Photo: Lane V. Erickson/

Democrats in New York remain divided on how they plan to overhaul the state’s current system on cash bail, with sources familiar with the negotiations saying that a final bill could still include a monetary component despite repeated calls to take money out of bail altogether this year.

Lawmakers are working to come to a deal on criminal justice reform, which is expected to include major changes to the state’s laws on bail, by the time the state budget is due at the end of the coming weekend.

It’s unclear what the final package will look like, but lawmakers said Monday that a major sticking point on bail reform remains the concept of dangerousness, which would essentially allow a judge to decide whether a defendant is a threat to public safety while determining if they should be held in jail before their trial.

Judges in New York don’t currently take into account that factor when deciding what should happen to a defendant after arraignment. Democrats in the state Assembly involved with discussions on bail oppose adding it to the list of factors judges could consider as part of a new law on pretrial detention.

“We still believe that the whole essence of bail was to ensure that people showed up and it was to deal with flight risk,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said Monday. “So there is a concern about judging whether people should show up based on some view of who and what they are. If the requirement is for people to show up, that’s what we should really be basing things on—people’s ability to show up.”

Sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations over bail reform said Monday that lawmakers are even considering allowing monetary bail to remain to some degree, but it’s unclear what that would look like.

A bill introduced last year by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker, D-Brooklyn, would have kept cash bail for more serious crimes. Walker, who is considered a point person on bail in the Assembly, is strongly opposed to allowing dangerousness in any reform. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is pushing lawmakers to resolve differences on bail over the next week, has declined to take a position on the inclusion of dangerousness.

Democrats in the Senate, meanwhile, have coalesced around a bill form state Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Queens, that would do away with the monetary component altogether. Walker said Monday that everyone’s proposals are still being considered.

“All of the proposals are on the table and, sort of, being thrown against the wall,” Walker said. “At this point, we’re still where we’ve always been.”

Heastie said the same when asked for an update on bail reform after a meeting with Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, on Monday.

“Everything that’s been on the table is still on the table,” Heastie said.

In terms of three-way negotiations between legislative leaders and Cuomo, the burden would be on the Assembly to show that cash bail, to some extent, should remain. Both Cuomo and Gianaris have said they want monetary bail eliminated altogether. When asked if preserving a monetary component to bail was still on the table Monday, Gianaris said he would still be opposed.

“That’s not the goal,” Gianaris said. “Talks are continuing, differences are getting narrower, and we’re almost there.”

There are also Democrats in the Assembly that don’t want to see cash bail continued in any form, but the position of the conference may not reflect that. Even Heastie, in February, said he supports “a 100 percent ending of a cash bail system.”

There have been scant updates on criminal justice reform in recent weeks as the Legislature continues to figure out where they’ll land on bail reform, but lawmakers have said changes to the state’s laws on criminal discovery and the right to a speedy trial are all but settled.

Lawmakers are expected to work through the week, and likely the weekend, to come to a resolution on the state budget, which Cuomo has said he won’t approve without those reforms included. The budget is due by the end of the day Sunday.


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