Assembly plans to pass Raise the Age as budget negotiations continue

“The Assembly is poised to continue passing Tuesday legislation part of a 12-point package that includes a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 18 years old.

That piece is key for the Assembly’s Majority Democrats as the calendar moves deeper into budget negotiation season. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has included Raise the Age legislation in his budget, but past efforts to get those under the age of 18 out of adult prisons and tried in the family court system has fallen flat.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said at a Tuesday press conference he would not make a declaration that the budget should be held up if Raise the Age isn’t included. But at the same time he made Raise the Age out to be an imperative as part of an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

“Deep-red states that have a Republican governor and Republican (legislature) have found a way to do this,” Heastie said. “For me personally it’s embarrassing that New York is still one of the two states (not) to do this. For me, as a speaker of color, it truly is hurtful to me that New York and North Carolina are the only ones that still treat 16- and 17-year-olds as adults.”

Heastie said that without reforms to the criminal justice system, he would view his speakership as being in vain.

The Assembly Democrats’ larger package includes bills that, like Raise the Age, have languished.

The Assembly approved on Monday evening legislation to “ban the box,” by prohibiting employers from asking about a prospective employee’s criminal history unless the employer extends a conditional job offer. That legislation has failed to clear the Senate.

Similarly, the Democrats’ package includes a bill to establish a permanent special prosecutor’s office within the office of the state attorney general that would investigate instances of civilian deaths at the hands of police. That legislation is the subject of an exectuive order signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2015 that has been invoked repeatedly. But a law has proven tricky to enact.

Assembly Codes Committee Chairman Joe Lentol, D-Brooklyn, said it’s likely the Democrats’ legislation will be viewed as anti-police by Republicans in both the Assembly and Senate.

“But believe me when I tell you, they are not,” he said. “They are to improve our criminal justice system to make it better for all. Raise the Age is one of the prime examples because we and North Carolina are the only states in the union that prosecute 16-year-old folks as adults. And we’re going to stop that.”

Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan told reporters last month that Raise the Age is a complicated measure.

“You have issues that I think still involve fingerprinting to a degree, but family court jurisdiction,” he said. “And how do you do this in a way that actually works? I know, clearly, that this is extremely important to the speaker, which I respect greatly. But we’ll have to figure out where we want to end up.”

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Assembly plans to pass Raise the Age as budget negotiations continue