Public officials change laws for one of two reasons — substantive reasons or political reasons.
The changes that Gov. Kathy Hochul and the state Legislature made to the state’s cash bail law last weekend were purely political.
They were made not due to a genuine concern over the impacts of the reform laws, but with an eye on the upcoming statewide elections.
The governor and the Legislature didn’t adequately address concerns from police, prosecutors and others that the existing law was contributing to rising crime rates. They didn’t address concerns from social justice advocates that weakening the law would lead to a return to discriminatory practices, particularly toward the indigent and minorities.
They didn’t substantially change the law enough to make a significant difference in reducing crime should it turn out be a contributor. And they didn’t even resolve questions about whether the law is actually responsible for rising crime rates in the first place.
The changes include adding a few new crimes to the list of those not eligible for cash bail, as well as giving judges slightly more power to consider gun crimes and domestic violence in their decision-making.
The changes didn’t go as far as some wanted to eliminate cash bail for more crimes, allow judges to consider lengthy criminal records or give judges the discretion to base decisions about bail on the “dangerousness” of the suspect.
What we got were politically motivated changes designed to deflect Republican accusations that Democrats who support the reforms are soft on crime.
Democrats cognizant of the public’s growing concern about crime decided they had to do something to change the narrative.
The bail reforms were an easy target for their critics. So they made modest amendments to shut them up.
Now they can go into the primaries and the general election saying they took steps to reduce crime by supporting a tougher bail reform law, without knowing whether the changes they made would actually make a difference.
That’s not governing. That’s taking advantage of a situation for political gain.
We’re no closer now than we were before in knowing what changes, if any, are necessary to reduce crime and at what point amending the law would be harmful.
An issue this complex and controversial warrants its own separate debate in the Legislature, not backroom dealings as part of a completely unrelated budget negotiations.
It warrants public hearings involving police, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, social welfare advocates and experts who could interpret crime statistics to demonstrate the law’s actual effect on crime rates.
New Yorkers needed their elected leaders in Albany to put the people above their concern for their own political futures.
But once again, their leaders let them down.