A tense debate between Assembly Democrats during a closed-door conference likely killed the chances of state lawmakers passing a bill in the remaining week of session that would give New York prosecutors of sex crimes more teeth.

A bill to allow evidence from a prior sex crime be used when a defendant is accused of subsequent sexual offense has been proposed for years, but gained steam after the state's highest court threw out Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction last month. The Hollywood mogul's conviction was overturned over a state law that doesn't permit the testimony of witnesses from prior offenses to be admitted as evidence.

Most lawmakers agree that law must be changed, but are divided over how soon it can be done properly. State senators passed the legislation last week with wide bipartisan support.

But things got tense between Assembly Democrats on May 22 when they conferenced the bill behind closed doors. Multiple lawmakers and staffers said Wednesday that bill sponsor Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and Assemblywoman Latrice Walker had a prolonged, heated exchange.

Walker raised concerns about the bill as it stands, arguing it would create unfair prejudice against New Yorkers who are accused, but not charged, of certain crimes.

"I think it's a slippery slope," Walker told Spectrum News 1 on Wednesday. "I recognize that New York state is No. 3 in the country when it comes to wrongful convictions and when you base a conviction on evidence that is just not solid, we know that in the law, they say the fruit of the poisonous tree must be poisonous. And so we have to be very concerned about letting in this type of evidence."

Walker said the bill would erode equity in the criminal justice system and gives judges discretion that would perpetuate the disparity of the number of Black men wrongfully convicted of a crime versus their white counterparts.

The assemblywoman, a Brooklyn Democrat and survivor of childhood sexual assault, represents some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the state and New York City. She did not deny the exchange with Assemblywoman Paulin was tense. 

"I fight because ... we know that the safest communities have the most resources, not the most police and not the strongest criminal prosecutorial ways of looking about circumstances, but those with adequate education, health care and with opportunities for jobs and employment," Walker said. "And those are the things that my community just does not have."

Several lawmakers said Wednesday discussions continue about rewriting the bill within the next several days, but they have not seen a draft — meaning its passage is unlikely this session.

Paulin on Wednesday said says she's devastated by pushback from her colleagues on the legislation. 

"I was devastated because without this change, serial rapists will be apprehended," she said. "They will not be convicted in New York as easily as they should be."

Several lawmakers who participated in the heated conference discussion said they took Walker's concerns to heart, and her emotional debate with Paulin gave them pause to settle on a compromise before session ends June 6.

The Manhattan District Attorney's office is expected to retry Weinstein this fall, and several state lawmakers want to take action in the next week before they leave Albany for the year.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Tuesday said she wants the Legislature to take action to close the "loophole" before session concludes. Paulin said she wishes the governor would put more pressure on the Assembly to amend and pass the bill in the coming days.

"I had really hoped that she would be and there’s still time," Paulin said. "I would love her input and direct involvement on this bill. We need it."

Representatives with Hochul's office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

Walker and other lawmakers said Wednesday they support holding legislative hearings later this year to amend the bill with input from public defenders and survivors of sex crimes alike.

Paulin recounted how one of her sisters was raped at the age of 17, but her rapist was not convicted. She said the permittance of evidence from other potential victims could have made his conviction more likely.

Paulin said New York's current law denies justice to women and victims of rape and must be fixed to ensure serial rapists are apprehended. 

"When we have multiple victims come forward, we know that there are even more that have not come forward," she said. "And we know we have to do something to prevent them from raping again. This bill will do that. And I'm still hoping that, you know, I never say never. And I never give up hope."

Legal groups have also raised constitutional concerns about the measure — with counsel also warning the legislation could increase wrongful convictions, especially among people of color.

"This was a knee-jerk reaction to a media moment, and thankfully, the Assembly understood the devastating consequences this legislation would have on the rights of New Yorkers accused of a crime if it were enacted into law," according to a statement from the Legal Aid Society.

“The Legal Aid Society applauds Speaker Heastie for refusing to yield to external pressures to ramrod this bill through the Assembly, one devoid of any meaningful research, debate, or of public feedback - the minimum standard for legislation that could yield such wide-waging consequences for the general public."

But Paulin said wrongful convictions will not happen in legal cases involving serial rapists.

"We're talking about multiple victims," she said. "When there's multiple victims, the odds of wrongful convictions is slim to none. So it's a bogus argument."