On defense? New York governor defends bail reform policy, battle against crime

Democratic leaders in the legislature reportedly are cool to Kathy Huchul's ideas.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaks to the media during her swearing in ceremony at the New York State Capitol in Albany, New York on August 24, 2021.
NY Gov. Kathy Hochul
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New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is getting hit from all sides after her plan for reforming bail policies and battling crime has become public.

The Democratic governor, who succeeded former Gov. Andrew Cuomo last August and is running for a full term this year, outlined a 10-point proposal the New York Post reported last week. Hochul’s reforms would allow judges to use criminal history and other factors in cases involving serious felonies. It also would make repeat offenders potentially subject to posting bail.

Earlier this week, the Post reported that Democratic leaders in the legislature were cool to her ideas.

“We’re always happy to look again, but we’re not going back to a place that we weren’t at before we even began the discussion on bail,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins told reporters on Wednesday.

While Democratic lawmakers have hit her for going too far to the right, U.S. Rep. Tom Suozzi, a potential opponent in the party’s June gubernatorial primary, criticized her for not leading on the issue and instead having Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin take the point.

The Long Island congressman, speaking at the state Capitol on Thursday, said Hochul should be the one out front on the crime issue and not Benjamin, a former state senator who lost the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller last year.

“His main policy platform was defund the police,” Suozzi said. “All over his literature. All over his website. So that doesn’t make sense to me.”

Republicans meanwhile also have come out firing at Hochul, criticizing her remarks about not wanting to negotiate bail reform in public.

On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, wrote to Hochul reminding her that the bail reforms passed three years ago were done behind closed doors and that she also pledged to bring more transparency to Albany.

“The public deserves to know exactly who is being listened to when it comes to negotiating changes to bail and discovery laws and which provisions of the laws are being negotiated,” Ortt wrote. “This lack of transparency erodes the public’s trust in government.”

The topic of bail reform has come as crime rates have risen in New York. New York City Mayor Eric Adams, a former NYPD officer, has initiated new policies to help deter crime. Others have cited individuals being released without bail as a reason for the spike in violent crime.

However, a report by the Brennan Center released on Tuesday argued that any correlation between bail reforms and increased crimes may be specious. One reason, the report stated, was that crime rose across the country.

Beyond that, though, the Brennan Center pointed to research by the Albany Times-Union that out of 100,000 cases it reviewed involving a pretrial release tied to the new bail laws, just 2% of individuals in those cases were rearrested on a violent felony charge. And less than 0.5% were booked again on a violent felony involving a gun.

“These find­ings are prelim­in­ary, and future research­ers will certainly build on them,” the report states. “But as a first attempt to study the issue, the Times Union’s analysis suggests that as many as 80,000 people may have avoided jail incar­cer­a­tion due to cash bail because of the 2019-20 reforms and went on to pose no docu­mented threat to public safety.”

Hochul herself went to the Capitol press office on Friday and took questions from reporters about her plan, noting that the criticism of it tends to make her believe it’s a balanced approach.

According to a tweet from the Times-Union’s Josh Solomon, Hochul defended her 10-point plan as a “reasonable approach” that still protects defendants’ rights.

Per Solomon’s tweet, Hochul said, “As I’ve said and as I’ve written, this is not about undoing bail reform – it’s about finding areas we can strengthen it.”