One of the more controversial pieces of legislation signed into law last year was the “Green Light” Law, allowing illegal immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses.
Presented by its supporters as the “same law” adopted in other states, New York’s version contained a provision that prevents the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and other border-protection agencies from accessing records contained in the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) – something no other state does.
I voted against the “Green Light” Law because the thought of giving a driver’s license, a secure identification document, to someone who is intentionally breaking the law was inconceivable.
Now we are seeing additional consequences of this bad public policy – putting law enforcement agents
and the public at risk while shielding criminals from detection.
Recently, I joined with members of the state Senate and Assembly for a special DHS briefing detailing how New York’s law is blocking law enforcement agencies from receiving critical information.
According to a fact sheet provided by DHS:
• New York State’s “Green Light” Law prevents U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) from accessing all New York DMV information. This includes driver’s license information essential to our law enforcement and national security missions.
• By restricting access to all DMV information, the “Green Light” Law stands as a dangerous and unnecessary roadblock to ongoing federal investigations into a broad range of criminal activity, and severe impediment to our officers and agents in the field.
• ICE is not asking the State of New York to provide a list of illegal aliens, or to identify which individuals in its database are here illegally. ICE needs access to the information – just like all other law-enforcement agencies that work in the state – whether the subject of our inquiry is a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or illegal alien.
• Seventy percent of joint terrorism task force disruptions stem from arrests for immigration violations, yet the agency responsible for those arrests is now frozen out of New York DMV databases. This is a pre-9/11 mentality in a post-9/11 world.
•ICE’s need to access DMV records is essential to supporting criminal investigative efforts not only in New York, but also across the country and around the world. Our ability to identify and dismantle transnational criminal organizations – whether they’re flooding our communities with killer drugs like fentanyl and meth, trafficking weapons, peddling sensitive military technology, or selling women and children into miserable lives of sexual servitude – depends on getting the right piece of information into the right hands at the right time. And often, that piece of information is as simple as a license plate, and address, or a photograph.
The statistics back up the importance of the long-standing, cooperative relationship between ICE and state DMV. On a daily basis, ICE uses DMV data to fight a substantial number of crimes including drug smuggling, human trafficking and violent gang activity. In 2019, ICE arrested 149 child predators, seized 6,487 pounds of illegal narcotics, identified or rescued 105 victims of human trafficking/exploitation, and arrested 230 gang members – in New York alone.
The new law has also handcuffed local law enforcement. The state Sheriffs’ Association recently issued a letter to the governor and legislative majorities pointing out that for the sheriffs to keep their own officers safe by allowing access to DMV data, they had to sign non-disclosure agreements that jeopardize their federal partners.
Sharing of information is a critical component of law enforcement. New York State has taken an irresponsible action by enacting a law that blocks information from those who need it most. The “Green Light” Law has a number of flaws and must be repealed immediately.
Another week in Albany but still no legislative action has been taken to fix the disastrous bail/discovery laws that are continuing to wreak havoc across our state.
Protecting the public is one of the most important responsibilities of government, and when a crime has been committed, the victim, not the criminal, should be our first concern. Unfortunately, the disastrous new bail laws have completely reversed those priorities, endangering communities and empowering repeat offenders – while also forcing new costs on taxpayers.
This week I joined with other area lawmakers who represent our part of the state to speak out against the bail/discovery laws. Several county sheriffs and district attorneys, who are on the frontlines enforcing our laws and dealing with the negative fallout from the ill-advised reforms, also called for change.
I believe full repeal of the law is needed so we can start from scratch and enact a workable bail system. Someone arrested for a non-violent offense should not be languishing in a local jail simply because he or she does not have the economic means to make bail. However, the changes to the system have gone much too far, turning our court system into a revolving door and taking away any judicial discretion.
Commonsense legislation has been introduced in response to the concerns. I co-sponsor all of these bills, which range from full repeal to meaningful amendments, including:
S.6839 – giving judges discretion to set bail in domestic violence cases;
S.6840 – allowing judges to consider whether a defendant poses a danger to the community when determining bail;
S.6849 – repealing criminal-justice reforms enacted in the 2019-20 state budget, including bail and discovery changes;
S.6853 – placing a one-year moratorium on criminal justice reforms to hold statewide hearings on the measures;
S.7133 – to allow the witness to a crime to decide whether their personal information may be shared with defense counsel or the individual accused of a crime;
S.7280 – ensure privacy protections for all emergency personnel present at a crime scene as it relates to the discovery process.
