The N.Y. state capitol building in Albany. Photo: Wikipedia/Matt Wade

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced a $220 billion state budget deal Thursday that includes changes to broaden judicial discretion in setting bail and suspending state sales tax on fuel.

The bail reform changes will now allow judges to consider, when setting bail, a defendant’s history of gun use and whether the alleged crime committed would cause harm, Hochul said. The reform will also allow judges to set bail for gun charges that were “previously subject only to release,” allow police to arrest people for hate crimes, and “close loopholes in the discovery law that led to the unnecessary dismissal of too many cases.”

New York State adopted changes to the state’s laws in 2019 so that fewer people would be kept in pre-trial detention because they couldn’t afford bail. The laws, passed during the administration of her predecessor, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, immediate drew criticism from Republicans when they were passed. In recent months, New York City Mayor Eric Adams has called for bail reform to be changed in reaction to increased crime in New York City. This is despite data showing alleged criminals in New York City out on bail were rearrested at similar rates before and after bail reform was implemented.

Hochul, in a New York Daily News op-ed with Lt. Gov. Brian Benjamin, argued that bail laws be tweaked, but not reverted back to before bail reform was implemented.

The state gas sales will be suspended starting June 1 until the end of the year, Hochul said. The taxes make up about 16 cents per gallon, according to the New York Times, and will result in an estimated $585 million in relief for working families and businesses across the state, Hochul said. 

Gas prices are currently at a national average of $4.14 per gallon, according to AAA. The average reached a record high last month. 

Experts say prices rapidly increased because of supply and demand factors related to the pandemic and a decreasing global supply because of sanctions on Russian natural gas to punish the country for its invasion of Ukraine, according to CBS News.

Hochul said she is asking county governments to consider suspending county fuel taxes. Suffolk County’s motor fuel tax rate is currently at 4.5%. 

The federal government began its relief of fuel prices back in November, when President Joe Biden announced the country would release 50 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. During the State of the Union address last month, he announced the country would release another 30 million barrels along with other countries across the world. He announced last week that he would release one million barrels of oil per day for the next six months.

This budget agreement is $6 billion more than in the governor’s original proposal. The budget includes $31.5 billion in school aid, with investments in pre-kindergarten and school aid programs, Hochul said. She also said the state will invest $7 billion over four years into childcare and budget $2 billion in pandemic recovery funding, which includes $800 million for a continuation of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The agreement also includes $4.2 billion investment into the Environmental Bond Act, which funds projects and job growth that “would help protect clean water, reduce pollution, conserve family farms, and reduce local climate risks,” according to the program’s website.

It also includes the legalization of the alcohol-to-go policy instituted during the pandemic.

Hochul said the budget agreement is “balanced” and “pairs a bold vision with a fiscally responsible approach.”

Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Baiting Hollow) said in a call today she had mixed feelings about the current budget bill before the legislature. Giglio was hesitant to comment on Hochul’s announcement because what Hochul said yesterday could be “completely changed today” by the majority leaders of the legislature, she said. 

“I don’t know what she said about the bail reform changes because it hasn’t been presented to us in any bills as of yet,” she said.

Giglio said she will vote no on the current version of the budget bill because she strongly opposes one provision that would amend the Alcohol Beverage Control law to allow other businesses, including food trucks, to operate on farm cidery, farm distillery, farm vineyard and farm meadery property.

“You’re gonna have food trucks paying these facilities to come onto their properties and sell food and it hurts the businesses and the restaurants that are in the immediate vicinity in the community,” Giglio said.

Giglio said she was excited for other aspects of the bill, including the creation of a legislative commission to oversee the future of the Long Island Power Authority, and amendments to the state law to allow fire departments to enter contracts with ambulance and other emergency medical services. 

Sen. Anthony Palumbo could not be reached for comment.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: [email protected]