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With two days left, Cuomo still hasn't introduced grand-jury bill

With a few days of the legislative session

With a few days of the legislative session left in 2015, advocates for changes in the state criminal justice system are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put his proposed changes into writing. Photo Credit: iStock

ALBANY - Two days before the scheduled end of the 2015 legislative session, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo still hasn't put into print his criminal justice proposals -- including one addressing grand jury action in police violence cases.

It left advocates, who rallied in front of Cuomo's office Monday, uncertain about their chances.

In January, Cuomo, a Democrat, responded to the death of Eric Garner this past August by forcefully calling for a range of criminal justice changes. One would give him the power to appoint a monitor that could review any grand jury that fails to indict in violent police-civilian clashes. Advocates have said that isn't good enough -- they want a special prosecutor to handle such cases from the start because they believe local district attorneys work too closely with police.

Cuomo wanted the proposals to be included in the state budget, which was adopted April 1. But when they weren't, Cuomo penned an open letter to legislators, published on the Huffington Post website, urging passage of his proposals.

But he hasn't put them into a formal bill, even though the Legislature is expected to adjourn for the year this week. Senate Republicans have opposed any changes to the grand jury system. 

A Cuomo aide said the criminal justice package was still being discussed and downplayed the idea of the governor never introducing a bill for legislators to consider. Spokesman Rich Azzopardi repeated Cuomo's statement that he could take executive action to address grand juries.

 "The families here today have endured unspeakable tragedies, and we agree that the status quo needs to be changed," Azzopardi said in an email. "The governor believes his reform package is a balanced approach that would correct real and perceived inequities that exist within the criminal justice system. As he previously said, the governor will sign an executive order for a special prosecutor if this legislation doesn't pass."

Advocates said they do not want a monitor to act if a grand jury doesn't. They prefer to remove all cases involving violent police-civilian clashes from local district attorneys and hand them to special prosecutors.

"What the governor has proposed is nothing we can stand behind," said Jose Lopez, one of a couple dozen activists who stood behind makeshift gravestones bearing the names of Garner, Eric Bell and others. "He's saying: Let the local process take its course a then he'll appoint a monitor. All that does is delay justice."

 The issue has fallen to the political back burner while lawmakers debate rent-control and other issues during the final week of the session.

Gwen Carr, Garner's mother, said activists want "something more concrete" than Cuomo's proposal. She said the governor at meetings months ago conveyed the idea that he supported a special prosecutor too.

"He promises us he'll keep his word," Carr said. "So, we'll keep him to it."

 

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