Advocates pushing for years to seal New Yorkers' criminal records after they complete their prison sentences could get their wish.
Legislative leaders met with Gov. Kathy Hochul this week and agreed to focus on getting the Clean Slate Act over the finish line before session ends next week.
As it stands, the bill would automatically seal the criminal records of about 2.3 million New Yorkers three years after sentencing for misdemeanors and after seven years for felonies. It does not apply to sex crimes.
"Now we're at a point where I can't find any excuse not to get this done this year," Assembly sponsor Catalina Cruz said Wednesday. "I feel like the sun is shining and we're going to be able to help so many families save their lives."
Of several criminal justice measures floated this session, legislative leaders and Hochul on Wednesday made it clear they have their sights set on finishing one of them — the Clean Slate Act. It's one of the only significant pieces of legislation leaders agree must be finished before session ends June 8.
Hochul, who has supported sealing criminal records and mentioned it as a top priority in her State of the State address in January, said Wednesday she expects the legislation will be passed before lawmakers leave Albany for the year. She included a version of the Clean Slate Act in her 2022 executive budget.
"We're just down to the technical changes that we're having conversations about, so, we don't have the final version yet, but it is something conceptually I do support," the governor said to reporters. "I think it addresses a serious shortage of workers that we have here in the state of New York, which is why there's such strong support from the business community for this."
Legislative leaders and their top aides continue to negotiate the amount of time that should pass before records become sealed, if the clock starts after a person finishes their prison sentence versus when they complete probation and when the law would take effect.
"I feel very confident that we will be able to reach an agreement," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said. "We are still negotiating, but I do believe that we are pretty set on the times now. If you have repaid your debt to society you should not have something hanging over you for a lifetime. I think it's something everybody agrees on."
Labor unions and state business leaders have thrown support behind the measure intended to help formerly incarcerated people secure employment and housing.
But Republican lawmakers won't back down without a fight, citing public safety concerns.
Assembly Leader Will Barclay is open to sealing some criminal records and provisions of Clean Slate, but says violent and more serious offenses, like murder, should be exempt. The current proposal is too lenient, he added.
"Does that not ever become relevant to an employer or your neighbor? I certainly would want to know if my neighbor had killed somebody in their past," Barclay said. "Whether that was 10 years ago or 15 years ago, it seems kind of arbitrary to guess that date."
Republicans are expected to engage bill sponsors in a lengthy debate in both chambers if the measure is brought to the floor for a vote next week.
"We have a crime crisis here in NYS," Barclay said. "To me, it seems like a very relevant issue when it comes to particularly felons, that is problematic."
Legislative leaders continue to keep the details of their discussions private as they weigh increasing the waiting period before records are no longer public. The wait time to seal records would also increase several months or years, if it does not begin until a person completes probation, depending on the case.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie refused to answer questions Wednesday about how leaders are looking to alter the number of years before records are sealed, but he is optimistic about reaching an agreement and passing the bill.
Lawmakers amended Clean Slate earlier this year to allow law enforcement, judges and the state Education Department to have access to a person's sealed criminal records.
Sponsor Sen. Zellnor Myrie says this is the closest the Legislature has been on reaching a deal on Clean Slate.
"My goal from the outset until we pass this is to get this bill into law," Myrie said. "That's my primary concern. However we get there is immaterial to me. We need to pass this and this needs to be signed for the millions of New Yorkers who need it."