New York budget stalled on mental health policy, spending and law | New York News


By MARINA VILLENEUVE, Associated Press

ALBANY, NY (AP) — Lawmakers planned to start voting as early as Thursday on a more than $200 billion state budget whose passage has been delayed by last-minute political and spending disagreements for nearly one week after the April 1 deadline.

Policy debates include rollbacks to a landmark 2019 law that largely removed cash bail for nonviolent offenses, as well as the potential expansion of a law for people with mental illnesses.

“We will come back to the conferences, there are still a few things to work out,” said Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, a Democrat. “But you know, everyone will start voting tonight.”

Stewart-Cousins ​​said “hope” is finishing work on the budget on Friday.

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Lawmakers could temporarily suspend gasoline taxes, allow take-out sales of alcoholic beverages and as part of budget bills released Thursday by legislative leaders. Liquor and wine would be available for takeout and delivery for three years, reviving a practice that became popular in New York during the pandemic.

For the bail law, Stewart-Cousins ​​said Thursday that lawmakers are set to make changes to how the law applies to “repeat offenders,” but did not immediately give a statement. details.

She said arraignments have taken longer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, raising concerns about whether some repeat offenders or violations are still on bail.

“So what we’ve tried to do is make it very clear that even if you haven’t been arraigned, if you’re still in court today, you’re still in court tomorrow, you’re not arraigned. You don’t have to wait to be arrested to be classified as a repeat offender,” she said.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups representing New Yorkers with mental illness have chastised elected officials for announcing a potential extension of a court-ordered treatment law behind the scenes, with no opportunity for public participation.

Thousands of New York residents are treated each year under Kendra’s Law, which requires people facing serious mental illness to undergo outpatient psychiatric treatment as a condition of living in the community. Patients who do not comply risk up to 72 hours in a public facility.

New York passed the law on a trial basis in 1999, when 32-year-old Kendra Webdale was pushed in front of a subway train by a man with untreated schizophrenia. The law is due to expire on June 30 unless lawmakers grant a further extension.

The effort to change the law now comes in the wake of the death of another woman pushed in front of a subway train in January – Michelle Alyssa Go, 40, from New York, who was of Asian descent and was known to volunteer to help the homeless and other vulnerable communities. Police say the man accused of pushing her to death was homeless and had a history of “emotionally disturbed encounters”.

The details of what the latest proposal would be are unclear, but advocates and lobbyists following negotiations in Albany say they fear Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and lawmakers may end up allowing people with mental illness to be involuntarily detained in hospitals indefinitely. under orders that could be renewed without legal process.

Ruth Lowenkron, director of the Disability Justice Program at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, said she fears lawmakers are weakening due process protections under Kendra’s law and extending it to New Yorkers. -Yorkers living with a disability or homeless people.

“This over-reliance on mental health criminalization and involuntary engagement creates more trauma for people with mental health,” Lowenkron said.

“The proposal in New York is grossly out of step with the law across the country,” said Ira Burnim, legal director of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, DC.

Lowenkron and Burnim said they support extending Kendra’s law for another five years, but said lawmakers should focus on investing more money in voluntary community services.

Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from central New York who sponsored a bill to expand Kendra’s law, said he was unaware of the details of the budget negotiations and would prefer lawmakers to hold a separate debate on the bill.

But he said he was frustrated by the lawyers’ opposition.

“We need to give our healthcare professionals the ability to detain people longer so they can assess them if someone is violating” their assisted outpatient treatment order, Borrello said.

He said Go’s death has sparked calls for reform of Kendra’s law, which he says is not being used enough.

“Seventy-two hours is not enough to make sure someone is stabilized, and if you are not able to take care of yourself and provide basics like food, shelter, it should be taken as evidence that you are a danger to yourself and others and you should be detained for that reason,” Borrello said.

The Hochul and legislative leaders have been negotiating for months over the budget, which has often served as a vehicle for passing major political laws over the decades. Budget negotiations in New York once stretched into the summer months and were cut short under former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration – although last year’s budget passed on April 7.

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