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Special N.Y. Session to Enact New Eviction Moratorium Still Possible, Assembly Speaker Says

N.Y. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie
Karen DeWitt
N.Y. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday that Democrats are still considering a return to Albany before the end of the year to codify a moratorium on residential evictions, with negotiations still underway between both chambers of the state Legislature.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had issued an executive order to prevent evictions for people facing COVID-related financial woes, but that’s set to expire on January 1.

That action had been extended a handful of times by Cuomo, but Heastie, D-Bronx, said lawmakers are discussing legislation that would codify and potentially expand the order in an effort to provide some stability for tenants who still can’t afford to pay their rent.

“We are pretty clear that we want to do an eviction moratorium and other issues that make sure people are able to stay in their homes,” Heastie said. “We don’t want people to have to walk into court to prove a hardship. So, we’re working on that language.”

Cuomo’s order prevents tenants from being evicted if they can show they’ve experienced financial hardship because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A federal moratorium on evictions is also in place, but is set to expire on January 1 as well.

That means that, without action from Cuomo, the federal government, or the state Legislature, tenants will have fewer protections against eviction in the new year. Cuomo has already extended a moratorium on commercial evictions.

Heastie said the Assembly hasn’t struck a deal with the Senate on a new eviction moratorium, but that the two chambers aren’t far apart.

“Once the Senate and the Assembly, if we can get to some common ground — which I think we are,” Heastie said. “I think it’s really just language that’s being worked out between the staff.”

Heastie also said that, if lawmakers return before the end of the year, new revenue raisers to help curb the state’s $15 billion budget deficit would still be on the table. But that would require movement on the issue from Cuomo, he said.

“Getting something done here in Albany is a three-legged stool,” Heastie said.

That’s not likely, as of now, with Cuomo saying in recent weeks that he’d prefer to wait for President-Elect Joe Biden to take office and negotiate a new stimulus deal with Congress.

That way, Cuomo has said, the state will know how much money it’ll receive from the federal government to stave off the deficit and be better able to assess how to balance the state’s finances through tax hikes and cuts in spending.

Heastie has argued that raising taxes on the rich could allow the state to immediately begin collecting new revenue, and that waiting to enact those tax hikes could present the state with legal problems.

He’s worried that, if New York approves higher taxes on the rich at then end of March and makes them retroactive back to January, someone could sue to strike down those first three months of the tax — leaving the state without that revenue.

“It’s a legitimate question to have answered. I guess we can pass it and if no one challenges it, it’ll go forward,” Heastie said. “And I do think there’s a constitutional question.”

Cuomo disagreed with that argument last week, saying the state has enacted retroactive tax raises before, and that they’ve survived judicial review.

“We’ve done tax increases in 2009, and had them retroactive, and they’ve been upheld,” Cuomo said.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said on New York NOW last week that they’re also leaving the door open to a special session before the end of the year, but that nothing’s set in stone.

“We’re not planning or not planning,” Stewart-Cousins said. “What we are trying to figure out is what makes sense.”

If lawmakers don’t return before the end of the year, they’re scheduled to reconvene in Albany, and virtually, on January 6.

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.