The last two bills are extremely important when it comes to protecting the identity of witnesses of a crime and emergency personnel who are called to a crime scene. One of the more disconcerting policies enacted, as part of these sweeping changes, is the disclosure of personal information related to a witness to a crime to the defense and the accused.
Such a policy has the potential to lead to witness intimidation via the accused or their associates. This could have a crippling effect on cases presented by district attorneys, as well as a chilling effect on the willingness of witnesses to come forward to identify themselves to law enforcement and prosecutors.
It is important that the state provide a witness to a crime the ability to prevent personally identifiable information from being shared with the defense or the accused, if they feel that their safety or the safety of their loved ones is jeopardized through the reporting of such information. I would also note that a justification must be provided to law enforcement and is subject to review by a judge.
Along with introducing legislation and keeping the public informed on problems surrounding the bail/discovery law changes, the Senate Republican Conference has also commenced a statewide Repeal Bail Reform Task Force.
The task force, which just held its first meeting, will be collecting testimony from law enforcement officers, prosecutors, victims, local leaders, and the public who were shut out from publicly commenting last year before the sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice laws were enacted.
There have been countless stories, highlighting the problems with these so-called reforms since they took effect on January 1. An individual is arrested, immediately released, commits another crime, and is back in custody again – sometimes within hours. Action is needed to tilt the scales of justice away from criminals and back toward the law-abiding.
“My physicians have recommended a series of treatments over the next several weeks that will limit my availability and curtail my normal, active district schedule,” he said in a statement. “While I will be taking some time to concentrate on getting better, my offices will remain open and my capable staff will continue to assist constituents with their state-related needs.”
Jennifer Kirkpatrick, sister of Gillian Gibbons, asked 50 supporters gathered at the “Justice For Gillian” rally in Muller Plaza this afternoon to send letters asking the state Parole Board to deny convicted murderer David Dart parole in the stabbing death of Gibbons, 18, in Oneonta’s Municipal Parking Garage 30 years ago. “If he gets out, he will rape, he will kill again,” Kirkpatrick warned. With her is state Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, who helped put the rally together and has sponsored a bill to increase the time between parole hearings from two to five years for violent offenders like Dart. At right, Jennifer Miller Dutcher tells her story – that when they were teens, Dart, who lived with his grandparents across the street from her in Portlandville, held her at knifepoint and assaulted her. “We were able to get him sent away for a little while. But when Gillian’s life was taken, I was devastated. I didn’t think I did enough,” she said. Then shifting to address Bart, she said: “I am a victim who has a voice, and I am using that voice to ask you to keep him behind bars.” (Ian Austin/AllOTSEGO.com)
By State Sen. JIM SEWARD • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
Police, firefighters, and emergency first responders are vital to public safety. The brave men and women who work in these fields put the lives of others first and often risk their own well-being. I am appalled by recent incidents in New York City of individuals hurling buckets of water at on-duty police officers. Video of these abuses has spread on the Internet, certain to trigger copy-cat offenses.
This type of disrespect toward our uniformed police officers cannot be permitted to escalate further. To help thwart this behavior, I have joined with my Senate Republican colleagues in co-sponsoring legislation that would make this type of harassment a class E felony.
The new legislation (S.6641) reads in part:
“The men and women who serve and protect our communities as police officers risk their lives every day. Therefore, it is extremely disheartening that there are members of communities harassing these officers with water and at times even assaulting them. Law enforcement in our state deserves better.
Today the state Senate passed legislation, proposed by State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, to rename the Hamlet of Hartwick portion of Route 205 in honor of United States Marine Corps Sergeant John Kempe Winslow.
“Every man and woman who dons a United States military uniform sacrifices for our nation and our way of life,” said Seward. “Sergeant Winslow made the ultimate sacrifice and we owe it to him and his family to keep his memory alive.”
Sergeant John Kempe Winslow was a life-long resident of Hartwick and a decorated Marine who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, earning a Purple Heart during his first tour. Tragically, Sergeant Winslow was killed in action on July 30, 1969.
ONEONTA – State Sen. Jim Seward, R-Milford, this afternoon joined Greater Oneonta Historical Society officers in announcing a $250,000 state grant to largely complete the renovations of the second and third floors of the Oneonta History Center, 183 Main St.
The history center, Seward said, “is a showcase for the city’s past and a key component of the downtown revitalization taking place in Oneonta.”
In thanking the senator, GOHS President Corinne Bresee Smith expressed her organization’s gratitude, calling him “a native son of Oneonta (who) knows the value of our past and is invested in the vitality of our future.”