Progressive organizations in New York are urging top Democrats in the state Legislature to oppose Gov. Kathy Hochul's plan to alter the state's bail laws that have become part of a broader debate over public safety policy.
Hochul has called for an end to the "least restrictive" standard when cash bail is being considered by judges for serious criminal charges, a provision contained in her $227 billion budget.
In a letter signed by 100 advocacy groups and set to be released on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie are asked to oppose the change.
"The data is clear: Further rollbacks to the bail laws will not increase public safety, but will send more Black, brown and working-class New Yorkers to jail to await their trial, increasing wrongful convictions, further entrenching poverty and inequity, and destabilizing individuals and communities – ultimately making New York less safe," the groups wrote in the letter.
The debate over the bail measure stems from a 2019 change that ended cash bail for many criminal charges in New York.
Opponents have contended the measure has made the state less safe. Proponents contend it is necessary to address inequities in the criminal justice system that have led to low-income defendants languishing in local jails.
Those signing onto the letter include Citizen Action, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Legal Aid Society and the Center for Community Alternatives.
The letter is being sent as the Democratic-led chambers of the Legislature are set to release their own budget resolutions this week. A budget is due by April 1.
Heastie and Stewart-Cousins have not embraced Hochul's proposed bail law changes and instead have called for measures meant to reduce crime by addressing housing and mental health.
"Everyone has a right to be safe and lawmakers need to take bold action to prevent and respond to violence," the groups wrote in a letter. "But if we blame the wrong cause, we end up with the wrong solution. The politicized focus on bail reform distracts from what is truly needed. The safest communities have the best schools, the highest-paying jobs, the most stable housing, the greatest access to health care, including mental health care and drug treatment, and more. In the interest of community safety and equity, lawmakers must heed demands for deep investments and policy changes to fill these massive gaps."
Hochul has proposed measures to address housing costs as well as spend $1 billion in the coming years on mental health programs. But she has also called for an expansion of the State Police and efforts to better coordinate law enforcement.
In Rochester last week, Hochul defended her plan to alter the bail measure, arguing it would give clarity to judges.
"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 common-sense, commonly accepted criteria."