Here’s Every Bill That Kathy Hochul Vetoed in 2023

One hundred and fifteen laws that almost were.

New York Focus   ·   January 3, 2024
Despite her professed zeal for the veto pen, Hochul axed a smaller share of bills last year. | Photo: Office of Governor Kathy Hochul | Illustration: Maia Hibbett

Governor Kathy Hochul wants the world to know that she takes her role in the legislative process seriously — and isn’t afraid to kill legislation she doesn’t like.

“This year the State Legislature passed 896 bills – more than 500 of which passed in the final days of the session – most without a single hearing or opportunity for public comment,” her office said in a statement just before Christmas. “These included a number of extreme legislative proposals that would have put public safety or the state’s economic recovery at risk.”

Hochul, the statement continued, “didn’t hesitate to use her veto pen when necessary to prevent harm to New Yorkers.”

The day before, Hochul had vetoed dozens of bills, including legislation that sought to expand child care access, make it easier to challenge wrongful convictions, ban non-compete agreements, and curb tropical deforestation. Before the year was out, she nixed two more hotly contested bills, one rolling back campaign finance reforms and another expanding the purview of New York’s wrongful death law. Those decisions capped off a total of 115 vetoes Hochul issued last year, in her first full year as the elected governor of New York.

Hochul again blamed many vetoes on a lack of cash, arguing that roughly two thirds of the bills she rejected would demand resources that hadn’t been allocated in the state’s budget. Those included a slew of bills creating studies, task forces, or commissions, again following a precedent from 2022.

Despite her newly professed zeal for the veto pen, Hochul axed a slightly smaller share of bills last year than the previous — 13 percent, down from 16 percent. But she left her mark on many others. Hochul negotiated behind-the-scenes changes, known as “chapter amendments,” to 93 of the bills the legislature passed in 2023 — just over 1 in 10. Her fondness for chapter amendments, though less pronounced than in her first months in office, continues to far exceed that of her predecessors.

Another three bills remain in limbo, risking a “pocket veto” if the governor does not act on them this month. (These bills, sent to Hochul after the legislature formally adjourned at the end of the year, automatically expire after 30 days — unlike most legislation, which is automatically approved if the governor does not act on it within 10 days of it reaching her desk.)

It remains to be seen whether the legislature will take another swing at the major bills Hochul tossed out or whether the governor has had the final word. The Senate and Assembly have so far shown little enthusiasm for directly overriding vetoes, despite Democrats holding supermajorities in both chambers since 2021.

Here are some of the highlights among the scores of bills Hochul vetoed in 2023. You can also browse the full list yourself — including the governor’s “veto memos” justifying each — in our database below. - Colin Kinniburgh

Disclosing Lobbying on Nominations

At the beginning of 2023, Hochul lost a fierce political fight with the state Senate’s rejection of Hector LaSalle, her first nominee for chief judge of New York’s top court.

As Hochul fought for her pick, she received some help from a shadowy Delaware-based group called “Citizens for Judicial Fairness,” which ran a series of ads urging approval of LaSalle’s nomination. On the day of LaSalle’s committee hearing, the group sponsored an Albany rally supporting him.

New Yorkers never found out who was funding the effort, since the law doesn’t require groups that lobby on nominations to disclose their sources of cash. A bill sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember John McDonald would have changed that, requiring lobbyists on nominations to disclose their activities and spending. The law would have been retroactive to the beginning of 2023, meaning that Citizens for Judicial Fairness would have had to report funding sources for its pro-LaSalle lobbying.

When Hochul struck it down, her veto message noted that she is committed to “working to restore trust in government” and “strengthening transparency,” but that the work the bill would impose on lobbyists and lack of funding for its implementation justified a veto. - Sam Mellins

Planned Offshore Wind Transmission

“We can’t allow NIMBYism to stop our climate goals,” said state Senator Kevin Parker, the Democratic chair of the chamber’s energy committee, to support legislation that would have helped the offshore wind developer Equinor lay a transmission cable on Long Island. Parker’s bill passed, but by the time Hochul vetoed it in October, local opposition had swelled, elections loomed, and bipartisan Long Island politicians clamored for credit for its defeat.

The Planned Offshore Wind Transmission Act would have executed a routine legal maneuver: authorizing the town of Long Beach to “alienate” a stretch of its beach and sell it to Equinor. The move would have allowed the developer to connect its Empire Wind II project to the Long Island grid via a transmission cable along the beach, but local residents organized against it. Opponents raised typical arguments against development (turbines created a visual blight, construction on the beach could impact tourism revenue) and spread false information about the wind farm (that it would kill whales) and the transmission cable (that it would cause cancer).

