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Suffolk GOP lawmakers call for repeal of state's cashless bail law

Rep. Lee Zeldin is joined by elected officials

Rep. Lee Zeldin is joined by elected officials as they call for the repeal of the cashless bail law on Wednesday in Central Islip. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa Loarca

Suffolk GOP lawmakers, including the party's potential nominee for governor in 2022 and its newly elected district attorney, Wednesday called on Democratic leaders in Albany to repeal the state's cashless bail law, arguing it has eroded public safety and led to an uptick in violent crime.

Rep. Lee Zeldin, a GOP gubernatorial candidate from Shirley, said the Nov. 2 election, which saw a wave of Republicans swept into office on Long Island — including new district attorneys in both counties — should send a message to majority Democrats to repeal the bail reform law.

"What we heard all across Long Island was that the voters reject cashless bail and they demand that action be taken immediately by the State Legislature," Zeldin said at a news conference in Central Islip surrounded by GOP state senators and assemblymembers from Suffolk.

In Manhattan Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was open to conversations about reforming the law but disputed that bail reform was responsible for GOP victories last week, pointing to Republican wins in Virginia and a close gubernatorial 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," she said.

Officials with Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) did not respond to requests for comment.

Bail reform, enacted in 2020 as part of the state budget process, eliminated cash bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Lawmakers later made tweaks to the law, restoring judges' powers to decide whether defendants should be held in custody because they pose a risk to public safety.

But Republicans across the state and throughout Long Island campaigned against the law, with high degrees of success. Republican Anne Donnelly beat Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) in the open Nassau district attorney's race while Republican Ray Tierney scored a surprise win over incumbent Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini.

Tierney Wednesday said a package of newly enacted or proposed Democratic bills, including those that reform parole and would expunge many misdemeanor convictions and lower-level felonies, fail to keep the public safe.

"We are here to say these laws do not keep us safer," Tierney said. "And we need to repeal some of these laws and start to think about the victims and the victim's families when we consider criminal justice reform."

Mastic resident Jennifer Harrison, who leads the advocacy group Victims Rights New York, said countless families have been torn apart by individuals charged with serious offenses who were released without bail and then went on to commit additional crimes.

"It's only emboldened violent criminals and gangs," said Harrison, whose organization is working with Long Island Senate Republicans on a victims rights reform package.

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