Amid rising concerns over crime in an election year, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders on Thursday reached agreement on an expansive budget that included measures to strengthen bail restrictions and tighten rules for repeat offenders, reports the New York Times. The most contentious negotiations had nothing to do with money in the $220 billion budget but with Hochul's push to include changes to the state’s bail laws in the budget discussions. It was a stumbling block that caused lawmakers to miss the April 1 budget deadline. Hochul, a moderate Democrat running for her first full term, managed to persuade a largely reluctant Democratic-led legislature to enact changes to a 2019 law that barred judges from setting bail for defendants charged with less serious crimes.
The new law directs judges to consider new factors — including whether a defendant is accused of seriously harming another person or has a history of gun use — in setting bail. The changes are a significant win for Hochul, who faced pushback on her bail proposals from a range of opponents, including fellow Democrats and public defenders. The governor held firm with the more progressive Democratic lawmakers who had strenuously objected to any rollback. The outcome reflected efforts by Democratic leaders to address voter concerns about public safety ahead of elections in November, when Republicans are expected to perform strongly. Democratic leaders argued that the 2019 changes are not to blame for an increase in violence in New York City. Hochul described the changes as a comprehensive package that she said would continue “the progress we’ve made in the past to make sure our criminal justice system is fair.”