Capitol Watch: Focus On Criminal Justice Reform, Amazon Deal
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — In New York state government news, criminal justice reforms pushed for years by Democrats could be passed by the Legislature soon, while the deal to bring one of Amazon's headquarters to Queens is expected to get plenty of discussion in back-to-back budget hearings.
The criminal justice bills are among the top items on the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Senate's agendas this year, including one that would eliminate cash bail and another that would speed up getting cases to trial.
Here's a look at what's coming up:
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: With Democrats now firmly in control of the Senate thanks to gains in last November's elections, criminal justice reforms are expected to sail through the chamber.
Critics of the state's current bail system say it's unfair and ineffective. They're pushing for New York to replace cash bail in most criminal cases with community supervision, electronic monitoring or travel restrictions.
In addition to eliminating cash bail, the Senate measures would impose new requirements for taking criminal cases to trial quickly and change discovery rules to give defendants more information about their case before a plea bargain.
Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, is sponsor of the cash bail elimination measure, while Sen. Jamaal Bailey, D-Bronx, is sponsor of the other two bills. New York state has some of the most restrictive pre-trial discovery laws in the country, a situation that favors prosecutors and can hamper a defense attorney's ability to prepare for a case, Bailey said.
"We have to make sure that in New York state our justice system is fair to both parties," Bailey said in a video tweet earlier this week.
A cash bail elimination bill passed last year in the Assembly, where a package of criminal justice reform legislation is still in the works, according to Speaker Carl Heastie's office.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo backs criminal justice reform efforts while pushing his own proposal to end cash bail in misdemeanor and non-violent felony cases.
Lawmakers and advocates say the reforms are needed to reduce the number of people sent to prison and make the state's criminal justice system fairer and more focused on rehabilitation.
AMAZON HQ: New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is scheduled to testify at Monday's public hearing on state funding for local governments.
The mayor and Cuomo helped broker the Amazon deal, which calls for providing the company with about $2.8 billion in state and city tax incentives and grants if 25,000 or more Amazon jobs are created in Long Island City.
De Blasio is expected to be grilled by lawmakers about the Amazon agreement, which is facing staunch opposition from some influential elected officials in New York City, including Gianaris, whose district includes the proposed development site along the East River.
Gianaris, the Senate's deputy majority leader, was nominated earlier this week to the state Public Authorities Control Board, which has the power to derail the project.
The mayor and governor have been criticized for mostly shutting out Albany lawmakers and local officials from the secretive negotiations that lead to the Amazon agreement. And Gianaris, among others, has questioned the need for large taxpayer-funded subsidies for a wealthy global corporation.
Cuomo has the final say over appointments to the PACB, which could ultimately have to weigh in on certain funding for the Amazon deal. The governor said earlier this week that he hasn't decided whether he would reject Gianaris' nomination.
The debate over the Amazon deal got more heated Friday, when Cuomo accused the Senate of "governmental malpractice" for opposing the agreement. His comment came after the Washington Post reported Amazon is reconsidering its plans because Gianaris and other local have balked at the $2.8 billion incentive package.
Another lively topic during De Blasio's annual trip upstate for the local governments hearing will be the city's aging public transit system and how to fund billions in long-delayed upgrades. The mayor has come around to Cuomo's congestion pricing proposal to charge tolls for vehicles entering the busiest parts of Manhattan, but only if the collected funds are solely reserved for the MTA, something the governor also supports.
The Amazon deal likely will be a hot topic again during Tuesday's budget hearing on economic development. Cuomo's policies aimed at boosting job growth across New York through billions of dollars in tax incentives and business subsidies had been criticized for years by Republicans and Democrats alike even before the Amazon deal was announced last fall.
While defending the deal earlier this week, Cuomo called it "probably the greatest economic transaction in 50 years in this state."
Gianaris, however, has another term for it: "Offensive."