Making further changes to New York's controversial cashless bail law will make the state's criminal justice system more fair, Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Tuesday as she makes a push for her anti-crime proposals in her $227 billion budget plan due April 1.
Hochul in Rochester pivoted to an issue that animated much of the 2022 campaign season: Tackling rising crime in New York and voter perceptions of feeling unsafe.
The governor touted recent reductions in shootings and murders, but said more work is needed in order to address a pandemic-era rise in crime overall.
Hochul has called for an end to the so-called "least restrictive" standard for judges when considering bail. She wants to double the number of State Police classes in New York and boost spending for anti-gun violence programs while also adding $1 billion for mental health care.
"I believe a multi-faceted approach is necessary," she said Tuesday. "Over time it will make a difference."
But Hochul faces an uncertain path forward in the budget negotiations with the Democratic supermajorities in the state Senate and Assembly. Top leaders in the Legislature have not embraced Hochul's bail law changes, pointing to measures addressing the law last year that expanded the circumstances and criminal charges in which bail could be required.
Democratic leaders have called for ways to address underlying issues surrounding crime, such as poverty, housing and mental health.
Republicans, too, have urged Hochul to go even further and allow judges to determine if a defendant is too dangerous to be released without first setting bail.
New York moved in 2019 to end cash bail requirements for many criminal charges as a way of addressing inequities in the criminal justice system. But a rise in crime coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic has placed those changes under scrutiny.
Hochul has defended the intent of the original bail law, but on Tuesday pitched her latest proposed changes to the law as a way of making the system fairer.
"To me that says we're back to a system of unfairness," she said. "It depends on the judge and the political leanings or the philosophical leanings or the judicial leanings of a judge versus looking at commonsense, commonly accepted criteria."
And ending the least restrictive requirement could make it easier for judges to determine when bail should be required or when a defendant is OK to be released.
"Confusion is understandable and I want to make sure that we remove that one standard and give them criteria to look at," she said. "I want to make sure judges have what they need."
The bail law changes remain just one plank in Hochul's public safety platform. She wants to increase anti-gun violence program spending from $110 million to $337 million. She wants to expand community stabilization units used by the State Police. And she wants more funding for local prosecutors to enact a separate criminal justice law change that required defendants receive more timely access to evidence.