New York state lawmakers unveiling their own budget proposals this week in negotiations with Gov. Kathy Hochul are calling for measures meant to address public safety, such as spending more money for after school programs, funding anti-violence organizations and addressing support for public defenders as well as prosecutors.
But top Democratic leaders in the state Senate and Assembly on Wednesday, a day after the proposals were released, indicated they had little intention of making further changes to a 2019 bail law that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges.
"You're not going to incarcerate people into crime dropping," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said. "If people want to continue that narrative, it works politically, God bless them. But it's not going to solve the problem."
The politically contentious issue could come to a head in the coming weeks as Gov. Kathy Hochul is seeking changes that are meant to end the "least restrictive" standard for when judges set bail.
If approved, the alterations would be the second set of changes in the last two years. Last year, lawmakers and Hochul expanded circumstances in which bail could be considered.
Nevertheless, the bail law was a flashpoint in the race for governor as Hochul's Republican opponent, Rep. Lee Zeldin, criticized the state's suite of criminal justice law changes in recent years.
Crime in New York has risen amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to calls to address measures like the bail law in Albany.
The measure was meant to end inequiities in the criminal justice in which lower-income people would not have the means to avoid jail time while awaiting trial or the adjudication of their case.
Heastie pointed to the pandemic as have widening ramifications for public safety.
"There was a pandemic, we're still living through the ramifications of that," he told reporters. "Clearly the wheels of justice are kind of bogged down and we're at a place where people think justice is down at arrest and not the actual disposition of these cases."
At a separate news conference, Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins questioned the need for further changes to the law. Both lawmakers have acknowledged polls that have shown voters' concerns over crime and public safety.
"We are investing in mental health resources," she said. "We're investing in our defenders, our criminal defense lawyers as well as district attorneys. We're investing in communities, we're investing in education."
Republicans, meanwhile, continue to press the issue for making changes. Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt criticized Democrats for being "obsessed with people who have broken the law -- people who have raped, murdered, robbed."
Hochul's proposal, he said, doesn't go far enough to adddress the bail law. Nevertheless, he recently encouraged Hochul in a meeting to push for the changes.
"She was anticipating a rough-and-tumble negotiation," Ortt said. "I asked her point blank, are you going to lean in on this? If you don't, it will not happen."