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New York's Budget Agreement Close, But Not Final

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, grips the hand of juvenile justice activist Akeem Browder.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, center, grips the hand of juvenile justice activist Akeem Browder.(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

ALBANY, NY (WSKG) - Talks on the state budget were stalled just days before the March 30 deadline, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers continued negotiations. Groups pressing for additional issues that are in the governor’s budget plan still have not given up hope.

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Advocates for a bail reform and criminal justice reform package stationed themselves outside the state Senate chambers in the final days of budget talks, saying they intend to stay until the Republicans who rule that chamber agree to accept the reforms proposed by Cuomo in his State of the State message. The proposals include an end to cash bail for those accused of nonviolent crimes, and steps for speedier trials.

 Cuomo highlighted the death of Kalief Browder in his speech as an example of why bail reform is needed. Browder’s impoverished family could not afford the $3,000 that the judge set for bail.

“An African American, (he) spent three years in Rikers waiting for his day in court to be heard on his charge for allegedly stealing a backpack. Three years waiting to be heard for the charge of stealing a backpack. He was 16 years old,” Cuomo said on Jan. 3. “His abuse while jailed was so traumatic, Kalief Browder ultimately determined taking his life was the only way to stop his continuing pain.”

Browder committed suicide two years after he was released from prison.

Kalief’s brother, Akeem Browder, was part of the protest outside the Senate.

“For three years, they put Kalief in Rikers Island, a torture chamber,” said Browder, who added his family, though at home, also suffered. “For three years, they put my mother and my family in Rikers Island as well.”

Assembly Democrats already have agreed to the bail reform measures. But Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan said late Tuesday that bail reform will likely not be in the state budget.

“Bail reform, I think, will be dealt with outside of the budget,” Flanagan said. 

Other issues tied to the budget also face an uncertain future, including the Child Victims Act, which would raise the statute of limitations for filing lawsuits from age 23 to 50 and create a one-year window of opportunity for past victims to bring civil court action. Richard Tollner, who said he was abused by a priest as a teenager, said it’s time to approve the measure.

“The time is up,” Tollner said.

Around 5 p.m. Tuesday, legislative leaders emerged from a private meeting with Cuomo.

Senate Independent Democratic Conference Leader Jeff Klein said he’s bringing a “tentative deal” back to his members. Klein said portions of the budget that are now agreed to include fixes to the partial loss of state and local income tax deductions in the new federal tax laws.

“We’re all on the same page that we have to respond to the federal changes to our tax plan,” Klein said. “Which I think we are going to be able to do.” 

 While Senate Leader John Flanagan said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that a tentative deal could be reached soon, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie was more tight-lipped. 

 Heastie would not confirm that a tentative deal had been reached, and said he needs to go over the details with his Democratic majority conference first.

 “There’s no deal yet,” Heastie said.

 The leaders confirmed that they are talking about reviving a pay commission to explore salary increases for lawmakers. They have not received a pay hike in almost 20 years. A previous commission fell apart in late 2016, after the governor quarreled with the Legislature.