Hochul sidesteps bail reform issue as GOP demands repeal

Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul answers reporters’ questions late Wednesday morning after a press conference in New York City. Courtesy of Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul’s office

NEW YORK — Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul on Wednesday continued to refuse to publicly reveal her stance on changing the state’s bail reform law just before the leading Republican gubernatorial nominee held a rally with lawmakers on Long Island demanding the controversial law be repealed.

Hochul is in favor of having conversations with legislative leaders when session resumes in January about examining and potentially altering the state’s bail reform.

“We had a system in our state where the two people accused of the exact same low-level offense, nonviolent crime, two people — and depending on the size of their bank account, one of them went to jail and the other could go back home to their jobs or their schooling,” Hochul said Wednesday following an unrelated press conference in New York City. “That is the system that was addressed, but I also believe that public safety is the most important responsibility of government leaders form the mayor to the governor of the state of New York.”

The governor has repeatedly sidestepped questions within the last week about her desires to change the state’s bail reform, but said she is open to discussions with the Legislature after New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams, a former New York Police Department captain, said Friday that he will prioritize working with legislative leaders in Albany to amend the state’s bail reform and discovery laws next session.

“I’m open to having the conversations that have been talked about with the legislative leadership (but) I am not going to negotiate to have these conversations in this forum because I want to make sure we get it right,” Hochul added. “And that is my commitment: We will get this right. Just understand why we went there in the first place, but also I’m open to these important conversations that need to be had.”

The governor has repeatedly said she will not reveal details of her stance or thoughts about bail reform with reporters or through the press.

An hour later, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-Shirley, the presumptive Republican nominee in the 2022 gubernatorial race, demanded Gov. Hochul and the state Legislature repeal the state’s cashless bail law on Long Island while standing with multiple state Republican senators and assemblymembers.

“Many areas in the state I’ve been to, the largest issue for people all across the entire spectrum from right to left, conservative to liberal, Republican to Democrat, they tell me they support repealing cashless bail,” Zeldin said. “They share stories about how cashless bail in their county has eroded public safety.”

A red wave washed over Long Island on Election Day as suburban voters embraced Republican candidates in a number of key posts in both Nassau and Suffolk counties, including the races for district attorney.

A reflection of the GOP’s strong showing across the country, Republicans flipped district attorney posts on the island from blue to red after beating the drum over criminal justice reforms and changes to state bail laws approved by Democrats in Albany.

“It’s important for those in power right now, the governor of the state of New York, the supermajority Democratic Assembly and Senate, the one-party rule that exists, that they do the right thing,” Zeldin said of repealing the law. “If they don’t, just like a lesson was learned with others who were on the ballot last Tuesday, they will learn their lesson at the ballot box Nov. 8, 2022, because this is a representative government.”

The state handled 184,118 arraignments in 2020, including 52,389 felonies and 131,729 misdemeanors, according to the state Unified Court System Division of Technology and Court Research Pretrial Release Data Dashboard. Justices disposed of more than 26,700 cases.

The office reports 15,954 people were granted nonmonetary release, including 8,359, or about 16% of felony cases, and 7,595, or 5.8% of misdemeanor cases.

The state reports 2,626 people with felony charges, or about 5% granted nonmonetary release were arrested on subsequent offenses. Roughly 2.3%, or 2,992 people with a misdemeanor were arrested on additional charges after release.

Republicans campaigned for weeks warning about Democrats’ support of the state’s bail reform laws, which was used to less effect last year during state legislative races.

“That’s an interesting spin from Lee Zeldin given that people lost in Virginia, a very close race in New Jersey ... I’m not sure you can blame the New York bail reform for what has happened as more of a national wave that I think emanated more from Washington,” Hochul said in response to her presumptive opponent’s comments Wednesday. “But I’ll leave it to the pundits to discuss this.”

Republican leaders have tied the state’s controversial cashless bail laws, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2020, in the spike in shootings, homicides and other violent crimes seen across the state and nation since early last year.

Shootings in state metropolitan areas outside New York City increased 74.5% in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Gun Involved Violence Elimination Initiative.

New York City shootings increased 97% from 2019 to 2020, and are up another 53% from last year’s levels.

Crime is up exponentially year over year, and in the last two years, but remains significantly lower than overall rates of armed burglaries, shootings and homicides in the 1980s and ’90s.

Violent crimes sharply increased in urban areas across the nation since 2020, including U.S. states that did not make recent changes to their cash bail system.

“You heard my position on bail reform and there will be more information unfolding on this,” Gov. Hochul said. “But trying to scare people and trying to abuse the fundamental reason why we had to do this in the first place but open to conversations about making sure we’re doing everything we can to protect public safety is all part of the process, and stay tuned on this.”

Tribune News Service contributed to this report.

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(1) comment

rdsouth

Can we all agree on these two items? 1. Bail reform is really necessary. Money should never be a deciding factor. 2. Bail reform as it was passed initially in New York state has lots of problems and needs serious reform.

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