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Senate Dems facing GOP pressure to revise bail reform laws

New York State Senate

The backlash to New York’s new law that ends most forms of cash bail continues at the Capitol, but the Senate leader said she does not want to rush to change the reforms until they are given a chance to work. 

The law went into effect on Jan. 1.

Republicans, who are in the minority in the Senate, say they are concerned about the growing number of instances of repeat criminal offenders released without bail who have then gone on to commit another offense. 

Senate GOP Leader John Flanagan said Democrats need to act to restore cash bail for some more serious crimes and to give judges more discretion to set bail if a defendant is believed to be a danger to the community.

“They are tone-deaf,” Flanagan said. “They are not listening to people back in their districts.”

The Republicans are also objecting to new proposals by some Senate Democrats to allow people in prison to become automatically eligible for parole review when they turn 55. 

“Today is just another step in the wrong direction,” said Sen. Fred Akshar, a former Broome County deputy sheriff. “To think that just because someone is 55, if they’re a serial murderer or a serial rapist, that they would get paroled, I think every New Yorker needs to know just how bad a piece of policy that is. That is equally as bad as bail reform.”

Some first-term Senate Democrats from Long Island have proposed bills to modify the bail reform laws.

Sen. Jim Gaughran has proposed a bill that would add manslaughter and some terrorism-related charges back to the list of crimes that would be eligible for cash bail. Sen. Monica Martinez’s bill would give judges more power to hold a defendant in jail before their trial if they are deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said Democrats will consider the bills, but she offered no timetable.

“We will certainly look at those bills like we look at any number of bills,” Stewart-Cousins said.

Stewart-Cousins said no one should interpret her comments as a “lack of urgency,” but she said the law needs to be given a chance to work before changes are made. 

“I try to keep it all in perspective. Change is hard,” she said. “And it’s been two weeks. I want to be able to sort out the fact from fearmongering. I want to be able to look at reality and data as opposed to just reacting to whatever people are saying who are not necessarily trying to reform a system that we know has been broken.” 

Family members of crime victims held a Tuesday afternoon rally on Long Island to advocate for changes to the bail reform laws.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.