Senate Democrats hope to prevent a quorum to pass budget extender until raise the age is settled
Despite the weekend extension on the now-late state budget, lawmakers still disagree on the hot button issue of “raising the age” of criminal responsibility, which is holding up the 2017-2018 budget, originally due at midnight last Friday.
Some lawmakers are threatening to deny a quorum in the Senate needed for a budget extender, threatening a state government shutdown. Senate Democrats are calling on the Independent Democratic Conference — who often vote with Republicans — to join them in stifling a budget vote.
The State Constitution requires a three-fifths (38 members) quorum for all appropriations bills.
“With negotiations continuing, passing some budget bills before talks conclude will weaken efforts to achieve real reforms in this budget,” said Mike Murphy, the Senate Democratic Conference’s communications director. “The IDC should stand up and help Senate Democrats maximize our ability to achieve a real Raise The Age solution and that means preventing Senate Republicans from advancing only parts of the budget to the detriment of outstanding issues.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released late last week shows that 59 percent of New York voters statewide are in favor of raising the age of criminal responsibility, compared to 29 percent who are opposed.
Last week, hundreds of social workers, activists and students rallied outside of the Capitol in Albany to make a last-minute push to get the change in the budget.
Lisa Newland, vice president of the New York State Social Work Education Association, addressed the graduate students who are studying social work in colleges across New York.
“We’re standing up as social workers for raising the age of criminal responsibility, we’re standing up for the families that are impacted, we are standing up for the communities that are impacted, and we are standing up to change the system.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in his State of the State speeches in January that raising the age of criminal responsibility is a priority this year. The campaign has also gained the support of the Democratic Conference and the majority of the state Assembly. Last month, the Assembly bill passed by a vote of 81-40.
“Once we give our children the label of criminal, it is easy for adults to abuse them,” said Khalil Cumberbatch, who spent six-and-a-half years in the New York state prison system, some of that at Rikers Island, where he claims he witnessed young inmates being abused mentally and physically by guards and older inmates. “It became very clear to me that we abuse children in the name of justice,” Cumberbatch said.
One of the key arguments used by raise the age campaigners is the irreversible psychological damage that can be done to youths in adult prisons. According to a statistical analysis done by the Bureau of Justice from 2001-2012, teenagers who are 17 or younger in adult state prisons are twice as likely to commit suicide.
“I got to a point where I was tired of it all and attempted to take my own life,” said Richard Smith, who was sentenced to an adult jail at the age of 16. “Luckily I wasn’t successful and was forced to seek mental health counseling.”
As a result of the disagreement on the raise the age issue and a handful of other controversial issues, Governor Cuomo proposed an extender resolution that must be passed today. As part of the extender resolution that would keep the state operational until May 31st, lawmakers will be working without pay.