Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/criminal-justice-reform 2017-10-22T17:38:13+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com As We Close Rikers, Setting Our Sights on Essential State-Level Reforms 2017-10-18T04:00:00+00:00 2017-10-18T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7261:as-we-close-rikers-setting-our-sights-on-essential-state-level-reforms Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/cuomo128.jpg" alt="Andrew Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at an update prison (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Anyone following New York City politics knows about <a href="https://www.justleadershipusa.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">JustLeadershipUSA</a>’s mission to close the jails at Rikers Island. In less than a year, the <a href="http://closerikers.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#CLOSErikers campaign</a> successfully pressured Mayor Bill de Blasio to commit to shuttering the jail complex. It is no longer a question of if Rikers will close, but when. But the campaign has always known that closing Rikers would require reforms at the state level as well. An overhaul of our statewide bail, speedy trial, and discovery statutes is necessary to reduce the population at Rikers so that it can finally and expeditiously close its doors.</p> <p>Even if Rikers were closed tomorrow, these reforms would still be necessary. While New York City has successfully reduced its jail population over the past few years, county jail populations across the state are growing. Today, 63% of people held in jail in New York State are held in jails outside New York City. Of those 25,000 husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, and loved ones who are sitting in jails across our state, 70% have not been convicted but remain unjustifiably caged while they await the outcome of their cases.</p> <p>This reality is a consequence of punitive and discriminatory criminal justice policies that have decimated communities, primarily poor communities and communities of color, for decades.</p> <p>To end this human rights crisis, we need bold action from Governor Andrew Cuomo and our state Legislature. That is why JustLeadershipUSA launched <a href="https://www.justleadershipusa.org/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#FREEnewyork</a>, a campaign focused on empowering those who have been most harmed by our jails and prisons to hold Governor Cuomo and our elected leaders in Albany accountable and unapologetically demand real solutions to these self-inflicted problems.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/prison-reform-group-demanding-rikers-closure-vows-hound-cuomo-article-1.3467190" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Governor Cuomo said</a> that Rikers should be closed in three years. Now he must deliver around the state he leads. He and his colleagues in Albany have both the power and the responsibility to drive us toward that Rikers goal while also addressing the failings of our statewide criminal justice system.</p> <p>They can start with overhauling our broken bail system. We need reform that eliminates money bail, protects the presumption of innocence and the right to freedom, <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2017/08/28/when-less-is-more" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">limits when and how any pretrial conditions are instituted</a>, and prohibits <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/17/human-rights-watch-advises-against-using-profile-based-risk-assessment-bail-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biased risk assessment tools</a>. Bail reform must focus on ending the devastating repercussions that even initial involvement with the criminal justice system can have on people, especially on low-income families who too often must choose between paying bills or paying for their loved one’s freedom. People who can afford bail <a href="https://brooklynbailfund.org/the-problem/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">achieve better outcomes</a> in their cases, and everyone deserves access to these outcomes.</p> <p>Albany must also enact comprehensive statewide speedy trial and discovery reform. Today, no other state in the country comes close to matching the appalling unfairness of New York’s readiness rule approach to ‘protecting’ one’s right to a fair and expedient process.</p> <p>We need a true speedy trial law that&nbsp;sets concrete limits on when a defendant must actually be brought to trial. As it stands now, prosecutors can cause unforeseeable and unending delays in the trial process without significant repercussions. Combined with the current state of our bail laws, this leads to human beings trapped in cages while they await their hearing before a judge or jury.</p> <p>What is already a bad situation is only made worse by New York’s current discovery laws, which are widely regarded as some of the most regressive in the country. We need a new discovery law that requires open, early, automatic, and mandatory discovery, guaranteeing defendants and their lawyers access to vital information about their cases. Without this, defendants and their attorneys have little to no access to information about the charges they face.</p> <p>These reforms are vital for New Yorkers most affected by mass incarceration, and <a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/public-safety-performance-project" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countless studies</a> have shown that criminal justice reforms like these increase public safety, improve relations between communities and law enforcement, and create better outcomes for victims and taxpayers. Yet, while each of these reforms and each of their respective components are important, none are sufficient on their own if we truly want to end the plague of mass incarceration that grips New York State. Comprehensive, connected reforms are necessary for the real, lasting, and positive change in our criminal justice system that New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>Without this action at the state level, New York will continue to commit human rights abuses on a daily basis. The atrocities of our criminal justice system will linger, and New Yorkers will suffer unimaginable harm as a result. To fight for reform, close Rikers, and decarcerate county jails throughout New York State, directly impacted individuals and communities across the state must raise their voice, and, together, bring a simple message to Governor Cuomo and our legislators in Albany: we are watching you, we demand real and bold reform, and the time to act is now.</p> <p>***<br />Glenn E. Martin is founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/glennEmartin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GlennEMartin</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/JustLeadersUSA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JustLeadersUSA</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/cuomo128.jpg" alt="Andrew Cuomo" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo at an update prison (Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Anyone following New York City politics knows about <a href="https://www.justleadershipusa.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">JustLeadershipUSA</a>’s mission to close the jails at Rikers Island. In less than a year, the <a href="http://closerikers.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#CLOSErikers campaign</a> successfully pressured Mayor Bill de Blasio to commit to shuttering the jail complex. It is no longer a question of if Rikers will close, but when. But the campaign has always known that closing Rikers would require reforms at the state level as well. An overhaul of our statewide bail, speedy trial, and discovery statutes is necessary to reduce the population at Rikers so that it can finally and expeditiously close its doors.</p> <p>Even if Rikers were closed tomorrow, these reforms would still be necessary. While New York City has successfully reduced its jail population over the past few years, county jail populations across the state are growing. Today, 63% of people held in jail in New York State are held in jails outside New York City. Of those 25,000 husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, and loved ones who are sitting in jails across our state, 70% have not been convicted but remain unjustifiably caged while they await the outcome of their cases.</p> <p>This reality is a consequence of punitive and discriminatory criminal justice policies that have decimated communities, primarily poor communities and communities of color, for decades.</p> <p>To end this human rights crisis, we need bold action from Governor Andrew Cuomo and our state Legislature. That is why JustLeadershipUSA launched <a href="https://www.justleadershipusa.org/freenewyork/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">#FREEnewyork</a>, a campaign focused on empowering those who have been most harmed by our jails and prisons to hold Governor Cuomo and our elected leaders in Albany accountable and unapologetically demand real solutions to these self-inflicted problems.</p> <p><a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/prison-reform-group-demanding-rikers-closure-vows-hound-cuomo-article-1.3467190" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Governor Cuomo said</a> that Rikers should be closed in three years. Now he must deliver around the state he leads. He and his colleagues in Albany have both the power and the responsibility to drive us toward that Rikers goal while also addressing the failings of our statewide criminal justice system.</p> <p>They can start with overhauling our broken bail system. We need reform that eliminates money bail, protects the presumption of innocence and the right to freedom, <a href="https://www.themarshallproject.org/2017/08/28/when-less-is-more" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">limits when and how any pretrial conditions are instituted</a>, and prohibits <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/07/17/human-rights-watch-advises-against-using-profile-based-risk-assessment-bail-reform" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biased risk assessment tools</a>. Bail reform must focus on ending the devastating repercussions that even initial involvement with the criminal justice system can have on people, especially on low-income families who too often must choose between paying bills or paying for their loved one’s freedom. People who can afford bail <a href="https://brooklynbailfund.org/the-problem/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">achieve better outcomes</a> in their cases, and everyone deserves access to these outcomes.</p> <p>Albany must also enact comprehensive statewide speedy trial and discovery reform. Today, no other state in the country comes close to matching the appalling unfairness of New York’s readiness rule approach to ‘protecting’ one’s right to a fair and expedient process.</p> <p>We need a true speedy trial law that&nbsp;sets concrete limits on when a defendant must actually be brought to trial. As it stands now, prosecutors can cause unforeseeable and unending delays in the trial process without significant repercussions. Combined with the current state of our bail laws, this leads to human beings trapped in cages while they await their hearing before a judge or jury.</p> <p>What is already a bad situation is only made worse by New York’s current discovery laws, which are widely regarded as some of the most regressive in the country. We need a new discovery law that requires open, early, automatic, and mandatory discovery, guaranteeing defendants and their lawyers access to vital information about their cases. Without this, defendants and their attorneys have little to no access to information about the charges they face.</p> <p>These reforms are vital for New Yorkers most affected by mass incarceration, and <a href="http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/projects/public-safety-performance-project" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countless studies</a> have shown that criminal justice reforms like these increase public safety, improve relations between communities and law enforcement, and create better outcomes for victims and taxpayers. Yet, while each of these reforms and each of their respective components are important, none are sufficient on their own if we truly want to end the plague of mass incarceration that grips New York State. Comprehensive, connected reforms are necessary for the real, lasting, and positive change in our criminal justice system that New Yorkers deserve.</p> <p>Without this action at the state level, New York will continue to commit human rights abuses on a daily basis. The atrocities of our criminal justice system will linger, and New Yorkers will suffer unimaginable harm as a result. To fight for reform, close Rikers, and decarcerate county jails throughout New York State, directly impacted individuals and communities across the state must raise their voice, and, together, bring a simple message to Governor Cuomo and our legislators in Albany: we are watching you, we demand real and bold reform, and the time to act is now.</p> <p>***<br />Glenn E. Martin is founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/glennEmartin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@GlennEMartin</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/JustLeadersUSA" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@JustLeadersUSA</a>.</p> <p>

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
State Electeds Insult City Criminal Justice While Reform in Albany is Minimal at Best 2017-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 2017-03-28T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6837:state-electeds-insult-city-criminal-justice-while-reform-in-albany-is-minimal-at-best Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/18510331656_3d976ced4b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo prison break" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo at Dannemora correctional facility (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, State Senator Jesse Hamilton mailed <a href="https://twitter.com/stschrader1/status/845778659206205444" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a flier</a> to his constituents strongly denouncing broken windows policing. The senator, who represents Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, called on the city to end arrests for minor quality-of-life offenses that “are often used to police black and brown bodies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The week before, during <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-knocks-de-blasio-rikers-island-staying-open-article-1.2997154" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a speech</a> in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo disparaged Mayor de Blasio for failing to close the notorious Rikers Island jail, accusing the mayor of “impotence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These criticisms of the city come as the state government, led by Cuomo, struggles to make its own reforms to New York’s criminal justice system. Current state budget negotiations include a push to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility so that 16- and 17-year-olds are largely prosecuted as juveniles, not adults. But the measure, which is seeing new daylight this year, has <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2017/03/24/raise-age-central-ny-budget-talks/99600318/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faced strong opposition</a> from Senate Republicans for years, despite the fact that New York is now one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senate Republicans want teenagers charged with violent crimes to be tried as adults and they want all 16- and 17-year-olds tried in criminal, not family, court. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Republican Conference holds a plurality in the Senate—and the power that comes with it—in part because Senator Hamilton and the seven other members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) do not caucus with the Democrats. Nominal “Democrat” Senator Simcha Felder caucuses with Republicans, giving the GOP a 32-seat bare majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Senator Hamilton says that far from diluting the “raise the age” effort, his position in the IDC empowers progressive reform like it. “I, along with my colleagues in the IDC, have pushed Raise the Age further than ever before in the New York State Senate,” he said. “My advocacy around broken windows policing is motivated by my support for Raise the Age.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For their part, city officials are defending their approach and pointing the finger back at the state. At a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s Rikers comments, and said, “Our job is to address this crisis [on Rikers Island]. We’ve been doing it for three straight years…The state’s job is to take care of the state prison system."</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Carlos Menchaca exchanged sharp words with Senator Hamilton <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorHamilton/status/830561071593377792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on Twitter</a>, asking him, “What law are you advancing at the state level to curb the impact of Broken Windows policing?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since that exchange, Senator Hamilton has introduced a bill to make turnstile jumping -- perhaps the prototypical broken windows offense -- a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Evading the subway fare is a charge the NYPD disproportionately brings against young black and Latino New Yorkers. Since city police enforce state laws, that is one avenue state legislators could use to influence city criminal justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Hamilton, who is black, spoke of his son as a motivation for opposing broken windows policing and for supporting raising the age. “He’s at an age where ‘the talk’—about young black men, safety, and interactions with police—is not an abstraction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">If the state raises the age of criminal responsibility, it will be the first major criminal justice reform legislation since the law ending the shackling of pregnant inmates in 2015. Executive action on prison reform has also slowed recently. After closing 13 prisons in his first term, Governor Cuomo has not closed any since 2013, even while the state prison population has <a href="http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continued to decline</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased funding to public defenders in the state. Cuomo insists he’s open to similar legislation but that it must be done through the budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">And <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/04/nyregion/new-york-prisons-inmates-parole-race.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times report</a> about rampant racial bias in New York State’s parole system led Cuomo to launch an investigation, but no findings have been made public and the parole system is unchanged.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parole reform is on <a href="http://www.caami.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Platform-for-Challenging-Incarceration-in-NY.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the list of criminal justice changes</a> that advocates have long hoped New York State would take up. The list also includes reform to the bail system, ending the use of solitary confinement, and a bill to accelerate trials. Republican control of the Senate, aided by the IDC, makes further reforms less likely.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speedy trial bill, Kalief’s Law, should be a no-brainer,” said gabriel sayegh*, the Co-Executive Director of Katal, an organization fighting mass incarceration. “It would reduce pre-trial detention in jails.” The bill passed the Assembly unanimously, but has stalled in the Senate. “Even common sense bills that have bi-partisan support don’t get done,” sayegh said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think it’s a problem when state folks speak out on city issues, or vice versa,” continued sayegh. “We are eager to have the governor support the speedy trial bill, which would help us close Rikers. We want to see Senator Hamilton follow through by advancing legislation at the state level that addresses disparities in policing practices and arrests. They should connect their comments to action.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Brenden Beck is a PhD candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center researching police, suburbs, inequality, and housing. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/BrendenBeck" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BrendenBeck</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p> <p>*sayegh spells his name with all lowercase letters</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/18510331656_3d976ced4b_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo prison break" width="600" height="399" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Gov. Cuomo at Dannemora correctional facility (photo: Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Last week, State Senator Jesse Hamilton mailed <a href="https://twitter.com/stschrader1/status/845778659206205444" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a flier</a> to his constituents strongly denouncing broken windows policing. The senator, who represents Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods in Brooklyn, called on the city to end arrests for minor quality-of-life offenses that “are often used to police black and brown bodies.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The week before, during <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-knocks-de-blasio-rikers-island-staying-open-article-1.2997154" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a speech</a> in Manhattan, Governor Cuomo disparaged Mayor de Blasio for failing to close the notorious Rikers Island jail, accusing the mayor of “impotence.”