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Hochul cites rising crime, pushes plan to revise NY’s bail statutes

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  • Staff Report 

Governor Kathy Hochul has announced her plans to revise the state’s bail statutes amid rising crime rates. The bail statutes were overhauled four years ago, but have remained a topic of debate among many, including members of her own party. Hochul’s announcement came during a news conference held in the Red Room, where local mayors and law enforcement officials, including police chiefs and district attorneys, were in attendance.

The Governor presented crime statistics that she said were both promising but also cause for concern. She noted that the numbers of shootings and homicides have decreased, but the rate of index crimes, which measures a serious problem with not just shootings and murders but other serious crimes, has increased by 21 percent.

Hochul acknowledged that the intention of the retooled statute is important and must not be undone, but that removing the “least restrictive” standard that has caused confusion among many judges must be addressed in the interest of public safety. She wants to make it clear that judges have the authority and the accountability for these important decisions. However, many defense attorneys, progressive lawmakers and advocates who fought for years to overhaul the state’s bail system, have rejected the assertion that the increases in index crimes are a byproduct of the retooled statutes.

Hochul’s office has rejected the idea that judges need mandatory training on how to apply the bail laws. Her administration’s argument is focused on whether a judge can incarcerate someone accused of a violent crime or who is repeatedly arrested while awaiting trial for earlier offenses. Law enforcement officials said this is driving crime rates up. The nuance in the argument is often absent from public political debates on the state’s bail laws. Progressives say any alterations would undo the intent of the changes while their opponents contend there are adjustments that can be made to the statutory language that will protect the public without unduly incarcerating individuals.

Hochul said she wants to send a clear signal to judges that anyone charged with a “qualifying offense” can be held in jail on bail while awaiting trial. However, public defenders have countered that bail is solely a tool to ensure a person’s return to court and not a factor in whether they pose a public safety danger to themselves or others.

The governor may face political roadblocks on her bail proposal, which could force her to trade on items she wants in the budget, including her statewide housing plan. She may also be working with limited support from Democratic state lawmakers, though. Hochul faced similar challenges in her fight over the nomination of Justice Hector D. LaSalle as chief judge to the Court of Appeals. She leaned on moderate state senators in the LaSalle fight, but was quickly outnumbered by progressives and staunch organized labor supporters.

Before her news conference, a group of state senators stood on a staircase one floor above the Red Room to rail against Hochul’s recent financial support from former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. The billionaire is contributing $5 million to an advertising campaign to support the governor’s budget proposal, which does not include a tax hike on the state’s wealthiest residents.