SCHENECTADY — A resolution to back a proposed state law that would seal criminal conviction records of formerly incarcerated individuals failed to pass the Schenectady City Council on Monday evening, with the council deadlocked on the measure.
The resolution would have declared the council’s support for the Clean Slate Act, a bill passed by the State Senate in June that has yet to receive a vote in the State Assembly.
The resolution called for the State Legislature to pass the bill and for Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign it into law.
The proposed law would automatically seal the records of state prisoners who have finished their sentences and completed their probation and paroles and have no subsequent convictions.
The state legislation would seal the records of former incarcerated individuals convicted of felonies seven years from their sentencing, excluding any time they spent in prison.
For former prisoners who were convicted of misdemeanors, their records would be sealed three years after their sentencing.
With City Councilman John Mootooveren absent from Monday’s meeting due to illness, the resolution failed when the council voted 3-3 on the proposal, with Board President Marion Porterfield and City Councilmembers Carl Williams and Damonni Farley supporting the resolution and City Councilman John Polimeni and City Councilmembers Carmel Patrick and Doreen Ditoro opposing the resolution.
“Simply put, my colleagues have proven to be pro-criminal and anti-victim,” Polimeni said prior to casting his vote. “They’ve put their activism before the city, our neighborhoods or our citizens. This isn’t about jobs, lots of employers hire those with criminal backgrounds.”
Mootooveren said on Tuesday that he would have supported the resolution if he would have been able to attend Monday’s meeting.
“If I were there I would have voted yes for it,” he said. “Unfortunately I was not feeling well. I did my best to attend but I could not attend.”
Mootooveren said that if the resolution were to appear on a future agenda he would vote for the measure.
“Absolutely, yes,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m hoping we’ll have it back for the next round. It’s unfortunate that some people voted against it. It’s sad. But I will support it in the next round, there’s no doubt about that.”
Porterfield said there is a chance that the resolution could be brought before the board again at a future meeting.
“That’s possible,” she said. “We’ll certainly have to have that discussion amongst the council members once again. Obviously, I clearly support it. I don’t think it’s about returning people who are going to create detriment to our community, especially when people have to wait so long before they are eligible for this. In addition to that, if they have an encounter with law enforcement, then law enforcement can see they have a criminal history. This is about housing, employment and the economics of improving our community and allowing people to get back on their feet and not always be dependent on the system to take care of them.”
The resolution notes that 8.7 million people in the state have criminal conviction records, with those convictions posing significant hurdles to gaining employment and housing for formerly incarcerated individuals.
Williams, who strongly supported the resolution, noted after the meeting that he was not ready to consider a potential second vote on the resolution.
“I think having an opportunity to digest everything that just happened and taking a moment to meditate and reflect I think is important,” he said. “So, I’d like to give pause and make sure we’re taking every consideration possible. I’m definitely not disappointed. I’m optimistic moving forward. This is definitely a legislative item I believe in. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But I wanted to put forth a strong effort that showed the State Assembly that this is something that they need to address and it’s something that affects a lot of Schenectadians. It would help improve our neighborhoods directly and improve the quality of life for a lot of people in this city.”
Prior to casting her no vote during the meeting, Ditoro said that she was concerned about the council supporting the state legislation when the wording of the final bill is still subject to change.
“We are turning into a state and country where there’s no accountability for our actions,” she said. “There are rules and laws that we need to abide by and people need to be accountable for their decisions. Since the progressives came to the forefront, society has not improved. Of course people deserve a second chance, but that doesn’t mean that society doesn’t have the right to know what illegalities they’ve committed.”
Patrick said during the meeting that she had carefully weighed the measure before deciding to vote no.
“I think everybody deserves a second chance, but I also think employers and landlords should have access to all of the information about potential employees and tenants,” she said during the meeting. “I think that in our case, as a city council, I think that all of us have that love in our hearts or we wouldn’t be sitting here and put ourselves in this situation to do what we can to help all of the residents in our community.”
Prior to the council’s vote, a procession of 10 residents voiced their support for the resolution during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“From my experience dealing with people in society, one of the most joyful things is when somebody that’s incarcerated gets released,” Rev. Mother Grace Ferris of St. John of God Parish told the board. “But for many of them, their sentence continues. They just try to assimilate into society and make an honest living. We need to do everything we can as a society to make sure that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Prior to voting for the passage of the resolution, Farley said he took issue with the name of the Clean Slate Act, noting that it could give the false impression that the bill would wipe away the transgressions of prisoners upon their release.
“If you’re not intentional about learning about it, you’ll think it somehow wipes away what people have done,” Farley said during the meeting. “You might think it takes away accountability from actions, when actually what this proposed act is saying is that after someone has served their time and been incarcerated and after they’ve been on probation or on parole, years afterwards they’ll have an opportunity. It’s not a hand out or a hand up, it’s an opportunity to put their hand in and contribute to society.”