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Mixed Reaction To Gov. Cuomo’s Gun Emergency Declaration

Senator Sue Serino, during a November 2019 press conference at the State Capitol, proposes changes to NY's bail reform laws.
Senator Sue Serino, during a November 2019 press conference at the State Capitol, addresses proposed changes to NY's bail reform laws.

Governor Andrew Cuomo's "disaster emergency" over gun violence is drawing mixed reaction from local and federal officials.

On July 6th Cuomo, a Democrat, unveiled a seven-point plan calling gun violence an "emergency public health issue," announcing $138 million in new spending to try to stop the surge in shootings.

Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who ran against Cuomo in 2018, says if this is really the emergency Cuomo has declared it to be, he would immediately issue orders reversing bail reforms.

"Unless they are willing to suspend access to cashless bail and return some discretion to judges, then this is not a serious effort. With all due respect, what the governor, and quite frankly the Democratic majority in both houses have created, is a criminal justice syste that now empowers criminals, and almost encourages individuals to continue to break the law without incentives not to."

Democratic Albany County D.A. David Soares says bail and discovery reform impacts people of color in communities of color throughout the Capital Region. He recently published a blistering op-ed on the issue in the New York Post.

"Governor Cuomo's efforts to run away from the very criminal justice reforms that have put us, you know, in the, in the circumstances that we're all experiencing right now, and when I say 'we are all experiencing,' let us, let us be very clear that we are experiencing this differently than the people who have to labor under the burden of those reforms. And the people that I'm referring to are the victims of crime, that continue to have to live in communities where shootings are the norm."

Capital Region cases include several shootings involving then 17-year-old Jarrell Howard, sentenced to prison a year ago in connection with a daytime incident where a 3-year-old was shot in the arm while sleeping inside a daycare. While Howard was free he was accused in several Albany shootings including a homicide days before his sentencing.

Democratic Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan says there's no simple answer to the challenges the community is facing.

"It's far too simplistic to just point to one thing, you know, bail reform, for example, and say that that's the cause. We can't point to one thing, you know, of COVID being the cause. This is complex. And we, you know, I think it's misleading, to suggest that there's a simple solution to this. You know, we had it, we had a justice system that cut that shut down, you know, our courts are just beginning to reopen. And so there are multi layers to this. I think that we have to talk about what we can be doing, you know, with the county, and working with other partners, for example, on pretrial supervision, what are the other things that we need to put in place in order to ensure that, you know, bail reform works the way that it was intended to."

Congressman Paul Tonko, also a Democrat, says lawmakers can update national policies including background checks, stopping weapons transfers across state borders and more.

"Well I think every common sense approach should be taken to addressing violence in our communities. You know, the stats out there are pretty alarming. And I think it's important for us to utilize whatever tools we have in government policies, laws that can be enacted, resources that can be advanced to address safety."

Soares says the state "must give judges discretion to keep dangerous offenders in jail."

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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