Raise the age details cause Democratic outrage
ALBANY — Negotiations on raising the age of criminal responsibility took a step backwards on Thursday after Democratic lawmakers voiced concern that they were ceding too much ground in negotiations with Senate Republicans.
Key Republican senators said early Thursday that they expected the criminal justice reform — which would reduce the number of 16- and 17-year-olds who are tried as adults in criminal court — to be included in a budget agreement. The issue has emerged as one of the flash points in this year’s budget negotiations.
“We’ve gone as far as we could go, and I thought it was satisfactory because we’re not talking about it anymore,” Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco said Thursday afternoon.
A deal seemed to be coming together Wednesday after legislative leaders laid out details of a two-court plan in which misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would go to family court and serious crimes would go to a specialized criminal court for youths. Questions over which violent crimes would go to criminal court and what role judges or prosecutors play in determining which court hears a case were up in the air.
But members of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Caucus — including at least two Democratic senators — met behind closed doors in an Assembly conference room and expressed their concerns to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.
Asked if the caucus had issues with the negotiations, Assemblyman Jeff Aubry of Queens replied, “That would be an understatement.”
“We’re trying to protect the children of the State of New York,” Aubry said. “That’s what it’s been about for the last three hours.”
After he left the meeting, Sen. Gustavo Rivera fired off a series of tweets outlining his concerns with current negotiations, including the procedure to seal records.
“No one should have to wait TEN YEARS before they apply to have their records sealed. #RaiseTheAgeRight” he wrote.
Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Senate’s mainline Democratic conference, attempted to visit Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office on the second floor of the Capitol — in part to voice her conferences concerns over the issue — and was initially told by a staffer to come back in an hour before another staffer brought her inside.
“I know there are a lot of things still unanswered,” she told reporters while she waited to meet with the governor.
Stewart-Cousins said she was concerned that juveniles would wind up in “a nice room within the criminal court” under the proposed plan, rather than in family court.
“So much of these things end up really derailing their lives as adults, and I think the options here are to make sure obviously that justice is served and that children are treated as children,” she said.
Senate Republicans insist that their position ensures public safety and does not give a reprieve to violent criminals just because of their age.
“The problems are, from our point of view, mitigating the damage of some of the things that the governor and the Assembly majority want to do,” Sen. Jim Tedisco told reporters. “We don’t want violence and repeated violence in some of the crimes.”
— Additional reporting by Marie J. French, Jimmy Vielkind and Keshia Clukey