</p> <p dir="ltr">These criticisms of the city come as the state government, led by Cuomo, struggles to make its own reforms to New York’s criminal justice system. Current state budget negotiations include a push to “raise the age” of criminal responsibility so that 16- and 17-year-olds are largely prosecuted as juveniles, not adults. But the measure, which is seeing new daylight this year, has <a href="http://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/news/local/new-york/2017/03/24/raise-age-central-ny-budget-talks/99600318/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">faced strong opposition</a> from Senate Republicans for years, despite the fact that New York is now one of just two states that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senate Republicans want teenagers charged with violent crimes to be tried as adults and they want all 16- and 17-year-olds tried in criminal, not family, court. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">The Republican Conference holds a plurality in the Senate—and the power that comes with it—in part because Senator Hamilton and the seven other members of the Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) do not caucus with the Democrats. Nominal “Democrat” Senator Simcha Felder caucuses with Republicans, giving the GOP a 32-seat bare majority in the 63-seat chamber.</p> <p dir="ltr">But Senator Hamilton says that far from diluting the “raise the age” effort, his position in the IDC empowers progressive reform like it. “I, along with my colleagues in the IDC, have pushed Raise the Age further than ever before in the New York State Senate,” he said. “My advocacy around broken windows policing is motivated by my support for Raise the Age.”</p> <p dir="ltr">For their part, city officials are defending their approach and pointing the finger back at the state. At a recent press conference, Mayor de Blasio was asked about Cuomo’s Rikers comments, and said, “Our job is to address this crisis [on Rikers Island]. We’ve been doing it for three straight years…The state’s job is to take care of the state prison system."</p> <p dir="ltr">City Council Member Carlos Menchaca exchanged sharp words with Senator Hamilton <a href="https://twitter.com/SenatorHamilton/status/830561071593377792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">on Twitter</a>, asking him, “What law are you advancing at the state level to curb the impact of Broken Windows policing?”</p> <p dir="ltr">Since that exchange, Senator Hamilton has introduced a bill to make turnstile jumping -- perhaps the prototypical broken windows offense -- a violation instead of a misdemeanor. Evading the subway fare is a charge the NYPD disproportionately brings against young black and Latino New Yorkers. Since city police enforce state laws, that is one avenue state legislators could use to influence city criminal justice.</p> <p dir="ltr">Senator Hamilton, who is black, spoke of his son as a motivation for opposing broken windows policing and for supporting raising the age. “He’s at an age where ‘the talk’—about young black men, safety, and interactions with police—is not an abstraction.”</p> <p dir="ltr">If the state raises the age of criminal responsibility, it will be the first major criminal justice reform legislation since the law ending the shackling of pregnant inmates in 2015. Executive action on prison reform has also slowed recently. After closing 13 prisons in his first term, Governor Cuomo has not closed any since 2013, even while the state prison population has <a href="http://www.scoc.ny.gov/pop.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">continued to decline</a>.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, the governor also vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have increased funding to public defenders in the state. Cuomo insists he’s open to similar legislation but that it must be done through the budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">And <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/04/nyregion/new-york-prisons-inmates-parole-race.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a New York Times report</a> about rampant racial bias in New York State’s parole system led Cuomo to launch an investigation, but no findings have been made public and the parole system is unchanged.</p> <p dir="ltr">Parole reform is on <a href="http://www.caami.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Platform-for-Challenging-Incarceration-in-NY.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the list of criminal justice changes</a> that advocates have long hoped New York State would take up. The list also includes reform to the bail system, ending the use of solitary confinement, and a bill to accelerate trials. Republican control of the Senate, aided by the IDC, makes further reforms less likely.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The speedy trial bill, Kalief’s Law, should be a no-brainer,” said gabriel sayegh*, the Co-Executive Director of Katal, an organization fighting mass incarceration. “It would reduce pre-trial detention in jails.” The bill passed the Assembly unanimously, but has stalled in the Senate. “Even common sense bills that have bi-partisan support don’t get done,” sayegh said.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I don’t think it’s a problem when state folks speak out on city issues, or vice versa,” continued sayegh. “We are eager to have the governor support the speedy trial bill, which would help us close Rikers. We want to see Senator Hamilton follow through by advancing legislation at the state level that addresses disparities in policing practices and arrests. They should connect their comments to action.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Brenden Beck is a PhD candidate in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center researching police, suburbs, inequality, and housing. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/BrendenBeck" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">@BrendenBeck</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p> <p>*sayegh spells his name with all lowercase letters</p>
Bias in New York Prisons Requires a Blue Ribbon Commission Investigation 2016-12-15T05:00:00+00:00 2016-12-15T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6674:bias-in-new-york-prisons-requires-a-blue-ribbon-commission-investigation Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18016769610_a4aa81ddb0_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on a prison tour (photo via Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>According to The Sentencing Project, New York State has led the nation by reducing its prison population by 26 percent between 1999 and 2012, while the nationwide state prison population increased by 10 percent. During these years of decarceration, violent crime rates fell at a greater rate in New York than national averages.</p> <p>Yet, despite New York’s lead in simultaneously decarcerating its prison system and reducing crime, racial disparities throughout New York’s criminal justice system remain unchanged.</p> <p>Recent <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/nyregion/new-york-state-prisons-inmates-racial-bias.html" target="_blank">investigative reports by The New York Times</a> show how racial bias is infecting New York State prisons. The paper’s investigation found that black people in prison are punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often, and detained longer.</p> <p>In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state inspector general to investigate these “allegations” and recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation.</p> <p>This is not enough.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo must use his executive power to create a diverse, non-partisan Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the widespread racial bias throughout New York State’s criminal justice system.</p> <p>The commission’s independent investigation should go well beyond rooting out structurally racist practices in our prison and parole systems. It should undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s entire criminal justice system, from arrest to reentry, within a definitive timeline.</p> <p>JustLeadershipUSA believes that those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution, but furthest from the resources and power. To that end, the governor must ensure that the commission includes formerly incarcerated leaders. The commission also should represent the interests of the gamut of other people and groups that interact with the criminal justice system— prosecutors, judges, police and correction officers, people in prison, defense attorneys, advocacy groups, think tanks, victims’ rights organizations, and academics.</p> <p>After convening, reviewing practices and policies, listening to stakeholders, hearing from experts, and problem-solving for 12 months, this commission should then make recommendations for criminal justice reform to the governor and state Legislature, and disseminate its findings to the public.</p> <p>In addition to appointing a Blue Ribbon Commission, the governor should use his executive power immediately to address the issues of parole and solitary confinement. With regard to parole, Governor Cuomo should:</p> <ul> <li>Nominate more professionally, racially, and geographically diverse parole board candidates who more accurately represent the New York communities most impacted by crime and incarceration.</li> <li>Increase transparency by publicly releasing data annually to provide clarity into parole decision-making.</li> <li>Increase bandwidth of parole board members to ensure that cases are reviewed in person and with the thoughtfulness they deserve.</li> </ul> <p>To truly address the issue of solitary confinement, Governor Cuomo should create a timeline for discontinuing the use of all solitary confinement and punitive segregation throughout the state prison system. He should also direct the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS) to immediately ensure that far fewer people are placed in solitary confinement.</p> <p>And if people are sent to solitary, at the very least conditions and health care should be improved, time spent in solitary should be reduced, and detainees should receive a clear path, based on achievable goals, to earn their way out of solitary.</p> <p>We will not dismantle hundreds of years of racial bias and discrimination in our criminal justice system in a vacuum. Instead, we must collaborate and engage with impacted people from varying walks of life.</p> <p>If Governor Cuomo is truly committed to creating systemic change, the creation of a nonpartisan Blue Ribbon Commission is critical to uncovering the disparities in our prisons and our broader criminal justice system and identifying and implementing solutions. Together, we can work toward restoring a historically broken and racially inequitable system.</p> <p>***<br />Glenn E. Martin is the founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), a national organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. Martin is a national leader and criminal justice reform advocate who spent six years in New York prisons. He is the recipient of the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/glennEmartin" target="_blank">@GlennEMartin</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18016769610_a4aa81ddb0_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo on a prison tour (photo via Governor's Office on flickr)</p> <hr /> <p>According to The Sentencing Project, New York State has led the nation by reducing its prison population by 26 percent between 1999 and 2012, while the nationwide state prison population increased by 10 percent. During these years of decarceration, violent crime rates fell at a greater rate in New York than national averages.</p> <p>Yet, despite New York’s lead in simultaneously decarcerating its prison system and reducing crime, racial disparities throughout New York’s criminal justice system remain unchanged.</p> <p>Recent <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/nyregion/new-york-state-prisons-inmates-racial-bias.html" target="_blank">investigative reports by The New York Times</a> show how racial bias is infecting New York State prisons. The paper’s investigation found that black people in prison are punished at significantly higher rates than whites, sent to solitary confinement more often, and detained longer.</p> <p>In response, Governor Andrew Cuomo directed the state inspector general to investigate these “allegations” and recommend appropriate reforms for immediate implementation.</p> <p>This is not enough.</p> <p>Governor Cuomo must use his executive power to create a diverse, non-partisan Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate the widespread racial bias throughout New York State’s criminal justice system.</p> <p>The commission’s independent investigation should go well beyond rooting out structurally racist practices in our prison and parole systems. It should undertake a comprehensive review of the state’s entire criminal justice system, from arrest to reentry, within a definitive timeline.</p> <p>JustLeadershipUSA believes that those closest to the problem are also closest to the solution, but furthest from the resources and power. To that end, the governor must ensure that the commission includes formerly incarcerated leaders. The commission also should represent the interests of the gamut of other people and groups that interact with the criminal justice system— prosecutors, judges, police and correction officers, people in prison, defense attorneys, advocacy groups, think tanks, victims’ rights organizations, and academics.</p> <p>After convening, reviewing practices and policies, listening to stakeholders, hearing from experts, and problem-solving for 12 months, this commission should then make recommendations for criminal justice reform to the governor and state Legislature, and disseminate its findings to the public.</p> <p>In addition to appointing a Blue Ribbon Commission, the governor should use his executive power immediately to address the issues of parole and solitary confinement. With regard to parole, Governor Cuomo should:</p> <ul> <li>Nominate more professionally, racially, and geographically diverse parole board candidates who more accurately represent the New York communities most impacted by crime and incarceration.</li> <li>Increase transparency by publicly releasing data annually to provide clarity into parole decision-making.</li> <li>Increase bandwidth of parole board members to ensure that cases are reviewed in person and with the thoughtfulness they deserve.</li> </ul> <p>To truly address the issue of solitary confinement, Governor Cuomo should create a timeline for discontinuing the use of all solitary confinement and punitive segregation throughout the state prison system. He should also direct the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (NYSDOCCS) to immediately ensure that far fewer people are placed in solitary confinement.</p> <p>And if people are sent to solitary, at the very least conditions and health care should be improved, time spent in solitary should be reduced, and detainees should receive a clear path, based on achievable goals, to earn their way out of solitary.</p> <p>We will not dismantle hundreds of years of racial bias and discrimination in our criminal justice system in a vacuum. Instead, we must collaborate and engage with impacted people from varying walks of life.</p> <p>If Governor Cuomo is truly committed to creating systemic change, the creation of a nonpartisan Blue Ribbon Commission is critical to uncovering the disparities in our prisons and our broader criminal justice system and identifying and implementing solutions. Together, we can work toward restoring a historically broken and racially inequitable system.</p> <p>***<br />Glenn E. Martin is the founder and president of JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA), a national organization dedicated to cutting the U.S. correctional population in half by 2030. JLUSA empowers people most affected by incarceration to drive policy reform. Martin is a national leader and criminal justice reform advocate who spent six years in New York prisons. He is the recipient of the 2016 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. On Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/glennEmartin" target="_blank">@GlennEMartin</a>.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Lobbying Cuomo: How to Get the Governor on Your Side 2016-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 2016-10-11T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6567:lobbying-cuomo-how-to-get-the-governor-on-your-side Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29341128923_a30129a868_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo speech better NY" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Have an issue you want addressed in Albany? Perhaps you&rsquo;d like the state to legalize your new multi-million dollar venture into the &ldquo;sharing economy&rdquo; -- one that terrifies existing business interests and labor unions; maybe you want to change the protections offered by New York&rsquo;s civil rights laws; or maybe you want in on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state allocates to economic development programs. No matter the issue, you&rsquo;re going to want Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most powerful person in New York, on your side.</p> <p>Cuomo, a Democrat known to get his way in Albany, is revered by many for being able to dictate terms to the state Legislature on controversial issues and accomplishing what could not be accomplished by others, once he sets his mind to it.</p> <p>But while the governor sometimes has his own pet issues that he pushes with intensity, he often doesn&rsquo;t come along easily on a cause. And if campaign finance filings are any indication, Cuomo doesn&rsquo;t often move without significant campaign donations either before or after the fact. A lot of the time the notoriously prickly governor, whose administration has been known for its &ldquo;get along or kill&rdquo; approach, won&rsquo;t get behind an issue without a fight. But taking Cuomo on in any public way comes with serious risk and can have major consequences.</p> <p>Those, whether deep-pocketed or not, interested in seeing the governor support an issue he is not immediately draw to must wrestle with the best approach to lobbying Cuomo.</p> <p>As government is a continuous stream of policy and program decisions, there are no shortage of interested parties pushing their causes, and the governor often has the final word, legislators, labor groups, lobbyists, and others often must decide what combination of tactics is best to convince Cuomo to back a proposal.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of lobbyists and heads of issue-focused campaigns about what a successful lobbying effort needs in order to get the right kind of attention from Cuomo.</p> <p>As this article is published, public education advocates are finishing a walk from New York City to Albany to push for school funding and the governor continues to weigh whether to sign a bill that could crush Airbnb in the state. These are just two examples of current issues where people are trying put pressure on the governor to act. For the former, teachers-union-backed advocates have jousted with Cuomo to the point of hostility. On the latter, those who want to see Cuomo sign the bill regulated Airbnb have mostly left him alone publicly, while Airbnb has more outwardly sought to make its case for a veto.</p> <p>Looking ahead to 2017, there will be no shortage of issues where interested parties will be trying to convince the governor and the Legislature to act one way or another, from upstate Uber legalization to the cap on charter schools and much more.</p> <p>To court just about any elected official, you need at least one of: a ground game, as in grassroots supporters willing to demonstrate publicly and able to grab media attention, or at least the appearance of one; a money game, as in the ability to show that your cause has the attention of large campaign donors; and a behind-the-scenes game, as in the ability to influence insiders, which many include consistent, even constant, lobbying and contact with key administration officials. The ground game and the money game usually indicate, to varying degrees, that you have some semblance of solid rationale to your proposal.</p> <p>Along with these basics, lobbyists have to consider the nuances of Gov. Cuomo&rsquo;s personality and long history in politics. Known as a master strategist, Cuomo is also seen as flexible on many of his political stances because he, like many governors, tries to combine being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The key with Cuomo is often showing him how the proposal fits his image and gives him a chance to be big and bold. Cuomo is not shy about wanting to be first on issues.</p> <p>&ldquo;People have to be very sensitive when they deal with the administration,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which often pushes the administration on reform. &ldquo;They have to be very careful not to come off as a threat to the administration because the administration is a unitary organization. The governor deals with politics and policy directly, in a way that is unseen in other states. When a group works with him he likes it and when groups work against him, he hates it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo likes, of course, to move on things when he&rsquo;s ready to, and when they make sense for him politically and for the state generally. He is keenly aware of his political standing among key constituencies and of what it takes to remain in power.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s a long line of lobbyists willing to lament off the record about being &ldquo;put in the penalty box&rdquo; by the administration for one public statement or another: a quote that was too sharp, a press release that was too pointed. For some the penalty is being denied access to the administration for a period of time; for others penalties mount and they end up with an outright ban. &ldquo;It's as though you no longer exist to them,&rdquo; one lobbyist told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;They forget your name and encourage everyone else to do the same.&rdquo;*</p> <p>With six years as New York&rsquo;s chief executive, it's become clear to a number of lobbyists that the best way to get Cuomo onboard with a policy proposal is to present a campaign that has everything: grassroots supporters who can promote an issue and also make life miserable for the opposition; big-money donors who can support major campaign efforts; and a lobbying apparatus that works behind the scenes to sway legislators.</p> <p>&ldquo;If you are going to confront this Governor and any Governor, really, you have to show public opinion is with you,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;And if the donor class is upset it can also move the administration. Put both together and you&rsquo;ve got something.