Albany pols approve criminal justice and Cuomo impeachment fund bills
ALBANY — State lawmakers, keen on wrapping up the legislative session, passed a slew of measures including one that would convert vacant hotels and office buildings into affordable housing and were busy tweaking criminal justice reforms late Thursday.
Democrats approved the legislation late Wednesday permitting nonprofits to dip into a $100 million fund to purchase financially distressed hotels and commercial space for affordable housing units.
It comes on the heels of a proposal advanced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January to convert empty office buildings and hotels decimated by the coronavirus pandemic’s hit on tourism and business leases into alternative space.
Leaders in the state Senate and Assembly were stuck negotiating last minute fixes to a bill that would seal most conviction records for criminals, following a drafting error holding up its passage.
The “clean slate” bill would seal records for individuals with misdemeanors after three years, and after seven years for those with felony records.
Registered sex offenders, individuals with pending criminal charges in the state, those probation or under parole supervision would be ineligible.
Bill sponsor, Assemblywoman Catalina Cruz (D-Queens) argues the change is needed as a second chance, as individuals face discrimination when applying for jobs or housing.
“New Yorkers and their families have had housing, employment and educational opportunities hindered because of old criminal records. They have paid their debt to society, they have done their time. It’s time we let them reenter society,” she told The Post.
But Republicans argued the bid to help ex-convicts re-enter society is a bad move during a time when many New Yorkers are worried about the crime wave that has swept cities across the state.
“The governor himself said [the] biggest three issues facing New York City: crime, crime and crime. One hundred and thirty four people have been killed or wounded in the city of Buffalo as the result of violent crime,” seethed state Sen. Minority Leader Rob Ortt during a press conference in Albany Thursday.
“The issues that people really care about — their safety — that’s a backseat. In fact, we are pushing legislation that I believe continues to undermine that very safety. So the biggest challenge facing New York is crime…we’re doing nothing to turn that around. The policies we continue to push have exacerbated that issue.”
Cuomo is also backing a last minute deal that would split up the MTA’s Board Chair and CEO positions into two posts.
He’s pushing for a proposal that would nominate Sarah Feinberg, presently the interim president of the New York City Transit Authority, as the MTA’s first MTA Chairwoman, and name Janno Lieber, the MTA’s chief development officer, the authority’s CEO.
The bill that would have cemented the change was reportedly dead Wednesday, but sources said the proposal is back on the table. The state Senate will return to Albany at the end of June to vote on confirmations, sources said.
Meanwhile, a bill that would authorize the Legislature to use state funds to pay for the sprawling impeachment investigation into Cuomo including multiple allegations of sexual harassment, the withholding of COVID-19 nursing home death data and the alleged misuse of state resources to write his pandemic memoir ‘American Crisis,’ was on track to clear both houses.
“We voted in favor because you know what, now there’s no excuses for Senate and Assembly Democrats, you want to impeach him: You can, you have the funding, you certainly have all the evidence,” Ortt said.
He also slammed Democrats for “normalizing” Cuomo within recent months — including state Sen. Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Westchester) — by appearing with the scandal-scarred governor, after previously calling for his resignation following scandals.
The wind-down of the legislative session seemed anti-climatic, following April’s passage of the $212 billion budget including far-reaching laws that increased taxes on businesses and the wealthy, legalized mobile sports betting and approved recreational marijuana.
Usually there’s a frenzy of activity, but the state Capitol has been closed to the public since last March due to the pandemic.
The sparsely attended hallways, normally teeming with lobbyists pining for a meeting with powerful lawmakers, advocates armed with colorful signs and chanting for their pet issue’s approval, were nonexistent.
One longtime lobbyist told The Post Thursday morning he spent the week stalking politicians at the Empire State Plaza’s entrance on the Capitol’s ground level, as it’s been difficult to get lawmakers to call back.
Ortt argued the session will be remembered more for “what wasn’t done, than what was done.”
Legislation that would have made permanent the popular pandemic-era “cocktails-to-go” law failed to pass both chambers as well as a bill requiring the state Education Department to study public schools and how well they are teaching about the Holocaust.
The Adult Survivors Act, which would open a one-year window for sexual abuse victims to sue their abusers, failed to clear the Assembly following earlier passage in the Senate.
The session is scheduled to wrap up by midnight on Thursday.