Democratic fissures reemerge on raising age of criminal responsibility

“ALBANY — Hours after a show of unity in support of raising the age of criminal responsibility, Democrats are back to arguing over who gets to take credit, and who needs to step up.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo put out a statement early in the day saying it was “far past time” for New York to stop being one of only two states, along with North Carolina, that tries 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for nonviolent offenses.

Then in the afternoon — after an event attended by Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and representatives of both the Independent Democratic Conference and mainline Democrats — the governor’s office put out a second statement more pointedly saying that “New York should be ashamed” for not passing this reform and that it needs to be included in this year’s state budget.

Cuomo charged the IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Kein, with drumming up support among the Republicans who control the chamber.

“I have included it in my budget proposal to afford maximum leverage” Cuomo said. “Senator Klein is in a unique position to end the Senate’s historic recalcitrance on this issue and insist that Raise the Age reform be passed in the budget.”

Candice Giove, a spokeswoman for the IDC, said in a statement that the eight-member conference will not vote for a budget agreement — due by March 31 — that does not include raising the age.

“IDC Leader Jeff Klein will deliver Raise the Age in New York so our 16- and 17-year-olds stay out of adult prisons,” Giove said. “The IDC has moved this issue further than ever before in the Senate, holding the first hearing, a round table and releasing a report. We will not allow New York to treat our teenagers like criminals in criminal court or continue the tradition of mass incarceration of our youth and the 8 members of the IDC will not vote for a budget in the absence of Raise the Age.”

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, whose Republican conference maintains an alliance with the IDC, said in February that the issue was “of utmost importance” and would be part of budget negotiations.

But mainline Democrats have been circumspect of the IDC’s commitment to ensuring the integrity of the proposal and not allowing the GOP to undermine the reform effort. Senate Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins — who attended the earlier event with the IDC — reiterated her opposition to “watered-down, half-measures.”

“Let’s be clear, no half-measures or watered down options will really help our kids,” she said in a statement. “Raise The Age must be more than a slogan or a way to score political points and headlines. Our criminal justice system needs REAL reform and there are too many plans being floated around that are simply watered-down, half-measures and those cannot be considered real Raise the Age.”

The Assembly has already passed a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility for nonviolent offenses.

The Assembly and Senate are expected to put out their one-house budget resolutions in the coming days.”

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