Hochul refuses to discuss proposed bail changes in public

New York state capitol at sunset.

New York state capitol at sunset. Shutterstock

Gov. Kathy Hochul publicly confirmed for the first time Monday efforts by her administration to change bail reform in the upcoming state budget, but don’t expect her to speak publicly about it anytime soon despite a lot of public interest in the matter.

The governor told reporters Monday that she will not publicly defend a leaked 10-point public safety proposal because that would amount to negotiating policy through the media. Her logic appears to be that since New Yorkers know she is working on the issue, they do not need to know any of the details despite the looming April 1 deadline to get changes done in the budget process.

“New Yorkers are most interested in results,” Hochul said at a Monday press conference when asked about the lack of transparency on her bail position. “The public is aware that I share their concerns about public safety ... That's why we're working with my team and working with the legislators to craft a position ... I will strike the right balance in what we're doing here.”

It remains unclear when she would have informed the public about her new public safety plan if it had not been leaked to the New York Post last week. Hochul denied Monday that her administration had any role in the leak. The governor did not include any proposals on cash bail in the state budget she proposed in January or the 30-day amendments that followed. 

Her 10-point plan would make more crimes eligible for cash bail while allowing judges some leeway to jail criminal defendants pretrial over public safety concerns. The governor is also seeking to make changes to allow more people under age 18 to be tried in criminal court for gun possession while also making it easier to force people with mental illnesses to get treatment in certain circumstances.

Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin met with Albany legislators Monday at the Capitol as part of the new effort to get changes in the budget. Some of the legislators who attended joined others in criticizing the proposals at a press conference at the Capitol Monday afternoon. Assembly Member Latrice Walker vowed that she was “prepared to go on a hunger strike” to prevent the changes Hochul has proposed.

Progressive lawmakers in both chambers of the state Legislature are vowing to protect limits on cash bail and other reforms to the criminal justice system first approved in 2019. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, who has resisted past efforts to change bail reform, has also expressed categorical reservations about including policy proposals in the state budget, though his chamber has approved state budgets before with many of them. 

Some Democratic legislators have expressed frustration Monday at how the plan, whoever leaked it, became public before they knew about it. “If she wants to have a policy conversation, we're all open to talking to policy,” Assembly Member Harvey Epstein told City & State before Hochul’s Monday press conference in the state Capitol. “I’m not sure why it's important to do this in the budget.” Representatives of Heastie and state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins could not be reached for comment. 

Hochul has repeatedly vowed to make state government more transparent since taking office following the resignation of ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo last summer. She has also won friends in the Legislature by being more collegial than her predecessor, avoiding policy fights in public. Those two efforts came into conflict once Hochul decided to pursue efforts to change bail reform – and transparency appears to be on the losing end. 

“I wanted to have time to be able to have these conversations confidentially,” Hochul said Monday about why she kept her bail plans quiet before they were leaked. “That's how I operate.”