Cuomo Vetoes Bill To Take Low Income Defense Costs Off Counties'

Cuomo Vetoes Bill To Take Low Income Defense Costs Off Counties' Hands

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Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill Saturday that would have would have required the state to pay the full costs of public defenders for low income people facing charges.

Currently, most counties pick up the tab for it.

Counties are mandated by the state to offer representation to indigent defendants.

The bill that was voted for unanimously by both the state senate and assembly, would have shifted the costs for these services from the county to the state over a seven year period.

St. Lawrence County Attorney Stephen Button said these costs are hindering the county, which is already in a tough financial situation.

"By vetoing this bill, the governor threw away a golden opportunity to provide true unfunded mandate relief and ensure all New Yorkers get a fair trial with an adequate defense," Button said.

Button said he and the many people and groups in the state that support it will continue pushing to get it passed.

In 2014, the state assumed the indigent defense costs for five counties after a lawsuit known as Hurrell-Herring.

Governor Cuomo said in his veto message that he feels the “groundbreaking advances in those five counties” should be there for the rest of the state, but he didn't think the bill reached that goal.

Cuomo said:

"Unfortunately, the Legislature did not adopt those modifications, highlighting a basic and fundamental misunderstanding within the Legislature as to the true, intended purposed of this bill,""The Legislature framed this bill as 'indigent defense' bill. It is not. This bill is nothing more than a backdoor attempt to shift costs from the counties to the state taxpayers under the guise of indigent defense."

Local lawmakers have also reacted to Governor Cuomo veto.

Assemblywoman Addie Jenne (formerly Addie Russell) said in a statement she's "disappointed by the governor's decision." She states that St. Lawrence County spent $2.3 million to fund it's indigent defense program in 2014, and Jefferson County spent just under $2 million.

"The governor has missed an opportunity to sign legislation that had strong bipartisan support in both houses of the state legislature. This veto once again keeps the heaviest burden on counties like those in the North Country with the least resources," she said.

State Senator Patty Ritchie also expressed in a statement that she's disappointed the governor vetoed the unanimously passed bill.

"As a strong supporter of this measure, I am committed to redoubling my efforts, alongside my colleagues in both houses of the Legislature and with the Governor, to make enactment of this reform a top priority in the new session about to get underway in Albany." Ritchie said.

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