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A late-session surge to reform New York’s harsh drug laws appears to be gaining momentum, with all the major players expressing both a desire to achieve meaningful change and a willingness to compromise. Gov. George E. Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno are all indicating that a reform bill could be agreed upon before the end of session later this month. And instead of simply introducing one-way bills that amount to little more than press releases, there appears to be an effort to draft legislation that is acceptable to the various constituencies and actually has a chance of becoming law. Wednesday, for example, Silver, D-Manhattan, extended an olive branch to the governor in the form of a greatly revised bill addressing many of the concerns previously raised by the executive. Although the Assembly bill, A8888, would give judges more discretion than Pataki would like and would result in fewer determinate sentences than he proposes, the Democratic house and the Republican executive have never been closer. “It’s a good step and we’ll review it,” said Caroline Quartararo, a spokeswoman for Pataki. “We are working hard and hope to get something done.” Bruno, a Republican from Rensselaer County and leader of a house that has in the past been reluctant to reform the Rockefeller-era drug laws, Wednesday said he agrees that the statute should be revised, and is willing to compromise to achieve that result before the end of session. “Like any complicated piece of legislation, as this is, there is some give, there is some take, and if you negotiate in good faith, you try to work out a compromise,” Bruno said. “My position, bottom line, is we are hopeful of getting something done because we agree that the Rockefeller Drug Laws … need to be revised. We’re open and willing to look at whatever helps get a result that is in the best interests of most of the people in New York State.” Reform of the drug laws has proven an elusive task, both for advocates and politicians. But Pataki has continued to push the issue and is about to release his third proposal in less than two years to reform what critics deem the harshest drug statutes in the nation. Wednesday’s proposal by the Assembly Democrats was seen by some as a preemptive strike, an effort to claim the leadership role on a potentially important election-year issue. In any case, the bill compromises on several key points and represents a “last-ditch, all-out effort” to forge an agreement before time runs out, Silver said. COMPROMISE BILL “Today, we are unveiling what we hope will be the final compromise on legislation … that would hopefully break the logjam that is holding up action on this critical issue,” Silver said at a press conference. “This compromise bill … is our last, best hope of getting the governor to the negotiating table before the end of the current legislative session.” The compromise bill, sponsored primarily by Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry, D-Queens, would: � Afford prosecutors the first, but not last, word on whether lower-level offenders are diverted from prison to treatment. The governor would allow judges to overrule a prosecutor, but only under clearly proscribed circumstances. The Assembly measure would ultimately afford judges unfettered discretion. � Restrict the rehabilitation option by enacting a “one strike and you’re out” provision. Under that provision, an addict would be forever barred from treatment diversion if he or she successfully completed a court-sanctioned drug treatment program and then committed another drug offense. � Meet the governor halfway on determinate sentencings. The Assembly bill would eliminate parole and institute determinate sentencing for all Class A-1 and Class A-II felonies, but not for Class B and lower felony offenses. � Establish a training program for all judges handling drug cases. This provision is in response to a proposal by Pataki that would allow prosecutors to shift cases from assigned judges to those specially trained. Under the Assembly plan, all judges would be trained. � Largely adopt Pataki’s call for a mandatory 5-year minimum sentence for anyone possessing and intending to use a loaded handgun while selling or attempting to sell narcotics. Assemblywoman Helene E. Weinstein, D-Brooklyn, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, observed that the proposal would codify the drug courts now in operation statewide. BOTH SIDES MOVE “We are trying to meet the governor more than halfway,” Silver said. “We will pass this compromise bill within the next week … Let’s have some serious discussions … There is no reason to wait. There is no reason not to act now.” While Silver said that the Assembly was assuming a leadership role because the governor had not done enough, Assemblyman Joseph R. Lentol, D-Brooklyn, said Pataki has also made a significant effort. “To his great credit, the executive put out a proposal that first moved this proposition forward,” said Lentol, chairman of the powerful Codes Committee and one of a handful of lawmakers who were in Albany when the Rockefeller Drug Laws were enacted 30 years ago. Silver has “come up with a new proposal which really sets the framework for a compromise,” said Lentol. He added: “So I have to give great credit to [Silver,] who has shown the courage to come forward with a proposal and is willing to meet the governor half way. I believe the governor is a man of his word and he will meet us halfway.”

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