Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, the initial sponsor of the state's bail reform law that passed in 2019, is rolling up her sleeves and prepared to fight additional rollbacks to the controversial statute after changes made in last year's budget.
Hundreds of people rallied in the state Capitol on Wednesday to fight back against changes Gov. Kathy Hochul wants to make to the law included in her executive budget proposal. Lawmakers passed bail reform to correct inequities in the criminal justice system for low-income New Yorkers.
"We're not playing games anymore — we're not staying silent anymore," Walker said. "The gloves are off. The time is now to put up or shut up!"
Walker says state Department of Criminal Justice data proves the law is successful. About 20% of people are re-arrested within six months of their arraignment for low-level offenses since the law took effect in 2020, according to DCJS.
"I don't care what they say! Bail reform is here to stay!" Walker exclaimed.
Bail is set to ensure people accused of a crime return to court. Supporters of bail reform argue the governor's proposal will not make New Yorkers safer, as the law has reduced the number of people sent to jail while awaiting trial and help prevent low-income families from sliding deeper into poverty.
Hochul is adamant about the need to remove a standard judges use to decide how and when to set bail — especially for more serious crimes and repeat offenses.
Advocates crowded the Million Dollar Staircase and the door leading to Hochul's office on the second floor. The governor defended her proposal and other budgeted public safety initiatives at length during a press conference in the Capitol on Wednesday, held in conflict with the rally on the floor above.
"We're not incarcerating people for low-level crimes or criminalizing poverty, but giving judges the discretion necessary to ensure public safety, and public opinion is clearly on the side of this clarification for judges," said Hochul. She later added: "This is not just my view, though, this is the view of New Yorkers. So when I go into [budget] conversations, people understand, I represent the majority view of the people of this state."
Hochul released new statewide crime data Wednesday showing shootings have decreased by 16% from 2021 to 2022, or down to pre-pandemic levels, but index crimes have increased 21% year over year.
But re-arrests have increased for people previously charged with violent felonies.
"Re-arrests are increasing for people with violent felonies while they're decreasing for people charged with other offenses," Hochul said. "In other words, a relatively small percentage of people are responsible for a disproportion share of our public safety challenges. These individuals are the ones who are the focus of our bail proposal."
But many Democratic lawmakers stand staunchly against amending the law after rollbacks in last year's budget, increasing the tension between Hochul and the Legislature as they work to finalize the state budget that deadlines April 1.
Disagreements over bail reform changes are expected to be a central sticking point after the Senate and Assembly rejected Hochul's proposal, omitting tweaks to the law in their one-house budgets.
Hochul and legislative leaders Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins clashed over the rollbacks made to the bail reform law in last year's budget, which pushed the spending plan to be more than a week late.
"I'm willing to sit down, I've always been willing to sit down as is Speaker [Carl] Heastie to really figure out if there is something that would make it clearer but quite honestly, we've always looked at data. We always want to look at data, and I really want to be able to match whatever we are doing to a data point," Stewart-Cousins said on the issue after the Senate's one-house dropped last week.
Representatives with the Senate Majority conference said they do not intend to be swayed from their position to not alter the law.
Hochul says her relationship with legislative leaders remains strong as budget negotiations take off.
Sens. Kevin Parker, Jessica Scarcella-Spanton, James Skoufis and Monica Martinez and Assemblymember Monica Wallace attended the governor's public safety event Wednesday, showing their support to end the "least restrictive" standard for judges.
The handful of moderate Democrats in support of more tweaks to the law are confident more of their colleagues in the majority will get behind the proposal as budget talks continue.
"We're not gonna have a budget if no one budges, and this is a paramount issue for the governor. We have to respect that," Skoufis said. "It's a paramount issue for me, and we have to respect that there are many Democrats in the Senate and Assembly who feel we do have to improve on our bail laws and so, let's try and come to a consensus here with the end goal to make New York a little bit safer."
At a budget hearing last month, acting Chief Administrative Judge Tamiko Amaker told lawmakers New York judges are not confused by the state's bail laws that have changed several times in the last few years and decide to set bail based on the facts of an individual case. She also dismissed lawmakers' push to mandate training for judges on the topic.
She testified judges received more than three hours of training on the law at a summer conference last year.
"We have training and seminars that judges attend," Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen said Wednesday.
Chalfen would not respond to a question about the OCA's position on the bail reform changes Hochul wants regardless of Amaker's testimony that the law does not confuse New York judges as it stands.
Hazel Crampton-Hays, Hochul's secretary, maintains sections of the law conflict with each other, which is a problem training cannot solve.
"Judges shouldn't be trained to consider one part of the statute and ignore the other — the law should be fixed," she said Wednesday.
The governor is hopeful the budget will be on time, but is prepared to go past the April 1 deadline if it means the final spending plan includes the bail changes she wants.
Hochul said budget negotiations are in the early stages and there's time to compromise on significant conflicts.
Assemblywoman Walker said her staff is working to set up a meeting with Hochul's staff about how bail reform is working and crime data from DCJS. The meeting is not scheduled and has not taken place to date.
"Gov. Hochul and her administration meet regularly with members of the Legislature on a range of issues, including public safety," Crampton-Hays said.
Republican lawmakers want a full repeal of the 2019 bail reform law. They're supportive of Hochul's proposed tweak to be included in the 2023-24 budget, but say it won't be enough for their members to support the measure.