Democrat and Chronicle: Albany Lawmakers Must Finish Strong: Editorial

June 7, 2016

We hope someone in the New York State Legislature has a stopwatch. With five working days left in the Legislative session, members of the Assembly and the Senate will need to sprint to get several key things done.

Not long ago, this Editorial Board noted that while proposed bills were flying out of the Assembly and the Senate — and our legislators were crowing about myriad legislation via emails and news conferences — important pieces of legislation were missing in action. That hasn’t changed and time is running out.

We urge Albany lawmakers to get moving on the following key issues before June 16:

Ethics reform. There is no question that ethics reform is critical. It’s ridiculous, to put it mildly, that Assembly Democrats and Senate Republicans cannot agree on which reforms to prioritize and then find a way to hammer out a deal.

Lest we forget, two former top elected officials have been sentenced to prison. Couple those convictions with an inadequate campaign finance system and state and federal inquiries into the state’s economic-development projects and the dire need to act is crystal clear.

Raise the Age. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: It’s well past time for New York to stop sending adolescents to adult prisons, where they are often prey for physical abuse. Research indicates that the impact of teens in adult prisons includes higher suicide rates and increased recidivism, according to a report by the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2016-2017 executive budget included a plan to raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction to 18. Youths age 16 and 17 who are accused of misdemeanors or non-violent felonies would have their cases sent to family court and would be treated as juvenile; those accused of serious violence would still face justice as adults. New York remains one of only two states that process 16 and 17-year-olds as adults through the criminal court system. This draconian law must end.

Zombie homes. Rochester has a greater percentage of empty houses stuck in the middle of the foreclosure process than anywhere else in the nation. Cue the theme from AMC’s The Walking Dead: With no one paying the mortgage, and lenders not assuming responsibility for upkeep, these zombie homes become eyesores that take a toll on our neighborhoods.

The Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, which was approved by the state Assembly, is still parked in committee in the Senate. The bill, which would force banks and other lenders to maintain the properties during the foreclosure process or face fines, would also create a state registry to help municipalities enforce local laws regarding property maintenance.

Members of both houses must make a final push to pass key legislation that has been languishing in Albany. The clock’s ticking.