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Bail reform changes remain a factor in New York budget talks

Advocates really at the State capitol against changes to the state's bail reform laws on Monday, March 28, 2022. Credit: New York NOW
Advocates really at the State capitol against changes to the state's bail reform laws on Monday, March 28, 2022. Credit: New York NOW

NEW YORK NOW - Talks on the New York state budget are in the final stages, and this year’s sticking points aren’t about spending but on unrelated policy items, including making changes to the state’s landmark 2019 bail reform laws.

Gov. Kathy Hochul in recent days has been pressing for changes to the state’s bail reform laws, outlined in a 10-point memo that her staff presented to the Legislature. The proposals include adding more crimes, including those related to guns, to the list of offenses eligible for bail. They would also give judges more power to impose bail.

Legislative leaders, who championed the 2019 changes, have been resistant to repealing portions of the laws. The Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian Legislative Caucus has introduced 10 counterproposals that instead focus on more funding for mental health and other support services.

Hochul said she expects criminal justice changes to be included in the final spending plan.

“I feel very committed to making sure that we ensure public safety for the state of New York; all New Yorkers deserve to be safe,” Hochul said on March 25. “As well as respecting the rights of individuals.”

Republicans, who are in the minority in both houses of the Legislature, held a news conference Monday with law enforcement groups and district attorneys to press for bigger changes, including repealing some of the laws.

Senate GOP Minority Leader Robert Ortt said Democrats went too far when they changed the laws.

“This wasn’t reform, this was an attempt at revolution,” Ortt said. “They wanted the system to be overturned.”

A poll  released Monday by Siena College finds that the public backs making changes to the bail reform laws, said Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg.

“Nearly two-thirds of voters, 64%, think that the bail reforms resulted in the increase in crime that we are seeing right now,” Greenberg said. “Including the majority of Democrats.”

And he said a “near-unanimous” 82% of those surveyed believe judges should be given more discretion over whether to impose bail on a defendant.

Greenberg said it’s a reversal from when bail reform was approved in the spring of 2019. Then, 55% said it was good for New York, and 38% said it was bad for the state.

He said the public does have reservations, though, about repealing the laws altogether. Most, 56%, say they worry that a reversal would mean Black and brown New Yorkers would be treated unfairly compared to white residents.

Greenberg said respondents are saying, “Don’t go back to where we were, where poor people and people of color can be unfairly and unjustly incarcerated.”

Advocates for the bail reform laws said the poll shows that New Yorkers have been “misled.”

In a statement, Marvin Mayfield with the Center for Community Alternatives blamed law enforcement and some politicians, who he said deliberately spread misinformation about reforms.

He said there’s been no data linking the changes to the current crime wave, and he said the law has “spared countless New Yorkers the trauma and destabilization of pre-trial jailing,” and that has improved community safety.

Meanwhile, one part of the budget appears to be settled. Hochul and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills franchise announced a $1.4 billion deal to build a new stadium in Orchard Park in Erie County, along with a commitment for the Bills to remain in Buffalo for another 30 years.

The state will pay $600 million, and Erie County will come up with $250 million. The rest will come from the NFL and the Bills.