Political Maps, COVID Aid on Hochul, Lawmakers’ Agenda

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -

New York’s Democrat-controlled Legislature will make key decisions in 2022 on how best to help New Yorkers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has promised to announce sweeping initiatives for 2022 in her State of the State address Wednesday, including overhauls of the state’s ethics rules and the public university system.

The Legislature has until April to pass a budget and decide the fate of billions in projected surplus.

Lawmakers are also facing tough decisions on how to draw new political district maps and the fate of an expiring COVID-19 eviction moratorium.

Hochul plans to deliver her address from the Assembly Chamber to distanced attendees due to the COVID-19 uptick.

The Democrat, who took office in August after former Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped down, has vowed to restore governmental integrity.

She’ll propose term limits and a ban on nearly all outside income for the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller.

Hochul has said she’ll also offer plans to boost offshore wind and electric vehicle infrastructure, expand mail-in-voting and support health care workers.

Lawmakers must soon approve maps that will divide New York into new legislative and congressional districts for the next decade.

In 2014, voters frustrated with partisan gerrymandering tasked an independent commission with drawing up maps.

But on Monday, the commission failed to release a single compromise map.

Democratic and Republican commissioners have released two competing maps and blamed the other for failing to compromise.

Stakes are high in dwindling, conservative-friendly upstate communities: new Census data shows New York will lose its 27th congressional seat.

Democratic commissioners want to split the GOP-held 23rd district: their map would group together liberal-friendly Utica and Syracuse and combine conservative communities into other districts. Republicans proposed overhauling New York City districts and splitting up Hudson Valley’s 18th district.

The Legislature has 10 days to approve or reject the maps with two-thirds votes in each chamber. If those maps fail, the commission could submit maps again.

And if those maps fail, the Legislature could pass maps of their own. Democrats with legislative supermajorities could potentially give themselves more districts.

Hochul is also facing calls for more COVID-19 relief as New York’s moratorium on residential evictions and foreclosure nears a Jan. 15 expiration date.

Housing advocates are warning that will fuel a flood in evictions, though landlords say court bottlenecks will prevent a surge.

The state’s still struggling to get relief out: New York has spent about half of $2.4 billion in federal rent relief funds meant to help low-and-moderate income tenants.

Meanwhile, advocates for undocumented workers are calling for $3 billion more for the state’s Excluded Workers Fund, which quickly ran out of $2 billion in state funds.

A group of lawmakers, including Sen. Anna Kaplan, want New York to set aside $2.5 billion to help New York repay $9 billion it borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment claims amid the pandemic.