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo has made his name as Governor by joining with these type of efforts, from marriage equality to the minimum wage. Including several recent examples, the governor does appear susceptible to loud outcry by a group of advocates, whether it is on police killings of unarmed civilians, allocating affordable housing funds, or a moratorium on fracking.</p> <p>&ldquo;The most successful lobbying efforts in New York combine grassroots supporters with major donors,&rdquo; said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, also a government reform group.</p> <p>When Cuomo ran for Governor in 2010, he was far from an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, but early in his term it became clear that several major donors were interested in advancing the policy behind the scenes, while activist groups were more than willing to press the issue publicly. Essentially, it would also give Cuomo a chance to make big, national news.</p> <p>A vote on marriage equality had failed by inches under Gov. David Paterson and advocates weren&rsquo;t ready to give up. Cuomo initially feared the same kind of embarrassing result that befell Paterson -- left standing on the state Senate floor with dissapointed legislators.</p> <p>According to two sources involved in the campaign, Cuomo saw the opportunity to lead on a national issue while endearing himself to his liberal base at the same time he was angering other parts of that base by advancing fiscally conservative measures.</p> <p>When Cuomo decides he wants to accomplish something - no matter how much cajoling it takes to get him there - he goes after his goal aggressively.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration and a number of wealthy donors, including hedge fund managers Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, quickly began the work of wooing Senate Republicans to their side, and by June 24, 2011 Cuomo had the votes he needed to pass marriage equality <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/nyregion/the-road-to-gay-marriage-in-new-york.html" target="_blank">in New York</a>. The administration monitored the floor vote in the Senate obsessively, interjecting at times to ensure Senate Republicans would not renege on their promise to bring the bill to a vote and to show sensitivity to the Republican members who had made what would be a career-ending decision to vote for it.</p> <p>The proceedings were so tightly choreographed that most Senate Democrats who supported the bill were not allowed to speak about it. When the final votes were cast Cuomo took to the airwaves to claim credit for a successful campaign that a year before he seemed uninterested in.</p> <p>Donations from grateful supporters of marriage equality <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/nyregion/cuomo-fund-fills-with-money-from-thankful-gay-donors.html" target="_blank">swept into</a> Cuomo&rsquo;s campaign coffers before and after the vote. The Empire State Pride Agenda gave Cuomo $60,000 in May 2011; Loeb gave Cuomo $19,367 in 2012; and a number of marriage equality supporters organized high-dollar fundraisers for the governor.</p> <p>The governor has repeated these kind of issue campaign takeovers in years since, showcasing the power of his elected position with the virtually unmatched will and desire for big accomplishments possessed by the officeholder.</p> <p>&ldquo;I got the sense that within the right national political moment anything is possible with the governor,&rdquo; one veteran social justice advocate told Gotham Gazette of Cuomo. &ldquo;It is on the table as long as he is the first to do something.&rdquo;*</p> <p>That feeling was reinforced in 2015 when Cuomo suddenly paired with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) &ldquo;Fight for $15&rdquo; to champion a minimum wage increase he had once dismissed as fantasy. Cuomo was working alongside some of his biggest critics from the left, like Michael Kink and Citizen Action and other Working Families Party members, while touring the state in a recreational vehicle paid for by unions. The governor, who at times in the past was the target of angry Fight for $15 rallies, was now attending them and hosting streaming video of them on his website.</p> <p>Labor groups <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/03/minimum-wage-advocates-have-spent-172m-on-lobbying-efforts-032458" target="_blank">poured</a> nearly $2 million into the Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice - most of the cash from SEIU and its various committees and affiliates.</p> <p>SEIU is also a consistent donor to Cuomo&rsquo;s reelection campaign and the campaigns of his allies.</p> <p>The Fight for $15 had gotten the governor on board after showing a groundswell on the issue, with the power of active and deep-pocketed labor unions, and in the wake of an embarrassing challenge from the governor&rsquo;s left in his 2014 re-election. Big name Democrats were also taking up the issue and becoming heroes to significant blocs of Democratic voters.</p> <p>While large public campaigns that involve the governor have clearly been effective, perhaps the most impactful lobbying of Cuomo is done almost completely out of public eye.</p> <p>Multiple lobbyists point to Cuomo&rsquo;s relationships with 1199-SEIU, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/08/the-union-that-rules-news-york.html" target="_blank">the powerful</a> hospital workers union, and Jennifer Cunningham of the firm SKD Knickerbocker as ideal arrangements for an issue-focused organization and a lobbyist looking to move their agendas in New York.</p> <p>Cunningham has been <a href="http://nypost.com/2010/12/19/the-most-powerful-woman-in-albany/" target="_blank">labeled</a> &ldquo;The Most Powerful Woman in Albany&rdquo; and was an adviser to Cuomo during his early years as Governor. Cunningham and 1199 annihilated Paterson&rsquo;s ambitions to run for election in 2010, unleashing a brutal $1 million a week advertising campaign in response to his proposed $3.5 billion cut to the state&rsquo;s Medicaid program.</p> <p>Cunningham declined to comment or be interviewed for this article.</p> <p>Cuomo has handled the union much differently than many others, giving it a seat at the table when cuts are proposed and rarely, if ever, having any public conflict with it.</p> <p>&ldquo;They are the most powerful lobbying force in the state,&rdquo; marveled one lobbyist. &ldquo;They combine labor and management and are extremely sophisticated. They are so powerful you don&rsquo;t have to hear about them until they have to crush someone. There is no fight with them because it's like, &lsquo;Godzilla is in my closet. Do I need to let him out to stomp on you?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>Most lobbyists and issue groups don&rsquo;t have an operation anywhere near the scope of 1199-SEIU, and over the last two years smaller advocacy groups have been confronted with how to lobby the administration on limited resources.</p> <p>For groups pushing for criminal justice reform and for state government to fund supportive and affordable housing, for example, lobbying the administration in a friendly manner failed initially and they took the risk of confronting the governor publicly.</p> <p>Shelly Nortz of Coalition for the Homeless said that 2014 efforts to get the Cuomo administration to deliver on supportive housing funding. The group continued to pressure Cuomo, working with and praising Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s rival, for his supportive housing initiative in 2015, and then getting more and more vocal calling for Cuomo to do what they said was his part.</p> <p>The Coalition and its allies were encouraged when Cuomo prioritized funding to fight homelessness in his 2016 State of the State address, but when the governor and the Legislature failed to agree on how to distribute it, Nortz&rsquo;s group kicked the public pressure campaign into high gear.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been having a presence outside the governor&rsquo;s office,&rdquo; Nortz said of regular rallies to call for release of the funds set aside in the state budget. As the group and other members of the NY/NY Housing coalition have issued press releases and done interviews on the subject, sometimes harshly criticizing Cuomo, the governor&rsquo;s office has reacted in various ways. At one point, an administration spokesperson said that the governor hadn&rsquo;t intended to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would distribute the housing funds this year and instead expected to do it next year.</p> <p>After being rebuffed, the administration tried a different path: releasing an MOU approved by the administration, essentially to move the ball into state legislative leaders&rsquo; court. The MOU wasn&rsquo;t signed by either legislative leader, but it was an indication that the administration was squirming under the pressure brought by housing groups.</p> <p>Nortz acknowledged that most small advocacy groups can&rsquo;t manage to turn out the kind of presence housing groups have to pressure the governor. She said she is unsure how effective their efforts have been given that the MOU remains unsigned. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s reminiscent of 2014 in a lot of ways,&rdquo; said Nortz. &ldquo;There is talk but there is no agreement.&rdquo;</p> <p>Criminal justice reform advocates describe having to pull Cuomo forward kicking and screaming to ensure oversight by a special prosecutor in instances of police killings of civilians. In 2015 the governor felt pressure from the mothers and family members of civilians killed by police, black and Latino legislators, and major advocacy groups. Unable to move the Legislature to action during session, activists didn&rsquo;t let go, instead amplifying their calls for the governor to do something.</p> <p>On July 8, 2015 Cuomo announced an executive order giving the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate police killings of civilians. The move angered many conservatives and law enforcement officials across the state, but pleased many activists and elected officials, especially legislators of color, many of whom joined Cuomo at the signing of the order.</p> <p>Advocates involved in the push say they believe they were successful in moving Cuomo because the governor is particularly sensitive about his most concentrated voting base, which consists of African-Americans from New York City. Furthermore, Cuomo was able to claim that he was &ldquo;the first&rdquo; governor to take action on what was coming into focus as a major national issue.</p> <p>While the executive order was a victory for advocates, their momentum has stalled since. Cuomo has acknowledged that he would like to see legislation to make a special prosecutor permanent in such cases, but he has not pushed the issue with the Republican Senate Majority, where opposition lies.</p> <p>A number of lobbyists say this is a typical result for a lobbying effort that confronts and calls out Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;They got something but they didn&rsquo;t get all of it,&rdquo; said one long-time lobbyist. &ldquo;You can rattle him and force him to move to stop the bleeding but it isn&rsquo;t the best move in the long run.&rdquo;</p> <p>Advocates, legislators, businesspeople, and lobbyists who don&rsquo;t have a direct line to Cuomo or a long-standing alliance are often faced with that risky question of when to go at the governor with an aggressive public relations campaign. They can pay off wildly or they can put you on the governor&rsquo;s bad side -- sometimes both.</p> <p>Business lobbyists say confrontational campaigns are their absolute last resort with any administration, but note that smaller issue-based groups don&rsquo;t have a wealth of options at their disposal.</p> <p>Efforts to expand newer, technology-based businesses like Airbnb and Uber have set the stage for what some lobbyists say will be &ldquo;heavyweight showdowns&rdquo; with the well-established hotel trades and taxi lobbies, respectively. As Cuomo weighs whether to sign a bill that would be damaging to Airbnb, both supporters and opponents of the bill have struggled some with how to cajole him in their direction, especially around how much public pressure to mount.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara&rsquo;s investigation into the Governor&rsquo;s economic development programs has put considerably more scrutiny on how lobbyists and those with business before the state use donations to get the attention of the governor and his closest allies. Fear over corruption was triggered because major developers, including two charged by Bharara, made major donations to Cuomo&rsquo;s reelection campaign within months of winning major economic development contracts with the state. Bharara has also charged three of Cuomo&rsquo;s allies with working to fix bids for the contractors they prefer. Cuomo has denied knowledge of the alleged arrangement and he has not been accused of wrongdoing, but it is his campaign that benefited.</p> <p>New York lacks the conflict of interest laws that limit campaign contributions from groups with business before the state. A July <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/nearly-all-cuomo-money-comes-from-donors-with-business-before-his-office-103795" target="_blank">report by Politico New York</a> showed that most of the donors to Cuomo&rsquo;s campaign have business before the state, or interest in pending legislation. Cuomo has always claimed that he makes decisions on the merits.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*Note: due to a mistake on the part of Gotham Gazette, attempts to reach the Cuomo administration for comment for this article did not reach the intended party. Cuomo's office should have been afforded to opportunity to respond to the questins at hand in this article, including certain allegations, and we apologize for the error. A prior note that indicated Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment was removed after it became clear that requests for comment did not reach representatives for Cuomo. After making this realization in communication with Cuomo's office, Gotham Gazette offered the Cuomo administration an opportunity to comment.</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/29341128923_a30129a868_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo speech better NY" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Don Pollard/Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>Have an issue you want addressed in Albany? Perhaps you&rsquo;d like the state to legalize your new multi-million dollar venture into the &ldquo;sharing economy&rdquo; -- one that terrifies existing business interests and labor unions; maybe you want to change the protections offered by New York&rsquo;s civil rights laws; or maybe you want in on the hundreds of millions of dollars the state allocates to economic development programs. No matter the issue, you&rsquo;re going to want Governor Andrew Cuomo, the most powerful person in New York, on your side.</p> <p>Cuomo, a Democrat known to get his way in Albany, is revered by many for being able to dictate terms to the state Legislature on controversial issues and accomplishing what could not be accomplished by others, once he sets his mind to it.</p> <p>But while the governor sometimes has his own pet issues that he pushes with intensity, he often doesn&rsquo;t come along easily on a cause. And if campaign finance filings are any indication, Cuomo doesn&rsquo;t often move without significant campaign donations either before or after the fact. A lot of the time the notoriously prickly governor, whose administration has been known for its &ldquo;get along or kill&rdquo; approach, won&rsquo;t get behind an issue without a fight. But taking Cuomo on in any public way comes with serious risk and can have major consequences.</p> <p>Those, whether deep-pocketed or not, interested in seeing the governor support an issue he is not immediately draw to must wrestle with the best approach to lobbying Cuomo.</p> <p>As government is a continuous stream of policy and program decisions, there are no shortage of interested parties pushing their causes, and the governor often has the final word, legislators, labor groups, lobbyists, and others often must decide what combination of tactics is best to convince Cuomo to back a proposal.</p> <p>Gotham Gazette spoke to a number of lobbyists and heads of issue-focused campaigns about what a successful lobbying effort needs in order to get the right kind of attention from Cuomo.</p> <p>As this article is published, public education advocates are finishing a walk from New York City to Albany to push for school funding and the governor continues to weigh whether to sign a bill that could crush Airbnb in the state. These are just two examples of current issues where people are trying put pressure on the governor to act. For the former, teachers-union-backed advocates have jousted with Cuomo to the point of hostility. On the latter, those who want to see Cuomo sign the bill regulated Airbnb have mostly left him alone publicly, while Airbnb has more outwardly sought to make its case for a veto.</p> <p>Looking ahead to 2017, there will be no shortage of issues where interested parties will be trying to convince the governor and the Legislature to act one way or another, from upstate Uber legalization to the cap on charter schools and much more.</p> <p>To court just about any elected official, you need at least one of: a ground game, as in grassroots supporters willing to demonstrate publicly and able to grab media attention, or at least the appearance of one; a money game, as in the ability to show that your cause has the attention of large campaign donors; and a behind-the-scenes game, as in the ability to influence insiders, which many include consistent, even constant, lobbying and contact with key administration officials. The ground game and the money game usually indicate, to varying degrees, that you have some semblance of solid rationale to your proposal.</p> <p>Along with these basics, lobbyists have to consider the nuances of Gov. Cuomo&rsquo;s personality and long history in politics. Known as a master strategist, Cuomo is also seen as flexible on many of his political stances because he, like many governors, tries to combine being socially liberal and fiscally conservative. The key with Cuomo is often showing him how the proposal fits his image and gives him a chance to be big and bold. Cuomo is not shy about wanting to be first on issues.</p> <p>&ldquo;People have to be very sensitive when they deal with the administration,&rdquo; said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which often pushes the administration on reform. &ldquo;They have to be very careful not to come off as a threat to the administration because the administration is a unitary organization. The governor deals with politics and policy directly, in a way that is unseen in other states. When a group works with him he likes it and when groups work against him, he hates it.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo likes, of course, to move on things when he&rsquo;s ready to, and when they make sense for him politically and for the state generally. He is keenly aware of his political standing among key constituencies and of what it takes to remain in power.</p> <p>There&rsquo;s a long line of lobbyists willing to lament off the record about being &ldquo;put in the penalty box&rdquo; by the administration for one public statement or another: a quote that was too sharp, a press release that was too pointed. For some the penalty is being denied access to the administration for a period of time; for others penalties mount and they end up with an outright ban. &ldquo;It's as though you no longer exist to them,&rdquo; one lobbyist told Gotham Gazette. &ldquo;They forget your name and encourage everyone else to do the same.&rdquo;*</p> <p>With six years as New York&rsquo;s chief executive, it's become clear to a number of lobbyists that the best way to get Cuomo onboard with a policy proposal is to present a campaign that has everything: grassroots supporters who can promote an issue and also make life miserable for the opposition; big-money donors who can support major campaign efforts; and a lobbying apparatus that works behind the scenes to sway legislators.</p> <p>&ldquo;If you are going to confront this Governor and any Governor, really, you have to show public opinion is with you,&rdquo; said Horner. &ldquo;And if the donor class is upset it can also move the administration. Put both together and you&rsquo;ve got something.&rdquo;</p> <p>Cuomo has made his name as Governor by joining with these type of efforts, from marriage equality to the minimum wage. Including several recent examples, the governor does appear susceptible to loud outcry by a group of advocates, whether it is on police killings of unarmed civilians, allocating affordable housing funds, or a moratorium on fracking.</p> <p>&ldquo;The most successful lobbying efforts in New York combine grassroots supporters with major donors,&rdquo; said John Kaehny, executive director of Reinvent Albany, also a government reform group.</p> <p>When Cuomo ran for Governor in 2010, he was far from an outspoken supporter of marriage equality, but early in his term it became clear that several major donors were interested in advancing the policy behind the scenes, while activist groups were more than willing to press the issue publicly. Essentially, it would also give Cuomo a chance to make big, national news.</p> <p>A vote on marriage equality had failed by inches under Gov. David Paterson and advocates weren&rsquo;t ready to give up. Cuomo initially feared the same kind of embarrassing result that befell Paterson -- left standing on the state Senate floor with dissapointed legislators.</p> <p>According to two sources involved in the campaign, Cuomo saw the opportunity to lead on a national issue while endearing himself to his liberal base at the same time he was angering other parts of that base by advancing fiscally conservative measures.</p> <p>When Cuomo decides he wants to accomplish something - no matter how much cajoling it takes to get him there - he goes after his goal aggressively.</p> <p>The Cuomo administration and a number of wealthy donors, including hedge fund managers Dan Loeb and Cliff Asness, quickly began the work of wooing Senate Republicans to their side, and by June 24, 2011 Cuomo had the votes he needed to pass marriage equality <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/nyregion/the-road-to-gay-marriage-in-new-york.html" target="_blank">in New York</a>. The administration monitored the floor vote in the Senate obsessively, interjecting at times to ensure Senate Republicans would not renege on their promise to bring the bill to a vote and to show sensitivity to the Republican members who had made what would be a career-ending decision to vote for it.