Campaign dollars flow as lawmakers debate New York bail law

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — As the debate over New York’s bail law rages in the state Capitol, criminal justice interests have funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars to state lawmakers who will decide whether to amend the reforms, campaign finance records show.

New York lawmakers and political parties, from June to mid-February, reeled in at least $360,000 from police unions and other law enforcement groups, records show — organizations that have overwhelmingly denounced the reforms.

In particular, during that same time period, police groups have directed more than $75,000 to the six Senate Democrats from Long Island, a group that has supported efforts to roll back portions of the law or change the system’s bail structure.

Implemented at the beginning of the year, the bail changes eliminated cash bail for the wide majority of misdemeanor and nonviolent felony cases.

On the other side of the debate, a little-known group backing criminal justice reforms has given at least $49,000 to lawmakers and political campaigns since June and more than $160,000 since the beginning of 2018.

The group, entitled the Fair Just and Safe NY PAC, is funded in part by hedge fund executive Daniel Loeb. The group issued a statement saying it is proud to support candidates who have advanced pretrial reforms and parole changes, among other topics.

It’s unclear when or whether state lawmakers will change the bail law. Either way, the issue has grown into one of the fiercest debates this session, often highlighting ideological splits between moderate Democrats, who want to roll back parts of the law, and liberal-leaning legislators, who have resisted.

Senate Democrats this month floated a plan that would eliminate cash bail entirely but give judges more discretion over who is released from jail before trial.

The bail law did away with pretrial detention for most misdemeanors and nonviolent cases. Under the Senate Democrat’s proposal, a judge could hold someone in pretrial detention for certain hate crimes and domestic violence felonies, along with crimes that led to a death.

The proposal would also allow for repeat offenders to be held in pretrial detention, although the specifics remain unclear.

Criminal justice reformers and criminal defense organizations have decried the plan, arguing that giving judges more discretion over who stays in jail pretrial will allow for racial disparities.

The bail law was partially motivated by the case of Kalief Browder, who was denied bail after being arrested at age 16 on a charge that he stole a bag. He then spent years in custody and the case was dropped without a trial. Browder later killed himself.

“Don’t ever forget this young man who will forever die young,” said Assemblymember Walter Mosley, speaking at a rally in support of the bail law this week. The group issued an overriding message: no rollbacks on the current law.

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins defended the proposal Wednesday and said there would be specific “guardrails” for judges, mentioning the current bail system already allows for judicial discretion.

“We have proposed the most progressive type of solution for this particular problem,” she said.

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