In the final week of the legislative session, Sen. Zellnor Myrie said supporters of legislation designed to give New Yorkers with a criminal record a fresh start gave “every single fiber” of their being to get a vote in both houses of the state Legislature.
But their fervor was not enough to overcome a time crunch caused by an end-of-session bill drafting error, according to the Brooklyn Democrat, who carried the measure in the state Senate.
“I think it was really a function of the time, Dave, to get all of us on the same page in the waning days of the session, where it’s not just ‘Clean Slate’ that is on everyone’s plate, but many other issues that we were trying to close out,” Myrie told The Capitol Pressroom. “It just became too much and too unwieldy to get across the finish line.”
The legislation was amended in the weekend leading up to the scheduled end of session to increase support for the measure, particularly among law enforcement, as the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York had expressed concerns about their ability to keep the public safe. “These were concerns that we took under advisement. Concerns that I believe were reflected in the amended version of the bill,” Myrie said.
To address those concerns, the amended legislation automatically sealed eligible criminal records instead of effectively destroying them. But in the process of making those changes, Myrie said language remained in the bill that retained “the principle of expungement.”
If the bill had been revised during the final week of the legislative session they would have restarted the three-day aging period for holding a vote, which would have stretched beyond the scheduled end of the session. One way of circumventing that delay would have been with a message of necessity from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, but that never materialized.
“We tried to get to a place where we could perhaps get a message of necessity. That’s always a difficult thing to do in the waning days (of the session),” Myrie said.
As to whether the Legislature could have just stuck around Albany an extra day or come back the following week, Myrie referred to the need to “respect” the legislative calendar and stressed the importance of the two houses acting in unison, which would suggest that at least one house wasn’t prepare to vote – a theory denied by the Assembly Democratic majority’s spokesman. And while Myrie was wary of assessing the measure’s future in the Assembly, he expressed confidence in the ability of Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who carries the bill in the people’s house, to “get it done.”
“The positive that comes out of this is that everybody knows what ‘Clean Slate’ is now and there is a great familiarity with the issue,” Myrie said.
But will it get a vote in a special session in 2021 or will it have to wait until next year? “My hope is that we can get it done this year,” he said.
“I look forward to the day where we’re looking back at this drafting error … and we can we can say that happened for a reason – really, to set us up for a greater victory later on,” Myrie added.