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NYS session ends with no housing compact, one criminal justice reform, and promise of an encore

The New York state Capitol building and gardens
Daniel Case
CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
The front side of the state Capitol building in Albany, New York.

The 2023 New York state legislative session has ended —mostly — with finger-pointing between Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers over the failure of a housing compact, and the passage of one criminal justice change to seal some criminal records to give some people a second chance to restart their lives.

An ambitious housing plan proposed by Hochul in her state budget failed when suburban lawmakers objected to a provision that would override local zoning laws in some cases.

In the final days of the session, Democrats in the Senate and Assembly crafted a compromise package that would have revived an expired tax credit for developers who include some affordable housing in their building projects, help convert unused office space into homes, and include tenant protections known as the Good Cause Eviction measure.

This time, it was Hochul who rejected the plan.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins issued a joint statement blaming the governor for the failure and saying that “all three chambers” needed to redouble their efforts.

Hochul, through a spokesperson, shot back, saying the Assembly and Senate dropped the ball during the budget process, and lawmakers were now blaming the governor “for their own failure to act.”

The governor, who kept away from Albany in the final days of the session, tried to rally support for her proposals in a speech before a real estate group in New York City.

“I need an army with me. And that's why I'm calling on all of you,” Hochul said on June 9. “Work with us. Help us find the messaging to get to the legislators and to the communities, to let them understand we have to start building. Because otherwise, our young people are going to keep leaving.”

The governor and lawmakers did agreed on one significant criminal justice policy change. Records for some criminal offenses will be sealed after a person convicted of a crime has served their time.

Senate sponsor Zellnor Myrie, speaking during debate on the Senate floor, said the measure, known as Clean Slate, will open up economic opportunities that will benefit everyone.

“Clean Slate is a jobs bill, it’s an education bill, it’s a housing bill,” Myrie said. “It is the right thing to do.”

Someone convicted of a misdemeanor would have to wait for three years before applying to get their records sealed; for felony convictions, they would have to wait eight years.

Not all crimes are eligible. Not included are Class A felonies that are punished by a sentence of life in prison. Any conviction resulting in the person having to register as a sex offender are also excluded.

Opponents, including minority party Republicans who voted against it, said the bill has good intentions but it goes too far. Sen. Anthony Palumbo, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said crime victims that he’s spoken to are angry.

“Their question to me is: ‘What are you guys thinking up there? Why is it all about the criminals?’” Palumbo said. “’What about us?’”

Clean Slate was the only criminal justice measure to pass. Measures like elder parole, which would give older prisoners an opportunity to ask the parole board for early release, did not win approval.

The Senate and Assembly also created a new nine-member commission that will consider reparations from the negative effects of slavery, becoming the second state, after California, to create such an entity.

Lawmakers also approved an updated version of a measure to define how families of victims of wrongful deaths can be awarded damages in civil court, after Hochul earlier this year vetoed a previous bill.

And they amended the state’s public campaign finance program, something that critics, and some Democratic lawmakers, say undermines the fledgling program.

While the Senate wrapped up around 3 a.m. Saturday, the Assembly did not get through all of its agenda before adjourning Saturday afternoon. Unfinished business include a tentative gaming compact with the Seneca Indian Nation.

A spokesman for the Assembly said members have been told to prepare to return to the Capitol later this month.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.