The New York state Assembly Chamber is seen as lawmakers...

The New York state Assembly Chamber is seen as lawmakers debate end of session legislative bills at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

ALBANY — The State Legislature on Friday approved the Clean Slate Act, which would automatically seal the criminal records of most convicted people who stay out of legal trouble for three to eight years after serving their sentences.

The Assembly passed the act by an 83-64 vote, mostly along party lines, on Friday. The Senate’ passed the measure Friday night 38-25.

The measures will go to Gov. Kathy Hochul for her veto or for her signature to make the measures law.

The end of the 2023 session also was expected to include approval of two election measures.

One of the measures would move most local elections to even-numbered years, the same cycle as for state and national offices. The other would change the state’s new campaign finance law, which good-government groups say would weaken a program created to make races more competitive and restrict the advantage for incumbents and the influence of big-money donors.

Under the Clean Slate Act, criminal records of 2.3 million individuals who completed their sentence and remained out of trouble for three years for a misdemeanor and eight for a felony would be sealed. Records won’t be sealed for sex offenses or top crimes including intentionally taking a life, or anyone who receives a life sentence, even if the person is released on parole.

Democrats said criminal records after years of crime-free living shouldn’t keep most people from getting a job, housing, or other needs to become a productive member of society. Democrats also say the measure will provide more opportunity for convicted people and reduce recidivism. Operators of day care centers and other services for “vulnerable people” will, however, have access to the criminal backgrounds even if sealed for other employers.

“We believe in people, we believe that people have the power to change, we believe that government should recognize that power to change,” said Assemb. Catalina Cruz (D-Queens).

Republicans noted there is already a way to seal most records, but Democrats said that is expensive, time-consuming and requires a lawyer, which has discouraged most people from seeking the certificates of relief or good conduct.

The bill “goes beyond getting someone a chance to move forward from a mistake,” said Assemb. Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson).

“We continue to again put the criminals above residents,” Flood said.

Legislative leaders also agreed to pass a bill that will move most local elections to even-numbered years. Democrats said the measure would save money and increase voter turnout. Republicans contend it is aimed at helping Democrats because turnout is greater in presidential and gubernatorial election years.

The measure would move most local races outside New York City to even-numbered years beginning in 2026. Local officials elected in 2025 would serve a one-year term.

Local elections would then share the spotlight with elections for state Senate, Assembly, statewide offices, Congress and president, which have commanded greater turnout than local elections in odd-numbered years.

The measure would cover town and village boards, mayors and county legislators and executives, but not district attorneys, judges, county clerks and some other posts for which terms are set under the state constitution. Changing those election dates would require a constitutional amendment.

Later Friday, the Senate’s Democratic majority faced rare opposition within its senior ranks over a bill that critics say would weaken the new campaign finance law that would provide tax dollars to match small campaign donations in an effort to reduce the influence of big-money donors.

The changes would:

  • Allow state funds to match $250 of a donation of up to $5,000. Currently, none of a donation up to $5,000 would receive matching funds.
  • Double the contribution threshold to $24,000 for Senate and Assembly candidates to participate and receive state matching funds.
  • Require 350 small contributions to qualify for matching funds, up from 150.

“Jamming a last-minute deal to overhaul the state system of public financing has all the classic approaches that Albany takes to undermine reform,” said Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The bill narrowly passed the Senate, 32-31, despite the Democrats’ supermajority. Leading Democratic Sens. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan) and Rachel May (D-Syracuse) were among those opposed.

The Assembly passed the bill Friday night, 84-62, which also shows some opposition within the Democratic supermajority.

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