</p> <p>The proceedings were so tightly choreographed that most Senate Democrats who supported the bill were not allowed to speak about it. When the final votes were cast Cuomo took to the airwaves to claim credit for a successful campaign that a year before he seemed uninterested in.</p> <p>Donations from grateful supporters of marriage equality <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/02/nyregion/cuomo-fund-fills-with-money-from-thankful-gay-donors.html" target="_blank">swept into</a> Cuomo&rsquo;s campaign coffers before and after the vote. The Empire State Pride Agenda gave Cuomo $60,000 in May 2011; Loeb gave Cuomo $19,367 in 2012; and a number of marriage equality supporters organized high-dollar fundraisers for the governor.</p> <p>The governor has repeated these kind of issue campaign takeovers in years since, showcasing the power of his elected position with the virtually unmatched will and desire for big accomplishments possessed by the officeholder.</p> <p>&ldquo;I got the sense that within the right national political moment anything is possible with the governor,&rdquo; one veteran social justice advocate told Gotham Gazette of Cuomo. &ldquo;It is on the table as long as he is the first to do something.&rdquo;*</p> <p>That feeling was reinforced in 2015 when Cuomo suddenly paired with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) &ldquo;Fight for $15&rdquo; to champion a minimum wage increase he had once dismissed as fantasy. Cuomo was working alongside some of his biggest critics from the left, like Michael Kink and Citizen Action and other Working Families Party members, while touring the state in a recreational vehicle paid for by unions. The governor, who at times in the past was the target of angry Fight for $15 rallies, was now attending them and hosting streaming video of them on his website.</p> <p>Labor groups <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/03/minimum-wage-advocates-have-spent-172m-on-lobbying-efforts-032458" target="_blank">poured</a> nearly $2 million into the Mario Cuomo Campaign For Economic Justice - most of the cash from SEIU and its various committees and affiliates.</p> <p>SEIU is also a consistent donor to Cuomo&rsquo;s reelection campaign and the campaigns of his allies.</p> <p>The Fight for $15 had gotten the governor on board after showing a groundswell on the issue, with the power of active and deep-pocketed labor unions, and in the wake of an embarrassing challenge from the governor&rsquo;s left in his 2014 re-election. Big name Democrats were also taking up the issue and becoming heroes to significant blocs of Democratic voters.</p> <p>While large public campaigns that involve the governor have clearly been effective, perhaps the most impactful lobbying of Cuomo is done almost completely out of public eye.</p> <p>Multiple lobbyists point to Cuomo&rsquo;s relationships with 1199-SEIU, <a href="http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/08/08/the-union-that-rules-news-york.html" target="_blank">the powerful</a> hospital workers union, and Jennifer Cunningham of the firm SKD Knickerbocker as ideal arrangements for an issue-focused organization and a lobbyist looking to move their agendas in New York.</p> <p>Cunningham has been <a href="http://nypost.com/2010/12/19/the-most-powerful-woman-in-albany/" target="_blank">labeled</a> &ldquo;The Most Powerful Woman in Albany&rdquo; and was an adviser to Cuomo during his early years as Governor. Cunningham and 1199 annihilated Paterson&rsquo;s ambitions to run for election in 2010, unleashing a brutal $1 million a week advertising campaign in response to his proposed $3.5 billion cut to the state&rsquo;s Medicaid program.</p> <p>Cunningham declined to comment or be interviewed for this article.</p> <p>Cuomo has handled the union much differently than many others, giving it a seat at the table when cuts are proposed and rarely, if ever, having any public conflict with it.</p> <p>&ldquo;They are the most powerful lobbying force in the state,&rdquo; marveled one lobbyist. &ldquo;They combine labor and management and are extremely sophisticated. They are so powerful you don&rsquo;t have to hear about them until they have to crush someone. There is no fight with them because it's like, &lsquo;Godzilla is in my closet. Do I need to let him out to stomp on you?&rsquo;&rdquo;</p> <p>Most lobbyists and issue groups don&rsquo;t have an operation anywhere near the scope of 1199-SEIU, and over the last two years smaller advocacy groups have been confronted with how to lobby the administration on limited resources.</p> <p>For groups pushing for criminal justice reform and for state government to fund supportive and affordable housing, for example, lobbying the administration in a friendly manner failed initially and they took the risk of confronting the governor publicly.</p> <p>Shelly Nortz of Coalition for the Homeless said that 2014 efforts to get the Cuomo administration to deliver on supportive housing funding. The group continued to pressure Cuomo, working with and praising Mayor Bill de Blasio, Cuomo&rsquo;s rival, for his supportive housing initiative in 2015, and then getting more and more vocal calling for Cuomo to do what they said was his part.</p> <p>The Coalition and its allies were encouraged when Cuomo prioritized funding to fight homelessness in his 2016 State of the State address, but when the governor and the Legislature failed to agree on how to distribute it, Nortz&rsquo;s group kicked the public pressure campaign into high gear.</p> <p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve been having a presence outside the governor&rsquo;s office,&rdquo; Nortz said of regular rallies to call for release of the funds set aside in the state budget. As the group and other members of the NY/NY Housing coalition have issued press releases and done interviews on the subject, sometimes harshly criticizing Cuomo, the governor&rsquo;s office has reacted in various ways. At one point, an administration spokesperson said that the governor hadn&rsquo;t intended to sign the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would distribute the housing funds this year and instead expected to do it next year.</p> <p>After being rebuffed, the administration tried a different path: releasing an MOU approved by the administration, essentially to move the ball into state legislative leaders&rsquo; court. The MOU wasn&rsquo;t signed by either legislative leader, but it was an indication that the administration was squirming under the pressure brought by housing groups.</p> <p>Nortz acknowledged that most small advocacy groups can&rsquo;t manage to turn out the kind of presence housing groups have to pressure the governor. She said she is unsure how effective their efforts have been given that the MOU remains unsigned. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s reminiscent of 2014 in a lot of ways,&rdquo; said Nortz. &ldquo;There is talk but there is no agreement.&rdquo;</p> <p>Criminal justice reform advocates describe having to pull Cuomo forward kicking and screaming to ensure oversight by a special prosecutor in instances of police killings of civilians. In 2015 the governor felt pressure from the mothers and family members of civilians killed by police, black and Latino legislators, and major advocacy groups. Unable to move the Legislature to action during session, activists didn&rsquo;t let go, instead amplifying their calls for the governor to do something.</p> <p>On July 8, 2015 Cuomo announced an executive order giving the Attorney General jurisdiction to investigate police killings of civilians. The move angered many conservatives and law enforcement officials across the state, but pleased many activists and elected officials, especially legislators of color, many of whom joined Cuomo at the signing of the order.</p> <p>Advocates involved in the push say they believe they were successful in moving Cuomo because the governor is particularly sensitive about his most concentrated voting base, which consists of African-Americans from New York City. Furthermore, Cuomo was able to claim that he was &ldquo;the first&rdquo; governor to take action on what was coming into focus as a major national issue.</p> <p>While the executive order was a victory for advocates, their momentum has stalled since. Cuomo has acknowledged that he would like to see legislation to make a special prosecutor permanent in such cases, but he has not pushed the issue with the Republican Senate Majority, where opposition lies.</p> <p>A number of lobbyists say this is a typical result for a lobbying effort that confronts and calls out Gov. Cuomo. &ldquo;They got something but they didn&rsquo;t get all of it,&rdquo; said one long-time lobbyist. &ldquo;You can rattle him and force him to move to stop the bleeding but it isn&rsquo;t the best move in the long run.&rdquo;</p> <p>Advocates, legislators, businesspeople, and lobbyists who don&rsquo;t have a direct line to Cuomo or a long-standing alliance are often faced with that risky question of when to go at the governor with an aggressive public relations campaign. They can pay off wildly or they can put you on the governor&rsquo;s bad side -- sometimes both.</p> <p>Business lobbyists say confrontational campaigns are their absolute last resort with any administration, but note that smaller issue-based groups don&rsquo;t have a wealth of options at their disposal.</p> <p>Efforts to expand newer, technology-based businesses like Airbnb and Uber have set the stage for what some lobbyists say will be &ldquo;heavyweight showdowns&rdquo; with the well-established hotel trades and taxi lobbies, respectively. As Cuomo weighs whether to sign a bill that would be damaging to Airbnb, both supporters and opponents of the bill have struggled some with how to cajole him in their direction, especially around how much public pressure to mount.</p> <p>U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara&rsquo;s investigation into the Governor&rsquo;s economic development programs has put considerably more scrutiny on how lobbyists and those with business before the state use donations to get the attention of the governor and his closest allies. Fear over corruption was triggered because major developers, including two charged by Bharara, made major donations to Cuomo&rsquo;s reelection campaign within months of winning major economic development contracts with the state. Bharara has also charged three of Cuomo&rsquo;s allies with working to fix bids for the contractors they prefer. Cuomo has denied knowledge of the alleged arrangement and he has not been accused of wrongdoing, but it is his campaign that benefited.</p> <p>New York lacks the conflict of interest laws that limit campaign contributions from groups with business before the state. A July <a href="http://www.politico.com/states/new-york/albany/story/2016/07/nearly-all-cuomo-money-comes-from-donors-with-business-before-his-office-103795" target="_blank">report by Politico New York</a> showed that most of the donors to Cuomo&rsquo;s campaign have business before the state, or interest in pending legislation. Cuomo has always claimed that he makes decisions on the merits.</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p>*Note: due to a mistake on the part of Gotham Gazette, attempts to reach the Cuomo administration for comment for this article did not reach the intended party. Cuomo's office should have been afforded to opportunity to respond to the questins at hand in this article, including certain allegations, and we apologize for the error. A prior note that indicated Cuomo's office did not respond to a request for comment was removed after it became clear that requests for comment did not reach representatives for Cuomo. After making this realization in communication with Cuomo's office, Gotham Gazette offered the Cuomo administration an opportunity to comment.</p>
Criminal Justice Reform Again Given Little Attention in Budget Negotiations 2016-03-29T05:00:00+00:00 2016-03-29T05:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6249:criminal-justice-reform-again-given-little-attention-in-budget-negotiations Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18532201992_d568c22e11_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison visit dannemora" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora&nbsp;(photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.</p> <p>A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.</p> <p>For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.</p> <p>To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.</p> <p>Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.</p> <p>Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.</p> <p>However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5908-cuomo-takes-additional-executive-action-on-criminal-justice" target="_blank">issued an executive order</a> giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.</p> <p>The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.</p> <p>Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">one of just two states</a>, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."</p> <p>The issue of how to treat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system</a> is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.</p> <p>Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.</p> <p>Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5945-one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action" target="_blank">details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated</a>. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."</p> <p>Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO147.pdf" target="_blank">this year's executive budget</a>. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.</p> <p>The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.</p> <p>With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank"> took executive action</a>, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.</p> <p>"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions</a>]</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/18532201992_d568c22e11_z.jpg" alt="cuomo prison visit dannemora" height="399" width="600" /></p> <p>Gov. Cuomo in Dannemora&nbsp;(photo via The Governor's Office)</p> <hr /> <p>As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders rush to deliver an on-time budget, criminal justice reform advocates aren't holding out hope that any of their major legislative priorities will be included in the final document. Advocates are resigned that many of their priorities, which are backed by Cuomo and included in his executive budget, will be pushed to the post-budget legislative session.</p> <p>A budget is due by midnight Thursday, with the new fiscal year beginning on Friday, April 1, but a deal must be in place sooner so that bills can be drafted and voted on. The legislative session then extends into June. Cuomo and legislative leaders said Tuesday that they were getting close to settling the major funding and policy differences that would be included in the budget, with no mention of criminal justice issues.</p> <p>For some advocates it is no surprise given the complexities of their issues, like the push to raise the age of adult criminal responsibility in New York and legislation to amend state law to create a special prosecutor to preside over investigations of police killings of civilians.</p> <p>To others, it isn't surprising for an entirely different reason: they are used to seeing Cuomo pitch major criminal justice reforms during his State of the State address only to abandon them during budget negotiations due to push back from Senate Republicans.</p> <p>"For years we've seen this pattern where the governor comes out with big bold ideas in January but he doesn't follow through," said Alyssa Aguilera, co-executive director of VOCAL-NY, a community organizing and reform group. "We know the governor is very powerful and can move things when he wants to. He should be acting on these issues that really impact the low-income communities of color who are really his base."</p> <p>The Cuomo administration did not return request for comment.</p> <p>Legislators who support criminal justice reforms say they've been focused on the budget and won't likely return to other legislative issues until next week.</p> <p>Aguilera noted that Cuomo has previously pitched decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana only to abandon the issue. Last year Cuomo dropped "Raise the Age" and legislation to create a special prosecutor to investigate police killings of civilians during budget negotiations. He has also previously abandoned a push to provide inmates with a college education.</p> <p>However, last year while facing pressure to act from family members of the deceased, advocates, and legislators, Cuomo <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5908-cuomo-takes-additional-executive-action-on-criminal-justice" target="_blank">issued an executive order</a> giving Attorney General Eric Schneiderman the ability to investigate police killings of civilians under certain circumstances. The order allows the Attorney General to investigate any case involving a police killing of a civilian and to take over a case from a local District Attorney.</p> <p>The bill Cuomo is backing this year would allow an independent monitor to look into cases if a grand jury decided to not move forward against an officer or if a District Attorney did not put the case before a grand jury in a "reasonable" time. The monitor could then make a recommendation to the Governor. The Attorney General would no longer have a role.</p> <p>Advocates see the proposal, which is not garnering momentum, as a substantial weakening of Cuomo's executive order. Aguilera said she is concerned the current environment might not be ideal for getting the special prosecutor bill her group supports. "Our biggest fear really is seeing a rolling back of our victory. We fought for the executive order which was a very good, solid executive order. We are realistic that the current leadership in the state Senate means it might not be the right time for a stronger bill. We need to protect the current executive order. We don't want to see a watering down of what we already have," she said.</p> <p>Supporters of the plan to raise the age of criminal responsibility in New York are more optimistic about their chances. New York is currently <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">one of just two states</a>, with North Carolina, to try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.</p> <p>"I think it's going to be a priority for the governor once other priorities are taken care of," said Paige Pierce, CEO of Families Together New York State. "We aren't surprised or unhappy it is being dealt with outside of the budget. We want the attention paid to it that it deserves."</p> <p>The issue of how to treat <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank">16- and 17-year-olds in the state's criminal justice system</a> is complicated. Senate Republicans don't want to be soft on crime, or give the appearance of being so, while Assembly Democrats want to provide a host of alternatives to criminal court.</p> <p>Lawmakers and advocates say that last year they came close to compromise legislation. "We got so close last session, we just ran out of time," said Stephanie Gendell, associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizen's Committee for Children of New York.</p> <p>Gendell said that legislators from both sides of the aisle were motivated to deliver on legislation when they heard <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5945-one-raise-the-age-story-at-center-of-push-for-legislative-action" target="_blank">details of how 16- and 17-year-olds were treated</a>. "Certain pieces of Raise the Age just aren't controversial to anyone. That's why we got so close," said Gendell. "Legislators were surprised to hear that a 16-year-old arrested can be held all night without parental notification, without anyone knowing. The more people learn the more they are motivated to act."</p> <p>Cuomo did push last year to leave funding in the budget to enact Raise the Age reforms were a deal reached, and that money was there, but no deal occurred. The governor included similar language in <a href="https://www.governor.ny.gov/sites/governor.ny.gov/files/atoms/files/EO147.pdf" target="_blank">this year's executive budget</a>. Advocates are anxious to see if the language makes the final budget bills, setting the stage for an agreement in the months ahead. Cuomo also has bail reform on his agenda for the legislative session ahead.</p> <p>The governor, Democratic Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan continue to negotiate the budget framework.</p> <p>With no legislative deal reached last year Cuomo<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank"> took executive action</a>, placing all 16- and 17-year-old inmates in an alternative facility. He followed up by pushing the issue again in this year's State of the State address. The Assembly put forward its own version of the bill in its one-house budget. Senate Republicans have indicated some interest in compromising on reform legislation.</p> <p>"Part of why this doesn't get passed in the budget is that it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation," said Gendell. "Out bill is very long and there is a lot to it. When we get to legislative session we can talk more about the details. Senator Flanagan said he didn't want to deal with Raise the Age in the budget, he didn't say he didn't want it to happen at all."</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5797-cuomos-executive-action-on-raise-the-age-prompts-questions" target="_blank">Cuomo's Executive Action on Raise the Age Prompts Questions</a>]</p> <p>

