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State Budget-NY

This photo shows an exterior view of the New York state Capitol Monday, April 1, 2019, in Albany, N.Y. A statewide ban on plastic bags and first-in-the-nation tolls for motorists entering the busiest sections of Manhattan are coming to New York under a new state budget that takes several ambitious steps to address long-standing environmental and transportation challenges. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

A proposal to prevent the release of arrest records and mugshots was amended in the final budget approved by state legislators Monday. 

The initial plan that was part of the public protection and general government budget bill would've prohibited the release of booking information and mugshots. The release of the records, the legislation claimed, is an "unacceptable invasion of the individual's personal privacy." 

However, the language was changed in a separate budget bill. The revenue bill, which is usually the last to be finalized by the governor and state lawmakers, contained an amendment to the public protection measure that removed mentions of "booking information" but kept the ban on releasing mugshots. 

Law enforcement agencies could release mugshots if the images "will serve a specific law enforcement purpose and disclosed is not precluded by any state or federal laws," the bill states. 

There is support for the so-called "mugshot ban" from criminal justice advocacy groups. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed limiting the release of the photos to combat extortionist websites. There are websites that post mugshots online, then demand payment if an individual seeks to have a photo removed. 

A State of the State booklet released by Cuomo's office in January explained that websites often charge up to $400 to have the images removed after publication. The proposal, the book continues, "will prevent the release of information that fuels this extortionate practice and help ensure the privacy of individuals." 

Critics of the provision have noted that while it would be more difficult to obtain mugshots, it wouldn't do anything to address the existence of these websites. 

California is one of several states that have enacted laws to prohibit websites from extorting individuals to remove mugshots. 

Diane Kennedy, president of the New York News Publishers Association, believes there is another motive for the change: It will help people who say they can't get a job after reports of their arrest. 

"It really is the idea that arrests should be secret and should not be disclosed because they can cause difficulties for the arrested person down the road," she told The Citizen last week. 

Some law enforcement officials have spoken out against the new provision. 

In an email to The Citizen, Cayuga County Sheriff Brian Schenck argued that there would be a "legitimate public safety interest" in the arrest records and mugshots. 

Before the state budget was approved, Schenck said he opposed the plan. 

"The public has a right to know who violates the law," he said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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