ALBANY — As the final scheduled week of budget negotiations ticks away, the Senate’s Republican majority and the Assembly’s Democratic majority, as well as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday said the major snag is a “raise the age” proposal that would stop treating youths as adults in criminal courts.
“They’re trying to work something out,” said Senate Deputy Majority Leader John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse) as he emerged from a closed-door conference of Republicans.
Asked what agreements are in place as the Friday night deadline approaches for the state budget, the Syracuse Republican said: “Nothing.”
At issue is a move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 years old (http://nwsdy.li/2nFglO6).
Supporters of the bill say cases against youths should be heard in Family Court or by a special court so young offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes can get a chance at a new direction and avoid being imprisoned with hardened criminals.
Republicans, however, want to avoid a law that they say would go soft on dangerous criminals, even if they are 16 or 17 years old. Assemb. Al Graf (R-Holbrook) has referred to the bill as a “gang recruitment act.”
The key stumbling block appears to be what constitutes a “nonviolent crime.” The debate includes whether crimes such as disorderly conduct or harassment stemming from a fight or confrontation with other youths would be considered a violent crime.
Sen. James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) said that many of his GOP colleagues feel the bill must apply only to nonviolent youths in crimes that didn’t include a weapon or sexual assault.
The measure is pushed in the Senate by the eight members of the Independent Democratic Conference of Democrats. The IDC broke away from Democratic minority in 2011 to forge a coalition with the GOP, which protects the Republicans’ narrow majority control. Republican senators said passage of the bill could be a win to help provide the IDC as it fights members of the mainline Democratic conference who accuse the IDC of working to support Republicans.
“We are very, very, very, very close on raise the age,” Cuomo told NY1 Monday evening. “Raise the age is critical for me.”
He said “the basic split” is over what crimes against 16- and 17-year-olds would go to Family Court. He said nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors should go to Family Court, but violent felonies, including murder and rape even when committed by teenagers “is not a Family Court crime.”
Cuomo also warned that uncertainty of federal aid cuts might force the state to adopt “extenders,” which would mostly continue current spending until the federal budget is revealed in May.
“Unless the legislature is willing to fund at a responsible level, we should do an extender on the whole budget until everything gets sorted out,” Cuomo said. “I am not willing to pass a budget that spends more money than we have a reasonable expectation of collecting.”
There was no immediate comment from the IDC.
“The impact that the current age of criminal responsibility has on 16- and 17-year-olds affects them for the rest of their lives,” Klein said in December in releasing a study to back up the bill.
“How do you define something as nonviolent vs. violent? Some of these crimes are pretty egregious,” Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said after a brief negotiating session in Cuomo’s office. “That is absolutely part of the discussion right now.”
Democrats see it differently.
“They want nonviolent offenses to go through adult criminal procedure,” said Assembly majority spokesman Michael Whyland on Twitter. He added in the tweet: “Non-starter.”