Nearly a dozen Democrats in Monroe County are urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to drop proposed changes to New York's law that limits cash bail requirements for many criminal charges.
In a letter to Hochul and members of the state Legislature, 11 officials, including those on the Rochester City Council, school board and the Democratic minority leader of the Monroe County Legislature, called for alternative means of addressing public safety that do no involve the bail law.
"Across the state and locally, people are using legitimate public safety concerns to push for counterproductive changes to the state’s bail laws," they wrote in the letter. "We agree that addressing violence, both in Rochester and across the state, must be a priority. Every New Yorker has a right to not just feel safe, but to actually be safe—and that requires evidence-based solutions that address the real issues impacting public safety."
Hochul's push for the changes were proposed after an election season that focused heavily on voter concerns surrounding crime and public safety, with the bail law a major flash point for critics of a package of recent criminal justice law changes.
Supporters of the law have contended it has not had a measurable impact on crime. Opponents have called for changes as a way to address a rise in crime that has coincided with the COVID pandemic.
"Rolling back New York’s bail law has become a potent political soundbite, especially as the election draws nearer," the Monroe County officials wrote in the letter. "Political sound bites, however, do not make good policy. Our elected leaders need to focus on evidence-based solutions to crime that truly make our communities safer."
Top Democrats in the state Senate and Assembly have not embraced the changes, but have also argued for alternative means of addressing crime in New York. The Democrats signing onto the letter agreed.
"Our leaders must also invest in programs that interrupt ever-increasing cycles of gun violence and address victims’ needs so that they themselves do not respond to violence with more violence," they wrote. "It is simply false that doubling down on a punishment-first strategy, which breaks families and communities apart, is the best way to curb violence. Locking people up does not address the underlying drivers of crime, nor does it address the complex needs of crime victims."
Backing the letter: Monroe County legislators Rachel Barnhart, William Burgess, Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, Ricky Frazier, Sue Hughes-Smith, Vice President of the Rochester City School Board Beatriz LeBron, Vice President of the Rochester City Council Mary Lupien, Rochester City Councilmember Stanley Martin, Minority Leader of the Monroe County Legislature Yversha Roma, Rochester City Councilmember Kim Smith and Brighton town board member Robin Wilt.
The letter comes as Hochul and state lawmakers this month are negotiating a $227 billion spending plan that would includes a provision to end the "least restrictive" requirement for judges when determining whether to set bail. Hochul wants to end the requirement for serious criminal charges, asserting it would give judges a better idea of when bail should be set.
"Right now judges have an inconsistency in the law," she said earlier this year. "I'm saying let's just give them clarity. Certainly least restrictive means would make sense for first offenders, low-level cases. We don't want people like that sitting in Rikers."
Republicans, meanwhile, have called on Democrats in Albany go further by addressing judicial discretion of when bail should be set.
"We have to go back and look at the so-called bail reform. We have to give judges discretion in some cases where it's a real risk to the community," Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay said earlier this year. "So that's our number one priority."