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Poll Finds Backing For New York State Bail Reform Plummets

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo

A new poll out Monday shows support for New York state's bail reform plummeting, following weeks of pushback about the new laws from police groups and prosecutors. 

The Siena College poll finds that just one third of New Yorkers now think that the January 1 laws were a good idea. They ended most forms of cash bail for non-violent crimes, and shortened the time prosecutors have to hand over evidence to defendants.  When it was first approved last April, 55% of voters liked the law.

Siena spokesman Steve Greenberg says the shift can, in part, be attributed to the public debate now playing out in the media, where law enforcement groups offer examples of repeat offenders they say are going free because of the new laws.

“It’s covered on NPR but also on the 6 o’clock news and the 11 o’clock news and the 8 o’clock morning news and in their newspaper,” Greenberg said. “So voters know what’s going on.”

Pro-bail reform groups have begun running television ads on Long Island, where the public has been divided on the issue. Greenberg says in those suburban areas, support for the bail reform laws has risen slightly, though the majority still oppose it. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo is one of several democratic law makers who backed the law but now says it may need revisions.

Cuomo says he hopes some changes can be included in the state budget due at the end of March. He says by then there will be some data collected on how well the law is working.

“The law went into effect in January,” Cuomo said. “We do a budget April 1. I think that is an appropriate amount of time to have an intelligent conversation. Let emotion subside, let people calm down a little bit - actually have some facts that you can discuss.”

Cuomo says he wants to separate the facts from what he calls, “crazy partisanship.” Some Democrats in the Senate say they also want to make some changes, including potentially giving judges more leeway to assign bail to some defendants.

Bail reform supporters are angered by those proposals. They planned protests at the capitol this week. So far Democrats in the Assembly say they don’t want to change the law.

Another recently enacted law that’s been causing controversy is the Green Light legislation which began in mid-December and allows undocumented immigrants to apply for standard driver’s licenses. The administration of President Donald Trump has said that because that law shields DMV data from federal agencies, New Yorkers will no longer be eligible for Trusted Traveler programs like NEXUS and Global Entry. The Green Light Law has never been popular overall with voters and Greenberg says it’s always been divided along political party lines.

“Dead even,” Greenberg said. “48% support, 48% oppose. And not surprisingly, democrats strongly support the law, republicans strongly oppose the law, independents are against the law but they are not as negative as they’ve been in the past which is why the support for the bill improved - albeit gradually.”

Cuomo says he’s continuing to try to talk to federal agencies to break the standoff over the DMV data but so far he says he hasn’t had any success.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.
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