Capitol Notes

Senator’s effort to hold COVID-19 hearing stifled

A state senator’s hopes of holding her own committee hearing to consider COVID-19 related workforce issues have been dashed – at least for now – by the chamber’s leadership.

“I have been asking to hold labor committee hearings … and I have been declined,” Senate Labor Committee Chair Jessica Ramos, a Queens Democrat, told The Capitol Pressroom.

During her appearance on Tuesday, Ramos outlined a package of bills introduced by her and her Democratic colleagues in response to the pandemic, including a measure ensuring New Yorkers can collect unemployment benefits if their work setting isn’t safe.

She hypothesized that the denial of her request for a hearing stemmed from the chamber instead emphasizing work groups that were assembled by Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

“We’re trying to figure out some housing solutions and some revenue generator ideas,” Ramos said. “I believe we’re waiting to finalize the work in those groups until we resume session.”

“My argument is that there’s a lot we can be doing right now…I’m ready to go back to legislative work right now,” she added.

Earlier this month, the state Legislature announced two joint hearings for this month. The first online hearing is scheduled for Wednesday and is focused on the “federal response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses in New York state.” A second hearing, which includes the Senate Labor Committee among five other senate committees, is scheduled for May 18 and is focused on “solutions to the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on minority communities.”

Stewart-Cousins recently told the Wall Street Journal that she is also planning a hearing  on the state’s unemployment benefits system.

In response to questions about the request from Ramos to hold a hearing, senate majority spokesman Mike Murphy said, “We are having a number of hearings that are focusing on COVID. We have our first two hearings this week and next week and more will be announced shortly including nursing homes and labor issues.”

Ramos is on the work group dealing with housing, which she said is looking at issues affecting renters, homeowners, utilities and small businesses. “There a lot we’re talking about,” she said without getting into details.

The revenue group considering ways to generate revenue, she said, is considering “several” ideas.

The full interview will stream live at 11:06 a.m. and be available for download later in the day wherever you get podcasts.

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