Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About “Chapter Amendments”


New York’s governors have three basic options when they’re asked to sign a bill passed by the Legislature: 

  1. Not sign the bill via veto or pocket veto;
  2. Say “yes” and sign it as is;
  3. Or say “yes” with changes known as “chapter amendments.”

Governor Hochul is a big fan of chapter amendments because they allow her to say “yes” while substantially changing the parts of a bill she disagrees with – including the basic intent.  

A chapter amendment is essentially a bill that the Legislature agrees to pass in exchange for the Governor signing another bill amending the same law(s). Chapter amendments can be minor technical adjustments or major substantive revisions, and it can be difficult to know how much of the intent of the original bill is being changed.

Here’s a hypothetical example: The Legislature passes a bill lowering the campaign contribution limit for gubernatorial candidates from $18,000 to $2,000. Let’s say the Governor doesn’t like the bill, but she knows that vetoing it would make her look bad. So she makes a deal with the Legislature: She will sign the bill if they pass a bill in the coming session that makes the new contribution limit $12,000 instead of $2,000. The Legislature agrees, and the new contribution limit becomes $12,000.

Why are chapter amendments made?
Chapter amendments are made for three reasons: 

  1. There are technical errors in the bill (referring to the wrong section of law, for example). This is fairly common – particularly for budget bills.
  2. They are the only way to get the Governor to sign a bill.
  3. Stakeholders (such as lobbyists, community groups, or state agencies) have raised specific concerns about how the bill is implemented or unintended consequences.

What are the pros and cons of chapter amendments?
At their best, chapter amendments can fix technical issues with bills. When the law is written poorly, it can be ruled unconstitutional by a judge and undo months of work by advocates and lawmakers. Sometimes bills also create requirements that are too onerous for agencies and businesses, and chapter amendments help address these issues more quickly than introducing new legislation.

At their worst, chapter amendments can gut bills and undo the original intent of the Legislature (though in order to be passed, they require at least some agreement with legislative leaders and/or the sponsors of the bill). Governors do not want the negative headlines that come with vetoing transformative legislation, so they water down the bill until it’s unrecognizable. Journalists are also less likely to cover complicated changes to the law that the public will have difficulty understanding.

Who influences chapter amendments?
Typically stakeholders affected by or lobbying for or against the legislation. Legal or policy experts might lobby the Governor to fix a technical issue via chapter amendment, or a powerful lobbying interest might convince the Governor to gut a bill via chapter amendment. A state government agency that would administer a new law may also request changes.

Who is involved in negotiations over chapter amendments?
Usually the Governor, the Assembly Speaker, the Senate Majority Leader, and their staffs, as well as the bill sponsors and their staffs. The original bill sponsors typically sponsor the chapter amendment.

What are some recent examples of chapter amendments?
In 2022, Reinvent Albany campaigned for the restoration of the Comptroller’s authority to conduct “pre-audit” reviews of approve state contracts before they are signed. The bill passed by the legislature allowed the Comptroller to pre-audit certain contracts over $85,000. The Governor agreed to sign the bill if the threshold was raised to $125,000, and the bill was “chaptered.” Observers considered this a fairly small change.

Are chapter amendment negotiations open to the public?

When are chapter amendments usually passed?
Most chapter amendments are passed and signed between January and March.

Does the Governor need to sign chapter amendments for them to become law?

Between the period when the bill is signed and the chapter amendment is signed, which is law? The original bill, or the chapter amendment?
The original bill. Using the example above about campaign contributions, when the Governor signs the bill, the law sets the contribution limit at $2,000. After the chapter amendment is signed, the limit becomes $12,000.

Can the Governor receive a chapter amendment without the Legislature?
No. Chapter amendments require three-way agreements between the Governor, the Assembly, and the Senate.

Have chapter amendments ever been stopped or vetoed?
Not to Reinvent Albany’s knowledge.

How long does it take for chapter amendments to be passed and signed?
A few months at most. To avoid legal confusion, state leaders want to make sure the chapter amendment is signed as soon as possible.

When are chapter amendments publicly available?
Chapter amendments are publicly available when the chapter amendment bill is introduced in the Legislature. When the Governor signs a bill on the condition that a chapter amendment is passed, she usually includes general details about the changes in her bill signing memo, but sometimes omits specifics.

Are chapter amendments introduced under the same bill number as the original bill?
No. Chapter amendments have a different bill number.

Is the chapter amendment process legally binding on the parties involved (the Governor, the Assembly, and the Senate), or does it just depend on a handshake?
As far as we know, it depends on a handshake, meaning that the agreement is not legally binding.

If the majority party in the Legislature changes (for example, from GOP to Democratic), does the new majority pass chapter amendments to the previous Legislature’s bills?
This has happened. Back in 2019, the NY Senate majority changed from GOP to Democratic, then the Democrat-led Legislature passed passed six chapter amendments to 2018 bills (S2039 thru S2044 of 2019). However, the original bills had all passed with unanimous or near-unanimous support, meaning that there was no opposition to the legislation from the new majority party.

Has a Governor ever signed a previous Governor’s requested chapter amendment?
Not that we know of. Governor Cuomo did not sign any chapter amendments requested after Governor Paterson’s tenure.

We hope this was helpful! Please send comments or questions to Tom Speaker, Legislative Director, tom [at] reinventalbany [dot] org.