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New York Legislature to Use Remote Voting During Pandemic

The New York State Senate over the weekend approved a resolution allowing senators to participate in sessions by "remote means," including teleconferencing and videoconferencing as necessary.

by Cayla Harris, Times Union / March 30, 2020
The New York Capitol in Albany. David Kidd/Government Technology

(TNS) — The New York State Legislature, eyeing new technology to continue work amid the coronavirus pandemic, is expected to pass measures early this week allowing for remote voting procedures during emergencies.

The state Senate on Sunday approved a resolution allowing senators to participate in sessions by "remote means," including teleconferencing and videoconferencing as necessary. The Assembly will pass a similar resolution on Monday afternoon, Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie, D-Bronx, said Sunday.

The measures serve as the first step to a new reality for the state Legislature – one dominated by online conversations, debates and votes as the state balances social distancing guidelines with the legislative session, which is scheduled to end in June. Four legislators – all members of the Assembly – have tested positive for the virus.

“During these extraordinary circumstances, it is critical that the people’s house is able to continue to do the people’s work,” Heastie said in a release Sunday. “These changes will preserve the integrity of New York's legislative process in a way that will also protect our members, our staff, the hardworking staff of the Capitol and the families we all go home to. This is a historic step that will help save lives and support New Yorkers.”

The Assembly resolution – introduced by Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes of Buffalo – would allow the chamber to temporarily utilize remote voting during declared states of emergency. The measure would speed up roll calls, while requiring that members who vote "no" would either enter their votes through an "electronic voting system" or by directly entering the chamber, officials said.

The changes also preface the passage of the state budget, which is due by Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said the Senate "will begin the process of passing budget bills this week as bills are ready." She had introduced the Senate version of the remote voting resolution.

"Throughout the week, our process will establish appropriate protocols involving social distancing, and tomorrow we will pass a resolution authorizing limited remote voting as necessary," she said Saturday. "Obviously, this is a fluid situation, and we will let everyone know if there are any changes."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office is leaving the voting process up to the two legislative chambers as he also continues to work on budget bills. Cuomo has been adamant that state legislators are essential workers and should "do [their] job," even as some lawmakers have concerns about traveling to Albany and gathering in large groups amid the pandemic.

While in Albany for a brief session earlier this month, the Senate and Assembly enacted social distancing regulations to significantly reduce the number of lawmakers required to be in their respective chambers during debates and voting procedures.

The Legislature is expected to begin considering budget bills on Monday. Cuomo indicated on Sunday that the houses are still negotiating several big-ticket items he had intended to include in the budget, including the legalization of gestational surrogacy and a new "domestic terrorism" charge for hateful attacks.

©2020 the Times Union (Albany, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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