New York's state budget debate has included weighty topics that will affect millions of people in the state: How to expand housing, whether the minimum wage should be increased, whether charter schools should expand and if wealthy people should get another tax increase. 

But all of those issues are being subsumed in the budget talks by negotiations over once again changing New York's 2019 bail law. 

"I don't know how anything is going to happen because this is the thing that's sucking up most of the oxygen in the room," state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said Monday. 

The budget was due on April 1. But lawmakers and Gov. Kathy Hochul have yet to reach an agreement on whether the state's bail law, first approved four years ago, should be amended to make it easier for judges to potentially issue cash bail requirements for serious criminal charges. 

Hochul has said the change is necessary to address New Yorkers' concerns over crime and public safety — a debate that dominated her campaign for a full term last year. 

Supporters of the law as it is argue that to undermine the intent — preventing people only accused of crimes from languishing in jail — would create more inequities in the criminal justice system. 

"People want justice to be done at arrest," Heastie said. "That's not what our system is. Justice is at disposition of cases."

Crime has increased since the law was approved, which opponents have tied to the measure as well as a suite of criminal justice law changes approved in recent years. But the rise in crime also coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and the societal disruptions. 

Heastie acknowledged it is difficult to legislate away perception for New Yorkers. 

But some Democratic lawmakers are going in a different direction by introducing a measure to create a judicial discretion component for the bail law. 

"If you look at anything we do in the Legislature, we are amending sections of law all the time," said Assemblyman Ken Zebrowski, who introduced the measure. "I think it's our responsibility as legislators to try to look at what's happening in the state and try to present solutions."

The proposal is an acknowledgement of the heated politics surrounding the bail law, one that a broad array of voters have said according to polling needs to be changed. 

"My constitutents have been very clear with me that criminal justice and public safety continues to be a concern for them," said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner. "What contributes to public safety and criminal justice, there are many factors, one of which is judicial discretion." 

Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, are urging Hochul to continue to make the bail issue a line in the sand in the budget talks. 

"I give credit when credit's due," said Assemblyman Chris Tague. "I think the governor in this case has stuck to her guns and she's going to do something about bail reform like she said."

Assemblyman Matt Slater pointed to voter surveys that show New Yorkers want crime to be addressed. 

"Cashless bail is clearly the number one issue facing New Yorkers," Slater said. "They passed cashless bail in the past and it's time they've fixed it."