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Governor pushes for more restrictive bail law; local legislators have mixed opinions

Gov. Kathy Hochul is pushing for more restrictive bail legislation ahead of a state budget vote. 

An internal memo leaked to national media earlier this month outlines a 10-point plan that would make, among other things, more crimes bail eligible and allow arrests for repeat offenses. The New York Times and New York Post have both reported the governor is pushing to include the plan, which she later outlined with Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin in an op-ed published by the New York Daily News, as a non-fiscal element of the $216 billion state budget due on April 1. 

The state press office pointed Times Review to the op-ed published by the New York Daily News and did not clarify if the governor plans to include the policy in her budget.

The governor highlighted the necessity of 2019 bail reforms in her op-ed, and emphasized that data does not suggest the amendments have contributed to a national increase in violent crime.

“Blaming bail reform for the increase in violence that cities across America are facing isn’t fair and isn’t supported by the data,” she wrote. “Doing so risks distracting us from what are likely far more significant factors: upheaval from the pandemic, the availability of illegal guns, increased gang activity, lower arrest rates and a backed-up court system, to name a few.”

Recent reports from the Brennan Center for Justice, a nonprofit public policy institute at New York University School of Law, and the New York City comptroller’s office highlight the lack of connection between increased crime and 2019 bail reform.

Ms. Hochul noted in her op-ed that bail reform still has room for improvement. Police should be able to arrest someone committing a second or third offense while out on pretrial release; hate crimes should be subject to arrest; and judges should be allowed to set bail for repeat offenders, she wrote.

Judges should also be able to set bail in all felony cases involving illegal guns, including incidents that involve minors, and judges should be able to set more restrictive pretrial conditions for individuals charged with violence and gun crimes, according to the governor.

She also proposed changing the law to “better enable licensed mental health professionals to collaborate with crisis intervention teams and police” and strengthening Kendra’s Law to make it easier for judges to require individuals struggling with serious mental illness who could be dangerous to themselves or others to participate in mandatory outpatient treatment, as well as providing additional psychiatric beds in community-based hospitals and housing.

The governor pointed to the enacted “Less is More” legislation, that does not imprison individuals for technical parole violations, and a proposal to allow incarcerated individuals to participate in the state’s Tuition Assistance Program to better rehabilitate those serving jail time.

“Taken together, these changes will continue the work of improving our laws, policies and practices to make our state a fairer and safer place — exactly what the legislature endeavored to do in 2019 and what we pledge to keep working with them on,” she wrote. 

State legislators, including those on the North Fork, have expressed mixed opinions about the governor’s bail reform plan.  

State senator Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) said via email that “bail reform has been a complete and utter failure” that “has made our communities less safe and the job of law enforcement more dangerous.”

“The law was so poorly crafted it has already been revised once and state leaders, in an election year, are saying they want to make more changes because of the fallout from this disastrous policy,” he said. “Bail reform or no cash bail needs to be fully repealed.” 

The state legislature needs to work with law enforcement stakeholders “to come up with real solutions,” he said, adding that bail reform is “only one of several pro-crime policies enacted since Democrats took complete control of State Government,” and “anti-police rhetoric in Albany has made New York State a haven for criminals and a nightmare for law abiding New Yorkers.” 

Assemblyman Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), however, said he agrees with Ms. Hochul that “bail reform is not solely to blame for what has been a national spike in crime,” and that the current law still needs improvement, especially the areas on repeat offenders and gun crimes. 

“I am the co-sponsor of several bills already that would revise the bail reform law,” he wrote in an email. “I think the governor is on the right track and I look forward to working with her on constructive solutions.”

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) called “Clean Slate” and bail reform “the two hot ticket items” in budget discussions. The “Clean Slate” bill would automatically seal certain convictions if passed.

Ms. Giglio said, as of last Thursday, neither are in the proposed budget nor were included in the governor’s 30-day amendment.

“[Gov. Hochul is] just, in my opinion, feeling the heat from the public and everybody writing about all the crime,” she said. Ms. Giglio said she does not support “Clean Slate” because employers “need to know who they’re hiring.”

“If you’re just letting everybody out of jail and they’re second or third offenders, and you’re hiring somebody that just stabbed somebody, do you want to put them in a manufacturing warehouse and give them a box cutter?” she said.

Bail reform, however, is needed, she added. 

“Nobody should be in jail for three years with a $250 bail that they can’t afford because they stole a backpack,” Ms. Giglio said. But second- or third-time offenders, or those charged with violent crime, should face consequences. 

“I think it’s more important to spend money on rehabilitation of our younger generation, and keeping the people that are repeat offenders in jail,” she added. Jurisdiction should be totally given to judges and there should be consecutive sentences, rather than concurrent, she said.

“If you’re charged with something, you get 10 years and that’s it. If you do it again, you don’t get another 10 years,” she said. “So you could commit three crimes and where you’d get 30 years, you’re only getting 10 years.”

Ms. Giglio doesn’t believe the proposal that’s been presented to the public will end up in the budget, nor does she believe policy decisions should be included in the budget. She also does not believe the New York City Democrats will support the budget unless it doesn’t touch bail reform and include “Clean Slate.”

And as far as crime statistics, Ms. Giglio said: “We don’t look at them as statistics, we look at them as victims, people that have lost their lives due to these policies. Those are the numbers, the numbers are people that have died.”

Assembly speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said in a recorded discussion with journalists, emailed by his press office to Times Review, that there’s concern about how desk appearance tickets are treated differently across the state and emphasized that legislators want to have a discussion and “not feel rushed into doing things.”

“These are discussions about life, liberty. Everybody, every single assembly member wants their communities to be safe,” he said. “Crime is up all over the country. We just came out of a major, major pandemic that I’m not even sure we’re even out of yet. I think we need to be looking at that as well. Members are willing to have the discussion.”

The governor’s plan is requesting “major policy changes,” he added, and pointed out that the original bail reform law was negotiated over months.

“Members just want to be able to do their jobs and think about this, and understand differing opinions, different interpretations of law, and I just don’t know if that can be figured out in [a few] days,” he said.

Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), the Democratic majority leader of the state Senate, said in a recorded discussion with journalists — sent by her press office to Times Review — that more needs to be invested into mental health.

“Good policy is good politics,” she said. “When we did our bail laws, we did it with the idea that if you misdemeanor, nonviolent felonies, you don’t need to be staying in jail for three years, or two years, because you don’t have money.”

She also emphasized that the country is emerging from a pandemic and many pretrial services and opportunities for diversion and support didn’t happen over those years. State legislators are concerned about the spike in crime, but the increase has occurred across the country and is unconnected to New York bail reform, she said.

The governor’s 10-point plan did take her by surprise, but Ms. Hochul “has obviously been thinking about it, just as we all have,” she said.

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