April 5, 2019: The Legal Action Center (LAC) commends Governor Cuomo and the New York State Senate and Assembly on passage of a State budget last weekend that includes important advances in restorative justice and health equity that we – along with many in the criminal justice and substance use disorder advocacy communities – have sought for many years.
LAC Director and President Paul Samuels states, “We at the Legal Action Center are pleased that the 2019-2020 NY State Budget has prioritized key reforms that will enhance our justice system and improve health care access and treatment for New Yorkers.” He adds, “A number of the criminal justice reforms included in the final budget were those that LAC and partners in the Alternatives to Incarceration and Reentry Coalition and the Coalition of Reentry Advocates have championed for decades, including the removal of many barriers to employment, housing and other necessities of life faced by people reentering their communities from prison or jail, as well as the expansion of automatically sealing records of arrests that never led to conviction. Moreover, numerous other justice reforms in the budget such as increasing access to addiction medicine inside jails and prisons, and support for treatment in lieu of incarceration, will improve both public health and safety for all New Yorkers. The budget also includes monumental health insurance reforms cementing New York State as a national leader in ensuring substance use disorder and mental health care are provided at parity with other medical care and consumers are afforded the substantial health protections they deserve to obtain this life-saving care.”
Key Criminal Justice Reform Investments and Legislation
While we recognize this was a difficult budget, LAC is disappointed that the budget included no substantial increases for alternatives to incarceration (ATI) and reentry programming as there is still much work to do in bringing those critically important services to scale across the state. However, New York’s commitment to a fairer, more equitable criminal justice system is evidenced by many important measures that complement the necessary future growth of a statewide ATI and reentry network, including:
- Allocating $4.75M to expand access to medication-assisted treatment in criminal justice settings;
- Enacting a comprehensive reentry package to improve outcomes for formerly incarcerated individuals and others with criminal histories, including:
- mandating an individualized assessment of applications for most occupational licenses;
- preventing the release of mugshots except for law enforcement purposes;
- expanding automatic sealing records of arrests that never led to criminal convictions; and
- clarifying that applicants for most employment, licensing, volunteer positions, and housing do not need to disclose sealed criminal record information if they are illegally asked about it.
- Opting out of a federal law that poses driving restrictions for all drug convictions, even when they are not related to driving; and
- Eliminating cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies, modernizing discovery rules, and ensuring the right to a speedy trial.
Key Substance Use Disorder and Mental Health Care Investments
Faced with the ongoing crisis of overdose and suicide deaths across the state and nation, New York’s 2019-2020 budget includes critical reforms that will improve access to affordable, quality health care for all. The groundbreaking “Behavioral Health Insurance Parity Reforms” (BHIPR) adds additional important reforms to the state’s insurance law, so New Yorkers can more easily and effectively utilize health insurance coverage and access life-saving substance use and mental disorder treatment. Tracie Gardner, LAC’s Vice President of Policy Advocacy notes, “BHIPR is a great victory for people in need of substance use disorder and mental health care and their families and communities. LAC, along with our New York Parity at 10 partners and the broader mental health and substance use disorder advocacy community, have long advocated for and applaud these critically important reforms that entrench and build upon the values of the federal Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) in NYS law.” Among BHIPR’s important provisions are:
- Prohibiting pre-authorization and concurrent utilization review of substance use disorder (SUD) services during the initial 28 days of treatment – and of inpatient psychiatric services for youth services during the initial 14 days of treatment;
- Prohibiting pre-authorization for some prescribed medications for the treatment of SUD;
- Mandating that clinical review criteria used by utilization review agents be approved by the Commissioner of the Office of Mental Health (OMH) or designated by the Commissioner of the Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS) to minimize the rejection of benefits on the basis of Non-Quantitative Treatment Limits (NQTL);
- Prohibiting any adverse retaliatory actions towards providers filing complaints, making reports, or commenting to a government body regarding policies and practices that may violate BHIPR;
- Requiring insurers and health plans post additional information regarding their in-network providers of MH/SUD services; and
- Continued funding of the Community Health Access to Addiction and Mental Healthcare Project (CHAMP), as well as additional funding for staffing at the Department of Financial Services and the Department of Health to coordinate parity oversight and enforcement.
LAC has worked for many years to improve access to substance use and mental disorder treatment for all affected, and to advocate for a more equitable criminal justice system that centers on rehabilitation rather than punishment. The 2019-2020 NY State Budget includes many long-fought-for reforms that will improve the lives of our constituents and others across the state. LAC thanks Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie for their leadership in this process. We look forward to working with them on implementing the measures accounted for in this year’s budget, while continuing to advocate for truly transformative and expanded criminal justice and health policy reform in Albany for the remainder of the session and beyond.