Bail reform changes expected in NY state budget

Some changes to bail reform are expected as part of the upcoming state budget, as lawmakers continue to negotiate.

The agreement would allow judges to set bail for more offenses and would make it easier to keep repeat offenders in custody before trial.

The proposal would also make more gun crimes bail eligible, as well as hate crimes. 

Bail reform has proven a major sticking point in negotiations over the state budget, as lawmakers have been at odds over the issue and other policies that some want to pass through the budget. A 2019 New York law eliminated cash bail for many nonviolent offenses following outcry over the scores of people being held behind bars awaiting trial because they couldn’t afford to pay bail.

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While some law enforcement officials, as well as Republicans and some Democrats, want New York to allow for bail in more cases following high-profile shootings by people released under the bail law, other Democrats and criminal justice advocates have pointed out that many states with fewer limits on bail are also seeing signs of a rise in violent crime.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called Hochul's proposal to allow judges to consider whether a person may be a danger to the public in bail decisions a nonstarter.

Deputy Senate Majority Leader Michael Gianaris said Tuesday that lawmakers have also agreed to tweak a New York law that lays out how courts handle discovery in criminal cases.

Negotiations over the state budget dragged on six days beyond an April 1 deadline on Wednesday without votes on budget bills. Lawmakers opted to extend their hotel stays in response, with Sen. Joe Angelino, a Republican of central New York, saying he planned to find an air mattress for his office just in case.

Negotiators still have to finalize details for seven remaining spending plans — including infrastructure, local aid and education. It takes hours to polish and print out each of those plans, and lawmakers must also be briefed and hold debates.

Lawmakers must pass the budget by 10 a.m. Monday to ensure 82,000 state administrative employees get their paychecks on time, according to state comptroller spokesperson Jennifer Freeman.

Another issue that remains unsettled: whether New York should make it easier to allow mental health professionals to seek longer involuntary hospital stays for individuals.

Sen. Diane Savino, a Democrat of Queens, and Sen. George Borrello, a Republican from western New York, are sponsoring such legislation and say the existing 72-hour hospitalization period isn’t enough to stabilize patients.

But critics say such proposals violate the constitutional rights of people facing mental distress who fare better with community-based programs.

New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services CEO Harvey Rosenthal, said he and others with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence: "We’ve had a couple of high profile incidents and it’s really just unleashed a torrent of lock-em up, sweep-them-away approaches, and it’s really reprehensible."

Gov. Hochul proposed a $216.3 billion budget in January, but lawmakers who want to tap into strong tax revenues expect the final amount will be higher.

The public won't get to see final details — including a potential suspension of the gas tax and increased spending on overdue utility billsandCOVID-19 rental relief — until shortly before lawmakers take their final votes.

Lawmakers typically must wait three days before voting on a bill, but the governor can waive that requirement.

Republicans and some Democrats want to see specifics from Hochul's office about how exactly New York will fund its promised share of $600 million to subsidize a new football stadium in a Buffalo suburb. It's possible, for example, that Hochul could fund the project without lawmaker approval by diverting casino revenues from the Seneca Nation.

Some Democrats and good government groups have blasted the deal as a corporate giveaway that would enrich Bills' vendor Delaware North, which employs Hochul's husband William. Hochul has promised to not use her position to benefit Delaware North, and the company has barred William from working on state issues.

With the Associated Press.