New York state lawmakers, facing the final month of the legislative session, are considering a broad range of measures meant to address the state's criminal justice and public safety laws as voters continue to rank crime as a top priority for them.
The measures are varied: Supporters hope a bill to seal many criminal records is gaining momentum in the state Assembly, while Democrats are also calling for provisions to address retail theft and assaults on workers.
And Republicans, meanwhile, are calling for even further changes to the state's bail law after the budget included provisions to allow for more discretion when judges set bail in serious criminal charges.
For top Democrats in the Legislature like Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the often-contentious issue can be a balancing act.
"We want justice in our criminal justice system, we want certainly justice for victims of crime and we'd like to create the environment for justice for everyone involved," she said on Tuesday.
Underscoring the push, the Democratic-led state Senate on Tuesday approved a package of bills meant to address domestic violence in New York.
Advocates on Tuesday rallied for the bill to seal criminal records as negotiations are expected to pick up this month for the measure known to its supporters as the Clean Slate Act.
That included Ismael Diaz Jr., who served nine-and-a-half years in prison after an altercation he was involved in left another person dead. Diaz has completed his college degree, but has found it difficult to keep a job since being released from prison.
"It turns into another sentence — like a silent sentence," he said. "You don't even want to go look for a job. It's mentally challenging."
The measure is yet to gain a vote in the state Assembly, though Speaker Carl Heastie last week said the bill could be considered by June 8, when legislators leave Albany for the remainder of the year.
"This is a public safety bill because it reduces recidivism," said Assemblyman Chris Burdick. "It's a public safety bill because they're going to become productive members of society, they're going to be reunited with their families."
But Republican critics of the legislation are worried the provision raises too many questions around safety.
"It's just too many serious offenses that are going to be sealed," said Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick, a Republican from Long Island. "I don't think that will improve public safety at all."
Instead, Fitzpatrick believes state officials should do more to address policing, both for recruitment and retention.
"I think we need to start getting more aggressive — support the police, increase funding for the police," he said. "We have to recruit more police."
Democrats, too, have also called for additional measures meant to boost penalties for retail theft.
"Right now, they're not afraid of being taken down without high penalties," said Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. "Hopefully if we increase the penalties, they'll think twice before going into these local stores."
She is backing a measure that would make assaulting a store owner or a retail worker on par with an assault against essential workers like livery drivers and utility workers.
"They were deemed essential during the pandemic, so we have to do everything we can to protect them in their workplace," she said.