County urges state to delay and rework bail reform law

HUDSON–In divided votes, the Columbia County Board of Supervisors implored the state to delay and modify bail reform, called for a public hearing January 8 on a stricter vaccine law, rejected a nominated election commissioner, and approved the County’s 2020 budget at its December 11 meeting.

At full board meetings, most resolutions are adopted unanimously and on December 11 most resolutions did pass unopposed, including one to join neighboring counties in supporting the state’s suit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency for allowing General Electric to end its cleanup of PCBs in the Hudson River. But three measures passed with a minority voting “no,” and one failed, with a minority voting “yes.”

The county’s 2020 Budget passed with one supervisor opposed. Each of the supervisors on the board casts a weighted vote determined by the population of the town (or Hudson Ward) the supervisor represents.

The board voted with 19 supervisors in support versus 6 members opposed to call on New York State to delay implementing and then to modify its new Bail Reform law. Under the new law, scheduled to take effect January 1, people charged with many types of crimes will no longer have to pay bail in order to remain at liberty until and unless found guilty. Changes that the county’s resolution called for include expanding the types of crimes for which a judge may still impose bail and respect for the rights of victims, including by notifying them of their alleged offender’s court appearance dates.

One of the six supervisors who voted against the resolution, Michael Chameides (Hudson, 3rd Ward), said the day after the vote, “It’s so important that we treat people equally regardless of income. It’s so arbitrary when somebody who has not been found guilty languishes in a holding cell, sometimes for weeks, because they can’t afford bail. And during this time they can lose their jobs, not take care of their children, miss going to classes that will train them to get a job with which they will be able to afford bail.”

Another supervisor who voted against the resolution, Art Bassin (D-Ancram), said a week after the vote that many supervisors had not seen the resolution until too close to the vote to discuss it thoughtfully. “While its recitation of faults with the current law may be true, its recommendations are trivial,” Mr. Bassin said, adding, “I believe bail reform is long overdue. The current system is unfairly weighted for people who have more money.” To decide whether to detain someone based on whether they can pay bail is “intrinsically unfair,” he said, urging instead, “Let the law go into effect and see how it works.”

Supervisor Raymond Staats of Clermont, also a Democrat, voted for the resolution. “There are a lot of details that need to be worked out. I don’t think it’s ready for implementation,” he said after the meeting.

The reasons the resolution gives for opposing implementation of the new state Bail Reform in its current form include:

• The types of crimes for which judges will not be able to set bail, citing “several categories of homicide and manslaughter,” “making a terrorist threat,” some forms of sexual abuse of children, “endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person, incompetent, or physically disabled person,” cruelty to animals, “burglary of a residence,” and “bail jumping”

• Giving suspects “opportunities to return to the crime scene,” which the resolution says would endanger victims and potential victims

• “Placing a burden on public employees… police officers and District Attorneys, who must commit resources to tracking and pursuing” alleged offenders.

Regarding the resource commitment, Mr. Bassin pointed out that keeping people in jail is “terribly expensive” for the county and the state.

The resolution states that the new law represents “a clear and present danger to society, will tilt the scales of justice in favor of suspected criminals and away from innocent… victims, and risks reversing decades of bipartisan progress… in reducing crime.”

In other business:

• With two supervisors voting against, the board called for a January 8 public hearing on a new law to increase the vaccines that all children, all counselors and all volunteers must have in order to attend or work at any camp in the county.

Mr. Chameides, said he voted against it because he believes the law is still a work in progress instead of in final form. “The version I’ve seen is not a good piece of legislation.” Its wording “is not scientifically based enough,” he said. The Health Department has said it will come out with a better version, but before voting for a law, one should see its final form, the one that will be enacted.

He also says that “the camps have not been consulted”

• The one rejected resolution would have confirmed incumbent Virginia Martin as the Democratic Party’s Commissioner on the County Board of Elections for the next two years. The political parties nominate election commissioners, but the Board of Supervisors must confirm them.

Mr. Bassin, one of the three supervisors who voted to confirm Ms. Martin, said, “I believe she has the best knowledge and the best commitment of anyone we could get for that position. It’s a quite complicated job. It’s not easy to learn quickly, in order to avoid a problem in the 2020 elections. The Board of Elections is pretty much in a chaotic circumstance. As supervisors, we should help it settle down so they can get to their work.”

Mr. Chameides, who this time voted with the majority against the confirmation, explained that the Board of Elections “has had problems,” which he said are “bipartisan.”

He called for a “comprehensive plan and said the board does not want to appoint anyone until a plan is in place.

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