radio
Assemblymember Lester Chang is sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2023.

Chang, a Republican, was sworn in Tuesday before members of the Assembly Minority Conference. Chang, who served in the U.S. Navy and is an Afghanistan War veteran, told the audience that he’s looking forward to beginning his term.

“I’m ready for my next set of orders,” Chang said to applause. “I’m ready to go.”

Questions have been raised over whether Chang lives in the district that he represents or in an apartment that he rents in Manhattan. Under the rules, Assembly members must live in their district for a full year before they are elected. Some of the Democrats who control the Assembly want to block Chang from taking his seat.

Chang said he’s ready to take legal action if they move against him during the opening day of session.

“I’m duly elected by the people,” Chang said. “Everything else, my legal team will address those issues.”

Democrats did not raise questions about Chang’s residency until late November, after he had already defeated longtime incumbent Democrat Peter Abbate.

Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said the time has passed for those challenges.

“Lester was duly elected by the people of Brooklyn,” Barclay said. “The time to challenge residency on all that was before the election.”

Mike Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly Democrats, said according to state law, since Chang won the election, his term began on Jan. 1, and that won’t be challenged.

“However, the Legislature will be formally organized tomorrow (Wednesday), and that body will consider his qualifications to serve,” Whyland said.

If Chang is removed from the Assembly, it would trigger a special election for the seat.

Legislators begin 2023 with a $32,000 pay raise. On New Year’s Eve, Hochul signed into law a bill passed on Dec. 22 that increases base pay for senators and Assembly members from $110,000 a year to $142,000.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.