One of the enduring mysteries in recent years is why the New York State has been unable to overhaul the Rockefeller drug laws. The 1970s statutes force judges to sentence drug offenders to lengthy prison terms that Gov. George E. Pataki and the leaders of both houses of the Legislature agree are draconian, says the New York Times. Officials came close to rewriting the laws last year, only to have the deal dissolve in the middle of the night behind closed doors.
Last week, the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled Assembly began negotiating with each other in public. Hearings laid bare some of the many policy and political differences, and showed why even broad areas of agreement might not be enough to bring about change.
The problem boils down to this: The Assembly wants to go much further than the Senate does in changing the laws. Assembly members fear that if they agree at the start to the Senate’s proposals to reduce sentences for the most serious drug offenses, which would affect only a tiny fraction of the state’s inmates, they will have no leverage left to persuade the Senate to go along with their own proposals. They want to reduce the sentences for much more common and less serious drug crimes, and to give judges the authority to send some drug offenders to treatment centers instead of prison.
At a hearing lsdy Thursday, senators tried to persuade Assembly members to agree to their proposal on the most serious crimes first. Assembly members wanted to debate their differences first and agree on areas of common ground later. Neither side wanted to budge.