Coronavirus and the States: Lawmakers OK Paid Leave; Online Senate Meeting Hacked

By: - April 3, 2020 12:00 am

A woman wearing a protective mask walks past the New York State Department of Labor offices in the New York City borough of Queens this week. The New York legislature passed a budget that would beef up paid sick leave. Anthony Behar/Sipa USA via AP

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

In New York, after much deliberation, the legislature passed a billion budget overnight. Because of the coronavirus, the measure authorizes a billion spending cut to account for lost tax revenue.

While many of Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s priorities were missing from the final bill, it did beef up a paid sick leave program, ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes, cap insulin copayments at a month and increase support for housing and services for the homeless.

It also creates a billion bond act for environmental restoration and mitigation projects, closes a loophole to bar people who commit serious crimes in other states from getting a gun license in New York and prohibits gender-based pricing discrimination.

And it bans the distribution and use of Styrofoam single-use food containers and creates a new tax credit to foster the expansion of green economy businesses.

“It would have been very easy to say, ‘Oh, this is an extraordinary year; let’s just do the bare minimum and go home.’ We did the opposite,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We said there is a lot of need and there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed, and we stepped up to the plate and we got it done.”

In Massachusetts, both legislative chambers passed a measure that extends state personal income tax filing until July 15, gives more flexibility to local governments to hold town meetings and finalize budgets, and allows restaurants to sell takeout beer and wine.

The two chambers are still moving through their own measures when it comes to other coronavirus-related issues.

House members passed a bill that would place a temporary moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for nonpayment until 30 days after the state of emergency ends. It also would prevent landlords from charging late fees or sending reports to credit rating agencies if tenants alert them within 30 days of a late payment.

The House also approved a measure that would temporarily prevent cities from shutting off essential utility services because of a resident’s inability to pay and would redistribute money for the homeless to address their immediate needs.

“This public health emergency is a stark reminder that we must lift up the most vulnerable among us,” Democratic House Speaker Bob DeLeo tweeted.

Senators passed a bill that would offer more unemployment insurance relief to low-income families and businesses. It would ensure that workers get 30 weeks of compensation if unemployment spikes and protect employers from higher contribution costs if their employees file claims.

“The Senate remains focused on taking quick action to help our workers, and this bipartisan bill is the latest in our series of efforts to do so,” Democratic Senate President Karen Spilka said in a statement.

The Senate also advanced its own bill that would provide temporary protections for renters and homeowners.

And in Vermont, a Senate committee that was meeting remotely on Zoom and being livestreamed on YouTube was discussing school lunch access and the issues facing farmers during the pandemic when it was suddenly cut short after a hacker screenshared pornographic videos.

“We gotta stop, stop,” Democratic state Sen. Chris Pearson, the committee’s vice chairman, said. “We gotta abort the meeting.”

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Jenni Bergal

Jenni Bergal covers transportation, infrastructure and cybersecurity for Stateline. She has been a reporter at Kaiser and the Center for Public Integrity.