Capitol Watch: Politics decide when bills get to Cuomo desk

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A huge pile of legislation passed this year by newly empowered New York Democrats is still awaiting the governor's signature, and advocacy groups and lawmakers are clamoring to get their bills turned into law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a 10-day deadline to act on bills after they are passed by the legislature, but the clock doesn't start until they land on his desk.

So far this year, Cuomo has signed 379 bills into law while 507 await his signature. The governor typically ends up with 500 to 600 bills, according to Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

"It is our responsibility to ensure the legislation passed is responsible and that, as drafted, they accomplish what they say they do," Azzopardi said.

WHEN DOES CUOMO HAVE TO ACT?

It's up to Cuomo whether to sign or veto bills that get sent to him before late December of each year. If the governor takes no action, such bills become law 10 days after they reach his desk — excluding Sunday.

A rarely used quirk also allows Cuomo to "pocket veto" bills that arrive on his desk in the final ten days of the year. Cuomo then gets 30 days to act on such a bill, which dies if he doesn't take action.

The Assembly or Senate technically decides when to send bills to the governor, and they have long agreed to do so in batches.

Political observers agree it'd be impossible for the governor and staff to deal with hundreds of bills in just 10 days after lawmakers leave in June.

"That's how they deal with the Penn Station at rush hour problem they have at the end of session," said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

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WHO DECIDES WHEN BILLS GET TO GOVERNOR'S DESK?

The timing of when bills ultimately wind up on his desk in ensuing months is often a political game that plays out behind closed doors — an informal process both Democrats and Republicans have used to their benefit over the decades.

"It can be a kind of gamesmanship where one side or another sees an advantage in delay or hurrying things up," said Bill Hammond, director of health policy for the Empire Center.

Cuomo often signals to legislative leaders which bills he'd sign and when he'd like to have bills called up to his desk.

"There are also under-the breath-signals: 'If you send me that, I'm not going to sign it,'" said E.J. MacMahon, research director of the Empire Center.

Some bills are signed around special holidays — for example, the Democratic governor recently signed a bill requiring the conspicuous labeling of tampon and pad ingredients on the Day of the Girl. Popular but politically contentious legislation, meanwhile, may be vetoed just before Thanksgiving Day weekend.

On the other end, legislative leaders could also theoretically push a bill to the governor to try to force his hand. "There are times when the legislature gets mad at the governor and might want to push a particular bill over at a particular time," Horner said.

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WHICH BILLS REMAIN?

Democrats newly in charge of the state's Legislature this year swiftly passed a tsunami of bills, including long-awaited liberal policies on climate change, abortion access and criminal justice reforms.

But clashes over more contentious bills continue to highlight splits among the party's increasingly vocal left-wing factions and those seen as more moderate — including Cuomo.

Amid a strike against General Motors, union leaders have lobbied Cuomo to sign an eleventh-hour bill to make striking workers eligible for unemployment benefits after one week. That's up from seven weeks under current law.

And in a year that saw the passage of landmark rent reform long opposed by powerful developers, a bill to better protect rent-regulated renters from being forced out by landlords also remains in limbo.

Other remaining bills include exempting breastfeeding women from jury duty, and a ban on the aerial application of the widely used pesticide chlorpyrifos starting in January.

The non-partisan Citizens Budget Commission wants Cuomo to veto 18 bills that enhance pension or disability benefits — legislation that costs at least $71 million in the first year alone.

Cuomo is tight-lipped about many bills but has publicly expressed concerns about some — including whether pedestrians would be safe under legislation allowing electric scooters and bikes. Meanwhile, e-scooter manufacturer Lime and environmental and municipal supporters say the bill fits into New York's push to tackle a shifting climate.

The governor also frequently negotiates with lawmakers on tweaks to bills, which may officially wind up on his desk near the year's end.

"There's the formal rules and then there's the informal rules: what deals are being cut with individual legislators or groups of legislators from particular geographic areas," said Doug Muzzio, professor of political science at Baruch College. "What the governor wants and what they want. It's an extremely complex game. A lot of times it's a game of strategic communication."