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Bail reform changes remain a factor in NY budget talks

New York state Capitol
Jim Levulis
/
WAMC

Talks on the New York state budget are in the final stages. 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.

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

Hochul says 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,” the Democrat said on March 25th. “As well as respecting the rights of individuals.”

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

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

“This wasn’t reform, this was an attempt at revolution,” Ortt said. “A political and criminal justice revolution. 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, says 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 a majority of Democrats.”

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

Greenberg says 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.

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

Greenberg says 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 say the poll shows that New Yorkers have been “misled” about the laws.

In a statement, Marvin Mayfield, with the Center for Community Alternatives blames law enforcement and some politicians, who he says deliberately spread misinformation about reforms. He says there’s been no data linking the changes to the current crime wave, and he says 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.

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