***
by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Shut Down the Criminal Court 2016-02-24T21:23:54+00:00 2016-02-24T21:23:54+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6190:shut-down-the-criminal-court Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/courtroom.jpg" alt="courtroom" width="600" height="374" /></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito should be commended for using her State of the City address, titled "More Justice," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">to call for criminal justice reform</a>. She rightly observes that "we need more justice in the justice system" and ticked off some specific goals, including reducing the population at Rikers Island, creating civil procedures for minor violations, and improving the warrant process. However, the speaker must aim higher if she truly wants "more justice." More specifically, just as she referred to the "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island, so too should she call for abolishing the present Criminal Court.</p> <p>While the tactics of the NYPD have been subject to vigorous debate, and the horrific conditions at Rikers Island have been increasingly exposed, <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/cc_annl_rpt_2014.pdf" target="_blank">the Criminal Court</a>, the entity that reviews arrests and metes out sentences, has been free from any serious scrutiny.</p> <p>Last year, about 350,000 people were arraigned in the city's Criminal Courts. More than 90% of the defendants were black or Latino. Only 14% of the cases were felonies and owing to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's devotion to "broken windows" policing, misdemeanors and violations accounted for a whopping 81%. Almost 60% of those cases ended at arraignment, the accused's first appearance before a judge - a moment in time when the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge don't know much of anything about the charges, the accused, the arresting officer, or any actual victim. This is not anyone's conception of a "court."</p> <p>The speaker's call for "more" justice assumes there is already some amount present. It is hard to imagine the word "justice" occurring to anyone observing the court in action. Instead, it is as it has always been – an assembly line concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with rushing through cases. It is no secret that court administrators regularly evaluate judges on the speed with which they move their calendars and the number of guilty pleas they obtain in the process.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates guilt or innocence with witnesses testifying under oath, an attentive jury, and a judge at the helm. In fact, there are virtually no jury trials in the Criminal Court as defendants are pressured in myriad ways to plead guilty or resolve their cases in any way other than a trial.</p> <p>Consider this – the average time citywide from arraignment until the start of jury trial is 570 days. In the Bronx it is 826 days. Who can languish in jail or repeatedly come back to court for that long a period of time without experiencing emotional strain, missed work, missed school, etc.?</p> <p>More deliberately pernicious is the time-honored "trial tax" – defendants are aware that they will get severely sentenced if convicted for having the temerity to exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury. The result? In 2014, there were only 175 jury trials in the entire New York City Criminal Court (about 1/20 of 1% of the cases that entered the court the same year). On the other hand, there were about 175,000 guilty pleas.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates the constitutionality of the arrest, as even non-lawyers are familiar with the prohibition against illegal search and seizure. However, pretrial suppression hearings, where officers testify under oath and judges determine whether they acted legally, are as rare as jury trials. It took a trial in federal court for a judge to find that the NYPD was engaging in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. If the Criminal Court focused on its role as protector of constitutional rights and less on its self-imposed mandate to speed through cases, the stop-and-frisk debacle might have been stopped in its tracks years earlier.</p> <p>What, then, does the Criminal Court actually do? Twenty-five years ago, a colleague examined Criminal Court data and argued that the court didn't do anything of substance. He found that the court failed to assure that persons accused of crime are accorded their rights under law, failed to seriously assess guilt or innocence, failed to mete out any kind of meaningful sentence to those ultimately convicted, and cost the taxpayer a huge sum of money. He pointed to the lack of adversarial litigation and concluded that the Court's essential function was taking guilty pleas to minor charges. As a result, he suggested it should be abolished.</p> <p>I disagreed then, and still do now, with his finding that the Criminal Court didn't do much of anything significant. The Criminal Court does many things. Daily, it processes a multitude of young men of color, saddles them with arrest or criminal records, and renders them less employable, less likely to get into college, less able to get loans, less able to get licenses, etc. That reality breeds frustration, pain, anger, and alienation.</p> <p>The Criminal Court brings in revenue. Ferguson, Missouri is not the only city that grows its coffers through its criminal justice system. In 2014, fines, surcharges, bail and related fees netted $31,884,569 - that's just under $32 million.</p> <p>Ultimately, the Criminal Court is a highly efficient instrument of social control that maintains the status quo (or, as our Mayor might say, it perpetuates a tale of two cities).</p> <p>Yet, while I reject my colleague's conclusion, I agree wholeheartedly with his ultimate recommendation -- the Criminal Court should be abolished. This goal is not so far-fetched. Consider that while advocates for prison abolition were initially seen as wild-eyed dreamers, we now hear that Speaker Mark-Viverito's "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island even has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded that the Criminal Court needed to be re-examined several months ago when he announced his "<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">Justice Reboot</a>" initiative. However, meaningful change requires more than shutting down and restarting or tinkering with the same basic program. The usual slate of reforms offered to improve the Criminal Court – generally centered around the supposed need for swifter dispositions – will accomplish little. A reduced backlog won't change the color of the defendants nor the continued meting out of unnecessary and undeserved criminal records.</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito recognizes the dysfunction that characterizes the Criminal Court. She is creating a commission, headed by New York's former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, charged with re-imagining "our entire criminal justice system."</p> <p>To his credit, Judge Lippman has already promised to "pull no punches." That is exactly the right approach. The Criminal Court hasn't been fundamentally changed since its inception in 1962 and has repeatedly been referred to as a system in crisis. It is well past time for a new approach that focuses on assessing the nature and quality of justice delivered instead of the quantity and alacrity of cases disposed. Isn't that the true measure of a "court?"</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2016/courtroom.jpg" alt="courtroom" width="600" height="374" /></p> <hr /> <p>City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito should be commended for using her State of the City address, titled "More Justice," <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6164-mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city" target="_blank">to call for criminal justice reform</a>. She rightly observes that "we need more justice in the justice system" and ticked off some specific goals, including reducing the population at Rikers Island, creating civil procedures for minor violations, and improving the warrant process. However, the speaker must aim higher if she truly wants "more justice." More specifically, just as she referred to the "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island, so too should she call for abolishing the present Criminal Court.</p> <p>While the tactics of the NYPD have been subject to vigorous debate, and the horrific conditions at Rikers Island have been increasingly exposed, <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/COURTS/nyc/criminal/cc_annl_rpt_2014.pdf" target="_blank">the Criminal Court</a>, the entity that reviews arrests and metes out sentences, has been free from any serious scrutiny.</p> <p>Last year, about 350,000 people were arraigned in the city's Criminal Courts. More than 90% of the defendants were black or Latino. Only 14% of the cases were felonies and owing to Police Commissioner Bill Bratton's devotion to "broken windows" policing, misdemeanors and violations accounted for a whopping 81%. Almost 60% of those cases ended at arraignment, the accused's first appearance before a judge - a moment in time when the prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge don't know much of anything about the charges, the accused, the arresting officer, or any actual victim. This is not anyone's conception of a "court."</p> <p>The speaker's call for "more" justice assumes there is already some amount present. It is hard to imagine the word "justice" occurring to anyone observing the court in action. Instead, it is as it has always been – an assembly line concerned primarily, if not exclusively, with rushing through cases. It is no secret that court administrators regularly evaluate judges on the speed with which they move their calendars and the number of guilty pleas they obtain in the process.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates guilt or innocence with witnesses testifying under oath, an attentive jury, and a judge at the helm. In fact, there are virtually no jury trials in the Criminal Court as defendants are pressured in myriad ways to plead guilty or resolve their cases in any way other than a trial.</p> <p>Consider this – the average time citywide from arraignment until the start of jury trial is 570 days. In the Bronx it is 826 days. Who can languish in jail or repeatedly come back to court for that long a period of time without experiencing emotional strain, missed work, missed school, etc.?</p> <p>More deliberately pernicious is the time-honored "trial tax" – defendants are aware that they will get severely sentenced if convicted for having the temerity to exercise their constitutional right to a trial by jury. The result? In 2014, there were only 175 jury trials in the entire New York City Criminal Court (about 1/20 of 1% of the cases that entered the court the same year). On the other hand, there were about 175,000 guilty pleas.</p> <p>Most people assume that the Criminal Court adjudicates the constitutionality of the arrest, as even non-lawyers are familiar with the prohibition against illegal search and seizure. However, pretrial suppression hearings, where officers testify under oath and judges determine whether they acted legally, are as rare as jury trials. It took a trial in federal court for a judge to find that the NYPD was engaging in hundreds of thousands of violations of the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause. If the Criminal Court focused on its role as protector of constitutional rights and less on its self-imposed mandate to speed through cases, the stop-and-frisk debacle might have been stopped in its tracks years earlier.</p> <p>What, then, does the Criminal Court actually do? Twenty-five years ago, a colleague examined Criminal Court data and argued that the court didn't do anything of substance. He found that the court failed to assure that persons accused of crime are accorded their rights under law, failed to seriously assess guilt or innocence, failed to mete out any kind of meaningful sentence to those ultimately convicted, and cost the taxpayer a huge sum of money. He pointed to the lack of adversarial litigation and concluded that the Court's essential function was taking guilty pleas to minor charges. As a result, he suggested it should be abolished.</p> <p>I disagreed then, and still do now, with his finding that the Criminal Court didn't do much of anything significant. The Criminal Court does many things. Daily, it processes a multitude of young men of color, saddles them with arrest or criminal records, and renders them less employable, less likely to get into college, less able to get loans, less able to get licenses, etc. That reality breeds frustration, pain, anger, and alienation.</p> <p>The Criminal Court brings in revenue. Ferguson, Missouri is not the only city that grows its coffers through its criminal justice system. In 2014, fines, surcharges, bail and related fees netted $31,884,569 - that's just under $32 million.</p> <p>Ultimately, the Criminal Court is a highly efficient instrument of social control that maintains the status quo (or, as our Mayor might say, it perpetuates a tale of two cities).</p> <p>Yet, while I reject my colleague's conclusion, I agree wholeheartedly with his ultimate recommendation -- the Criminal Court should be abolished. This goal is not so far-fetched. Consider that while advocates for prison abolition were initially seen as wild-eyed dreamers, we now hear that Speaker Mark-Viverito's "dream" of shutting down Rikers Island even has the support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.</p> <p>Mayor Bill de Blasio conceded that the Criminal Court needed to be re-examined several months ago when he announced his "<a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/235-15/mayor-de-blasio-chief-judge-lippman-justice-reboot-initiative-modernize-the" target="_blank">Justice Reboot</a>" initiative. However, meaningful change requires more than shutting down and restarting or tinkering with the same basic program. The usual slate of reforms offered to improve the Criminal Court – generally centered around the supposed need for swifter dispositions – will accomplish little. A reduced backlog won't change the color of the defendants nor the continued meting out of unnecessary and undeserved criminal records.</p> <p>Speaker Mark-Viverito recognizes the dysfunction that characterizes the Criminal Court. She is creating a commission, headed by New York's former Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, charged with re-imagining "our entire criminal justice system."</p> <p>To his credit, Judge Lippman has already promised to "pull no punches." That is exactly the right approach. The Criminal Court hasn't been fundamentally changed since its inception in 1962 and has repeatedly been referred to as a system in crisis. It is well past time for a new approach that focuses on assessing the nature and quality of justice delivered instead of the quantity and alacrity of cases disposed. Isn't that the true measure of a "court?"</p> <p>***<br />Steven Zeidman is a professor of law at CUNY School of Law.</p> <p>

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Mark-Viverito 'Doubles Down' on Criminal Justice Reform in State of the City 2016-02-11T22:30:19+00:00 2016-02-11T22:30:19+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6164:mark-viverito-doubles-down-on-criminal-justice-reform-in-state-of-the-city Carmen Russo <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/mmv_speech_2016.jpg" alt="mmv speech 2016" height="400" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>During her second State of the City address, titled “More Justice,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced on Thursday a slew of new criminal justice reforms, including efforts to minimize the number of New Yorkers that end up in the city’s jail by clearing old arrest warrants for low-level, nonviolent offenses, and creating more programs to help reduce recidivism. She also said that as the number of inmates on Riker’s Island decreases, a plan for closing the notorious jail complexes could be enacted.</p> <p dir="ltr">Addressing an issue at the center of criminal justice conversation over the past year, Mark-Viverito said those who have avoided getting into trouble with the law again for years should have old arrest warrants cleared. Clearing these warrants, some of them decades old, would greatly reduce the city’s backlog of over 1.1 million open summons warrants, which are the result of people failing to appear in court after receiving a summons for a low-level, nonviolent offense, such as having an open container of alcohol.</p> <p dir="ltr">These open warrants can affect the warrant-holder’s immigration status, hurt their chances of getting a job, housing, or other services, and, of course, can result in jail time. A system where someone ends up in jail or with a permanent record for “being in a park after dark is simply not fair or proportionate,” Mark-Viverito said during her speech.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new initiatives outlined by Mark-Viverito will build upon steps the City Council has already taken to bring “more justice” to the criminal justice system, including creating a citywide bail fund, passing legislation to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5897-inmate-bill-of-rights-among-new-wave-of-rikers-reforms" target="_blank"> increase transparency at Rikers Island</a>, prohibiting prospective employers from inquiring about criminal history on job applications, and introducing legislation to change the way the city punishes low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as having an open container of alcohol in public or being in a park after dark.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Jan. 25, after nearly a year of negotiations, a package of eight<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457235&amp;GUID=63127871-E21F-4241-B2F1-44A3EA6AFA2F&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank"> bills</a> known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act was introduced in the City Council. The legislation encourages police officers to issue civil penalties, rather than using criminal summonses or arrests, for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Mark-Viverito highlights the package of bills, which appears to have the blessing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, on Thursday, and explained that the Council would be moving it forward and building upon it.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson expressed support for Mark-Viverito’s announcements, saying, “I commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for placing criminal justice reform at the top of her legislative agenda….I look forward to working with the Speaker and our partners in government to continue to address this important citywide issue.” Thompson has held several events to help people clear arrest warrants and summonses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Warrant amnesty, combined with the Criminal Justice Reform Act’s move to steer cases away from the criminal system and direct them to a civil court run by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings could go a long way toward the speaker’s goal of minimizing the number of New Yorkers who end up in the criminal justice system and on Riker’s Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">But reducing that number must also involve efforts that “address the systemic issues that plague neighborhoods and start to actually fix them,” Mark-Viverito said, vowing the Council will do just that by passing legislation to ensure the city has a multi-agency plan to provide more social services that target problems like unemployment, high school dropout rates, and substance abuse in areas with high crime rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a continued effort to bring increased transparency to the city’s jail system, this year the Council will pass legislation establishing an Inspector General for the Department of Correction, who will focus “on systemic issues in the city’s jail system, and will be modeled after the successful NYPD Inspector General established by the City Council in 2013,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking with members of the press after Mark-Viverito’s speech, Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he “applaud[s] the Speaker for her genuine feelings of trying to make a difference, but in order to make a difference you have to sit down with everyone at the table...talk to the people that do this for a living as opposed to the ones that just push a pencil.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our job is care, custody, and control,” Seabrook said of those officers who work at and for the city’s jails. “In order to rebuild the system, reform has to be on both sides,” he added, later explaining that one side is those pushing reform and the other is police and correction leaders, as well as district attorneys.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bringing all stakeholders together to plan reform is exactly what newly-retired Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, intends to do as chair of an independent commission to examine Rikers Island and “explore a community-based justice model.” Mark-Viverito first announced the creation of the commission during her State of the City address.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I very much intend to have a broadly represented committee, particularly of the criminal justice community, and that includes all of the players,” Lippman told reporters after the speech. “I think I have a background that allows me to bring the different sides of the equation to this table, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission will complement<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5930-discussion-of-new-yorks-broken-bail-system-comes-to-brooklyn" target="_blank"> existing reform efforts</a> by exploring ways to continue reducing pre-trial detention rates, move adolescents and the mentally ill off Rikers in the short term, and utilize more community courts and borough-based jail facilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman’s firm, Latham and Watkins, which he joined after being forced to retire as chief judge due to age restrictions, will staff the commission and provide all the needed resources pro bono. The Center for Court Innovation, a criminal justice think tank, will also work with the commission, whose members will be selected by Lippman in consultation with Mark-Viverito and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are going to do the most careful, comprehensive look at Rikers that’s ever been done,” Lippman said, “and make very concrete, direct recommendations...What’s clear is that [Rikers] is central to the justice system here in our city, and it doesn’t work.” While the population at Rikers has already been shrinking, violence in the jails is a major problem, as is people being detained there for extended periods while they await trial for non-violent offenses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another important piece of minimizing the number of New Yorkers in the City’s jails is reducing the recidivism rate. “Every year,” Mark-Viverito said, “there are about 70,000 admissions to Rikers and other city jails - but only about 16 percent of those admitted are ultimately sentenced to prison.