- By Steve Bittenbender | The Center Square contributor/June 11th, 2021
(The Center Square) – The New York Legislature ended its 2021 session early Friday morning on a whimper and not a bang, with some groups frustrated over what lawmakers failed to accomplish in the final days.
Among the items left uncrossed on the to-do list was finalizing the last-minute deal to pass a criminal justice reform bill, known as the “Clean Slate Act.”
An agreement had been in the works between legislative leaders and the executive branch, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorizing a “message of necessity” to waive the three-day rule bill passage. In exchange, lawmakers would have approved the governor’s plan to split the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Board chair and CEO positions between two people, with Senate approval on the nominations required.
The Assembly passed the MTA bill early Friday before adjourning, but the Senate chose to end its session hours earlier without taking that step.
“As our scheduled session concludes tonight, we are proud of the historic progress we made this year.,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said in a statement. “If ongoing discussions on any outstanding issues require action, we stand ready to come back when and if necessary.”
Unless or until the Senate comes back, Cuomo will need to find a Plan B for replacing MTA Chair and CEO Pat Foye, who is set to become the interim president and CEO of Empire State Development toward the end of next month.
Supporters of the Clean Slate legislation, which would automatically seal some criminal convictions from an individual’s record after a specific time frame, said the failure to pass the bill will mean thousands of convicts will face hardships landing jobs or housing.
The Legal Aid Society called on Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, to reconvene the legislature immediately to pass the bill.
“It is a racial justice bill. It is an economic bill,” the group said in a statement. “It is a public safety bill, and it should have passed.”
A number of other items also fell through the cracks, including calls for lawmakers to support the restaurant industry by passing a bill allowing them to continue selling alcoholic beverages for to-go orders even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
New York State Restaurant Association President and CEO Melissa Fleischut said in a statement that lawmakers decided to protect liquor stores, even though they did not face nearly the same challenges during the pandemic as bars and restaurants.
She added that 78% of the state wants to see the emergency regulation become permanent.
“As Governor Cuomo has said, we aren’t supposed to just put everything back the way it was and pretend the pandemic never happened,” Fleischut said. “That fantasy world doesn’t exist. In the meantime, we urge the Governor to continue extending the Executive Order allowing alcohol beverages with takeout and delivery as he continues his fight to reimagine, rebuild and renew a stronger New York.”
Speaking of emergency orders, Republicans tried 47 times during the session but to no avail to get their Democratic colleagues to end the directives Cuomo put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
GOP leaders also pushed Democrats to impeach Cuomo as allegations of improprieties – both by him and his administration – mounted earlier in the year. The Assembly Judiciary Committee has started an inquiry, but it has not taken any formal stance on the issue.
Even though lawmakers voted to approve funding for an impeachment inquiry on Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, doubted that Democrats will move on it.
“I don’t think they have the guts to do what the people of New York expect them to do,” he told reporters with just hours left in the session. “They haven’t shown it at any point in this entire session.”
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