Legislative leaders in Albany discuss priorities ahead of the end of the legislative session next week

In this February photo, Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, left, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, listen to Gov. Kathy Hochul present her executive state budget in the Red Room at the state Capitol in Albany. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

FILE - Senate Majority Leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, left, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, in February (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

ALBANY – Ahead of the end of the legislative session in Albany, legislative leaders are tempering expectations about what could get passed before state lawmakers adjourn for the year. 

Both state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie held separate press conferences Wednesday to discuss their end-of-session priorities. The session is scheduled to end on June 8. 

Stewart-Cousins and Heastie both said their major priorities include New York City housing issues and a bill to seal from the public many criminal records after a certain number of years if the individual has not been charged with any crimes and has paid their debt to society. It does not apply to sexual offenses. Proponents argue there is a bias against hiring formerly incarcerated people, which leads to millions of New Yorkers being denied jobs or housing due to their pasts. 

The bill known as “Clean Slate” has gained traction this year, but ultimately has stalled in previous years. The state Senate has passed the bill, but the state Assembly has never taken up the bill. The major hold up for the bill is disagreement over how much time must pass before records are sealed. The state Senate’s bill would automatically seal records for felonies seven years after sentencing or release from incarceration. For misdemeanors, records would be sealed three years after sentencing or release. 

“I think we’re pretty close,” Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said Wednesday at the state Capitol. “I think everyone’s kind of agreed on the time … because there have been so many iterations since the first bill, I don’t want to put something out, because we are still negotiating, but I do believe we’re pretty set on the times now.”

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie, D-Brooklyn, sponsors the bill in the state Senate. He pointed out the bill has support of labor and business groups, as well as criminal justice reform groups.

“I think it’s important to remember that the great power government has is to take away someone’s liberty and to impose what society has determined is the appropriate punishment,” he said. “I hate that we mix politics into this, because we’re talking about people’s lives. So, for someone who has political misgivings about Clean Slate, I’d ask them to have a conversation with an individual who cannot get a job right now because of something they did years prior.”

Heastie, D-Bronx, also said at the state Capitol Wednesday that he, Stewart-Cousins and Gov. Kathy Hochul were “close” to an agreement. Both leaders were hesitant to discuss any details as negotiations continue. In typical Albany fashion, a three-way deal on these issues and more will likely be announced soon before the scheduled end of session, and state lawmakers usually pass a rush of last-minute bills late into the night before departing for the year.

This year’s state budget negotiations continued until the end of April, with state lawmakers ultimately officially passing it on May 2. The state budget is due April 1 annually. The policy-laden budget and drawn-out negotiations has seemingly left state lawmakers with little appetite to take up any major policy discussions. 

Heastie added ongoing issues, like housing and the migrant crisis, will continue to be discussed all year round, not just during the legislative session. 

“I think the fact that the budget took a[n extra] month of the legislative session, kind of condensed our ability to talk in conference about these things. At the end of every session, something’s always left on the plate — and that’s why you have a following session,” Heastie said. “I wouldn’t say this session was a disappointment. We’ve covered a lot of ground and a lot of policy got done in the budget. Year after year, we break a record in the number of two-house bills that get passed. So, I think there’s significant legislation that will be done in between the budget and when we meet next week.”

Categories: -News-, News, Schenectady County

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