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet even a brief stint in jail can have life-changing ramifications, she said. A few days in Rikers can cause someone to lose their job, and a record could prevent them from getting a new job or accessing other needed resources, causing them to fall into what Mark-Viverito calls an “endless cycle of recidivism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Reducing recidivism must be a top priority,” Mark-Viverito said, and to that end she promised the Council will work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to create a Municipal Division of Transition Services which will help make the reentry process for those exiting prison easier and more supportive by providing services like computer classes, resume building, drug treatment, and housing resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another piece of the Council’s effort to reduce recidivism rates will be the development of a video visitation program for those who are incarcerated, as maintaining familial and social relationships has been proven to reduce recidivism. The program will allow families who cannot make the often day-long trip to Rikers Island to speak with their loved ones by visiting a local library or neighborhood center and using the video program.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council will also continue to call on the State to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank"> raise the age</a> of criminal responsibility, so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults, Mark-Viverito said. New York is one of the two states in the country that still tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pushed to raise the age, but has not been able to get legislation passed through the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with an intense focus on criminal justice reform, Mark-Viverito also reiterated her support for a $15 minimum wage, emphasized support for immigrants, including by increasing language access and translation services, announced plans to increase civic and youth engagement, outlined ways the city can improve the community planning process, and stressed greater investment in young women.</p> <p>"The State of the City is strong, but its foundation must be strengthened. That foundation is New Yorkers themselves," Mark-Viverito said on Thursday. "It's the student eager to vote or the community fighting for more green space. It's the immigrant family starting a business or the single mother bringing her baby home for the first time. It's our city's seniors and their caregivers. It's the New Yorker struggling to find a home, or the young man languishing in Rikers. And it is every young woman looking up at the glass ceiling...It's New Yorkers who make New York great. And it's New Yorkers who need more justice."</p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p dir="ltr">Note: this article has been updated.</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/mmv_speech_2016.jpg" alt="mmv speech 2016" height="400" width="600" />&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Mark-Viverito delivers her State of the City (photo: William Alatriste)&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>During her second State of the City address, titled “More Justice,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced on Thursday a slew of new criminal justice reforms, including efforts to minimize the number of New Yorkers that end up in the city’s jail by clearing old arrest warrants for low-level, nonviolent offenses, and creating more programs to help reduce recidivism. She also said that as the number of inmates on Riker’s Island decreases, a plan for closing the notorious jail complexes could be enacted.</p> <p dir="ltr">Addressing an issue at the center of criminal justice conversation over the past year, Mark-Viverito said those who have avoided getting into trouble with the law again for years should have old arrest warrants cleared. Clearing these warrants, some of them decades old, would greatly reduce the city’s backlog of over 1.1 million open summons warrants, which are the result of people failing to appear in court after receiving a summons for a low-level, nonviolent offense, such as having an open container of alcohol.</p> <p dir="ltr">These open warrants can affect the warrant-holder’s immigration status, hurt their chances of getting a job, housing, or other services, and, of course, can result in jail time. A system where someone ends up in jail or with a permanent record for “being in a park after dark is simply not fair or proportionate,” Mark-Viverito said during her speech.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new initiatives outlined by Mark-Viverito will build upon steps the City Council has already taken to bring “more justice” to the criminal justice system, including creating a citywide bail fund, passing legislation to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5897-inmate-bill-of-rights-among-new-wave-of-rikers-reforms" target="_blank"> increase transparency at Rikers Island</a>, prohibiting prospective employers from inquiring about criminal history on job applications, and introducing legislation to change the way the city punishes low-level, nonviolent offenses, such as having an open container of alcohol in public or being in a park after dark.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Jan. 25, after nearly a year of negotiations, a package of eight<a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457235&amp;GUID=63127871-E21F-4241-B2F1-44A3EA6AFA2F&amp;Options=info&amp;Search=" target="_blank"> bills</a> known as the Criminal Justice Reform Act was introduced in the City Council. The legislation encourages police officers to issue civil penalties, rather than using criminal summonses or arrests, for low-level, nonviolent offenses. Mark-Viverito highlights the package of bills, which appears to have the blessing of Mayor Bill de Blasio, on Thursday, and explained that the Council would be moving it forward and building upon it.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a statement, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson expressed support for Mark-Viverito’s announcements, saying, “I commend Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito for placing criminal justice reform at the top of her legislative agenda….I look forward to working with the Speaker and our partners in government to continue to address this important citywide issue.” Thompson has held several events to help people clear arrest warrants and summonses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Warrant amnesty, combined with the Criminal Justice Reform Act’s move to steer cases away from the criminal system and direct them to a civil court run by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings could go a long way toward the speaker’s goal of minimizing the number of New Yorkers who end up in the criminal justice system and on Riker’s Island.</p> <p dir="ltr">But reducing that number must also involve efforts that “address the systemic issues that plague neighborhoods and start to actually fix them,” Mark-Viverito said, vowing the Council will do just that by passing legislation to ensure the city has a multi-agency plan to provide more social services that target problems like unemployment, high school dropout rates, and substance abuse in areas with high crime rates.</p> <p dir="ltr">In a continued effort to bring increased transparency to the city’s jail system, this year the Council will pass legislation establishing an Inspector General for the Department of Correction, who will focus “on systemic issues in the city’s jail system, and will be modeled after the successful NYPD Inspector General established by the City Council in 2013,” Mark-Viverito said.</p> <p dir="ltr">Speaking with members of the press after Mark-Viverito’s speech, Norman Seabrook, president of the city’s Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, said he “applaud[s] the Speaker for her genuine feelings of trying to make a difference, but in order to make a difference you have to sit down with everyone at the table...talk to the people that do this for a living as opposed to the ones that just push a pencil.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Our job is care, custody, and control,” Seabrook said of those officers who work at and for the city’s jails. “In order to rebuild the system, reform has to be on both sides,” he added, later explaining that one side is those pushing reform and the other is police and correction leaders, as well as district attorneys.</p> <p dir="ltr">Bringing all stakeholders together to plan reform is exactly what newly-retired Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, intends to do as chair of an independent commission to examine Rikers Island and “explore a community-based justice model.” Mark-Viverito first announced the creation of the commission during her State of the City address.</p> <p dir="ltr">“I very much intend to have a broadly represented committee, particularly of the criminal justice community, and that includes all of the players,” Lippman told reporters after the speech. “I think I have a background that allows me to bring the different sides of the equation to this table, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The commission will complement<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5930-discussion-of-new-yorks-broken-bail-system-comes-to-brooklyn" target="_blank"> existing reform efforts</a> by exploring ways to continue reducing pre-trial detention rates, move adolescents and the mentally ill off Rikers in the short term, and utilize more community courts and borough-based jail facilities.</p> <p dir="ltr">Lippman’s firm, Latham and Watkins, which he joined after being forced to retire as chief judge due to age restrictions, will staff the commission and provide all the needed resources pro bono. The Center for Court Innovation, a criminal justice think tank, will also work with the commission, whose members will be selected by Lippman in consultation with Mark-Viverito and others.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are going to do the most careful, comprehensive look at Rikers that’s ever been done,” Lippman said, “and make very concrete, direct recommendations...What’s clear is that [Rikers] is central to the justice system here in our city, and it doesn’t work.” While the population at Rikers has already been shrinking, violence in the jails is a major problem, as is people being detained there for extended periods while they await trial for non-violent offenses.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another important piece of minimizing the number of New Yorkers in the City’s jails is reducing the recidivism rate. “Every year,” Mark-Viverito said, “there are about 70,000 admissions to Rikers and other city jails - but only about 16 percent of those admitted are ultimately sentenced to prison.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Yet even a brief stint in jail can have life-changing ramifications, she said. A few days in Rikers can cause someone to lose their job, and a record could prevent them from getting a new job or accessing other needed resources, causing them to fall into what Mark-Viverito calls an “endless cycle of recidivism.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“Reducing recidivism must be a top priority,” Mark-Viverito said, and to that end she promised the Council will work with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to create a Municipal Division of Transition Services which will help make the reentry process for those exiting prison easier and more supportive by providing services like computer classes, resume building, drug treatment, and housing resources.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another piece of the Council’s effort to reduce recidivism rates will be the development of a video visitation program for those who are incarcerated, as maintaining familial and social relationships has been proven to reduce recidivism. The program will allow families who cannot make the often day-long trip to Rikers Island to speak with their loved ones by visiting a local library or neighborhood center and using the video program.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council will also continue to call on the State to<a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5916-will-new-york-be-last-to-raise-the-age" target="_blank"> raise the age</a> of criminal responsibility, so that 16- and 17-year-olds are no longer automatically tried as adults, Mark-Viverito said. New York is one of the two states in the country that still tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. Governor Andrew Cuomo has pushed to raise the age, but has not been able to get legislation passed through the Republican-controlled state Senate.</p> <p dir="ltr">Along with an intense focus on criminal justice reform, Mark-Viverito also reiterated her support for a $15 minimum wage, emphasized support for immigrants, including by increasing language access and translation services, announced plans to increase civic and youth engagement, outlined ways the city can improve the community planning process, and stressed greater investment in young women.</p> <p>"The State of the City is strong, but its foundation must be strengthened. That foundation is New Yorkers themselves," Mark-Viverito said on Thursday. "It's the student eager to vote or the community fighting for more green space. It's the immigrant family starting a business or the single mother bringing her baby home for the first time. It's our city's seniors and their caregivers. It's the New Yorker struggling to find a home, or the young man languishing in Rikers. And it is every young woman looking up at the glass ceiling...It's New Yorkers who make New York great. And it's New Yorkers who need more justice."</p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p> <p dir="ltr">Note: this article has been updated.</p>
Criminal Justice Reform Act is No Alternative to Broken Windows Policing 2016-01-24T19:01:27+00:00 2016-01-24T19:01:27+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6112:criminal-justice-reform-act-is-no-alternative-to-broken-windows-policing Super User <p dir="ltr">&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bratton_times_sq_group.jpg" alt="bratton times sq group" height="409" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">NYPD ceremony in Times Square (photo: @CommissBratton)</p> <hr /> <p>Monday morning the City Council will begin consideration of a series of bills, called the <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457235&amp;GUID=63127871-E21F-4241-B2F1-44A3EA6AFA2F&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">Criminal Justice Reform Act</a>, which would limit the use of criminal penalties to manage a variety of low level “quality of life” offenses such as public drinking, park code violations, noise, and public urination. City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said she hopes these changes will reduce the problem of excessive criminalization in communities of color, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the courts committee, <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/easing-up-low-level-crimes/" target="_blank">on WNYC radio</a> last Friday. Lancman noted that too many areas of the city have experienced overpolicing and overcriminalization.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Act, being spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, &nbsp;already has broad support in the Council and the endorsement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and thus, Mayor de Blasio. It's encouraging that political leaders in New York City are exploring ways of reducing the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, but this package of reforms is at best a baby step, and at worst, may open the door to more racially discriminatory police actions.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills, if passed, would create new civil penalty options for these offences by allowing police to choose between a criminal summons and a civil one when encountering an offender, a choice made based on departmental guidelines. The criminal codes remain on the books per Bratton’s insistence, which he says is necessary so that officers can demand identification, conduct searches, and perform background checks.</p> <p dir="ltr">With a criminal summons, people must appear in summons court and if they fail to do so a warrant is issued for their arrest. Over a million such arrest warrants are currently on the books, leading to numerous unfortunate encounters with the police, such as being arrested on the way to work or to pick children up from school.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new civil process, to be administered by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, will be more like traffic court in which people must pay a fine or perform community service, but no warrant will result from failure to comply. Instead, a <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/collectingjudg.shtml" target="_blank">civil judgement</a> will be issued, which could result in the garnishment of wages or bank accounts, or seizure of property. This might also affect one’s credit rating. None of this will result in incarceration, which is positive, but the penalties can still be substantial, with fines ranging from $25 to $250 for a first offense.</p> <p dir="ltr">In addition, these financial penalties are likely to fall heaviest on areas where quality-of-life, or broken windows, enforcement is the most widespread, removing resources from already poor communities. While some will escape these penalties through community service programs, many working poor will not.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vincent Riggins, chair of the public safety committee of Community Board 5 in East New York has actually called for the return of half of all those fines to the local community board to be spent on community development projects. It is a great idea that would reduce the financial incentive that has driven excessive and discriminatory summonsing in places like Ferguson, MO.</p> <p dir="ltr">Riggins has raised another important point. By leaving these offenses on the books, rather than truly decriminalizing them, the door is left open for the kinds of invasive policing experienced under stop, question, and frisk in recent years. By keeping open alcohol an offense, police will have “reasonable suspicion” to stop anyone drinking a beverage in a bag or unmarked container, potentially leading to exactly the kinds of unwarranted police intrusions that we have worked so hard to reduce. While Bratton rightly touts reductions in police enforcement encounters, racial disparities persist.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another area of concern is the discretionary nature of the new rules. The NYPD insisted that it would only support the bill if it retained the ability to treat these offences as criminal when officers felt it appropriate. This gives them the ability to demand ID and run people for warrants. But what will determine who gets a civil summons, who gets a criminal one, and who gets run for warrants? There is a real risk that the more punitive practices will become heavily concentrated in exactly those poor, non-white communities that bore the brunt of stop, question, and frisk, and who bear the burden of most criminal summonses and low level arrests now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Gibson says that there will be a process of determining policies for guiding officer discretion, and that the City Council is calling for the default to be a civil summons. This outcome, however, is far from assured, since the ultimate decision rests with the NYPD and the officer on the street. Therefore, there is a real risk that the police will perceive the need to take harsher and more invasive action in exactly the same places they do now, with milder penalties reserved for more prosperous parts of the city. If these changes are enacted, this must be monitored closely, something Council Members Jumaane Williams and Mark Levine are proposing through a bill mandating reporting by the NYPD.</p> <p dir="ltr">Any reduction in the use of criminal penalties is welcome, but this measure retains an adherence to using punitive mechanisms to manage so called quality-of-life problems in keeping with the deeply <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5199-neoconservative-roots-broken-windows-policing-theory-nypd-bratton-vitale" target="_blank">conservative Broken Windows theory</a>. There is nothing in the bill to develop non-punitive mechanisms for addressing community problems.</p> <p dir="ltr">As one caller <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/easing-up-low-level-crimes/" target="_blank">to WNYC</a> pointed out, the current criminal penalties seem to be largely ineffective in reducing the amount of public urination, why should the civil penalties be any more effective? They won’t. The reality is that public bathrooms are largely non-existent in New York City. Other major cities around the world have much more developed amenities in place and have largely avoided this problem. If you don’t want people to pee in public, give them functional and accessible public bathrooms, not a choice between criminal and civil sanctions.</p> <p dir="ltr">In addition, a lot of quality-of-life problems are driven by pervasive underemployment for youth of color, a lack of positive social activities for young people, and widespread homelessness. While the Mayor and City Council have started to acknowledge the extent of some of these problems, their focus has been primarily on hiring more police and tinkering with what kind of punitive sanctions to use, rather than a major redistribution of resources away from police, courts, and prisons, and towards housing, healthcare, and youth services.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his book The Silent Black Majority, Michael Fortner shows that the push for criminal justice solutions to community problems was supported by many in poor black communities and my own research on the rise of quality-of-life policing in the ‘90s shows the same thing. But what I also found was that these communities also called for youth centers, improved housing, and better schools, but what they got was only the policing and prisons. It’s time our political leaders quit asking the NYPD for permission to really shift resources away from the criminal justice system and towards improving communities in positive ways.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Los Angeles, the <a href="http://www.youth4justice.org/take-action/la-for-youth-1-campaign" target="_blank">Youth Justice Coalition</a> has called for redirecting 1% of all criminal justice spending ($100 million) in the county towards youth jobs, community centers, and violence reduction outreach workers. That would be real reform. The <a href="http://www.policereformorganizingproject.org/" target="_blank">Police Reform Organizing Project</a> here in New York is currently exploring a similar initiative on an even broader scale. Crime and disorder matter and need to be addressed, but we must strive to develop affirming rather than punitive solutions whenever possible. If the City Council is serious about reducing the negative impacts of the criminal justice system, it should start by revisiting its decision to expand the NYPD. More police with more discretion is not the answer.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Alex S. Vitale is&nbsp;associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter:&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/avitale" target="_blank">@avitale</a></p> <p dir="ltr">

