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New York toughens bail law in $220 billion budget deal


ALBANY, NY – Facing growing concerns about crime in an election year, Governor Kathy Hochul and New York state legislative leaders reached agreement Thursday on a sweeping state budget that includes measures to tighten bail restrictions and tougher rules for repeat offenders.

The $220 billion budget includes a number of notable commitments, including hundreds of millions of dollars in relief for New Yorkers struggling with soaring gas prices, more than $1 billion for making child care more affordable and a substantial taxpayer subsidy for a new Buffalo Bills stadium.

But the most notable and tense negotiations have centered on a non-fiscal initiative: the governor’s desire to include changes to state bail laws in budget discussions, a stumbling block that has pushed lawmakers to miss the April 1 deadline.

Under the deal, Ms. Hochul, a moderate Democrat who is seeking her first full term this year, successfully persuaded a largely reluctant Democratic-led legislature to pass amendments to a 2019 bail law that would had only made the most serious crimes eligible for cash bail. .

The changes marked a significant victory for Ms. Hochul, who in negotiating her first budget held firm with more progressive Democratic lawmakers who had vigorously opposed rolling back any bail reform.

The result reflects the latest efforts by Democratic leaders in New York to address voter concerns about public safety ahead of the November election, when Republicans are expected to do well.

Albany Democratic leaders have argued that the 2019 reforms are not to blame for an increase in certain types of violence in New York. But they also said they hoped changes to the law would improve public safety.

The budget negotiations have been somewhat atypical: the state is not faced with the usual gloomy and catastrophic projections of deficits and is instead overflowing with an influx of federal money.

This has given Democratic leaders the ability to spread spending across a slew of voter-friendly initiatives, though it has occasionally put Ms. Hochul at odds with lawmakers over how much to spend on certain programs.

Final budget includes ambitious spending increases to expand access to child care by providing subsidies to thousands of families who were previously ineligible, a top policy priority for Democrats in Albany This year. The governor had proposed an expansion of child care services, but legislative leaders successfully pushed for even more spending.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins ​​said Thursday that lawmakers had also reached an agreement with Ms. Hochul on additional spending to raise wages for homeworkers and expand health care coverage for immigrants. illegal immigrant.

Ms Hochul had sought to permanently allow bars and restaurants to sell alcoholic drinks to take away, a pandemic-era measure that expired last year. As part of the deal, lawmakers agreed to allow take-out drinks again for three years, despite opposition from the liquor store industry and fears the measure could lead to an increase in consumption of alcohol in public.

The governor landed other top priorities, including a plan to overhaul the state’s ailing ethics commission, as well as $600 million in public funds to help replace the Bills’ aging Highmark Stadium in the city. suburb of Buffalo, overcoming opposition from critics who denounced the subsidy as corporate welfare.

The budget will also accelerate tax cuts already planned for the middle class and temporarily suspending some state gas taxes from June through the end of the year in response to rising prices at the pump. Both measures could play well with suburban voters in an election year.

“This budget will put more money back in people’s pockets,” Ms. Hochul said Thursday. “We all wanted to make sure that was the outcome and uplift those who were hit hardest.”

There have been no new tax increases, but the state is poised to tap into a lucrative new revenue stream: Lawmakers have agreed to fast-track licenses for three new casinos likely to open in the New York area, overcoming resistance from some state lawmakers. reluctant to erect gambling establishments in their neighbourhood.

The exact details and exact dollar numbers of the budget for fiscal year 2023 will only become clear as lawmakers introduce bills. They are expected to start voting on the bills on Thursday evening, Ms Stewart-Cousins ​​said.

Lawmakers passed emergency legislation on Monday to ensure state employees would be paid on time this week despite the delay, though the state comptroller warned some paychecks could be late.

While late budgets are nothing new to Albany, this year’s delay served as a visible reminder of how much hasn’t changed in the state Capitol, even under a new governor. The budget process was more opaque than ever: The allocation of billions of dollars was negotiated largely behind closed doors between Ms. Hochul and Democratic legislative leaders.

“This is a perfectly normal budget process,” said Hochul, who pledged to increase government transparency when she took office in August, when asked about the lack of transparency on Monday. “It’s very normal.”

The delay was partly because Ms. Hochul had introduced two proposals — changes to bail laws and public funding of the Bills’ stadium — late in the process, pitting her against an increasingly emboldened legislature. Many members of the governor’s negotiating team also fell ill with Covid-19 last week.

By far the most contentious aspect of the negotiations involved Ms. Hochul’s efforts to change state bail laws.

The changes that the governor and lawmakers ultimately agreed to represented a reluctant middle ground between the stance of a legislature largely reluctant to make changes and a 10-point proposal that Ms. Hochul vigorously pursued in private discussions. The agreement would change the way certain gun crimes are handled, allow for arrests to be made in some cases of repeat offenses and ease the burden of discovery facing prosecutors.

“I think it’s a thoughtful package that not only responds to a narrative, but actually responds to the need for people to feel safe,” Ms Stewart-Cousins ​​said Thursday. “And for us, really to fight gun crime.”

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