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N.Y. Governor to Address Gig Worker Status, Legalize Pot (1)

Jan. 8, 2020, 7:34 PMUpdated: Jan. 8, 2020, 11:27 PM

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is making reforms to worker classifications in the gig economy a priority as the state kicks off its 2020 legislative session.

Cuomo plans to introduce legislation to make sure “all New York’s workers have necessary benefits and protections,” according to a briefing book of proposals released in tandem with his Jan. 8 State of the State address.

“We too must protect workers from today’s threat which is economic exploitation,” Cuomo said in his speech.

The proposal came alongside other issues Cuomo plans to tackle this year, including legalizing marijuana, consolidating the state’s court system, and launching a habitat restoration and flood reduction program funded in part by a $3 billion Environmental Bond Act, according to the booklet. Cuomo’s address also included plans to almost halve corporate tax rates for small businesses.

State lawmakers will mull his proposals in the coming months.

Cuomo’s address didn’t include details on his plans for the state’s 2021 budget, which are due out on or before Jan. 21.

Reclassifying Gig workers

Cuomo in September said the state could follow California’s lead in reclassifying independent contractors, such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Lyft Inc. drivers, as employees.

The companies already are fighting a multifront battle over their business models, including class actions in at least three states.

State Sen. Diane Savino (D) and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo (D) have said they plan to introduce legislation that could go further, allowing independent workers to unionize.

Further details on Cuomo’s plan weren’t released, but the governor’s proposal said more than 40% of the workforce this year will be in jobs related to new gig economy.

State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) said he’s on “pretty much” the same page as the governor.

“We’ll discuss it as a conference, but I think I agree with the premise,” Heastie told reporters about the gig economy proposal following the governor’s speech.

The Independent Drivers Guild, a driver advocacy group, said the proposal needs to include collective bargaining.

“95% of NY drivers want to force Uber and Lyft to the table to negotiate on pay and working conditions,” according to an emailed statement from the guild. “The Trump Administration is blocking us from unionizing at the federal level, but New York can and must give us a Right to Bargain at the state level.”

Legalizing Pot

Cuomo last year had pushed to legalize marijuana, touting the tax revenue it would bring in. The proposal failed to make it through the legislative process, however. Lawmakers in 2019 instead passed a measure decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Cuomo now is calling for the creation of a comprehensive cannabis program in coordination with New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. His proposal would create a new Office of Cannabis Management to oversee regulation, and would include a statewide education campaign.

The plan would limit the sale of cannabis to adults over the age of 21.

One fully rolled out, the legalization of marijuana is expected to bring in an estimated $300 million in tax revenue, according to the booklet.

Heastie said he hopes the measure makes it through the process this year as it is another revenue stream, adding that it “has to be done in the right way.”

“To me the first component is making up to the communities that were hit hardest by the criminalization of marijuana,” Heastie said.

Other Proposals from Governor

Cuomo’s 302-page agenda included several new proposals, along with details on the more than 30 planned items released ahead of his Jan. 8 speech.

The new proposals include:

  • Working with the legislature and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to streamline the state’s court system, which currently has 11 trial courts.
  • Launching a “Restore Mother Nature program” focusing on reducing flood risks, revitalizing fish and wildlife habitats by connecting streams and waterways, conserving forest areas, and restoring freshwater and tidal wetlands.
  • Convening a task force to study and create a plan to expand the electric vehicle industry in the state and build a robust network of electric vehicle chargers. Cuomo’s plan would require five of the largest upstate and suburban transit authorities to electrify 25% of their fleets by 2025 and 100% by 2035.
  • Fostering the expansion of green economy businesses by creating a refundable, discretionary Green Jobs Tax Credit totaling up to 7.5% of wages for each net new job created. The state would also create a refundable, discretionary Green Investment Tax Credit totaling up to 5% of qualifying new capital investments in connection with certain green economic projects, increasing to up to 8% of eligible investment for research and development.
  • Requiring state public officials to disclose their tax returns through the “Nothing to Hide” Act. The proposed law would require the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, comptroller, every state commissioner, Assemblymembers, and Senators to make their tax returns public. Any state elected official who earns over $100,000 or more annually would also have to release their returns.
(Updated throughout with reaction, and attached proposal booklet. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bloomberglaw.com

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