By Will Barclay
We are now a month into 2023, and while it is encouraging to hear Gov. Kathy Hochul claim she is open to changes to the state’s failed criminal justice policy, too little has been done to curb the ongoing spike in violent crime plaguing our communities. Every day seems to bring another harrowing tale of avoidable crime. As the governor prepares to deliver her Executive Budget next week, we need less talking from lawmakers and much more action.
On January 23, I joined family members of crime victims, law enforcement representatives and my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate to again call on the governor and legislative majorities to take the necessary steps to protect New Yorkers. A recent poll showed that 93% of New Yorkers view crime as a serious problem. The need for change is dire, and I hope the governor finally begins to fully grasp the impact these pro-criminal policies are having on families in every corner of the state.
Among those who came to Albany earlier this week to rally for change was Tammy Patrick, the daughter of murder victim John Lee. Tammy, like countless others who needlessly lost loved ones to violent crime in New York, pleaded with lawmakers stubbornly refusing to walk back their failed policies. Had a judge been able to use discretion when her father’s killer was in custody for a prior crime, she believes, he might still be alive today. Our conference stands with Tammy and all those who have been victimized due to the Democrats’ hastily enacted policies.
Next week, the Legislature has scheduled a joint hearing to gather testimony to better understand recent statistics regarding the criminal justice system. I can only hope my colleagues consider the feedback they receive and realize there is room for compromise on this issue. In fact, to help address these issues, we have proposed a series of thoughtful, targeted bills designed to restore order and truly make communities safer. They include:
- Restoring Judicial Discretion – Restoring judicial discretion to allow judges the ability to determine whether a violent criminal poses a dangerous threat to the community and can be held without bail.
- Bail for Gun Crimes – Removing all gun crimes from the no-bail list of offenses Democrats established in 2019.
- Increased Penalties on Youth Gun Crimes – Prohibiting the removal of an Adolescent Offender to Family Court where the defendant possessed a loaded firearm.
- Parole Reform – Requiring a unanimous vote of at least three parole commissioners to grant a prisoner early release and allowing a majority vote of the Legislature to remove a commissioner from the Parole Board.
- Three Strikes & You’re In – Authorizing life in prison without parole for persistent violent felony offenders.
- Shooting Into Crowds – Making it a Class B violent felony to fire into a crowded space with the intent to harm.
- Additional 5 Years for Possession – Providing for an additional 5-year term of imprisonment for committing a felony while possessing a loaded firearm.
- Bail for Hate Crimes – Making a hate crime a qualified offense for purposes of bail issuance.
- Paula’s Law – Preventing the parole of anyone who sexually assaults and murders a child under 18 years of age.
- Bail Reform Repeal – Repealing bail reforms and other criminal justice reforms enacted in Chapters 55 and 59 of the Laws of 2019 and Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2020 and restore prior language.
- Risk Assessment – Restoring judicial discretion relating to bail reform, and providing that when the defendant is charged with a felony, the court shall request of the applicable county pretrial services agency that a risk and needs assessment be conducted.
- Obstructing a Police Officer – Making it a felony to intentionally interfere with or inhibit a police officer or peace officer from engaging in the course of performing their official duties, including spitting, throwing or spilling items, liquid or other physical contact.
Gov. Hochul has indicated she is open to making an adjustment to state law by tweaking language forcing the “least restrictive” bail requirements for those accused of certain serious crimes. This is a good first step, but it is not going to solve the state’s crime problem. We need immediate, wholesale changes now and I look forward to engaging with her and our colleagues on the other side of the aisle in the coming weeks to make our state safe again.
Will Barclay (R, C, I-Pulaski) is the Assembly Minority Leader.