New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is backing a series of changes to the state’s 2019 bail reforms, staking a position for the first time amid a raging debate over criminal justice in New York.
The Democratic governor sent a 10-point public safety plan to the state Legislature this week that, among other measures, would allow judges to set bail for additional charges and for repeat offenders. It would also grant judges more discretion to require bail in certain felony cases, based on a defendant’s criminal history or whether they possess a firearm.
Legislative leaders have made it clear they have no intention of rolling back the hard-won reforms of 2019. Hochul, who is mounting a run this year for a full term as governor, has been attacked by Republicans and moderate Democrats for not doing more to tamp down a persistent spike in crime in New York City and elsewhere.
Hochul’s embrace of bail-law changes puts her in line with New York City Mayor Eric Adams and comes amid final negotiations with legislative leaders on a $216 billion state budget, which is due before the start of the state’s new fiscal year on April 1. It also comes as she faces significant pressure to act on issues of public safety from Rep. Tom Suozzi, one of her opponents in the 2022 Democratic primary, along with Republican opponents including Rep. Lee Zeldin.
In a statement, Hochul spokesperson Hazel Crampton-Hays did not directly address the changes laid out in the 10-point plan.
“As the Governor has said consistently since becoming Governor, she does not negotiate in public,” Crampton-Hays said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the legislature to deliver a budget that serves New Yorkers.”
Hochul’s plan lays out specific changes in state law related to crime and public safety. Of those, four pertain directly to bail reforms:
- For the most serious of felony charges – including murder and criminal use of a firearm – Hochul would allow judges to impose higher bail requirements for a variety of reasons, such as the defendant having a “significant criminal history,” having violated an order of protection or having a “history of use or possession of a firearm.” Under current law, even in cases where judges can impose bail, they’re required to impose the “least restrictive” conditions possible to ensure the defendant shows up in court.
- The governor’s plan would also allow police to arrest someone for a crime that would normally require a desk-appearance ticket if the suspect received a ticket for a similar crime in the previous 18 months, which would clear the way for a judge to impose bail.
- Two of Hochul’s proposals would expand the universe of crimes that are eligible for arrest or bail conditions; adding hate crimes, lower-level gun crimes and crimes committed against MTA or Port Authority workers on public transit.
The remainder of Hochul’s plan focuses on other areas of state law. One measure would reduce the required number of illegal guns sold to trigger a gun-trafficking felony from five to two. Other proposals would make changes to recent state reforms regarding the discovery process and raising the age of criminal responsibility.
For Mayor Adams, whose 2021 mayoral campaign was focused on tamping down crime, Hochul’s proposals echo what he’s been asking Albany for since taking office.
“The governor’s proposal includes significant steps, which I have advocated for, that would make New York safer, while not undoing important reforms,” he said in a statement.
But based on recent comments by legislative leaders in Albany, the governor’s plan is likely to face headwinds.
“We have come to a point now where whatever happens, (there are) people who want to exploit the fact that we do not want to incarcerate people because they are poor,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, said earlier this week, accusing critics of bail reform of wrongly tying a local increase in crime to New York’s bail laws, despite crime statistics trending upward nationwide.
“Everything becomes a matter of quote-unquote bail reform,” she said. “The kind of orchestrated message that somehow this was wrong is not true.”
The Democrat-led Legislature and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo approved the 2019 bail laws as part of the state budget that year. They argued the changes were necessary to avoid criminalizing poverty by requiring detention simply because a defendant couldn’t afford to pay bail before trial.
Since then, Republicans and some more-moderate Democrats – including Adams – have seized on a recent increase in violent crime to push for changes, arguing the state should allow judges to consider the “dangerousness” of a defendant in determining bail restrictions.
Suozzi, a Democrat from Long Island, has already aired television advertisements knocking Hochul on the issue of crime. And on Thursday, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo – whom Hochul succeeded when he resigned in disgrace in August – called for changes to the same bail laws he approved during a speech to Hispanic clergy members in the Bronx.
“It doesn’t matter who it was or what it was — pull your head out of the sand and make whatever changes you need to make to fix it and fix it now so people feel free to walk the streets once again and provide hope that their government is actually working,” said Cuomo, who has been trying to re-establish himself in the New York political sphere.
When she has been asked about the issue in recent months, Hochul has spoken about why the 2019 laws were necessary in the first place. But she had also signaled she was “open to having conversations” about the issue.
Mike Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, declined comment on Hochul’s plan. A spokesperson for Stewart-Cousins didn’t immediately return a request for comment Thursday.
Marie Ndiaye, supervising attorney of the The Legal Aid Society’s decarceration project, called on legislative leaders to stand up to Hochul’s plan.
“The Legislature must reject outright any bail rollback proposal, including a ‘dangerousness’ provision, from Governor Hochul that will only increase jail populations, disproportionately impacting Black and brown New Yorkers,” Ndiaye said in a statement. “Changes to the law that focus on the results of historically racist policing will undoubtedly produce racist outcomes.”