New York Budget Passes With Bail Reform Changes Amid Outbreak

Associated Press
April 03, 2020 - 8:25 pm
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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A $177 billion state budget passed by New York lawmakers Friday leaves leeway for spending cuts of as much as $10 billion as the full financial toll of the coronavirus outbreak becomes more clear.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have not decided yet where to find cuts and are seeking more federal funding to help make up a potential loss of $10 billion to $15 billion in state tax revenue.

“The budget was difficult because the state has no money,” Cuomo said Friday.

Cuomo's administration can cut spending on its own if lawmakers do not come up with their own plan within 10 days. Lawmakers have largely agreed that the ongoing pandemic calls for expanding the governor’s role over state spending and response efforts.

But unions and other advocacy groups said the specter of looming, unknown cuts endangers New York's safety net as the pandemic continues.

“New York is bleeding revenues and workers are facing massive unemployment on a scale never seen before. Without additional federal relief right now, the state will be forced into cutting essential services we all rely on,” Civil Service Employees Association President Mary Sullivan said.

For now, schools that are already considering layoffs and have bare-bones budgets are receiving nearly the same amount of funding as last year — about $28 billion. Cuomo had proposed $800 million in extra school aid in January. New York will lose out on extra federal education aid if funding falls further.

The budget also allows Cuomo’s administration to reduce health care spending and make it harder for New Yorkers to enroll in some Medicaid programs this or next year.

The potential delay of some Medicaid reforms could allow New York to receive billions from Congress’ emergency Medicaid aid package, which prohibits states from restricting Medicaid during the outbreak. But health consumer groups said cuts during or after the pandemic will devastate hospitals shouldering the brunt of it.

A host of new laws were approved in the budget, despite pushback from Republicans and other critics who said lawmakers have had less time than ever to study the laws' potential impact:

CASH BAIL:

Roughly a dozen new crimes will be considered eligible for cash bail once again under a new change to a state law that eliminated cash bail for most crimes.

The changes passed in January, freeing most inmates from state jails as they awaited trial.

While many praised the criminal justice reform, others heavily criticized the law and demanded change. That change came overnight Friday.

Now, the state will allow for cash bail for repeat arrests in some cases, including individuals who are arrested for a felony while on parole or probation.

New York Civil Liberties Union executive director Donna Lieberman says the changes are a step back in the effort to make the justice system fairer to the poor.

She said wait cash bail was eliminated, poor residents benefited from the presumption on innocence, “People could plead not guilty and fight the charges in court without having to do so while they were held in jail.”

She stressed that the idea that criminals were evading court and committing more felonies was unreasonable.

“The vast majority of people who are the least on their own recognizance or under on supervised release I'll come back to court to answer the charges against them,” she said.

Liberman adds that in the age of coronavirus, it’s even more odd to be putting people in prison.

“It's odd that as we're trying to empty the jails and figure out who can we safely released back into society through one door you know through the other we're just pulling more people,” she said.

LEGALIZATION OF GESTATIONAL SURROGACY:

New York will now allow gestational surrogacy — which involves a surrogate who is not genetically related to the embryo. An egg is removed from the intended mother, fertilized with sperm, and then transferred to a surrogate — in contrast to traditional surrogacy that involves an egg from the surrogate. The new law includes a Surrogates' Bill of Right that ensures surrogates can make their own healthcare decisions, including whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy.

TERRORISM:

New York now can charge individuals who commit hate-fueled mass violence with a “domestic act of terrorism motivated by hate” felony that’s punishable by up to prison without parole. Cuomo named the law in memory of Josef Neumann, the victim of a December stabbing in a rabbi's home in Monsey.

GREEN LIGHT LAW:

New York is tweaking a law allowing immigrants living in the country illegally to apply for drivers’ licenses. The measure drew a rebuke from President Donald Trump’s administration, which had halted the import and export of used vehicles in New York and cut residents from the “trusted traveler” program. New York can now share certain state motor vehicle records that federal officials say are needed to import and export vehicles and vet New Yorkers applying to trusted traveler programs. The law aims to ensure that data can’t be used for immigration enforcement.

COVID IMMUNITY:

A new law sought by a group representing New York hospitals provides immunity for health care facilities, workers and administrators from civil or criminal liability during the COVID-19 outbreak.

GUN CONTROL:

New York can seize weapons from certain individuals linked to possible domestic abuse. A new law also individuals from obtaining a gun license who commit serious offenses out-of-state that would keep them from obtaining a gun license if they committed the crime in New York. New York can also share reports of individuals who are a danger to themselves or others with other states.

FLAVORED VAPING BAN:

Flavored vaping will be illegal in New York under a new law that follows the state's effort last year to ban flavored vaping through regulations. The vaping industry sued arguing the regulations went to far, while Cuomo said they were needed to protect young people attracted to the flavoring of nicotine liquids. The state is also prohibiting the sale of e-cigarettes in pharmacies, banning harmful carrier oils and certain fentanyl analogs and restricting advertising near schools.

STYROFOAM CONTAINER BAN:

New York is banning the use of Styrofoam take-out food containers starting in 2022 as part of efforts to limit plastic pollution. The chemical industry, which is also trying to ban reusable bags in several states, failed to dissuade New York from passing the ban.

E-BIKES:

New York will legalize electric bikes and scooters after long resisting the move, while letting local governments decide regulations themselves. Supporters had called on the state to reduce car pollution and address the crackdown on immigrant delivery workers driving e-bikes in New York City.

SEX OFFENDERS ON MTA:

New York judges will be able to ban certain high-risk sexual offenders from riding the MTA subway, bus and rail system. The law applies to individuals who had committed unlawful sexual conduct or a crime involving assault against an ATM employee.

STATE SEAL:

New York will add E Pluribus Unum — which means out of many one — to the state’s coat of arms. Cuomo said it proclaims “at this ugly time the simple truth that without unity we are nothing.”

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