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NYS budget includes some anti-crime provisions

 The New York state Capitol building in Albany.
File photo
The New York state Capitol building in Albany.

New York lawmakers have begun passing parts of the state budget, 18 days after it was due.

Thursday’s votes centered on cracking down on crimes, including hate crimes, retail theft and illegal cannabis shops.

Governor Kathy Hochul highlighted steps taken in the budget to reduce retail theft. They include increasing penalties for assaulting a retail worker, and closing loopholes in current laws to make it easier to arrest and convict people for the online sale of stolen goods. 

Hochul said store owners will no longer have to fend off “brash and organized criminal networks on their own.”

“No one wants to walk into a store to find items locked up behind glass windows or worse, see one of these sprees firsthand,” Hochul said. “No one wants to see the shops in their neighborhood boarded up, because business owners simply say, ‘I can't do this anymore.’”

The spending plan also creates new powers for local law enforcement to shutter the thousands of illegal marijuana shops now operating in the state. Police will be able to immediately padlock a shop found to be in violation of the state’s cannabis laws, instead of waiting until the case winds through the courts.

The black-market outlets have sprung up in recent years, as New York legalized the use of adult recreational cannabis, but has been very slow to grant licenses to legitimate cannabis retailers.

Assemblywoman Pat Fahy, who represents Albany, said the “botched roll out” of the legal cannabis program has led to the proliferation of the illegal shops.

“It's really been a in a flagrant disregard for the law, and hurting those who are legitimately trying to put their life savings in and enter this business in a legitimate way,” Fahy said.

The budget also includes stiffer penalties for hate crimes. Assemblywoman Grace Lee, a Democrat from lower Manhattan, and an original sponsor of the provision, praised the move.

“We are updating New York's outdated hate crime statute to respond to the severe rise in hate against minority communities, including the Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Black, and LGBTQ+ New Yorkers,” Lee said. “There is a long term corrosive effect when we fail to address hate in our communities.”

The budget bill also authorizes the state to close up to five state prisons in the next 90 days. Those with prisons in their districts, or who have prison employees who live in their districts say the job losses will have a negative economic impact in those communities.

Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh is a Republican from Saratoga County.

“These prisons are sometimes the only thing in the local economy that's they're the biggest employer for an area,” Walsh said. “This is going to be a bitter pill, really, to have up to five more closures in on such short notice.”

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Democrat from the Buffalo area, said that while she thinks the 90-day notice is too short, communities need to look to other means of creating jobs.

“Prisons are not supposed to be a job opportunity for people,” said Peoples-Stokes. “It’s supposed to be a way to reform people who have been convicted of a crime. If you haven’t been convicted and you’re not in jail there’s no reason to keep them open."

As of late Thursday, a number of key budget bills were not yet completed, including an education spending bill that distributes school aid, and the state’s financial plan, as well as an affordable housing program. A tentative agreement between Hochul and legislative leaders would include a tax break for real estate developers who build affordable housing, as well as strengthening tenants’ rights.

The Senate and Assembly planned to remain at the Capitol until Saturday, in order to complete the bills and finish getting a budget in place.

Copyright 2024 WXXI News. To see more, visit WXXI News.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.