New York

New York's New Budget: No Legal Weed, No Fracking, No Flavored Vapes, No Police Transparency. But You Get E-scooters!

If only everybody weren’t stuck in their homes.


The coronavirus isn't just an excuse to implement bad policies with little or no debate. Officials can also use the situation to abandon good reforms.

They do both in New York's new $117 billion budget, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed in the middle of the state's continued COVID-19 disaster. (599 New Yorkers died Sunday, bringing the state's death toll of 4,159.) The budget implements a number of bad regulations while abandoning or scaling back some good ones. And the whole budget was hammered out behind closed doors and passed with very little discussion or debate.

The budget rolls back some of the state's bail reforms, by increasing the list of crimes a judge can demand bail for and by giving judges the option to demand cash bail if somebody is arrested for another crime (even a minor crime) while free from pretrial detention. (It could have been worse: A draft proposal would have given judges more power to detain defendants pretrial on the basis of "dangerousness.")

For the second year in a row, the budget abandons marijuana legalization. According to Cuomo, it was just "too much" to manage the coronavirus and squeeze in a legalization plan, even though they've been trying to hammer out these regulations for two years now.

Also abandoned was any effort to repeal Section 50-a of the New York Civil Rights Law. Despite this name, the section of the law does not protect civil rights at all. Instead, Section 50-a severely restricts disclosure of police personnel records; it has been used to shield officers who have engaged in misconduct and to keep the public from holding police departments accountable. California finally eliminated their overly restrictive police records laws just last year. New York State will not be following suit this year.

One bit of good news: You'll be able to able to ride e-scooters! The budget puts into place policies that allow cities across New York (except in Manhattan) to permit electric bikes and scooters on their streets. Mind you, don't try to use them now, and definitely don't get too close to each other:

If you want to take that e-scooter to the local vape shop, prepare for disappointment. The state is banning flavored vaping products. The state's Public Health and Health Panning Council attempted to ban them by executive order last fall, but a judge reversed the rule for overstepping the state legislature's authority.

Also banned: fracking (which was banned administratively, but the regulation will now be enshrined in state law) and polystyrene foam containers.

So: more rules telling New Yorkers what they can and cannot do (with a heavy emphasis on "cannot"), an unwillingness to trim even the lowest hanging fruit off the drug-war tree, and an unwillingness to introduce some transparency in police conduct, even as the state pushes another product—flavored vapes—into the black market, which will almost certainly lead to more arrests. They packed quite a lot into that budget.