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Cuomo: Changes to new cashless bail law being considered 

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in December.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks in December.   Credit: AFP via Getty Images/Kena Betancur

ALBANY — Just ahead of his State of the State address, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Monday said he believes lawmakers will have to make changes to a controversial, new bail law that took effect just six days earlier.

“There is no doubt this is a work in progress and other changes have to be made … there are consequences we have to adjust to,” Cuomo, a Democrat, said about the law, which eliminated the posting of bail for most misdemeanors while maintaining it for felonies and sex crimes.

He made the remarks after an event in which he unveiled one of his signature proposals for 2020: Increasing the number of tracks running into Penn Station by nearly 40 percent. He is slated to present the rest of his agenda during his speech Wednesday in Albany, which will formally launch lawmakers' 2020 legislative session at the State Capitol.

The governor is likely to talk about renewing the push to legalize recreational marijuana to banning “ghost guns” to banning flavored vaping products to enacting a new domestic terrorism law. Typically, he will wait to outline how he wants to actually fund his initiatives — and cover a projected $6 billion spending deficit — until he proposes a state budget, expected by Jan. 21.

Cuomo and the Democratic-run Assembly and Senate approved an overhaul of criminal justice laws last spring. Cuomo and Democratic state legislators said it was unfair for the poor to face different consequences than those wealthy enough to post bail.

But with stories about alleged bank robbers being released without bail, a spree of hate crimes and Republicans and law-enforcement officials attacking the law, Democrats are facing pressure to make amendments already.

“New York Democrats have blood on their hands,” state Republican chairman Nick Langworthy said Monday at a State Capitol news conference, calling for Democrats to repeal the law. “These policies are backfiring greatly.”

Last year, just after the law was approved and before it took effect, two Long Island senators, Jim Gaughran (D-Huntington) and Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), introduced a bill to restore judicial discretion in some cases.

Cuomo and other Democrats said while they are open to discussions, it’s way too early to make any conclusions about the bail law.

“This law has been in effect for six days. Six days,” Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens), a leading backer of the bail law, said Monday. For “every story that ends up on the press,’’ he said, there are dozens of people who now aren’t incarcerated on low-level charges, stuck because they can’t afford bail. He said critics aren’t talking about Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein, for example, who is free on bail while facing more than a dozen accusations of rape and sexual assault.

Gianaris accused critics of fearmongering “with almost no data and just anecdotal stories.”

Lawmakers are set to return to Albany in year two of total Democratic control of state government following the 2018 elections. Last year, Democrats approved a laundry list of high-profile legislation on abortion, climate change, farm labor, guns, immigration, sexual harassment and rent control.

This time, they have a lower-profile list, but it includes issues such as recreational marijuana, vaping, illegal dumping of toxic materials, sports betting on mobile devices, health care and, probably, new sources of revenue to offset the deficit.

Ahead of the session, Cuomo has been slowly rolling out dozens of 2020 initiatives over the last month. Some are renewed from last year (remove a ban on paid surrogacy), result from court action (prohibit flavored vaping products) or play well with consumers (crack down on “robo” calls).

Many focus on high-profile building projects, which, beside Penn Station, include studying high-speed rail upstate, upgrading Whiteface Mountain (the Olympic ski venue in Lake Placid) and plunking $300 million worth of investment into the Erie Canal corridor.

“For over a century, New York's transportation infrastructure drove our growth, especially in New York City,” Cuomo said, “and after decades of idle talk without any real action, we are once again investing in large public projects to support a stronger economy.”

With Michael Gormley

State & Region