Metzger calls Senate Dems’ bail plan “just and protective of all New Yorkers”

State Sen. Jen Metzger was one of eight Democratic senators who helped craft a proposal to alter the state’s controversial new bail policy that they hope will answer concerns about public safety while retaining the goal of ending discrimination against poor defendants.

“For the past several weeks, I have been participating in a Senate bail reform working group to develop a proposal that the communities I represent will find both safe and fair,” the Rosendale Democrat said in a statement about proposed revision, which isn’t in bill form yet. “My Senate colleagues and I recognized aspects of the new law needed amending, and I am glad we have been able to put forth a plan that is just and protective of all New Yorkers.” 

She and her colleagues were responding to heavy criticism from law enforcement and Republicans about the state eliminating bail for most misdemeanor and nonviolent felony charges. The law took effect on Jan. 1 and was meant to stop the practice of jailing only defendants who can’t afford bail while they await trial, but it triggered a strong backlash and news reports about courts having to release repeat offenders and suspects accused of violent acts.

Under the revision reported by Newsday on Wednesday, judges could order defendants with felony charges to be held in jail or released with monitoring if warranted by their criminal records or likelihood of fleeing. Judges would use prescribed guidelines to make those determinations.

Orange County District Hoovler, a Republican who leads the state District Attorneys Association and has been a critic of the new bail law, told the Times Herald-Record on Thursday that the proposed revision was a “positive step” and sounded similar to bail reforms New Jersey has adopted, although he couldn’t elaborate without knowing the details.

“It’s better than what we have now,” Hoovler said.

Sen. James Skoufis, a Cornwall Democrat who wasn’t part of the group that developed the revision, called it “a big step in the right direction” that would preserve the safeguard against discrimination while restoring judges’ ability to jail persistent offenders and dangerous suspects.

He said Senate Democrats will likely pursue the proposal as a standalone bill, but may later try to pass it as part of the budget if the idea meets resistance. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has sounded dubious about revisiting the bail issue so soon, and bail-reform advocates have urged Democrats to resist what they describe as fear-mongering against the law.

Skoufis said he disagreed that more time was needed to asses the impact.

“I believe there’s ample evidence, including crime data from the NYPD and elsewhere, that the concerns regarding bail reform must be addressed now,” he said. “When it comes to public safety, time is always of the essence.”

Assemblyman Jonathan Jacobson, a City of Newburgh Democrat, also called the Senate Democrats’ proposal “a step in the right direction.” He said he liked that it would set strict standards for holding defendants, given past complaints that bail decisions seemed arbitrary or tilted against black and Hispanic defendants.

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