New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers reached a deal on the state's annual budget, including significant changes to the state's bail laws over issues that made the budget's passage one month late, the New York Times reports. In a deal that pitted Democrats to Hochul's left against Republicans and law enforcement officials statewide, the agreement would give judges new leeway to consider the dangerousness of criminal defendants held pretrial. In clinching her bail-reform priority, the governor, who won a narrow election victory last year on a promise to combat crime, had to bargain away other policy priorities concerning housing and charter schools.
The governor’s changes to the bail laws, which she has repeatedly said were her biggest priority, built upon adjustments she had won last year, when she allowed judges to consider factors like the severity of the crime, and whether or not the accused had access to a gun, when making decisions on whether to hold defendants on bail. The effect of those changes was limited, because New York law said that judges can use the “least restrictive” means to ensure defendants returned to court. But this year’s proposed changes would, for the first time allow judges to set bail with public safety in mind. Since the first round of legislative revisions to the bail laws, which aimed to hold many fewer people in jail pending trial, opponents of the reforms have emphasized stories about people released without bail who then committed violence, although data supporting their claims have been slim to none.