Hochul’s veto memo blamed Equinor for failing to garner community support for its project. But climate watchers warn that the governor can’t leave the fate of projects to developers. “The courage to overcome local opposition is going to be the defining factor in whether the projects will be successful and will get built,” said Daniel Zarrilli, a climate advisor at Columbia University who led climate policy for former New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio.

On January 3, Equinor announced it was terminating its agreement with New York state to build Empire Wind II, citing “commercial conditions driven by inflation, interest rates and supply chain disruptions.” - Julia Rock

Campaign Finance Rollback

One bill Hochul vetoed had virtually no public support, except for one key constituency: Democratic leadership that runs the state legislature.

The bill would have upended a 2020 law establishing public matching funds for state-level political campaigns, a major boost for candidates without deep wells of big donor support. As the 2024 elections approached – and the program’s first run loomed – Democrats in the legislature grew skittish. Some Assembly Democrats feared publicly-funded elections could enable successful Democratic primaries from the incumbents’ left, while Senate Democrats in swing districts feared they could boost Republican challengers.

At the end of the 2023 legislative session, Democrats pushed through a last-minute bill turning the 2020 law on its head. The original law limited public matching to donations of $250 or less, a provision meant to reward a broad base of small donors. The legislature’s new version allowed any sized donation to be matched.

The legislature’s bill barely passed the State Senate in June, and several Senate Democrats spoke strongly against it. It was broadly opposed by Republicans.

Hochul waited until the final days of 2023, but ultimately sided instead with newspaper editorial boards and government-reform groups that had slammed the proposal as a ploy to help incumbents win reelection. In her veto message, she wrote that, “Signing this bill would effectively reduce the impact of small donors on elections, in direct contravention of the purpose for which the (2020 law) was originally adopted.” - Chris Bragg

Child Care Costs

Each month, New York helps some 58,000 families cover the eye-popping cost of child care. But the vouchers can only be used during the exact hours parents are at work or school, limiting access to care for families with unpredictable work hours or responsibilities outside of formal employment. Lawmakers voted to make full-time care available to all parents receiving assistance, “decoupling” work hours and child care.

Hochul projected the bill would cost $141 million a year — slightly less than what she’d previously floated, but enough to justify a veto. As New York Focus reported in December, her team appears to have used an unrealistic assumption to arrive at their estimate, and the bill’s supporters say it would cost a fraction as much. (It’s not the first time Hochul has opposed legislation based on numbers that her critics say don’t add up.)

Lawmakers plan to push again for the bill in this year’s budget negotiations, along with other investments to expand assistance and increase child care workers’ pay. - Akash Mehta

Non-Compete Agreements

Hochul also vetoed a bill that would have barred employers from using non-compete agreements, which often prohibit workers from leaving their jobs to work for a competitor for a certain time period.

According to Sean Ryan, the bill’s State Senate sponsor, more than 40 percent of employers, from fast-food companies to health care providers, use such agreements in New York. Workers often sign the agreements without realizing what they are signing, he said.

Business groups including the Partnership for New York City and the State Business Council opposed the bill, and the latter used its nonprofit arm to spearhead a significant opposition campaign. Major Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs argued non-compete agreements are necessary to keep employees from leaving for competitors armed with sensitive company information.

Hochul vetoed the bill in late December, stating she had unsuccessfully sought a compromise to “protect middle-class and low-wage earners, while allowing New York’s businesses to retain highly compensated talent.”

“New York has a highly competitive economic climate and is home to many different industries,” Hochul wrote in her veto message. “These companies have legitimate interests that cannot be met with the Legislation’s one-size-fits-all approach.”

In his own statement, Ryan said that the bill sponsors put forward a compromise that would have ended the use of non-competes for workers earning less than $250,000, indexed that amount to inflation, and protected all healthcare workers from the agreements.

“Sadly, this commonsense offer was rejected,” Ryan said. - C.B.

Non-Religious Addiction Treatment

For the second year in a row, Hochul vetoed legislation that would have mandated judges to notify defendants going into court-ordered drug or alcohol treatment programs of their right to non-religious treatment options.

The bill, dubbed the Recovery Options Act, would have required the court to ask defendants if they had any religious objections to a particular treatment program and, if so, to find an alternative.

Many treatment options are modeled after the 12-Step Program popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. While both organizations argue that they are not religious programs, the 12 Steps hold a belief in a higher power as a central tenet. A federal circuit court found that the 12-Step Program is religious and that mandating someone to participate would violate their constitutional rights.

