Apr. 4, 2023 By Ethan Stark-Miller
After blowing past their April 1 deadline, Governor Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers gave themselves until next Monday to reach a state budget deal, which has been primarily held up by stalled negotiations around making further changes to the state’s bail laws.
The extra time to negotiate was achieved by state Senate and Assembly leaders passing, and the governor signing, a budget extender bill on Monday that pushed the deadline for the Fiscal Year 2024 spending plan back to April 10. The legislation extends the current budget for another week to keep the state government funded and employees paid.
The measure came as Hochul and legislative leaders have found themselves at an impasse over tweaks the governor wishes to make to the state’s bail laws, which were reformed in 2019 to eliminate cash bail for most misdemeanors and non-violent felonies.
“I have been negotiating in good faith with the legislature, but it is clear there is more work to be done before we reach an agreement,” the governor said in her first public statement on the shape of budget negotiations in several days.
“For that reason, I am submitting a bill to the legislature that would extend the budget deadline to April 10, giving us the time we need to deliver a final budget that is responsive to the urgent needs of New Yorkers,” she added.
In her own statement, State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said she was “disappointed” a budget deal couldn’t be reached by the April 1 deadline.
“We are disappointed that all parties couldn’t come together to pass a final budget in a timely manner,” she said.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, while taking questions from reporters in the state Capitol Monday afternoon, said the issues holding up budget talks moved from being both bail reform and Hochul’s housing plan late last week, to just bail now.
“I would say bail is now taking up pretty much all the oxygen in the room and everything else is second,” Heastie said. “I mean conversations are still being had, but that’s, I’d tell you it was bail and housing was 90%, bail itself is now maybe 90%.”
“It’s bail, bail, bail, and then I guess we’ll figure everything else out,” he added.
Hochul is seeking to nix what’s known as the “least restrictive means standard” as a way to give judges more discretion when setting bail — particularly for “serious” crimes. The standard guides judges to consider the least restrictive way of getting those charged with a crime to show up for their court date when determining whether bail should be set.
The governor argues the standard has added confusion as to which offenses they can actually set bail for. Last year, she held up the budget by nine days in order to pass a previous set of changes to the bail laws she championed — giving judges more discretion to hold defendants on bail for gun crimes and those violating orders of protection.
According to a report from the Times Union on Monday, a deal for removing the least restrictive standard for serious crimes, that would maintain the intent of the law to not put people accused of low-level crimes in jail pre-trial simply for not being able to afford bail, was close to being reached. But, according to Heastie, talks have continued to stall over differences in opinion between the state Senate and Assembly over what available data shows about the connection between the pretrial detention reforms and crime rates.
“Some people don’t believe that we have a statistical problem, some people believe we have a perception problem,” he said. “It’s like data versus perception. New York remains one of the safest states. New York City is one of the state’s safest cities. But I don’t know if people feel that way. So, I think that adds a layer of what do you do? What’s the right thing to do?”