ALBANY – Democrats in the state Senate appear to be resisting big changes to New York’s bail reform law — despite both rising crime and indicators that Gov. Hochul and the Assembly are inching toward a deal in the state budget.
“Our bail reforms have no correlation with an increase in crime,” state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) insisted to reporters at the Capitol Thursday.
“The governor is putting [bail changes] forward. She wants to make sure there is a clarification of the jurisdiction and the discretion that the judiciary has and so we want to help clarify the judicial discretion as well as keep the integrity of our bail laws,” the Democratic powerbroker added.
Hochul has proposed nixing the so-called “least restrictive” standard for serious offenses, which judges say blocks them from jailing criminal defendants ahead of their trials — even when the underlying offense would otherwise allow for bail.
Assembly Democrats have floated a counter-proposal of their own in recent days that, while less sweeping than what Hochul is proposing, makes the lower chamber look more serious about a budget deal than the state Senate.
“In the midst of all kinds of negotiations, normally ideas get exchanged,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told The Post when asked to confirm where the chamber stood. “It’s nothing different. The Senate puts ideas out there. The governor puts ideas out there. We put ideas out there and then you see what happens.”
Both Stewart-Cousins and Heastie have repeatedly argued that bail reform should not be blamed for rising crime in New York, considering that other states are also seeing increases.
But Hochul and critics of the 2019 law argue that her plan would eliminate ambiguity for judges and make it easier for them to remand criminal defendants they believe might endanger public safety or commit crimes if they are let out.
Legal experts say Hochul’s proposal would mean the end of a longstanding state requirement that bail only be used to ensure defendants show up in court for further hearings.
“We know that bail has really been defined everywhere. I mean people should know when bail is appropriate and when it isn’t. And so, no, I’m not interested in redefining bail,” Stewart-Cousins said Thursday.
Hochul and other Albany Democrats have already conceded they will not meet an April 1 deadline to pass a budget amid the ongoing standoff over bail and a controversial plan from the governor to build 800,000 new housing units statewide despite suburban resistance.
Hochul said Thursday that she does not mind blowing by the deadline if it means getting a better deal from Heastie and Stewart-Cousins – the so-called “people in a room” who decide the budget process along with the governor.
“This is something New Yorkers want. Their number one concern is crime, public safety. and there’s countless ways to approach that issue,” the governor told North Country Public Radio. “And so we are working together and meeting as recently as yesterday to talk about how we can get to the right place.”
The governor has significant leverage over lawmakers in a state budget process where she can keep operations running through budget extenders, which lawmakers cannot alter, while holding out for concessions.
Heastie expressed optimism that a budget deal could happen as soon as “Monday,” while Stewart-Cousins suggested a plan would get approved before the Passover and Easter holidays — which start April 5 — despite the ongoing impasse on bail.
But Stewart-Cousins signaled that she was not budging on a full rollback of bail reform while leaving negotiating space for tweaks that could “clarify” what discretion judges have following changes to the bail reform passed last year.
“We cannot support a system that basically keeps you in jail because you’re accused of a misdemeanor because you don’t have the money,” she said. “That’s what we did. And so we want to keep the integrity of that.”