Senate Republicans Push to Stop Drug Laws Changes in State Budget

Dean G. Skelos

April 03, 2009

Democrats Defend Plan To Release Inmates in Communities

State Senate Republicans today tried to stop Democrats from pushing through major changes to the states drug laws that could potentially put as many as 5,000 drug dealers back on the streets. The proposal is included in the 2009-10 state budget. Senate Republicans offered an amendment to strike the plan from the budget bill, however Senate Democrats voted to move forward with the so-called “drug dealer protection act.”

“Burying these changes into the state budget in an attempt to slip them past the public is totally wrong,” Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos said. “They should be debated and voted on separately, and not as part of the state budget. It’s a sad commentary that the only winners in the state budget are the drug dealers.”

“What the Governor and the Senate Majority and Assembly are trying to do is create the ‘Drug Dealers Protection Act,” Senator Martin Golden (R-C, Brooklyn) said. “They take away the voice of District Attorneys and hand over all discretion to judges. This will amount to revolving door justice. The nickel and dime seller of heroin and cocaine to escape prosecution and the scourge of our society will have the run of our streets.”

“This Democrat’s plan gives drug felons a ‘get out of jail free card’ is shortsighted and a dangerous precedent that will destroy communities, harm families and lead to the decriminalization of illegal narcotics,” Senator Dale Volker (R-C-I, Depew) said. “Our citizens have every right to be very concerned with these changes and to be outraged that they would be packaged in the state budget along with the Democrats’ massive tax increases.”

The plan would dramatically expand the changes to the state’s drug laws that were enacted in 2004. The Democrats proposal, which was negotiated in secret by Governor Paterson, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senator Malcolm Smith, could potentially release thousands of drug dealers who were convicted of serious class B drug felonies and are serving prison sentences for selling significant quantities of illegal drugs including heroin and cocaine.
Senators criticized specific provisions in the proposed drug law changes that would allow legal and illegal immigrants to escape deportation. Drug addicts who violate the law must plead guilty in order to escape prison in favor of attending drug treatment programs. However, a new exception is written into the law that says a guilty pleas is not required if it is likely to cause “severe collateral consequences,” such as deportation. The legal phrase is often used to protect immigrants from deportation if they are convicted of a crime.
In addition, the drug law changes could also have a wide-ranging economic impact on upstate communities where correctional facilities are located because releasing thousands of inmates could result in the loss of corrections officer’s jobs.

The drug law changes are opposed by District Attorneys throughout the state and by local law enforcement organizations.