Senate Democrats target ‘watered-down’ bill to raise criminal age

“ALBANY — Senate Democrats are urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo and their Senate colleagues against passing a “watered-down” bill that would raise the age of criminal responsibility.
New York is one of only two states — North Carolina being the other — that try 16- and 17-year-olds as adults for nonviolent offenses.
“This is a despicable position for New York state to be in,” said Sen. Velmanette Montgomery, a member of the mainline Democratic conference and a sponsor of a competing bill to raise the age, at a press conference.
The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference, which caucuses with Republicans, has made raising the age a legislative priority this session and Republicans have been receptive to discussing the issue.
The mainline Democrats warned against cutting a deal for political expediency that leaves out key reforms to the criminal justice system.
“We have to end this unjust cycle, and we have to do it right,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who leads the minority conference. “It has to be real reform, not a watered-down half measure. Real reform.”
Paige Pierce, the head of Families Together in New York State, said that children should be treated like the minors they are.
“We’re demanding that the legislature and the governor’s office get together on this and get a law,” she said. “We don’t just want a bill, we want a law passed this year.”
Cuomo, a Democrat, included his own proposal to raise the age as part of his executive budget. Montgomery said her bill “largely mirrors” Cuomo’s proposal with some important differences.
Montgomery noted that, among other differences, her bill does not stagger in the higher age of criminal responsibility over two years, as the governor’s plan does.
“These distinctions are, we think, extremely important, and that is why I urge the Senate majority coalition to follow the Assembly, to follow us and to bring this legislation to the floor for a vote,” she said.
The Senate held a hearing on raising the age last week, and Republicans expressed concerns about which crimes would be considered “nonviolent,” under what circumstances would records be sealed, as well as details on the creation of “youth parts” in criminal court that have been included in oth Cuomo and the mainline Democrats’ plans.
Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said Monday that he has continued to have discussions with IDC leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie about the issue, but said that some people “over-simplify” the issue.
“The more I learn about ‘Raise the Age,’ the more I realize what a challenge it is,” he said at a conference of the state’s mayors. “But those are going to be very detailed, ongoing, intense discussions. Where it ends up on that issue, I don’t know.”

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