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New York's legislative session winds down with gun control bills and a ban on crypto mining

The Assembly Chamber is pictured during a legislative session at the state Capitol Friday, April 8, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.
Hans Pennink
The Assembly Chamber is pictured during a legislative session at the state Capitol Friday, April 8, 2022, in Albany, N.Y.

State lawmakers concluded their 2022 session by working to pass several gun control and abortion rights bills, as well as a first-in-the-nation two-year ban on crypto mining.

The state Senate and Assembly methodically worked through mounds of bills as they tried to meet their self-imposed deadline to end the session.

In the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers acted on bills to tighten the state’s gun control laws and close some loopholes. Under the ten bills approved, no one under 21 would be allowed to buy a semi-automatic rifle and body armor sales would be banned except to law enforcement and other professionals who are at risk.

On the Senate floor, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said New York cannot “stand idly” by as mass shootings continue, and she hopes the “common sense” measures will help.

“What we want to do is disrupt a culture that has created a horrific and scary present and future,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt represents a western New York district and lives 25 minutes from the Tops grocery store in Buffalo where the mass shooting occurred. He said while some of the measures are well-intentioned, they infringe on New Yorkers’ Second Amendment rights.

“This has always been the agenda for some of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle — there’s an aversion to gun ownership,” Ortt said. “They want owning a firearm to be a hassle. They want performing your Second Amendment rights to be a hassle.”

Despite that, a handful of Republicans voted for some of the measures.

Also approved were bills to protect abortion care providers and patients if the U.S. Supreme Court follows through with a leaked draft opinion and strikes down the 1973 abortion rights decision in Roe v. Wade. The measures also provide funding and protections for people who come to New York to get the procedure from states where abortion would be banned.

A constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights to a number of groups and the right to an abortion fell off the table over difficulties structuring it. Senate Leader Stewart-Cousins has not ruled out a return to the Capitol later in the summer to pass the amendment.

“It’s not as easy as you would think,” Stewart-Cousins said.

In the final hours of the session, the state Senate approved a bill already passed in the Assembly that would impose a two-year moratorium on some types of crypto mining. The process of creating cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin relies on large amounts of energy, and plans to revive old coal-burning plants in the state to power crypto mining have been controversial.

In the Finger Lakes region, there has been significant opposition to using a former coal-burning plant that has now been converted to natural gas, and one on the shore of Seneca Lake, for crypto mining.

While the moratorium does not apply to such existing plants, Yvonne Taylor with Seneca Lake Guardian still said the measure is a victory. She urged Governor Kathy Hochul to sign the bill and to use her powers as governor to take more steps.

“We need Governor Hochul to go even further and adopt a moratorium on all proof-of-work crypto mining,” Taylor said.

She added that using nonrenewable energy sources to power bitcoin mining is “not a viable solution.”

Hochul, who has been endorsed in her run for election by a union that supports jobs at the crypto mining plants, has said she is undecided about the issue.

As the session wound down, some criminal justice bills struggled to gain traction.

The Senate approved a measure known as Clean Slate, which would seal the records of people convicted of some crimes if they’ve completed their sentences and parole, but it wasn’t on the debate list in the Assembly. A bill to allow the early release of elderly prisoners serving long sentences for crimes did not pass.

A pro-tenant measure known as Good Cause Eviction protections did not reach the floor of either house. Housing advocates called it a “moral failure.”

In addition to a possible summer session to achieve first passage of the equal rights amendment, Hochul has said she may call a special session if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the state’s prohibition on concealed carry weapons. A challenge to that law is now before the court, and a ruling is expected soon.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.