New York Toughens Bail Law in $220 Billion Budget Agreement

ALBANY, NY — Facing growing concerns about crime in an election year, Governor Kathy Hochul and New York State legislative leaders reached an agreement Thursday on an expansive budget that included measures to strengthen bail restrictions and toughen rules for repeat offenders.

The $220 billion budget would provide hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for New Yorkers struggling with skyrocketing gas prices by suspending some taxes at the fuel pump. The spending plan also commits billions of dollars to affordable child care and includes a substantial taxpayer subsidy for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.

The most contentious negotiations had nothing to do with money, but with pressure from the governor to include changes to the state’s bail laws in budget discussions. It was a hurdle that caused lawmakers to miss the April 1 deadline.

Under the deal, Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat running for her first full term this year, managed to persuade a largely reluctant Democrat-led Legislature to enact changes to a 2019 bail law that barred judges from set bail for defendants charged with less serious crimes. crimes

The revised law will direct judges to consider new factors, including whether a defendant is accused of seriously harming another person or has a history of using a weapon, when setting bail.

The changes are a significant victory for Ms. Hochul, who faced fierce pushback to her bail proposals from a variety of opponents, including fellow Democrats and public defenders. But the governor, in negotiating her first budget, stood firm with more progressive Democratic lawmakers who had strenuously opposed any rollback.

The result reflected the latest efforts by Democratic leaders in New York to address voter concerns about public safety ahead of the November election, when Republicans are expected to perform strongly.

Democratic leaders in Albany have argued that the 2019 changes are not to blame for the rise in violence in New York City. But they also said they hoped the modifications would improve public safety.

Ms. 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.”

The budget negotiations were atypical: The state is not facing the usual pessimistic and fatal deficit projections and is instead awash with an influx of federal money.

That gave Democratic leaders the flexibility to spread spending across a number of voter-friendly initiatives, though it sometimes put Hochul at odds with lawmakers over how much to spend on certain programs. The final budget is 3 percent larger than last year’s, supported not only by federal funds but also by stronger-than-expected tax revenue.

Includes ambitious spending increases to expand access to child care by providing subsidies to thousands of families who previously did not qualify. The initiative was a top political priority for Democrats in Albany, so much so that they greatly expanded funding for child care beyond the level that Ms. Hochul had proposed.

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​said Thursday that Ms. Hochul also agreed with lawmakers on additional spending to increase wages for homecare workers and expand health care coverage for some undocumented immigrants. .

Ms Hochul had sought to permanently allow bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages to go, a pandemic-era measure that expired last year. Under the deal, lawmakers agreed to allow take-out drinks again for three years, despite opposition from the liquor industry and concerns that the move could lead to more drinking in public.

The governor secured other top priorities, including a plan to overhaul the state’s beleaguered ethics commission, as well as $600 million in public money to help replace the Bills’ aging Highmark Stadium in suburban Buffalo, overcoming opposition from critics who denounced the subsidy as corporate welfare.

The budget will accelerate already planned tax cuts for the middle class and temporarily suspend some state taxes on gasoline, about 16 cents a gallon of gasoline, from June through the end of the year in response to rising prices at the pump. Both measures could work well with suburban voters in an election year.

“This budget will put more money back in people’s pockets,” Hochul said Thursday, adding that it “would encourage those most affected.”

No new tax increases were included, but the state is poised to tap into a lucrative revenue stream: Lawmakers have agreed to fast-track licenses for three new casinos likely to open in the New York City area, overcoming resistance from some lawmakers. from the south of the state. wary of erecting gambling establishments in their districts.

The exact details and precise dollar figures behind the individual budget items will not be clarified until the legislation is introduced. Lawmakers are expected to start voting Thursday night, Ms. Stewart-Cousins ​​said.

While overdue budgets are nothing new in Albany, this year’s delay served as a visible reminder of how much hasn’t changed at the state Capitol, even under a new governor. The budget process was as opaque as ever: The appropriation of billions of dollars was negotiated largely behind closed doors between Ms. Hochul and Democratic legislative leaders.

By far the most difficult aspect of the negotiations involved the state’s bail laws, which showcased Ms. Hochul’s use of the influence that governors typically wield over the state budget process. The governor also appeared to appease lawmakers on other fronts, including more spending on his favorite social programs.

The bail changes that the governor and lawmakers ultimately agreed to represented a grudging middle ground between the stance of a largely reluctant legislative body and a 10-point proposal that Ms. Hochul vigorously pursued in private discussions.

The deal would address many of Ms. Hochul’s priorities, including the ability to make arrests in certain repeat offenders, lower the threshold for prosecuting arms trafficking, and ease some of the burden on prosecutors to quickly deliver materials to the defense.

In addition, the package will expand the use of Kendra’s Law, which allows courts to order the treatment of those determined to be a danger to themselves or others, a provision that was made in part in response to a series of violent episodes involving people with mental illness. people.

“I think it’s a thoughtful package that reacts not just to a narrative, but actually reacts to the need for people to feel safe,” Ms. Stewart-Cousins ​​said on Thursday. “And for us to really tackle crime with guns.”

Despite some opposition, lawmakers approved Hochul’s deal with the Bills to spend $850 million (about $600 million in state funds and $250 million from Erie County) toward the construction of a new $1.4 billion stadium. the largest public subsidy for a stadium. in NFL history. She said Thursday that the state would cover a large part of its share through funds from a settlement agreement with the Seneca Nation over disputed casino revenue.

Ms. Hochul, a Buffalo native, introduced the agreement, which would also commit the state to more than $250 million in capital and maintenance grants over 30 years, as a necessary investment to ensure the team remained in western New York, a move likely to help her with northern voters this year.

Left-leaning lawmakers entered 2022 hoping this would be the year to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive early care and education system.

Though far from a universal system, the final package, Ms. Hochul said, includes a $7 billion investment over four years that will help subsidize child care for families earning up to $83,000 for a family of four. The governor said it would reach more than half of the youth in the state.

The deal includes $343 million in grants and would significantly increase reimbursement rates for child care providers, which lawmakers hope will help offset the damage the industry suffered during the pandemic. It would also provide an additional $125 million for universal pre-kindergarten.

In response to calls from environmentalists, lawmakers agreed to a $4.2 billion environmental bond bill to help finance projects intended to protect against climate change. Officials also committed to making the state’s fleet of roughly 50,000 school buses 100 percent electric by 2035.

Left out of the deal, however, was an ambitious proposal that Ms. Hochul supported to ban oil and gas hookups in new buildings beginning in 2027, a move that would have made New York the first state to stop adding cookstoves and heaters that burn fossil fuels. and requiring new buildings to use only electricity.

This year’s budget will also include language to replace the state’s beleaguered ethics panel, the Joint Commission on Public Ethics, a priority for Ms. Hochul, who has vowed to bring a new era of government accountability to the capital marked by the scandal.

But critics say the The proposal would create a body that is too similar to the current commission, which allows Albany lawmakers to appoint watchdogs.

The budget includes gains and losses for Eric Adams, the mayor of New York City, who had a long list of requests. He will come out with a bigger investment in earned income tax credits and some changes to the state’s bail laws, albeit considerably more limited than he had sought.

Other measures that both Mr. Adams and Ms. Hochul supported, such as renewing or replacing the so-called 421-a housing policy, which offers tax breaks to developers in exchange for affordable housing units, were completely left out of the bill. budget. . There was also no extension of the mayor’s control over the city’s schools, despite Ms. Hochul’s support.

Ms. Hochul said the debate on public safety had overshadowed those issues, but described them as “urgent items that need to be addressed before the end of the session.”

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