Advocates against proposed reforms to the state’s 120-year-old antitrust laws are starting their campaigns now to make sure the legislation is again unsuccessful when the regular session resumes next year.
The 21st Century Antitrust Act, sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris, would criminalize business practices that establish a monopoly, or take over any New York labor market by abusing market dominance.
Lawmakers left Albany earlier this month without agreeing on reforms to its 120-year-old antitrust laws over concerns of straying from federal policy.
Senators voted to pass the 21st Century Antitrust Act 36-25, but it died in the Assembly Economic Development Committee.
“We did a lot of work in the Assembly,” said Lev Ginsburg, general counsel for the Business Council of New York State. “We did a lot of work trying to educate people and I think it paid off.”
The New York City Bar Committee issued a report after session ended to continue conversation about their concerns. One of the requested revisions for business mergers was addressed in a new version of the bill amended several months ago.
Assembly members were particularly wary about changing the state’s Donnelly Act from 1899 ahead of reforms to similar federal antitrust statutes, potentially opening businesses to lawsuits over differences from federal rules.
“The entire idea is to have New York step forward and create a new standard that sets the tone for the rest of the country,” Gianaris said. “They don’t seem to be able to get it done in Washington, and if we can get it done in New York, we absolutely should.”
Several business organizations across the state oppose the measure over concerns the proposed changes would attack small companies that develop new technologies or it would unfairly punish a business for its success.
“As written, this bill will deputize profit-seeking attorneys to sue not just giant corporations but first-to-market innovators and smaller firms that may lead in local or regional markets,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New. York. “The 21st Century Antitrust Act is part of a misguided populist movement that imports European standards favoring competitors over competition. This approach is not compatible with our legal system and will ultimately harm consumers. Companies will waste resources on compliance and litigation rather than researching and developing. superior products and services. “
The measure would allow the state to engage in class-action lawsuits against large commercial businesses working to dominate an industry.
The state attorney general’s office would be required to establish an “abuse of dominance” standard for legal enforcement if the act becomes law.
“The likelihood of the attorney general bringing suit against a large corporation in state court under state law is really negligible,” Ginsburg said.
But supporters say with 19th-Century antitrust laws on the books, it’s time for change, noting representatives of big businesses are the only groups giving pushback.
Other small businesses are hopeful the state will take the lead to prevent commercial or big-tech companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and others that stifle competition.
“Amazon makes it almost impossible for small business owners like myself to make a profit selling on their Marketplace,” said Bill Stewart, who owns LI Toy & Game in Kings Park, on Long Island. “They ask for documentation they know you can ‘ t provide. They stock a product you’re selling when they see it is popular and profitable, and then undercut your price. “
Stewart said his products have been pulled from the site without legitimate cause, and because a giant like Amazon controls much of the online marketplace, small businesses don’t have a choice to sit at the table.
“Small business owners need this kind of legislation so that our government has better tools to stand up to monopoly bullies like Amazon,” Stewart said. “They treat small business owners poorly because they know we don’t have the power it takes to stand up to them.”
Gianaris is open to considering changes to the legislation, but does not anticipate other significant amendments.
He’s confident support for the act will continue to grow with continued discussion and education.
“We have about six months to build support and hopefully roll into 2023 with the support to get it done,” Gianaris said.