A Column of News & Comment by Senator James L. Seward
Protecting the public is among the top priorities of any elected official. During my time in office, I have helped enact a number of laws to ensure our communities are safe. Recently, I joined members of the Senate Republican Conference and a bipartisan group of district attorneys and county sheriffs to highlight proposed changes to state law that would tilt the scales of justice towards criminals and away from law-abiding New Yorkers.
Two of the leading proposals opposed are:
“Cashless Bail,” a measure that could allow violent offenders to be released without serious consequences and to potentially commit more crimes, ignoring the real concerns of law enforcement officials and crime victims. Another serious worry of public stakeholders is the potential increase in flight risk; and
“Criminal Discovery Reform,” a measure that would require all evidence to be turned over to defendants within 15 days, including who witnesses are and where they live. This proposal could lead to an uptick in witness intimidation and tampering, endangerment of law enforcement officials, and even compromise successful prosecutions. It would also create an unfair, unfunded mandate on local governments.
These proposed changes are just the latest offered by legislator that are more committed to protecting the rights of criminals than those of law-abiding citizens. Other recent examples include:
- Voting rights restored for 36,000 felons, including rapists and murderers who haven’t yet completed their sentences;
- Multiple cop killers set free due to a tainted parole board;
- Legislation advanced to provide an increase in the minimum wage for inmates currently serving time in prison for their crimes while law-abiding middle-class New York families flee the state in droves; and
- Legislation advanced to allow convicted felons to serve on juries, potentially allowing a violent offender to decide the fate of another violent offender.
In past years, I have joined with my senate colleagues to pass multiple measures designed to reform the criminal justice system, but the assembly and the governor never acted on them. Now the new Senate Democrat Majority is blocking the proposals. These are commonsense solutions that should be a part of any comprehensive criminal justice reform package, including:
- Tougher penalties for repeat violent criminal offenders;
- More resources for police departments statewide to help officers stay safe on the job;
- Tougher enforcement tools to use on major drug dealers and traffickers who are targeting children and other vulnerable citizens with heroin and other illegal substances; and
- Parole reform legislation that puts crime victims and their families first.
Another measure I am fighting for would increase penalties for individuals who cause a fire or explosion while manufacturing illegal drugs. I drafted this legislation after officials in Cortland County pointed out loopholes in the current law regarding drug related fires following a tragic event in Homer in my senate district.
On September 2, 2016, Brian Bermudez was making methamphetamines in a Homer apartment. The makeshift drug lab exploded, killing an innocent neighbor, Dewayne Block, and destroying a historic downtown Homer building. Despite the severe destruction of property and loss of life, Bermudez could not be charged with arson or a felony murder charge.
An innocent man lost his life and an entire community was devastated by the criminal act of one individual. Speaking with the firefighters and police who responded to that fire, and seeing the site first hand, further illustrated to me the need for a stronger law.
Last year, the senate passed my bill that would make it a class E felony, punishable by up to four years, for persons causing a fire or explosion during a drug manufacturing process, and a class C felony, punishable by up to fifteen years, for persons who recklessly cause a fire or explosion during a drug manufacturing process. The assembly never took a vote on the bill.
I have reintroduced this legislation and will continue to fight for its full approval, along with other key bills, to keep our communities safe.