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New York Assembly lawmakers repeal 50-A law shielding police records, bill goes to Cuomo for signature

Posted at 8:02 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 13:06:19-04

ALBANY, N.Y. (WKBW) — The law that shields police records in New York State has been repealed by Senate and Assembly lawmakers.

In a 101-43 vote Thursday evening, Assembly lawmakers solidified the legislation that's designed to promote transparency and accountability for law enforcement by repealing Section 50-A of the New York State Civil Rights law.

Earlier in the day, members of the Senate approved the legislation in a 40-22 vote.

State senators spent two and a half hours discussing the matter. Senator Patrick Gallivan voted against it.

“There’s no honest, decent police chief, there’s no honest, decent police officer, who does not want to make sure the bad cops are held accountable. The question of course is how best do we do that? We don’t do it by taking the civil rights away,” he said during the vote.

Western New York Senators Chris Jacobs, Rob Ortt and Michael Ranzenhofer also voted against the repeal.

The State Assembly also debated for hours.

“People keep talking about this is against somebody. This is not against anybody. This is for some people. This is for many mothers, grandmothers and parents who quite honestly look like me. It’s for them,” New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said.

Assemblyman Patrick Burke spoke with 7 Eyewitness News during the vote.

“We all clamor for and demand more transparency and so I think that was the goal and I think it will be met,” Burke said.

The co-sponsor added his earlier concerns were ironed out through discussion and voted in favor of repeal Tuesday.

"All across the nation, there is a shared sense of anger and frustration over the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands of law enforcement," said Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie in a written statement.

"We must provide greater transparency and accountability to the public in order for people to believe that the system is fair and just," said Heastie.

Section 50-A allows police officers to refuse disclosure of personnel records used to evaluate performance.

The legislation will go to Governor Andrew Cuomo for his signature to become law.

Governor Cuomo named the repeal as one of four “cornerstones” of the “Say Their Name” initiative that came together after George Floyd’s death.

“People are saying it is enough and it is enough. It’s the same thing over and over and over again,” Governor Cuomo said Monday.

The New York State Legislature is also moving through a series of other police reform bills.

As of Tuesday night, at least eight passed both the senate and assembly, including the “Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act” and a bill requiring state police to wear body cameras.

“As soon as the bills are passed, I will sign them into law — hopefully, this week,” Governor Cuomo said Tuesday.

Senator Chris Jacobs released this statement:
“I was horrified by the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd. It is my hope and belief that justice will be done and those responsible will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The legislation proposed today by State Senator Bailey called for a repeal of Section 50-A of the Civil Rights Law. One of the primary purposes of this law is to stop defense attorneys from unfairly and inaccurately impugning the testimony of a police officer during a trial. For that reason, and because this repeal denies due process to law enforcement and first responders whose records are already available under a court’s discretion, I could not support the legislation and voted no.

At this critical juncture in our history, I look forward to having a real dialogue with criminal justice reform advocates, law-enforcement and first responders to find meaningful solutions to the very real problems facing our criminal justice system.”

Senator Robert Ortt said in a statement:

“Any officers who abuse their power as law enforcement officials and violate the trust we placed in them to uphold the law must be held accountable. On that, and the deeply disturbing events leading up to George Floyd’s death, there is little disagreement. We must continue reasonable discussions regarding the use of force, training, and community engagement. If we’re looking for unity, let’s continue to have these conversations, and let’s continue to stand with the men and women protecting our communities. Unfortunately, the misguided and reactionary actions of New York legislators will yield only further division and conflict. The demonization of law enforcement, where Democrats are calling to defund or disband our police, is a threat to public safety – for police officers and the communities they serve.”