Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Attorney General Letitia James, Lt. Gov....

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Attorney General Letitia James, Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, from left, greet Gov. Kathy Hochul at her State of the State address Tuesday.

Credit: AP/Hans Pennink

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her State of the State address, said the state’s bail law has “room for improvement” — making it a top agenda item while also surely reigniting a fight between moderate and liberal members of her own Democratic Party.

Just like in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, the bail law now seems destined to again be a dominant issue in the state legislative session in Albany.

Hochul essentially is trying to give judges more discretion to set bail. In doing so, she’s looking to make the third change to the bail-overhaul law enacted by then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2019, which eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

She’s also looking to address criticism about crime that hounded her in a closer-than-expected gubernatorial election last fall. But lawmakers question if her proposed changes will be enough to quiet moderate Democrat and Republican critics — while simultaneously angering progressives concerned about gutting the law.

It’s a conflict that also could impact state budget negotiations.

A goal of the 2019 law was to eliminate what progressives called a two-tiered justice system: one for suspects with means to afford bail and gain their release while awaiting trial, and one for those without those means.

A backlash sparked lawmakers to add more crimes to the bail-eligible list in 2020 under Cuomo and again in 2022 under Hochul. As a result, judges were given more authority to set bail in a range of circumstances, including domestic violence and gun crimes and cases involving certain repeat offenders.

But judges also are directed to use the “least restrictive means” necessary to ensure suspects return for court dates. The three main options are setting bail, supervised release or release without conditions.

Hochul wants to eliminate the "least-restrictive" standard. In her address, she tried to walk the line between the sparring camps.

“I believe there are several things most people can agree upon,” Hochul told lawmakers. “First, the size of someone’s bank account should not determine whether they sit in jail or go home before they have even been convicted of a crime. That was the goal of bail reform. It was a righteous one, and I stand by it.”

Second, she said the bail law is blamed unfairly for what’s been a national rise in crime during the pandemic.

But she quickly added: “As leaders, we cannot ignore that, when we hear so often from New Yorkers that crime is their top concern. And so, to my partners in the legislature, let’s start with this shared understanding and have a thoughtful conversation … about improvements we can make to the law.”

Along with bail changes, Hochul proposed earmarking state funds to recruit and train more state troopers and to allow county district attorneys to hire “hundreds” of new prosecutors around the state.

Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist, said the “public safety proposals in the governor's State of the State seem to be a response to the hammering she took in the election on crime and safety.” He referred to Hochul’s 53% to 47% win over Republican Lee Zeldin, who campaigned primarily on crime issues in New York’s closest gubernatorial race since 1994.

State legislators on either side to the debate said Hochul’s idea needs more explanation: Would it apply only to cases that already are “bail-eligible?” Are judges misinterpreting the current guidance? Don’t judges have discretion over what Hochul called the most “serious” crimes already?

Some of the details might become clear when Hochul delivers her state budget proposal later this month. For now, Democrats are guarded.

“The Supreme Court has clearly established in United States v. Salerno that if a prosecutor’s only interest is preventing flight, bail must be set by a court at a sum designed to ensure that goal and no more,” Assemb. Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) said. “Eliminating the ‘least restrictive’ standard will send more people to jail without enhancing public safety. The 2019 bail reform law in New York did not create the standard; it simply codified it.”

Others said Hochul’s proposal will be “favorably received” by many upstate and suburban lawmakers whose constituents are pushing for changes.

Said Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor): “The governor’s proposal addresses an issue that has been of critical concern to the public, and it’s an issue we should be addressing.”

Gov. Kathy Hochul, in her State of the State address, said the state’s bail law has “room for improvement” — making it a top agenda item while also surely reigniting a fight between moderate and liberal members of her own Democratic Party.

Just like in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, the bail law now seems destined to again be a dominant issue in the state legislative session in Albany.

Hochul essentially is trying to give judges more discretion to set bail. In doing so, she’s looking to make the third change to the bail-overhaul law enacted by then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in 2019, which eliminated bail for most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies.

She’s also looking to address criticism about crime that hounded her in a closer-than-expected gubernatorial election last fall. But lawmakers question if her proposed changes will be enough to quiet moderate Democrat and Republican critics — while simultaneously angering progressives concerned about gutting the law.

It’s a conflict that also could impact state budget negotiations.

A goal of the 2019 law was to eliminate what progressives called a two-tiered justice system: one for suspects with means to afford bail and gain their release while awaiting trial, and one for those without those means.

A backlash sparked lawmakers to add more crimes to the bail-eligible list in 2020 under Cuomo and again in 2022 under Hochul. As a result, judges were given more authority to set bail in a range of circumstances, including domestic violence and gun crimes and cases involving certain repeat offenders.

But judges also are directed to use the “least restrictive means” necessary to ensure suspects return for court dates. The three main options are setting bail, supervised release or release without conditions.

Hochul wants to eliminate the "least-restrictive" standard. In her address, she tried to walk the line between the sparring camps.

“I believe there are several things most people can agree upon,” Hochul told lawmakers. “First, the size of someone’s bank account should not determine whether they sit in jail or go home before they have even been convicted of a crime. That was the goal of bail reform. It was a righteous one, and I stand by it.”

Second, she said the bail law is blamed unfairly for what’s been a national rise in crime during the pandemic.

But she quickly added: “As leaders, we cannot ignore that, when we hear so often from New Yorkers that crime is their top concern. And so, to my partners in the legislature, let’s start with this shared understanding and have a thoughtful conversation … about improvements we can make to the law.”

Along with bail changes, Hochul proposed earmarking state funds to recruit and train more state troopers and to allow county district attorneys to hire “hundreds” of new prosecutors around the state.

Grant Reeher, a Syracuse University political scientist, said the “public safety proposals in the governor's State of the State seem to be a response to the hammering she took in the election on crime and safety.” He referred to Hochul’s 53% to 47% win over Republican Lee Zeldin, who campaigned primarily on crime issues in New York’s closest gubernatorial race since 1994.

State legislators on either side to the debate said Hochul’s idea needs more explanation: Would it apply only to cases that already are “bail-eligible?” Are judges misinterpreting the current guidance? Don’t judges have discretion over what Hochul called the most “serious” crimes already?

Some of the details might become clear when Hochul delivers her state budget proposal later this month. For now, Democrats are guarded.

“The Supreme Court has clearly established in United States v. Salerno that if a prosecutor’s only interest is preventing flight, bail must be set by a court at a sum designed to ensure that goal and no more,” Assemb. Latrice Walker (D-Brooklyn) said. “Eliminating the ‘least restrictive’ standard will send more people to jail without enhancing public safety. The 2019 bail reform law in New York did not create the standard; it simply codified it.”

Others said Hochul’s proposal will be “favorably received” by many upstate and suburban lawmakers whose constituents are pushing for changes.

Said Assemb. Fred Thiele (D-Sag Harbor): “The governor’s proposal addresses an issue that has been of critical concern to the public, and it’s an issue we should be addressing.”

  • Gov. Hochul is proposing to make another change in the controversial state bail law to give judges more discretion to set bail.
  • She’s looking to address criticism about crime that hounded her in a closer-than-expected gubernatorial election last fall.
  • Lawmakers question if her proposed changes, which will anger progressives, will be enough to quiet moderate Democrat and Republican critics.

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