In her veto memo, Hochul said that non-religious treatment programs are already available to defendants, even if the court isn’t required to mention them. She argued that requiring the court to ask whether a defendant has a religious objection to a particular program “would impose an overly rigid burden on courts and judges,” and that defendants have the “right to request nonreligious treatment” if they choose. She added that the bill would raise legal questions about whether defendants would try to opt out of other court mandates on religious grounds, but did not elaborate on what those might be. - Spencer Norris

Tropical Deforestation Divestment

New York state is contributing to global greenhouse gas emissions by using its massive procurement power — currently more than $170 billion in state contracts — to buy products derived from recently logged tropical forests. Last year, the legislature passed a bill to put an end to the practice, but in December, Hochul vetoed it.

The legislation would have required New York state contractors that supply commodities like coffee, beef, and paper to certify that their products did not come from illegally deforested land. It also would have closed a loophole in state law that allows entities like the MTA to use tropical hardwoods for construction materials.

Hochul’s veto memo cited the bill’s burdensome impact on businesses — “particularly small businesses.” But as she weighed whether to sign the legislation, a multinational corporation known as the world’s largest food supplier had Hochul’s ear. As New York Focus previously reported, Sysco was lobbying on the issue and told the Hochul administration that compliance would be difficult — a talking point that appears to have made it into the governor’s memo.

“Vetoing this bill is a missed opportunity and a failure to take leadership on a critical issue that affects every New Yorker,” bill sponsor Senator Liz Krueger said in a statement. - J.R.

Challenging Wrongful Convictions

New York is one of only five states that does not guarantee access to a lawyer to low-income individuals trying to get a criminal conviction overturned. Senator Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry sought to change this via a bill that would have made it easier for New Yorkers to challenge their convictions in court, even if they pleaded guilty. It would also have streamlined the process for New Yorkers to clear their criminal records of offenses that have subsequently been decriminalized.

The bill would overrule a 2018 Court of Appeals decision, which held that the only way for New Yorkers who have pleaded guilty to challenge their convictions is through the use of DNA evidence.

In her veto message, Hochul claimed that the changes to the laws on challenging convictions would “create an unjustifiable risk of flooding the courts with frivolous claims,” and that New York’s existing laws for challenging convictions are sufficient. The memo didn’t address the part of the law concerned with clearing criminal records. - S.M.

Stream Protection

In 2022, Hochul vetoed legislation expanding the purview of New York’s keystone environmental conservation law. In her veto memo, the governor said that the agency tasked with enforcing the law — the Department of Environmental Conservation — lacked the resources to implement it.

Though the agency has since announced more than 200 new hires, Hochul again vetoed the bill in November, again citing resource constraints. (Former Governor Andrew Cuomo also vetoed the bill in 2020.) The legislation proposed applying the conservation law to the state’s 41,000 miles of Class C streams, defined as waterways primarily used for fishing and boating. These streams often flow into the Class A and Class B waterways that are already covered by the conservation law, making their exemption nonsensical, according to the bill’s sponsors and environmental advocates.

“This bill is identical to legislation I vetoed last year, and has significant practical and fiscal implications,” Hochul wrote in her veto memo, noting it would “carry substantial costs for the state, as well as for local governments and the communities that would bear the impact of these new requirements.” - J.R.

Grieving Families

The final bill Hochul vetoed in 2023 was one of the most sweeping – and featured a battle among some of Albany’s most powerful interests.

For the second time in less than a year, Hochul vetoed the Grieving Families Act, which would have allowed families of alleged wrongful death victims to sue for “emotional” damages. Trial lawyers groups strongly favored the legislation, while the influential hospital industry staunchly opposed it.

New York is an outlier compared to most states: It currently allows families to file negligence lawsuits seeking damages only for the “economic” loss of a relative, tying potential payouts to the deceased person’s income. According to advocates for the bill, sponsored by Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein, this discounts the lives of lower-income New Yorkers, elderly people, and children.

Opponents of the bill argue New York’s proposal goes further than laws in other states. While at least 41 states allow families to recover damages for emotional loss, many of them impose caps on how much can be awarded during trial. The New York legislation included no such limit.

Before her first veto of the bill, which Hochul issued in January 2023, she proposed a compromise: Hochul’s version would have excluded medical malpractice lawsuits from the new law and exempted litigation stemming from the death of a person 18 years or older, making only the deaths of children subject to lawsuits seeking emotional damages.

The bill’s backers saw these as fundamental changes and declined to take them up. Though a revised bill passed by the Legislature in June contained smaller revisions, Hochul vetoed it again last month, citing concerns it would lead to “increased insurance premiums for the vast majority of consumers” and risk the financial well-being of health care facilities, especially “public hospitals that serve disadvantaged communities.” - C.B.

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