State lawmakers and the governor will spend the next few weeks touting what was included in the state’s $168 billion budget.
But what they won’t brag about is what they didn’t get done — several pieces of vital legislation that should have been included in the budget but weren’t.
As usually happens, this year’s budget was negotiated in secret and passed in the wee hours of a Saturday morning on the weekend of a major holiday.
The reason for the cloak-and-dagger approach is because they don’t want you to focus on their failures.
They failed, for instance, to pass the Child Victims Act, which would have extended the statute of limitations on child sex crimes and allowed victims of older violence a one-year window to bring charges against their attackers.
This major piece of legislation was opposed by the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts and other big organizations that deal with children and which spent a lot of money to influence the Senate Republicans who killed the bill.
They also didn’t pass legislation that would have helped keep poor people accused of misdemeanor and non-violent crimes from being jailed for long periods of time because of their inability to post bail. This was a common-sense, compassionate bill that would have spared people considered innocent-until-proven-guilty from risking their jobs, families and reputations over the sin of being too poor to raise even modest bail money.
They failed to include money to make our schools safer by increasing funding for armed school security officers. The fault over this one falls to Democrats, who used the issue to seek stricter gun controls. There’s no reason why lawmakers couldn’t have added money in the budget for school security to address immediate concerns and not gone back and done broader gun control later.
Also not included in the budget was funding for early voting. Allowing voters to vote several days before an election would make it easier for shift workers, working parents, people with transportation issues and others to vote when it is convenient for them.
Many states already have early voting to boost turnout and encourage civic involvement. New York, still, does not.
Lawmakers also took a pass on ethics reform to curb corruption in state government and restore the public’s trust. No surprise there, but disappointing.
They’ve still got about three months before the end of this year’s legislative session to pass some of these bills. And if the political makeup of the Senate changes, some of this legislation could get a second look.
But the prime opportunity to pass these bills was by including them in the state budget, when supporters of the legislation had negotiating leverage.
Now the survival of these measures will be a matter of relying on lawmakers to do the right thing without any pressure to do so.
As we all know, that’s a pretty tall order to fill.