Next Tuesday, New Yorkers will head to the polls amidst the most charged political climate in recent memory. While much of the news is focused on Congress, it is the battle for control of the state Senate that may ultimately have the greatest impact on New York's independent agents and brokers. Things could look very different come November 7th.
Currently, Republicans hold a one-seat majority in the Senate (a long-running power sharing agreement with a group of breakaway Democrats evaporated earlier this year). The party has controlled the chamber since 2010, when Democrats briefly held control (Google “NY state senate leadership crisis" for a fascinating history lesson).
This year, Democrats are vying to flip as many as 10 of the 63 state Senate seats. If they gain control of the Senate, Democrats will control both houses of the legislature and the Governor's mansion (as well as the Attorney General and Comptroller seats).
For years, the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic Assembly have acted, in ways not often obvious, as moderating forces on the legislative process. Split control of the legislature has forced compromise and bi-partisanship, and pushed policy toward the center (mostly).
So what's in store if the Senate flips?
For four years in a row, legislation to enact a single payer system have passed the Assembly, only to die in the Senate (here's a quick primer on how it the bill would work). A Democratic Senate will surely give momentum to the single payer proposal, but that by no means makes passage a certainty. While this proposal is popular with the progressive wing of the party, more moderate Democrats may take pause at the staggering price tag – $139 billion. That would require raising state tax revenue by 156 percent. And Democratic control of the chamber, if it occurs, will likely be by a narrow margin. One thing is for certain – your voices will need to be heard louder than ever on this issue. We believe we can improve coverage and reduce healthcare costs – but not by scrapping the current market-based system.
New York has begun inching closer toward the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Spurred by the liberalization of laws across the country, and perhaps, legalization in neighboring Massachusetts and Vermont, the New York Department of Health launched a multi-agency study and determined that the positive impacts outweigh the potential consequences of legalization. While support among lawmakers on both sides of the aisle remains mixed, the trend is clear. A Democratic controlled Senate is sure to spark greater debate on this issue, and we can expect it will begin to gain traction.
This raises many important issues for agents and brokers. For example, how would legalization impact auto insurance? Early studies have linked recreational marijuana to increases in car crashes. Moreover, how will agents and brokers navigate the complex and potentially risky process of obtaining liability and property coverage for commercial growing and/or retail operations?
Also - under current law, employers can and do dismiss or refuse to hire employees whose drug tests are positive for marijuana use. If they continue to do this after legalization, there could be a bumper crop of lawsuits alleging discrimination (drinkers don’t get fired but weed smokers do) or wrongful termination (firing someone for committing a legal act.) Employment Practices Liability Insurance would apply to these types of lawsuits.
Is recreational marijuana coming to New York in the near future? It's hard to say. But one thing is certain – we'll be watching this issue closely.
We'll probably see more of them. One example – we may see a repeat of last year's budget proposal to dramatically increase fines under the insurance law. The only certainty? We'll be out on the front lines fighting anything that unduly harms independent agents, brokers, and our customers.
Playing Defense on Liability Issues:
New York's trial lawyers are a constant force pushing the boundaries of tort liability. The Senate, by and large, has held the line. A Democratic controlled Senate could be a very different climate.
Whether the Democrats flip the Senate is still anybody's guess. But regardless, our issues aren't partisan. Independent agents and brokers stand uniquely at the intersection of business and consumers - we're there to help regular people navigate the complex world of insurance and help them protect the people and things they love. For years we've scored important wins with bipartisan support, and we will continue to do so.
Yes, a Democratic controlled Senate could make things more challenging, and your support and advocacy will be more important than ever. But we're not afraid of a challenge.