Monday, December 11, 2023

Gov. Hochul vetoes bill at center of NY chief judge battle 

Ten months after state lawmakers rejected Gov. Kathy Hochul’s first pick for New York’s chief judge, the aftershocks of that battle within the state’s Democratic Party continue to ripple through Albany.

On Friday, Hochul vetoed a bill that would have required organizations to disclose what they’re spending — and which lobbyists they’re hiring — when they advocate for or against a gubernatorial nominee.

The bill — which state lawmakers passed earlier this year — was a direct response to the extensive lobbying battle earlier this year over Hector LaSalle, an Appellate Division judge Hochul nominated for chief judge of the state Court of Appeals late last year.

Had Hochul signed the bill, it would have applied retroactively — meaning the lobbyists who led a public and behind-the-scenes campaign for LaSalle would have been required to disclose.

In a veto message, Hochul suggested that would be inappropriate.

“This bill would impose significant new reporting requirements on people who might not already be reporters, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023,” Hochul wrote. “Additionally, this would impose implementation costs not already accounted for in the state financial plan.”

The Democrat-led state Senate rejected Hochul’s nomination of LaSalle in February , marking the first time senators rejected a governor’s pick for chief judge since the state adopted the current nomination process in the 1970s. The rejection marked a low point in Hochul’s relationship with the Legislature since she took office in 2021.

At the time, some Democratic senators expressed concern about LaSalle signing on to a prior decision that angered labor unions. They also raised issues with what they perceived as a rightward shift on the state Court of Appeals, the state’s top court, and whether LaSalle would be too conservative for their liking.

State law requires anyone spending $5,000 in a calendar year in an attempt to influence state legislation or regulations to register as a lobbyist in New York, which requires them — and their hired lobbyists — to disclose what they’re spending on the effort.

But the law is silent when it comes to gubernatorial nominations. That meant the organizations that advocated for LaSalle — with names like Citizens for Judicial Fairness and Latinos for LaSalle — didn’t have to publicly reveal what they were spending in an attempt to influence senators.

That prompted a bill from Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat, and Albany-area Assemblymember John McDonald that sought to close what they saw as a loophole in state law.

The bill, which lawmakers approved overwhelmingly, would have required lobbyists to disclose their spending and clients whenever they lobbied for or against a gubernatorial nominee.

But unlike many bills, this one would have gone back in time to take effect — meaning it would have applied to any such lobbying since the start of 2023 going forward, rather than taking effect when the governor signs it. That was intentional; it would have captured the spending that took place at the height of the battle over LaSalle’s nomination.

In a statement, Gianaris said he isn’t pleased with Hochul’s veto.

“This veto is disappointing as there appears to be no good argument against this proposal and no good justification for this veto,” he said. “I will continue working to enact this legislation and other efforts to advance transparency and accountability.”

After the Senate rejected Hochul’s first pick, the governor nominated Rowan Wilson — a liberal-leaning justice already on the Court of Appeals — for chief judge. The Senate easily confirmed him.

The bill was one of 22 that Hochul vetoed on Friday, to go along with 38 she signed. She has until the end of the month to act on an additional 101 bills that still await her signature after the Legislature approved them earlier in the year.

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