The legislative session ends in Albany this week and, as usual, there is more to do than lawmakers will be able to manage. Here are four matters they should be sure to complete before they think of taking the summer off.
After years of prodding, the Legislature may finally be poised to take action on the enduring shame of wrongful convictions. Proposed legislation doesn’t do everything that New York should be eager to accomplish, but it is at least a start.
The measure, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is apparently prepared to sign, would allow but regulate photo lineups. The agreement apparently does nothing to improve procedures for live lineups, but the state Division of Criminal Justice Services would draft a non-binding model of best practices for accurate and reliable eyewitness identification procedures. Eyewitness misidentification is the most common cause of wrongful conviction.
The agreement would also require police to record all custodial interrogations. In other states, this practice has helped to prevent the strange phenomenon of false confessions, in which an innocent suspect, often under intense pressure, confesses to a crime he didn’t commit, sometimes after investigators unintentionally feed the suspect crime details that only the perpetrator would know.
This is a fundamental matter of justice. The Legislature should pass this compromise bill and send it to Cuomo.
The state’s Brownfield Cleanup Program is set to expire next year, but advocates are pushing for Albany to renew it now – and for good reason. Uncertainty on the part of developers is all but certain to cause them to hold back on projects, not knowing if they will qualify for a program whose future is in doubt.
This has been a valuable economic development tool around the state and particularly in Western New York. One huge project makes the point: The planned reuse of Buffalo’s shuttered Trico plant on Washington Street depends on the availability of the state brownfields program, and the uncertainty over its renewal – if and in what form it will be extended – is affecting the planning of developers.
The law was amended previously to fix a flaw, and it appears to be operating well at this point. Albany should attend to this now. Waiting is too risky.
Cuomo is pushing for a law that will allow the use of medical marijuana for people with certain conditions, including seizure disorders. Rather than smoke it, children would ingest a product that has been stripped of its mood-altering properties.
The good news is that the State Senate, after years of resistance, appears to be on board with this effort.
There are some concerns. Police, for example, are worried about distinguishing between those holding marijuana legally and those who are breaking the law. They are also concerned about illegal sharing.
But, in a nation awash in marijuana, these are minor issues. The benefits of this bill to suffering New Yorkers are sufficient to ensure that it gets done.
Freedom of speech
The New York New Publishers Association is pushing for adoption of a law that protects New Yorkers against frivolous libel suits intended to silence criticism on public issues.
So-called SLAPP suits – standing for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation – are a scourge on democracy, which demands public involvement and that – inevitably and often usefully – engenders criticism.
New York passed an anti-SLAPP law in 1992, but it applies only to developers, who had been suing critics of proposed projects in order to silence them. In addition to being too narrow, the current law is too weak, providing no avenue for wronged parties to recoup legal fees from those filing suits meant to muzzle debate on public issues.
Other states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada and Washington, have strong laws on this subject. New York needs one, too. The Legislature needs to wake up.