ALBANY — The more than 4,000 bills that legislators have submitted so far this year run the gamut, from creating new boards to providing prisoners with free condoms.
“It’s typical. It’s almost like bill introductions are on automatic pilot,” said Blair Horner, legislative director for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
A total of 19,678 bills were introduced in the state’s 2009-10 legislative session, thousands more than any other state, according to State Net legislative reporting service. Of those, lawmakers adopted 1,286 and the governor approved about 82 percent of them.
Many of the 4,000-plus this year are resubmissions of previous bills that were unsuccessful.
E.J. McMahon, director of the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York Policy, said this is the wrong year for business as usual in New York, which faces a budget gap of up to $11 billion for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins April 1.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who presents his budget proposal Feb. 1, said in his recent State of the State address that capping property taxes and reducing the cost of state government are two of his top priorities.
But many bills would add mandates and increase costs for the state.
“This is completely the opposite of what ought to be happening at this point,” McMahon said.
McMahon particularly criticized legislation sponsored by Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, Albany County, that would prohibit public employers from reducing retiree health insurance benefits between May 15, 2011, and May 15, 2012, unless there was a corresponding decrease for active employees.
Breslin spokesman Evan Schneider said the bill would ensure retirees, who aren’t represented in the collective-bargaining process, are treated fairly.
Several bills would set up new advisory boards, commissions and panels, including one to assess the public-health impact of firearm violence.
Another category of legislation is bills that would establish new requirements or functions for state agencies, such as requiring the Office of Children and Families to track elder abuse and establishing a tenants’ advocate bureau in the Office for the Aging.
On the state’s nearly $54 billion Medicaid program, one bill would set up an outreach and enrollment plan to identify eligible low-income New Yorkers.
Other legislation would increase requirements on municipalities and school districts, such as video cameras for all school buses and a multi-cultural curriculum for all schools.
A few bills submitted by Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, D-Brooklyn, have sparked opposition from special-interest groups. One would mandate that ignition interlock devices to prevent drunk driving be installed in all motor vehicles in New York by 2015. The American Beverage Institute is against it.
Ortiz — who carried bills banning hand-held cell phones and texting while driving for years before they passed — estimated it would cost several hundred dollars to install the equipment.
“It’s not expensive in correlation to saving a life,” he said.
Another Ortiz bill would place an additional tax of one-quarter of 1 percent on the sale of taxable food and drink, except bottled water, and the sale or rental of video and computer games, compact discs and movies. It would assess a 1 percent tax on the sale of all non-taxable food and drink listed as snacks or sweets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The revenues would fund programs to fight childhood obesity.
“Like any state resident, I do not like taxes, but ???this is not a tax??? . This is a ???surcharge??? for a healthier New York, and this surcharge is a consequence of having a childhood-obesity epidemic in our state,” Ortiz said.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, Ulster County, said the goal of his legislation to form the Commission on Education in the 21st Century would be to consolidate services and save money. The commission would produce a report that would become law unless the Legislature voted it down.
The state’s regional boards of cooperative educational services are underused, and the commission would seek to capitalize on economies of scale to deliver school services, Cahill said in the bill memo.