5 things to watch out for in the final days of the 2021 state legislature
ALBANY – Even though governors’ inquiries and COVID-19 occupy most of the political air, state lawmakers are still trying to end the 2021 legislative session with a flurry.
Before adjourning Thursday, lawmakers will assess critical proposals regarding grand juries and “ghost weapons”, ethics and sexual abuse, parole for older inmates and the prosecution of teenagers, fake vaccination cards and real estate discrimination.
And if they have time, they could confirm a slew of judicial candidates, filling vacancies from New York’s highest court to the bench hearing the state’s lawsuits.
Lawmakers will seek to halt the passage of bills even though the history of state policy in 2021 – the multiple investigations against Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, addressing sexual harassment, COVID-19 and retirement homes and its $ 5.1 million book deal – will continue beyond adjournment of the legislative session.
Here are five things to watch out for as lawmakers begin the final week of the session:
Democrats who control the Senate and Assembly are making a series of proposals to make it easier to get parole, to make it harder for police to use force against civilians, and to reduce the flow of illegal weapons.
A controversial bill would allow New Yorkers to prosecute gun manufacturers and dealers for crimes committed with their products. The Senate approved the bill on Wednesday, but its fate is unclear in the Assembly.
Sponsors of the bill say they are gaining support, but the measure has remained stuck in the Assembly’s economic development committee (as it would change state trade laws to allow prosecution) since April.
The Senate also approved a measure to ban weapons called “ghost weapons” because they do not have a serial number. Because they are shipped unfinished, they circumvent state and federal restrictions. A related would prohibit the shipment of “unfinished receivers,” which can be assembled with other parts into a fully serviceable firearm.
The Assembly has not yet adopted either measure.
Progressives are also pushing bills to raise the standards under which police can use lethal force and one to restrict the legal immunity of police officers who kill or injure citizens. They want to end “qualified immunity,” which largely grants government officials personal immunity from prosecution, except in certain cases.
But the use of force and immunity bills both faced great odds, given the few days of the legislature remaining, a source said.
This was also the case with a bill aimed at ending the secrecy surrounding grand jury proceedings.
Assemb. Danny O’Donnell (D-Manhattan) sponsored the bill in response to numerous cases of grand juries refusing to charge a police officer with a felony when he is involved in the death of a civilian. It would allow the public disclosure of certain testimonies and grand jury instructions in cases where no charges have been laid.
“Grand jury’s closed-door proceedings breed mistrust, especially in high-profile cases involving an officer who killed a civilian,” O’Donnell said when the assembly approved the bill on Wednesday.
But it is not clear that the Senate will follow.
Another measure at stake is raising the minimum age for arresting and prosecuting children as juvenile delinquents to 12 years. Currently, New York City sets the minimum age at 7, the second lowest in the country, supporters of the reform have said.
There are also two high-profile parole bills at stake. One, called “senior parole,” would allow any inmate 55 or over who has served 15 consecutive years or more in prison to automatically obtain a parole hearing, regardless of the type of crime or other factors.
Another would allow the state parole board to release an inmate after reviewing their criminal record and determining that they would not present an “unreasonable risk” to the community.
Opposing the bill, the New York State District Attorneys Association said it would prevent the Parole Board from reviewing the seriousness of the underlying crime. Supporters of the bill said in a memo that using crime as a factor in parole decisions – even if the crime was committed decades earlier – too often results in denials for those at low risk.
The Republicans, in the minority in each chamber, accuse the Democrats of having made “a last-minute push which will weaken even more the laws of public protection”.
“For too long, our fellow Democrats have forced us to protect criminals, letting them get away with almost everything,” Assemb said. Michael Montesano (R-Glen Head) on a GOP effort to push long-term bills to allow judges to hold more defendants in jail without bail and make it harder to get ‘parole.
Real estate discrimination
The fate of a slew of anti-discrimination proposals triggered by Newsday’s investigation of Long Island real estate agencies rests with the Assembly.
The Senate approved bills in February calling for tougher penalties for housing discrimination, more anti-bias training for realtors, and an initiative to deploy undercover homebuyers to test whether agents “steer” customers into or out of certain neighborhoods.
The action was sparked by “Long Island Divided,” a Newsday investigation that found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority homebuyers.
The results included evidence that some agents referred potential minority buyers to homes in neighborhoods with comparatively higher concentrations of minority residents and that agents sometimes demanded pre-approved mortgages from black or Hispanic clients. , but no white people.
In 40% of the tests, the evidence suggested that brokers subjected minorities to disparate treatment compared to white testers. Black testers experienced disparate treatment 49% of the time; Hispanics 39% and Asians 19%.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has nominated 16 judicial candidates for various intermediate and lower court appointments to be considered by the Senate. But he also made two high-profile appointments to the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court: Nassau County Attorney Madeline Singas, and New York City Administrative Judge Anthony Cannataro.
If confirmed, Singas and Cannataro would fill two vacancies on the seven-member tribunal.
Although Singas, a longtime prosecutor, faces opposition from some progressive activists, the Senate Judiciary Committee planned to hold a hearing on her appointment on Monday or Tuesday, officials said.
Another high profile legal issue is the “Adult Survivors Act”. Inspired somewhat by the “child victims law” adopted in 2019, it would temporarily suspend the limitation period barrier for filing charges for alleged sexual abuse. If approved, the new law would give those who are abused at the age of 18 or over a one-year period to file a lawsuit.
The Senate unanimously approved the Adult Survivors Act, but it was blocked in the assembly.
Each house has approved a bill to criminalize the forgery of vaccination cards. But the bills don’t match and carry drastically different penalties. The Senate version, sponsored by Senator Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) carries a maximum sentence of 1 ½ to 4 years in prison. The Assembly version, sponsored by Assemb. Jeff Dinowitz (D-Bronx), is much more severe, calling for a sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison for possession of 50 or more fake vaccination cards.
It is not clear whether the Senate and the Assembly will unite behind a version before the adjournment.