CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Two area legislators from the state’s two major political parties Monday said they are sponsoring a bipartisan bill to amend the Bail Reform and Discovery Law set to take effect Jan. 1.
Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, discussed the bill and the reasoning behind it in a morning press conference Nov. 26 in Tedsico’s Clifton Park office.
The bipartisan bill would allow judges discretion to set bail for defendants deemed a danger to the community and those with a history of failing to appear for court.
The new Bail and Discovery Reform legislation that was passed into law earlier this year as part of the state budget, limits the setting of monetary bail for defendants in criminal trials.
At Monday’s press conference, the two legislators chose to focus only on the part of the law dealing with monetary bail and not discovery. Tedisco held a press conference Nov. 12 asking for a moratorium on the law with Republican supporter Assemblywoman Mary Beth Walsh, R-Ballston.
Tedisco said the current version of the Bail and Discovery Reform Law provides too little judicial discretion, was hastily passed “in the middle of the night”, and has come under widespread bipartisan criticism from law enforcement, prosecutors, and crime victims.
“We’re putting forth legislation not designed to eliminate civil criminal justice reform, but mitigate what we see coming around the corner in January,” Tedisco said. “We think there can be criminal justice reform and we support that in a variety of ways. The fact of the matter is we think there’s going to be a lot of mitigation that takes place with a lot of unintended consequences with the depths where they have gone with the elimination of cash bail.”
Tedisco said he and Santabarbara don’t always see eye to eye, but they don’t call names or fear monger and they think the reform measures passed have gone too far and, in Tedisco’s words, result in a criminal bill of rights.
“We think they have weighed the scales of justice too far against the rights of victims and too far for alleged offenders,” he said. “This crosses demographic lines.”
The bipartisan bill would allow the judiciary to have the discretion to look at a defendant’s judicial record. If there are previous felony arrests the judges would have the discretion to impose bail.
The bill proposed by Tedisco and Santabarbara would also allow judges to look back and see if a defendant has skipped bail previously, and would allow judges to take into consideration whether the defendant has committed another crime while out on bail.
In his remarks, Santabarbara said he has been contacted by every law enforcement agency in his assembly district expressing opposition to the law and has received phone calls from constituents in opposition.
“I’m not against bail reform,” he said. “Our bill is not against bail reform. There is no reason to hold non-violent offenders who pose no danger to safety on cash bail. All we’re saying is this legislation goes too far.”
He cited stalking, endangering the welfare of a child, and endangering the welfare of a disabled person as being a concern to him. All three crimes are included in the law that will take effect Jan.1 and allow a defendant to be released without bail.
“The list of crimes in the Bail and Discovery Reform Bill need to be looked at,” he said. “Judges need discretion whether someone will commit another crime.”
Amsterdam, Santabarbara said, is struggling and does not have the resources to go out and find people who don’t appear in court when they’re supposed to.
Santabarbara said he voted against putting the original Bail Reform and Discovery Law into the state budget as an amendment. Tedisco said he voted in opposition to the entire state budget.
Reading from a list of individuals that included district attorneys and elected officials from both parties, local law enforcement leaders, and state-wide associations that support amending the coming law, Tedisco said all 30 names on the list agree criminal justice reform is needed but the crimes listed in the new Bail Reform and Discovery Law do not illustrate that.
Tedisco noted that each time he calls for a change to the law, the response from Gov. Andre Cuomo’s office is that he and those who support him are fear-mongering. Reading from the list the names of the Democrats who support the bi-partisan bill Tedisco posed a question.
“These people are fear-mongering,” he asked. “Then why is it so broad-based.”
In addition to the bipartisan bill being proposed by the two men, Tedisco has submitted two additional bills on his own that are not supported by Santabarbara. One bill calls for repealing it completely and starting over with hearings from professionals in the field. The other bill calls for a one-year moratorium.
Speaking in opposition to the two legislators’ positions was Jamaica Miles, a community activist from Schenectady. She attended the press conference as a constituent of the two legislators asking to speak to either one. Both men, she said, refused to speak with her about their bill.
Speaking afterward to members of the media, Miles lambasted the legislators’ bill as well as Tedisco’s proposals for a moratorium or repeal.
Miles said she came to the press conference because her legislators chose to have it in Clifton Park, “far from the lives of the people who they are impacting right now."
“There are hundreds of us across the state that you didn’t hear from,” she said. “This law (the one effective Jan. 1) is there for those with non-violent crimes and they stood here and said this is what you should fear. There are people in Schenectady who have lost their homes, lost jobs because of accusations, not because they’ve been convicted.”
The governor and legislature, she said, made some changes in defining what is considered a violent felony, a violent crime. The changes are long overdue and were approved and put into law by a democratic process, she said, and now some elected officials are working to overthrow that process.
Miles said the law to go in effect Jan. 1 allows for electronic monitoring, the removal of a defendant’s passport, home arrest, or a curfew.
“No one is asking them to go chase people down if they don’t appear,” she said.
In addition to being a resident of Schenectady and a constituent of both Tedisco and Santabarbara, Miles is the Statewide Organizing and Training Director for Citizen Action of New York.