New York Assembly Clears a Major Obstacle in Budget Talks

“ALBANY — The Democrat-led New York State Assembly came to terms late Tuesday on a bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility in the state to 18, an issue that had been a major stumbling block in the state budget negotiations and was a longstanding priority for progressive groups around the state.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, has expressed support for such legislation, and both the Assembly and the Republican-led Senate were expected to approve the bill on Wednesday as the Legislature inched its way toward a settlement on a budget process that has run long.

Late Tuesday, the Senate passed four budget bills — with more legislative action expected after midnight — breaking a deadlock a day after the state was forced to pass two emergency measures to fund the state government.

One of the major barriers to a budget deal — which had been due on April 1 — had been the issue of the age of criminal responsibility. New York is one of only two states, along with North Carolina, to view 16- and 17-year-old defendants as adults. While agreeing with the broader outlines of an idea to divert many from that group to Family Court, Republicans in the Senate had sought a series of stipulations about the kind of charges that would still be considered serious enough for Criminal Court. Democrats in the Assembly had sought a broader protection for such defendants.

According to a summary of the legislation agreed to by the Democratic leadership of the Assembly — which has previously passed a bill to “raise the age,” as the campaign has been known — all misdemeanor charges faced by 16- and 17-year-olds would be dealt with in Family Court. Nonviolent felony charges would be dealt with in a new youth section of Criminal Court, with many of those cases eventually being sent to Family Court, excluding cases in which a district attorney can prove “extraordinary circumstances.” Beginning in late 2018, juveniles would not be kept with adults in county jails.

Violent felony cases would remain in Criminal Court but would be subject to a three-part test: whether a “deadly weapon” was used, whether the victim sustained “significant physical injury,” and whether the perpetrator engaged in criminal sexual conduct. Barring one of those factors, violent felony cases could also be moved to Family Court.

Carl E. Heastie, a Bronx Democrat and the speaker of the Assembly, said that raising the age had been “a top priority” for the Democrats who dominate the Assembly and was “a matter that is deeply personal for me and many of my colleagues.”

“This law will mean so much to so many young people and their families,” he said in a statement, adding that he and his colleagues had “seen firsthand the devastating consequences of families torn apart and lives cut short by an ineffective policy of throwing children into adult prisons.”

The tentative deal on raising the age seemed likely to end the budgetary impasse, which had become a political setback for Mr. Cuomo. A centrist, he has boasted of his track record of delivering state budgets on time or close to it, cajoling or strong-arming New York’s legislative leaders into agreements.

The deal also capped a day of furious back-and-forth between lawmakers and Mr. Cuomo, who had suggested that a deal on the budget — which would already be the latest of his administration — might take weeks more to broker because emergency budget measures were keeping the government running.

“There’s no great rush at this point to get anything done,” Mr. Cuomo said on Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Cuomo’s blithe declaration was no doubt calculated to spur action from lawmakers — who will not be paid with the so-called extender budget that was passed on Monday — as well as to continue an effort to shift blame for the delay to the Legislature.

Mr. Heastie, though, said he would not let “the Assembly take the blame for there not being a budget” and challenged the governor to “send the bills.”

Republicans — and some Democrats — have criticized the governor for a lack of leadership in the budget process, mentioning his reputed presidential ambitions (which Mr. Cuomo has denied having) as well as his propensity for dodging bad news while embracing the good. Senator John A. DeFrancisco, the Republican deputy majority leader, who represents the Syracuse area, said that when “there was an on-time budget, he took credit because he’s made the government functional again.”

Mr. Cuomo has scarcely been around to make such a pronouncement: Before Tuesday, he had not made a public appearance since March 28.

But even with the budget three days late and counting, Mr. Cuomo on Tuesday held up the fact that money was still flowing to development projects and the Buffalo Billion — a controversial development project in that city — and that the government was still operating.

“The basic machine is running the way it’s always run,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Original Link (NY Times):