CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Sen. Jim Tedisco last week continued his efforts to modify the state’s new Bail Reform Law by submitting a bill that will protect the personal contact information of First Responders and emergency personnel if called as witnesses in a criminal case.
Tedisco, R-Glenville, has taken the lead in local efforts to modify, amend, or “push the pause button” on the Bail Reform and Discovery Act that took effect throughout the state on Jan. 1.
The law has changed the way bail is handled by judges for those arrested for a variety of offenses. It has also put tremendous pressure on the judiciary by shortening the number of days allowed to deliver documents to the defense.
Starting in November Tedisco began submitting bills in the Senate that had the support of many fellow Republican legislators and numerous local law enforcement and judicial officials.
In late November he held a joint press conference with Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Amsterdam, who said he would sponsor Tedisco’s bill in the Assembly. The bill would allow judges discretion in setting bail for dangerous criminals and those defendants with a history of failing to appear in court.
On Tuesday Tedisco asked for and received unanimous support from the Clifton Park Town Board for his latest bill, the Emergency First Responders Privacy and Protection Act. This bill would protect the names and addresses of First Responders who might have evidence or relevant information in a charged offense or to the defense.
“The discovery section of the new Bail Reform Law says the judiciary has 15 days to provide the names and address to the accused ‘predators’,” Tedisco said. “Law enforcement is exempted and rightfully so but right now First Responders’ names and addresses must be provided in 15 days.”
Many times, Tedisco said, those accused persons are either gang members or individuals who have committed violent crimes and are susceptible to a murder charge.
“They don’t threaten witnesses anymore, they just kill them because it doesn’t matter how many more people they kill; it’s 25 years to life because the state doesn’t have a death penalty,” Tedisco said.
The First Responders, Tedisco said, were not on the scene to arrest people; they were there to save them but because they were witnesses to a crime their names and addresses are now required to be turned over to the defense as part of the Bail Reform and Discovery Law.
In a Jan. 17 letter to local emergency responders, Tedisco advised them of what was happening and asked for their support by having them contact the governor, the state Senate Majority Leader, and the state Assembly Leader. He provided phone numbers, links and emails for each in his letter.
“This is a case of not only keeping them safe but also their families,” Tedisco said. “It’s not helping with recruiting either.”
As he discussed the Bail Reform Law in its entirety, Tedisco noted that it was placed in the state budget rather than originating with the Legislature where it would be debated on the floors of the Assembly and the Senate, a fact that irritates him immensely. He noted also that some Democratic members of the Legislature are beginning to “back-peddle” on the law.
“They want to tweak it,” he said. “Nobody can virtually defend what is happening now.”
Tedisco said Democrats are now coming forward with a number of bills to fix it.
“Maybe they didn’t read the bill in the first place because it was in the wrong place. It was in the budget of New York State,” he said.
Tedisco wants what he terms common sense to prevail. He wants judges to have the option of setting cash bail if defendants have violent crime in their past, if they’ve been given “one bite of the apple, or if they’ve committed another crime before returning to court for the first. He’d also like to see indexing bail to one’s financial means.
Prior to the Town Board voting on a resolution of support Supervisor Philip Barrett said he viewed the issues produced by the Bail Reform and Discovery Law as being very important to the town and to communities across the state.
The board’s resolution stated the town was supportive of amending the Bail and Reform Law “through a legislative process which includes public hearings and consultation with law enforcement and the judiciary so that a fair set of reform measures can be enacted, for the benefit of crime victims, law enforcement, and public safety”.
“Justice is not 100 percent fair but you can’t balance the scale of justice on law abiding citizens and their families,” Tedisco said. “We can do criminal justice reform for low level crimes.”