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Albany must go slow on new laws



For the next few weeks, New York’s business community will be playing defense in Albany against a flurry of proposed new laws that advocates are eager to push through the Legislature before the end of the 2024 session. Eager to get back to their districts before the primary elections, legislators are under pressure to pass bills without adequate consideration of the damage they may inflict on the city and state economy.

Among the hundreds of bills awaiting consideration, there are many that address legitimate problems but are poorly drafted, hastily vetted, and unlikely to accomplish their intended purpose. For example, a bill to increase consumer protections has language so vague and open-ended that it would expose virtually any business to accusations of illegal practices on grounds that are nebulous at best.

Some bills have idealistic goals, but their enactment could hopelessly overburden the state’s court system and regulatory agencies. One example is an antitrust bill that would have New York adopt a European approach to antitrust policies, in conflict with long-established U.S. standards. Another would ban non-compete agreements between employers and their highly paid executives, exposing companies to loss of proprietary intellectual property and relationships.

There are several pending bills that would advance special interests at the expense of businesses and consumers. New York has the highest insurance rates in the nation, largely because of the risks and liabilities created by legislative provisions that encourage lawsuits and huge settlements, even in cases that have no merit. One bill would give unions and other private parties the authority to enforce labor laws, usurping the jurisdiction of the state Department of Labor and NYC Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. The likely victims of this law would be small and mid-size employers with limited resources to defend against frivolous claims.

The increased costs and liabilities that are generated by ill-conceived legislation are ultimately passed through to consumers and taxpayers, contributing to what has made New York the third most expensive city in the world, tied with Geneva and exceeded only by Singapore and Zurich.

Advocates often argue that anti-business legislation is justified because something similar has been passed in California — an argument that bears a closer look given deteriorating conditions in San Francisco and Los Angeles. For a state that is eager to bolster its tax rolls, attract jobs, and encourage entrepreneurship, being an outlier on legal and regulatory policies is a terrible mistake.

Rather than rush its approval of bills, Albany should shift the focus of its closing weeks to a backlog of bills that would contribute to making New York a safer, more affordable place to live, work, and do business. Unfortunately, advocacy for many bills that would benefit the broad public interest is relatively low key, in comparison to lobbying by special interests. For example, there is a bill pending in both houses that would encourage religious institutions to recycle underutilized property for affordable housing. Another would enable city agencies to procure infrastructure improvements through a more cost-effective and timely process. Both merit action in this session.

There is proposed legislation that would unlock $1 billion in private, social impact investment to support nonprofit workforce development and training programs. There is also an Assembly bill that would make it possible to keep seriously mentally ill individuals in sustained treatment, rather than release them prematurely to a desperate life on the streets and subways. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York has put forward amendments to discovery laws that would help deal with the growing problem of recidivism due to dismissal of criminal cases on technical grounds.

Some important legislation that would enhance affordability for all never makes it to the floor. For example, affordable housing advocates have tried for years to amend or repeal the century-old scaffolding law that imposes huge liabilities on the owners and contractors of construction sites. The scaffolding law increases the cost of affordable housing by an estimated 7-10%. This illustrates how, once enacted, laws are very difficult to change, even if they trigger negative consequences.

Earlier in this session, the governor and Legislature took the extra time required to deliver a state budget that thoughtfully addressed key fiscal, public safety, and affordable housing matters, even though it was a few weeks late. The same care should be taken to ensure that legislation enacted after the budget is as carefully considered.

Wylde is president & CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

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