State lawmakers are back in Albany for the 2020 legislative session this week after weeks of sustained pressure from law enforcement, local prosecutors from both parties and Republican lawmakers over the newly enacted bail law changes.
The headlines have not been favorable for those who sought the changes: Police departments around the state have sought to highlight the release of people accused of crimes ranging from bank robbery to murder.
Adding to that tension to, as it were, reform the reforms, is the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York.
Long Island Republicans, meanwhile, have sought to highlight the individual cases of people being released without bail.
In a Facebook post over the weekend, the Nassau County GOP pointed to the case of Paul Barbaritano, who faces a second-degree manslaughter charge and was set free last week by a judge in Albany.
“New York Democrats allowed this man to walk free because they’ve now classified his crime as “non-violent” in their new bail reform laws,” the county committee wrote in the Facebook post.
Criminal charges, however, can be more complex, and some Democrats questioned why Barbaritano was facing a lesser charge from Albany County.
And yet, the pressure to make any alterations won’t necessarily come from Republicans or DAs directly, but from Democrats who represent suburban and upstate legislative districts.
Several Democratic lawmakers from Long Island, including Sens. Todd Kaminsky and Jim Gaughran, are backing measures that would add judicial discretion into the cash bail law.
But, on the side of the ledger, are the criminal justice activists who had sought an end to cash bail in the first place and provided input on the legislation.
Democrats want to avoid the internecine battles that plagued the party in the past.
And yet, supporters of the changes, which end cash bail for misdemeanors and non-violent felony charges, are urging patience.
“Things need time to work,” said Sen. Jamaal Bailey, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Codes Committee, in a Twitter post. “Imagine if the basis of your entire career and livelihood was solely based on your first three to four days at your job. People need to know the facts about the legislation & what it actually does, as opposed to just reading headlines. My two cents.”
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins in an interview with WCBS last week in New York City appeared to open the door to backing changes as lawmakers return to Albany, but her stance hasn’t changed much since she spoke with reporters on Dec. 9 at a retreat for the conference outside of Albany.
“Obviously if something needs to be tweaked, we’re willing to do that,” she said at the time. “We’re not a one and done, we’re not saying we’re never going to revisit saying anything we’re going to do. But certainly this has been a longtime coming and I think even on a national conversation about criminal justice reform has been a long time coming.”
As for Democrats who represent areas outside of New York City, they will be closely watched for how the issue moves forward this month.
“There are legitimate issues with the reforms that deserve debate,” Sen. James Skoufis wrote in a Twitter post. “And then there’s shameless fearmongering meant to score cheap political points. We’ve seen lots of the latter from Assembly and Senate Republicans. Time to buck up or shut up.”