Protesters call for bail reform law to be left alone, legislators say changes needed

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Dozens of people protested on the steps of City Hall in Manhattan Friday any change to New York's new bail reform law.

"We won't change one word of it. We stand and we won't go back," said Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP.

Since the law went into effect on January 1, thousands of people have been released from jails in our area.

The law, which was spearheaded by state Democrats, stipulates that judges can't apply bail to misdemeanor crimes and some felonies - including assault, grand larceny, and even second-degree manslaughter. It's meant to ensure people aren't kept in jail just because they can't afford to get out.

"We are doing something to right that wrong and put justice into the criminal justice system," Donna Lieberman with the New York Civil Liberties Union said at the rally.

The concern is some people who've been released have extensive criminal pasts or have gone on to commit crimes again only to be rearrested. Law enforcement officials across the state have been sounding the alarm since the law went into effect.

"What I am hearing is people do not feel safe and my job is to make people safe," state Senator Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood) told Eyewitness News.

Martinez has introduced legislation to reform the law by completely eliminating cash bail and allowing judges to decide on a case-by-case basis whether someone should be held pre-trial.

Martinez said she voted in favor of the bail reform law only because it was packaged in with the state budget, which included causes like school funding and the property tax cap that she had worked tirelessly on. She said she won't approve any future budget which doesn't alter the bail reform law.

"If there is no reform to this reform, I will not vote for this budget," she said.

Martinez is joined by her fellow Long Island Democrats, all who voted in favor of the bail reform law, who are now pushing for changes.

"Making common-sense changes to the bail law is a top priority this session for myself and my fellow Long Island legislators," said Senator Todd Kaminsky (D-Rockville Centre). "We can't stop working until it's accomplished."

The issue has put a fissure in the state Democratic Party.

"The time for legitimate policy disagreement, that's passed," said Assemblyman Dan Quart (D-Upper East Side). "Twenty million New Yorkers through their legislators spoke last year in reforming our bail system."

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