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
<p dir="ltr">&nbsp;<img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/bratton_times_sq_group.jpg" alt="bratton times sq group" height="409" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr">NYPD ceremony in Times Square (photo: @CommissBratton)</p> <hr /> <p>Monday morning the City Council will begin consideration of a series of bills, called the <a href="http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=457235&amp;GUID=63127871-E21F-4241-B2F1-44A3EA6AFA2F&amp;Options=info&amp;Search" target="_blank">Criminal Justice Reform Act</a>, which would limit the use of criminal penalties to manage a variety of low level “quality of life” offenses such as public drinking, park code violations, noise, and public urination. City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, chair of the public safety committee, said she hopes these changes will reduce the problem of excessive criminalization in communities of color, a sentiment echoed by Council Member Rory Lancman, chair of the courts committee, <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/easing-up-low-level-crimes/" target="_blank">on WNYC radio</a> last Friday. Lancman noted that too many areas of the city have experienced overpolicing and overcriminalization.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Act, being spearheaded by Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, &nbsp;already has broad support in the Council and the endorsement of NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, and thus, Mayor de Blasio. It's encouraging that political leaders in New York City are exploring ways of reducing the impact of the criminal justice system on communities of color, but this package of reforms is at best a baby step, and at worst, may open the door to more racially discriminatory police actions.</p> <p dir="ltr">The bills, if passed, would create new civil penalty options for these offences by allowing police to choose between a criminal summons and a civil one when encountering an offender, a choice made based on departmental guidelines. The criminal codes remain on the books per Bratton’s insistence, which he says is necessary so that officers can demand identification, conduct searches, and perform background checks.</p> <p dir="ltr">With a criminal summons, people must appear in summons court and if they fail to do so a warrant is issued for their arrest. Over a million such arrest warrants are currently on the books, leading to numerous unfortunate encounters with the police, such as being arrested on the way to work or to pick children up from school.</p> <p dir="ltr">The new civil process, to be administered by the city’s Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, will be more like traffic court in which people must pay a fine or perform community service, but no warrant will result from failure to comply. Instead, a <a href="https://www.nycourts.gov/courts/nyc/civil/collectingjudg.shtml" target="_blank">civil judgement</a> will be issued, which could result in the garnishment of wages or bank accounts, or seizure of property. This might also affect one’s credit rating. None of this will result in incarceration, which is positive, but the penalties can still be substantial, with fines ranging from $25 to $250 for a first offense.</p> <p dir="ltr">In addition, these financial penalties are likely to fall heaviest on areas where quality-of-life, or broken windows, enforcement is the most widespread, removing resources from already poor communities. While some will escape these penalties through community service programs, many working poor will not.</p> <p dir="ltr">Vincent Riggins, chair of the public safety committee of Community Board 5 in East New York has actually called for the return of half of all those fines to the local community board to be spent on community development projects. It is a great idea that would reduce the financial incentive that has driven excessive and discriminatory summonsing in places like Ferguson, MO.</p> <p dir="ltr">Riggins has raised another important point. By leaving these offenses on the books, rather than truly decriminalizing them, the door is left open for the kinds of invasive policing experienced under stop, question, and frisk in recent years. By keeping open alcohol an offense, police will have “reasonable suspicion” to stop anyone drinking a beverage in a bag or unmarked container, potentially leading to exactly the kinds of unwarranted police intrusions that we have worked so hard to reduce. While Bratton rightly touts reductions in police enforcement encounters, racial disparities persist.</p> <p dir="ltr">Another area of concern is the discretionary nature of the new rules. The NYPD insisted that it would only support the bill if it retained the ability to treat these offences as criminal when officers felt it appropriate. This gives them the ability to demand ID and run people for warrants. But what will determine who gets a civil summons, who gets a criminal one, and who gets run for warrants? There is a real risk that the more punitive practices will become heavily concentrated in exactly those poor, non-white communities that bore the brunt of stop, question, and frisk, and who bear the burden of most criminal summonses and low level arrests now.</p> <p dir="ltr">Council Member Gibson says that there will be a process of determining policies for guiding officer discretion, and that the City Council is calling for the default to be a civil summons. This outcome, however, is far from assured, since the ultimate decision rests with the NYPD and the officer on the street. Therefore, there is a real risk that the police will perceive the need to take harsher and more invasive action in exactly the same places they do now, with milder penalties reserved for more prosperous parts of the city. If these changes are enacted, this must be monitored closely, something Council Members Jumaane Williams and Mark Levine are proposing through a bill mandating reporting by the NYPD.</p> <p dir="ltr">Any reduction in the use of criminal penalties is welcome, but this measure retains an adherence to using punitive mechanisms to manage so called quality-of-life problems in keeping with the deeply <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/opinion/5199-neoconservative-roots-broken-windows-policing-theory-nypd-bratton-vitale" target="_blank">conservative Broken Windows theory</a>. There is nothing in the bill to develop non-punitive mechanisms for addressing community problems.</p> <p dir="ltr">As one caller <a href="http://www.wnyc.org/story/easing-up-low-level-crimes/" target="_blank">to WNYC</a> pointed out, the current criminal penalties seem to be largely ineffective in reducing the amount of public urination, why should the civil penalties be any more effective? They won’t. The reality is that public bathrooms are largely non-existent in New York City. Other major cities around the world have much more developed amenities in place and have largely avoided this problem. If you don’t want people to pee in public, give them functional and accessible public bathrooms, not a choice between criminal and civil sanctions.</p> <p dir="ltr">In addition, a lot of quality-of-life problems are driven by pervasive underemployment for youth of color, a lack of positive social activities for young people, and widespread homelessness. While the Mayor and City Council have started to acknowledge the extent of some of these problems, their focus has been primarily on hiring more police and tinkering with what kind of punitive sanctions to use, rather than a major redistribution of resources away from police, courts, and prisons, and towards housing, healthcare, and youth services.</p> <p dir="ltr">In his book The Silent Black Majority, Michael Fortner shows that the push for criminal justice solutions to community problems was supported by many in poor black communities and my own research on the rise of quality-of-life policing in the ‘90s shows the same thing. But what I also found was that these communities also called for youth centers, improved housing, and better schools, but what they got was only the policing and prisons. It’s time our political leaders quit asking the NYPD for permission to really shift resources away from the criminal justice system and towards improving communities in positive ways.</p> <p dir="ltr">In Los Angeles, the <a href="http://www.youth4justice.org/take-action/la-for-youth-1-campaign" target="_blank">Youth Justice Coalition</a> has called for redirecting 1% of all criminal justice spending ($100 million) in the county towards youth jobs, community centers, and violence reduction outreach workers. That would be real reform. The <a href="http://www.policereformorganizingproject.org/" target="_blank">Police Reform Organizing Project</a> here in New York is currently exploring a similar initiative on an even broader scale. Crime and disorder matter and need to be addressed, but we must strive to develop affirming rather than punitive solutions whenever possible. If the City Council is serious about reducing the negative impacts of the criminal justice system, it should start by revisiting its decision to expand the NYPD. More police with more discretion is not the answer.</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />Alex S. Vitale is&nbsp;associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and author of City of Disorder: How the Quality of Life Campaign Transformed New York Politics. He is senior policy adviser to the Police Reform Organizing Project and serves on the New York State Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission. You can follow him on Twitter:&nbsp;<a href="https://twitter.com/avitale" target="_blank">@avitale</a></p> <p dir="ltr">

***
Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

</p>
Corruption, Elections Loom Over Lengthy 2016 Legislative Agenda 2016-01-06T22:17:26+00:00 2016-01-06T22:17:26+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6067:corruption-elections-loom-over-2016-legislative-agenda Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24195066305_18221d13db_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement infrastructure" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawmakers returning to Albany this week to kick off the 2016 legislative session are faced with a litany of unresolved issues from last year and the spectre of the recent convictions of two former legislative leaders.</p> <p>Add to that impending elections for all 213 legislative seats, some of which will be critical for the future of state Senate control and the prospect of future indictments hinted at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and you have a recipe for potential paralysis.</p> <p>Familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms are all on the table. Newer issues like regulating fantasy sports gambling and tweaks to the state's health insurance marketplace will also be up for discussion.</p> <p>Complicating some issues will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's repeated 2015 use of executive action, which irked some legislators and, according to some advocates, let the air out of pushes for major legislation. But the elephant in the room remains how to deal with the plague of corruption that has dogged the capitol for years.</p> <p>There is a little extra motivation for the legislature to move on more comprehensive ethics fixes - when session ended in June, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos had merely been indicted on federal corruption charges, six months later both men have been convicted and will soon face sentencing. Further, their trials exposed how major donors are able to exploit the state's campaign finance system and how both Silver and Skelos were able to use their influence to pressure entities with business before the state to provide them and their associates with financial benefit.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised that ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda.</p> <p>Aside from the unprecedented legislative scandal, both houses of the legislature will also be preparing for an election season that many see as do or die for control of the state Senate, currently led by Republicans. Upcoming electoral contests could motivate leaders from both houses to compromise, or it could create more strife, legislative paralysis, and a blame game that will play out in the elections.</p> <p>Still, there are a variety of major policy issues at play as 2016 session begins, including:</p> <p><strong>Full-Time Legislature</strong><br />A number of good government groups, as well as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and even U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have posited that a better paid, full-time legislature might reduce certain kinds of corruption. Better pay might reduce the temptation to take bribes and with outside income banned it would be much harder for legislators to hide any ill-gotten gains.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats say their conference has seriously discussed the possibility of advocating for a full-time legislative body. In a Dec. 7 <a href="http://www.bronxnet.org/tv/bronxtalk/viewvideo/6546/bronxtalk/bronxtalk--dec-7th-2015" target="_blank">interview</a> with Gary Axelbank of BronxTalk, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he wanted to see how stricter income disclosure rules passed last year work before he advocates a total ban on outside income.</p> <p>Heastie told Axelbank a full-time legislature would have to be paid considerably more. "Is the public ready to pay legislators $150,000-$160,000 a year?" Heastie asked. "If you're going to have people go full time, there's going to have to be a hefty pay raise from $79,500." Legislators haven't had a raise in 15 years, though a new commission is examining the rates and will issue recommendations.</p> <p>Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly said he is steadfastly opposed to a full-time legislature. He said it on Wednesday's first session day, and last month he <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/12/flanagan-remains-opposed-to-full-time-legislature/" target="_blank">told reporters</a>, "We are ostensibly supposed to have, or legally supposed to have, a citizen Legislature or a part-time Legislature. I want the people with a depth of background. I think it's useful to have people from varying walks of life."</p> <p>Still, upon replacing Skelos, Flanagan gave up his second job, a move he explained Wednesday as important because of his time commitment as Senate leader, which comes with a stipend.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted that the constitution calls for a part-time legislature and Republican opposition to going full-time, but called the idea "something worth talking about." It's more likely that legislators compromise on a significant cap on outside income and additional rules.</p> <p><strong>LLC Loophole</strong><br />The now-infamous LLC loophole was featured during the Silver and Skelos corruption trials, but has been a cause of consternation among reformers for quite some time. In practice, the loophole allows anyone to game the campaign finance system by setting up multiple LLCs, or limited liability corporations, from which to donate to candidates for office.</p> <p>Cries to close the loophole reached fever pitch last session, but in the wake of the Silver and Skelos trials have become even louder. Glenwood Management, a Manhattan real estate firm at the center of the Silver and Skelos cases, used the loophole to subvert the state's campaign donation limits by creating a number of front companies. The firm has been the largest contributor in the state for years. The Assembly moved to close the loophole last year but the Senate refused to vote on the issue. The Assembly is poised to move again on the issue but it appears that they might face opposition not only from Senate Republicans but from Cuomo as well.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters in Manhattan on Dec. 13, Cuomo said that closing the LLC Loophole was "a priority." However, on Dec. 21, Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview that closing the loophole would be ineffective because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.</p> <p>"You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office," Cuomo said on WNYC, "because you're not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United."</p> <p>Cuomo also refused to return over a million dollars in donations from Glenwood Management. "If I believed that I could be influenced by a million dollars, or a thousand dollars, or fifty dollars, then I'm in the wrong place and I should resign immediately," <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/cuomo-plans-ethics-bills-but-won-t-close-llc-loophole-1.11251226" target="_blank">he explained</a>.</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage Hike</strong><br />Cuomo kicked off the rollout of his 2016 agenda with another rally for an eventual $15 hourly statewide minimum wage and by extending a path toward $15 per hour to 28,000 SUNY employees. Cuomo has promised to push the legislature to adopt his plan to get all workers across the state to at least $15 per hour over the next several years.</p> <p>Cuomo rapidly evolved his position on the minimum wage last year after opposing a hike to $13 per hour proposed by Democratic legislators. But, he utilized the state's wage board provision to boost the minimum wage plan for fast food workers to an eventual $15 per hour and has rallied across the state to push the legislature to support the same figure.</p> <p>The Assembly pushed for an eventual $15 minimum wage for New York City in its single-house budget last year and is expected to support Cuomo's push. There are some Democratic members from Upstate and Western New York who are concerned about backlash from business groups. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has not written off the possibility of a path toward a $15 minimum wage and there are some who think he will look to compromise with Cuomo on the timeline for full implementation of the raise as a way to take the debate off the table before election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has already begun outlining tax reform, especially to reduce the burden on small businesses, which many see as part of the plan to get the minimum wage hike passed. A heightened minimum wage is popular around the state and has endeared the governor with many of his erstwhile liberal friends.</p> <p><strong>Tax on the Rich</strong><br />With one sentence of his remarks on the opening day of session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie changed the expected dynamics of negotiations to come. "We will fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity, common sense," Heastie said, adding that he wanted tax cuts for the working class and to ask "wealthy New Yorkers" to pay their "fair share."</p> <p>Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls for a tax on the highest earners over the last few years - especially when the calls came from Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. It isn't clear how hard Heastie will push on the issue but if it takes off it could eventually be used as leverage toward enacting a full minimum wage increase.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Last month the Cuomo administration made good on a promised executive action when it unveiled a plan to move 16- and 17-year-old inmates with medium and minimum security classifications to a juvenile facility in Hudson. The move is expected to impact up to 100 inmates. However, advocates are not satisfied. New York is still one of two states to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults upon arrest.</p> <p>Criminal justice experts want the entire process changed in state law, something Cuomo has backed and tried to enact last year to no avail.</p> <p>While advocates plan to continue to push, and held a press conference on the first day of session to resume doing so, Cuomo's executive action may have reduced the legislature's appetite to act. A number of Senate Republicans were concerned about housing teens in adult prisons but are not convinced the entire criminal justice process should be altered. Meanwhile, Cuomo and Democrats from the Senate and Assembly have disagreed on exactly how the 16- and 17-year-olds should be processed by the courts.</p> <p>Meanwhile, having failed to build a consensus with the legislature on how to revamp the criminal justice system to address concerns about how police shootings of citizens are investigated, Cuomo issued an executive order last summer allowing the Attorney General to name a special prosecutor in such cases.</p> <p>The move angered some district attorneys and members of law enforcement but gave the governor a boost with progressive activists. However, Cuomo promised to evaluate how the order worked and return to the legislature with a plan to change the law.</p> <p>Members of the Assembly Majority are anxious to tackle the issue but Senate Republicans are unlikely to want to touch it - especially in an election year. A good gauge of where the issue stands in the pecking order will be to see what kind of mention it gets, if any, in Cuomo's State of the State address. A number of legislators say they expect Cuomo to declare victory on both of these criminal justice issues by pointing to his executive actions and thereby avoid any major legislative battles.</p> <p><strong>Car Service Apps</strong><br />In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided he wanted to limit the expansion of Uber, the most popular car-service app, citing concerns about congestion. It was as if the mayor stepped on a landmine. Uber quickly mobilized its drivers and users and rolled out an effective public relations campaign, even enlisting Cuomo - who may not have needed much prodding to contradict de Blasio.