State capitol building

Bail Reform Raucous

Last year, the Democratic-held New York State Legislature passed a bill to restrict the use of cash bail for most misdemeanor and non-violent felony offenses. The legislation went into effect on Jan. 1, leading to a flood of opposition by Republicans lawmakers, law enforcement and district attorneys.

“These so-called ‘reforms’ as they stand are nothing more than a jailbreak sending potentially dangerous criminals back into our communities and neighborhoods, day after day, with no safeguards,” State Senator Tom O’Mara (R-Big Flats) said in a statement last week. “Democrats keep shrugging off the warnings and that’s irresponsible, to say the least.”

Democrats in Albany have been split on how to respond. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie has publicly opposed changing the legislation. Assemblywoman Barabara Lifton (D-Ithaca) told the Ithaca Voice that she’s open to looking at possibly “tweaking” last year’s bail reforms, but she’s still largely in favor of the law as is.

“People are always nervous at significant change,” Lifton said. “And this is significant change and we have to see how it goes as we go along.”

She also said that she hasn’t heard from any officials in her district with concerns about bail reform, though Tompkins County District Attorney Matt Van Houten told the Ithaca Times he’s worried that the law was poorly implemented and may pose a public safety risk by removing a judge’s discretion in sentencing.

“Judges actually still have a great deal of discretion. If they don’t know that yet, they’ll be seeing that in their training,” Lifton said pointing out that judges have other alternatives like ankle monitors and pre-trial supervision.

O’Mara Named as Banks Committee Ranking Member

Senator O’Mara is receiving another committee assignment, this time as ranking member on the Senate Banks Committee. He replaces Senator Robert Antonacci (R-Syracuse) who vacated his state Senate seat after winning election for state supreme court judge. O’Mara will also continue serving as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and will continue to hold membership on four other panels.

Reed Write Character Letter to Judge in Collins Sentencing
Rep. Tom Reed was one of several lawmakers to pen letters to the federal judge in Buffalo overseeing the sentencing of former Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) on insider trading charges. While stopping short of asking the judge for leniency, Reed provides several examples in support of Collins’ professional accomplishments and family life.

“As a human being, there was a piece of me that thought it would be prudent to offer my two cents on the positive work that Chris Collins has done,” Reed told reporters on a media call Tuesday. “But make no mistake about it, I do believe that justice needs to be served.”

Collins had served on the board of an Australian pharmaceutical company and had provided information to his son. He was the only House member serving on the board of a publicly-traded company. At the same time, Reed and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY) sponsored a bill that would prevent lawmakers from serving on the boards of public firms.

“I care deeply about improving the public’s trust in Congress,” Reed said in a release about the bill in 2018. “This is a common-sense proposal to further strengthen our ethics rules.”

The U.S. Capitol building. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Schumer/Gillibrand Vote Against USMCA Trade Deal

Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Gillibrand (D-NY) were two of 10 Senators, including nine Democrats to vote against the United States Mexico Canada Agreement on the Senate floor last week. The replacement to NAFTA has been championed as a bipartisan rallying point which has slid through Congress in the midst of tense impeachment proceedings.

Gillibrand and Schumer cited concerns that the agreement didn’t have strict enough rules on environmental protection and climate change concerns.

“Instead of advancing global climate security by outlining binding and enforceable climate commitments from all three countries, the Trump administration provides significant incentives for manufacturers to move their business and their jobs from the U.S. to Mexico, where clean air and clean water regulations are much weaker,” Schumer said in a statement to the Hill.

The deal must now be ratified by the Candian legislature, after which it will go into effect 90 days later.

Reed Supports Anti-Age Discrimination Bill

Reed was one of 34 Republicans to vote in favor of a bill this week to make it easier for employees to claim age discrimination. In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act was worded in such a way that employees could only sue under age discrimination if it was the decisive factor in an employment decision. The new bill would allow for individuals to sue if age was even a partial factor. The bill passed, but faces an uncertain outlook in the Republican-held Senate.

The Week Ahead

This week, the Senate will begin in earnest the impeachment trial against President Trump. It’s still unclear whether the trial will feature additional evidence and testimony.

Legislators in Albany will also take the week off for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday after an exhausting five legislative days this month. Luckily, they’ll be able to use that time to read through the Governor’s budget proposal which will come out on Tuesday.

Vaughn Golden

Vaughn Golden is a freelance radio and print reporter covering politics around the southern tier and central New York. He authors the weekly "Capitol Watch" watchdog report on Ithaca's representatives...