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New York may seal crime records, curb evictions, ban gas hook-ups in last weeks of legislative session

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul delivers her first State of the State address in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2022, in Albany, N.Y. Hans Pennink/Pool via REUTERS

New York could allow for the automatic sealing of some criminal records, make it harder to evict tenants and ban gas and oil hook-ups in new buildings under bills that advocacy groups want lawmakers to pass in this year’s legislative session.

The Democratic-led Legislature passed a $220 billion budget this month that boosted pay for health care and home care workers, shaved 16 cents off the cost of a gallon of gas through December and tweaked a landmark bail law.

But the budget excluded several criminal justice and environmental policy proposals that had received support from Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Senate. State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said he opposed using the budget to pass new policies.

Lawmakers could also pass a bill that could nix former Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, a Democrat, from the June primary ballot. Benjamin resigned April 12 in the wake of his arrest in a federal corruption investigation.

Removing former lieutenant governor from ballot

New York would allow a candidate to decline their spot on the ballot in cases of criminal indictment, life-threatening illness or resignation of the office they seek under a bill sponsored by Assemblymember Amy Paulin, a Democrat of Westchester County.

Paulin’s bill has 16 co-sponsors but is still in committee. Republicans call the bill a liberal ploy to protect Benjamin.

Existing state law makes it tough to remove Benjamin from the ballot.

Hochul said this week she won’t ask her former running mate to move out-of-state. The state Democratic Party hasn’t announced any plan to allow Benjamin to run for another office.

Clean Slate Act

The criminal records of certain New Yorkers could get automatically sealed under Democratic proposals.

The legislation — sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie, a Democrat from Brooklyn — would not apply to sex offenses, or for people who are currently under parole or probation or facing a pending criminal charge. Courts, or anyone required to run fingerprint-based criminal history checks, could access the records in certain scenarios.

The bill, also known as the Clean Slate Act, did not pass last summer, but advocates say it’s needed to help as many as 2.23 million people reintegrate into society and find jobs and housing.

Hochul and Senate Democrats included the policy in their budget proposals. But the budget excluded the act amid disagreements over how quickly records could get automatically sealed.

The Senate bill would automatically seal criminal records at least three years from release for a misdemeanor, or seven years for a felony.

Hochul — who’s hoping to galvanize support from moderate voters — proposed waiting longer. She would start the clock at the end of an individual’s total possible sentence, even if that person was released early.

The Senate is also considering Sen. Jamaal Bailey’s bill to launch a state office of expungement that would help oversee the sealing and expungement of convictions.

Good cause eviction

New York would make it much harder to evict residential tenants or refuse to renew their leases under a bill backed by influential unions and tenant advocacy groups, and lambasted by the powerful real estate lobby.

New York would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants for failure to pay rent following “unreasonable” rent hikes. The bill defines such hikes as either over 3% of the previous rent or 1.5% of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is higher.

Landlords could still evict tenants in certain cases, including being a nuisance or violating tenant obligations.

Many New Yorkers are at risk of eviction due to unemployment and laxed eviction protections amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the bill sponsored by Brooklyn state Sen. Julia Salazar, a Democrat.

“Tenants can do everything right, live somewhere for one year or twenty years yet be subject to eviction at the landlord’s whim — and the only requirement for landlords is that they provide 30 to 90 days’ notice that the tenancy is not being renewed,” Legal Aid Society attorney Ellen Davidson said.

But critics claim the bill would usher in statewide rent control and less quality, affordable housing.

“Simply put, there is just not enough support in the legislature for this bill because legislators from across the state — and on both sides of the aisle — know it would do nothing but make owning and renting property in New York state a losing proposition,” said Ross Wallenstein, spokesperson for Homeowners for An Affordable New York, which represents real estate, property owners, builders and affordable housing providers.

Ban on oil and gas hook-ups

The oil and gas sector and real estate lobby has vigorously opposed legislation to ban oil and gas hook-ups in new building construction statewide. New York City passed such a ban last year.

Hochul proposed starting the ban in 2027. The state Senate pitched a 2024 launch for buildings under seven stories.

Supporters said the bill could prevent millions of metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. New York has a target of becoming emissions free by 2040.

But critics have argued the ban would raise consumer bills.

This spring, the American Petroleum Institute launched a social media campaign opposing the ban. One of its Facebook ads read: “Don’t let Albany decide what fuels your home. Oppose the Natural Gas Ban!”

The Real Estate Board of New York, however, backed Hochul’s proposal to start the ban in 2027. The governor has said she hopes to still pass the ban this year.

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