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Democratic-led State Senate passes bill to allow felons on juries

The New York State Capitol on April 1,

The New York State Capitol on April 1, 2019. The state Senate has passed a bill that would allow felons to serve on juries, reintegrating them back into society. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that would upend a decades-long ban on felons being able to serve on juries in New York.

Following a spirited debate, the Democratic-led Senate passed the bill, 36-25, largely along party lines. The overwhelmingly Democratic Assembly plans on approving the measure before the legislative session ends in June, a key official said Tuesday.

It was just the latest in a string of criminal justice and election laws the Democrats have driven through the Senate since winning a decisive majority in November and ending a long run of Republican control.

Advocates in the Senate — 36 Democrats — said the felon/jury bill was about reintegrating felons into society, helping them become participants again.

 “If a person has completed their sentence, the person should be considered rehabilitated and have their full rights restored and that includes being able to serve on a jury,” said Sen. Luis Sepulveda (D-Bronx).

“It’s about rights for people who have gone through the process, added Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx).

Opponents — 21 Republicans and 4 Democrats — said felons forfeited the right to serve on a jury. Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport), shortly before the vote, called it “bad public policy.” He said felons effectively should have to apply for the right to serve on a jury, not just have the right automatically restored.

 “Some of these crimes are so egregious, I’m afraid they’re going to be presumptively more supportive of people like themselves,” Flanagan said about why felons should be blocked.

During the debate, Sen. Joe Robach (R-Rochester) argued that, at minimum, violent felons should still be banned and said that none of his Democratic colleagues would want such a person on a jury if the case involved an attack on a loved one.

Notably, of Long Island’s six Democratic senators, four voted no: Sens. John Brooks (D-Seaford), Jim Gaughran (D-Northport), Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) and Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), according to the Senate roll call.

Sens. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and Kevin Thomas (D-Levittown) voted yes.

The Island’s three Republicans all voted no: Flanagan, Sen. Phil Boyle (R-Bay Shore) and Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Assemb. Jeffrion Aubry (D-East Elmhurst), who sponsors the bill in the other chamber, said the Assembly was certain to pass it during this legislative session, but he didn’t have a date set.

Legislative officials couldn’t immediately say how long the ban has been in effect, but said it goes back decades, if not longer.

State & Region