Dems Backpedal Quietly on Drug-Law Change as Republicans Rage

ALBANY—State senators are roaring at each other as they try to postpone a provision of the state budget that gives judges the ability to seal criminal records for some drug offenders if they move to do so.

Minority Leader Dean Skelos held a press conference with his members of the Senate Republican conference to unveil a bill sponsored by State Senator Frank Padavan which repeals the provision, which he said should not be excused as an “inadvertent consequence of the budget.”

“Everything has become an inadvertent consequence,” Skelos said. He, of course, led his members in raging against the budget, but vote counts are vote counts.

“This is one that is going to kill people if it is not repealed,” he said of the measure, which takes effect June 8. “We’re looking for a result on this, because it’s a matter of life and death.”

He said, therefore, that his conference had no pride of authorship, and at this time is going to wait for the majority to act. (“If you want to take credit for it, by repealing it, we’re happy to give you credit. The bottom line is, it has to be repealed,” Skelos said.)

Still, Republicans no doubt see the political mileage in this issue.

State Senator Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat who advocated  the drug law restructuring that contained the sealing provision, walked into the press room here to tell reporters he was holding firm to the idea behind the provision, while agreeing to delay its implementation.

“The point of this law is to provide more equity,” Schneiderman said. He attacked the Republicans for working to “terrorize” people around the state by “ranting and raving” about the provision, but is now sponsoring a bill that would push back the start date by nearly a year. (He said he opposes Padavan’s bill.)

And Schneiderman said that Senate staffers, as well as aides from the Assembly and David Paterson’s office, are currently negotiating how to amend the provision, with the possibility of adding more people to the list of those who can see sealed records. (Under the law about to take effect, law enforcement agencies can still see the records.)

Schneiderman said he did not believe it was inconsistent to blast the Republicans for fearmongering while talking about how to loosen the provision they’ve decried. He was asked if they were part of the negotiations.

“No,” Schneiderman replied. “Three-ways are still three-ways.”

Dems Backpedal Quietly on Drug-Law Change as Republicans Rage