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New York Legislature To Act On Some — But Not All — Criminal Justice Measures

Prison cells
Courtesy of Pixabay

The 2021 New York legislative session is in its final hours, with many items yet to be resolved. Criminal justice reforms continue to dominate at the end of the session, just as they have for the past two years.

Here’s a look at what seems to be in, and what seems to be out.

A bill that would seal some criminal records for those convicted of misdemeanors and some felonies will be ready for a vote in the Senate and Assembly by the session's final day.

Known as Clean Slate, the new modified version would not expunge records, and the records could be made available to prosecutors and judges if the person commits a new crime. The change addresses some of the concerns from district attorneys in the state who said they were worried that prior criminal convictions would be erased.

At a rally outside the Capitol on Tuesday, the bill's sponsor in the Senate, Zellnor Myrie, said the bill will mean a chance at redemption for those convicted of crimes who served their time.

“In practice, we have a system of perpetual punishment,” said Myrie. “If you have paid your dues, you deserve a second chance.”

Republicans, the minority in the Legislature, object to the measure, saying it goes too far. Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt said GOP lawmakers might support a more limited sealing of criminal records.

"If we were talking about very specific crimes, non-violent crimes, first offender type crimes, that’s something that I could consider," Ortt said. "But we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about all crimes."

The Catholic Church is also objecting to portions of the bill, saying it would leave employers who work with children or vulnerable adults unable to “adequately assess whether someone who wants to work or volunteer in one of their programs can safely be around children.” In a bill memo, the church said the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the institution have led all Catholic-based services to require a criminal background check for potential employees.

Another bill introduced in both houses would make it harder for someone on parole who commits a technical violation to be sent back to prison.

It also appears likely that the age where someone can be classified a juvenile delinquent would be raised from 7 years old to 12 years old.

Two other measures to change the state’s parole laws were stalled. The Elder Parole Bill would allow all inmates over the age of 55 who have served at least 15 years of their sentence to be automatically eligible for a parole hearing. Another would require the parole board to take into consideration — before looking at the seriousness of the crime that they committed — the attempts made by an inmate to rehabilitate themselves.

Both houses did agree on a bill to make gun manufacturers legally liable for people who commit crimes with their guns, and if the weapons they produce are used to endanger public safety or health.

The Senate and Assembly also passed a measure to ban so called “ghost guns” by closing a loophole that allowed access to the components needed to build an AR-15 without having to go through a background check or register the weapon.

The bills that are approved in the final hours of the session will go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for his signature; he has not said whether or not he will support the bills.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.
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