Senate Republicans, now in the political minority, sought to put the brakes Wednesday on bills to end cash bail and allow defendants to receive “discovery” materials earlier in a case.
Flanked by police officers, Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan said Democrats who control the chamber were moving too fast in trying to change the laws on bail, discovery and speedy trial.
“There’s been no hearings. No substantive discussions,” said Flanagan (R-East Northport).
The Senate Republicans had blocked such proposals for years when they were in the majority – but Democrats won overwhelming control in November.
Once holders of a 1-seat advantage in the Senate, Republicans now control just 23 of the 63 seats in the chamber and have little power to impact the legislative agenda.
Supporters of the proposed changes say Republicans are using fear tactics to block needed reform.
“The fact of the matter is that New York is embarrassingly far behind even the most conservative states in reforming our broken criminal justice system," Khalil A. Cumberbatch, of the advocacay group New Yorkers United for Justice, said in a statement. "In state after state, and even in Congress, Republicans and Democrats have come together to advance long-overdue reforms on everything from pretrial reforms, sentencing and parole to incarceration, diversion, and reentry."
Among the criminal justice proposals, the most controversial – and toughest to resolve so far – centers on the idea of ending cash bail for certain crimes. Advocates say stiff bail requirements set up two-tiered justice system: One for the wealthy who are able to pay and one for the poor who aren’t.
Though a majority in the state Senate and Assembly – as well as Democrat Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo -- appear to favor the concept, lawmakers are having a harder time determining what crimes should be included and whether factors such as “danger to the community” should be considered.
Another proposed bill would set tighter deadlines on prosecutors to prevent trials from being delayed beyond expected start dates.
And the final major proposal would allow defendants to receive evidence or “discovery” materials within 15 days of being arrested, instead of months or years as it sometimes plays out, advocates say, adding it would facilitate a fairer plea bargains and match guidelines in many other states. District attorneys said the 15-day deadline is unrealistic.