ALBANY — Two Long Island senators want to scale back New York’s new law eliminating bail requirements in most criminal cases, the latest sign of tension between the liberal and moderate Democrats in the State Legislature.
State Sens. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) and James Gaughran (D-Northport) proposed legislation Friday to restore judicial discretion to impose bail on a small number of crimes. Those include manslaughter, sex crimes against children, bribery of a public official and some terrorism-related charges. Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hempstead) also will be a bill co-sponsor, one of her aides said.
“These are crimes that [bail] needs to be considered when they come before a judge,” Martinez said. She said she was particularly concerned about gang- and drug-related crimes because of the presence of the violent MS-13 gang in Suffolk County.
“It’s no secret we have a problem in certain areas with gangs,” Martinez said. “We cannot tie [law enforcement’s] hands ... We need to make sure the public is kept safe.”
Martinez and Gaughran’s action comes just two months after lawmakers approved a set of sweeping criminal justice changes, including a measure to end cash bail for an estimated 90 percent of those facing charges. It eliminated bail for almost all misdemeanors and some nonviolent felonies.
The criminal justice package was tucked into the state budget, meaning lawmakers had to accept it if they also wanted to approve a state aid increase for schools, a property-tax cap and other measures. Gaughran said he wouldn’t have voted for the bail changes if they had been in a stand-alone bill.
“I would not have voted for that bail bill had it not been included in the budget,” Gaughran said.
He added: “We are fully committed to criminal justice reform. But we’re concerned about certain crimes where we have totally taken away a judge’s discretion.”
Kaplan echoed that in a statement, saying: “It’s important that judges have discretion to ensure the safety of the public when dealing with potentially dangerous criminals charged with violent crimes.”
Gaughran and Martinez’s bill is the latest instance of Long Islanders not quite seeing eye-to-eye with their more liberal New York City counterparts who dominate the Senate Democratic conference.
Long Island Dems also have been resisting legislation concerning marijuana legalization, rent control and driver’s licenses for those in the country illegally.
Senate Republicans said Gaughran and Martinez were offering a “cynical” bill to gain political cover for supporting a bail reform package their constituents don’t like.
“Jim Gaughran and Monica Martinez could have chosen to stand up, show leadership and reject these changes,” said Scott Reif, spokesman for Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan (R-East Northport). “But instead they went along with their New York City colleagues and failed their constituents.”