In 2019, New York eliminated the use of cash bail for most misdemeanors, among other reforms to the state’s bail laws. But the backlash was swift, with some politicians, law enforcement, and members of the public drawing a connection between the revisions to the law and an increase in crime, though that hasn’t been fully substantiated. Nevertheless, the debate prompted the legislature to approve rollbacks of some of the reforms in 2020, including those allowing judges more discretion in setting bail and making more offenses bail-eligible.
The controversy surrounding bail reform has yet to die down. The subject of crime dominated the 2022 election cycle, with Kathy Hochul being hit on the issue heavily during both the primary and the general election as she sought her first full term as governor. Lee Zeldin, the Republican nominee, in particular weaponized the subject, attempting to link the governor to the law and to violent crimes across the state.
On Wednesday, Hochul made it clear that she intends to keep pushing for one change in particular: the requirement that judges apply the “least restrictive” conditions possible to get a defendant to return to trial, which is the purpose of setting bail to begin with. If she gets her way, judges would be given greater discretion in setting bail.
“I’m looking forward to a thoughtful conversation with the legislature about our bail laws. I reaffirmed my belief in the necessity of making changes. I will not turn our backs on the progress that was made. But conflicting language in the law leads to confusion and a lack of accountability for the judges to make their determinations. So, let’s just simply provide clarity,” Hochul said during her announcement of her $227 billion budget proposal, which contains the proposed change. “Let’s ensure judges consider factors for serious offenders and let’s leave the law where it is for low level offenses and move forward and focus on our other public safety challenges.”
This is not likely to go over well with a significant portion of Democratic lawmakers in Albany, many of whom feel the law has undergone enough revisions. What’s more, relations between the governor and her party have been hurt by the ongoing standoff over Hochul’s rejected nomination of Judge Hector LaSalle to be chief judge of the court of appeals, the state’s highest court. Senate Democrats voted against LaSalle’s nomination in committee, which has led Hochul to consider taking legal action against the chamber to have her pick go to the full Senate for a vote, a decision that continues to loom over the budget proceedings.
Hochul could have some support from an unlikely source: Republicans in Albany. During a January press conference, Republican lawmakers suggested they’re in favor of further changes to the bail laws but that what Hochul’s proposing might not be sufficient. “I don’t think that’s enough, but it’s a small step in the right direction,” said Senator Thomas O’Mara, according to the Albany Times-Union.