Tools

NY to OK up to 7 casinos, expand DNA database

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York would see up to seven Las
Vegas-style casinos, a doubled DNA database to fight crime and free
innocent people, and a less cushy pension for future public workers
under deals struck behind closed doors Wednesday.

The deals still need to be written into bills and passed, which
is a sometimes difficult task even with the private agreements.

The measures have been pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who also
held the key to the Legislature's priority of redistricting. A
senior administration official said Tuesday that Cuomo was willing
to withhold his threatened veto of the election district lines
drawn by the Senate's Republican majority and Assembly's Democratic
majority in exchange for a constitutional amendment to end the
process beginning in 2022. Majorities have drawn their own
districts for decades to protect their power and incumbents.

Soon after Cuomo's signal, backroom dealing among the governor,
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean
Skelos raced toward agreement on the governor's priorities.

"Looks like classic Albany: Three men in a room, huge log roll,
no transparency," said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at
Baruch College. "There used to be two forms of Albany dysfunction
- of means and ends and of process and outcomes. It's still
dysfunctional means and sometimes inferior ends."

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver predicted that New York will
soon have as many as seven new casinos under a constitutional
amendment that must be approved this year and next year by the
Legislature.

"All it's going to have is a maximum of seven," Silver said. "We'll deal with where, when and how next year."

Cuomo wanted to expand casinos off Indian reservations as an
economic development tool. There are already nine state-approved
video slot machine centers at race tracks and five Indian casinos.
The administration has sought a broad approval, but Silver had
insisted on some specificity.

Silver also appears to have gotten some of his objectives into
Cuomo's demand for a less expensive pension system for local and
state governments. The deal omits Cuomo's proposal for an optional
401k-like retirement plan and requires higher contributions from
future employees at higher income rates than Cuomo proposed, among
other provisions. The deal provides most of the savings sought by
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who led a statewide effort
to drum up support for Cuomo's proposal.

The retirement age would move to 63 from 62 for most public
workers.

Silver was also able to provide greater access to DNA data after
conviction, to help use the tool to free the wrongly incarcerated
as well as catch criminals earlier in their careers.

The deal would double New York's DNA database with genetic
information from those convicted of all felonies and all but one
penal misdemeanor. The deal excludes misdemeanor possession of less than 25 grams of marijuana in public view. Various lower-level
violations are also excluded.

"It is a proven fact: DNA helps solve crimes, prosecute the
guilty, and protects the innocent," Cuomo said.

The measure would guarantee defense access to the database in
efforts to exonerate suspects through both pretrial and
post-conviction motions to a judge. That would apply to
"reasonable" requests in advance that the information is material
or "credible allegations" afterward that the evidence would
determine actual innocence. Even after pleading guilty, a defendant
could file such a motion within five years.

In New York, prosecutors don't have to share discovery evidence
until the eve of trial.

"It's an epic change in the law," said Assemblyman Joseph
Lentol, a Brooklyn Democrat.

Richard Aborn of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City,
an advocacy group for public safety, said the bill balances the
legitimate needs of law enforcement with those of defendants and
the unlawfully convicted.

The state police lab in Albany has more than 416,000 offender
DNA patterns on file. The automated system uploads as many as 4,000
samples a month in a blind process, meaning saliva samples are
identified by numbers, not names, and there are no markers for
race. They show gender. The 15 numbers measuring genetic patterns
are unique to each person and to identical twins.

Lab officials say they have the capacity already to process
10,000 samples monthly, which are compared against crime scene DNA
patterns.

What's On