</p> <p>The mayor walked away limping but with plans to return to the issue. Now the state has to decide how to handle Uber and Lyft's push to be allowed in New York, including in upstate cities. In late October, Cuomo indicated that he thinks the state should issue regulations as a whole. "You can't do Uber city by city," <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8580407/cuomo-hints-new-de-blasio-fight-time-over-uber" target="_blank">Cuomo said</a>. Cuomo's former top advisor Matt Wing is now in charge of communications for Uber in the Northeast.</p> <p>Localities would need to give up oversight of transportation insurance and allow Uber to pool insurance for its drivers. The taxi industry, which is steadfastly opposed to Uber, is currently regulated city by city.</p> <p><strong>Fantasy Sports Gambling</strong><br />A number of Assembly Democrats are chomping at the bit to address the issue of fantasy sports betting sites like Draftkings and FanDuel, which were recently sued by AG Schneiderman for being illegal gambling in violation of New York law. Schneiderman then amended the suit to ask the companies to return all money it made from New Yorkers. Democratic Assemblymember Gary Pretlow told Gotham Gazette that he plans to come up with regulations, oversight, and consumer protections that could keep the sites alive should they be found illegal in the court battle.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a number of Senate Republicans are interested in ending any ambiguity about the legality of the sites by passing a bill stating that it is a game of skill and not of chance. Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer introduced such a bill in December. He told The Buffalo News in November that he hadn't spoken to representatives of the sites but was motivated by what he saw as Schneiderman's "overreach."</p> <p>"It's just once again. New York shouldn't have Uber, shouldn't have mixed martial arts, or sports betting. When all this commerce and activities is allowed in many other states, it just seems like one issue after another in New York," Ranzenhofer <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/ranzenhofer-bill-would-make-fantasy-sports-legal-in-new-york-20151116" target="_blank">told the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p><strong>A Variety of Others</strong><br />Expect a major push from both houses of the legislature to restore education funding cuts.</p> <p>The Ultimate Fighting Championship is advancing a court case to force New York to allow them to hold events in the state and has even booked a spring date at Madison Square Garden to hold its mixed martial arts bouts (MMA). The legislature could intercede before the case is settled.</p> <p>Cuomo has already revealed a number of infrastructure related plans. Senate Republicans are looking to increase investment in the state's roads and bridges upstate while a number of city-based Democrats want to see the governor better invest in the MTA and do more to relieve congestion.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats are looking for partners in the Senate Majority for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">bills that would encourage guns are stored safely</a>. There are several other bills that address implementing employee training and stricter checks and balances for gun stores as well as ones that would allow police to take away guns belonging to perpetrators of domestic violence.</p> <p>Cuomo has been focused on national solutions to gun violence as of late but some Assembly Democrats think there is room <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">to pass smaller pieces of legislation</a> this year.</p> <p>The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, or GENDA, appears to have lost a great deal of momentum after Cuomo enacted a number of its tenets through executive order earlier this fall. The Empire State Pride Agenda, which had been backing the bill, announced it is closing its policy operations because it feels it has completed much of its work, but some advocates point out that Cuomo's GENDA order could quickly be undone by the next governor.</p> <p>The DREAM Act is another long-standing Democratic priority that many are unsure of its place in this year's agenda, which may be determined by whether Cuomo features it in his State of the State and budget.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate majorities and the Independent Democratic Conference will have to settle their differences over how to implement paid family leave before they look to negotiate a final bill with the governor. "I'm always optimistic," IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein said of a resolution on paid family leave in November. "It is an extremely important issue resonates with residents across the state." Klein brought the policy up again in his opening remarks on the Senate floor, and Flanagan said a conversation would happen, but that the details must be determined. Heastie said the Assembly would again bass a paid family leave bill this year, as it has several years in a row.</p> <p>Generally speaking, Flanagan succinctly summed up his conference's priorities with his opening remarks on Wednesday, saying its focus will be "jobs, jobs, and jobs."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/24195066305_18221d13db_z.jpg" alt="Cuomo announcement infrastructure" height="393" width="600" /></p> <p>Cuomo (photo:&nbsp;Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of the Governor)</p> <hr /> <p>Lawmakers returning to Albany this week to kick off the 2016 legislative session are faced with a litany of unresolved issues from last year and the spectre of the recent convictions of two former legislative leaders.</p> <p>Add to that impending elections for all 213 legislative seats, some of which will be critical for the future of state Senate control and the prospect of future indictments hinted at by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and you have a recipe for potential paralysis.</p> <p>Familiar issues like raising the minimum wage, paid family leave, juvenile justice and criminal justice reforms are all on the table. Newer issues like regulating fantasy sports gambling and tweaks to the state's health insurance marketplace will also be up for discussion.</p> <p>Complicating some issues will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo's repeated 2015 use of executive action, which irked some legislators and, according to some advocates, let the air out of pushes for major legislation. But the elephant in the room remains how to deal with the plague of corruption that has dogged the capitol for years.</p> <p>There is a little extra motivation for the legislature to move on more comprehensive ethics fixes - when session ended in June, former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Majority Leader Dean Skelos had merely been indicted on federal corruption charges, six months later both men have been convicted and will soon face sentencing. Further, their trials exposed how major donors are able to exploit the state's campaign finance system and how both Silver and Skelos were able to use their influence to pressure entities with business before the state to provide them and their associates with financial benefit.</p> <p>Cuomo has promised that ethics reform will be at the top of his 2016 agenda.</p> <p>Aside from the unprecedented legislative scandal, both houses of the legislature will also be preparing for an election season that many see as do or die for control of the state Senate, currently led by Republicans. Upcoming electoral contests could motivate leaders from both houses to compromise, or it could create more strife, legislative paralysis, and a blame game that will play out in the elections.</p> <p>Still, there are a variety of major policy issues at play as 2016 session begins, including:</p> <p><strong>Full-Time Legislature</strong><br />A number of good government groups, as well as Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and even U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, have posited that a better paid, full-time legislature might reduce certain kinds of corruption. Better pay might reduce the temptation to take bribes and with outside income banned it would be much harder for legislators to hide any ill-gotten gains.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats say their conference has seriously discussed the possibility of advocating for a full-time legislative body. In a Dec. 7 <a href="http://www.bronxnet.org/tv/bronxtalk/viewvideo/6546/bronxtalk/bronxtalk--dec-7th-2015" target="_blank">interview</a> with Gary Axelbank of BronxTalk, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he wanted to see how stricter income disclosure rules passed last year work before he advocates a total ban on outside income.</p> <p>Heastie told Axelbank a full-time legislature would have to be paid considerably more. "Is the public ready to pay legislators $150,000-$160,000 a year?" Heastie asked. "If you're going to have people go full time, there's going to have to be a hefty pay raise from $79,500." Legislators haven't had a raise in 15 years, though a new commission is examining the rates and will issue recommendations.</p> <p>Majority Leader John Flanagan has repeatedly said he is steadfastly opposed to a full-time legislature. He said it on Wednesday's first session day, and last month he <a href="http://www.nystateofpolitics.com/2015/12/flanagan-remains-opposed-to-full-time-legislature/" target="_blank">told reporters</a>, "We are ostensibly supposed to have, or legally supposed to have, a citizen Legislature or a part-time Legislature. I want the people with a depth of background. I think it's useful to have people from varying walks of life."</p> <p>Still, upon replacing Skelos, Flanagan gave up his second job, a move he explained Wednesday as important because of his time commitment as Senate leader, which comes with a stipend.</p> <p>Gov. Andrew Cuomo has noted that the constitution calls for a part-time legislature and Republican opposition to going full-time, but called the idea "something worth talking about." It's more likely that legislators compromise on a significant cap on outside income and additional rules.</p> <p><strong>LLC Loophole</strong><br />The now-infamous LLC loophole was featured during the Silver and Skelos corruption trials, but has been a cause of consternation among reformers for quite some time. In practice, the loophole allows anyone to game the campaign finance system by setting up multiple LLCs, or limited liability corporations, from which to donate to candidates for office.</p> <p>Cries to close the loophole reached fever pitch last session, but in the wake of the Silver and Skelos trials have become even louder. Glenwood Management, a Manhattan real estate firm at the center of the Silver and Skelos cases, used the loophole to subvert the state's campaign donation limits by creating a number of front companies. The firm has been the largest contributor in the state for years. The Assembly moved to close the loophole last year but the Senate refused to vote on the issue. The Assembly is poised to move again on the issue but it appears that they might face opposition not only from Senate Republicans but from Cuomo as well.</p> <p>Speaking with reporters in Manhattan on Dec. 13, Cuomo said that closing the LLC Loophole was "a priority." However, on Dec. 21, Cuomo said in a WNYC radio interview that closing the loophole would be ineffective because of the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows for independent expenditures on behalf of candidates.</p> <p>"You need people in office who are going to use their best judgment in office," Cuomo said on WNYC, "because you're not going to change the campaign finance system because of Citizens United."</p> <p>Cuomo also refused to return over a million dollars in donations from Glenwood Management. "If I believed that I could be influenced by a million dollars, or a thousand dollars, or fifty dollars, then I'm in the wrong place and I should resign immediately," <a href="http://www.newsday.com/news/region-state/cuomo-plans-ethics-bills-but-won-t-close-llc-loophole-1.11251226" target="_blank">he explained</a>.</p> <p><strong>Minimum Wage Hike</strong><br />Cuomo kicked off the rollout of his 2016 agenda with another rally for an eventual $15 hourly statewide minimum wage and by extending a path toward $15 per hour to 28,000 SUNY employees. Cuomo has promised to push the legislature to adopt his plan to get all workers across the state to at least $15 per hour over the next several years.</p> <p>Cuomo rapidly evolved his position on the minimum wage last year after opposing a hike to $13 per hour proposed by Democratic legislators. But, he utilized the state's wage board provision to boost the minimum wage plan for fast food workers to an eventual $15 per hour and has rallied across the state to push the legislature to support the same figure.</p> <p>The Assembly pushed for an eventual $15 minimum wage for New York City in its single-house budget last year and is expected to support Cuomo's push. There are some Democratic members from Upstate and Western New York who are concerned about backlash from business groups. Republican Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has not written off the possibility of a path toward a $15 minimum wage and there are some who think he will look to compromise with Cuomo on the timeline for full implementation of the raise as a way to take the debate off the table before election season.</p> <p>Cuomo has already begun outlining tax reform, especially to reduce the burden on small businesses, which many see as part of the plan to get the minimum wage hike passed. A heightened minimum wage is popular around the state and has endeared the governor with many of his erstwhile liberal friends.</p> <p><strong>Tax on the Rich</strong><br />With one sentence of his remarks on the opening day of session, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie changed the expected dynamics of negotiations to come. "We will fight for a tax structure that promotes fairness, equity, common sense," Heastie said, adding that he wanted tax cuts for the working class and to ask "wealthy New Yorkers" to pay their "fair share."</p> <p>Cuomo has repeatedly rejected calls for a tax on the highest earners over the last few years - especially when the calls came from Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014. It isn't clear how hard Heastie will push on the issue but if it takes off it could eventually be used as leverage toward enacting a full minimum wage increase.</p> <p><strong>Criminal Justice Reform</strong><br />Last month the Cuomo administration made good on a promised executive action when it unveiled a plan to move 16- and 17-year-old inmates with medium and minimum security classifications to a juvenile facility in Hudson. The move is expected to impact up to 100 inmates. However, advocates are not satisfied. New York is still one of two states to treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults upon arrest.</p> <p>Criminal justice experts want the entire process changed in state law, something Cuomo has backed and tried to enact last year to no avail.</p> <p>While advocates plan to continue to push, and held a press conference on the first day of session to resume doing so, Cuomo's executive action may have reduced the legislature's appetite to act. A number of Senate Republicans were concerned about housing teens in adult prisons but are not convinced the entire criminal justice process should be altered. Meanwhile, Cuomo and Democrats from the Senate and Assembly have disagreed on exactly how the 16- and 17-year-olds should be processed by the courts.</p> <p>Meanwhile, having failed to build a consensus with the legislature on how to revamp the criminal justice system to address concerns about how police shootings of citizens are investigated, Cuomo issued an executive order last summer allowing the Attorney General to name a special prosecutor in such cases.</p> <p>The move angered some district attorneys and members of law enforcement but gave the governor a boost with progressive activists. However, Cuomo promised to evaluate how the order worked and return to the legislature with a plan to change the law.</p> <p>Members of the Assembly Majority are anxious to tackle the issue but Senate Republicans are unlikely to want to touch it - especially in an election year. A good gauge of where the issue stands in the pecking order will be to see what kind of mention it gets, if any, in Cuomo's State of the State address. A number of legislators say they expect Cuomo to declare victory on both of these criminal justice issues by pointing to his executive actions and thereby avoid any major legislative battles.</p> <p><strong>Car Service Apps</strong><br />In 2015, Mayor Bill de Blasio decided he wanted to limit the expansion of Uber, the most popular car-service app, citing concerns about congestion. It was as if the mayor stepped on a landmine. Uber quickly mobilized its drivers and users and rolled out an effective public relations campaign, even enlisting Cuomo - who may not have needed much prodding to contradict de Blasio.</p> <p>The mayor walked away limping but with plans to return to the issue. Now the state has to decide how to handle Uber and Lyft's push to be allowed in New York, including in upstate cities. In late October, Cuomo indicated that he thinks the state should issue regulations as a whole. "You can't do Uber city by city," <a href="http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/albany/2015/10/8580407/cuomo-hints-new-de-blasio-fight-time-over-uber" target="_blank">Cuomo said</a>. Cuomo's former top advisor Matt Wing is now in charge of communications for Uber in the Northeast.</p> <p>Localities would need to give up oversight of transportation insurance and allow Uber to pool insurance for its drivers. The taxi industry, which is steadfastly opposed to Uber, is currently regulated city by city.</p> <p><strong>Fantasy Sports Gambling</strong><br />A number of Assembly Democrats are chomping at the bit to address the issue of fantasy sports betting sites like Draftkings and FanDuel, which were recently sued by AG Schneiderman for being illegal gambling in violation of New York law. Schneiderman then amended the suit to ask the companies to return all money it made from New Yorkers. Democratic Assemblymember Gary Pretlow told Gotham Gazette that he plans to come up with regulations, oversight, and consumer protections that could keep the sites alive should they be found illegal in the court battle.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a number of Senate Republicans are interested in ending any ambiguity about the legality of the sites by passing a bill stating that it is a game of skill and not of chance. Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer introduced such a bill in December. He told The Buffalo News in November that he hadn't spoken to representatives of the sites but was motivated by what he saw as Schneiderman's "overreach."</p> <p>"It's just once again. New York shouldn't have Uber, shouldn't have mixed martial arts, or sports betting. When all this commerce and activities is allowed in many other states, it just seems like one issue after another in New York," Ranzenhofer <a href="http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state/ranzenhofer-bill-would-make-fantasy-sports-legal-in-new-york-20151116" target="_blank">told the Buffalo News</a>.</p> <p><strong>A Variety of Others</strong><br />Expect a major push from both houses of the legislature to restore education funding cuts.</p> <p>The Ultimate Fighting Championship is advancing a court case to force New York to allow them to hold events in the state and has even booked a spring date at Madison Square Garden to hold its mixed martial arts bouts (MMA). The legislature could intercede before the case is settled.</p> <p>Cuomo has already revealed a number of infrastructure related plans. Senate Republicans are looking to increase investment in the state's roads and bridges upstate while a number of city-based Democrats want to see the governor better invest in the MTA and do more to relieve congestion.</p> <p>A number of Assembly Democrats are looking for partners in the Senate Majority for <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">bills that would encourage guns are stored safely</a>. There are several other bills that address implementing employee training and stricter checks and balances for gun stores as well as ones that would allow police to take away guns belonging to perpetrators of domestic violence.</p> <p>Cuomo has been focused on national solutions to gun violence as of late but some Assembly Democrats think there is room <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/5950-as-cuomo-pushes-for-federal-action-on-guns-new-york-measures-await-his-support" target="_blank">to pass smaller pieces of legislation</a> this year.</p> <p>The Gender Expression Non Discrimination Act, or GENDA, appears to have lost a great deal of momentum after Cuomo enacted a number of its tenets through executive order earlier this fall. The Empire State Pride Agenda, which had been backing the bill, announced it is closing its policy operations because it feels it has completed much of its work, but some advocates point out that Cuomo's GENDA order could quickly be undone by the next governor.</p> <p>The DREAM Act is another long-standing Democratic priority that many are unsure of its place in this year's agenda, which may be determined by whether Cuomo features it in his State of the State and budget.</p> <p>The Assembly and Senate majorities and the Independent Democratic Conference will have to settle their differences over how to implement paid family leave before they look to negotiate a final bill with the governor. "I'm always optimistic," IDC head Sen. Jeff Klein said of a resolution on paid family leave in November. "It is an extremely important issue resonates with residents across the state." Klein brought the policy up again in his opening remarks on the Senate floor, and Flanagan said a conversation would happen, but that the details must be determined. Heastie said the Assembly would again bass a paid family leave bill this year, as it has several years in a row.</p> <p>Generally speaking, Flanagan succinctly summed up his conference's priorities with his opening remarks on Wednesday, saying its focus will be "jobs, jobs, and jobs."</p> <p>***<br />by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/DavidHowardKing" target="_blank">@DavidHowardKing</a></p>