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Senator O'Mara's weekly column - “Law and order cannot take a back seat”

It has been information-gathering season at the Capitol with the Legislature holding public hearings on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s 2020-21 proposed state budget.

The hearing topics highlight the many responsibilities we face: environmental conservation, transportation, health care, education, local government, economic development, and taxes. In other words, a full plate of challenges.

However, the issue of public safety continues to take center stage. For the foreseeable future, new laws already enacted (and under consideration) by this governor and a state Legislature under one-party, downstate Democrat control (with a far-left, radical, self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist wing of the party firmly entrenched at the highest levels of decision making) promises to turn this state’s system of criminal justice into something that many everyday citizens will simply not recognize or understand.  

Most reasonable people agree that public safety is a fundamental responsibility. That is not the thinking in this one-party Legislature.

Many New Yorkers are well aware of the “No Bail” controversy.  Last week, another concern resurfaced. Remember that Governor Cuomo and the Democrat legislative majorities enacted the so-called “Green Light Law” as a top priority in 2019. It authorizes driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.

I joined many in law enforcement and local government to oppose the move as reckless. Lawbreaking illegal immigrants should not be rewarded with a government-issued driver’s license, for numerous reasons.  

Several county clerks have unsuccessfully challenged the law. Now the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) weighs in. A joint statement last week from New York’s U.S. attorneys noted that a “less heralded – though perhaps more impactful – provision of the statute prevents the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from sharing information with any agency that enforces immigration law.” It has “a much broader adverse effect on law enforcement and public safety,” they said.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other federal law enforcement agencies regularly rely on state-level DMV information to protect public safety. The U.S. Attorneys state that DMV information assists “in stopping transnational criminal organizations, cybercrime, and offenses involving drug trafficking and money laundering; murder, sexual assault, and other crimes of violence; racketeering and extortion; the illegal use and possession of firearms; economic espionage, telemarketing fraud, and elder fraud; human trafficking; and child exploitation, as well as illegal immigration.”

Nevertheless, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature’s Democrat majorities approved a law essentially telling federal law enforcement, “Get lost.”

New York’s U.S. Attorneys state, “Our citizens, lawful permanent and temporary residents, visitors…deserve better, and so do those who serve and protect them. Restoring collaboration and information sharing furthers our effort to secure justice for all, preserve public safety, protect individual rights, and promote due process, bringing us ever closer to a sanctuary built on the rule of law and fairness for everyone.”

In a strongly worded statement, the State Sheriff’s Association adds, “We feel compelled to express our opposition and deep concern…Our inability, under the new law, to share DMV data with federal immigration officers jeopardizes the safety of those officers. We find it offensive that, in order to avail our own Deputies of DMV data that they need for their own safe operations, we were coerced into signing a non-disclosure agreement which jeopardizes the safety of our federal partners.”  

The bottom line is straightforward for me: What is best for public safety? For this governor and this Legislature to have public safety keep taking a back seat to ideology (or, even worse, political gain), is wrong, it’s irresponsible, it’s dangerous, and it puts all of us at risk.

Law and order matters.

The 58th Senate District, one of New York State's geographically largest legislative districts, encompasses the following five counties across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions: Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben and Yates counties, and a portion of Tompkins County (the city and town of Ithaca, and the towns of Enfield, Newfield and Ulysses).

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