New York State’s controversial bail reform is putting public safety at risk and increasing costs to municipalities, according to critics who testified Thursday at a Nassau County Legislature hearing on the topic.
Nassau’s Republican-led legislature held the hearing just as Democratic majority state lawmakers in Albany were reportedly negotiating amendments to the law that eliminated cash bail for a long list of misdemeanors and felonies when it went into effect Jan. 1.
“Valentine’s Day is tomorrow, and because of this law, we will be grieving the loss of an incredible young man, when we should be celebrating the engagement of one of the most incredible partnerships I’ve ever seen,” said Victor Maldonado, father of 27-year-old Jonathon Flores-Maldonado, who was killed in Suffolk on Jan. 12 by an alleged drunken driver released without bail following an arrest for tampering with a court-ordered ignition interlock device. “We believe he was saving money for an engagement to propose.”
Holding back tears, Maldonado pleaded for Nassau lawmakers to help convince state lawmakers to change the law.
The proposal that state lawmakers are reportedly considering would again reform cash bail — correcting the disparity in which wealthy defendants are free pending their trails while poor defendants who can’t afford bail remain jailed while they fight their charges — and restore judicial discretion in deciding which defendants are held.
Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder testified at the hearing that crime is up for the first month of the year compared to last year. Ryder recently came under fire when he suggested that a witness who was recently murdered before he could testify in an MS-13 trial was killed as a result of a provision in bail reform that speeds up the discovery process in which prosecutors share with defense attorneys the identities of witnesses. Defense attorneys maintain that they did not share the witness’ name with their clients and blasted the commissioner for accusing the attorneys of enabling the murder.
Assistant Nassau County District Attorney Jed Painter, another critic of the bail reform, said witness protection requests between Jan. 1 and Feb. 12 were double the amount of requests that Nassau prosecutors received in all of 2019.
And in the Village of Freeport, Mayor Robert Kennedy said the village board had to raise taxes to fund complying with bail reform.
“We have to look at the worst case scenario, and worst case scenario to me is $2.7 million,” he said. “We’ve increased taxes by 5.7 percent this year in this budget and it’s directly attributed to this discovery reform.”
Legislator Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport), the Democratic minority leader of the county legislature, accused Republicans of using the issue to try to score cheap political points, noting that Albany passed bail reform, not Nassau.
“No Democrat or Republican in this legislature had anything to do with this law, but today we find ourselves holding a hearing, which starts with the premise of calling on the county executive to denounce the law,” Abrahams said, noting that Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has already joined calls for Albany to fix bail reform. “To me this is just you trying to link her to something you gain a political advantage on.”
-With Timothy Bolger