A Procedural Roadblock for Rockefeller Reform?

ALBANY—The State Assembly is expected to pass a loosening of the Rockefeller Drug laws this evening, rolling back mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders and even offering a path to treatment for some 2,000 inmates.

But don't expect it to sail through the State Senate.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced the bill would be taken up today, as it has been many times previously, but said with David Paterson as governor and Democrat Malcolm Smith in control of the State Senate, "the stars are aligned" for passing the rollback this year.

The Assembly is debating the bill as we speak. But there is strong opposition in the State Senate from Republicans, including Dale Volker and Marty Golden. State Senator Eric Schneiderman is carrying the bill in that chamber. At least one of his Democratic colleagues has said he does not support it. Democrats are expected to discuss the issue in conference tonight.

Golden, a retired police officer, was handing out a press release decrying the Assembly plan in the Senate lobby, and denounced the bill as "the beginning of the end" and "an equation for disaster."

"Unfortunately, the City of New York and State of New York are about to find out what drug users do to communities," he said.

Asked whether it would pass in the Senate, Golden said he had heard that David Paterson was planning to fold Rockefeller Drug law reforms into the state budget.

"They're going to put it into the budget, and that's not the place to put this," Golden said, with the theory that it would be difficult for some lawmakers to vote against it. "He has no other way of getting the bills passed."

Paterson spoke of the need to reform the laws in his State of the State address, and has consistently supported repealing the laws. Administration staffers have been meeting with the chairs of the relevant committees in both the Assembly and Senate, and a draft program bill was put forward on Monday. There are some differences between that bill and the Assembly bill, including the requirement that defendants plead guilty and that it apply retroactively to incarcerated defenders.

"It's still a very important issue to Governor Paterson, and one that our office is working on," said Marissa Shorenstein, a Paterson spokesperson, said when asked about Golden's charge that it would be included in the budget. "We are actively working in tandem with both the Senate and Assembly on this issue." A Procedural Roadblock for Rockefeller Reform?