A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward

The 2020 New York State legislative session got its official start a few days ago with the governor’s State of the State address.  While the governor mentioned a few ideas I can back, for the most part, he glossed over or completely ignored some of the toughest challenges facing our state.

New York State is losing population at an alarming rate.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, New York lost more people than any other state in 2019, the second straight year we have held that dubious distinction.  I have pointed to this concern in the past, and while the governor has blamed the weather for our outmigration, that’s not the real problem.  Taxes are too high, the cost of living continues to go up, and unworkable government regulations are discouraging business growth.

In 2019, the Democrats in charge in Albany raised taxes and fees by more than $4.6 billion.  They also eliminated the popular property tax relief checks for seniors and homeowners.  This year won’t be any better.  We are already facing a $6 billion deficit that can be traced to rising Medicaid costs and overspending in last year’s state budget.  Unfortunately, the governor’s message did not offer any remedies to these fiscal concerns.

The governor was also silent on the so-called bail reforms that officially became law on January 1.  Under the changes, there are dozens of serious crimes that no longer require bail, allowing alleged perpetrators to return to our communities with no consequences.

Since the law took hold, dozens of suspects have been released back on the streets, leaving us more vulnerable than ever. These are not petty criminals, but individuals charged with serious offenses – like manslaughter, stalking, sex trafficking, child assault, and domestic violence crimes.

Many are repeat offenders who pose a clear and present danger to the public, but thanks to the Democrats’ new law, a judge may no longer even consider “dangerousness” as a criteria in determining whether an individual should be held or set free.

Many of these individuals quickly committed new crimes, further endangering the public and exhausting police resources. There have been a host of real-life examples, including several right here in the 51st Senate District.

I have also read a number of first-hand accounts from individuals crediting their time in jail for helping them turn their lives around.  Drug addicts, who received help to overcome substance abuse, are among those opposing the bail law reforms. Albany County District Attorney David Soares made this exact point while testifying about this law last year:

“I also need to point out the possible impact on drug courts. The way drug courts work right now is that defendants are held on bail and given the option of drug court or jail.  If everyone gets a presumptive release on drug cases, nobody will go to drug court. We need to carefully examine how we treat drug crimes under any new bail proposal. I know I don’t have to tell you how bad the opioid crisis is in our state. Drug courts around have been very successful in helping individuals get the services they need and stay clean.”

I voted against the reforms last year and co-sponsor several bills to repeal the changes entirely or amend the measures to, at the very least, allow judicial discretion in domestic violence cases or where public safety is in jeopardy.  To date, Senate Democrats have shown no willingness to correct the mistakes in their ill-conceived bail reforms.  In fact, on the first working day of the legislative session, an amendment brought by Senate Republicans to repeal the bail reform laws was voted down with every Democrat voting against the measure.

Moving forward, I will continue the fight to repeal this unsafe law. You can join me by signing my online petition at www.seward.nysenate.gov.  By signing, you will be sending a strong message to the Senate Majority that our communities MUST be protected.