Top Democrats in the state Legislature on Thursday signaled a willingness to "clarify" New York's 2019 bail law as conversations surrounding the issue remain a key sticking point in the unresolved state budget talks.
State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins did not rule out a potential compromise on the bail issue as Gov. Kathy Hochul has called for ending a so-called "least restrictive" provision for when judges determine bail for serious criminal charges.
"I think there's always room for compromise particularly when it comes to clarifying things we believe are in the law," Heastie said Thursday afternoon. "So if things need to be cleared up, we don't have an issue with clarifying what in the view is judicial discretion. But that's where we are."
Earlier in the day, Stewart-Cousins said at a separate news conference she wanted to keep the "integrity" of the original law in place, but also did not rule out a compromise.
Hochul wants to change the state's bail law that ended cash bail requirements for many criminal charges. The measure had been approved as a way of creating a more equitable criminal justice system in New York and prevent low-income people from languishing in a local jail while awaiting trial.
But the measure has been unpopular with New York voters, who have backed changes to the measure amid a rise in crime that has coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Heastie also did not deny he has in the private budget talks proposed changes to the bail law as well, first reported Wednesday by Politico.
"In the midst of all kinds of negotiations, normally kinds of ideas get exchanged," he said. "It's nothing different. The Senate puts ideas out there, the governor puts ideas out there. We put ideas out there."
Democratic lawmakers, including Heastie, have insisted they do not want to make wholesale changes that would be seen as rolling back the law. Criminal justice reform advocates have decried Hochul's push to make changes.
"Instead of making hasty changes to our bail laws, we should be seeking to enact further reforms to keep individuals away from unnecessary and, in many cases, dangerous pretrial detention," the New York City Bar Association said in a statement.
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, have urged Hochul to stand firm for the changes as they have called for a full repeal.
"The vast majority of New Yorkers on bail want some changes," Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt said. "They want changes to cashless bail. They believe crime is a problem."
The bail law, as well as Hochul's push for a statewide housing plan, remain the two marquee issues in the budget talks.
"I would say those two issues are taking up most of the oxygen in the room," Heastie said. "There's been discussions on other subjects ongoing."
Meanwhile, even as officials acknowledge the April 1 deadline for a budget is unlikely to be met, Heastie plans to keep lawmakers in Albany for the weekend as the talks continue.
"Other than for a religious observance, I expect the members to be here," he said.