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Republican State Lawmakers Rally for Criminal Justice Changes in New Session

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Republicans gather on the Million Dollar Staircase at the Capitol
Credit: New York NOW

Republican State Lawmakers Rally for Criminal Justice Changes in New Session

Republican members of the state Legislature rallied at the state capitol in Albany on Tuesday for action at the state level to address the state’s rise in crime. 

The event focused largely on the proposed repeal of bail reform, a set of laws enacted last year that largely eliminated the use of cash bail for most nonviolent and lower-level charges.

Opponents of the new law have claimed that it’s to blame for the rise in crime, while supporters have said the benefits of eliminating cash bail outweigh the negatives. There has been no clear, data-driven analysis to support one side or the other. 

Republicans in the Legislature have called for the repeal of bail reform since the law took effect, and continued that effort Tuesday. A full repeal is unlikely, given that Democrats who crafted the law control the state Legislature, but amendments could be on the table this year.

Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt said that, if Democrats make changes to the state’s criminal justice laws again this year, they should collaborate with members of law enforcement on the new statute. 

“Our district attorneys, the ones who actually believe in putting people behind bars who commit crimes, I mean, they could tell you how to make it better,” Ortt said.

The State Association of Chiefs of Police has pitched its own proposal to lawmakers, who haven’t warmed up to it.

Their proposal would eliminate cash bail entirely in New York, and replace it with a system that would allow judges to decide if someone should be held in jail before their trial based on their criminal history, flight risk, or so-called “dangerousness.”

Criminal justice reform advocates have criticized the potential use of a “dangerousness” standard. They’ve argued that allowing judges to measure someone’s threat to public safety could have disproportionately negative outcomes for people of color. 

But Ortt said that, leaving the current law in place, poses a danger to all New Yorkers — regardless of demographics.

“I would argue that the victims of all of these crimes we’re talking about, they are victims of color and minorities in many, many cases,” Ortt said. “So I don’t know how that’s social justice, that we’re creating more victims in minority communities, in poor communities.”

Democrats hold a firm majority in both the State Senate and the Assembly, so it’s unlikely that a Republican-led proposal would make it through either chamber. 

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, said last week that there’s no appetite to immediately change the state’s bail laws among her conference.  

“No, there is no desire at this point to make any changes,” Stewart-Cousins said. “As I said, the changes were long and hard-fought. As you know, we tweaked them to answer some of the issues that we saw come up.”

“Since people are collecting data, and are analyzing the data, we must, if we’re going to make changes, make changes based on fact. We can’t make changes based on innuendo, or hysteria, or because it’s a great political talking point.”

The state has released certain data related to the outcomes of individuals released before trial, but it doesn’t include numbers from before the new law took effect. That’s made it difficult to draw a clear before-and-after comparison.

Gov. Kathy Hochul has indicated that she’d be open to discussing potential amendments to the law with the state Legislature, but didn’t mention the issue by name in her State of the State address last week.