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Pataki Signs Bill Softening Drug Laws

New York Times, Aug. 31, 2005

by Michelle O'Donnell

Gov. George E. Pataki signed a bill into law last night that will soften the so-called Rockefeller drug laws, his office said.

The new law will allow about 540 inmates - those convicted of Class A-2 felonies - the chance to petition for resentencing and early release.

It is the second piece of reform to the drug laws that were passed in 1973 and that established mandatory sentences that in some cases were longer than those for murder convictions. Last December, Governor Pataki signed a bill allowing 446 inmates serving time for A-1 felonies to petition for a reduction in their mandatory sentences.

The bill, one in a batch of about 100 that the governor signed about 7:30 p.m., would have gone into effect at midnight without Mr. Pataki's signature unless he had vetoed it.

The governor, who is weighing a run for president, signed the bill "based on its merits," a spokesman, Kevin Quinn, said.

While reformers hailed the new law last night, they said they would like to see more done to dismantle the drug laws. "We took 2 steps forward on Rockefeller reform last December, and we're taking another step forward today, but we have another good 10 steps to go," said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group focused on changing national drug policy.

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