Getting to Know the New York State Legislature

by Jay Wu

For the uninitiated, New York State’s processes can be hard to follow. However, state policies can have substantial consequences for climate action. With candidates already beginning to announce plans to run for 2022 State Assembly and Senate seats, let’s take a quick dive at how the New York State legislature works.

New York has a bicameral legislature, meaning that it is split into two houses—the Assembly and Senate. Today the Assembly has 150 members and the Senate has 63, but these numbers will likely change after this year’s redistricting process. Each house has a leader, titled the Assembly Speaker and Senate Majority Leader respectively, and more than thirty standing committees, who approve bills that fall under their jurisdiction. For example, Assembly committees include Energy, Environmental Conservation, and Transportation.

Legislative sessions are two years long, and house leaders and committees play powerful roles in this process. After a representative or standing committee introduces a bill, the house leader refers bill to relevant standing committees. These committees vote to defeat the bill, report the bill to the full chamber for a vote, refer the bill to a second relevant committee for consideration, or hold the bill. It is up to house leaders whether bills make it to “the floor” for the entire house to debate and vote on. House leadership also attaches rules to each bill that dictate debate format.

Bills must pass in both houses. They are sometimes introduced independently in the Assembly and Senate, with slightly different versions. In these cases, house leaders must meet to agree on a single version that can be passed in both chambers. Afterwards the bill heads to the Governor, who can sign or veto within 10 days. If vetoed, bills can still pass with two-thirds support from each house.

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