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Déjà vu in Albany

The New York State Capitol building is pictured

The New York State Capitol building is pictured on March 2 in Albany. Credit: Getty Images/Matthew Cavanaugh

Daily Point

Parole reform back on the table

As the legislative session winds down in Albany, some progressives are pushing to put one more win on the books: parole reform.

A suite of parole-related bills would change the Byzantine supervision system into which people enter after incarceration. One would ensure that long-incarcerated people 55 or older have an opportunity before the Board of Parole. Another would make it more likely that people who are eligible for parole would get it barring a current public-safety reason. A separate bill known as the Less is More Act would reduce incarceration for technical parole violations such as missing an appointment with a parole officer or testing positive for alcohol.

Supporters say the current parole system is unfair and broken, has disparate racial impacts, and wastes taxpayer money. They are hoping these changes can be this year’s latest big criminal justice reform. Two major New York political PR firms – Kivvit and SKDK – are aiding activists and reformers in their parole push.

Still, signs of difficulties lay ahead. Some of the major bills haven’t been conferenced yet, with only 12 work days left in the session. One Albany source characterized some proposed parole changes as not inherently controversial, but said it’s a "political hot potato."

The Less is More Act appears to be getting relatively more attention. But hanging over the issue is the GOP reaction to earlier criminal justice reforms like bail, particularly in a swing area like Long Island. Some Assembly members from Nassau and Suffolk counties are co-sponsors of the big parole reforms, including Chuck Lavine, Phil Ramos, and Taylor Darling, but the Island’s State Senate delegation is not.

Alexander Horwitz, executive director of pro-parole reform coalition New Yorkers United for Justice, said "we learned some tough lessons with pre-trial reform," using the preferred shorthand for bail, which opponents have turned into a boogeyman buzz word.

Horwitz noted that some Democrats lost races in 2020 where the GOP played up public safety and the criminal justice reforms, though he pointed out that Democrats still achieved a supermajority in the State Senate.

"There’s openness to these types of reform" on Long Island, Horwitz suggested, adding that Long Islanders in particular want to make sure reforms are done in a smart way that preserves public safety and reduces tax burdens.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Talking Point

Zeldin's potential path to GOP governor standard-bearer explained

It seems like every few days brings another "ENDORSEMENT ALERT" from gubernatorial hopeful Rep. Lee Zeldin, who has been racking up pledges of support from Republican county committees around the state.

The pledges have some real mathematical meaning, beyond marketing. At the state party’s convention next year, the county committees will line up behind their preferred candidate and bestow their weighted vote, based on their share of the last gubernatorial election vote. If a candidate receives over 50% of the vote, he or she is considered the "party designee," a mostly symbolic distinction that could free committees to provide more resources to the candidate, said state GOP spokeswoman Jessica Proud.

If a candidate receives over 25% of the weighted vote, he or she gets on the primary ballot automatically. Below that level, the candidate would have to go through a relatively arduous signature-gathering process, notching 15,000 signatures, of which at least 100 must come from half of the state’s congressional districts, Proud said.

Zeldin’s campaign says he has received 60% of the weighted vote, which would be enough to give him that designee status at the convention. The counties whose committees are in his camp include Nassau, Suffolk, Erie, Monroe, Richmond, and Onondaga. He also says he has a majority of the state Conservative Party’s weighted vote.

It’s a significant show of support and vaults the Shirley Republican far ahead of other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls like 2014 nominee Rob Astorino or Andrew Giuliani, son of the former NYC mayor.

State party leader Nick Langworthy has suggested the party would coalesce behind a single candidate by June. If that candidate ends up being Zeldin, another challenger could gather the signatures required to compete in the primary. That’s what happened in 2010 when businessman Carl Paladino got in late, did not breach 25% of the convention weighted vote, and still gathered signatures and defeated Long Islander Rick Lazio at the polls before losing to Andrew Cuomo in the general election.

Asked about Zeldin’s level of confidence that he’ll be the GOP’s standard-bearer next year, spokeswoman Katie Vincentz pointed to his endorsements and five recent tours around the state.

"He has all the momentum needed to win this race," she said.

— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Check in Giuliani

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Final Point

Anti-vax calls then and now

Two years ago, local state senators were deluged with calls and emails from those who opposed vaccination-related mandates.

Some things don’t change.

In 2019, the fuss was over the ban on the religious exemption for vaccines for school-age students. Now, it’s a bill making its way through the State Legislature that would require health facilities and physicians’ offices to report adult vaccinations to the state. In the last several days, state senators have been bombarded by those opposing the legislation.

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Brad Hoylman, would codify into law the existing practice mandated by a pandemic-related executive order signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The order ensures we get data on how many people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine and the ZIP codes where they reside. The Point has used this information to create maps that allow Long Islanders to determine how well-vaccinated their neighborhoods are.

On Tuesday, the bill passed through the State Senate’s Health Committee, but not before a few senators – including Bay Shore’s Phil Boyle – raised concerns, leading to a back-and-forth between Boyle and the bill’s supporters, including Hoylman and Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera.

Boyle, who has been vaccinated but whose district includes areas with some of Suffolk County’s lower vaccination rates, told the committee he thought the bill was "counterproductive." He argued that those who might be on the fence about getting a vaccine would be more reluctant to do so if the bill passed, because they don’t trust the government with their information.

"My phones have been lighting up the last two days with hundreds of calls," Boyle said. "We’re ultimately going to slow ourselves in getting to herd immunity."

But Rivera pushed back.

"There is no creation of a big bad government database. There is a health information database that already exists and it is actually a good thing, and it exists behind a barrier of privacy," Rivera said.

"Mr. Chairman, I know that and you know that, but the people that don’t want to get vaccinated don’t," Boyle shot back.

"This is why our job is, Senator Boyle, I would argue, to make sure that we correct them and say unfortunately they’re being misinformed and in some instances straight up lied to," Rivera responded.

Ultimately, the bill passed, and now will head to a full Senate vote. But if all this occurred over a one-page measure about vaccine reporting, just imagine what the debate will look like when the Senate considers Hoylman’s other bill – which would mandate the vaccine for all New York college students.

— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall

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