New York state Assembly at the state Capitol in Albany. Photo: Hans Pennink

Legislation that would allow associates or family members of President Donald Trump to be brought up on state charges by prosecutors in New York after receiving a federal pardon has hit a snag after some Democrats in the state Legislature were unwilling to support it as written.

Now lawmakers are working with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James—a major proponent of the legislation—to likely amend the bill a second time before it’s approved in both chambers.

The bill would close the so-called “double jeopardy loophole” in New York, which prohibits state prosecutors from bringing state charges against someone pardoned of federal crimes based on the same set of facts. It was first introduced last year by State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Nassau, and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-Brooklyn.

After stalling last year, it was reintroduced in January and appeared to be gaining momentum last month when James and lawmakers announced an amended version of the legislation that was expected to pass soon after. Instead, lawmakers tabled the bill to focus on the state budget.

That changed Monday when the legislation cleared a major hurdle in the Senate by passing the codes committee, which typically reviews legislation that would change the state criminal procedure law. There was no debate on the bill in the committee, despite it being considered among the more controversial pieces of legislation lawmakers may take up during the remainder of this year’s session.

Kaminsky, a former federal prosecutor who helped craft the new version, lauded the committee’s approval in a statement after it passed. It will now go to another committee before coming to the Senate floor for a vote.

“We are one step closer to ensuring New Yorkers get the justice they deserve in their own courts, even if the president tries to intervene on behalf of friends, family, or cronies,” Kaminsky said. “I applaud the Senate’s Codes Committee for advancing this critical legislation. Now the full Senate and Assembly must act—and quickly—to ensure the double jeopardy loophole is closed before any presidential pardons rob New Yorkers of their right to justice.”

A spokeswoman for James said they’re looking forward to seeing the legislation through to passage after it cleared the codes committee Monday.

“This vote is an important step in our efforts to ensure that justice cannot be evaded because of a loophole in our laws. We look forward to the passage of this bill,” the spokeswoman said.

But the bill isn’t expected to get the same treatment in the Assembly anytime soon. Lentol, who chairs the codes committee in that chamber, said the bill was not well received when he discussed it with other Democrats in the chamber last month.

“We conferenced the bill before we did the budget and most of our Democratic members were opposed to it,” Lentol said. “They weren’t really receptive to the idea. So it’s kind of in limbo right now.”

Some members were concerned about how narrowly the bill focused in on Trump, his family and his close associates, Lentol said. The bill is written in a way that would only allow state charges to be brought against a pardoned individual with direct ties to Trump, either through his family, their work on his campaign, or their work in the White House.

Those objections come with a shade of irony; Democrats opposed the legislation last year because they argued it was written too broadly at the time. The initial bill would have allowed state prosecutors to bring charges against just about anybody pardoned of a federal crime, which some said could backfire during future administrations.

Now, Lentol said, members were concerned the legislation would be perceived as being written to specifically target Trump and his associates. That’s not necessarily untrue—the bill was inspired by Trump. But both Kaminsky and Lentol have said it would be good policy to have in place regardless of who’s in the oval office.

“Most of them had fairly sound objections to it—it looks like we’re targeting Trump with the way we proposed the new bill, the other bill was more general in its scope,” Lentol said. “So we tried to narrow it and in narrowing it I think we made a mistake. I know the Codes [Committee] staff has been working with the attorney general, I hope, to make some changes.”

There have also been concerns about the political implications of the legislation going into next year’s election cycle, Lentol said. Some Democrats in districts that could flip during any given election were concerned that passing a bill seen to specifically target Trump could cost them their district.

“I think that’s what made it more objectionable than before, that people in the conference were thinking it looked like we were just targeting the guy, and that it might be hurtful in the elections, and especially for members who have close elections,” Lentol said.

It’s unclear how members will reach a middle ground on the legislation at this point, but Lentol said they will continue to work toward a solution that could win support from the conference. They’ll leave Albany after this week for a short break and return at the end of the month to resume the final two months of this year’s legislative session, which ends in June.

 

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