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Clean Slate likely to pass, but other items remain unresolved as NY legislative session winds down

State Sen. Samra Brouk standing behind a podium in front of a large group of people holding up 'pass clean slate' signs
Karen DeWitt
New York State Public Radio
State Sen. Samra Brouk joins advocates on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, to rally for passage of the Clean Slate bill, which would automatically clear a New Yorker's conviction record once they become eligible.

Labor and business leaders and other advocates chanting “Clean Slate can’t wait!” at a rally Wednesday at the State Capitol may not have to wait much longer for the criminal justice reform measure to become law.

Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders say they are very close to agreement on the measure, which would expunge criminal records for people convicted of some crimes to help them get jobs and housing once they’ve served their sentence.

But with just over a week left in the 2023 legislative session, that appears to be the only issue that the Legislature and governor can agree on.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said there have been “positive three-way discussions” on Clean Slate between his house, the state Senate, and Hochul.

“We’re trying to come up with something that the governor, Assembly and the Senate can all be happy with,” Heastie said. “We're very close. I’m very optimistic that we’ll get something done.”

The bill has been amended in recent days to reflect concerns that the finance industry had about potential liability if they hired people who committed financial crimes in the past. State leaders are also trying to agree to a time frame on how long people should have to wait after serving their sentences before their records are sealed.

Hochul said there’s “conceptual agreement” as they hash out a final version. She said it would clear the way for many who have been convicted of crimes and have served their sentences to obtain jobs.

“I think it addresses a serious shortage of workers that we have here in the state of New York, which is why there's such strong support from the business community for this,” Hochul said. “And I think we'll get this done.”

But other criminal justice issues are stalled, including Elder Parole, which would give older inmates who are serving long sentences an opportunity to go before the parole board and ask for early release.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said those issues are not likely to become law this year.

“I think Clean Slate is the one where we are focused on right now,” Stewart-Cousins said.

As the session winds down, lawmakers also appear no closer to agreement on other items, including actions to ease the state’s affordable housing crisis.

The governor’s plan to build 800,000 new housing units over the next 10 years fell out of budget talks when suburban lawmakers objected to a provision that would override local zoning laws. And a tenants rights measure backed by progressive lawmakers, known as the Good Cause Eviction law, failed to win enough votes.

While the leaders say talks are ongoing, Heastie said more effort is needed to get all of the stakeholders together before a housing package can be crafted.

“When you want to do transformational change, I really think that there really needs to be time for collective buy-in,” Heastie said. “And I'm just not sure that that was able to happen with the housing program.”

The leaders told reporters that a bill sought by the Seneca Nation of Indians to renegotiate gaming contracts is “under discussion,” but did not report any progress. They also said a bill that would require clergy to report sexual abuse allegations that are brought to their attention is not advancing so far.

But they were reluctant to rule anything in -- or anything out. Asked about a bill that would allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, Stewart-Cousins answered diplomatically.

“It’s part of the bills that we may or may not discuss,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I have nothing definitive on that.”

The leaders said there are several days left until the session ends, and in that time, anything could happen.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.