WASHINGTON — Joining the chorus of lawmakers and law enforcement officials voicing concerns over the new bail reform laws in New York, U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-21, took the initiative in Washington to study the results of pre-trial release.
Stefanik announced Monday she was co-sponsoring legislation called Bill’s Promise Act, which would have the Government Accountability Office study how people released from jail pre-trial are supervised.
“I am proud to co-sponsor this bill to address dangerous bail-reform policies that continue to put our communities at risk,” Stefanik said in a statement. “This legislation will require an assessment of failed bail reform laws exactly like the one that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has implemented in New York, which has had significant impacts in the North Country and put many communities at risk.”
Stefanik’s bill, she said, was drafted in collaboration with law enforcement and members of anti-violence advocacy groups.
The new law, which was enacted at the start of the year, allows individuals charged with most misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to be released from custody without bail. Proponents of the law, including most Democratic legislators, have said bail reform is an essential step to level the playing field for lower-income communities and communities of color, saying it is unfair to criminalize poverty.
But Republican lawmakers have sounded public safety alarms over the new laws, and kicked off the first week of the legislative session with an amendment that would repeal the historic criminal justice reforms passed last year, including bail reform.
Some Democratic legislators have proposed amendments to the law, or at least expressed openness to exploring tweaks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the legislation in his 2019 agenda, called the reforms a “work in progress” in a speech last week, and said there were “consequences that we have to adjust for.”
During his opening address, newly elected Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay, R-120, urged his fellow legislators to take another look at the laws, saying he’s “not trying to grind the political ax” but rather protect public safety and listen to local law enforcement officials, judges and district attorneys who have expressed concerns about repercussions of the new laws.
While some Democratic legislators have proposed their own amendments to the law, including inviting back in judicial discretion for certain crimes, most are standing firm.
One of those is Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-83, who said the reforms were about making sure defendants get treated equally, and urged people to have more patience and let the law take effect.
“Judicial discretion invites back in bias,” he recently told reporters. “When two people who are charged with the same crime end up with different bails, that gives me pause on judicial discretion. Right now the way the law is written, it is based on the crime you are accused of, whether you should be released.”