2021 Legislative Session Hits and Misses

A Legislative Column from Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,C-Lockport)

This year’s Legislative Session was one of the most crucial in our state’s modern history. Lawmakers had the opportunity to make decisions at our state Capitol to set New York state on a new course of recovery following the pandemic, a path of prosperity for everyone. And a path that is much-needed after a very difficult year of economic shutdown and uncertainty.

​The bloated, record-breaking spending in the state budget was a missed opportunity to do something substantial for our economy. Instead of reimaging how our state could move forward or do business in this new, post-pandemic world, money was thrown at existing programs and old “priorities.” 

​I was pleased to see long-overdue funding provided for programs I have advocated for like our libraries, local roads, veterans peer counseling programs, an expansion of Nourish NY and funding for a broadband study I helped pass in 2020. But these increases are literally a drop in the bucket overall when examining the budget-busting $212 billion spent this year that will indebt future generations of New Yorkers and is, frankly, unsustainable. We had an opportunity with the one-time stimulus investment funds from Washington to change course for our state, and Albany failed to take it. That’s why I voted against the budget in its entirety. 

​Aside from the budget, the downstate-controlled majorities also set the tone for other legislative matters, including bills that challenge the stability of our democratic process, a big gun control package and more so-called criminal justice “reforms” that threaten public safety. Instead, we should have rolled back the bail reform that has caused criminals to ravage our state and led to a drastic increase in violence since the governor signed them into law in 2019. 

​However, I was successful in reaching across the aisle to work together with like-minded colleagues in order to gain passage of some important bills that I believe will benefit the people of the 144th Assembly District. 

First and foremost, I was pleased to be part of a bipartisan coalition that led to the passage of the New York State Aid and Incentives for Municipalities Redesign Task Force. This task force is important to taxpayers because it has the opportunity to evaluate and reformulate how state aid is provided to cities, towns and villages. It’s an undertaking that has not happened in decades, and one that should even out the existing, unfair disadvantage in the funding formula that can result in higher taxes in upstate towns and villages (especially in rural communities).

To further expand on the success of programs like Nourish NY to assist agriculture in our state, I joined my colleagues in launching a new task force to advance farm-to-market initiatives and also was pleased to sponsor legislation that passed both houses to support farmers’ right-to-farm protections when hiring agricultural operators. In addition to advocating for funding for our veterans programs, I sponsored dozens of veteran-specific measures and helped pass a bill in both houses that will make it easier for veterans to be aware of available benefits by alerting them every time they renew or apply for a license. To protect both the public and our brave firefighters, I was pleased to vote in support of lifesaving legislation that will ban the use of dangerous chemical flame retardants, which not only cause increased amounts of carbon monoxide in structural fires and lead to more deaths but also have been proven to cause cancer and immune diseases.

​I also worked across the aisle to pass legislation to create a commission to study childhood drowning, help create awareness of this problem and better connect people with swimming lessons. As drowning is the number one cause of death in young children, and drowning deaths were on the rise during the pandemic, I was able to move this measure along quickly to help reduce the number of these preventable deaths. Everyone should have the opportunity to learn to swim, as it is an essential, lifesaving skill.

​While there are many other bills I was proud to support and sponsor, there are also some efforts I would like to highlight. Because of the pandemic, my staff and I were unable to be out in the community last year as much as we would normally like to be, but we fielded hundreds of phone calls and emails. My staff handled hundreds of cases regarding unemployment, businesses affected by the pandemic, local government assistance, parents and daycares concerned about masking policies and much more. 

​We are all fortunate to come from such strong, safe, wonderful communities. After such a tough 2020, it is great to see our economy reopening and getting back to life as we knew it. Despite the dysfunction at our state Capitol, I am working hard for you – and there is so much more to come. I look forward to sharing my Hometown Heroes event with you this summer and have some great new legislative initiatives coming soon too. Stay tuned!

​As always, it is my pleasure and honor to serve you. If I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to reach out to my office. You can contact me via email at norrism@nyassembly.gov or call my office at (716) 839-4691.