This week in Albany for lawmakers concluded much as it began: With yet another pitched battle over the state's new cash bail law.
Assembly Republicans on Wednesday at a news conference were joined by the cousin of a woman who was killed in a hit-and-run crash by an unlicensed driver who was later released. Criminal justice advocates, in turn, urged Democratic leaders in the state Legislature to stand firm on the law amid calls to roll it back.
The story surrounding the bail law continued to dominate much of the conversation at the Capitol, even as lawmakers headed home and won't return until Tuesday in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday.
Republicans have pressed Democrats for changes to the law, which ended cash bail requirements for misdemeanors and non-violent felonies. Some Democratic lawmakers are backing changes that would allow for a judge to determine whether a person should be released prior to trial.
“This is the greatest public safety threat I’ve encountered during my time in the Assembly,” said Republican Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay. “We were told these laws would apply only to ‘non-violent’ crimes, but if some of the cases we’re seeing aren’t acts of violence, I don’t know what are. The new laws turned our entire system upside-down. They have made it nearly impossible for prosecutors to do their jobs, hampered law enforcement’s daily efforts and taken away the ability of judges to do what’s best for the communities over which they preside. The time to revisit criminal justice reform is now.”
But supporters of the law contend opponents are fear-mongering for political gain. The law is meant to keep people out of jail for prolonged stretches of time and prevent cases like the one involving Kalief Browder — who died by suicide after spending months in Rikers Island.
Among those in Albany to push back against any roll back of the law was Kerry Kennedy, the ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo has said unspecified changes to the law are possible.
"Nothing and no one can change the fact that a different justice system for the rich and the poor is wrong and I am frankly shocked that Senate and Assembly Republicans so obviously and cynically disagree with that fundamental value. It means a less safe, less fair New York," said Khalil Cumberbatch, the chief strategist for New Yorkers United For Justice. "These reforms contain broadly popular measures — across regional and political lines — that millions of reasonable New Yorkers agree on. Apparently, many Albany Republicans are not among those New Yorkers. My question to them is, aside from fearmongering and ripping pages from a stale playbook, what’s your plan to fix a broken system?”
The law could very well remain a Gordian knot of sorts for the Legislature: Advocates on one end pressuring lawmakers not to roll back, Democrats eager to end what could be a politically troubling story in suburban and upstate districts.