Democrats from suburban and upstate districts are pushing for an end to the controversy. Republicans, out of power, feel like they have a tangible issue that voters can grasp and have effectively stolen the spotlight. And an Assembly speaker is being slowly backed into a corner to take action.

It's not the debate over the bail overhaul in 2020 that's dominating the conversation at the capitol, but a fight from 22 years ago over a different criminal justice law.

In 1998, then-Speaker Sheldon Silver was being pushed by Republicans to take up Jenna's Law, named for a murdered nurse from the Syracuse area. The law ends parole for first-time violent felony offenses by creating mandatory sentences.

Silver resisted calls from Republicans to hold a vote, but also from Democrats who represented upstate districts in the assembly. In the end, Silver ultimately caved, scheduling a special session in the summer to pass the legislation.

The episode highlights New York's history of fraught debates over criminal justice laws, an effort to reduce the number of people in jails and prisons and the state's even longer record of passing strict public safety laws.

"The Democrats are really nervous because people understand this," then-Assembly GOP spokesman Harry Spector said at the time to The Buffalo News. "The same Democrats continually come back to the district and say they're for this stuff, but don't take the actions in Albany."​

This year, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie is standing firm on the bail law, which ended cash bail requirements for misdemeanors and non-violent felony offenses, a move meant to keep poor people from languishing in prison.

Republicans have seized on the issue with law enforcement to call for changes amid the release of people for crimes like robbery.

Supporters of the bail law say the issue is being sensationalized and should be given a chance to succeed.

But Democrats who represent suburban and upstate districts have responded with potential alterations, like allowing a judge to determine if a person is too dangerous to be released pending trial -- a proposal criminal justice advocates say has its own problems with discriminating against defendants of color.

There are differences between the bail law debate and the Jenna's Law fight of a generation ago. Republicans controlled both the state senate and the governor's office, a power structure that ultimately put more pressure on Silver. The opposite is the case today, with Democrats holding power across state government.

At the same time, Heastie's position is backed by a well-organized coalition of advocates who have sought efforts to reduce the number of people in New York's jails.

But once again, lawmakers are facing a question that goes to the push-and-pull history of New York of the last several decades: How will the state balance both criminal justice for everyone in the system?