Nassau County Republican legislators and law enforcement union leaders called on Long Island’s state lawmakers Thursday to reconsider a new state law that would allow people arrested for many lower-level crimes to be released without bail.
“It is impossible to overstate how bad this is,” said Presiding Officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) of the couny legislature. “One of our most fundamental duties as legislators is to keep our citizens safe. This law betrays that duty.”
Under the “cashless bail” law, part of a package of criminal justice reform bills passed in the state budget and signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, individuals charged with, but not convicted of, misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies would forgo bail and receive a ticket to return to court on their own recognizance.
Supporters of the law, which takes effect next Jan. 1, say cashless bail aims to make the justice system fairer for minority and low-income defendants.
But Republicans and police union leaders are strongly opposed to the law on the grounds that they say it would weaken the criminal justice system. They argue that it takes power away from judges and police officers while compromising public health and safety, particularly if the defendant is released after a drug-related arrest.
“It leaves our residents, including those who are most vulnerable, subject to more crime,” said Nicolello, who added the majority of drug dealers would be sent back into the streets and “right back into the schoolyards to peddle drugs.”
Officials from unions representing Nassau County’s police, detectives and correction officers also decried the law.
“We’ve taken a giant leap off a cliff,” said Brian Sullivan, president of the Nassau County Correction Officers Benevolent Association. “ ...The criminal gets the benefit of the doubt, but crime victims be damned.”
But Rich Azzopardi, senior adviser to Cuomo, said: “Let’s be clear here, this extends to misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies only, and shame on the Nassau Republican machine for fear-mongering. I’m sure they’d feel differently if Dean and Adam Skelos couldn’t make bail.”
Skelos, former Republican state Senate majority leader from Rockville Centre, and his son, Adam, were convicted on corruption charges.
Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif: “At the time, we said this provision was part of a ‘Criminal Bill of Rights’ approved by Senate Democrats. Nothing has changed, except they’ve now passed legislation to allow convicted felons to serve on juries and are looking to do even more for criminals at the expense of victims and their families.”
Republican Assemb. Edward Ra said he filed an amendment to the law that requires bail for those charged with certain A-level or most serious nonviolent drug felonies. “We have about six weeks left in Albany, we have to address it now,” Ra said.
All six Democratic state senators from Long island voted for the bill.
There is no pending county legislation to address cashless bail, Nicolello said.