Senator O'Mara's weekly column 'From the Capitol' -- for the week of May 2, 2022 -- "What's on the minds of New Yorkers? Law and order."

May 02, 2022

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Senator O'Mara shares his weekly perspective on issues facing New York State government.

Government’s response should not be to enact laws that embolden society’s criminal element, or to make our system of criminal justice and public safety more lenient, permissive and open to abuse.

Senator O'Mara offers his weekly perspective on many of the key challenges and issues facing the Legislature, as well as on legislative actions, local initiatives, state programs and policies, and more.  Stop back every Monday for Senator O'Mara's latest column...

This week, "What's on the minds of New Yorkers? Law and order."

The latest Siena College poll pegged the issues foremost on the minds of New York’s voters heading into the November elections. Not surprisingly crime emerged as the top concern in a poll released last week, identified by more than 24% of respondents. A combination of economic issues were also high on the list.

According to the new Siena poll, “One-quarter of voters say that crime will be the single most important issue in determining which candidate gets their support for governor in November. While taxes/fiscal responsibility finished a distant second, identified by 9%, all economic issues combined -- including jobs, inflation, and the cost of living -- are also identified by one-quarter of voters as the most important issue.”

In short, New York State residents don’t feel safe and they’re worried about making ends meet.

It’s an alarming snapshot of the current condition of our state.

Yet, on the very same day the Siena poll was released, the Democrat majority in the state Senate began advancing their next steps in what has been a long, dismal line of pro-criminal actions wreaking havoc on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

This Albany Democrat mindset, which has established a firm foothold at the highest levels of state government, is a big part of the reason why New York is being defined, in far too many places, as a crime-ridden state.

It simply remains hard to comprehend.

Specifically, the Democrats on the Senate Codes Committee, on which I serve as a member, saw fit to begin moving two pieces of legislation that, if they become law, will serve to erase criminal records from public view and provide no protections for crime victims or law-abiding citizens.

To rub our faces in it a little more, their action came as the state (and nation) began observing National Crime Victims’ Rights week -- a week that’s supposed to be dedicated to learning about victimization and the effect it has on individuals, families, friends and the community, and to promote laws, policies and programs to help victims of crime.

One piece of legislation now seen by Albany Democrats as a priority for enactment this session is commonly known as the “Clean Slate” bill (S1553C). It would seal felony records seven years after a sentence is complete -- after three years for misdemeanors -- and eventually erase them from the record completely.

One news editorial has described the proposed action this way, “It would erase 2.3 million convictions from record like they never happened.”

It’s one thing to give someone a second chance after they have served their time and remained crime-free for a number of years. In fact, New York State law already has provisions that permit that on a limited basis.

It’s not enough for some, however Like they did with the disastrous and dangerous bail and discovery reform enacted in 2019, extremely lenient parole policies, and a series of other pro-criminal, anti-law-and-order initiatives, these Albany Democrats just keep going too far.

They keep pushing a radical remaking of our system of criminal justice and public safety, to the point where many New Yorkers, as evidenced by the Siena poll, no longer recognize or agree with the direction it’s headed.

They just keep putting more and more New Yorkers at risk and uneasy about safety in the places where they live and work.

A second piece of legislation (S5518A) approved by the Senate Codes Committee last week would go as far as to create a new, separate bureaucracy within the state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), which they would call the “Office of Expungement” to specifically help facilitate the sealing and expungement of criminal convictions.

Needless to say, I joined my Republican colleagues on the committee to vote no and reacted to the moves this way, “Another day in Albany, another set of pro-criminal policies pushed by one-party rule. New York is facing a crime crisis the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. The crisis, caused by Democrats’ cashless bail and other soft-on-crime policies, could be reversed today if they stopped pushing a radical, pro-criminal agenda. Today’s actions once again prove that Democrats care more about protecting violent felons and dangerous individuals than they do victims and law-abiding New Yorkers.”

From the outset of the current legislative session, our Senate Republican Conference has been calling for a far different approach, one that would restore a strong commitment to law and order, rebuild confidence in public safety, and refocus on safer communities.

Among numerous provisions, our Take Back New York agenda, released earlier this year, would:

-- say no to what’s become an increasingly pervasive “defund the police” movement and, instead, reinvest in law enforcement;

-- end cashless bail, restore judicial discretion and reject proposals like the wholesale erasure of criminal records;

-- repair what are clearly unworkable discovery and “speedy trial” laws that have only served to establish a revolving door system for repeat and violent criminal offenders;

-- refocus a parole process to one that prioritizes the protection and rights of crime victims and their families, and will never release the most violent criminals, including cop and child killers, back on the streets; and

-- invest in proven mental health and other services to ensure that those struggling with addiction, homelessness and mental illness receive the help they need.

There are and will continue to be legitimate debates about the root causes of crime and lawlessness, and what government’s response can and should be.

It is not debatable at the moment, in my view and the view of many others, that crime and lawlessness are spiraling out of control throughout this state.

Government’s response should not be to enact laws that embolden society’s criminal element, or to make our system of criminal justice and public safety more lenient, permissive and open to abuse.

Unfortunately, and dangerously, Albany Democrats appear willing to keep taking that risk.